Wednesday, 30 June 2010

99 First World Problems - Part 2

We mustn't stop whining, not now when the sun is out! As an English person, it is incumbent upon me to complain about a vast number of heat related topics. Also, I said I would reach 99, and I am a woman of my word. Join in, if you can raise the energy to type.

1. The weepette is fucking annoying in the heat. In the house it spends all day depositing balls in my lap and whimpering. If taken to the park, it lurks in the bushes, avoiding eye contact, and refuses to chase a ball, in the manner of a plump fourteen year old during double games. I half expect to see a Woodbine smouldering in the corner of its mouth, but no, it is mainly busy licking abandoned ice cream wrappers. Since returning home, I note that it appears to have managed to roll in something foul smelling. Oh, lovely. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Eau de Crotte de Renard pour Weepette.

2. On top of this, the park in summer is a zone of terror for me, due to having a head which attracts projectiles as surely as the 92 tram attracts smelly lunatics. Frisbees, footballs, boomerangs, they are all coming straight for me. The frequency with which I have been thwacked on the back of the head by a "fun" projectile while a gang of youths dissolves in giggles defies the laws of both probability and physics.

2. My neighbours, the Von Trapps, have taken to living entirely out of doors in the beautiful sunshine. They are endlessly, loudly, annoying. On Sunday they had a family meeting which kicked off with sung prayers. And it hurts my ribs to laugh at the moment, so I am doubly annoyed with them.

3. This.

4. My bank have seen fit to cancel my credit card due to "suspected fraud" AGAIN. They do this every couple of months. Since the cash machine swallowed my debit card recently, I am once again without visible means of support. Marvellous! Thank you ING, you band of orange halfwits! (I am in credit, by the way. This is not even my fault, for once).

5. I do not wish to cook, yet I still wish to eat. Due to 4, I cannot solve this conundrum by throwing money at it. Monstrously inconvenient. Lunch is thus an ancient strawberry Cornetto from the very bottom of the freezer. Dinner might be a bag of frozen peas or possible a raw chicken breast popsicle.

6. The stuff I have been using to wash the floor smells HORRIBLE, like a stale old people's home. It is too far to the supermarket to get some that doesn't smell like sheltered housing. I am surrendering to the inevitable. Or I might slosh some bleach around if I'm feeling fancy. Oh, it's all go here.

7. There is no iced coffee in Brussels. I don't normally like iced coffee, but now that I can't have it I am furiously desperate to have some. I crave it like a sticky, sweet, milky drink junkie. I want the nasty kind you get on Greek islands, which is inexplicably delicious considering it is Nescafé and milk and sugar. Or cheap, nasty, Mr Whippy made with emulsified seal fat in the time honoured manner. If you can find "glace italienne" as it is called in Francophone places (I bet the Italians are delighted with that), it tastes distressingly like it is made of natural ingredients, and melts properly. For me, Mr Whippy is only authentic if it does not really melt at all, and barely tastes cold, due to the particular properties of seal fat.

8. The 92 tram makes me want to vomit at this time of year. If I wanted to sit in a pool of someone else's sweat, well... I don't actually know where I'd go, but it sure as hell wouldn't be the Schaerbeek tram dépôt. 20 minutes on the 92 tram currently makes me feel like I will never be clean again. I am not normally bothered about being clean in the first place, but it really is an extra-special level of disgusting which activates even my well-suppressed revulsion reflexes.

9. Some kind of nervous tic has made me scratch my left foot until it bleeds in several places. Pretty! Excellent with strappy sandals! Oddly, I remember doing precisely the same thing this time last year. It's lovely to note that my coping strategies have not evolved even slightly in twelve months.

10. My strimmer is in some way defective and has used up the whole spool of stringy stuff. Is this too technical for you? Yeah, me too. ANYWAY. The bastard no longer works. I would have to go to Brico to make it work. I would rather lick the seats of the 92 tram than go to Brico right now. Consequently, my neighbours hate me for the revolting state of my garden. Yeah, whatever. Stop singing and abusing woodwind instruments, then we'll talk.

11. The summer makes me feel like I should be out having frenetic, hysterical fun. I am not qualified in frenetic, hysterical fun, nor do I know where it lives, so instead I have a sort of permanent restlessness.

12. My chest is too large and does not fit into anything. I know one's décolleté is not the worst place to gain weight, and it does have the advantage of ahem, drawing the eye away from weight gain in other areas. But it is very annoying for clothes purposes. I need some kind of reinforced steel Marks & Spencer Joan of Arc minimiser bra.

13. Mood swings like a pre-menstrual gorilla. Rejoice! Snarl. Weep. Rejoice! Snarl. Weep. Exhausting.

14. Getting over Stuff takes longer than you could ever believe. I am boring myself.

15. The Cos sale will be starting soon and I will have to walk past it and resist going in.

16. My suncream makes my fingers feel funny and puts my teeth on edge. Moreover, despite my best suncream efforts I am very freckly, like a village idiot.

17. 90% of my wardrobe is in a crumpled heap on the floor. Of the remaining 10% I fit into 0.1% and of that 0.1% I wish to wear 0.00000001% (this probably equates to one sock). When I even look at the iron my bones turn to jelly.

18. I only got halfway through Season 4 of 30 Rock before the TOTALLY legal method I was watching it with er, broke.

19. My nearest supermarket does not sell bags of ice. I must either make my own (OH THE HUMANITY) or walk an extra 500 yards. Unbearable.

20. Ceiling Thing, rather brilliantly, managed to fall off the ceiling whilst leaving behind one green sticky limb, which will be almost impossible to remove. Magnificent!

21. I am completely unequal to the task of finding 33 things to whine about today because actually, secretly, I am really quite enjoying the sun. Ssssssh.

Ok, your turn. One or more first world whines in the comments. How unbearably heavy is your glass of Pimms? Does the gentle thunk of tennis balls give you a migraine? I am hear to commisterate.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

My Ideal Summer by Emma (35 1/2)

M challenged me to do this, and now I challenge you: draw a picture of your ideal summer. M forgets that I am not a professional drawer type person like she is. But she was very persuasive, and by 'persuasive' I mean she put the fear of god into me, drawing on my powerful, atavistic fear of failure.

'You do not want me to have to FAIL you on this assignment, do you?' she asked, ominously, knowing how cravenly I require approval.

'Noooooo' I whimpered. 'I must not fail. Failure is not allowed. Failure leads to being called up every Sunday by my father and quizzed on the contents of that week's Economist. PLEASE NO'.

'Then do it. WITH COLOURS'.

So here it is. It's terrible.





On top of being startlingly inept, it's very dark. My flash wasn't working. Sorry, innit.

Here are some details, in case clicking on the picture to enlarge it fills you with ennui and hopelessness, which I could quite understand.








