Thursday, 30 December 2010

30 December: More of the same, but clothed

I have my seeester staying. You can tell she has been living in Scandinavia, she is wearing quite a stylish grey jumper with interesting sleeves as opposed to something that looks like it was knitted from discarded hair weaves as part of a criminal rehabilitation project. She has also brought me a beautiful tealight holder featuring giant woodland creatures and she keeps saying how warm it is.

"It's SO WARM"

"It's -2°, there's a foot of snow out there".

"But it's SO WARM!"

"Go and put a coat on please".

"I don't need one! It's like spring out there!"

"Now I will hit you".

We have been amusing ourselves by comparing Christmas messages from her father, Prog Rock.

"He texted me to ask if I'd seen Santa, like I was five or something. And since when does he say 'Santa'? I don't know what's wrong with him".

"Well, at least that's sort of seasonally appropriate. Mine said 'Mulberry Hall Kitchen Warehouse having 30% off sale, anything you need?' Nothing else".

It's a good thing she came, I was sinking into sort of Apocalypse Now Brando torpor, lurking in the shadows in a kaftan to hide the ravages of a kilo of pannetone in 4 days. I had not left the house for days, pleading "a bad knee" and had not worn make up, or anything with a waist, for over a week. All I have done is have baths and stare blankly at my attempted editing. Things were getting .. feral. Today I have played nice and put on clothes and foundation and stuff and been all the way into town to buy books ( thisand thisand this) and last night we went out and drank prosecco and I tried to remember to shut my mouth and not stare, bewildered, at the bright lights and other humans. She is officially a good influence. Sadly she is leaving this evening to be replaced by my children who are decidedly not a good influence, and who would rather never get dressed but lie in the dark in grubby pyjamas, bathed in the warm glow of Mario Kart, helping themselves to sugary drinks and ignoring their mother.

So, a last Christmas inactivity update before the children come back and I have to go to the zoo repeatedly and break up fights and purchase 'Oasis' and Happy Meals and remove small pieces of Lego from the dog's gullet. Soon I will not have the energy to do anything but open the Hendricks and pour it down my throat, so enjoy it.



When I first tried Laurent Gerbaud chocolate, I was seriously underwhelmed, but either my palate has evolved (unlikely, I still mainly eat toast and Cadbury's Caramels), or he's developed new skillz, because these salted pistachio milk chocolate discs I've just bought are really good. They're dirty good, like a salty chocolate covered pretzel, and I can't stop eating them. Perhaps even more importantly, the shop is absolutely stuffed with samples, easy access, generous samples. Incidentally, follow the link (no, it is not one where I get paid €0.0002 - and thank you to all of you who have clicked those, you are very kind) and check out the dude's crazy, shaggy haired chocolatier look. I approve.


2. New Year

I have no - quite literally no - plans for New Year, but before you pity me, let me say it is a deliberate strategy that M and I have come up with. Last New Year we had a brilliant, hilarious, amazing time. We were in Paris and we ate (haggis) and drank (everything) and danced (Single Ladies) and laughed (cackled) like you're supposed to at New Year. I lost my blue fake eyelashes halfway down my face well before by midnight and M split her amazing vintage prom dress and a box of meringues caught fire and there was a strange scene involving two unexpected Japanese guests, and I snored so loudly M had to leave at 5 am, but we didn't care, because it was brilliant. From here, a year later, it seems both very vivid and outlandishly distant, and all I seem to have to show for it, physically, is this photo of M with a bag of chicory:




The rest of the year, frankly, was shite. I could - I might even on these pages tomorrow - conjure up some good bits, there were some very good bits, but the basic tenor of the year - relationship-pocalypse, job-pocalypse, other varied and tedious shit storms - can be summarised succinctly as 'shite'.

We are both keen to avoid this happening again, so we're deliberately returning to the disappointing, anticlimactic, frustrating New Years we're used to. I for one spent about three consecutive New Year's Eves going to bed at 10 with ear plugs; I might well do that again. I'm not confident about my abilities in many domains, but 'managing to have a rubbish evening entirely of my own making' is one I totally excel at. It better work. We're not sure what to do if it doesn't and we're not going to think about that just yet. When the thought crosses my mind, I eat more salted pistachio chocolates.

3. Resolutions

Really? Are we going to do this? Are you? I'm almost tempted by a couple, for the first time in a bloody age. I could get behind the following:

- Have more dinner parties. Like, one, would be a start. I am thirty six years old. I can totally do this. I have a repertoire of at least, oooh five things I can cook which are not baked goods. I own lots of glasses and a modest amount of €3 Cava. I am paralysingly awkward in company. What more could possibly be required? Form an orderly queue for the invite of the decade.

- Form a government. No other bastard can be arsed, so I might as well. Who's with me? I have a "carte de séjour" with a holographic miniature version of my face on it, I pay taxes (I think), I know two lines of La Brabançonne. I must totally be entitled to form a government.

