Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Dignity, like hair, is overrated

This post can be filed under "unbearable first world problems/bourgeois tragedies" or simply ignored. You can also include your own first world problems in the comments, I know how much we all like a little whine.

My infant sister used to amuse us all, aged about 4 or 5, by moaning "I'm a mass of corruption", which is what happens when you let academics raise children (that and "more Keynes Daddy"). Well I am. I am a mass of corruption. Let us examine the evidence.

I am 96% lizard. I am so dry that soon there will be nothing left of me but a small pile of dust that can be neatly swept away. Sitting 20 centimetres from a radiator is perhaps not the most sensible way to spend the winter, but I'm cold, dammit. My hardy Yorkshire genes have been undermined by years of effete continental living. My lips are the worst, chapped to an alarming bright red and peeling, but it's all quite, quite revolting. I tried to take a picture for you, but it made me cry, and I can't afford to lose any more moisture.

I have not one, but TWO skin diseases. Puzzling, Presumably Central Heating Related Rash on my upper arms, welcome! I would like you to meet Unpleasant Generalised Child's Skin Disease! This latter is the rash that refuses to die. Lashes got it, and shrugged it off within a week. That was, oooh, mid September? I have had it ever since, even though apparently 80% of adults are immune. It's nice to feel special when you're covered in medieval style sores, I find. I understand the most effective treatments to be: burying a toad in the garden, washing a leper's feet, saying 50 novenas, going on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Anthony (who I learn with interest is the patron saint of skin diseases, as well as lost things! A multitasker, I like). It's that kind of skin disease.

I have a bald patch. Yes, more observant and veteran readers, will know that this is hardly news. However I do not have a bald patch on my head, my friends, I have it on my wig. Oh, the bleeding Alanis Morisette irony of the balding wig! I think it was the Elio di Rupo "do" that did the damage:

(I am including this picture to remind myself that barely a month ago I still looked like a human being. I don't know if that's comforting or not)

Yes, we have been here before, but this one is at the FRONT, necessitating more and more elaborate combovers until its replacement arrives at the end of January. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Sometimes it feels like there is barely a shred of dignity left in my life. If only I were a good candidate for a Jimmy Nesbitt style hair transplant, I could dispense with what tiny specks of self-respect remain and parade my new hair for public edification. But no. I must struggle on with not even an Empress Bianca wig to cheer the dark days of winter.

This is perfect for business meeting, see? Restrained.

This more of an evening wig:

I bet Chantal Biya doesn't get bald patches. I might actually go and live in Chantal Biya's hair until the winter is over, actually. Urgh, 36 SUCKS.

I'm going to go and pray to St Anthony for the return of my lost dignity now. Join in if you like.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Slightly sappy wintry stuff, and a stag beetle

We went to the Christmas Market this weekend - unforgivably early, I know, but there's never a bad time to drink vin chaud at eleven in the morning and take the now traditional picture of my children riding a stag beetle:

(yes, the smaller one currently has virtually no teeth, making him look sadly like the resident idiot of a particularly dentally challenged eleventh century village when he opens his mouth)

I love the Christmas market. It wavers between tacky, disturbing and magical and I am a sucker for twinkly lights and inappropriate food. However, even I must allow that this year's signage is particularly worrying:

B alerted me to it last week. "I'm not sure how I feel about the Bambi-terrorising baby polar bear" he wrote, which I thought was very measured of him. Even so, I thought I should check that we weren't just imposing some inappropriate interpretation on a perfectly innocent image, so I asked the children.

"What do you think the baby polar bear is doing, boys?" Best Joyce Grenfell voice. They glanced up momentarily from staring, rapt, at the stupid stupid stupid game where you pay €10 - holy crap, seeing that written down has just brought it home to me quite how outrageous it is - to fish baubles out of a tiny pool of water in order to win a toy you could have purchased at a fraction of the price, had you ever wanted to do such a thing (which no-one in their right minds would).

"Ben, il va manger le bambi".

"Oh. Are you sure?"

"Ben, ouais, c'est un prédateur". Withering look.

"Oh. Right".

These, dotted along the route between the two parts of the market, puzzled me too but were fun enough for climbing on:

On top of that the "guest of honour" at the market is .. Morocco. That exceptionally, er, Christmassy destination. Ah well. Coherent theme: O, pointless entertainment 1, I think, and it's none the worse for that.

We had a good time. Admittedly, there was some unseemly weeping about whether we would go in the "Ice Monster" (a large inflatable khaki wind sock decorated with halfhearted spikes and manned by a family of unutterably sinister eastern Europeans far scarier than the Monster itself), and Lashes had his usual breakdown halfway up the Big Wheel and spent the ride with his head buried in my knee.

Sample dialogue:

"Aaargh, Lashes! Why do you come if you know you're going to hate it?!"


"Look! The Atomium!"


"So basically I just spent €5 to torture you? Hmm?"


Apart from these minor incidents, it was great, even the ice skating, which has, in previous years, also been the scene of tragic family breakdowns. The CFO is Ultra Competent (of course), I am, perhaps surprisingly, capable of staying upright, but Lashes used to hate it with the heat of a thousand suns, and cling to the rail nearest the exit weeping until he was released. Fingers simply refused even to try, causing serious paternal angst. This year there was zooming, lots of falling over, and hilarity. Here is Fingers, with a hot chocolate the size of a family saloon car, on the verge of deciding to join in. He subsequently declared the whole enterprise "trop bien" (high praise indeed) and asked if we could come back the next day.

It was a good wintry weekend altogether, though without the snow they were desperate for. Lashes has been appearing, wraithlike, late at night to alert me to the slightest flurry, for days. I think he never actually sleeps, just stands staring out of his bedroom window, willing the weather on. It's becoming an obsession, which I find rather charming. I went upstairs at one point to find them both in the dark, doing what they told me was a "snow dance" around Fingers's disco ball. I hope they'll get some this week, particularly since their papa is less of a wimp about sledging than me.

In the absence of snow, there was at least ice. We took the weepette, trussed up in his ridiculous winter coat, to the park, where the lake was frozen over and perfect for poking with sticks and standing on experimentally as your mother shrieks at you from half a mile away.

Then we came home, put the fire on, and I spent all afternoon cattle prodding the children away from it, crossly. All in all rather lovely.

On top of that, I had that peculiar thing last night where I suddenly ended up in the Grand Place. Like Londoners and Big Ben or Trafalgar Square, Brussels residents don't tend to go to the Grand Place much, but just occasionally I find myself wandering across - in search of a displaced taxi rank in this case - and thinking "oh yes, I live in Brussels. That's nice". It was about 11 at night but still busy and the gigantic Christmas tree was looking rather fine.

I reckon that's a B plus for you this weekend, Brussels. But don't go getting complacent. This minus 14° nonsense I am hearing about this week is pure exhibitionism. I won't be standing for it. Not unless I get a free penguin.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Quiz time

Brussels. A European capital where they speak French. I mean, you could get confused, right? Who's to say you're not in Paris???

Stop laughing at the back.

I have devised a test for the confused traveller. This is my gift to humanity today. It was going to be Top Trumps cards for the EU College of Commissioners but I couldn't be bothered with the cutting and sticking, so think yourself lucky. Answer the following questions and all possible confusion will be eliminated! Just in case you've ended up in Acomb, a sinister suburb of York with a history of cat skinning, I've included that possibility too.

1. You are eating a sandwich on the street. How do passers-by react?

(a) With furious scorn and witheringly sarcastic "bon appétit"s making you feel like a repulsive lower being with no impulse control.

(b) They ignore you, because they're too busy wrestling with their own snacks. Theirs are probably larger than yours.

(c) There are no passers by. The wind is whipping across the Green, felling pensioners and the occasional stray dog. It's cold, so cold. You can't feel your legs anymore. Should you light the last match?

