Thursday, 29 April 2010

Entertaining for Boys

The rip in the time-space continuum that is a Belgian Bank Holiday weekend is fast approaching. 1 May falls on a Saturday, which means that for two days - two days that will feel like ALL ETERNITY - Belgium will just shut.


Yes. I realise that it is probably very admirable not to exploit your workforce and to take two days out from mindless consumption and so on. It's not the shops not being shut I mind so much (spot the giant, ridiculous lie in that statement) it's the ghostly, empty streets, creating the feeling that you are all alone in this town with a pair of snarling zombie children whose daily alloted half hour of Nintendo is up.


I am being unfair, I do all the snarling. Lashes, if left to his own devices for long enough, will devise some ghastly project involving several of the giant pee scented boxes in the cellar, a range of vital kitchen utensils that I will be unable to find for months thereafter, and enough sellotape to immobilise a whole troupe of Girl Scounts (a prospect I consider most Sundays when they come on their regular extortion visits). Fingers less so. He is unenchanted by tv, rejects the cinema out of hand, and is constantly frustrated by his brother's stream of smart-arse chat and subtle teasing. There are exceptional, golden moments when they are both amused, but generally those involve some act of wholesale naughtiness that will end in parental fury (see: painting new carpet with the brightly coloured maize chips of SATAN dipped in shampoo, pouring away €€€€€ of expensive unguent to make potions) or someone getting hurt (see tonight: stabbing a giant cardboard box repeatedly with a sharpened Mikado stick "to make a starry sky" is likely to end in maiming).


What to do? What to do, indeed. I do not have a car, a fact the children keen about in Greek chorus at every opportunity. "When are you getting a car?" "Why can't we have a car?" "Papa has a car" "C'est trop loiiiiiiin" "my feet hurt". Since they would like a car to go as far as the corner shop, they have limited credibility, but when it comes to a Belgian long weekend, they really do have a point.


Previous May bank holiday weekends were expediently dealt with by a parent-imposed trip to my favourite wildlife park to bait the free roaming capybaras and see if we could make off with a penguin. But my favourite wildlife park is about as accessible by public transport as Jupiter. The same goes for a range of other activities. I'm generally in favour of getting out, despite the complaints, but a Sunday tram is as frequently sighted as a five legged unicorn. The weather, which has been unseasonally beautiful (I am writing this sitting outside in a garden full of bird song, lilac and barbecue fumes, with an ill-advised ant wandering across the top of my keyboard), is going to take a sharp turn for the grey and cold. Of course it is! I suppose I could go wild and fall back on my incompetent friends at Taxis Bleus, but where would we go, anyway? Whatever I suggest gets one of two responses.

Scenario A

E: Shall we go to the X (where x is a putatively child-friendly activity of some sort)?

Child 1/2 (not looking up from Nintendo/tormenting dog/eating 800000 biscuits straight from tin) ..........

E: I SAID shall we go to the X?

Child 1/2: (totally oblivous to my presence) ........

E: FOR GOD'S SAKE. I SAID SHALL WE GO TO THE X, GODAMMIT.

Child 1: No.

Child 2: No

E wanders away muttering. Several hours later when it is too late to do anything, both children appear, their little faces filled with expectant hope.

Child 1: Can we go to X now?

E: But you said you didn't want to go!

Child 2: Nooooo, we said we DID want to go! We want to go. NOW.

E: But it's too late now! It shuts in half an hour!

Child 1: BUT YOU SAID WE COULD GOOOOOOOO!

Child 2: (inchoate disappointed wailing)

Weeping and gnashing of teeth ensues from all parties.

Fin.


Scenario 2

E: Shall we go the Y (where Y is another putatively child friendly type activity)?

Child 1: OUAIS! Chouette! Yes, can we go now?

Child 2: Uuuuuuuugh naoooon j'ai pas envie no I won't go you can't make me NO.

E: (stabbing self repeatedly in eye with a giant Mikado) Are you sure you don't want to go darling?

Child 2 (emphatic) NO.

E: But you know there are rivers of chocolate and free Bakugans and I will buy you a pony?

Child 2: NO.

Child 1: Can I have a pony too?

E: We'll see, it doesn't look like YOUR BROTHER (accusing stare) will let us go.

Civil society breaks down altogether in a cycle of bribery, recriminations and logistical chaos. E locks herself in the bathroom with a bottle of gin, boys revert happily to teasing the dog and stealing biscuits.

Helpful readers will suggest I find friends in a similar quandary and arrange some kind of joint sufferance thing. I don't have any friends like that, really. The Belgian ones will all be off having some interminable family meal. The others were all ceded as part of our infinitely civilised separation. I need to find more, enticing them into my slovenly dwelling with the promise of, erm, an improved immune system.

In the meantime, the three of us will probably end up here:




the only bar in the vicinity that will be open. I am developing a sick fascination with it, but you need a moustache to drink there. I suppose that could be arranged. Moustache workshop! Weekend quandary solved!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Belgiana - Episode 2

I know you've been dying to know what's been happening in Europe's crappest political soap opera. Well you need wait no longer. Here is BELGIANA, PT II.

Previously on Belgiana:

Open VLD, the party that sounds like heart surgery, sulked the government out of existence for the 412th time this century over an electoral constituency the size of Neasden. Head Potato Monsieur Leterme attempted to resign for the third time. Vlaams Belang sang a jolly song. The King was shockingly forced to return from holiday.

We need some theme music really. Here, this will do. Though Belgo-politico-purist wonks will prefer this.

King Albert appoints temporary crisis Potato Monsieur Reynders to sort everything out. Confidence levels hover around erm, the Dead Sea. The temporary crisis potato gives up after about 24 hours attempting to reason with everyone and failing.




(M. Reynders being shunned by all sides in a remarkable show of cross-party unity)


The king reluctantly accepts M. Leterme's resignation. It's au revoir, not adieu M. Leterme. On past history, we can assume you will be Prime Minister again within 6 months, older, more tuber-like, and distinctly not wiser.




We all wonder what will happen next, while not really caring. The papers focus almost exclusively on how rubbish the King's mobile phone is.




However! SECRETLY, the king decides that the only way to decide who should rule Belgium, following various unfortunate incidents involving wildly inaccurate televised maps (upside-down? Giving Wallonia a coastline?), is to get everyone to DRAW it. His initial attempt to select a candidate on the basis of who sang the national anthem best failed as, out of five candidates, 1 sang La Marseillaise, 3 ça plane pour moi, and 1 Jacques Brel's Knokke La Zoute Tango.


