Monday, 31 May 2010

Crabzilla

At some point last week I started to fixate on Crabzilla. Crabzilla is a giant Japanese spidercrab, resident in the Sealife Centre in Blankenberge on the Belgian coast. He first came to my attention after Fingers mentioned his trip there during Gulag Whelk Picking Camp, leading me to idly google it in a search for weekend distraction.

"You didn't tell me there was a giant crab!"

Fingers looks vague.


"Hein?"


"Crabzilla? Did you see CRABZILLA?"


"Hein? Non. .. Oh, yeah. Maybe?"


Surely one should know for sure if one has seen a giant monster crab? Undeterred, I pore over Crabzilla's vital statistics. The English version of the website seems unsure whether Crabzilla is male or female, but eventually plumps for male. He is forty years old, 15 kg and has a "claw span of 3.5 metres". I love that phrase, "claw span". He has come from Birmingham, which pleases me greatly. He is, the picture suggests, fucking huge. The BBC suggest he is "not aggressive", which is disappointing, but I soldier on. "Our aim is to thrill you" says the Sealife Centre website, seductively. "Most of all we want you to have fun". This is what I want most of all too. That, and to shake hands with a giant spidercrab.

"Would you like to go back to the Sealife Centre, Fingers? You could play Nintendo on the train.." I frame my question as seductively as I can.

He seems bemused at my enthusiasm, but does not protest. Lashes is easily brought on board when his query about whether the Sealife Centre has a shop is answered in the affirmative by his brother.

On Saturday I check the trains. Jesus, it will take us an hour and a half to get there, not including Sunday trams, or the ten minute walk from the station. I estimate this will make for a 4.5 hour round trip (I am not wrong). No matter. Paris is worth a mass. A giant spidercrab is worth 4 hours of suburban public transport. Fingers's memory seems to be returning slightly.

"He doesn't move", he says, a note of warning in his voice. "Like a crocodile".

I hope the not moving will add to his general air of menace; I hope he's actually alive. I am already starting to view him as a spiritual soulmate.

Sunday. We are tired and crochety after staying up for Eurovision, but I manage to harry them out of the house by ten. It is pouring. Fingers refuses to wear his coat. Our whole neighbourhood seems to be having some elaborate street festival, with cheap tat to browse through, hamburgers, fairground rides, probably lots of small children of our acquaintance. It would be perfect, amuse the boys for hours for a small number of Euros, but the die is cast. We are going to Blankenberge to see a giant crab, and hang the consequences.


Many hours later, most of them taken up with Pokemon, we arrive in Blankenberge. It looks like this:




We set off on the long march to the Sealife Centre, amusing ourselves by trying to find the most physically unfortunate candidate on the local election posters.



It is a long way, but eventually we spot a small blue flag, whipping around in the gale force winds. By now, we have built it up to be some kind of Aquatic Disneyland in our heads. The posters of Crabzilla in all his B-movie glory in the entrance only serve to fuel our excitement:





Once we are in, however, I am instantly reminded of the aquarium we once visited in, was it Southend? Possibly. Anyway, the high point was the model of Brum you could feed 20ps into outside. The whole thing could fit into our house. Why do I always do this? WHY? I look around wildly trying to calculate how long we can spend on each exhibit to try and prolong our visit beyond 20 minutes. Short of Crabzilla engaging us in some kind of laser Pokemon duel, it's not looking promising. My calculations are shot out of the water anyway, as the children run at high speed straight to "Claw world" (I like this), bypassing the 30cms of 'Amazonian Rainforest Experience' and the obligatory pollution exhibit.

"Oh".


"Is that him?"



"I suppose so".


We stare at him through the smudgy glass. As Fingers predicted, he is not exactly frisky. He's a - very large, admittedly - crab. He does not tower over us like a spiny, terrifying colossus. His eyes do not shoot lasers. He is slightly shorter than Fingers, but with longer and more numerous limbs. I am anthropomorphising, yes, but I'd say he looks pretty underwhelmed at his new quarters. A small fish is bustling along his limbs, cleaning off some algae. If you watch very intently, you can see his feelers moving slightly.

"Hmm. Let's take a picture".



It kills 30 seconds. The rest of the aquarium another five minutes. We venture outside where some pissed off penguins are pecking desultorily at a Calippo wrapper. It's a bit too cold and wet to stay out there for the magic of the 2 seals in the entirely opaque water, or the small ball of brown organic matter in the middle distance that may conceivably be an otter, but might equally be a sparrow.


"Look, it's Sparrowzilla!" says one of the boys, smirking.


"And Pengzilla!"


"Oh, come on, I'm cold, let's go to the shop".


"OUAAAIIIIS!"


On the way out we encounter Eelzilla - uncomfortably confined in an aquarium he can barely straighten out in - and the boys eat Hotdogzilla. I shell out Eurozilla for several tatty plush sea creatures that are already disintegrating as we exit.


We walk back along the beach, which is actually pretty pleasant, though my sinuses are screaming at the gale force winds. I take a photo of Fingers cantering along the deserted sand.



The sun has actually come out, which is nice and so have the kitesurfers, en masse. We sit behind a windbreak and watch them do seemingly suicidal things, then we head back to the station.


"Well, I'm really glad I met Crabzilla", I say unconvincingly, like Joyce Grenfell on Mogadon.


The boys do not bother to answer me. They are trying to beat the Arena Champion on Level 6. Four hundred hours and a great deal of shouting later, we get back home.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Audit

I will save you our crab exploits for tomorrow. For tonight, I note I have now been living alone (well, without another adult) for six months. It's time for a performance review.

1. Domestic science

After a slow start, Emma has begun to grasp the basics of domestic hygiene and no longer expresses astonishment and disproportionate grief at the manner in which the house becomes dirty again after cleaning. The ongoing détente with the hoover has yielded good results, particularly on the stairs. Floor washing, clothes piling, and picking up the endless stream of dreary election flyers off the mat remain black spots in an otherwise much improved term.