Once I had taken the pictures I realised I should also have included an end to suffering and world peace and so on, but god only knows how I would have drawn them. My ideal summer would also involve me losing several kilos, particularly off my currently nonsensically large chest, but again, this is not something I wish to essay in the medium of chewed felt tip pen.

Erm. I am quite embarassed to post this, but I am more scared of M. Do please do me an inept sketch of your ideal summer, once you have stopped shaking your heads pityingly.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Why I hate Carpet Rite

I have spent a lot of time in bed this week, which has given me ample time to contemplate my bedroom.

My bedroom is the nicest room in the house. The rest of the house is messy, lacking in storage space and currently has extremely dirty floors, since I am neither hoover nor mop fit, not to mention massively lacking hoover or mop inclination. It looks like shit, basically. Jose the neighbourhood totalitarian said as much when he came round yesterday, which is nice of him.

My bedroom does not look like shit. It is very light, airy and comforting and nicely furnished in pale, neutral colours. There is less intrusive salmon paintwork than in other rooms and I have put virtually all my nice art in there. It is peaceful. It is how I would like all of my life to be, whilst knowing that is impossible.

Look, here is part of my bedroom:






Ancient, delicate sofa covered in Neisha Crosland anemone fabric, intricate old brass fire guard, two beautiful Dufy sketches, one pencil, one ink, a Lubna Chowdhary tile that I love, my mad but wonderful box of fire, and, hang on, what's that?

Up there? On the ceiling?




What the FUCK?

Yeah. Meet the Ceiling Thing.





With his attendant greasy circle.

Do you know how long I have been sharing my sanctuary with Ceiling Thing? I actually went and checked this for you in my Big File of Invoices and I can tell you with absolute accuracy that I have been sharing my sanctuary with Ceiling Thing since THE FIFTH OF DECEMBER. The little rubbery bastard has been hanging on SIX MONTHS now. Not bad for a free cover mount from a crappy children's magazine, eh? For the first few months his whole body was splattered flat against the ceiling. Since then, glacially slowly, he has been slipping downwards. Firstly he was hanging from all four limbs, then three, and in the last week or so, a tantalising two. The children document his progress gleefully for me as we lie in bed on weekend mornings and I wish for room service breakfast. Look! He's barely hanging by his fingertips now! Surely it can't be long now? Every time I look at him he knocks a week off my life, so here's hoping. The ceilings in my house are so high that even Iris, the rickety ladder of certain death, cannot reach that far. It says "Iris" on one of her rungs. I am not the kind of woman who names her ladder.

The worst of it is that Ceiling Thing was not even the work of my children. No. The reason I can place his arrival with such accuracy is that he was hilariously thrown up there by the carpet fitters, obviously with some force given how long he's been up there. WOW. YOU GUYS ARE SO FUCKING FUNNY. Knobs. I didn't even WANT a fucking carpet, but it was that or the original beige lino. It was astonishingly expensive too. I was reminded of that looking up my Big File of Receipts. Jesus! The things I could have done with that money (got a cleaner?)!

Anyway. I have spent much of the week staring at the jaunty expression of Ceiling Thing And The Attending Greasy Circle. I note, now that I look at the photograph, that he is sticking his lewd, rubbery tongue out at me. I suspect if I were Alain de Botton I would find some kind of profoundly true metaphor for the human condition and our doomed striving for perfection. I am not Alain de Botton. All he inspires in me is a visceral hatred of Carpet Rite. This is probably why I am not the author of a series of tomes of popular, slightly whimsical philosophy, but an embittered crone. So be it.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

I still have "it". Oh yes.

Tiny post. Not a good week.


Remember Damien the groping grocer (mentioned here and here)? I doubt it. Not unless you've been hanging around here far too long.


He operates out of this august establishment just round the corner from the CFO's house:




When I lived there, he used to address me exclusively as "jolie voisine". Damien, who must be in his late forties, doesn't get out much, if at all. He has worked in his father's corner shop all his life and his eyes are filled with the desperation of a red blooded male who spends 16 hours a day selling tiny single tins of cat food to ladies in their 80s. He is a great favourite with the ladies in their 80s with whom he still flirts reflexively, politely, dead eyed with murder in his mind. I have every expectation that when his father eventually dies (he is 88 and has only ever taken 4 days off work, after major surgery), he will either turn the corner shop into a lap dancing club, or run away to one of the seedier corners of Thailand.

I went into his shop for the first time since I moved out today. I am looking HAWT at the moment, really like you wouldn't believe. My face is about double its normal volume with crying and all red and puffy. I am wearing no make up and my eyes are so small and naked mole rat-esque that they are barely visible. One side of my face is all covered in bruised and scabby bits (it's a very sad, horrible, dumb luck kind of story with no redeeming features that would induce me to tell it, but don't worry noone has been hitting me). I am walking like a one legged arthritic donkey. To add to the pretty vision, I am wearing leggings I slept in, an ancient polo shirt with a fine dusting of dog hair and an inspid floral Marks & Spencer skirt of the kind favoured by ladies of a certain age to attend the village fête. I have not washed today. I am really quite the foxy lady. People were crossing the road to avoid me as I staggered, talking intermittently to my dog on a piece of string, to collect Fingers from school.

Aaaanyway. We stopped off for a carton of juice in Damien's lair.

"Emma!" said Damien, his arms open in greeting, smiling broadly. "It's been so long!"

He never used to call me by my name. This is clearly special "single lady" talk.

Then he came out from behind his counter, past the rows of bottles of cheap Algerian wine, and the packets of Knorr soup and the unidentifiable meat products, motes of dust dancing in his wake. The shop smells of 1979. I know this, because I remember the corner shops in York having exactly that smell when I used to go and buy penny chews there in my infancy.

"I must kiss you!" I thought he was talking to Oscar at this point. Sadly he was not. He grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed me on the cheek. My greasy, puffy, stained cheek.

"You are looking RAVISSANTE".

"No, I'm not. I had an accident".

"Yes you are! You are Emma! You are looking RAVISSANTE".

"Um, yeah. Ok. I'm going now. Bye"

"Goodbye EMMA. Come back soon. RAVISSANTE!"

As soon as we were out of earshot, I called the CFO.

"Damien is moving in on me now you're out of the picture. He kissed me. And used my name lots of times. He WANTS me".

The CFO laughed joyously and at length.

"We could be neighbours again!"

"I thought you'd enjoy that. That's all".

Then Fingers and I staggered on home. Things may be pretty shit right now but I have options. OH YES. I have options.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Some stuff. And a request for a recipe.

I got tagged for a meme by this lot, which is handy, since I do not have the shred of an original thought in any part of my head right now.


What experience has most shaped you and why?

Christ, I dunno. Being the child of massively over-achieving, brilliant, ambitious parents perhaps? I am doomed to be a perpetual disappointment to myself and others. And a bit lazy.