2. You sit down on a bar terrace and look around expectantly for service. What happens?

(a) A scornful but efficient waiter comes and stares at you with barely concealed disdain, sneers at your order and serves you within nanoseconds. He is never wrong.

(b) Nothing. You can wave your arm around but it won't help. You could try going inside where a couple of whey-faced students drooping behind the bar will still ignore you.

(c) Are you fooking joking? It's 3°C. The only people who are outside are a gang of hatchet faced Asbos in the bus stop trying ineptly to skin a cat. There used to be a table outside the Burglar's Arms, but someone set fire to it.

8. Uh oh, you need to pee. How does that go?

(a) Make your way past an exhibitionist peeing man proudly displaying his genitals in an ill-lit basement. He might leer at you if you get lucky.

(b) Make your way into an ill-lit basement to be greeted by an elderly lady in a housecoat demanding money. She will chase you if you don't give her what she asks for. In some places, your access to loo roll will be conditional on this payment. Meet her demands in full, I beg of you.

(c) Expose your genitals? You'll die of exposure. Your look out though.

3. You eat a croissant. How is it?

(a) Deliciously buttery and flaky.

(b) Like a semi-circle of wet cement. Make it stop.

(c) That's not a croissant, it's a Ginsters cheese and onion pasty.

4. What's the metro like?

(a) Smells of piss, miles of corridors, infested with accordeonists.

(b) Smells of piss. Tiny. Seems to only have 2 lines, though they are masquerading as 6, improbably. And what the FUCK is that music? Johnny Hates Jazz? Followed by Scriabin? It's like falling down a wormhole.

(c) There's a bus to Wetherby three times a week. That's your lot.

6. You have to pull over suddenly in the street because you're lost. The car behind you pulls over too. What happens next?

(a) You don't really understand what they're saying, you're distracted by the vigorous hand gestures, but "connard" seems to form a large part of it.

(b) Someone looms in your window, their face filled with concern, and asks if they can help you.

(c) They steal your tyres.

7. What's the supermarket like?

(a) Oh, that lady behind the till is MEAN! I didn't know there was a "proper" way to arrange my items on the conveyor belt! I don't really want to buy them now, but I don't dare put them back.

(b) Holy crap, you haven't seen a queue like that since Stalin. And you need a degree in advanced electronic engineering to buy cigarettes. And where the fuck is the aluminium foil? Also: a whole aisle for beer?

(c) It's a Londis. Four onions, a couple of dog-eared Daily Mirrors and as many Rothmans King Size as you can carry.

8. What are the old people around you up to?

(a) Attacking you, verbally, or possibly physically. Man, they're angry.

(b) Sitting in cafes drinking half and half beatifically and feeding their dogs speculoos crumbs. Or collecting small coins in public lavatories.

(c) Skirting warily around the skinned cats.

9. How about the tourists? How do they look?

(a) Equal parts awe and terror.

(b) Equal parts bemusement and, er, bemusement.

(c) Aahahhahahahahhahhahaa.

10. Who's in charge around here?

(a) A psychotic, delusional lunatic who is spiralling out of control.

(b) No-one. It's been nearly a year. You can't really tell.

(c) Anyone who's travelled further than Harrogate.

How did you do?

Mostly (a)s

You're in Paris! Repeat after me: "Ce n'est pas la peine de me regarder comme si j'avais égorgé votre grand-mère, j'ai seulement demandé un café*".

Mostly (b)s

You're in Brussels! Repeat after me: "Les speculoos sauvages sont magnifiques mais excessivement farouches. Tachez de ne pas les effrayer**".

Mostly (c)s

You're in Acomb! Repeat after me: "Do not be afraid. I come from a far away land. I come in peace. Put the cat down and let us share the Curd Tart of friendship".

* There's no need to look at me as if I just strangled your grandmother, I only asked for a cup of coffee.

** The wild speculoos are magnificent, but timid. Try not to frighten them.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Drudgery lite

I said I would write something, but it's been a spectacularly uninspiring kind of day, comprised of, in varying proportions:

- Assorted domestic and administrative sysyphean stone rolling, with particular reference to the kitchen floor, laundry and a long, rage-filled early morning search for a missing swimming hat, finally located behind the dryer. Damn you, Belgian swimming pools and your officious insistence on pointless fabric skull caps. Once I had located it, the rest of the day was of course FILLED with sodding swimming hats, appearing in unlikely places, more than I could have possibly believed we own.

- Racking my empty brain. I hate this sensation. It's like it's sort of dry, and hollow, and however I try and trick it into originality, all I get is a sort of death rattle of tedium, with the faintest high-pitched backnote of whining from it. My brain is empty, wrung out, refusing to function. I must plan some kind of trip out of the house which is not to the dump, or Carrefour, or school. Oh, there is the accountant on Thursday! That will doubtless be newsworthy. And tea with the Teacup, which is always a treat. Also I am going to see Don Paterson do a reading on Friday which will be better than sitting on my arse eating dough foetuses (I ate one today. I'm not proud and it was dry and a bit rubbish).

The children have also expressed a clear view as to what we should do for my birthday: firstly, we must make sure Oscar's "birthday" - they have decided we share a birthday - is celebrated with due pomp and a large bone. Secondly, they would like to go to the Chalet Robinson like last year "where they put that firework in your ice cream". (They did, they put a birthday sparkler thing in my ice cream, as if I were 6 years old in my green velvet party dress, out for birthday tea in Bibi's Trattoria on Micklegate, spag bol, garlic bread and swirly white ice cream with a luminous criss-cross of green and pink sauce on the top). This seems like as good an idea as any, though does that mean I will have to take the waiter aside and tell him in a hushed undertone that it is my birthday, actually, and can I HAVE A SPARKLER I NEED A SPARKLER OR I WILL CRY?

- Talking of crying, I have also been crying - but with very good reason, first at this, and then at this.

- Wearing an exceptionally poor outfit. It is getting very very cold, so I am wearing one of those outfits - "outfit" really isn't the word, actually - where, when you get undressed in the evening (if you can bring yourself to, I confess to often sleeping in my clothes), you're startled at the number of layers you're wearing, several of which you have no memory of putting on. If anyone came round unannounced right now, I would just have to turn all the lights off and pretend to be out. Not that anyone ever does, except the Assassin. The Assassin came unannounced and rearranged all my furniture on Saturday. It's a massive improvement, actually, and he even dealt with the tarantula's nest of cables that have turned my living room into a deathtrap for the last twelve months. In return, I agreed to look after Bob "if anything happens to me". Which let's face it, it very well might. IT Helpdesks are dangerous places.

- The usual trace elements of existential panic, self-loathing and baby animals. Also a little light picking at my horrendously dry lips, which could frighten small children who stray too close to my forbidding, child unfriendly face (in which case, frankly, it is their own fault).

What was your day made up of?

Cruel Tea - the Revenge

This isn't a real post, it's more of a public information broadcast. There will be something else later, I promise.

So, you remember Cruel Tea?

Look, here's our Flickr stream from the mighty Craftacular last year. Ah, that was such fun.

Cruel Tea has been another victim of 2010, but it's in hibernation, not actually dead. M has great plans to open the Singapore branch. I don't think I can face the baking salt mines as a long term prospect, with my one shelf oven and my singular lack of work surfaces, but even so, I am planning a one off pre-Christmas production and delivery of Arse Biscuits in London on 16 and 17 December. I will be doing:

The Classic Tourettes Selection Box - £8

2 x 5 rude words in a ribbon tied box.

Mean Gingerbread Men - £2

Large "Santa's Not Real" or "Fuck Christmas" gingerbread men, with a sparkly, festive finish, bagged and ribbon tied.