First redesign of the kingdom comes from the Flemish moderates.


("Red = ours, yellow = yours. End of".)

The Francophones get a go too.


("Red = yours, yellow = ours. But, um, we'll swap you Charleroi for Knokke if you want")

Vlaams Belang go a bit mental, but get points for mad lion drawing skillz.




In despair, the King establishes a committee for redesigning the political frontiers of Belgiana. The committee, after long deliberation, comes up with this:





The King asks the political classes what to do about BHV, using the medium of black marker pen.

1. Phlegms:




(It's ours, bitchez)

2: Loons:



(Enfin, c'est une évidence. Le BHV se trouve dans la rue de Rivoli, Paris 1er. DONC C'EST FRANCOPHONE, BANDE DE NAINS).

3. Vlaams Belang:




(The lion is hungry. NOM).


4. Committee:



BHV to be sold to the Ariane European space programme and fired onto one of the seven moons of Saturn for research purposes.

Despair and chaos reigns once more.

What will happen next? Are we heading inexorably towards an election? Does anyone care? Should we eat the political class of potatoes with mayonnaise, or sauce americaine?



Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Dr Capybara returns

More Belgo-governmental shenanigans in the last 24 hours. I have carefully preserved a wilting spear of asparagus for a further set of vegetable constitutional adventures tomorrow.

In the meantime, I have been talking to Dr Capybara. I am a mess, I can't afford therapy, and I do like to be stamped on repeatedly by those pointy little hooves. Imagine I am on the divan made of pampas grass.

E: So first, this morning, I got to the tram stop with two children and three huge bags and tickets and all manner of crap, and a woman purses her lips and says to me "Excuse me? Your dress is riding up when you carry your bag over your shoulder". And PULLS MY HEM DOWN. It was just like being back in Paris. I bet she was Parisian.

Dr C: Next time you should pull your dress up to the waist and shout "WHAT'S THE MATTER? YOU DON'T LIKE MY VAGINA???"

E: The day was awful. At lunchtime I ate a Quick Mr Softy ice cream on a square of dog shit coated grass overlooking a dual carriageway. That was the high point. Look, here's a picture for light relief in the relentless gloom of this therapy session:




Dr C: Dr C says Mr Softy is not ice cream. Try again. Also, do you have some kind of skin disease the doctor should know about?

E: I like how you refer to yourself in the third person. It gives you gravitas. No, that is an inept, bordering on disastrous, St Tropez Everyday job. In the afternoon I ordered some crap for eldest child's birthday party online. It was very soothing. Especially when I ordered things called "Large eye ball poppers". I went into a sort of reverie at the thought of popping eyeballs.

Dr C: Think of any men you know who need their balls popping.

E: (Long pause). Yes. That's definitely helping. Thank you doctor. Then I took the children to the new bookshop on our street and bought violent, hideous bande dessinées about pirahnas and spiders and god knows what else eating other creatures alive. They made me feel a bit queasy.

Dr C: I diagnose your children as Belgian. And I am bored now. Do you have any actual problems?

E: I am terrified I will never have the courage to do what I want with my life because I am too scared of failure. But more importantly I have a small chicken's arse style wrinkle on the left side of my upper lip. It makes me look really fucking old. Do you have plastic surgery qualifications? Should I get Botox on the chicken's arse? Or would a hoof in the mouth have the same effect?

Dr C: I will refer you to my colleague Dr BushBaby. But you could try cracking a fucking smile once in a while.

E: Are jerboas real, Dr Capybara?

Dr C: Of course they aren't. They are a figment of your sick imagination. Even the name isn't real. TRY HARDER JERBOA. GET YOUR OWN NAME AND STOP FREERIDING ON SERPENTS. If you are pretending to be a serpent, at least have the good sense to try and look slithery.

E: And do Belgians practise tantric sex? The keyword searchers want to know.

Dr C: Dr C does not care to find out. Filthy human habits.

E: Do capybaras get blue waffle? Probably not with all that underwater copulation.

Dr C: You are a hoof's breadth away from getting barred for life from my consulting rooms.

E: Can you tell me a joke?

Dr C: I am sighing heavily here. A capybara walks into a bar. There is a horse at the bar. The capybara kicks it in the shins and walks out again. The end.

E: I feel better already. Thank you doctor.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Relentless positivity or ratshit

I will continue with the html equivalent of talking about the weather until things are clearer here in Belgiana. I am struggling. If posts get hideously boring, just tell me and I will take a few days off entirely. I have lots of other productive and pleasurable things I could be doing, like grinding my teeth to stumps, biting my cuticles, and picking at a small skin tag on my neck until it looks like I have a massive lovebite. Yeah, on second thoughts, let me blog.

Happy things:

1. . Einstein. I am mainly preoccupied with the size of Einstein's head. Remember the pygmy jerboa (this bears watching again, even if you do. The masterful moment when it falls off the scale still works for me)? And how we established it was approximately 83% head by volume? Einstein is not quite that masterfully HEAD, but I reckon he's about 68% head. He troubles the laws of physics almost as much as a bumble bee. He would look lovely in my large green handbag. I want those tiny hooves to pet.

2. Fingers has had a deliciously short haircut. Since he is very very brown from his week at the gulag calisthenics camp in Ostende, the haircut gives him a centimetre of very pale white contrast skin around the hairline which looks particularly lovely. I could quite happily hold him in my gnarled claws forever right now, if he would let me. This is a pre-haircut picture but I love how absorbed he is. He is always absorbed.



3. His elder brother has been sticking notes on my back all evening, then hilariously executing what they say. They say things like "tape moi" and "donne moi un coup de pied", but with ornate, 8 year old spelling. I love primary school humour. Then he drew Oscar's brain, entirely unprompted.



You probably can't read it but it says "balle, crier, chocolat, courir, mordre, lit, caca et pipi, sniffer les fesses" (ball, shouting, running, biting, bed, poo and wee, sniffing bottoms). Very accurate. Maths is less of a strong point. We both ran into difficulties tonight on the 7 times table in ways that would cause my father, the statistician, to doubt my parentage. Sssh. 42 is totally 7 x 7. Sort of. Not.