If you had a whole day with no commitments what would you do?

I fear it might go like this.

Firstly I would lie awake for the whole of the preceding night plotting and replotting the optimum way to spend my day. Then I would be exhausted and grumpy by morning time. I would pour pointlessly vast amounts of energy into deciding what to have for breakfast, then be slightly regretful about what I had chosen.

I would have a bath, then lie in the bath fretting about wasting precious free time. Then I would get out and mope around trying to decide what to do, and vitally, where to have lunch.

I would spend too much time on the interwebs exactly as I do every other day.

I would lurk around shops with pretty things in. I would wonder whether to go to the cinema and decide against it.

There would be so many places I would insist on having coffee, or drinks in, I would have to spend half of the day peeing.

I would reach the end of the day and wonder how I managed to do so little with it.

Yes. I am not very good at straightforward enjoyment and spend crucial hours worrying about the opportunity cost of any given option. But at least I have bags of self-knowledge! Yay! Who needs fun when you have a brutally clear vision of your own character flaws?


What food or drink could you never give up?

Tea. Because it has a meta-significance way beyond simply being a slightly boring but refreshing hot beverage and without the social lubricant that is tea, my social life, culture and the cohesive structure of British society would fall to pieces.

And salt. Because I had to give up salt for a year when I was 20 and on massive doses of steroids in a vain attempt to stop my hair falling out, and it was one of the worst years of my life, not just because of the hair, but because life without salt is POINTLESS. Just stick me in a field with a salt lick and a thermos of tea and I'll be fine.


If you could travel anywhere, where would that be and why?

I am not at all well-travelled, like, embarrassingly, grotesquely, ill-travelled. Consequently this list is very long and mainly composed of cities - Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Tokyo.

I would happily settle for going back to Venice though, any day.


Who do you have a crush on?

Oh, but there are so many! Crushes make life fun. Or mortifying. Or a bit of both. And I'm good with that.

1. Children's headmaster - still, and possibly forever, even though he is mean as hell and has hair like a loo brush.
2. Colleague Who Shall Remain Nameless.
3. Ex-Colleague Who Shall Remain Nameless
4. Josh Rouse - so perfectly rumpled and just the right height, and deliciously nerdy glasses, and generally divine and having spoken to him after his gig at Ancienne Belgique I am now hopelessly in love with him.
5. The man behind the counter in BioBar, my local juice bar. He's just comically handsome and a stunning advert for juice.


If you were the leader of your country, what would you do?

This is not at all a fanciful question for me, because I totally could be in charge of Belgium. None of the other candidates have any particularly impressive credentials beyond looking like potatoes. Well, I can look like a potato too, Votre Majesté! My policies:

- Replace all Brussels cobbles with nice smooth modern tarmac, possibly with a rubberised heel friendly coating.
- Make everyone speak Esperanto. It would be more amusing and reduce the problems of linguistic conflict.
- Force Marks & Spencer to open a large Brussels store and make Cadburys take over the local chocolate industry
- Replace La Brabançonne as the national anthem with "Chef une petite bière on a soif".
- Put Fabiola on the national flag and coinage.


I tag the following perhaps slightly lesser known blogs from my blogroll, that are excellent and that I don't think I have tagged before:


I am supposed to add a question, so my question is:

Give me one easy savoury recipe that does not include cheese.

And now I must hobble to work. It could take a while. Do please all answer any of the questions you would like in the comments. It would make me very cheerful.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

99 First World Problems - Part I

Time for a bit of communal, therapeutic first world whining. I'll do one of these a week for the next three weeks. I'm keen to reach 99 first world problems and I'd like you to supply your own in the comments which I hereby decree to be a SAFE PLACE for whining of all kinds. You may whine about not having enough space in your bespoke walk in wardrobe for all your Nicholas Kirkwood shoes if you wish, or about the difficulty of landing your private plane at Cap Ferrat, or how sharp your miniature Shetland pony's hooves are when he brings you macaroons and jumps onto your lap for strokes. We will not judge you.

Here are mine:

1. Itchy eyes.
2. Do not own a tiger.
3. The problems of grass, growing and cutting thereof. The fear of the tondeuse. The growing opprobrium of the neighbours. The pain and lacerations caused when trying to deal with grass. The stringy bit disappearing into the strimmer and refusing to be coaxed back out.
4. Pervasive envy.
5. Dogsitter moving to Florida to open a dog hotel.
6. HSBC.
7. Embarassing email, once sent, cannot be unsent.
8. Radio silence on pitch leading to despair. WAIL. WHY DID YOU NOT LIKE MY PROPOSAL? I do lots of pitches and nothing comes of them, but I thought this one was dynamite. So dynamite I wasn't even sure I should write it. CANNOT ACCEPT. Wail again. Check sent messages again. Maybe I should just write it anyway and keep it in a special box for brooding over in my (fast approaching) dotage.
9. Heat rash. It's not even warm.
10. No Tom Ford lipstick in Belgium.
11. Too fat for 80% of wardrobe.
12. The impossibility of avoiding the Sales in the mind of the impoverished.
13. Insistence of house on getting dirty.
14. Do not own a pony.
15. Brooding over craptastic half-arsed affairs.
16. Itchy feet. Literal, not figurative.
17. Getting too warm to keep butter out of the fridge. Do not like fridge cold butter.
18. Career apocalypse.
19. Can't go to Couleur Café. Absence of proximate, obliging grandparents for this kind of thing. No scope for overnight babysitting at all. Envy of CFO's accesss to his available and obliging parents.
20. Cat's arse wrinkles around mouth in the manner of Dot Cotton.
21. Noone to watch football with. Children bemused/indifferent. Too shy to go to bar on my own.
22. Really need a car. Cannot afford a car. Cannot bear to maintain a car.
23. Dog standing by my side reproachfully every time I eat something like a disappointed Weightwatchers leader.
24. Tapeworm (NOT A REAL TAPEWORM) has died, leaving me with a dead weight of accumulated bread products around my midriff.
25. Lust for expensive microdermabrasion with a diamond wand following discussions with Brain Twin.
26. Curtains. Fingers needs them as his are so transparent as to be entirely pointless. Cannot get to the yellow and blue death star: Consequence: Fingers in my bed, with his fingers in my eyes and both of us grinding our teeth in unison.
27. Headache, settling around eyeballs.
28. Shame of hearing brattish seventeen year old boy next door describe my house as "glauque" (squalid). A SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD BOY THINKS MY HOUSE IS SQUALID. Ô, the shame.
29. Complexity of trying to avoid taxi driving stalker.
30. Grooming related ennui: nails need repainting, fake tan needs maintaining, trial moisturiser needs using, I need fumigating, frankly, after all this garden sordidness. Pffffff.
31. Have discovered the source of mysterious Green Nail Disease. It is avocados (or their skins), which mysteriously dye my nails and nail beds green when I peel them. Avocados are one of the only healthy things I ever eat and they are rejecting me. Woe.
32. Not getting enough writing done with two blogs to feed and squalor to (fail to) keep under control and neighbours to placate. Not disciplined enough to shut myself away and do something about it.
33. Desperate for a massage. No chance.