Bespoke Bastard's Selection - £10

10 biscuits featuring your choice of 5 words or phrases, obscene or otherwise (not to exceed 13 characters), in a ribbon tied box.

If you would like to order some biscuits for collection from a Central London point to be confirmed on 16 or 17 December, mail me up by clicking here.

So there.

Monday, 22 November 2010


I am developing a morbid obsession with these fondant Jesuses.

Jesii? Look, I have two. Little twins. (Heresy #1).

The children came home with them on Sunday. They had been to what their father described with a slight shudder as he handed them over, as "une fête très eurotrash" and the Jesuscakes were only one part of an elaborate party bag. I have appropriated them for ethnological research purposes. The children did not care, they also received large chocolate Père Fouettards, which are leering at me from my sideboard, as I type, lolling uncouthly in their bags of arbitrarily sized marzipan fruits.

"We're over heeeerre!"

St Nicolas chocolate offerings puzzle me. We spent ten minutes staring at the Neuhaus window display of St Nicolas today, trying to work out what the strange striped shape to his right was (conscious that last year's Pierre Marcolini offering featured the salted dismembered children in their barrel. That's the magic of Christmas RIGHT THERE). It turned out it was his legs and St Nicolas was doing a handstand. Which seems improbable, not to say downright alarming.

Anyway. This was not my first encounter with fondant Jesii. You cannot go to a supermarket in the kingdom of Belgiana at this time of year without encountering them. The traditional presentation is as so, atop a foetus shaped brioche called a Cougnou:

How do you feel about that? I'm .. well. Ambivalent at best. On the one hand, dough. Sugary dough. When is that ever a bad thing? On the other, what we have here is a shocking pink sugar representation of the Christ child on a sort of amorphous, humanoid coffin of bread (Heresy #2). I'm no expert in theology, but tell me, how can that possibly be right?

The interwebs tell me that the strange green swirl is supposed to be swaddling clothes.

The children eyed it sceptically and said they thought it was a harmonica. (Heresy #3)

"Do you mean a harp?"

"Ouais, ça".

They also thought the Jesii looked like a pair of shoes. (Heresy #4)

"But they've got hair!" (I don't like the hair. They don't always have hair)

"Quand même".

More worrying still, the interwebs tell me that traditionally children would expect to find a Cougnou UNDER THEIR PILLOW on the morning of 6th December. And I wonder why my children have nightmares?

"Wake up children! St Nicolas has been and he's left you a creepy voodoo sugar baby on a bread roll!" (Heresy #5). Also, hello? Crumbs?

Sugarjesus didn't seem too impressed by this display of canine impertinence (Heresy #6), even though I managed to save him after only an experimental lick from the weepette (Heresies #7 - infinity).

I think there might be smiting. Weepette does right to look wary.

I'm wondering if there might be mileage in some sort of short film featuring my two sugar Jesii. I definitely want to do SOMETHING with them. Maybe I could take them on a photographic road trip around Brussels? They'd look lovely sitting on a 92 tram.

I should probably get out more, shouldn't I?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Season's Bleatings

Various tiny thoughts. I have washed the kitchen floor, which I consider sufficient achievement for the day. The week stretches out ahead of me, paved with paperwork (that would be soggy in Belgium) and I am thinking about the festivities of the coming weeks, which are approaching at alarming speed.

1. St Nicolas

It is with sweaty and slightly resentful terror that I realise that St Nicolas is just around the corner. Perhaps that's an unfortunate turn of phrase. The thought that a terrifying Greek bishop armed with a sharp stick and a too-close for comfort association to dismembered, salted children might be in my hallway, about to shove me in a sack, is all I need right now. I don't object to anyone else celebrating St Nicolas. I'm not some kind of Calvinist killjoy. But coming to it with no cultural attachment to the tradition, it's like a weird amuse-bouche Christmas that spoils my appetite for the main event. Presents on the 6th? Surely, as a child, you should be crazed with longing and deprivation for the whole of Advent, with barely a clementine and a bowl of ReadyBrek to call your own? That's how it was for me, before the dawn of decadent apocrypha like chocolate advent calendars (presbyterian cat's arse face), a rising pitch of excitement so vertiginous through December that by Christmas Eve I was actually crazed with anticipation and delirious with lack of sleep.

Surely it should be either St Nicolas OR Christmas? It should, but of course I come from the pathetic modern tradition of appeasement parenting, and do not have the balls to tell my children that 'St Nicolas doesn't come to our house, because he and Father Christmas have agreed between then who goes to whose house, and Father Christmas got us*'. Thus I end up with some shabby compromise, where they get "little presents" for St Nicolas and "big presents", plus stocking of course, for Christmas. O tempora, o mores, o spoilt children and o, so overdrawn mother.

2. Birthday

Even before the creepy saint and his malevolent sidekick rock up, there's my birthday to contend with. The threshold for what it has to live up to is not, admittedly, high compared to last year, when I lost my wallet. Since the kids are with me this week, I will once more be facing the question of whether I should make myself a birthday cake. Advise me, single parents. It seems to me that it's probably important for the children to be able to blow out candles with me, or at least in some way mark the event, and that this should override my distaste for Making A Fuss about my own birthday, but I don't really see how to manage it. We could buy one, I suppose, but who lights the candles since I'm the only one old enough to play with matches? I do not know. This is not a veiled request for any real life friend readers to come round with balloons and jelly, by the way, I am genuinely wondering.

3. Christmas

After my birthday and St Nicolas, Christmas will be horribly close and I have made no progress whatsoever on that score. The boys are with their Papa having a Big Old French Knees Up, with all the barbaric traditions that come with it, and I don't mean the foie gras. I mean no stockings, no crackers, presents opened - horror of horrors - on the night of the 24th and an insistence that every present that appears is from "Père Noël". "Oh, le Père Noël t'a gâté!" NO. THAT WAS ME, HIS MOTHER. I hate all of these, but especially the last. I mean, as a parent, your opportunities for wholehearted wins are very limited. With the exception of the amaretti papers trick, I can't think of the last time my children were properly excited by something I did. So why should Père Noël get all the kudos for present selection? Pah. Père Noël didn't queue up in the La Grande Récré to buy Boring But Seemingly Essential and Terrifyingly Dear Electrical Item With Meaningless Letters After Its Name XJY, listening to Johnny Halliday's Christmas album until he bled from the ears. I did and I want the credit, dammit. In our household, Father Christmas was credited with stockings and nothing more, which seems to me a very enlightened approach, but it may be that we were in the minority with this. You never know how eccentric your Christmas traditions are until your thrown up against someone else's, do you?

"What, you DON'T rub the turkey's saliva on your left earlobe to bring you good luck for the coming year? I thought everyone did that".

Anyway. I will not have the boys, which will be strange, like Christmas with the una corda pedal on. I haven't decided what to do about it. Prog Rock has offered me a very quiet York Christmas where nothing happens. Sir Waffle said I was welcome at his country residence, in the full knowledge that I would be more likely to join a contemplative order than voluntarily exile myself to somewhere where broadband is viewed with all the suspicion normally attributed to satanism and the nearest shop is a Spar a ten minute drive away. An extraordinarily lovely lady offered me her flat in London, a gesture so kind I could weep. The Assassin, mysteriously, offered to drive me to Ostende. I don't know. I just don't know. I'm not actually dreading it; I don't see myself, whatever I end up doing, collapsed in a sorrowful pile of discarded paper hats and tinsel. It's just, what? I quite fancy going to Spa to take the waters and walking around swathed in scarves looking cadaverous, yet lustful, like thingy, Von Aschenbach, from Death in Venice. I would be great at that.

Does anyone have any better ideas?