Later, I tried to put up curtains in his room, using Iris, the deadly, gigantic, rickety stepladder while he read in bed.

"Lashes, do you know what number to call if I fall off this ladder?"

"Hein?"

"Do you know who to call on the phone if I fall off the ladder and hurt myself?"

Long pause. Page turning. Ominous creaks from Iris.

"Lashes?"

"No"

"118. CENT DIX HUIT. Ok?" swaying, precariously, 8 feet up, on Iris's loose rungs, wishing for one of those red buttons on a piece of string from the back of the Sunday supplements circa 1983 ("Mrs Hope knows help is coming").

"Ouais, Ok". Not looking up, even momentarily.

I related this to M, who said "he would just leave you until the weepette ate your face". She is correct. I am really REALLY happy to have them back right now. I feel a lot saner already after an evening of just picking up their strewn clothes and mini egg foil and listening to them bicker and stick post-its to the dog.

4. I am listening to this a great deal. It's quite a sparse, insubstantial thing, so I'm not sure why it appeals so much. It does though. It might just be the contrast with the Von Trapps who spent yesterday tormenting me with STING.

5. There is no 5. I have been trying to think of one for an hour. Erm. There is a beautiful crop of dandelions in the back garden. The dog has not peed on the fridge for over 2 weeks. I found three temazepam hidden in a box of teabags whilst tidying. Zooborns (check out the baby capybaras, the ones entirely underwater are particularly fine). King Albert has appointed a temporary crisis potato to sort everything out, though personally I think there were many suggestions in the comments that far outstripped this in ingenuity and cunning. (UPDATE: King Albert really should have listened to us, because the crisis potato has turned out to be no use whatsoever and now we really don't have the slightest excuse for a government. Ah, well). Other than that, it's all pretty much ratshit. It might be time to head back to Kiss & Ride tomorrow, we could all do with some light relief.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Blah, blah, weekend, blah

The tragedy of being governed by a succession of potatoes has got to me this weekend and I retired to my bed for most of it. It was very peaceful, and I have quite enjoyed it, between episodes of soul-freezing panic, making myself nice meals occasionally composed of things other than crème caramel, lighting candles, reading Rachel Cusk and watching undemanding DVDs. The sun shone and a gentle breeze blew the curtains as I listened to the seemingly interminable bell practice at the church on the corner, a viciously loud seagull barking and the devout and terrifyingly, erm, musically enthusiastic, Von Trapp family next door bawling at one another and nursed my martini remorse.

Tragically, Mrs (should that be Baroness?) Von Trapp announced to me on Friday that they are moving out soon. Not, however, before I have subjected them to my housewarming party (based on your kind encouragement I have decided to go ahead with this) full of deviants, single mothers, and other infidels and enemies of the Lord. If you lurk around here, live in the Kingdom of Belgiana, and want to come to my party, drop me an email and I will subject you to a barrage of intense psychometric tests for my own amusement and demand lavish gifts, before possibly inviting you (to sit in an entirely empty Salmon Palace with me and a bowl of stale paprika flavoured crisps, probably).


There is very little to say about a weekend in bed, so be grateful I don't do it often. Instead, let me tell you what I bought this week. I am not buying anything else for a very long time, possibly forever, and shouldn't have bought any of this either. Ssssssh.


1. Cos dress. Heavy sort of stone coloured silk, nice draped sleeves. Anonymous, but useful. Cos is brilliant at the moment (though their website is totally impenetrable, and I couldn't for the life of me find a picture of my dress to show you). I could have gone a bit Mariah in there and bought pretty much everything.

2. Serge Lutens, L'Eau. This is the soapy perfume I have been obsessing about for months. I shouldn't have bought it, but there it is. I still love it. It's a big bottle and I will be able to smell clean and delicious for aaages. Yes, the dark forces of Mr Lutens have probably brainwashed me, sucked out my spinal fluid and replaced it with jelly, and that is why I have bought it. I am powerless to resist.

3. A new Tin Tin Tin full of biscuits. This one is much larger and has a camel on. I don't love it as much, but it's useful. Also, more biscuits. More biscuits makes me happy, makes the boys happy, makes the dog happy. Biscuits increase the sum of human (and canine) happiness. The end.

4. Spring food. Tomatoes, fresh goat cheese, asparagus, strawberries. Yesterday afternoon I finally shuffled out around 5, pale and paranoid, into the busy shopping street at the end of mine. It was like being bizarrely transported to Provence, but with more waffles. Warm, temporarily pedestrianised, full of amazingly tempting food. Although I am now further away from Brussels' premier ice cream parlour named after male genitalia, there are many summery compensations in my new quartier including an embarassment of places to sit and drink small cups of coffee in the sun, with a whiny neurotic dog trying to jump into your lap and stick its nose into your complimentary speculoos. What with this and the large, bewilderingly overgrown garden, the Salmon Palace is shaping up to be a very lovely spot to spend the summer. Which is a good thing as I most certainly can't afford to go anywhere more exotic (see 1-4 above).

5. A €5 geranium from a Girl Scout. I should know by now that if the door rings on a Sunday it will be the nauseatingly cheerful girl scouts hitting me up for some outrageously over-priced item or donation. Last time they were collecting food for the poor and confused me into giving them a giant bar of Côte d'Or special crack-chocolate (aux Amandes Caramelisées avec une pointe de sel). This time I paid approximately €1 per leaf on the puniest geranium known to science. It's guilt - they rouse me from my Sunday sloth, bedsocks inside out, no bra, food stained tshirt and then I feel I have to contribute. Damn them. Next time the bell rings on a Sunday morning. I'll just hide until they go away.

Tell me about your weekend, or something you bought. Distract me from the start of another week of endless doom.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Belgian Constitutional Crisis Explained with Seasonal Produce*

Words are inadequate to describe the depth, and absurdity, of Belgium's constitutional crisis. So I am using vegetables instead.




Here is Mr Leterme, our most recent Prime Minister. You must understand that there are only 4 people allowed to be Prime Minister in Belgium, which explains why the spectacularly unprepossessing Mr Leterme is on his 86th term of office, despite:

1. Forgetting the national anthem and singing La Marseillaise instead.
2. Calling French Belgians stupid.
3. Behaving in an exceptionally dodgy fashion over the break up of (useless Belgian bank) Fortis, including attempts to influence the judge presiding over the case. And then pretending he hadn't in the manner of an unconvincing 2 year old who hasn't learnt to lie yet.
4. Generally being a bit of a useless dickhead.