Her enthusiasm for all forms of lavatory cleaning product is to be encouraged, however recent experimentation with stain removal revealed an immaturity that must be addressed before such advanced techniques are essayed.

B-


2. Home economics

In six months, Emma has cooked herself the sum total of 5 meals that can be dignified by this description. She needs to grasp the following basic concepts in order to progress:

- Just because a crème caramel contains eggs, it is not a healthy protein rich meal.

- In order not to become rolling, incapable drunk after two glasses of wine, an evening meal is essential.

- No, you do not need to buy any more packets of biscuits.

- Or Cadbury's Caramels.

- The mere act of buying broccoli does not count towards your five a day. You have to eat it too.


F


3. Accountancy

Emma has signally failed to develop a system of budgetary management more sophisticated than 'I can usually just SENSE when I'm overdrawn'. Ongoing issues that must be addressed as a matter of urgency: hiding the balance display when withdrawing money from cash machines, being 'too shy' to invoice for work, disappearance of letters containing PIN codes, childish desire for "nice things", failure to put foot down when faced with wheedling children, imminent financial apocalypse.

F


4. Personal and Social Education

Emma has failed to attain a number of key milestones in this class and must work harder to acquire the necessary skills:

- saying No.

- Dealing with conflict without requiring six months intensive rocking curled in a foetal ball.

- Use of the telephone for its intended purpose (locating telephone would be a good first step, here).

- Asking questions and maintaining a conversation without overwhelming awkwardness.

She should be congratulated, however, for both becoming much more comfortable on her own, and spending large parts of the last six months laughing and laughing and laughing with people - whom she maintains actually exist - from the "internet".

C+

5. Music

Emma has performed outstandingly in concert attendance in the last six months, leading to a deluded belief that she is down with the kids. In fact, a shallow patina of credibility conceals a secret fondness for 'nice tunes that do not make my head hurt'.

She has also developed a disturbing tendency to fixate on songs in the chanson française canon which serve her poorly both in sanity and credibility terms. This should be discouraged.

C-

6. Veterinary science

The dog is still alive.


It may wish it weren't.

C

(Incidentally, I like this from this evening:



Compare and contrast with this:


Taken almost exactly a year ago).

7. Wood/metalwork

The ratchet screwdriver remains as puzzling to Emma as Fermat's Last Theorem, whilst keeping the Allen Key in its plastic finger protecting rectangle, a task suitable for a child of six, continues to elude her. Her hook hammering is, frankly, lamentable and drilling is currently the object of an elaborate bartering arrangement that causes us some concern.

F


8. Psychology

Despite a range of self-sabotaging behaviours some of which are partially described above, Emma considers herself 'happy'.

A

Overall grade: Could do better. Could do a whole lot worse.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Friday night

It's half past nine on a Friday night and I have had to go to bed, since I reached a point a short time ago where I had to rest my head on the keyboard and cry a little from pure defeat. I have a plain Activia yoghurt, a green tea and a pre-toothpasted brush next to my bed, since I am quite sure I will not be able to muster the werewithal to walk ten yards to the bathroom later in the evening. There are FOUR STEPS after all. I am wearing 2 jumpers and some ill-advised shorts. I have just noticed I have forgotten to bring facial wipes. Fuck it, I will sleep in my make up (FOUR STEPS, after all).

Outside, the annual street party in the Rue du Désespoir Quotidien is raging, if by raging, you mean there are half a dozen tiddly pensioners discussing controversial parish business and a handful of small children shrieking and bouncing footballs, seemingly, off the spongy surface of my temporal lobe. The - tiny - epicentre of the street party is JUST outside my house, which apparently marks the midpoint of the street. We went along for half an hour - Fingers, who does not seem to have inherited the social awkwardness gene - insisted, seduced by the prospect of unlimited Oasis squash and maize snacks. I ended up talking to Commander Von Trapp from next door. This is the first time he has spoken to me in six months. I became instantly spellbound by his gigantic eyebrows and leather elbow patches and was unable to look anywhere else. It was better when we didn't speak. In fairness, I must say he was quite kind about my unfortunate 'keys left in the front door' incident, and told me that one of their SIX children once left the front door open all night and he was woken at 2am by a stranger shining a torch two inches from his face, as the local constabulary had come in to investigate, fearing a burglary. Noone in the street seems to have less than 3 children. Is it a rule? I was not informed. I am expecting a visit shortly from some Ucclois Maréchal Pétain figure trying to persuade me to do my bit for Belgium and have some more. If they saw what mine had for dinner they might not bother. I spent a fun five minutes sweeping crisp residue and biscuit crumbs under the sofa before collapsing entirely.

Last weekend, full of dressing up and bad behaviour and high jinks, seems a lifetime away. It sort of is.

Can you beat my Friday night for lameness?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Tout ceci nous rendra pas le Congo

Yeah, so. Still struggling. M says it's because it's summer and "nothing important happens in summer". I'm adopting that theory. I wrote a whiny paragraph about how I couldn't get anything written, then deleted it, because it annoyed me which leaves us with, what? Nothing, really. What are my fallbacks?

1. Baby animals

2. The weather

3. Children

4. Whining

5. Poking fun at Belgium

5. Er, that's it.

I think I've covered everything. I know there have been several requests to hear about the housewarming, but sadly for writing purposes, the housewarming was Just FINE. Everyone was lovely. I overdressed, in the manner of an excitable small child. My brilliant friend T acted like a highly specialised party tornado, organising everything that I was too lame to deal with, directing the movement of furniture and the chilling of drinks and warning me off my initial plan to buy nothing but €150 of Cava (she was of course right). The adoptive son put up with my Mariah Carey style demand that he dismantle and move the table football down two flights of stairs with very good grace. This features in the only picture of the party I managed to take:


Jessica made the most amazing salted caramels. I tried to hide them in the kitchen put someone found them and I was forced to share. The sun shone, sort of, in a not very warm way and the Von Trapp family even sent round one of their children in a kind, if passive-aggressive way, to mow my lawn. I was not persuaded to play the piano, despite hours of emotional blackmail, including the immortal line: "I wanted to play the piano but I couldn't. The IRA blew up all the pianos in Ulster". We inadvertently invented the fruit beer slush puppy. Only one person ended up sleeping in a train station that night. I declare it a success, though definitely thanks to T rather than to me.