- Find a new animal for the year. Not to own, you understand, just to think about frequently. The capybara is terribly 2009, owls - and I hesitate to say such a thing, because those talons are razor sharp, but someone has to say the unsayable - are a bit 2010, and since my elder son's shocking revelation that he not only eats, but particularly enjoys tender pony flesh, I think horses are out. Your suggestions for the animal of 2011 will be considered in the comments box. Links particularly appreciated, and the winner wins .. uh. A whippet? Or some Laurent Gerbaud chocolates. As you wish.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Overschrijvingsopdracht

I have spent the day dealing with my invoices, sorting scrappy little stained receipts and unknotting snarled up Belgian administrative quagmires (watch me mix that metaphor - sooo... it's a bog full of STRING? Yes, yes it is, that's exactly what it is) and am now a poor, broken shadow of my former self. I think we all know that my former self wasn't any great shakes either, so you can barely imagine the sad spectacle I now present to the world. Thankfully "the world" is the 14 old ladies who have braved the slush in my neighbourhood to stare in shop windows at slightly dusty chocolate santas, the dog, and if all goes well - it rarely does with her - my sister tonight. Occasionally I break off from staring dully at the pile of overschrijvingsopdrachten (oh yes, that is a word, which I suppose one could translate as remittance slip, if one were feeling prosaic and factual, as opposed to just bloody minded) in front of me to rip off a piece of pannetone the size of a Yorkshire terrier and stuff it gloomily into my mouth.

Consolations:

My sister is theoretically coming tonight from the frozen north. She has assured me she doesn't have dreadlocks even though she did spend Christmas in a Danish squat. She better not, or I'll shove her in the cellar with the puma and the typhoid.

I have downloaded Victoria by The Fall and it is a good tune and reminds me of being 14, but in a good way.

Someone I know got this for Christmas which makes me laugh until it hurts.

I listened to a nice podcast about people working at CERN this morning whilst bitterly and ineptly making a spreadsheet. I particularly liked "the odds are good, but the goods are odd" about the romantic possibilities on offer for the few women who work there.

There will be more Facegoop videos - and maybe even some here - because Sir Waffle got me a Flip for Christmas. If you have any requests for idiotic video activities let me know.

Someone helpfully reminded me that neither of my children got livestock for Christmas. This is true. Un lézard de Noël would definitely have been the last straw.

My friends continue to make me laugh a lot. And B IS ENGAGED. I am very excited indeed about this. Two of my friends have now got engaged this year, so dans ton cul, 2010, we will wring some happiness from you yet.


So there. I must go and thaw the attic crime scene and chase away the bats and wrap my sister's present that I so, so want to keep for myself it hurts (Owl hot water bottle. That is all I can say without causing myself too much distress. Perhaps a photo tomorrow).

27th December, when my subconscious starts killing

Today's notes:


Eau de Get Off

My new bath oil smells exactly like the optimistic dog repelling spray I use on my fridge, which is called (also optimistically) 'Get Off'. I don't know quite what I think about this, but at least the dog is unlikely to pee on me. Mmmmm. Come and get me boys, I smell deliciously of a chemical citronella fragrance that makes dogs not want to pee. Better than the opposite, I suppose and I speak as someone who was once peed on by an American Staffordshire slavering hound dog of death in the park.


The Teenage Christmas

The Christmas this one most reminds me of is when I was about 15. It's probably to do with the amount of time spent moping in my bedroom, feeling trivially tragic, misunderstood and fat. The problem is, I have run out of hospital drama, and without it, my sense of perspective has vanished. Without mawkish Grey's Anatomy tragedies every half hour, I am mopey and sad about my own tiny first world ones, like a sulky teen. My nail varnish application is just as bad as it was back then then, but at least no-one has just broken up with me in the Kings Arms when I have spent £8 on an expensive import Shonen Knife album for them (you know who you are).

Oh, and there's the homework thing - lots of stuff I should be doing but the deadlines are just fractionally too far in the future for me to quite get my shit together, like the lurking menace of mock exams. I can muster 'sitting at the desk', yes. I can muster 'unfocussed resentment and obscure sense of martyrdom'. I can muster all manner of displacement activities. Just not 'work'. What I really need is for Jean-Yves the accountant to give me a mock exam on my accounting practices on 4th January. That would be motivating. A selection box would also be motivating though. A kick in the ass and a lecture would be not only motivating, but also appropriate for my sinking-back-into-adolescence state.


Horrible, horrible dreams

Yes, I know other people's dreams are the most boring thing in the world, worse than televised golf or geology or other stuff that begins with g. Indulge me momentarily, or skip over this paragraph for the treats that I have not yet thought up but which will doubtless follow. I have a number of recurrent dreams and they are invariably horrid. They are:

- Screaming furiously at my mother, who is dying (I am angry at her for dying, I think, which is nice of dream me);

- The teeth falling out one;

- The one in which I have buried, or otherwise disposed of (variously in chests of drawers, under the floorboards, in the attic) the body of someone I have killed and I am about to be found out, usually because of smell or seepage. I do a lot of killing in my dreams, and especially at Christmas, look, here is incontrovertible blog proof from 29 December 2008. I do miss the CFO's advice on killing. For a few years, his pre-sleep meditation used to be trying to devise foolproof ways of killing heads of state (he had to find another pre-sleep meditation when he hit upon the radioactive press conference lectern).

- New, but also disturbing, is my "incredibly awkward lesbian" dream which has happened twice this month. I am not good a sexing with women in my dreams. This is all you need to know. In fact, I've said too much already, I'm creeping myself out with my dream self's sexual incompetence.