Mr Leterme has been heading yet another craptastic coalition of disgruntled lame-ass centrist parties. Here it is:




We are all for variety in the magical kingdom of Belgiana, so we like to have 2 or 3 of these interchangeable groups of centrists forming what they laughably describe as a 'government' a year. The current one has just broken, due to Open VLD, which is a spectacularly dull name for a political party and sounds like an unpleasant medical procedure.

Here are Open VLD. They are puny:




They are cross that the "BHV Question" hasn't been resolved. Dudes. BHV will NEVER be resolved unless BHV is razed and replaced with a second Atomium, or possibly a giant totem to the folly of humankind, made of speculoos.

This is BHV:




It is a tiny parcel of boringness on the outskirts of Brussels which has created constitutional and administrative chaos for years because of linguistic and voting boundaries and zzzzzz I just fell asleep trying to focus on it. I am overcome with ennui. Imagine, Britons, that the government were to fall into bitter infighting and chaos about what language to speak in Neasden. That's the BHV Question. If it were up to me, I'd make them all speak Latin.

Uh oh.



Here come the rabid Flemish Nationalists, Vlaams (spelling corrected at behest of irate commenter) Belang. They have come to further disrupt the government by bursting into parliament to unfurl a flag and SING. Whooo, scary! Given this is their preferred model for protest, you can see why Belgium hasn't ended up like Ulster. This is a Good Thing. Apart from the singing. That isn't a Good Thing at all.

While all this farce continues, King Albert:




who must be thoroughly pissed off with the whole business, deliberates on whether to accept Leterme's resignation, knowing with a heavy heart that he will inevitably be replaced with either Jean-Luc Dehaene or Guy Verhofstadt, Herman Van Rompuy being busy ruling Europe with a rod of, er, endive. All possible Prime Ministers look like this:


Who else could form a government?

(I sat at this point and tried to think of a model of Belgian efficiency and dynamism who could take over the reins of power. It was not fruitful)

1. Maybe some of those female Belgian tennis players.

2. Côte d'Or? No. They are owned by Kraft. Kraft is already trying to mess with my chocolate, I don't need it running my life.

3. Perhaps a return to absolute monarchy? We could get Albert II to wear a curly wig and knee breeches and reinstate feudalism.

4. Dinosaurs. I think on reflection this is probably the best option. I will go back to bed and await further instructions from my lizard overlords.


*Warning: explanation may contain manifold inaccuracies and lies.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Uccle Home for the Mildly Deranged

Where were we? Oh yes, I was forgetting to breathe and freebasing Cif. Well, there was more of the same for the rest of the day. I did well, broadly, both on cleaning AND keeping my shit together, bar a small spell of whimpering in the park yesterday evening and welling up at an advert for lightbulbs featuring Chloe Sevigny and Natalie Portman ("this bulb can save monkeys" waaaaaah). Oh, and pop eyed rage at superlative customer service in Delhaize (groceries for the damned), but that comes as standard in Belgian supermarkets. I thought I was doing ok, really, but when I had to take a photograph of myself for Facegoop purposes, it came out like this:


Full on Romanian orphan.

I tried again. I came up with this:




That's not good, is it? In this one, I look like I've just shuffled out of the closed ward to go and do some art therapy (no pointy brushes allowed). Possibly, I might be trying a little light arson in the smokers corner once I have scrawled black obscenities all over my sheet of paper. I am almost certainly squirrelling my meds away in a secret pocket 'for emergencies'.

At this point I removed the gin from the house and put myself on a diet of Ealing comedies, light household chores and toasted goods.

So. I am holed up at home, tending my mental health as if it were a fractious child, with small snacks and scheduled activities and enough sleep and nice music and trying not to piss it off with sweaty palmed thoughts of the future and so on. I am being very grown up between outbreaks of lunacy. It's fine. I can't really tell you what this is all about yet. It'll be fine though. Eventually.

I went out to lunch today with my lovely friend Clutching the Teacup only to be sworn at by ferociously hairy Italian waiters and seated under this:



We pondered stealing it, but the duck behind the owl was attached to the same stand making it hard to steal discreetly, and indescribably creepy.

Then I went, somewhat the worse for lunchtime red wine, and tried on five or six near- identical anonymous dresses in Cos, soothing myself with their pleasing sacklike aspect. I thought I looked very good, but now with hindsight, I think that might have been the wine.

And now I am going to walk the weepette, who has been a faithful, if massively annoying companion all day. I really hope to be able to write something a little less "what I did in my holidays" soon.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Breathe, breathe, breathe

I had the most wretched day yesterday. Am I the girl who cried gloom? Probably. But this one was properly, properly, epoch-definingly bad. I Can't Talk About It bad. It was the kind of day where coming home to nothing more than the exploded innards of a soft toy (though on reflection, these are actually the best kind of exploded innards to find) is enough to send you burrowing under the duvet cover with a paper bag on your head for all eternity. But look, weepette is looking after me.


He's like the Littlest Hobo*, but sleeker.


Look at that beady Pharaonic eye peering out.


And now I am going to try and unearth my evil nemesis, the hoover, and spend the morning in a mindless, symbolic, cleaning frenzy. First I will hoover up Nemo's innards. Then I will change the no-longer-white Ektorp covers. Then I will wash every item of clothing I can find. After that, all bets are off. Kitchen cupboards? Maybe something involving a hammer? Cutting the lawn with nail clippers? Anything is possible. Whenever an intrusive thought crosses my mind, I will sniff more cleaning product. That sounds like a plan, no?


(* I wanted to link to the Littlest Hobo for those of you not familiar with it and then got distracted by the episode synopses on Wikipedia. They are GRITTY. I particularly liked:

"a farmer and his mail order bride seem incompatible"
"Hobo mans a disco panel and helps the victim of an underworld frame up"
"parachuted into a fog bound town with an antidote for a child who has swallowed poison"
"Hobo befriends a three year old girl believed to have drowned in a sparsely populated area"
"Hobo stalks an ominous carnival patron"
"Bootleggers threaten a migrant who could expose them".

Also, there is one involving the theft of a champion whippet. I feel compelled to hunt it down and watch).

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Cake and fury and tight trousers

Ladies and Gentlemen of the internet, today was not a good day.