* The legal side of my brain looked at that and giggled to itself dweebily saying "oh, market partitioning and customer allocation, very bad". Then the normal side of my brain kicked it hard in the shins.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Way We Wrote

I've been struggling a great deal recently with online identity. That sounds pompous and overblown. I don't mean "branding", which is a creepy concept (possibly necessary, but definitely creepy). It's more about using my name, or not using my name, and working in two different capacities and trying to decide whether I need to distinguish between them. And ultimately realising that if I did want to do that, I've left it too late anyway. The horse has not just bolted, it's had time to win the two thirty at Kempton, and I haven't even built the stable door, let alone shut it. I'm sitting on the stable floor trying to work out why the assembly instructions are written in sanskrit and how the fuck a ratchet screwdriver works anyway.

(This overwrought, over-extended metaphor has now left the station. Thank you.)

I'm not giving up blogging or anything. I wouldn't remotely want to, and anyway, what the fuck would I do with myself? Pitching ideas to disinterested features editors with an increasingly obvious note of cheery desperation is not a full time job. I have thought a lot, though, about what I can and can't say online, more than I ever used to, and I have felt very constrained in the last six months or so in what I feel comfortable saying. I don't know what exactly changed - but oooh, imminent unemployment might conceivably have had something to do with it, I suppose. Anyway. It's made me wonder if there's a template for the lifecycle of a blog: early months of glorious indiscretion, a period of happy insouciance, posting your visceral inner torments and grievances as the readership builds and then, somewhere along the line, a tipping point, where you realise that x and y and z are reading and maybe you can't, or shouldn't, say that thing you were thinking about. There might even be some hurried deletion. I wouldn't know anything about that, obviously. Nope. Not me.

Perhaps other people, wiser, more thoughtful people, think before they start out, but when I started writing here I wrote because I had to. It was a genuine compulsion; I had years of stuff to say, and it all came spilling out, screeds and screeds of indiscretion. You couldn't even say it was brave, though it could have been mistaken for bravery. It was thoughtless. I quite literally gave no thought to who was reading, and the idea that my writing might have any effect, or consequence, was so remote as to be laughable. That changed hugely when my name appeared in the Sunday Times about a year ago, and has continued changing in smaller increments ever since.

But now what? You try and find some kind of a balance, I suppose, between causing hurt or offence - or in my case, more probably damaging my prospects of ever earning a living - and ending up writing stultifyingly dull stuff about the weather and what you had for dinner. I feel like I've struggled with this recently, that I haven't written anything very entertaining for ages. Of course, that might be nothing to do with any of the factors I've described here. I might just have lost it, might simply be struggling to be funny at the moment, and this is all an elaborate excuse.

I think I do have to accept, though, that I can' t go back. I miss it, miss that freedom, miss saying whatever I damn well liked. I see people who still write like that and I admire it, and envy them. That's the kind of stuff I enjoy reading myself; you don't want to read something that has all the emotional pull of a European Commission press release in your free time. Well, maybe some people do and many of them live in the same city as me, but that is irrelevant. Actually, here's the proof positive that the early confessional stuff wasn't brave, just unthinking: I can't do it any more. I'm too conscious of who's reading and what they might think. That's partly weak, and partly sensible, and I can't do anything about it. I'm thirty five, I'm not going to grow a pair overnight and suddenly become the kind of person who can publish and be damned. I have a craven need to be liked, more's the pity.

This isn't heralding any great change in what I write about, or any change even - it's more by way of an explanation of the shift that has already happened over the last year or so. I'm just marking its passing, I suppose. Looking back, half embarrassed and half wistful, at the kinds of things I used to say. Misty Water Coloured Memories Of The Way We Wrote.

Let us pause for a beat as I stare, teary eyed at the archives.


Would you like a picture while you wait?

(From here, via Fi. Thank you Fi)

Ok, done.

Right. So. Look. I have put an "about" page at the top and it has my name on it. Most of you knew it anyway, and you could all have found out without the slightest difficulty, so it's no kind of a secret, really. That boat sailed a year ago (hang on! Where's the HORSE gone???), here. Do I wish it hadn't? Possibly. But it did. So I might as well take proper ownership of what I write, right?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Away and back

I am feeling exceptionally unwell. It's ok, it's just the self-inflicted kind.

It was all in a good cause. I woke up at 5am this morning with a stabbing pain in my side from laughing so much, god only knows what about, my memory is a little hazy. I went to an extraordinarily good party; a party so good that if I live to be 500 years old I will probably never see its like again.. I mean, what are the chances of me ever being in the same room as Joan Bakewell AND Robert Plant AND Sarah Brown ever? Nil. I am not going to pretend for a second to be cool and blasé about it, it was amaaazing. It had the heightened, glittery quality of a party in a dream, and not the usual kind where all my teeth fall out or I am required to have degrading sex with my line manager. It was in the Connaught ballroom! Lynn Barber was there! Rachel Johnson introduced herself to me by mistake! There were teeny tiny things to eat and terrifyingly attentive waiters bringing you delicious vodka, lime and ginger cocktails that really, you should not have been drinking in such great numbers. The cocktails did not run out, ever, which is one of the things that makes me think it was in fact a dream. I got the night bus home with Mrs Trefusis (her hair a work of extraordinary, sinuous artistry) in very, ahem, high spirits, got off at the wrong stop and only realised when I reached the house, presumably using some long-buried atavistic homing instinct.

Anyway. It was wonderful (I should say that I did not, obviously, talk to any of the famous people, but instead stared at them like the village idiot, drooling faintly out of the corner of my mouth and dropping canapés down the front of my dress). It was worth all the suffering today and more (I fully expect there will be more. This has the feel of two day hangover. I really need a salt lick, a drip, a hot water bottle and a lengthy, repetitive, stern lecture on responsible drinking).

London was looking bonny and wintry. The decorations on Carnaby street are like a giant, glittery solar system, and Oxford Street has huge umbrellas picked out in tiny white, red, and blue lights. I walked past Claridges earlier today - swathed in fir branches and white bulbs - and it smelled that smell of Christmas tree warmed by fairy lights, on a grand scale.

Sir Waffle picked me up at the station yesterday - the first time anyone has done that for me in approximately 800 years - and we went for a sandwich in some half extraordinary, half swirly carpeted hotel called the St Ermin, frozen in time round the back of Scotland Yard. It was a bit like the Berners Hotel near our old flat, where our elderly Italian neighbour - Maria, with the lifetime membership of all the casinos in London and the endless string of anecdotes about Soho gang killings and celebrity encounters of the early 60s who transported the restaurant takings around in her zip up boot and bought her cat milk from Harrods - used to take me and the CFO for dinner or drinks occasionally, a weird old curiosity of a place, with soaringly high ceilings, chivvied up to date on the cheap. There are lots of these kinds of unsung hotels still hiding in odd corners of London and I could get quite obsessed by looking at them. I like that mix of the obscure sense of history, the flaking gilt on plastic door handles, internet booked tourists, the Balkan trainee receptionists and ancient men who have worked there for fifty years, both groups in identical uniforms.

"Your mother used to come here sometimes" he told me as an afterthought, gesticulating with a sandwich. Sometimes it seems as if she's been everywhere before me, but in a comforting, not a frustrating way.

I got back to Brussels tonight and as my taxi pulled away from the station, through the dingy underpass bus stop and out onto the Boulevard du Midi, street lights reflecting off the tram lines and the scaffolded Palais de Justice on the skyline, I felt a tiny, unaccustomed flicker of glad to be back. Barely noticeable, but there all the same. And now I'm home - and yes, I think it is home now, this strange orange house - and my scrawny dog is extravagantly pleased to see me, and I can boil my own kettle and make a cup of tea (with stupid Belgian UHT milk that I barely notice any more) in my own mug and put the fire on in my bedroom. And at this, one of the oddest and most uncertain times in my life so far, there's a real comfort in that.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Typhoid and other triumphs

A warm welcome to my new viral overlord, who is squatting in my sinuses and sapping my will to live. Maybe it's not viral, though, maybe the children did in fact lay eggs in my spinal fluid while I slept last week? Whatever, I have an almighty dose of teh sick.