I had particularly vivid versions of the two latter last night. The body dream was especially alarming as I kept semi-waking up and trying, fuzzily, to remember whether I had actually killed someone or not. I haven't, right? I really don't think I have, I would be bad at it.


C'est party

Oh. I lied, I can't think of any extra treats. However, I do have a lovely photo of my tram stop yesterday as I waited in ankle deep slush for twenty minutes. The magic of a Brussels Christmas. C'est party, indeed.


Monday, 27 December 2010

Stuff you could have learned more succinctly on Twitter

Hello, hello. Are you going crazy yet, my lieblings, in close confinement with your families, overheated and surrounded by discarded wrapping paper and resentment? I have promised M, who is cloistered in a house full of mosquitoes, scrabbly clawed geckoes and hysterical members of her family, a post today. She needs it, and quite frankly, so do I. I have been doing book revisions and they depress me and fill me with self-loathing and despair, which are, admittedly, traditional festive emotions. The choice between: cleaning out the disgusting, post-flood basement which is breeding foul pestilence, unravelling the knots of my denial based accounting system and doing this editing job was exceptionally tough, and I don't know if I chose well.

Other things I have been doing over the holiday weekend:


1. Thinking of things they should tell you before you get a dog, viz:

- you will never eat in your own home unobserved again.

- if you are prone to guilt, this will be another rich source of it. Is his life boring (A: yes, but his brain cavity is vanishingly small, so he isn't going to be reading Rilke any time soon)? Would he like a more varied diet (A: His tireless pursuit and consumption of cheap chocolate might indicate so). Why is he limping (A: Eh. Munchausens, probably)?

- That lie in? Forget it, not worth it. While you doze, someone is downstairs eating your expensive pannetone and peeing on your fridge.

- You might end up with one who finds peeing on carpets profoundly satisfying.


2. Writing a diary of our first Christmas without our kids (yes, mine finally got away after the 5am webcam review came back positive) with my friend Irretrievably Broken, who has been oxygenating my inbox with regular unguarded outbursts of ennui and joy and fury. It will be a bestseller. Yes it will, don't argue.


3. Eating and drinking exactly what I damn well like (mainly variants on tea, toasted goods, pannetone, lychees and kir royale made with €3 cava). I've enjoyed this bit, though occasionally I get the urge to cook something, just because it feels like I should. When that happens I watch more hospital drama until it passes.


4. Watching videos of S/S2011 catwalk shows for a work thing. Christ, they were depressing. How many alarmingly thin, grumpy, pinched looking girls in ugly clothes can you watch without wanting to put on some nice tracksuit bottoms and eat more pannetone? (A: Half of one, and only that much if you put the sound down so the horrible techno doesn't make your ears bleed). Are there any nice ones I am missing, fashion types? Chanel was quite pleasant, I suppose, at least it had a proper orchestra and some entertainingly spangly things to look at, and I liked one Louis Vuitton dress with irises on. Everything else (yes, Céline, I am looking at you) made me want to end my life, preferably face down in a vat of beef dripping and sequins. This is clearly to be added to the endless list of things I am not good at: writing about fashion. See also: law, dishwashing, interviewing, childcare, dogcare, driving, accounting and erm, almost everything else, actually.


5. Having lots of baths. Reading. Not watching tv. Going to the cinema (Mike Leigh: not festive; Les Emotifs Anonymes: very festive indeed). Sleeping in my clothes. Giving myself terrible manicures. Pottering. That sounds quite nice, doesn't it? It has been, actually. I miss the boys, but I know they are having a wonderful time, they have told me so very tersely before dumping the telephone, so impatient are they to get back to having a wonderful time. I don't think there's any value in me being extravagantly, hysterically sad about not seeing them if I can help it, and most of the time I can help it (by watching mawkish hospital drama, for instance, or eating more pannetone). It's been ok, really. Odd, a bit empty, rather luxurious, with occasional patches of intense sadness, but certainly no more emotionally draining than a traditional family Christmas.


6. Watching this gentleman sledging in the park:



He was about 75, all by himself, going up and down the hill on his tiny wooden sledge, using that enormously long stick to steer. It was quite my favourite sight of the whole holidays.

Anything to report, lovelies? Best present? Worst fight? How are you coping?

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The night before god knows what

How, you are doubtless wondering, are my nearest and dearest coping with Chreesmas?

My father sent me a lengthy text message featuring the word "ebola" in what appeared to be an entirely inappropriate context. He may be a victim of autocorrect, or it may be code and the message was intended for another recipient. He is terribly important, you know.


B emailed from the Eurostar terminal, where he was using all his whiles to try and get one of the last 12 seats out of Brussels, to wish me "rilly happy fucking goddamn shitface holidays". He later updated me triumphantly with the following communiqués: (i) he had not only got on the train but was in first class (ii) why had no-one mentioned to him the glory that is Fortnum & Mason (I am astonished he could find it glorious on 23 December when if memory serves, it is like the black hole of Calcutta, but it just shows what an excellent mood he must have been in); and (iii) that he was contemplating the purchase of some extremely expensive Victorian cufflinks for himself. A whole triumvirate of win.