Other observations:

1. If you mix "Blanc nucléaire" stain remover and Ace bleach in the hope of removing a coffee stain from your white jacket, it creates some kind of sulphur based toxic reaction. Your jacket will be ruined and smell of burning. Your washing machine may also be ruined, if you choose to investigate (I advise just shutting it and moving as far away as possible). Your house will smell like a stink bomb. Just don't. I was seduced by the name "Blanc Nucléaire", which was exactly what I was hoping to achieve, but sadly my cavalier attitude towards reading the instructions for use has come back to bite me, mushroom cloud styley.

2. Some cleaning product in my house is still mysteriously dyeing my nails green. My house is full of cleaning products due to my ongoing battle with the smell of drains (I have poured a lot of buckets of water down drains and under-used pipes following the useful advice provided on these pages. I would say it's helping, but it hasn't completely fixed it), so it's hard to identify the culprit. One moment I will have normal hands, the next, green. It's unnerving. I'd stop cleaning altogether, but I would quite like to live somewhere presentable, eventually. It's a long term goal, but one I continue to work towards. I have finally stopped being surprised at the regularity with which floors need hoovering and washing, tiresome though it is. This is the first time since I was about, ooh, 22, I haven't had a cleaner (yes, spoiled brat). It's a whole voyage of discovery. The hoover and I are making huge progress in our relationship. I have found a way of opening it without using a teaspoon. Give me ten years or so and I might be capable of a reasonable level of domestic hygiene.

3. Live Congolese rap is ace (Baloji is also a Vuitton model and extremely fetching. That did not detract at all from the general loveliness of seeing him). I'm always startled when I hear the expression "tout ceci nous rendra pas le Congo" (none of this will give us the Congo back), which turns up in one of his songs and which seems the acme of non-PC Belgitude, when you think of Belgium's dark and horrible colonial history, and which I have seen explained as follows:

Expression ironique utilisée pour se lamenter du triste état de la Belgique ou des affaires du monde, ou de la météo, des crottes de chien sur les trottoirs ou du programme du parti socialiste

Ironic expression used to bemoan the pitiful state of Belgium or world affairs, or the weather, dog turds on pavements, or the Socialist party manifesto.

I mean, would we say something equivalent in English? I can't imagine it. Can anyone think of something along similar lines?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Bank holiday redux

The small boys have been amusing me today. I have had a very busy week without them, skittering around Brussels and London and Paris, to facial scans, cosmetic events, pubs, ripping the legs off sponge horses with my nephew, dinner parties, transvestite clubs, sports bars, bland hotels. Today is a bank holiday in Belgium and it was nice just to bicker and play table football and sit in the sun. Well, not IN the sun obviously following my searing recent experiences, but in the general vicinity of it. As for table football, even Fingers is better than me. Soon I will be excluded from competition altogether. They are terribly French and good at all that spinning and slamming. I just flail around approximately and try to remember which colour players I am supposed to be twiddling. The babyfoot was a post-separation impulse buy, and thoroughly unnecessary, if fun. I was speculating today with my adoptive son on whether it could be my version of etchings if I ever get around to dating. 'Come back and see my table football?'. Might that work? Clearly I have no idea.



In this picture Fingers is demonstrating what he wants me to buy him, which is, apparently, a frite that makes music. Possibly, from the demonstration, a frite kazoo? You may note he appears to be wearing a pager, in the manner of a pint sized drug dealer. It is in fact a Pokémon pedometer, possibly the best invention in the (undistinguished but surprisingly long) history of Pokémon since it got him to the park and back without complaint, counting his steps. He scrupulously transfers it to whatever he is wearing (including pyjamas) and keeps us updated on his step tally. The child has space lizard DNA.



Lashes has more or less given up on speech in favour of the above, though sometimes he will tell me a joke or two. I got a few scraps of information about Gulag Work Camp though, including the fact that owls have a wingspan of approximately 8 metres and that they were woken every morning by Lady Gaga. He seems to have discovered lying, interestingly several years after his cousin, my niece, who is 6 months younger than him.

He remains immutably Belgian in his single-minded love of the bande dessinée.They are both serial offenders on this front. We went to the local book shop - miraculously, blissfully open 365 days a year - to kill a few bank holiday minutes and they just sank into this position, from which I was unable to shift them, despite my British awkwardness about the spoiling of page corners, and being In The Way.



Later we went newt hunting in the park. Lashes, who has extraordinary hunting instincts, caught a newt with his bare hands and my kitchen sieve. I was impressed and relieved at the speed with which the operation was completed, fearing several hours of fruitless and increasingly bad tempered dredging.



I like this picture, not least because they are, briefly, not squabbling, united in triumph by a small spotty aquatic lizard. Thanks, newt!



They probably are squabbling here, but you can't tell. There was heated discussion about the optimum number of tadpoles to take home (Lashes: four, Fingers: three, Emma: none. Go on, guess who won. You might be surprised), only broken up by a small dog falling in the pond.

Funny, maddening, small boys. About half an hour after this, they deliberately flooded the bathroom so dramatically I had to send them both to bed with NO POKEMON.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Face

I signed up for some face cream trial this week, for Facegoop purposes. You had to be at least 35 which ruled M out, so I get to play guinea pig with some unidentified mystery product. I have quite sensitive skin, so I'm confidently looking forward to breaking out in leprous sores within hours of using it. The first stage was a hideous facial scan thing during which a sinister dermatologist operating out of a basement den in the Barbican made me wear an Alice band.