This is a shame because right now I should be writing something serious and introspective about the fact that I moved out exactly a year ago. 17 November 2009, I looked back to check. That means that the amorphous green blob on the ceiling has been up there for nearly a year too, ditto the smell of drains. We can pinpoint, 365 days ago, the start of my freefall into financial ruin and unchecked squalor. So yay! Yay me! Yay orange house that smells of drains! Yay green slimy ectoplasm on the bedroom ceiling! Today is a day for focussing on the positives: I have not yet been evicted, locked out, or killed anyone from typhus or other diseases of insanitary housing and I have swept the floor many, many, many times. That, surely, is 365 days of win. I do most of my weeping in the park, anyway, which means that the Salmon Palace remains a place of optimism and joy, mingled with tiny cubes of Lego, feral paperwork and the musky smell of fox shit and defective drainage.

Typically, I am not actually at home, on this, my first anniversary of solo living. I am in London mixing my cold remedies, while the weepette gnaws mournfully at the wiring and pees in my spare handbag as it waits for rescue in the form of a Portugese teenager. This should not stop me making a list of Ambitious Projects for my next 12 months of solo living. We will leave the introspection for another day when I'm not tripping on Sudafed, ok?

Ambitious Household Projects
(you can quiz me on my performance in another year)

1. Earn enough money to pay a cleaner. This currently lies in the extreme realms of fantasy, but it is a highly motivating fantasy.

2. Remove the rotting paddling pool from the back garden. See also: plush orange spider, ice cream scoop, paper bags of unplanted bulbs, strange unidentified green plastic thing.

3. Learn to master the heating (which has already defeated 3 adult males).

4. Not be evicted.

5. Identify and eliminate the smell from the basement.

6. Remove the green disembodied leg from bedroom ceiling.

7. Change lightbulbs. All the broken ones, not just the two I can reach.

8. Get the 2 pictures lying in a large envelope on top of the fridge framed.

9. Have people round for dinner. Uncritical ones with hardy immune systems.

10. Acquire some piece of furniture to put the ever-expanding mountain of pointless craft materials in.

11. Make the spare room more welcoming and less of a crime scene.

12. Reach a point where someone can tell me - in a professional context - that they "have seen pictures of your house on the internet", as happened this summer, and not feel the need to put a paper bag over my head.

Can you think of any more Ambitious Projects for me to fail at?

Après le déluge, KitKats

So, I had my laser focussed ass kicking yesterday. More on that anon, but basically I'm still high on the astonishing feeling of checking my HSBC balance (merely typing those four letters usually brings on a panic attack) AND opening my P60, which has sat, like a sinister throbbing presence, on the hall floor for a fortnight. Woohoo! The motivating force of shame is a powerful one, it appears. Astonishing facts:

1. I am in credit. CREDIT, I TELL YOU. Not much credit, but credit all the same.

2. My P60 did not read "fuck off you loser we aren't giving you that money we said we'd give you, ha ha sucker", as I feared.

See? It's all OK. Kind of. I would love to believe this will stop me behaving like a superstitious medieval peasant when faced with financial information, but I fear that is unlikely.

In other news, there is no other news. The flood waters of Belgiana are draining away, god knows where to, leaving a sort of muddy wasteland filled with rusting Jupiler cans. It's like being back in bloody York, the most flooding susceptible town in England (maybe. I am making that statement based on little or no knowledge). We were always being marched down to the Ouse (is that not a great name for a river? Come on!) to examine the flood defences or wave at classmates trapped on the other side of the floodwaters. I did not escape the sodden north east to end up having to discuss sandbags again, especially without the compensations of being surrounded by chocolate manufactur .. oh. I am basically living in York. Time to start bringing bags of chips into nightclubs and poking the slow moving tourists.

I have no news on my manuscript if you are wondering. Maybe it has spontaneously combusted with the shame of its own shitness. People keep asking, and I keep having to say that. It's very like the time at the very end of your pregnancy when people ask you repeatedly 'if you've had it yet', or if there's 'any news' until you think you might go into labour from sheer irritation. NO OF COURSE NOT I WOULD HAVE BLOODY WELL MENTIONED IT IF I HAD EXPELLED A HUMAN INFANT FROM MY BODY IN THE LAST TWENTY FOUR HOURS. Of course, in this case, there is a very significant risk that the whole thing will turn out to be a hysterical pregnancy, and I will have to eventually tell people, shamefaced, that there was in fact no baby, it was just trapped wind. It's just getting to the point where I wish I hadn't told anyone anything about it, ever, because really? 2010? It's a vindictive little shit of a year, and I have been tempting fate, so I'm probably due a kicking.


It could be worse. I could be called Pol Craps.

UPDATED: Galvanised by the aftershocks of the laser focussed ass-kicking, I tentatively emailed to ask about the fate of my hysterical pregnancy. It turned out that my initial email sending the gas baby had been lost, but has now been found. I do not know if this counts as progress or not.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


Another week has passed. What have we all achieved? Gather round the blogosphere whiteboard and let us list how we have performed against our KPIs. Corporate branded stress balls for the lucky winners, P45s for the losers. (Am I missing the office? God knows, possibly. In the manner of a lifer who no longer knows how to function on the outside. I noticed that I still say "we" when talking about it. Tragic. Soon you'll be able to find me sitting on a park bench with a briefcase all day long, having pretended to the dog I was "off to work now dear").

1. Shouting

Surpasses expectations. I am quietly proud of myself here. Apart from the destruction of the bathroom curtains and the time when the weepette ate an entire block of parmesan, and the incident with the periscope, I have been more quietly hectoring and a bit self-righteously martyred than shouty. This may not sound like much to you, but .. no, actually it's not much, is it? But it's something.

2. Mess

In line with expectations. (Thus: house looks like a crack den and smells of sewers, and I will be picking Fimo off my clothing for several years to come).

3. Workstreams

Felt creatures: meets expectations
Fimo creatures: surpasses expectations
Dutch class finger puppet creation: surpasses expectations (Firstly, this thing was only required for Wednesday, so I am basically giving the CFO a free pass, which is very kind of me. All too predictably, I got quite into the whole sorry process and ended up making the fingerpuppet hair - sorry, that's haar - out of a scouring pad, creating a creature almost as alarming as Robald himself. Go me).
Actual paying work: meets own (very low) expectations. Falls significantly below ING/HSBC's expectations.
Fruitless but detailed research in the hope of generating actual paying work: surpasses expectations. Pointlessly, but still.
Invoicing: falls significantly below expectations.
Lightbulb purchase (as noted on the list on the fridge since mid-September): falls significantly below expectations.

4. Interacting with other adults

Unable to assess as virtually none (on balance, probably for the best). Oh, there was Prog Rock! But that's more like having a vast disembodied brain sitting in your house. A brain that makes cups of tea.

5. Costs

Fails to meet expectations despite no members of household achieving levels of fun detectable using our marking system. That craft shit is expensive, the hippy museum is €22.50 of gender equality rhetoric expressed through the medium of a shite cardboard maze and the monsoon conditions mean I'm four taxis down in three days. Then the children will insist on needing shoes and clothing and doughnuts and mysterious shaped elastic bands. Oh, but it is very boring having no money (as the children will doubtless testify).

6. Blogging

Frequency in line with expectations. Less said about quality the better.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Belgium's Fludde

A further 24 hours of rain and small boys/dog demented with pent up energy. Let the festival of spinal fluid drinking begin ("don't let them start laying eggs on your eyeballs", counsels M, mad with jetlag in Singapore. "I'll try", I promise, a bit shaky with dregs of old wine and exhaustion. "But I have no fight left. And I think my eyeballs are trying to leave my head anyway").