Ok. Ready steady whine!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Vote Potato

It's Belgian election time, an event so frequent and confusing it barely merits mention, except that this time it looks like rumours of the demise of Belgium are barely exaggerated at all. Is it finally broken? What, exactly, is holding it together apart from a shared love of endive and the difficulty of cutting the Manneken Pis in half? Search me.

The King wears a look of barely suppressed irritation as he is once more summoned back from one of his many summer residences to deal with the ongoing disintegration of his country. Instead of lounging poolside in St Trop, or taking Fabiola for an ice cream on the front at Knokke, he has to listen to the interminable squabblings of a gang of potato faced men, each with names more nonsensical than the last. I mean, the chances are that in September, the country (assuming it still exists in some form) will be governed by either "Bart de Wever" or "Elio di Rupo", both of whom sound like characters on a semi-educational tv show for the under 5s. Other bit players include Alexander de Croo, Paul Magnette and Antoinette Spaak. Come ON.

A little more on our two potential leaders. Bart de Wever is easy for British readers, because look! He's actually Nick Griffin.





Perhaps he got lost leaving the European Parliament one day and a hilarious comedy of errors culminated in him leading a prominent Flemish separatist party? That would make a good sitcom.

(For some reason any time I try to find a photograph of a political figure, all I can locate are tiny thumbnails. If it's a conspiracy, obviously I'm all in favour. Mainly they don't bear too close examination)

Interesting facts about Bart: one of his middle names is Liliane. He is very susceptible to food poisoning. He is obsessed with Bavaria.

Politically, Bart is what is technically known as "nutjob Flem" who wants the poor bits of Belgium full of toothless unemployed steel workers to fuck off and leave Flanders all shiny and blonde and independent, full of unfeasibly tall, muscular people with excellent teeth and stable incomes. Bart got 28% of the vote which scares me witless.

Elio is odd. I mean, look:




He ALWAYS wears a bow tie. It's his thing. He also founded the "Festival International du Film d'Amour" and is a freemason (thank you Wikipedia). He's a socialist (they did very well in the francophone south). He's openly gay. He has his own blog which features pictures of him lifting weights in skimpy shorts and patrolling the streets accompanied by a large papier mâché crocodile. He's francophone.

Can you see already how BRILLIANTLY these two are going to get on?

Pleasingly, noone seems to have any belief that they will manage to form a government before September at the earliest. Remember how twitchy Britain got in the few days before the posh boys teamed up? Ha. Belgium laughs, jadedly, in the face of your panic, Britain. Belgium can go whole years without a government.

Tragically I threw away most of the mountain of election literature from potatoes in suits with uneasily jovial expressions. I only have this festival of awkwardness, which I love:




Photographer: Come on, loosen up! I know, how about you all HOLD ON to each other? It'll look like you're a big old gang of friends! It'll be brilliant! Ok, you, baldie on the left, no touching from you. It just looks .. brrr; just don't. Ok? Just, I dunno, keep those hands where we can't see them.

Vote MR for inappropriate and awkward touching.

There's something particularly sinister about the grouping to the right, with the two gents each with a heavy hand on the woman's shoulder. They look like they are in the process of apprehending her for thought crimes.

I liked this too both because of the (Dutch) slogan (Hell, yes. Constantly) and also for the woman's facial expression, which again, got me wondering about what kind of direction she was getting from the photographer.



Photographer: Ok, Anneliese, I need you to look anxious. Um, no, not quite like that. Could you, I dunno, make it look a bit more like, hmmm, the village idiot puzzling over quadratic equations? But also sort of cross at the same time? PERFECT! Right I'm going to drape this jumper from 1986 over your shoulders, just hold it right there... That's it! Good girl. I think we have our shot.

Vote Vlaams Belang for prominent teeth, distressed blondeness, and retro fashion choices.

I am totally on top of this whole politics business.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Brilliant Days Out in Belgium, Part 3

You are hungry for news of the Belgian elections, I am sure but first let me take you on a magical journey of discovery to a place of childlike wonder. It has been a long time since we did our interactive tour of the Cartoon Museum, but rest assured there are other places just as splendidly entertaining.


Look!







It's like Europe! But .. smaller.

Come, take my hand, let us wander, wide-eyed through this paradise.


This is Germany. The digger slowly, painfully, lurches towards the Berlin Wall and a topples a tiny chunk of masonry. I can only speculate that it must have kicked loose at some point and toppled the gentleman lying face down to the right.




The rich culture and history of the Baltic is represented here with a Coke lorry for Latvia.




The cranes on this tremendous oil rig (representing, I think, Norway) sway backwards and forwards in the stiff Heysel breeze.


Sadly I failed to get a picture of the c1982 Intercity 125 complete with British Rail logo that was being used to represent the Eurostar. That alone is worth your entrance fee.

I do not want to spoil it for your inevitable visit by showing you too many of the sights of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. But I would be derelict in my duty towards you, reader, if I did not give you a taste of this, the answer to that perennially troubling question "how to make the European institutions fun and relevant to the under 8s?".

Worry no longer, Mini-Europe has ALL the answers.

Spin the founding fathers of the European Union and enter a wonderland of democratic deficit!


Lashes is always hungry for more clarity on the separation of powers between the institutions. With these handy tools he now knows in a highly visual and, yes, fun, way, that "Parliament gives an opinion or uses the co-decision procedure depending on the subject matter in debate". Look how happy he is!



This clear exposition of the legislative competence of the European Commission will give him an edge in the rough and tumble of the playground.


Even young Fingers can really get to grips with compliance and enforcement by the Commission with this bright, tactile tool.


Lashes thrills to discover that the fifteenth round of enlargement was the largest to date.


The best is yet to come. On these state of the art touch screens, children can play a European Union policy themed game of snakes and ladders.


Now then, Fingers, do you remember about tariff exemptions for ACP countries importing into the European Union? Good boy!

Enforcement proceedings in front of the European Court of Justice? No problem!


And as for high speed maritime networks, they hold no mysteries for us.



Finally, in an exuberant climax to your visit, you can put the Protocols to the Treaty of Lisbon in the right order using this fun, life-sized game!*




(*Ok, that one - and ONLY that one - is a lie. You had to put the crochets in the right place in a score of the Ode to Joy. I SWEAR this is true).



Tariff: €13,50 for adults, €9,80 for children (high five from a man in an orange nylon tortoise suit thrown in for free).