See, I almost want to just stop there instead of going into a massive whineathon. Almost. Also, I know what would improve today beyond all recognition, and that would be taking off these bastard too tight trousers, and then maybe burning them. Then going to bed to watch Glenn Close exude expressionless menace in the direction of an exceptionally peculiar William Hurt (Damages series 2). But no, I will settle for taking the trousers off and whining a little at you. Yes, I am now blogging with no trousers on. Is it unbearably erotic? I am also scratching my scalp like a rabid dog and wearing a grubby apron. It's a minority peversion, to say the least.


I should at least let you see the shittastic cake I managed to produce.




I think it would be fair to say I was not exactly in the baking zone tonight. I was more in the foetal ball zone, really. The whimpering zone. I had a day filled with self-induced stress, transport disasters, and self-loathing. Tight trousers will do that. The cake should have been easy. Really. It was meant to be a treasure island. All it needed was blue, yellow and green colouring, a plastic monkey, chocolate raisins and an ice cream cone filled with red stuff for a volcano. Unfortunately, of that list, the only things I actually managed to accumulate were: yellow and green colouring and an ice cream cone. I had a plastic turtle and a plastic pirate of such wildly inappropriate sizes that the island, once completed, appeared to be being terrorised by the King Kong of reptiles and a 600 ft sailor, carrying a totally gratuitous number of weapons. No blue sea. No lava. I also ran out of icing at a critical point and had to go to the supermarket twice in one evening (on a MONDAY, Belgian residents. When all of Belgium comes to stand in the supermarket and fiddle slowly in its purse for 6 euros in 2 cent coins). I did allow myself a moment of pride, though, at filling the volcano with Space Dust. Then I went back to eating dry cake offcuts and whimpering.

Top 5 minor préoccupations du jour for displacing the real worries (sssssssssh, don't let the anxiety even hear me say that or it will come and sit on my chest in the night again):

1. Trousers tight as sausage skin. Have they shrunk? Have I got vastly fat? Can I burn them? Will my waist ever recover? Will my mood, more importantly?

2. Domestic chaos. All the lightbulbs have gone, the garden is a terrifying nest of weeds and cat shit, the pervasive smell of drains persists, my zen room full of clothes is littered with the carcass of a flat pack I opened and got spooked by. I need a handyman.

3. Freckles and other sun damage and minor vanity problems. Including the thorny issue of whether I will ever remember to take the surprisingly expensive Imedeen We Make You YounG Again Through the Power of Fish Oils And Unicorn Meat capsules on the floor under the flatpack carcass.

4. Will Darwin Deez make it to Brussels for Thursday or will he be engulfed in a giant ashy cloud?

5. Will I be too much of a lame ass loser to organise a sort-of-very-late-housewarming party in May as originally planned, or worse, will I organise one and noone will come? Would it be shit even if it did happen? Would YOU come, internet?


What tiny worries keep you from spinning off your axis about the big ones?

Monday, 19 April 2010

In which shoes are discussed

I am back in Belgium, having escaped from Alcatraz, spent a few blissful hours pervily stroking shoes on and around Oxford Street, braved the ash-maddened hordes on the Eurostar and drunk alcohol solidly at every opportunity from Friday evening onwards (numerous, happily). It is late and I have both eaten and drunk too much. All I can do is talk about shoes. Gentlemen, all 3.7 of you may wish to click away now. Anyone else who is indifferent to shoes might prefer to do something else with the next five minutes too. Actually, why don't you all just go and I'll talk to myself? I don't think tonight will unduly trouble the Pulitzer prize committee.

I spent nearly an hour circling the Selfridges shoe department. This is actually not typical behaviour for me, I usually buy online, money spent without interacting with another human barely counting at all. I'm not quite sure what came over me, possibly Mr Trefusis saying the shoes I was wearing were "very eighties" or the sight of my pasty, flaking ankles in the blissful sunshine, or M trying to discourage me from buying Serge Lutens Persil flavour scent with talk of shoes, but suddenly I was overcome with shoe inadequacy and could think of nothing else. I went with the intention of buying something cheap (I can hear several of my friends laughing from a distance of hundreds of miles as I type that).

Observations:

Lots of stuff was hideous. Clunky, but not in an honest to goodness, shin kicking way. The Louboutin concession - although not hideous, rather a bit dull - filled me with Jean-Paul Sartre-esque despondency. So many people queueing up to drop £500 on painfully high heels, lots of them (and this perhaps the fault of the buyers rather than Mr Louboutin, may his twinkly toes be blessed for all eternity) a bit bof (avec tout le respect que je vous dois, M Louboutin).

There were a few pairs of the most magnificent Vionnet shoes. I can't find a picture online of the ones I kept coming back to. They were much nicer than any of these ones but they give you a vague idea. The best thing about Vionnet is the designer's name: Rodolpho Paglialunga. I mean, come on. If there's a better name out there, I want to know about it. Here he is looking like he has misplaced his vestments on the Vatican Sexy Priests calendar:



Frustratingly I can't find a picture of the Lanvin platforms I fell in love with either but they were two tone nude, properly stompy and had beautiful soles. If I had £460 down the back of the sofa, that's where it would be going.

With all possible respect, Kurt Geiger, what the FUCK do you think you are doing selling own label shoes for 360 quid??? That nice Mr Ferragamo round the corner 'only' charges £260. Get a grip. And while I'm chastising, Marc Jacobs you are a wonderfully clever and handsome man and you like fancy dress and Spongebob. I have nothing but love for you. But get the fuck over the shoes with faces already. If I wanted a pet, I would get a pet (Oh yes, I already have, that's going brilliantly, ahem). If I want shoes, I get shoes (in a moment of inattention from the overlords at HSBC). I do not want 'fun' ballet flats with the face of mice and nor does anyone sane above the age of 11. NO.

Rupert Sanderson, keep up the solid good work. I love you, your weakness for asymmetry and your loyalty to patent. I am willing to overlook your friendship with Sam Cam, which, given that it is election season, is very good of me.

There is a very good sale on at the Poste Mistress designer bit of Office at the moment if all this shoe talk is putting you in the mood.

I have to make a hideously complex Australian Womens Weekly birthday cake tonight in the shape of an island, my annual act of charity towards a colleague who hates baking. I wonder what my oven, the 'Competence Trophy' will come up with, it is unlikely to be anything good. Moreover, I have been disastrously accident prone in the last 24 hours and anything that could be dropped, spilled or broken has been. This fills me with foreboding. Amusingly the cake is supposed to have a volcano made from an ice cream cone on the corner, so I find myself wondering how I could make a gigantic ash cloud to hover over it. Candy floss perhaps?