Things threatened to degenerate badly this evening when Lashes pulled down the curtain pole and its orange towelling curtain (inherited from previous tenant and much discussed this time last year) into the bath whilst trying to squirt a water pistol out of the bathroom window, because obviously there was not enough water in our lives at that point. They didn't degenerate, in the end, well, not much, though I did find my lip trembling a little when Prog Rock chose that particular moment to tell me about Rilke's juvenile travels. We played Piranha Panic instead. I might have to call on The Assassin to fix the curtain rail. When I saw him earlier this week for a further installment of The Terrible Things I Have To Do But Can't Talk About (Except To You), he offered to teach me how to shoot. On balance, I'd rather he taught me basic plastering.

Three tipping points into the floodwaters of lunacy:

1. The shitty pointless Ikea rug "non-slip" underlay that manages both to stick out in an unsightly fashion AND be totally without function. It's in the process of taking on some kind of meta-significance in my life.

2. The eyeball gougingly slow woman on the desk at the hippy museum, whose inability to count past about 8 means that 50 people have to stand outside, in the astonishingly consistent rain, for 20 minutes past opening time. Also, the new exhibition - and each one lasts FOUR YEARS (that is literally correct, I am not exaggerating) - is a bit dreary.

3. The kitchen table, currently only about 14% wood visible, the rest craft supplies, a seemingly infinite number of mainly lidless felt tip pens (but none of them black or red), abandoned amaretti biscuits half chewed and rejected, cunningly concealed essentials such as knives, scissors, keys and cables, and a pile of creepy Ensor themed colouring.

Three tiny life rafts:

1. Prog Rock walked the dog. Twice. And brought me two Cadbury's caramels and an advent calendar. He has gone now, sadly.

2. The children are mainly extremely sweet and charming and good company. Filthy and feckless and loud and in my face, but charming.

3. Reading this. I was actually riveted to my bed when I started this, and unable to move until I had finished it, even though I could tell from the noises off that the children were helping themselves to Kinder Buenos and strawberry bootlaces for breakfast, then unwrapping amaretti and wondering whether they could reach matches, and the dog was systematically emptying, then messily chewing up, the contents of the recycling bin.

Do let me have yours. I am going to watch baby pandas in the dark, in bed, fully clothed.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Bank Holiday Family Fun

So, you know when it rains without interruption for longer than the maximum period it is legal to detain suspects under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and your children have been given two days - one vaguely plausible and one completely sodding arbitrary - off school in the same week? No? Lucky you.

Today's schedule:

7:00 Awake in a froth of anxiety, certain I am late for, well, something. Remember I am confined to the house by extreme weather conditions and under 10s. Oh! And that I don't have a job. Yeah, that. Try to go back to sleep.

7:01 Poked in the eyes from both sides, in a small boy pincer movement. Children are mysteriously requesting that we set fire to biscuits. I got into a froth of nostalgia last night telling them about long nights in '70s trattorias with my parents, when the only distraction was setting fire to amaretti papers. They have slightly got the wrong end of the stick, and are imagining the room will be filled with flaming, flying biscuits. Disappointments start early in my household and recur consistently throughout the day. Snarl and flail until children depart. Go back to sleep for half an hour, occasionally rousing myself to shout "FOR GOD'S SAKE I SAID LET THE DOG OUT I KNOW HE'S NOT STANDING BY THE DOOR ASKING TO GO OUT BUT HE'S VERY STUPID REMEMBER OH FOR GOD'S SAKE I'M COMING JESUS DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING MYSELF".

7:35 Forced out of bed by plaintive whimpering (not all of it coming from me). Take dog out. Uccle has not been entirely washed away, but most of it has. The streets are deserted bar the odd pensioner. They are very hardy. An ancient lady stops to pet the bedraggled weepette. It takes her what feels like most of my remaining life to say hello to him. I could actually drown here. Repeat to myself: "I must not be rude to old ladies. I must not be rude to old ladies. I must not kick old ladies in the shins" until the danger passes. Return home as soon as weepette's digestive tract permits. This cannot be soon enough for either of us.

7:45 "Did you get the flying biscuits?"

"No. It's practically the middle of the night. Also, the actual biscuits don't fly".

"Is it time for Fimo?"

"I refer you to my earlier response".

10:00 Hours have passed and nothing has happened, bar the children eating doughnuts for breakfast. Occasionally I bleat something ineffectual about shoes, or clothes. When the children appear restless I set them the task of trying to win us a night in Ostende with their colouring skillz. Fingers frowns slightly at this picture.

"Euh, le bébé, il est bizarre, non?"

"Naaaah. He'll be fine once you've coloured him in".

Lashes makes me devise a code and write a letter in it for his friend, Swearing Boy. It takes me ages. My head hurts.

10:30 We finally leave the house to search for Fimo and other craft supplies. Fingers has a Book. The Book is filled with "fun" and "easy" craft ideas for 6-10 year olds. The memory of the fucking MONKEY I tried to knit once (suitable for children aged 7-10 years) appears like a truncated, misshapen woolly spectre in the corner of my mind.

10:55 A tram finally arrives at our windswept concrete perch. We find seats. An elderly lady (More elderly ladies. Uccle is full of them, and only the elderly are mad enough to venture out in this weather, so they can stand in my queue at the supermarket and forget their purses) smiles indulgently at my charming children. My charming children kick each other repeatedly say variants on "bottom" to each other and laugh uproariously, whilst generally behaving like monkeys on crack. Her smile evaporates.

11:30 We are returning home with craft supplies. The ING will not thank me for this. But oh, I do love craft supplies before they are turned into ninja mutant squid with giant guns, or whatever the small boys have in mind. I love the soothing promise of Fimo varnish and acrylic paint and carboard and beads. I do not think for a second about the apocalyptic carnage that craft brings when I enter Schleiper, the temple of craft promise. I am transported. So are the children, but it turns out, that is because they have been "testing" (sniffing) every marker pen in the shop. The less said about the remainder of our trip the better.

12:00 We buy amaretti on the way home from our morning of solvent abuse. The children rearrange everything in the shop ignoring my ineffectual bleating. The shopkeeper pretends to find it all perfectly charming, but his eyes are like precision lasers of DEATH.

12:30 After lunch (peanut butter sandwich, who do you think I am, Nigella Fucking Lawson?), we make Fimo. Fimo is STAINY. Why do I not remember this from all the other times?? I get a bit OCD about colour cross-contamination. There is literally noone who is less fun to do craft projects with than me. Thankfully, my children are excellent at ignoring me, they get plenty of practice. Someone - ok, probably me - puts the oven WAY too high and the Fimo billows out clouds of probably toxic smoke. It seems to work anyway. Sort of. I varnish it with demented precision, like the sad craft loser I am.

Can you guess whose is whose?

14:00 We collect Swearing Boy. Lashes proudly gives him his Code Letter. On rereading it, we realise that I have managed, not just to get it a bit wrong, but to get it so comprehensively, spectactularly wrong, that not a single letter of the whole thing is in the correct place. Alan Turing I am not. Swearing Boy is quite sweetly tolerant even if he is extremely rude. I find myself wondering about the grosse conne incident.

15:00 We make small felt monsters. I quite enjoy this bit, particularly the bit after everyone gets bored and goes away to make short films on my phone, involving screaming, showing their buttocks and tormenting the dog. Whilst they do this, I can sit, doing OCD precise tiny running stitch around the outside of the felt monsters. It is definitely the high point of my day. I show them proudly to the children, who ignore me. They are mysteriously busy hiding Twixes in the dog's bowl and enjoying Swearing Boy's attempts to broaden their vocabulary.