Opening Hours: Daily, 10-6

Alternatives: Curling up on the sofa with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, unabridged. Kissing Jose Manuel Barroso WITH TONGUES. Death.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Sleeping with Jeudi

Thursday, as M noted today, is the seemingly lovely boyfriend you want to believe in, the one you believe to be one of the good guys. Then, once he's lulled you into a false sense of security, he tramples all over your heart in hobnailed boots. And throws away your first editions of Nancy Mitford.

E: But Thursday's supposed to be one of the good ones! He's my guy!

M: That's just what he wants you to think.

E: I see. So Thursday is the moustachioed evil OCD boyfriend in that Julia Roberts film. What was that called?

E and M simultaneously, not for nothing are they brain twins: Sleeping with the Enemy?

E: Exactly. Jeudi wants you to know that whatever befalls you is all your own fault for angering him in this way by failing to align the labels on the condiment jars precisely.

M: Don't fall asleep when jeudi's around. You'll wake up to see him advancing on your neck wearing surgical gloves.

Thursday audit: I do not believe in my book anymore. I think it's probably a heap of old shit and worse still, it is not as BIG a heap of old shit as I had fondly deluded myself. I have been overstating my word count to myself, it transpires. Excellent. I am also itchy all over and have been on the verge of tears all day. I am call screening two people one of whom is a sixty five year old taxi driving lothario (if you are reading this, you are NOT the other person, I can assure you). I made Lashes cry over the thorny issue of 8 x 7. Fingers has developed a morbid fascination with Queen. I have an additional small child staying tomorrow night, one whose father used to take his elder children on a tour of our old house pointing out the mess and laughing in delight at my eccentricity. "Regardez, boys! There's a crisp packet on the floor!". He'll have a field day here. I am in my usual state of administrative denial, domestic inertia and meltdown with a generous sprinkling of guilt.

I have decided (not consicously I should emphasise) to deal with my problems by EATING and am on my fifth fairy cake of the evening. This is of course ultra sensible in view of my totally happy and healthy history with food. I don't even know if I need to worry about this. I thought I was done with this particular strand of neurosis. I still think I am. Whatever. My body feels that life would be easier with another three chins and who am I to argue?

If any of you were my mother - tricky, what with her being dead - you would now be asking me the following question. If you're feeling clever, you can guess now.

.....

.....


My mother would be asking "is it your hormones?"

I would be rolling my eyes and flouncing and saying "UUUUUGH NO. IT IS NOT MY HORMONES. GOD. WHY IS IT ALWAYS MY HORMONES WITH YOU???.

(It is not my hormones)


I do not see many solutions. I outline them below.


1. Nervous breakdown.

2. Emigrate.

3. Join some form of witness protection scheme.

4. Get some guts and sort myself out with the application of sharp and frequent kicks to my own shins.

5. Trudge on without getting vastly more sensible or competent or grown up, hoping that things will gradually start to improve in tiny increments.

6. Nervous breakdown. I keep coming back to this one. I like the total abdication of responsibility it implies. I am allowing myself to take the possibility out of the dark recess of my mind where it lives and stroke it, but only because I know I can't really do it.



We all know the only thing that could possibly happen is 5. I am going ahead with 5, hopefully with the highly intelligent but thus far elusive addition of sleep.



Avanti! Slow, tedious, repetitive avanti!

Your argument is invalid

I have nothing to add at this juncture.



(except thank you Jess)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Recommended Daily Allowance

Ah, Wednesday, you obnoxious little shit. Always the same crappy attitude. It has rained all day. I'm 1/3 insect bite, 1/3 allergies and 1/3 sleep deprivation which is making me a delightfully itchy companion full of patience and forbearance for my cohabitees.

This afternoon, the children made a potion out of my Fresh Pink Jasmine cologne, Dior toning oil and expensive edible glitter, then summoned me hither and thither with raucous commands, as gentle and melodious as a nestful of baby vultures. Once they were mercifully confined to bed ("No, I will not smell your feet". "No, you cannot have a wind turbine in your bedroom". "Yes, that is a rude word, please do not say it again. Yes, I did say it, but only when I stood on the slug you had brought into the kitchen".) I vaguely corralled the filth into a dark corner with someone's abandoned sock and sunk into the sofa to think dark thoughts. Sensing my momentary availability, the weepette padded over to its bowl, selected a large piece of food in its dainty jaws, brought it over to the sofa and crumbled it on the floor for me with weird, trembly dedication. Getting up to aim a kick at the weepette and clear up the bonus filth, I stood on the screaming rubber chicken, terrifying myself and waking the children. Wherever I position myself the rubber chicken lurks ready to frighten the crap out of me, defying all laws of the physical universe as I understand them. String theory? Schroedinger's chicken?

Worst of all, I was supposed to be at a shiny, pink themed beauty awards ceremony tonight but all my babysitters have exams, damn them. I bet there were free things, and Flemish barbie women to laugh at. Curses.

I am thankful, however, for the following small mercies:

1. Our tadpoles are all still alive, despite the fact that their bucket now contains a slice of ham a dinosaur and a landfill's worth of plastic detritus, and that the dog frequently tries to drink them. One of them even has tiny legs. Gross, but fascinating.

2. I have managed to be sufficiently boring and tetchy today that the boys have actually played with the weepette. One might imagine this to be a regular event, but no, juvenile human and canine have a long-standing policy of completely ignoring each other in this household. Today they came together in a heartwarming display of cross-species harmony, barking and tail pulling. I can't pretend the dog was delighted at this turn of events, but at least he's tired tonight.

3. I can make Hummingbird cupcakes in my sleep now, handy since I sleepwalked through most of this afternoon. They are almost insultingly easy and require absolutely no baking skill whatsoever. Another perfect batch, another step along the road to clinical obesity. Mmmm, buttercream face.

4. Lashes, who reads constantly but only strip cartoons, read an Actual Book (George's Marvellous Medicine) in an hour today, told me in detail how brilliant it was and asked for another. Again, this is probably a product of boredom and parental neglect. I am all in favour.

5. I calculated today whilst sourcing my anti-histamines (the drowsy silver lining in my hayfever cloud), that from my front door I can - literally, and I do mean literally (how annoying is it when someone says 'literally' and means 'not even slightly literally') - walk to three different pharmacies within two minutes. Ah, Belgium. I am almost tempted to become a hypochondriac or prescription drug abuser just to take full advantage of the neighbourhood amenities. Pharmacies are only outnumbered in the two minute walk radius by bakeries - FIVE within two minutes of my front door. Chocolate shops are a respectable, but far from exceptional, three. Seedy bars: three (a little disappointing, but one of them has a mangy, balding Bichon frisé that bites, so counts double). And new for Spring/Summer 2010 a bookshop/newsagents/café that is open 365 days a year. All I need is a cavernous and well-stocked hardware shop and I would never need to leave my street. Perhaps I ought to open one myself. Hardware and cupcakes, maybe.