Friday, 16 April 2010

Butlins Day 3


(A redcoat for commenter Em, no it is NOTHING like Hi-de-Hi. Brain Twin M commented this evening "it's like Huis Clos with slot machines")

We are on the beach, having finally escaped from Alcatraz (four circuits of the car park, duck behind the mini golf, show your pass at the heavy goods entrance and you're FREE). The sun is shining so hard I am getting paranoid about freckles again (yes I know they can be adorable and gamine, but I am neither of those things and they just look wrong on me). Lashes is down at the shoreline standing, precariously on a wooden post trying to see if he can get all his clothes wet in four inches of water. I am eating my ninety third Mr Whippy of the week with manic concentration, trying very hard to see if I can double my body weight in four days, and doing an excellent job of it. Fingers, mint cone clutched in one hand, comes to sit next to me. Very very close. I put my arm around him and rest my chin on the top of his head. We sit in companionable silence watching the wild man of Uccle poke things with sticks. Momentarily, it's blissful.

We don't take each other for granted quite so much now. That sounds like a good thing, but I'm far from sure it is, at least for him. Surely he should be ignoring me, batting me away as an inconvenience? He should take me utterly for granted. Although, selfishly, I love to have him so close, so often, I do think it's a result of shared custody, of not being the quotidian presence I used to be. But then, am I making something gloomy out of something rather wonderful? Possibly. I seem to think it's ok to be rabidly illiberal with myself in a way I wouldn't dream of being with anyone else. I Blame the Mother, Daily Mail leader writer style. Self-flagellation comes as standard in this situation, I think, and there's plenty of scope for it here.

Other things we have done today:

1. I sent the boys away with my phone to make short films this afternoon, so I could lie face down on the bed and pretend to be at the Grand Hôtel des Thermes in St Malo, waiting for a matronly woman to wrap me in stinking algae before an elegant (and stealthily healthy) dinner. The next thing I heard was the following, coming from the bathroom, with a background of cackling "you know, crocodile, it is not good looking at a persons doing wee". Lashes's English is ambitious, and his accent is good, but he crashes and burns gramatically several times a sentence. I love his ambition though - he wants to tell jokes. I have found myself mired in that deathly 'trying to translate a pun' situation several times today thanks to him. Fingers is a man of few English syllables, but those he does utter are perfect, if gutturally French in prononciation.

2. I have shouted several times (ok, lots of times), mainly in frustration at their unerring ability to disagree about what to do at every juncture of every day. This evening I gave up and told them I was not moving from my purple suedette cube until they had sorted it out between them. Within a few minutes they had come up with an agreed itinerary. There would be a lesson in there for me, but for the fact that their itinerary involved offering up all of my remaining money as a sacrifice to the Claw God.

3. I found myself quite enjoying several of the slot machines, particularly the one where you had to sort of punch baby ducks (not real baby ducks, too expensive), and the one where you had to use a cameleon's tongue to fell insects. It is definitely time to move on before I end up with one of those margarine tubs full of 10p pieces, knowing all the staff by name.

4. We have watched several episodes of a bombastic and peculiar series featuring Wentworth Miller, David Thewlis and dinosaurs. Whilst I query why everyone needs to wear new age hemp tunics in this parallel civilisation, I do applaud this interpretation of family entertainment. Perhaps in the next of the series, Jonathan Rhys Meyers could do battle with some kind of space octopus? I would pay good money to see that.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Butlins Day 2

Lots of sub-Martin Parr photo opportunities today (I love Martin Parr, this isn't remotely meant to sound derogatory) since it was cold and grey and all the boys wanted to do was stare, rapt, at slot machines.






More observations.

1. Redcoats use a LOT of hair gel. Most of them look like Patrick Kielty's younger, fatter brothers.


2. We have been at the seaside for two days and are yet to see the sea.

3. I am still incapable of dealing with a buffet without making myself ill. I simply have no internal cues to stop myself eating disgusting food. Especially that really really cheap ice cream. Consequently I feel more or less permanently sick.

4. Butlins has done something very bad to my brain. Maybe all the transfats have made their way up to my skull and are eating my neurones. Whatever. I can barely think, or speak, and certainly can't write. By tomorrow I may well be just resting my head on the keyboard and posting a series of randomly selected characters.

Ugh, see? I wrote that about 2 hours ago and fell into a sort of trance, with drooling and a cricked neck. Posting before things get any worse.

Butlins Day 1

Good evening, internet. Sssssh I have to type very quietly as the boys are in some species of superior twinkly light filled cupboard in the corner of the room. They should be tired but since each is fixated, like tiny Ahabs, on their own Moby Dick of slot machine trickery, there is more tooth grinding and sighing than sleep. Lashes is convinced that he can trick one of those giant claw machines into disgorging a Sonic the Hedgehog the size of a small family saloon car. Fingers is more drawn to shooting things. Ah slot machines. Is there anything more compelling to an eight year old than those 2p shoving machines? I'm instantly transported back to Brownie camp in Filey, something which noone in their right minds could wish for. If I were Alain de Botton I would do you 1800 whimsical words on how the slot machine speaks to the British psyche. Aren't we all lucky that I'm not.

My own obsession is losing children. My god. I thought I was exceptionally sanguine, to the point of neglectful, about letting my children wander around major conurbations scavenging lead off roofs and picking pockets. But the blighters have wandered off, distracted by some shiny money-sucking pit of tat, on so many occasions today my nerves are in tatters. Particularly since several times it happened in water. Oh yes, I have been in "Splash Waterworld" already. I think I may have mentioned (repeatedly) that water is not my element. Well, add in an attempt to keep an eye on approximately buoyant children aged 4-8 each heading away from you on a random trajectory into a packed, splashy, soup of bodies and you have a recipe for HOLYFUCKWHERE ISTHEBARNOIDON'TCAREIT'SONLYFOUROCLOCK.