16:30 Just as I am getting a bit weepy at the whole playdate thing, and scraping Fimo out of the dog's fur is getting a bit old, Swearing Boy's mum sweeps him away to football practice. Seconds later, Prog Rock arrives.

16:30-20:00 Prog Rock tells me stuff about Gogol, David Mamet, Ken Clarke's voting record, Soviet satire, Auden fellating rent boys, the elastic nature of our connectedness with others and my sister's plans whilst I scrape more Fimo off the floor and make some kind of crispy brown for children, green and wholesome for adults, dinner. Lashes has broken Fingers's periscope. World War Three breaks out. I get a bit snappy, but subsequently save the day with some clever technical wizardry, which, in an act of King Solomon-esque tough justice, involves using the guilty party's toothbrush. No-one is remotely impressed. Prog Rock has brought Fingers a sort of klaxon thing as a present. He has the grace to look a bit shifty as Fingers blows it joyfully in weepette's ear. Weepette has retired to his plush car in disgust.

20:30 The second best part of the day: we set fire to the amaretti papers. Apparently in 30 years this hasn't got any less magical. I am - for a brief second - a ninja parent.

21:00 Children in bed. Wine. Give Prog Rock dinner. Discuss the relatively stability of coalition governments across Europe. Write two work emails. Hope they make more sense than my attempt at code. Consider setting fire to more amaretti papers but settle for some more OCD running stitch. Ok, maybe I make a TINY bit more Fimo. I can stop any time! Honest!

I'll put the fabric glue away now. Honest. Just give me a minute.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Expressionist Surrealist Colouring for the Under 5s

It turned out that, not to be outdone by Tuesday, what Wednesday had in store for us was a vomiting bug, so that was a midweek treat. I was, however, genuinely delighted to discover that the smallest Waffle, in line with his normal slightly OCD tendencies, has become a spectacularly accurate and tidy vomiter. Small, but significant mercies. I ended up with both of them in my bed last night, moaning gently as I tried to read about the legal framework of compulsory French health insurance under the covers. We do know how to live here in Uccle. Today Belgium is in the grip of dramatically terrible weather and it is a public holiday. Thankfully the boys are not completely recovered yet, so have refrained from killing me and feasting on my spinal fluid. That will presumably come tomorrow.

This morning's disturbing discovery came in the form of my friendly neighbourhood ING's Ensor children's colouring competition. What next? A Jake & Dinos Chapman colouring competition? Hieronymous Bosch? Cicciolina era Jeff Koons? Brace yourselves, this is nasty, possibly nastier than the petits salés.

And this, my absolute favourite:


The lucky winner wins, wait for it, "one night in Ostende with your parents!". We will avoid drawing the obvious conclusion as to what second prize might be.

Do you dare me to enter? I'm thinking rainbows and maybe tiny unicorns. The small print seems to suggest I don't even have to be a minor to enter. Excellent.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tuesday, the new Wednesday

A tiny catalogue of Tuesday fail, before I return to my own personal gulag for the evening. Tuesday went all bitchy and vindictive on me this week. It's usually better behaved than this.

1. The fire extinguisher repair man came round today (the only thing my landlords have done here, to my knowledge, in my year of residence), and I airily waved him in the direction of the landing, pleased I even knew where the extinguisher was, and went back to work. Five minutes later a crystal clear mental image appeared fully formed in my mind, making me gasp, of the pile of dirty washing I had dumped in precisely the spot occupied by the fire extinguisher. Not just boys t-shirts, mind. "Delicates". A pile of my knickers, basically, maybe the odd greying bra for variety. It was too late to go and retrieve them. I pretended to be the dogsitter, unconvincingly. I felt judged, and rightly so.

2. I arrived at school after a fraught day of being a fucking moron, to find my first born embroiled in some sort of Situation, involving him having possibly called someone "une grosse conne" (VERY rude). The words "he must have learnt that at home" were bandied about, with the cat's arse face of judgment. I had many esprit d'escalier type thoughts about this after the event, most of them exceptionally rude. I don't think he said it, myself. He could very easily have learned how to say "fucking hell", I concede, but I wouldn't say "grosse conne" (nor would his father, who as we know limits himself to a manly "shackass", possibly rising to "oh bordel" if he's doing DIY). Unfair. He was weeping and indignant at the injustice of it all, which meant I didn't even shout at him for losing his glove, new that morning. Swings, roundabouts.

3. I fell into a pothole filled with water on the way home, it was raining apocalyptically for the 73rd consecutive hour, one child was weeping with injustice in my arms, and the other was telling me a long, involved story about words beginning with "S".


"Er, no"


"Not that one either"


"Not exactly"




(Brightly, with just an edge of mania) "Shall we do this when we get home, darling?"

Then suddenly I was calf deep in rain water, my cherished, ancient Chloé shoe buggered. You win, Tuesday.

Thankfully, M has cheered me up by mocking me and my phone phobia, which was particularly bad today.

M: You can get over it. With some laser focus!

E: You reckon?

M: Come on. Focus. FOCUUUUUSSSSS.

E: I can't. My head hurts.

M: FOCUUUUSUSSSSS. Did you just blow up a paper clip with your laser eye beams?

E: Maybe a little.

M: Oh shit, I just blew up a co-worker.

E: Ooh, I should turn my gaze on the dog then.

M: Start with a warning shot. Blow up something near his paw.

E: If this were slightly earlier in the day, that would be the 500 gramme pack of butter he liberated from the kitchen and ate on the doormat.

I await Wednesday with interest, and a degree of terror.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Ass kicking, cardboard phobia, the Andrew Neill photo

My search for crack ponies continues. Where does one find a crack pony anyway? It turns out it's way harder than it has any right to be. I could get you a wallaby or the Grand African Duke, but no crack addled equines.

In the meantime I must turn, sadly, to other topics. You may have noticed I do not limit myself to posting when I have something interesting to say, a piece of advice you often hear about blogging. No, I feel distressingly compelled to write even when I have nothing to say and my head feels like it has been placed in a vice, possibly one of the ones in Mr Easton's woodwork workshop of terror in Quaker School, and squeezed until there is not the tiniest drop of creative thought left in it. More's the pity.

News. Or rather "news".

1. I have signed up - with no little trepidation - for a session of "Laser Focussed Ass-Kicking". I'm not sure how laser focussed it needs to be, really. He could just roundly abuse me for all my myriad failings for an hour or so while I cringe on the floor whining and making lame excuses and it would probably do some good. My initial concern is that it is a telephone session. I don't "do" the telephone. I fear it like a lost Amazonian tribe might. But God knows, I need kicking, and Doctor Capybara has taken his pointy little hooves elsewhere for the winter. I feel sweaty and terrified at the thought of revealing the full extent of my pathetic neuroses to someone I met once at a party last summer and I am currently stalled at the first hurdle which involves setting out briefly what particular brand of lameness I would like him to focus on. It is so hard - and so shaming - to choose. Everything I have written in this last paragraph will be like catnip to him, I know. I am supposed to be filled with rockstar positivity, but my head hurts, HSBC own my soul and this miasma of self-loathing is so cosy.

2. The dog has developed several new neuroses of his own. They include: me opening the cellar door, anyone trying to sit on the large inflatable spider cushion and the sound of cardboard boxes being opened, all three of which reduce him to a yelping trembly wreck. I suppose it might be because since the children have come back, they seem intent on trying to ride him like a camel. I am monstrously impatient about it, anyway, and trying to resist the temptation to practise my laser focussed ass kicking on him. I also need to resist the temptation to dress him up like this. Maybe I would resent his diva freakouts less if he looked a bit more diva-esque? Unlikely, I concede.