Anything keeping you going today, or are you throwing in the towel?

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Complex

I'm feeling sour and snarky tonight, but I'll turn the evil inwards and tell you about my current belief system, which reveals that in my head it's still the Dark Ages. The world is a terrifying place in my underdeveloped reptile brain, where arbitrary forces may turn on me at any time if I do not behave according to my own demented rituals and superstitions. I don't have an inner child, I have an inner Medieval serf, and he's SCARED. I should probably go back to therapy, but that would require me to use the telephone. Dare you take a peep back in time? Here's a small glimpse of the primitive thought processes that govern my days.

1. The saga of the luncheon vouchers

I get luncheon vouchers at work. Yeah, I know, it's just like the 1960s except noone in the office looks like Don Draper. ANYWAY. You have to collect your luncheon vouchers each month at designated times, and sign a piece of paper to confirm you, and noone but you, has the precious envelope of puzzlingly denominated meal tickets in your clammy hands. I have not managed to do this at any point in 2010. This is tantamount to throwing money in the bin, since they have a relatively rapid expiry date. Such is my maddening stupidity, I have even been given permission to go and collect them at non-designated time. I have not done this either. Several reasons. Firstly, I am ashamed. I have left it so long I look like a fuckwit (yes, correct, I am a fuckwit). Secondly, it requires me to go up to the third floor. I have developed an irrational terror of the third floor and now believe that to go up there will cause certain disaster. On the map in my mind the third floor is indicated with a skull and crossbones and the legend 'here be dragons'. Intellectually, I know that there is a pleasant lady who will hand me an envelope and make me sign a piece of paper. But the lizard brain is screaming DANGER! Why, lizard brain? Why?


2. The telephone

It is somewhere in the house. I know, because at one point the children rang me on it recently as I was walking the dog down the street, encouraging it to pee on all the neighbours' doorsteps.

"C'est nous"

"Yes, I rather hoped it was, because if it wasn't something would be badly wrong. I'm just standing outside the door whilst Oscar does caca, what do you want?"

"Rien".

"Ok. How about you hang up then?"

Since then it has been lost, deep in the bowels of the Poké-kingdom. I am relieved. I hate the telephone and have all but forgotten how to use it. It's like a malevolent household god that I am failing to honour. At least this one doesn't have voicemail. I'm not even going into my profound phobia of voicemail. I cannot, will not listen to voicemail. Like some kind of amazonian tribesperson, I believe voicemail will steal my soul. I cannot hear those voices Something Terrible will happen, you cannot make me, no no no. Speaking of no..


3. "No"

I cannot, must not, will not utter this word. What might happen? I DO NOT KNOW. Perhaps the very earth under my feet will tremble, Belgium will be split asunder and I will be cast into a fiery furnace for all eternity? Who knows? Not me because there is no way I will ever manage to say it. Sigh.

So I say 'yes' and hope it sounds sufficiently like no to get my message across. It doesn't. I create more distress and confusion than a polite and compassionate no ever could. Perhaps this works when I'm talking to someone as brokenly British as myself, but thankfully for the state of the universe and human relations, there aren't many as broken as me.

I used to be able to use the telephone (fear #2) to at least call Taxis Bleus. Now, due to an unfortunate fear #3 incident on Sunday which involved me failing to tell an old and insistent taxi driver that NO. I WILL NOT GO OUT FOR A DRINK WITH YOU, YOU ARE IN YOUR MID SIXTIES AND I AM THIRTY FIVE AND IN ANY CASE, JUST NO. I am utterly buggered. What if they send him? It might be a tiny probability, but that's probability enough for me. I mean, I've already had him twice in my five years in Brussels. It could totally happen again. I will probably be cornered into buying a car just to avoid this happening.

Sigh. Headslap. Moving on.

4. Other irrational fears

The lawnmower (I know I will lose a limb). The bank (obvious). Reading any official document relating to me. The Post Office (can't even analyse that particular one, satisfactorily, it's 100 yards away and always empty. Scarred by Paris, probably). Asking questions (terrible breach of etiquette! Oh, the pitfalls!). Knocking on the neighbours' door to ask if one of their perfectly aged, pocket money hungry, teenagers might like to babysit. Arranging social events (yes, with my FRIENDS, because how terrifying is that?).


Somewhere, in a tiny rational corner of my lizard brain, I know I COULD get over these fears. I got over my fear of sparklers (aged about 16, but I did get over it eventually). I am so blasé about maggots now that when I found one in my handbag after a monkey feeding, it barely registered. It can be done. I just, well. Not now.


Please make me feel better by telling me ways in which you are basically a medieval peasant. Thank you.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Summer Sexy, Sort of.

It's mean to take issue with articles like this one, I know. Pages must be filled and not all of the content will be Pulitzer Prize standard. I will happily read 1200 words on cellulite or The New Boho without my critical faculties kicking in once. I am accepting, nay welcoming, of mindless shiny pap. And God knows, I write some boring old shit. But this, called something like "What kind of summer sexy are you?" made me laugh immoderately. According to the breathless article, we must fall into one of four categories:

Leggy
The Leggy look takes confidence to pull off. Confidence, and squats. As shown by Gwyneth Paltrow, queen of Leggy, shorts work it best. Keep your top half covered up with blazers and blouses, offsetting your considerable flesh flash with a bit of classy tailoring.


Milk maid
This sort of sexy is all about the power of pretty. With freshly Timoteied, natural hair and a healthy, heaving bosom, the Milkmaid is most likely to be seen working full-length florals (like Daisy Lowe) with a flash of a bra strap, a dash of denim and a bit of prairie white.


Starlet
Starlet sexy is all about curves. Make like Kelly Brook in cheeky, figure-hugging shift dresses and peep-toe wedges. For downtime glamour, it’s all about retro references. Use sweetheart necklines, nipped-in waists and 1950s sundresses to create a 24/7 sexy look (the Starlet not being the off-duty type).


Beach babe
Nobody works wholesome sexy quite like Jennifer Aniston, a seemingly cellulite-free mix of beach hair, Pilates pins and semi-sheer-but-just-shy-of-slutty T-shirts. Work your denim cut-offs with wedges (all the better to show off toned calves) and watch the boys drool.


Did it raise a bitter mirthless smile, reader? Especially if you've been crammed into someone's malodorous armpit during your happy 30° commute, further enhanced by a forty minute delay due to a passenger incident?

It certainly doesn't reflect my own personal summer style Golgotha, or that of the many and varied ladies of all ages, shapes and sizes I see around me in Brussels and London. LOOK AROUND YOU. Are there many milk maids on your designated form of commuter travel? Starlets? No. I put it to you that there are not. There are cross sweaty people of all ages, inappropriately dressed for the heat and not quite as fragrant as they were this morning. Their straps are digging in and they have blisters. I know, because I'm one of them. I have identified five alternative types of summer style. Which summer sufferer are you?