Other than that, preliminary observations:

1. The hotel is very pleasant. They have gone for those colour change mood lighting type things in a big way, so much so that even the bath is a symphony of rainbow LEDs. I am writing this from my bed, which is going from blue, to purple to red, to yellow on a 30 second cycle. It's like being in a very very sedate disco. Talking of disco, the lifts, which also have multi-coloured lighting, play a selection of disco standards that DEMAND you dance. In a lift full of strangers. This should be obligatory in all lifts. There is a tiny fridge in which to store bottles of wine and well appointed tea and coffee making facilities with tiny biscuits. There is wifi. There is even a balcony from which the boys can drop Bakugans on giant, menacing seagulls, who will eat them without even slowing in their mission to carry off small holidaying children and hold them ransom. I am distinctly not complaining.

2. The food is not up to much, but what it lacks in taste or vitamins, it makes up for in omnipresent all-you-can-eat ice cream machines. I can accept this arrangement.

3. My face is sloughing off under the onslaught from bracing British sea air and chlorine. I have a peeling nose and am terrified freckles will be next. This would be too high a price to pay.

4. I am extremely tired. The multicoloured lights are sending me some kind of coded message, encouraging me to sleep. I must go and build up my strength for another day of child-misplacing panic and Mr Whippy.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Photo Sunday Words Fail Me Type Post

It's a fuzzy photo special night.

First:




This is Hotdog for whom I developed a deep, adulterous passion in Paris this weekend whilst weepette was trustingly waiting for me in Brussels. I am a dog whore (hello, creepy keyword searchers!). In this picture I am in the lift, taking him for a walk at 2am to the jeers of the assembled Parisians. Hotdog's papa is unfeasibly beautiful AND a patissier trained by Pierre Hermé.

This is not (the only reason) why I love Hotdog. I love his tiny rabbit like hind legs and the way he flops stoically wherever you put him. Hotdog was entirely indifferent to me. This did not in any way diminish my passion.

I had a wonderful time in Paris. Beautiful dinner with my beautiful beautiful friend Trish who is a fiendishly fabulous cook, justly celebrated, and rocks a dinner party better than anyone in the world.

We had:

20 types of goats cheese, fig bread, beautiful tomatoes, salad, truffle oil. The echt Parisians were horrified at this cheese starter monstrosity. (They were similarly puzzled by the arse biscuits I brought along. I begged, mortified, that noone try and eat them)

Caesar salad with chicory en hommage to Belgium (all hail the mighty chicon). New season asparagus.

Strawberry soup with lemongrass. Brownies. 2 types of chocolate sauce.

Way too much champagne.

So much too much that barely a few hundred yards from Le Bon Marché and La Grande Epicerie, a few short metro stops from the magical Maje outlet shop, on a beautifully hot and sunny Saturday, I was incapable of moving. Trish wore sunglasses inside all morning. I lay on the sofa with Hotdog. It was lovely, actually, and prevented me from spending money I don't have on further fripperies.

Second:

Moomins (terrible pics, beautiful exhibition)










I hope Smack Crumple Bang will provide some better pics soon. I will nag him until he does. The exhibition is on until 29 August in the city of the damned, sorry, Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée

Three:

How Facegoop has influenced my, er, face.

I took this picture last summer when Céline, the tame space lizard on the Armani Counter at Printemps Beauté attacked me with her full make up weaponry. I found it frightening.



But now look at me on Friday night!



I am voluntarily wearing The Full Céline. If anything, I am wearing MORE make up in picture 2. Give me another six months and I will no longer be able to move for the weight of all the make up I will be wearing. I welcome this. It's preparation for my old age, to be spent in an insalubrious bar somewhere near the Bourse with a smelly dog (possibly Hotdog, who I will have stolen and had stuffed on his demise), permanently half cut on "'alf an 'alf" (I do not actually know what this is, but I know that old ladies near the Bourse with smelly dogs drink it. This is sufficient for me).

Despatches, as of Tuesday, will come from Butlins. I will say no more upon this subject until I find out if the wifi works there, except to whimper gently at the prospect of three entire days spend in "Splash Waterworld". I do not "do" wet. Splash me at your peril, I am getting that out there NOW, Butlins Bognor. You have been warned.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Tourist Adventures in the Kingdom of Belgiana

I have been very remiss with posting. Sorry. Not only that but the only two headed baby I have to show you is one that we tagged ourselves on the Ghent graffiti wall on Wednesday.




I have been having a mini-break in my adopted country, complete with my adoptive son. It has been lovely.

Firstly, we went to Ghent. Despite the fact that my mother spent a year in Ghent in her twenties, managing to get seriously ill on a diet of nothing but coffee and liver pâté (she didn't realise it was Flemish speaking, and these were the days before self-service shops), I had never been there. Not only did Mr Smack Crumple Bang take me somewhere I had never been in my own country, he also persuaded me to drink a beer I actually LIKED (I haven't drunk beer since wrestling with pints of bitter in the dour pubs of York in my teens). It was a day of shocking revelation, the worst of them being that the inventor of the Brussels Waffle - which, fact fans, was in fact invented in Ghent - must have been a sadistic, twisted bastard.

We spent some time trying to find the cafe where the Brussels Waffle originated, not aided by the fact that the whole centre of Ghent had been dug up, making it unidentifiable using any conventional navigation system. We resorted to pointing hopelessly in opposite directions, snatching the map off each other and snarling, like people used to in the olden days before the iphone. We were determined to find it having read an interview with the proprietor in Tom's guidebook, which contained the following, frankly admirable, exchange:

"What do you think about the separation of Belgium? Do you think it will happen one day? "

"I do not care about that. I only care about waffles".

Sadly this was nothing more than a cruel lure for the greedy and misguided.

I have an exceptionally strong stomach for sweet things. I have adopted the Belgian cappuccino (sweetened squirty cream on a black coffee) without demurring. I have eaten most of the contents of the Tin Tin Tin, even though it contains such horrors as chocolate coated speculoos. But this! THIS. Was an abomination.

Exhibit 1 "Apple Fritters":



Firstly, marks for presentation are running at about minus infinity here. But wait 'til you taste it! The petrified turd look pales into insignificance compared to the fetidly disturbing taste of BEER BATTERED APPLES. They were even worse than the Belgian fairground staple "Pets de Nonne" (nun's farts), which they sort of ressembled. If this is what it takes to become Belgium, I will declare in front of Herman de Rompuy, the 92 tram and all I hold dear, that I DO NOT WISH TO BECOME BELGIAN.