F's latest missive contained the phrase "Shanti shanti shanti as that fascist fuck T S Eliot used to say", which cheered me.


Another friend - who I will not even grant an initial in order to preserve his or her anonymity - emailed a meditation on the kinds of spousal torture he or she was fantasising about.


Beatrice merely sent me a video of a song about Charleroi. It sounds exactly like the kind of horrendous shit that gurning "variété" halfwit Patrick Sébastien inflicts on France bi-annually, but with fewer references to meat and Hawaiian shirts, and more footage of the airport.




Miss W choked me up slightly with heartwarming tales of the amount of booze being consumed by cheerily incoherent Glaswegians on the train from Kings Cross up the East Coast mainline to Scotland, stopping off at our mutual birthplace, York.


Also in York, Prog Rock texted to ask if I would like him to send my copy of Bootham School magazine, so I can indulge in my annual round of forensically examining my former schoolmates' wedding outfits and finding out who has died in an unfortunate incident involving agricultural machinery. Why yes, lovely stepfather. Yes I would.


I am recovering from the theft of a bag of shopping earlier in the town centre by mainly using words like "fuck" and "shite" and watching episode after manipulative, overwrought episode of lame-ass hospital drama that I simply cannot get enough of. Why is it in Grey's Anatomy that emotion must be conveyed by repeating the same sentence three or four times with slightly varying stress, viz:

Meredith is annoying.

Meredith. Is annoying.

Meredith IS annoying.

Meredith. Is. ANNOYING.

Etc. Every character does it indiscriminately, it's their thing, and it must be a great wheeze if you're paid by the word and noone has ever stipulated that the words must actually be DIFFERENT ones. I'm not sure we quite captured the dialogue on Facegoop when we wrote about taupe eyeshadow in the style of Grey's.


The heating is misbehaving, but in a hot, not cold, way.


I have, to all extents and purposes, functionally sedated the children - one of whom was cruising towards a full on, tinsel coated, Mariah style tantrumming breakdown - with a secret mix of cheap hippie bath oils from poor Belgian Boots substitute, Di. I am surprised by my own cunning. I have taken advantage of their hemp 'n' lavender coma to perform the annual pre-Christmas paring of the fingerclaws. I try not to touch their gnarled talons too often, since I fear tetanus infection.


The dog is still limping.


But now what? The CFO has called to tell me that apparently France is in the grip of some big old, histrionic weather front and he is not actually sure they will be able to leave tomorrow. What? All this psychological preparation and soul-searching may all be for nothing? I might have the children for Christmas after all?? Obviously that would be completely lovely if it happens, though they will be disappointed if they don't get the full-on cousinpalooza they have been expecting and neither I nor the CFO have a chipolata to rub together for Christmas lunch (that sounds utterly, utterly wrong). But you know, I had got to a Place. It had been a whole process, but I had reached a Place of cheap hippie bath oils, and box sets and books and prosecco and a whoooole heap of nothing. And now I don't know. I don't know either way, and I won't until the CFO - who spends the 12 hours preceding any departure in a state of code black high alert and preparedness at the best of times - has studied his bank of webcams across the French motorway network and made a decision. He has told me to expect a call around 5 if they are leaving. Cheers, snow.

I had better go to bed, before being woken, Jack Bauer style, in very few hours to discuss cloud formation.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Hygge-ish

Another short, dark day in the magical kingdom without a government. I am missing my lovely sister, the Space Cadette a little right now. She has sent me a parcel of tree decorations from whatever vegan squat she is currently inhabiting in Denmark.

Aren't they lovely?


She gave me to understand that she might have liberated one of them from a municipal Christmas tree, which only adds to my joy. Thank you, Danish taxpayers!



There appears to be some kind of rôle reversal at work, whereby she has become the kind of person who sends parcels in a timely and considerate fashion, and I become worse organised by the hour. I am not going to try and analyse it, I am just very grateful for the decorations and looking forward to seeing her sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Also, look who the spawn brought back with them from their father's house:




Yes, it's my friend the pewter seahorse who I had shipped all the way from New York back in the day when I earned corporate lawyer money and could indulge in such Marie Antoinetteish behaviour for a tree ornament. I am delighted to see him, he is adding a touch of restraint to the Vegas vomit mini-tree which I have developed a sneaking fondness for.

Their father was in fine fettle when I saw him yesterday, having defied the odds and got back to Belgium more or less on time on Eurostar. Extraordinary. He must be the only person who managed to go to London and back this week without significant disruption. He explained to me with great glee his very un-English technique for arriving ahead of 800000 people who had been queueing for most of the day, which involved ducking under some barriers whilst making a fake "like this? Is this what you meant, official person?" gesture to an IMAGINARY person behind the Eurostar counter. Whilst, obviously, as a British person this is complete anathema to me and I am appalled, I also have a grudging respect for the pure cunning of the man. Travelling with the CFO always made me confident of survival in the event of some transport cataclysm, whereas on my own I would allow myself to be crushed in the stampede for the exit, or for life jackets or whatever with barely more than a suppressed sigh, or a tut, to mark my passing. Moral superiority and decency is all very well, but it doesn't get you on the last Eurostar out of Vietnam (St Pancras).