(The Alice Band prompted this exchange between M and me:

E: Girls in wigs shouldn't wear Alice bands. It's a proverb. A Belgian one, probably.

M: HA. En Avril, ne te decouvre pas d'un fil. En Mai, ne porte pas de perruque sous un serre-tête.

I think we should work on more Franco-Anglo-Belgo-Cambodian proverbs. It could be another sideline for us).

Anyway. There was an Alice band, then sticking my head into a strange white tube, like a mini-MRI machine, to have hideous photographs taken. Much more on this subject on Facegoop, imminently.

For these purposes though, I found the whole thing very odd. I have spent much of the last year appalled at the way I have been ageing at warp speed. Every time I look in the mirror something else appears to have gone rough, or puffy or wrinkled. Ageing doesn't seem to be linear with me. I remember a previous period where my face seemed to change rapidly over a short period of time - not entirely coincidentally, it was when we lived in Paris. I was probably as unhappy as I have ever been on top of dealing with a vampiric newborn, whose crying would bring the brattish 22 year old from downstairs up to whine that he was going to report us to Social Services if our baby continued to cry. Ah, happy times. This time it's probably less unhappiness and more a combination of stress and terrible life hygiene and hitting the dreadful 35, at which point, apparently, your face starts to skitter downhill towards oblivion at a massively accelerated rate. Aaaaanyway. I have spent some time standing in front of the mirror and thinking dark thoughts* recently, and was rather dreading the scan.

The results were mixed. They do this disgusting thing where they show you the sun damage on your face in nightmarish detail, like this:


I am a pale Northern celt, who spent most of her teenage years as a would-be goth, lurking in the mildewed gloom of Rough Trade records wearing seventy three layers of paisley and black. Our holidays were invariably in some boggy site of natural beauty (and tedium) where it would rain interminably until we all, at varying times depending on our degree of mental resilience, lost the will to live. Sun NEVER featured in our holidays, and in adulthood, I have been similarly disinclined to worship the fiery ball on its odd appearance in suntraps like, er, Belgium.

AND YET. I have terrible sun damage, apparently. The sinister dermatologist said sympathetically it was probably because I was inclined to freckles. Mouais. I am, and I hate them and it's still not fair. I scored better on wrinkles, though the sight of my eyelids on the picture made me want to vomit. Worst of all was the picture that highlights all the areas of "redness". This was a bit like getting a black marker pen and drawing round all the bits of your face you hate. The sinister dermatologist poked a pencil in the direction of my nostrils and said, faux-sympathetically, that I could get the veins "ablated". I have no idea what this is, but it sounded about as much fun as that time the senile gynaecologist suggested he could "cauterise" some part of my internal plumbing for me. No thanks, sans façon, merci, très peu pour moi.

However. Even with the vile pictures of red veins and bacteria and age spots magnified a million times, I looked at my face and thought it looked alright, really. I like my lips. I don't mind my nose, even though it's huge. I'd be happier with eyelashes, for sure, the less said about my nostrils the better, and if money were no objet, I'm sure I would be toying with minor improvements in the jawline department. But fundamentally, I was surprisingly happy. I don't really know where I'm going with this. Maybe you grow into your face at precisely the point it starts to slide off your skull.

I am supposed to get a print out of the pictures of my own decay next time I go, so that's something to look forward to. I promise to post them.


(* Pick n Mix from: mortality related dread/likelihood of dying alone with face eaten by dog/probable cost of chin lift)

Saturday, 22 May 2010

"A perverse need to make social life difficult for themselves"

I am in London. It's hot and very peaceful in Papa Waffle's house. Waffle Senior and Stepmother are away. All the children at the two frightfully posh schools in his street have been collected by their whippet thin, nicely highlighted American mothers and provided with sugar free protein bars and smoothies before Japanese class. The yoga centre loons are pretty quiet on their cork soled orthopedic sandals. I can just lie here on the bed fighting to stay awake, dribbling slightly, in a nest of cheap cosmetics packaging. I made the grave error of checking my UK bank balance, and since it was marginally better than I was expecting, I have run amok in Boots, obediently followed the blanket advertising and bought Cadbury's Caramel biscuits (meh. I keep checking I don't like them though, and have eaten close to a packet) then concluded with a quietly respectful stampede around Daunt Books.

I am very tired, for no good reason. I think it's because I'm off duty here and can have a couple of days off fretting about almost everything, and just sit vacantly in front of a range of hot drinks thinking about Stuff (by which I mean material fripperies, like Yves Saint Laurent eye masks, and Liberty's underwear department, not significant Life Stuff). This isn't what I am supposed to be doing; I should be writing like my fingers are on fire. This is not happening. Mainly I have been drifting around my usual haunts on automatic pilot, seeing people, sniffing the unsavoury scent of Oxford Street Tube and Berwick Street market like a pervert, trying on cheap shoes and wandering aimlessly. See Exhibit A below, Liberty tearoom with the adoptive son:



I like this picture. I can imagine us sitting in cafes like this for several decades to come, and the prospect is very soothing and makes me happy.

Fittingly, on a trip back to London, I am reading Watching the English. Regardless of its intellectual rigour or absence thereof (and reviews were very mixed), this is a book that, in the short time since I started reading it yesterday afternoon, has let me off the hook about some of my most ridiculous behaviours. It is not a self-help book. It's an ethnological study of Englishness. I wrote a post earlier this year about being terribly inarticulate and bad at asking seemingly innocuous questions and having a disabling level of social awkwardness. Well guess what? Kate Fox says English people aren't SUPPOSED to be good at things like that. It's not just that we're bad at it, it's an actual RULE that we have to be bad at it.

In the parts I have read so far, the author explains, minutely, how English people are bad at:

1. Introductions

The author says "the only rule one can identify with any certainty .. is that, to be impeccably English, one must perform these rituals badly. One must appear self-conscious, ill-at-ease, stiff, awkward, and above all, embarassed".