The Dirty Hippy

The skirt - long, shapeless, vomitously patterened - is trailing in the pavement dust, tassles and medallions banging insalubriously against other pedestrians. The feet - in Birkenstocks or flip flops or other toe exposing abominations - are filthy. There is a vest. It is none too clean. The air around the dirty hippy is redolent of patchouli, dope, falafel and sweat. It's enough to make you want to bring back military service.


The Denier

The Denier watches the temperature rise with a heart as black as her layered separates and wants no part of it. She will no more part with her 90000 denier opaques than she will wear a chambray playsuit with a 'fun' neon lip colour, except possibly to wear a pair of heavy dark jeans, perhaps with boots and some kind of leather or wool jacket. She dreams all summer long of Nordic forests, possibly ones with hideously violent crimes occurring in them and lingers furtively in air conditioned department stores stroking the Autumn/Winter pea coats and shoplifting Wolford Velvets. She does not want to hear about your picnic in the park. You revolt her.


The Prickly Heater

The Prickly Heater searches her wardrobe in vain for something that isn't too tight, too transparent, too easily crumpled or too perspiration inducing. In fact, it doesn't matter what she chooses, because through some unfathomable mystery of chemistry, physics, and plain bad luck, whatever she wears will be a unrecogniseable sweaty rag within minutes of the fiery ball hitting her rapidly flushing countenance. She is likely to also display several of the following symptoms: large Compeed blister plaster protruding from shoe which is apparently several sizes too small (her feet has swollen painfully, like big fleshy Yorkshire puddings), squashed, smeary sunglasses, painful heat rash on her limbs and torso, big shiny red face, frizzy, lank hair, giant, infected insect bites in unfortunate places, lips tightly pressed together with the effort of not ripping all her clothes off and scratching like a rabid dog.

The Big Top

The Big Top embraces summer. She's been to Marrakech and she knows what to do. She shops in that peculiar Hampstead Bazaar place on St Christophers Place, sourcing vast tents of fabric, big enough to accommodate the whole Cirque de Soleil and a couple of spare tigers. Presumably she has some theory about the cooling effects of billowing curtains of fabric, but when she sits next to you on the tube, all your fears of being buried alive assault you, as her capacious shroud settles in a stranglehold around your windpipe. She does have two major advantages, however. Firstly, you can hear her coming from a considerable distance thanks to her half tonne of jangly jewellery, and secondly, her capacious draperies make an excellent hiding place for any Prickly Heaters trying to find a discreet corner to hide and scratch like rabid dogs.

The Car Crash Tanner

The Car Crash Tanner comes in two varieties, natural and artificial. Natural is the person you look at, whince, then nudge your companion so they whince and suck their teeth with mock sympathetic schadenfreude at the kind of sunburn that you KNOW remains as hot as a fiery furnace all night, no matter how many bottles of aftersun they smear gingerly on the affected area, whilst weeping "I only fell asleep for ten minutes". Usually the pattern of Car Crash Tan lines will be a crazy paving of reminiscent of a wonky Miro, impossible for the victim to adequately conceal or replicate. A Car Crash Tan is the sun's way of saying "fuck you, asshole". We've all been there.

The Artificial Car Crash Tanner may look ok from a distance, but come a little closer. Hang on, why is one leg three shades browner than the other? And, whoa. Her FEET! Has she been bathing them in Marmite? You look again, both fascinated and horrified. You realise she is as patchy as a piebald pony, her skin a mass of uneven pigment like something from a particularly hardcore dermatology textbook. Beware, gentle observer, not to move too close in your curiosity. The smell of rancid biscuit can overwhelm you when you least expect it.

Come on, tell me your summer shame.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Weekend Review

What to do in 24 hours in boiling hot Paris? Firstly, forget all your clothes. Except the ones you're wearing, I mean. Just leave everything, mystifyingly, in a neat pile by the front door to be rediscovered when you get home. Spend the weekend wondering, worrying, if you somehow managed to lose two dresses in the station. Next, sit on some chewing gum in the metro so the only thing you have to wear is covered in sticky crap. Ideally, you could add to the general aura of awesomeness you are now giving off by having a nice lady stop you on the street to point out to you that your outsized, over-stuffed handbag is causing your dress to ride up at one side so all of the 7ème arrondissement can see your knickers. Humiliatingly reassess why men have been staring at you on the metro. Wonder how long you have been displaying your pants. Try not to think about it any more. Feel the fizz of excitement at being able to kick up your heels a little and do some cackling. Ah, cackling. There can never be enough.

Say hello to your gorgeous friend and hostess who throws the best parties. Have a little preliminary gossip and run through the guest list. Warm up with a little light cackling and champagne.

Say hello to Karl, constant presence and observer. Thank goodness he can't talk. Sssssh, Karl.


Say hello to the Eiffel Tower:


Scrub up as best you can with your sweaty, chewing gum stained dress. Your gorgeous friend will keep the lighting low. All you need to remember is not to spend the evening saying "I forgot all my clothes! I'm covered in chewing gum!". This may prove difficult.

Next, admire this sign and do exactly what it says.


Note for the neighbours. on Twitpic

(Warning: Tonight we're having a dinner party and we'll be making a NOISE. We might walk around. And LAUGH. We did. We might have also drunk champagne and thrown mini-meringues and experimented with Alain de Botton's notorious dinner party questions).

Get a little sleep. A very very little sleep. But waking up to 25° and brilliant sunshine at 9 in the morning makes the tiny amount of sleep almost bearable. Nurofen Plus and coffee help too.

Do not pass Le Bon Marché. Well, ok, pass it, walk through to enjoy the air conditioning, stroke the Tom Ford lipsticks (stroking this one particularly insistently) and Carine Gilson loveliness, do not give in to the Erotokritos dresses that could have been created by making all the dresses in your wardrobe breed with each other:

Do NOT give in, even as the sales boy looks at you with puppyish eyes filled with the hope of commission. Note that you have chronically overdone the fake tan on legs which are shade #4 Not Nearly Natural whilst your arms remain shade #1 Cadaverous Trogolodyte. Understand better the disdainful look of the evenly, beautifully bronzed man guarding the Tom Ford lipsticks.

Do not collect 200 black dresses in the Maje Outlet store. In fact, do not even go into the Maje store, because the flesh is weak in the face of cheap Maje. Do not attempt to transport a St Honoré aux Framboises back on a boiling train, instead eat it alone, furtively, greedily, in the sunshine, in your chewing gum coated dress. Wander around St Germain and down to St Sulpice and be surprised how far you can still navigate your way around on memory. When it hits 29° stagger back for a little sleep.