Few of us are in fine fettle in this house, in contrast. Lashes is moping around like a nineteenth century consumptive, whining lightly about how tired he is, to which I respond, acidly, that if one is in the habit of rising each morning at 5h50 because one is "tellement excité", this is inevitable. I fear this might be the year that he experiences the formative experience that is your first anticlimactic Christmas - not because it will not be jolly and lavish, it will, but because like me, he appears to be the kind of person whose feverish, demented imagination in the field of gifts and festivities far outstrips anything reality could ever offer. I hope I am wrong.


The dog is limping for reasons that I thought were grit related, but now I have thoroughly washed its paws and the limping continues. It might be psychosomatic, the Assassin may have used him for some kind of secret mission. Whatever it is, I am more kindly inclined towards him limping, possibly because on three legs he is far less well equipped for pulling me unhelpfully across the road in pursuit of a cat, or a particularly tasty looking scrap of used tissue. Also, it seems to handicap him in his favourite pastime of jumping on my knee at inopportune moments to try and reach food; I get plenty of warning of what he has in mind as he stands by my chair, rocking, and bending his canine knees with a vacant expression that could be mistaken for concentration, like an inept pole vaulter.


I am simultaneously fat and dessicated, self-indulgent and snappy, panicky and filled with torpor. If St Nicolas were still lurking around, he would most definitely be putting me in his sack and kicking me to Spain. Would it be dark and quiet in the sack? Could I watch back to back Grey's Anatomy and drink tea? Would someone else be deputised to make all the decisions? If so, I would welcome it entirely.


Only Fingers continues to thrive. Between bouts of Nintendo and rattling his presents, he has been telling me at length about his techniques for super precise colouring and how you can ensure you don't lose pen lids. He has just come in "to take your toolbox to fix something" while I stared hard at him and wondered how exactly he got swapped at birth when he was the only baby born that day in University College Hospital.


I must go and cattle prod him away from Mario and Luigi now, in order to follow the very wise Irretrievably Broken's advice on divorced family gift giving and find something for the CFO. Atari style gift idea for Xbox-y recipient needed as a matter of urgency..

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

"Also, it is an advantage to have a low plugging force"

I was reading some glossy marketing materials very badly translated into English today, and it reminded me of the phrase above, which came from a brochure produced by the firm the CFO worked for the year after we met. The firm made, uh, bits of uh, stuff. I can't be more specific than that except they were small and metallic and our flat often had several of them lying around in places where you might trip over them and break your neck. Goodness knows who they had hired to translate the brochure, possibly a middle manager's fourteen year old child. None of it made any sense, but this was my favourite phrase and is as fresh in my mind after fifteen years as the first time I read it. Poetic.

It also made me wonder if my recent fish translation epic was of similar calibre. I do hope not, but who knows? "Also, in the leisurely hunting of the hakes with the stevedores having of the loops that are great, there is much diminution". Living in the capital of Europe (heh) means that slightly off translations are ubiquitous, so I am hoping that if mine did indeed look like it had been translated into Korean and back using Babelfish, no-one would notice.

I was, coincidentally, rereading "Jesus Shaves", which is my very favourite all time David Sedaris story on the tram yesterday (sneakily, before I gave the book away as a present), and yet again was nearly sick laughing. Anyone who does not already know it by heart should go away and listen, or read. It is about translation, traditions surrounding religious holidays and mutual cultural incomprehension. "Two morsels of lumber". "He go above of my head to live with your father". "The magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole led by eight flying cinder blocks". Oh yes, it's happening again, I have just lost another ten minutes to snickering. I have had that debate myself about how the Easter bells carry your Easter eggs, but someone told me fairly convincingly that they fly back from Rome UPSIDE DOWN, and filled with chocolate, which seemed plausible.

I have very little for you tonight. I am overtired, I have that queasy dread that comes with Christmas shopping that manages to be both inadequate and also far more than you can afford, and I think my liver ressembles that of a foie gras goose. I need to retire to a cave, grow a beard, eat bitter herbs and reflect on human folly, or something. I am however, cruelly cheered by stories of other people's work Christmas parties I have not attended. Intern cabaret, anyone? Dramatised legal rôle playing exercises? Team photos with a man in an orange plush turtle suit? Yes please, all this and more. If you have anything to voice about your own Christmas party, please do so in the comments. You know it's better out than in.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Catch up! Now with added Ukrainian brides

Bloody hell, a whole week with no Belgian whining for you, that doesn't happen often. It was the fault of painstakingly slow and labour intensive arse biscuit production gulag, then lots of travel and meeting half the internet, then no wifi, then more disastrously snowy travel this evening, culminating in a taxi driver who told me - AFTER picking me up following a 40 minute wait in a blizzard - that there were only 5 roads he was prepared to go down in Brussels this evening.

"Ah non, Madame, pas Uccle. Je ne saurais pas le faire, ça".
("No madam, not Uccle, I can't go there" - but said in a special, Belgian way)

"Uuuunnngggggnnnnggg" (wordlessly waving €50 notes)

"Bon, mais je ne sors pas des grands axes".
("Ok, but I won't leave the main road")

When I finally got home after a great many hours, it was to a scene of canine devastation after both the people tasked with dealing with the weepette signally failed to stop him sneaking up to the children's bedrooms, eating 800 chocolate coins and pooing on the rugs. I mean, what?? How does this even happen? What was the weepette even doing back in my house tonight when he was supposed to be Chez Assassin? I have no idea, but I have a cold whisper of dread whistling round my head telling me that it may mean the Assassin now has my door key. Slump.