Exhibit 2:


One might surmise on the strength of this picture that my companion did better on the baked goods. That would be unwise. Not obvious on the face of the giganto-waffle, admittedly, this whole concoction was doused in Grand Marnier. The Brussels waffle also has a slightly savoury, Cilit-Bang flavour. I cannot in all conscience recommend it. 24 hours later, we still hadn't entirely recovered. And for this we missed the Docteur Ghislain psychiatry museum with its secret room of two headed babies. We will not be led astray in this manner again.

Ghent was also the scene of this exchange:

"No. I will not get in a boat with you. Do you not know about Audrey Hepburn and the permanent eye infection?"

"What? What on earth are you talking about?"

"Audrey Hepburn fell into a canal filming something and NEVER RECOVERED. She had permanently weeping eyes".

"Crap. You're making that up".

"It's absolutely true, let me check and prove it to you".

....

"Oh. Ok, it was Katherine Hepburn. In Summertime. But look! "permanent eye infection". Audrey Hepburn is Belgian of course"

"Now you're just being ridiculous. Of course she isn't".

"She totally is. Look!"

"God. Amazing. Marvin Gaye is Belgian you know".

"No he isn't"

"Yes he is. He was shot in Belgium"

"Tom, I think that was a dream" .

"No, it wasn't, let me check".

.....


"God. I was TOTALLY sure that was true. Damn! I have told loads of people that story".

"Ha. My dad was proud of starting a rumour that Shirley Bassey is a fully qualified medical doctor" .



Apart from Ghent, we also braved the singularly depressing Cartoon Museum, previously immortalised with my tears on these pages, to see the Moomin exhibition. I prepared Tom by taking him through the Mall of the Damned, City 2, on the way. I was rather pleased with this strategy as almost anything - plague, decay, Braine L'Alleud - looks glittering after a trip through City 2. I wonder if there exist any realistic photos of it? Let me check.




No. It's a million times worse than this picture looks. Because, see, this just makes it look unremarkable and a bit dull. You'd have to see the underground layer of Sarajevo style rubble, smell the heat and dust and stale abandoned waffles, and the lost tourists scavenging for metro tickets amid the howling of the damned.

Anyway. If you screwed your eyes shut and walked very fast to the top floor, the Moomin exhibition was delightful, if low key (photos to follow, I hope in due course). I'd like to recommend it, but I think that would be cruel. You have to be quite well prepared for Belgo-doom to survive far enough to get there. Let's say, if you'd like to go, call me first and I'll take you. It's the least I can do for the Belgian tourist industry.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

L'Air Guitare

I am late. Sorry. This gentleman came and distracted me, but it's all in the interests of better blogging, as we are planning to go to the Ghent psychiatry museum later today, where straitjackets through the ages vie for attention with two headed babies.

Anyway. Where were we? Oh yes, air guitar.

Tragically, I only had my phone to take pictures of the Braine L'Alleud heat of the Belgian Air Guitar Championships and the quality is thus abysmal. However. Here we have the Manneken Pis peeing on a guitar:


The evening kicked off inauspiciously with the sadistic bastards of the STIB (purveyors of public transport to the damned) ensuring I missed my train. Thank you, my yellow-trammed friends!

Faced with the prospect of an hour in the Gare du Midi, something that even the most hardened Belgian would blanch at, I was rescued by Jessica, who I have never met, and her boyfriend (who doesn't know me from a Number 4 tram) taking a hugely kind detour many many miles out of their way to pick me up .

We set off for Braine L'Alleud (population: 37 943 apparently. This is much more than I was expecting). It was very, um. Rural? We made several circuits of the town and its many fields of cows trying to find the venue. Eventually, we spotted a small sign in a cobbled lane. Five youths were lurking outside trying to look menacing. The venue was a youth club. It took us three attempts to find the way in. When we did, it was entirely empty, bar a couple of youths eating sausages in the front, and a deserted bar at the back, selling only beer in plastic cups. The atmosphere of excitement was not palpable.

"Do you think we missed it? "

"We can't have. Can we?"

We asked at the bar. No. We had not. We had an hour to spare in the empty youth club to speculate on what was likely to happen.

"Look"

A small group of sullen teens congregated near the stage.




"That's the VIP room" (to the left)

"Yeah. The Green Room. The artists are preparing".

Several of the artists' mums were sitting in another corner (right, above).

Jessica, with heroic kindness, finally persuaded the barman to get out his special contraband bottle of wine and pour me a grudgingly tiny glass.

We waited a bit more. Eventually the compère arrived.

"Bonsoir Braine L'Alleud! We'll be starting soon! When it fills up a bit!"

We looked around. There were perhaps 20 of us. It might be a long wait.

Though "there probably isn't much else to do in Braine L'Alleud on a Friday night", reasoned Jessica. Sure enough, a few more people eventually straggled in.

The compère came back on, introduced the judges (including a small man in a flat cap who was the Reigning Champion) and showed us a few moves. He was pretty good. Sadly, in air guitar terms, this was the definite highlight of the night.

The next best thing was "Zorro". Here he is:

He performed "I fought the law" and got straight sixes (the scoring works the same as ice skating. No, don't ask).

The rest of the evening was basically ten grubby boys forgetting the basic geometry of the guitar as they head-banged self-consciously to the greatest hits of Sepultura. I'm unfair. One of them did Dire Straits. That was EVEN WORSE. I took a short video of the one with the most disgusting white boy dreads to terrify brain twin. The first round fizzled out and the compère pleaded for more entries.

Jessica and I looked at each other, as a middle aged gentleman in a nice sensible jumper tried to engage us in conversation about whether we lived in Braine L'Alleud.

"We could totally win this"

"Easily! I mean, none of them have any MOVES. Noone has tried to play the guitar behind their head. Not once".

"Or set their air guitar on fire. That would be good. I could do Purple Haze. Let's get the playlist, I bet they have Purple Haze".

They did.



Sadly, I must disappoint you. We didn't enter. I think, if there had been more to drink, we would genuinely have. A half decent outfit and a couple of moves and we could easily have won, especially since the second round took place long after Zorro's bedtime. Maybe next year.

Worse still, the last train back to Brussels left before we even knew the winner, though we did just have time to see a virtuoso exhibition from le champion de Belgique. I don't remember much about it, except that there was a woman singing into a whisk.

That was the last heat. The final takes place in July at the Dour Festival (I know. You couldn't make it up). Who's in?