3. Failures of the day: Revising the four times table (my father the scientist must be so proud). Breaking a coffee machine in someone else's office. Continued failure to engage with the Christmas Question (where, how, can't I just go into witness protection and avoid the whole thing). 'Fessing up to cutting my son's fringe myself at the hairdressers:

"Did you do the back too?"

"Errrrr .. just a tiny bit?"

(I had to. It was getting mullety).

4. Microscopic triumphs: the assassin's dishwasher fixing seems to have worked. When my landlady saw me today I was in looking totally respectable and carrying serious work style papers, rather than muttering to myself in a tracksuit with a freaked out, cardboard-phobic weepette on a piece of string. The illusion that I am gainfully employed is maintained, for now. My first born no longer has a bowl cut.


Pretty close, right? RIGHT?

(I had to cut J out of this picture, not only because he deserves better, but also because - even though it doesn't really look that similar - it made me think of that famous Andrew Neill picture they used to run in Private Eye weekly, with me in the Andrew Neill rôle and J as the girl. Too much wrongness for a Monday).

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Crack ponies

Another week draws to a close in Uccle, one which has seen the dog get fleas, my friend Beatrice temporarily evicted from her flat to make room for a team of Hungarian porcelain packers, a trained assassin reduced to repairing my dishwasher for small change, and me develop a debilitating addiction to expensive hot chocolate whilst simultaneously congratulating myself for doing thriftily ingenious things with budget sacks of lentils (a situation in which I can detect no internal contradictions whatsoever). Dark times, my friends. Unfortunately for all of us, I have promised M a birthday blog post, even though my mind is filled with nothing more edifying than dust mites, self-loathing and whatever panic becomes when it flounces around crying wolf for so long you get bored of it. "Write me something about ponies. And crack" she said, reasonably, with just an edge of menace. I'll admit I'm a tiny bit scared. When she sees from this that I let the assassin back in the house, she'll probably just come straight across and save him a job.

In happier news, the boys are back, strewing biscuit crumbs and Lego bricks through the house, and drawing glasses on our puppy in magic marker and I am delighted to see them. They told me they had seen puffer fish the size of houses, sharks and dolphins and turtles and a fakir "with four people walking on his face". More impressive than any of this, there was a man who made ice cream cones from scratch out of "special waffle pancakes". Amazing. Fingers fell down some marble stairs, the CFO added, ashen at the memory of it. "Un grand moment de solitude", he said. I know how that feels. He had the greyish pallor and pinched expression of someone who has spent 48 hours in transit with of two lively small boys whilst suffering from a catastrophic digestive complaint. He broke off and frowned at me suddenly, in the middle of telling me about it.

"What's that on your face?"

I knew without looking. "Flour. I went to a Halloween party, there were games".

I was pretty good at the games, actually, competitiveness winning out over vanity. My costume - Elio di Rupo* - was not an unqualified success (I was mistaken for an '80s cocktail waitress, which one can only hope says more about my poor fancy dress execution than the probable future Belgian prime minister's dress sense)and I had to abandon my false eyelashes in a box of Ibuprofen midway through the evening, but I still won a consolation prize pen. It was a great party. The (decontaminated) dog is still desultorily chewing one of B's breasts, a half-deflated pink balloon that I took home with me in my handbag in one of those acts that feels perfectly logical at the time whilst in fact being nothing of the kind. I am reminded of the time at another, long ago halloween party when I left a baked potato on Violet's pillow for reasons lost in the mists of retsina. That night was also responsible for my lifelong phobia of cooked pumpkin and particularly pumpkin pie which is the work of satan. Pumpkin and cinnamon? Together? Could you make that any more revolting? Oh, squirty cream on top! Perfect. North Americans, can I pre-empt any ripple of protest at this by saying I am quite sure that it is delicious when done properly, but I live in Belgium. Belgium, the country that venerates the endive.

Once the CFO had left, to sleep for 18 hours straight if there is any justice, I ruined an idyllic week of improbably large fish and ice cream for Lashes by giving in to his demand that I cut his fringe. Why in the name of all that is holy did I do that? If there's anyone who knows fuck all about cutting hair, that person is me. But he was very persuasive, and insistent that people would laugh at him with a too long fringe. Hmm. I'm not sure getting your mother to hack hopelessly around at your hair with a pair of blunt children's scissors and the poorest spatial awareness in south Brussels is the best way not to get laughed at.

Ugh, sorry M. I will do better tomorrow and find you crack ponies. In the meantime here's a really terrible poi video just how we like them. Dude has a beret and he's "against the term fountains". Poi controversy!

* I found out yesterday that Dirupo means "precipice" in Italian. On this basis, if none other, he really has to be Belgian PM, surely?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Petits Salés

It's very quiet around here, which apparently hasn't assisted me in putting content on my weblog, sorry. I have heard from the children, who are diving in Egypt, once, a message that read:

Lashes: j ai vu un puffer fish geant, je suis sur qu Il a bu du petreol I'll y avait aussi un poisson lion tres grand. Om a fait du snorkeling et c etait incroyable. (sic)

Fingers: le puffer fish etait geant, on a fait du snorkeling et on a vu enorment de poissons. On a rate hallowen mais c est pas grave. (sic)

Non French speakers - actually, you can probably guess, can't you, from the helpful way they use lots of English words. They saw a puffer fish. Lashes thought he had been drinking oil. I have no idea why. This is very much the way my kids speak, French sentence structure peppered with English nouns. Whilst they are obviously having the most brilliant time, I don't much like them being quite so far away AND going on an iron bird of death without me. I'm lighting tiny, irrational candles in my head for their safe return, tomorrow night.

I don't really know what I've been doing this week. "Pieces and pieces" as my Italian neighbour used to say. It was definitely an improvement on last week's weeping/watching House-until-all-the-sick-people-blend-into-one-giant-case-of-paraneoplastic syndrome - marathon, anyway, and I certainly did a great deal of cooking, most of it with lentils and various little, fidgety bits of work, each earning me about 14 pence. Oh! I went to London for the day on Monday to interview the magnificent India Knight about her new book which is creasingly funny, particularly on the topic of pigeons, and which I recommend hugely. That was fun. We talked about spots, pigeons, Knokke La Zoute and the psychological scars inflicted by growing up in the sinister shadow of Père Fouettard. That led me to investigate a St Nicolas song she described to me, and wish very fervently I hadn't.

Seriously, only watch this if you are psychologically robust and don't find quavery old lady voices indescribably creepy. Everything about it is horrifying, the featureless, bent, St Nicolas with his ghostly, rhomboid mitre, the children, the music... Awful. Halloween plus plus. A specially nasty episode of Cracker.

The story, for those unfamiliar with it, is that three children get lost in a forest - this is never a good start to a story, is it? Do pleasant things happen to children who get lost in forests? Do they fuck, and this is one of the many reasons I reject country walks as a Terrible Idea. Anyway. Three children get lost in a forest, they go and knock on a butcher's door. Again, does this sound like a good plan? No. The butcher lures them in, feeds them and puts them to bed, then, with wearying inevitability, chops them up into little pieces and places them in a barrel of salt.

Seven years later, St Nicolas is mooching around the forest, as third century Greek bishops are liable to do, and decides to knock on the butcher's door. The butcher offers him dinner, and St Nicolas says "No, give me some 'petits salés'", which is a sort of pork dish, but also means "little salty things". The butcher brings him some pork, and St Nicolas says "no, I want some of the petit salés you made SEVEN YEARS AGO" with a special, significant, saintly look (I made that bit up). Then he sticks his fingers in the barrel and brings them back to life. In one version of the story, the butcher then becomes the Père Fouettard, and follows St Nicolas round, presumably menacing children with his big old knife and economy sized packet of gros sel. Even without this sinister postscript, the whole thing is pretty dark.

If anyone can point me to a darker festive children's story/legend, I would be fascinated. Scared witless too, probably.