On top of that, the whole week has been punctuated by a lot of that kind of wotthehell pre-Christmas drinking that leaves the edges nicely blurred, but has also left me a broken husk. You may also note the WTF o clock time stamp on this post: this is because Lashes has got his Christmas psychosis on BIG TIME and woke at 5:45 to tell me festive things. Yes, this is me catching up with some whining, I wouldn't like you to feel you missed out. I'm sure I can be sourly displeased with plenty of things for you today, like a performing, er, capybara.

There should, at least, be things I can tell you though, surely? There must be, but I am distracted. I am scrabbling to catch up with the relentless march of this Weichnachts thing (I can't even say it in English, it gives me cold sweats). How on earth did it end up being in less than a week? I have not done any of the things I needed to do, and risk alienating every member of my extended family who is still speaking to me with my general fucked up weichnachts incompetence (I hope there's a proper German word for that). On top of that, I have a whole series of other things that are not even remotely weinachts related that I also need to do within this same, terrifyingly short stretch of days. Because (and this is in fact excellent news and I am not going to pretend otherwise) just after writing that last post filled with career angst, I got a little wave of work in, all of it on very short deadlines, and have been scrabbling around to do it all. There is also the daily growing menace of neglected Belgo-administration rattling its chains and moaning, and..

Whoa. Hang on. Stop right there.

Did I even TELL you I went cage fighting? I didn't, did I? Ha! I went cage fighting last week. It was for a slightly mortifying thing I was writing in Belgiana, I will not tell you more than that, because that would spoil the lovely surprise for all the Belgianans who buy this august publication (I think they put it online eventually, so if you're keen I'll put up a link when it comes out). I suggested the mortifying idea anyway, so it is all my own fault. The cage fighting element was not my idea but it was pure bloody brilliant. Really. I am not joking. A man with not very many teeth made me go into - I was going to write "the ring", but of course it's not, it's the CAGE, and just writing that makes me cackle with joy - the cage and taught me, using an entirely silent and rather puzzled man, how to grapple, to fell someone using my knees (and ideally get out of the way before they fall on top of you), then kneel on their chest and punch them in the face.

Let's take a moment to think about that. Firstly, I bet you can think of someone you'd like to do that to. Or even, just do that whilst thinking of. It was amazingly cathartic. Secondly, some of you may remember me occasionally mentioning how bad I am at pretty much everything physical? Well, you will not be surprised to hear that this was no different. I think I stunned everyone with my complete absence of gross motor skills. I repeatedly grabbed the wrong arm, or turned the wrong way, One of the times I was supposed to be kneeing silent Paul to the floor, with devastating killer efficiency, I got the whole thing terribly wrong and ended up kneeing him in the crotch, to general hilarity (even from Paul, I am too puny to knee him hard enough for it to hurt).


Like so:



Several other times I just fell over, unprovoked, as if astonished by the mere existence of my limbs. It was great. It was at this place, which is basically a giant shrine to hitting other people. I watched them do one warm up exercise which consisted solely of standing in a line and punching each other in the stomach repeatedly. You can't imagine how exciting that is when you went to Quaker school. I owe them a link at the very least, they were lovely and tolerant and didn't really have a clue what on earth I was doing there even though I did try to explain.

Other high points of the last week:

1. Meeting the Non Working Monkey yesterday and stealing croissants straight out of her neat little monkey paws. The Monkey speaks most excellent French, so we managed to alarm the fey little barmen by booming rude English words at each other and cackling, and then asking for things (mainly wine) from them in brutally colloquial French. I hope the monkey will put the covertly obtained photo of the fascinating man in our bar whose shaggy coat collar exactly matched his David Essex hair on her most excellent weblog.

"You want to touch it don't you" she goaded me. "With your tongue".

"Eeeewww! No!"

Then we confiscated a mournful polar bear that looked more like a dog:



I could cheerfully have stayed all day. There were no incidents with pregnant women and knives. None at all.


2. Watching my friend A try on actual real life wedding dresses (ok, closing down sale dresses, but even so, they were actual dresses made of white frouffy stuff costing more than .. well. More than my electricity bill, but that's a whoooole other story). I don't know many people who get married and if they do, they don't invite me along to say inappropriate things about dresses. We were quite overwhelmed and had to run away and drink wine. In the dark.


3. Watching Santa tramp across the heavy snow in the beautiful park in St Germain en Laye sitting next to a magnificently twinkly tree, to the accompaniment of Frank Sinatra's Weinachts album and champagne, and then staggering through the incredibly silent and snowy streets:


in red patent shoes (I did not have any sensible footwear, which is how I ended up spending 4 hours at Gare du Nord with wet toes) to eat half the North Sea and gigantic choux buns in salted caramel sauce (and yes, drink wine, of course). It was, basically, Christmas come early. Look! It's made me say the C word. That's how good it was. Then I fell asleep on a beanbag and drooled, because I am such a gracious and charming guest.

