Anyway. Patrick is an outpost of the Jean-Yves empire. Jean-Yves gave me to understand that Patrick was a monomaniacal zealot in dealing with the esoteric outer reaches of Belgian administration, to be handled with respect and some caution. I imagined him a bit like the Jean Réno character in Nikita, but without corpses.
"You don't pay Patrick" he said, obliquely, waving a beige-clad arm in a dismissive gesture. "We deal with that". That's how you roll with Jean-Yves. Things just .. happen. Jail time possibly. Who knows? I have placed my faith in Jean-Yves as one might in a Boeing 747. One admits one's ignorance, places one's critical faculties on stand by and hopes for the best.
Patrick came round on Friday to explain things to me. I cleaned the kitchen table for him and everything and searched through my filing cabinet - yes, I have a filing cabinet, shut up - for documentary offerings to place in front of him. I only came up with my P45 and passport, both of which he disdained, but at least I felt I'd showed willing. He did not look like Jean Réno and had an alarming squint which left me wondering if I had left some unfortunate item of underwear drying on the radiator behind me, his gaze was drawn there so frequently. Every two minutes his phone would ring, and he would bark "ik ben met klant" (I'm with a client) and hang up. Social security is a serious business.
Obviously, I understood about 4% of what he told me, the rest being made up of the kinds of whistles and clicks that schools of dolphins might make to one another. There was a diagram, but I think one of the children turned it into a paper aeroplane. I know very little, but I know that bills will start arriving eventually and my job is to pay them. This I can do (well, sort of). The rest is just ambient dolphin music as far as I am concerned. I made him a cup of coffee, signed a piece of paper, and listened as he listed all the lawyers he knew in Belgium. Job done.
Patrick emailed me this evening. I have had a difficult weekend. This Christmas has blind-sided me with the emotions it has been stirring up, and all manner of deferred sadness keeps surfacing, inconveniently. I collected my tree ornaments from the CFO on Friday and several of them were missing or broken (his mother had used them last year, watch me rise above that with zen calm. Breathe, breathe. In, out. Silver, gold. I am caaaalm). I am pining for them and on top of that, we had a sad accident with my much-loved tiny glass Christmas tree last night as we tried to decorate our actual tree (which was incidentally eyeball bleedingly dear. It cost far more than I imagine a human child of approximately the same size would on the black market). We bought more decorations in a rush last night, and as a result the tree looks like Liberace vomited on it. There is an LED colour changing star on the top that makes me feel physically ill and the whole thing is bristling with alarming coloured tinsel. Where are my sweet Danish birds? Where is my pewter SEAHORSE, dammit?
I have had a bad week for work too; a week when I can't see any viable future, which I hope is festive gloom rather than prescience. Who knows? As my wonderfully consoling friend F said today in a similar fit of Yuleschmerz (I suppose it would be Weinachtschmerz, but Yuleschmerz sounds nicer. Weinachtsangst? I digress) "I thought I was the kind of person who would be fine, and I am undone so much of the time". And it's that. Precisely that.
So tonight Patrick helpfully emailed me with this query:
"Etes-vous affiliée à une organisation professionelle de journalistes? Avez-vous une carte de presse?"
(Are you a member of a professional association of journalists? Do you have a press card?)
Er, no. No. I am entirely without professional credentials. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. For the remainder of this calendar year (so, 19 days) I am still a solicitor admitted in England and Wales, though. Do I get any points for that? No? Oh. Excuse me while I breathe into this paper bag.
After a brief pause, he followed up with "Alors Madame, Pouvez-vous me donner une description de vos activités?"
(Then, Madam, can you give me a description of your activities?)
Maybe I am just projecting the scepticism I sense emanating from this message, but it's as if even the social security man knows I am a fraud. You do not have a job, Emma! You are just PRETENDING. Patrick, Google Adsense, the insistent voices in my head.. It's not good.
Erm. What can I tell him? I have cobbled something factually accurate together but it does change the real, enormous insecurity I feel at the moment.
"I thought I was the kind of person who would be fine". I'm sure losing that assurance is good for my soul, but it's bloody terrifying too. Brrrrrr. Is Jean Réno coming to terminate me for past acts of hubris?
Here, here's something cheerier. A picture of a gorgeously cheeky Fabiola inspired fashion shoot and an endive under a glass dome:
You can see a few more pics from this spread if you go here and click on the picture. It made me very very happy.