Can you imagine the relief I feel on reading this?


2. Asking social questions

"In addition to our privacy scruples, we English seem to have a perverse need to make social life difficult for ourselves".

Why yes, yes I do.


I flicked around a bit, and toward the end is this diagram:





Social dis-ease is placed at the heart of English identity. So there we go, I can continue being crippled with awkwardness at every juncture, and just put it down to following the immutable rules of being English. I particularly liked the fact that the book starts with her girding her loins to spend a day queue jumping. Just reading that sentence gave me a huge transgressive frisson. I can't imagine having the daring to do that. You can see why I nearly died of suppressed rage living in Paris, can't you? Speaking of which the catalogue of incompetence continues, and I have already missed my train there. I must run away to the station to plead my way onto another, queueing with exquisite politeness until I miss it, probably.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Happiness is a lifesized terracotta penguin

Goodness, I've been gone for ages. I do not have much to offer in mitigation. Busy housewarming weekend, and prolonged periods of gloom, with added minor disasters. I will not enumerate them here, mainly because I am pretending several of them didn't happen. No, nothing important and horrifyingly expensive was left on a bench in the outskirts of Bruges. There have been no breakages, temper tantrums, irrational sobbing outburts. No, I most certainly didn't put a pair of knickers in my handbag in my frenetic pre-party tidying and forget to remove them for several days, taking them out whilst looking for a ticket on my busy commuter tram. Definitely not that.

What can I tell you? Well, I can show you some pretty pictures at least.

On Sunday, touring Brussels with my houseguests we saw the following:

A sheep made of hair:




A terracotta penguin:




A medieval Mick Jagger:




Chairs made of stags:




A beautiful lady from the 80s:



And finest of all, this poster looking for a fox terrier stolen by a drunken woman:




I am still pondering this. What became of Tato the dog (I like to think it's pronounced Tayto, like the Irish crisps) and his ravisseuse? How does a drunken woman steal a dog, and how much is she probably regretting it now? I write, with feeling, as one who had to remove several layers of fetid pond scum from the weepette at half past seven this morning after it tried to catch a ball unwisely close to the edge of the local duck pond, and careered in there with a dull splosh, and a look of panic. I can quite imagine getting carried away with the some charming ball of fluff you see on the street and finding it both inspired and hilarious to kidnap it, only to wake up the next morning hungover and miserable with the stolen ball of fluff smelly, yapping, freaking out and peeing everywhere.

This is why Mrs Trefusis and I speculated that perhaps I should find Tato's bereft owners and say "I have found your dog! Look! Here he is. Totally unscathed except, er, his legs are a bit longer and his coat is smoother. Fox terriers often respond to stress in that way. Oh, and his memory has gone a bit funny, now he will only answer to Oscar. But here he is! Are you delighted? Is there a reward?'. (it's ok Beatrice, I promise not to give the dog away)

I have to go and make biscuits, but in case anyone hasn't seen them already, these baby sloths:

(Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo)


are liable to become a dangerous obsession. M and I have been comparing notes on which one is most like our respective sisters - mine is the one upside down staring at a plate of greenery as if profoundly stoned at 36 secs, hers is the one on the right under the towel stealing the bean at 43 secs. See if you can spot a family member.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Eagle

Even though I got my head tickled by a sealion's fishy whiskers today - and a Flemish sealion show takes some beating on a rainy Bank Holiday - I was not satisfied. I decided to talk it through with M.

E: So, yeah. I need an eagle. I saw some today, and they look the business. Big, flappy, cross as hell, screechy.

M: Hmmm. Surely an owl in a box is better?

E: Nope. I want an eagle now. I don't care about the details. Just something with fucking huge wings and claws that I could walk around town with. Noone would give me any shit if I had an eagle on my wrist. I could take on the tram with me! I bet I'd get a seat. Also, if Oscar was being a dick, it could just silently pick him up in its vast yellow claws, flap off and drop him somewhere in the Ardennes. Ditto the children. "Soyez sage ou j'appèle l'aigle".

M: You need to ask Santa.

"Dear Santa Claus

I know Xmas is far away. But I have been a good girl and I would like an eagle".

E: Yes. "I would like one with large wrinkly yellow feet, very long talons, a curved beak, dirty yellow eyes and the wingspan of a double decker bus. Thanks Santa".

M: I bet Dr Mystery would lend you his eagle before you make your final eagle purchase.

E: Good idea! Try before you buy. I totally want a loan. Do you think he'll lend me the bollock necklace too?

M: Probably. Do you think John Lewis would price match an eagle?

E: Huh. Good question. Well, there is no "does not include eagles" in their price promise, is there? So YES. "Never knowingly undersold"* (*except birds of prey)

M: Ha. I absolutely completely entirely double dare you to do it. Go into John Lewis and ask for a price match on an eagle. If you don't do it you are a PUSSY. You could bring a photo of it in and show them. DO IT. PUSSY PUSSY PUSSY

E: Stop calling me a pussy! I didn't say I wouldn't do it.

M: I happen to know you will be in the vicinity of a John Lewis next week. If they refuse you should say "Fine. How about a falcon? Do you have any falcons? I'm not after the latest model. Just something with a decent wingspan. Say maybe 100, 150 cm". You could work through the whole bird chain.

E: Down to, what? London pigeon? "I need a pigeon. I want one of the standard two front facing feet models, not one of those new twisty razr pigeons".

M: "Is it bluetooth? I hear the wood pigeons are less noisy than other models. Do you have one in stock? What's your lead time for delivery?"

E: We are idiots.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Wednesday Report with Polyanna Overtones

In the new spirit of relentless positivity that fills my days (day) (hour) (minute), I will not focus on the just-sick-enough-to-miss-school-whilst-actually-not-being-very-sick-at-all elder child that put paid to my one morning of potential productivity this week (Thursday AND Friday no school! Way to go gulag! My mental health thanks you!). I will not focus on the dramatic bedside water + Macbook charger incident resulting in interesting electrolysis/corrosion/GCSE science type happenings in my pint glass. I will not focus on the maddening behaviour of the weepette, his theft of a whole packet of Chocolate Hobnobs, fridge urination recidivism or general neurotic weirdness today.