4. Going to a lady freelancers' Christmas lunch in London, even though I do about as much work in a month as the rest of them do in a day. But see? I whined about getting no Christmas party and there it was, my works outing. It also meant I finally got to go to this place and eat a whole plate of tiny tentacles. With a toothpick. That was easier before wine. I also got to have scones and cream in the dark with one of these people, eat 8000 biscuits in Beckenham, eat tortilla and drink gin in South Kensington, present my adoptive gay son with conjoined fondant jesii and listen to my father fulminate about his Christmas cards. A full and frank 48 hours.

5. The gnomes of Google have finally approved my plaintive demand to be allowed to place adverts on my weblog! When I checked them out last night, there were "pretty Ukrainian girls" on offer, as well as hotels in Mons and Christmas tree earrings. Really, everything your heart could desire, my pretties. I do spoil you.

I must go. Even though it is only 6:45, both my wretched children are up making sacrifices on the shrine of Mario and Luigi, and even from my bed, I can feel that they have left the back door open. Soon one of them will come up and say something brilliant like "il fait super froid en bas", as if I were the queen of meteorology and I will explain the principle of cause and effect to them once more and Electrabel will still own my ass. Le tout petit sigh.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Falling foul of Le Nettoyeur

I am currently in correspondence with some sort of intermediary who sorts out your social security payments. He was provided by the notoriously cunning Accountant to le Tout Bruxelles I have engaged, who I will call "Jean-Yves". If you live in Brussels, he's probably your accountant too. Jean-Yves, a slight man with a fondness for beige and brown suiting, has a web of contacts so wide and complex, that if he were ever to, I don't know, fall foul of the authorities for instance, the whole expat community would crumble into a financial black hole of sub-prime crisis proportions, dragging Belgium down with it. Jean-Yves knows everyone and everything, which is simultaneously unnerving and rather reassuring. He nodded in bored acknowledgment as I listed my employers, as if to indicate that yes, of course, he already KNEW that, and made spot-on comments about their payment practices.

Anyway. Patrick is an outpost of the Jean-Yves empire. Jean-Yves gave me to understand that Patrick was a monomaniacal zealot in dealing with the esoteric outer reaches of Belgian administration, to be handled with respect and some caution. I imagined him a bit like the Jean Réno character in Nikita, but without corpses.

"You don't pay Patrick" he said, obliquely, waving a beige-clad arm in a dismissive gesture. "We deal with that". That's how you roll with Jean-Yves. Things just .. happen. Jail time possibly. Who knows? I have placed my faith in Jean-Yves as one might in a Boeing 747. One admits one's ignorance, places one's critical faculties on stand by and hopes for the best.

Patrick came round on Friday to explain things to me. I cleaned the kitchen table for him and everything and searched through my filing cabinet - yes, I have a filing cabinet, shut up - for documentary offerings to place in front of him. I only came up with my P45 and passport, both of which he disdained, but at least I felt I'd showed willing. He did not look like Jean Réno and had an alarming squint which left me wondering if I had left some unfortunate item of underwear drying on the radiator behind me, his gaze was drawn there so frequently. Every two minutes his phone would ring, and he would bark "ik ben met klant" (I'm with a client) and hang up. Social security is a serious business.

Obviously, I understood about 4% of what he told me, the rest being made up of the kinds of whistles and clicks that schools of dolphins might make to one another. There was a diagram, but I think one of the children turned it into a paper aeroplane. I know very little, but I know that bills will start arriving eventually and my job is to pay them. This I can do (well, sort of). The rest is just ambient dolphin music as far as I am concerned. I made him a cup of coffee, signed a piece of paper, and listened as he listed all the lawyers he knew in Belgium. Job done.

However.

Patrick emailed me this evening. I have had a difficult weekend. This Christmas has blind-sided me with the emotions it has been stirring up, and all manner of deferred sadness keeps surfacing, inconveniently. I collected my tree ornaments from the CFO on Friday and several of them were missing or broken (his mother had used them last year, watch me rise above that with zen calm. Breathe, breathe. In, out. Silver, gold. I am caaaalm). I am pining for them and on top of that, we had a sad accident with my much-loved tiny glass Christmas tree last night as we tried to decorate our actual tree (which was incidentally eyeball bleedingly dear. It cost far more than I imagine a human child of approximately the same size would on the black market). We bought more decorations in a rush last night, and as a result the tree looks like Liberace vomited on it. There is an LED colour changing star on the top that makes me feel physically ill and the whole thing is bristling with alarming coloured tinsel. Where are my sweet Danish birds? Where is my pewter SEAHORSE, dammit?

I have had a bad week for work too; a week when I can't see any viable future, which I hope is festive gloom rather than prescience. Who knows? As my wonderfully consoling friend F said today in a similar fit of Yuleschmerz (I suppose it would be Weinachtschmerz, but Yuleschmerz sounds nicer. Weinachtsangst? I digress) "I thought I was the kind of person who would be fine, and I am undone so much of the time". And it's that. Precisely that.

So tonight Patrick helpfully emailed me with this query:

"Etes-vous affiliée à une organisation professionelle de journalistes? Avez-vous une carte de presse?"
(Are you a member of a professional association of journalists? Do you have a press card?)