Head, finally, back to the station with jars of jam and proper pains aux raisins and pharmacy esoterica and a small picnic. Sit in the station for an hour reading this while the SNCF tries to clear people off the tracks and finally, regretfully, get on your stylish (ahem), delayed grey and maroon train. all the way to the grey and greasy Gare du Midi, where you instantly feel invisible (perhaps not having your dress riding up over your arse assists with this, but from inside your demented sleep deprived head, you conclude that you are simply Not Attractive in Brussels).

Really, the sensible thing to do would be to sleep now, but instead, you change into something without chewing gum and go out to an obscure corner of Brussels for steak and chips. It gets to 2am and you are still out in the extraordinary warmth, drinking bad white wine and talking about ferrets.

Reach Sunday. Collapse in a heap.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

For three days a fortnight I destroy the world economy

You know a lot about my weeks with the spawn - the shouting, the omnipresent Poké-pedometer, the supine parental abnegation, the limited meal options, the whiny exhaustion on my part. You know a lot less about my weeks without. There's a reason for this - unless I go away (frequent), they are tremendously boring. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy them. A lot. I get to sit in front of my computer until I go cross-eyed. Sometimes I even get stuff done. Like, words and stuff. Very occasionally, I even manage to accomplish some delicate act of Belgian administration without fucking it up, though it usually requires days of build up, and an even longer recovery period. The dog and I wander around the house falling over each other and sharing snacks that are bad for both of us or we walk the streets luxuriating in the endless possibility of not having anything particular to do. It's great. Occasionally lonely, often a bit boring, but great. It doesn't make for very entertaining blogging though. More importantly, it doesn't pay the bills, as I understand those boring pieces of paper that litter my doormat are called, so the producing words part of the day must be increased to appropriately stakhanovite levels before I end up on the streets. If anyone can think of ways to frighten me into greater productivity, I am all ears.

What, for instance, have I done today, you ask breathlessly? I am SO glad you asked.

I got up at about 8, cursing my own stupidity in owning a small bladdered dog with a fatal attraction to my fridge. The dog was cowering under the kitchen table, suggesting some unfortunate fridge incident. I was unable to find what atrocity he had committed and was forced to let him off.

I ate three supermarket pancakes with half a heart attack of butter with giant salt crystals in and drank a mug of tea in grumpy silence as the dog fluttered balletically around me depositing balls in my lap and staring at me in mute entreaty.

Once all the balls in the house were on my lap and mute entreaty had given way to high pitched whining, I gave in, found something to wear on the bathroom floor and took the dog for a walk. Today I won, by which I mean, I captured the dog before it jumped into the scummy duck pond. I'd say we score more or less equally.

On our return home, I wrote 2000 words painfully slowly, over many hours, an activity I find combines well with:

- eating biscuits

- drinking tea and coffee alternately

- whining on gchat

- flicking desultorily from one open window to another in search of distraction

- editing a post for Facegoop

- emailing on sundry topics including: ponies, Guerlain bees, a peculiar interview I am doing next week, pining, post-Freudian conceptions of melancholia and the predominance of bearded men at Place Flagey.

- eating a sandwich at some inappropriate hour that does not even have a glancing familiarity with lunchtime.

Then I went to the bank and queued for an hour to deposit a cheque, before going to the station and queueing for an hour to buy a ticket.

Then I discovered this blog, and became obsessed with it, thus killing a significant proportion of the rest of the afternoon.

And so my day has passed. Thankfully I am going out shortly and do not have to flail around in the kitchen making the little lord Jesus cry with my cookery. I will now terrify the more protestant-work-ethic types around here by saying that this was a GOOD day. Yesterday I wrote 400 words, had several naps, and fashioned 4 types of headgear from tinfoil. There's a reason the world economy is in freefall and it's me.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

On bravery

I spent this lunchtime eating small vegetable tarts and thinking about bravery. Not big, heroic, lifesaving bravery. Tiny daily acts of daring invisible to the external observer. Verily, I am the Alain de Botton of suburban Brussels, but with even less hair. No. I was reading my Watching the English book. Yes, still. I have lost the ability to read, from my normal, 3 books a week default setting. It's been months and I have been too ashamed to talk about it. Partly I am trying to write, and I tend to absorb the style of what I am reading and spit it out in fully formed parody. Not good. But more realistically, I think my brain is as shallow and diseased as the Uccle duck pond in high summer, a scummy pool of cannibalistic slime.

Anyway. I was reading a section on the apparently modest and responsible aspirations of young English people. Apparently, a high - very high - percentage of English youth express their aspirations for the future in terms of financial stability, family, steady employment. Whilst these are evidently all good, valid aspirations, the author suggests they are also indicative of a pervasive anxiety, a fear of the future that prevents the more exciting or outlandish ambitions you might expect to see in people in their late teens and early twenties.

I definitely behaved in a way dictated by fear, and anxiety, in my 20s. Not that I aspired to stability, particularly - I didn't. I longed for adventures. But I was scared, shy, embarrassed. I held myself back with my own assumptions. I was bald and must be unlovable. I was rubbish in social situations - noone would want to spend time with me. Everyone wants to be a writer, don't they? How presumptuous. Don't even bother trying. I lived a hemmed in life entirely of my own making, with the growing conviction that somewhere along the line I had fucked up, big time. I want to be very clear here - this is nothing to do with the CFO, or our relationship. He would have supported me had I wanted to become a contortionist in a Romanian travelling circus, as long as it made me happy. Probably.

Starting this blog two years ago was a first shaky step towards trying to live with a little more daring. Some spark of - what? Survival instinct? Bravery? Desperation? Finally kicked in and I wrote about being bored, bald, bulimic, in Belgium. About being lost and lonely. I did in writing what I could never do in person - exposed my weakness and insecurity and mad, defective, weirdnesses. Was vulnerable. And when I look at everything it has brought me - extraordinary friendships, adventures, the joy of people who 'get' you, and make life better, brighter, funnier - I partly want to kick myself in the shins for leaving it so long, and I'm partly massively grateful that I did it at all. It confirmed for me definitively that a bit of daring can pay off in huge, unexpected ways.

So, things are better. I do more, talk more, see more people. I don't regret a single one of my minor acts of bravery over the last two years (I had a little think about that as I typed it. Hmm. No, I stand by that statement. However peculiar the consequences, I don't regret the actions that brought me to them). Even so, there are other, massive failings of courage that I need to remedy and I barely know where, or how, to start. More generally, I still think of myself as being hidebound by my own fears. I wish I could just pick up the phone, start a conversation, reach out in the way people have reached out to me. These are the people I admire - the brave ones; people with a bit of daring. They enhance your life.

I might never get that far. I will probably always be a bit cowardly and dither on the sidelines, admiring, a little regretful. But every tiny step is better than none at all.