No.

I will tell you that with three and a half days of rainy Brussels nothing to fill, time has slowed to the measured plod of a slightly chilled red footed tortoise. Whilst this is a challenge, it is also rather peaceful. I have accepted I will get little or no writing done this week, I have relaxed most of the rules and I am trying to enjoy it. Lashes is slightly warm and clammy and wants nothing more than to watch endless hours of The Simpsons whilst asking feebly for biscuits. Fingers wants board games, and Nintendo. They both want to 'wheelbarrow' the dog around by its hind legs until it gets snappy (I figure the dog owes me this much after the Fridge Disgrace). At one point this evening I found Fingers crouched on the kitchen table drinking water straight from the jug to wash down the biscuits he had stolen. Then the pair of them disappeared upstairs with a large ball of string to create a giant spider's web in their bedrooms, something which invariably ends in injury (teaching them that particular trick was not my finest parenting hour). It's all going feral and so be it.

Anyway. I had a lovely bath with Fingers tonight, as a result of my momentary zen acceptance that this long bank holiday weekend was actually going to last forever. We lay for about an hour in the rapidly cooling water, testing which shower gel and soap made the best bubbles and it was very peaceful and calm, apart from the occasional yelps as Lashes tripped himself up in his lethal string mantrap and the guilty clink of weepette collar on biscuit tin from downstairs. It was all lovely, indeed, until Fingers, poking apprasingly, told me my breasts were like basketballs, farted on my stomach, then fell about laughing. I live in a frat house. I might as well accept it.

Now I am going to light a Diptyque Feu de Bois candle and listen to some kind of warbling counter-tenor early music, and hide in my bed for as long as possible. The fridge will just have to take its chances like the rest of us.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Things I have discussed today

Whether you could make a handbag out of a panda's head.

Bringing "alien ADM" (sic) back from Mars in 2016.

The correct ratio of cream:jam:scone in a cream tea (500:1:1).

Fractions.

Performance art, with particular reference to Marina Abramovic, men having sex with geese, anal douching on quaaludes, and cow placenta installations.

Sketch, with particular reference to: godawful website, impenetrably confusing mirrored loos, giant pencils.

A cat called Billie Piper.


Whether Tom Ford is actually made of bionic medical grade silicone.

The weepette, various, with a particular focus on stupidity and fondness for chips.

My party next weekend - likely disastrousness thereof. Need for glasses (plastic dinosaur mugs not acceptable).

The recategorisation of online sales as potentially active rather than passive under the new Vertical Restraints regime.

Iguanas.

Rescue kitten webcam as a relaxation aid.

Sledgehammers.

The desirability of an art school grading system based on intention rather than execution. Viz: "I intend to film myself pissing in a bucket on Princes Street".

The Wellbox.

What was your best conversation today?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Fête des Mères

Mother's Day today. It's been very odd. It's not that I have ever thought it should be a huge festival of the infinite wisdom and bounty of the mother goddess, with pygmy jerboas bearing macaroons and Jimmy Choos and baby pugs. Rather, it used to have a certain understated shape. Breakfast in bed (apple and toast usually, with small finger holes and liberal Nutella), tea sloshing around alarmingly as it was carried by a small and erratic majordome, some kind of homemade cardboard item, flowers, of increasing niceness as the years went by and my flower totalitarianism rubbed off. Now? Well.

First, there was the school fête yesterday, which was partly mother themed. What with the "maman je t'aime" songs, and the small boys holding approximate cut out heart shaped pieces of cardboard with pictures of their mothers on, it seemed to be designed as a particularly obvious psychological torture for someone in my situation - separated, sad, hungover, and spending the weekend without her children. I walked home alone clutching my purple cardboard heart with instructions not to read the poem on the back, because Fingers is planning to read it to me himself ("you can't read" said his brother, witheringly. "I know it by heart", said Fingers, gurning insolently back at him).

Then today. I couldn't sleep at all last night. I had one of those proper, miserable, sleepless nights. Nurofen and tea at two, making a sandwich at three, watching Nurse Jackie at four as the sky got paler and the over-enthusiastic birds started to sing, drifting off for an hour or so at seven to dream of freak spring snow. This is, I find, the perfect state to co-host a eight year old boy's birthday party for fourteen children in one of those exceptionally resonant, strip lit, indoor play centres. The CFO and I huddled in the cafe, mopped up spilled grenadine, did an occasional headcount, talked through the endless logistics of juggling two small boys.

"Bonne fête" said the first of a succession of fathers (it was all fathers) picking their children up after the last shrieking contest, the last murderous rampage in the dodgems.

"Euh, Merci ?", I said, a little puzzled that they could think a child's birthday party might be enjoyable for the supervising adults.

"Je veux dire, bonne fête a TOI" he repeated. Oh. Fête des Mères. It feels oddly fraudulent accepting, what? Congratulations? This year I have seen my children less than at any time in their lives, now that we share custody. I don't think that was wrong - their father is loving, resourceful, consistent, and utterly committed to them. I believe he is as vital to their wellbeing as I am, and even separated, we are a good team. The boys are doing ok. Who knows what goes on in the strangeness of their boy minds, but they give a good impression of being relatively content, and absorbed in age appropriate pursuits like hitting each other, complaining and being amused at rude words. But it's a massive adjustment for all of us. For me, I struggle with the knowledge that I set this in motion and that I have to vindicate my choice by being happy and successful and making it, whatever "it" is, work. I think "it" can work, truly - that it already does. Parts of this shared custody thing are quite brilliant. But it would be idiotic to pretend it's painless, just an exciting adventure. It's not, and being a part-time mother is the strangest thing - I'm disenfranchised, guilty, a bit sad, a bit gleeful, a lot lost.

Once our birthday duties were over for 2010 (praise Nathan), the four of us went to Quick and the CFO let me eat his chips while the boys squabbled and we talked about how there seemed to be no good solution for Mothers' or Fathers' Day, or birthdays, when you're separated. Then he wished me bonne fête too, toasting me with his giant paper beaker of Coke and they dropped me off at home. Eventually this new shaped family will have its rites and rituals I suppose, but for now, we're feeling around in the dark trying not to bump into each other.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Bull, horns, nettle, horse, stable door

Well, my friends, yesterday was rubbish. I wrote 427 words, shouted a great deal at the dog, lay self-pityingly in the bath and stared down the barrel of a Tory government. On top of that I became obsessed with the strange green colour under my fingernails, which the internet tried to convince me was some kind of hideous bacterial fingernail infection, caused by my poor personal hygiene and likely to prove fatal. I would like to state for the record that I do NOT have a fingernail infection. No no no. Medical professionals have now assured me of this. I probably have very tenacious cake colouring in my nail beds, we reckon. I have painted my nails to cover it up. I never paint my nails, this is a clear sign of yesterday's prevalent shame levels.

So, let's reformulate that. The good news is that the bastard Tories don't have a real majority and that I am not about to expire from gangrenous fingers. Also, OPI "We'll Always Have Paris" looks quite nice on my gigantically long fingers with their radically trimmed claws (for fear of spreading the fictional bacteria). I feel slightly vampish, which can only have helped on my criminally overdue visit to the Commune this morning. The Commune is not a bunch of hippies in a tent playing bongos. Difficult as it is to imagine, it is WORSE. The Commune is the centre of Belgo-local administration, like the Town Hall, a dusty place, packed to the gills with lost souls pleading for a chance to contribute to the Belgian economy. As an immigrant, you are summoned there regularly to prove your fitness to live in Belgium by bringing them proof of your great grandfather's income, four of your baby teeth, all your qualifications certificates including your failed Grade 5 Clarinet and your Cycling Proficiency, a fragment of the True Cross, a phial of TinTin's blood, and €17 in 20 cent pieces, one each from the 27 member states of the European Union.

As a result of this, and of my own paranoid terror of administration, I have been a Commune refusenik for the past (sssh) six months. My situation has filled me with a nagging fear that officials would come and turn me out of my bed in the middle of the night demanding to see my Tufty Club membership card, though not quite enough fear to galvanise me into walking the 100 yards up the road to the Commune and turning myself in. In fact what actually happened was that they talked to the CFO about me. See? They Know Things. He said their tone was "glacial". The CFO does not go big on adjectives, so it put the fear of god into me, and I scurried along there this morning with my pitiful paper folder of ancient baby photos and documents from the police declaring me to be mentally incompetent to carry legal tender.

Guess what? It was FINE. Well, there was a little light tutting, and I'm not fully paperworked up yet, but there was no lecture, no 'more in sorrow than in anger' dissection of my defective brain chemistry, no gigantic fine. Next step is to wait for a policeman to come round to the house to check I live here (yes, this is standard practice), then some jiggery pokery with codes, but there is some possibility that by this summer I will once again be LEGAL.

On the strength of this I am heading off into town to try and replace my health insurance card (also inconnu au bataillon since November). Clearly, this is pure folly, but I am striking while the iron is at least lukewarm. Wish me godspeed.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The European Commission, my imaginary friends

Enough moping. There's a brief break in the hail and we should be celebrating. The thermostat is hovering around a balmy, er, 6°, it must be summer! Crack out the merino 100 denier tights and the nourishing broth and let's party under a shower of volcanic ash confetti. I had to stop crying anyway, I seem to have exploded one of my eyes in the process. It's all bloodshot and sore, and it scares small children on the tram. This is the upside.

Today I am, among other things, wondering which member of the College of EU Commissioners is most attractive. Go and look for yourself and come back and tell me. For me it has to be Algirdas Semeta with his commandingly slick hair, strangely accented surname and iron fisted rule over taxation and anti-fraud.


He has a way with words too:

“... we must make an efficient European venture capital market a reality, and this means eliminating any tax obstacles that still stand in its way," - says Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta.

I am all a-quiver. But I have also found that if you look at him for long enough, and at a particular angle, and if you are desperate enough, Jose Manuel Barroso can look quite alluring. Yes, I have been in the capital of European administration far too long. I have variously found myself thinking that Antonio Tijani would probably take you out for a very jolly lunch and Laszlo Andor would definitely be good at mending a puncture on your bike. Stefan Fule has to work hard to overcome his unfortunate surname, but I bet he's fun at the Christmas party. I can find redeeming qualities for most of them with the exception of Gunther Oettinger:


who obviously invented Dr Ötker pizzas, and Baroness Ashton:




who looks exactly like one of my more loathed piano teachers.

Most of all, I find myself staring wistfully at Siim Kallas and wishing they would give him a sabbatical from fighting the volcano to come and run Belgium for a while.


He is Estonian and has a great deal of medals from various European states for obscure reasons. He has a brilliant name and an even more brilliant moustache. That moustache would whip the 92 tram into shape. And! The final touch - he was president of the Estonian Cyclists Union for not one but TWO five year stints. Put that in your saddlebag and smoke it Boris Johnson, you lumbering oaf (sorry M).

Maybe I could loan him out to the UK too. He looks an accommodating kind of chap, and would probably put an end to all the hung parliament hysteria by kindly and efficiently placing all the party leaders in a large jute sack and drowning them in the Thames.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Postscript

Thank you for all your birthday and blog birthday wishes. I cried a few times (I would probably have cried anyway, but you were very consoling). The drain advice was good too. I have poured lots of water down it. Fingers crossed.

Here's the birthday boy.






He didn't like any of his presents except the joke books. Thankfully there were five joke books. I now know more elephant jokes now that anyone over the age of ten should. He thought the martian cake (improvised out of the ruined entrails of the dinosaur) was woefully short on sweets, though he conceded when pressed that the class thought it was "chouette". We had words in the morning, but he still curled up with me on the big armchair and read jokes until we were late for school.

Happy birthday darling.

Are we still these people?


I don't know. But I still feel exactly like that about you.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

2 years, 8 years

I missed my second blog anniversary a couple of days ago, what with the prevailing angst and chaos. Hmm. Thank you so much for reading. I am probably at one of my lowest points of the past two years right now, and entertainment is thin on the ground but stick around! Things must pick up soon, or if they don't, maybe we could have another entertaining detour into therapy. Were any of you around for the group therapy posts?

Actually, I don't feel anything like I did back in the Lissom Grove days. I was running away from adult life back then, buying too many clothes, drinking too much coffee, floating around east London eating nothing but icing, admiring my jutting bones in the mirror of the lift to our pretty Spitalfields flat. This is the polar opposite. I am reigning in, having a cold hard look at my own inadequacies and grimly pouring litres of Debloc Fosse Septique down the drains, my drains, all mine to deal with. It's a whole world less glamorous than going slightly mental, but it's essential.

Today I have made two cakes. We have survived a rainy Bank Holiday weekend Sunday with no money, even made each other laugh a little from time to time. I have shouted less than yesterday, tried harder. My large, argumentative, soft-hearted son, to whom I am not a great parent at the moment, will be 8 tomorrow. I wheedled a proper kiss out him earlier and wondered at the 8 years that have passed since we walked carefully, apprehensively, down Goodge Street, up Tottenham Court Road to the hospital in the grey dawn, stopping to lean on pub tables with each contraction. Since he was born, "Male child Waffle, 13:02, 4.1kgs", a boy, of course. People had been stopping me in the street for weeks to tell me I was having a boy. No surprise there. I remember the few hours of total peace as he slept, hairy and crumpled, on his father's chest in the tiny hospital bed. We look so elated, gleeful on the photos, and I remember that feeling, me 27, him 32. I remember sitting on the front steps of that grimy Victorian block in Bloomsbury in my nightdress and phoning my mum, her jumping straight on the train with my sister, arriving on the ward at the same time as my father, the pair of them racing across the lino to see him. It doesn't feel like yesterday. It feels like a lifetime away, and I miss our boiling hot mansard flat with the sloping ceilings in Newman Street with the Lithuanian prostitutes on the first floor, I miss that optimism, I miss my mum.

Tomorrow I will take one of these ridiculous cakes round to what is now his father's house and we eat it and open presents and I will peep out in the back yard at the lilac that I am missing terribly right now, when the whole area is filled with the scent of it. And we will be kind to one another, because this, at least, we can get right.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Aspirational lifestyle post

So, the Bank Holiday weekend got off to a magnificent start when I got a bit uneasy about my wallet last night. I was running late, so I just assumed I had put it somewhere idiotic, like the fridge or the laundry basket, and rushed off (to New Young Pony Club,who were very good, actually. There's a girl that can work leather shorts. Respect) cavalierly with my last €50 note.

BUT NO. I have lost my wallet AGAIN, which adds an exciting refinement to the Belgian Bank Holiday weekend of doom - Bank Holiday Weekend of Doom with €5! Amuse your venal children by making them pay for their own Happy Meals! Self-flagellate at your own stupidity! Amaze your friends with convoluted phone calls to the world's most depressing call centres while Mario and Luigi sing their sweet songs in your other eardrum!

So that was nice. I have borrowed €50 from the CFO and I feel ashamed and pathetic and a total dick. Excellent. This set of sensations is meshing nicely with my headachy, whiny hangover. There was a particularly brilliant moment this morning in the park cafe where we had taken the weepette to meet his adoptive mother (also then required to pay for drinks and lend me a tram ticket, sorry Beatrice), when simultaneously:

- Lashes flicked a straw of juice at his brother causing me to bellow so loud at him that the whole park went eerily silent and stared at us;

- Fingers knocked his menthe à l'eau over everywhere and then tripped over the chair, going flying across the gravel;

- the weepette, maddened by all the excitement, pissed all over a temporary sculpture and terrified a toddler, then got confused and ran INTO the (relatively smart, serving a brunch buffet) cafe, causing havoc.

During this, both children were hysterically cackling and I was thinking about wrapping them in duct tape until Monday morning. It is some indication of the state of things that this afternoon, I spent several hours hoovering obsessively, despite my fear and loathing of the hoover. This was because whilst hoovering, I could not hear the shrieks of outrage, highly repetitive arguments, the clash of sturdy child skulls or the gentle skittering of a full jar of Hundreds and Thousands all over the kitchen floor that punctuated the day.

I have no faith that we have hit rock bottom. I have another cake to make and two to ice by Monday morning to fête the arrival of my first born 8 years ago. I have managed to make one misshapen dinosaur already. Things were going fine, until Lashes wandered past where it was sitting on the cooling rack and and thrust his hand into it, grabbing a fistful of cake and stuffing it into his mouth, spreading crumbs everywhere for me to hoover, dementedly. Now the cake looks like a dinosaur that has suffered a vicious velociraptor attack to its internal organs, which will make an interesting decorative challenge. Without most of the necessary ingredients (food colouring on a Sunday? In Belgium? Going to be interesting).

On top of this, I have promised a trip to the Dinosaur Museum which will involve 3 modes of Sunday public transport and at least €25 of my borrowed €50. Who knows what else I may have promised in a moment of weakness, I will doubtless be reminded at 6am by long fingers poking my eyelids open. The house still smells horribly and aribtrarily of drains about 40% of the time. Like now! Bonsoir, drain smell. Drains and Diptyque, it's delightful. I am now imagining a candle with that special Diptyque wonky letters label but the label reads "DRAINS". or "EGOUTS" because that's French, and thus more desirable. It must be time for bed.