Er, no. No. I am entirely without professional credentials. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. For the remainder of this calendar year (so, 19 days) I am still a solicitor admitted in England and Wales, though. Do I get any points for that? No? Oh. Excuse me while I breathe into this paper bag.

After a brief pause, he followed up with "Alors Madame, Pouvez-vous me donner une description de vos activités?"
(Then, Madam, can you give me a description of your activities?)

Maybe I am just projecting the scepticism I sense emanating from this message, but it's as if even the social security man knows I am a fraud. You do not have a job, Emma! You are just PRETENDING. Patrick, Google Adsense, the insistent voices in my head.. It's not good.

Erm. What can I tell him? I have cobbled something factually accurate together but it does change the real, enormous insecurity I feel at the moment.

"I thought I was the kind of person who would be fine". I'm sure losing that assurance is good for my soul, but it's bloody terrifying too. Brrrrrr. Is Jean Réno coming to terminate me for past acts of hubris?


Here, here's something cheerier. A picture of a gorgeously cheeky Fabiola inspired fashion shoot and an endive under a glass dome:



You can see a few more pics from this spread if you go here and click on the picture. It made me very very happy.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Messiah

Have you seen that Messiah flashmob? I wept and wept as I watched it, wondering as the tears streamed down my cheeks why on earth it was making me cry. Freak. Admittedly it doesn't take much to tip me over the edge, but really? Some people singing a jolly tune in a food court?

Eventually I realised it was sort of the CFO's and my Christmas tune, Messiah (if a whole oratorio can be a "tune", which clearly it can't). In our first year in London together, when I was at law school and he was studying at Imperial College, I joined the St Paul's Cathedral chorus. Choral singing sounds terribly middle aged, but I always did it at school, and then at Oxford, and I like it, so there. It's very absorbing. I'd still do it if I wasn't chronically lazy.

Anyway, one night a week - Tuesday, maybe? - I would walk eastwards from our flat near Tottenham Court Road, finding my way haltingly at first using an A-Z all the way along Holborn viaduct, Cheapside and down to a church somewhere down near the Old Bailey where the rehearsals were held, walking along in the cold in the light of the orange street lamps around these parts of the City that were still just names from Rumpole of the Bailey, and my history papers to me, places where the Wesleys preached, where Milton was born and Chaucer lived. My first introduction to the City, and to those EC postcodes I grew to love. It's an extraordinary part of London if you have even a glancing interest in history; overwhelming if you fetishise it and the places things happened.

That Christmas we sang the Messiah in St Pauls and the CFO came to watch with my dad. My dad still viewed him at that point with the intense and slightly menacing suspicion fathers of girls naturally radiate towards men in their orbit, though this phase passed quickly and his approval was wholehearted once the CFO revealed himself to be a hard-headed spreadsheet wizard and mathematical ninja, fond of 60% proof eaux de vie and massively intolerant of stupidity. It was wonderful to sing there, strange and moving even for me, the most confirmed of atheists. They both tolerated it with relative forebearance and probably a hipflask (it's long, Messiah). Afterwards we had champagne and small sandwiches in the Savoy, which was all glittery and bustling with pre-Christmas, post-theatre drinkers in their finery. You can never reproach my father for lacking a sense of occasion, it's one of the things I most admire about him. I expect he pressed a twenty into my hand for us to get a taxi home afterwards, because he always did. He still does sometimes, and I'm thirty six.

After that, every year the CFO - a man in most respects not over-endowed with a sense of occasion - put Messiah on to decorate the Christmas tree. It was a Thing. I don't think I realised I missed it, didn't listen to it, last year for the first time in 13 years until I watched that video. That's why it made me cry. It's odd, the things that unarm you when you aren't expecting it; important to remember how it felt. That intense contentment, the rightness of it, criticising his arrangement of the fairy lights, and moving baubles around. And Handel.

So. Messiah. We can both keep it, I suppose, if we want, but will we? We're sharing out the decorations tomorrow, and I'm buying a tree on Saturday for the boys to decorate (with Pokémon, probably, eschewing my tasteful birds and sparkly bits and pieces). I don't know. Maybe it should stay where it was; a thing we had together. It's still beautiful though.




(I should stop there, but I feel duty bound to tell you that having written this, rather sadly, I cheered up massively watching this, which is one of my favourite Messiah choruses, set to PICTURES OF SHEEP. Magnificently stupid.)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

In which there is a problem

There is always a problem, isn't there? For instance, my puny campaign to "monetise" (bleurgh) this weblog has run aground on Google Adsense's insistence that it is "under construction". Well, yes, I suppose a weblog might arguably always be under construction, but do not play semantics with me, Google. Give me your delicious Californian monies in denominations as huge as 20 centimes at a time. My stash of Cadbury's Caramels has vanished, my children lose gloves at a rate of one every twenty minutes and Electrabastards own my ass.


I will not give up, however. I have started sending pleading emails to the advertising wings of as many corporate zombies as I can find, asking them to please advertise their various self-hating, planet-flaying, kitten-kicking products and services on my weblog.

"We are souless", said M, whose sterling work on getting breast augmentation and crystal healing advertised on Facegoop has motivated me.

"Souls are expensive, M. We cannot afford that kind of luxury. So I say yes to the phone that I know nothing about on the off-chance that I can generate some money from it?"

"God, yes".


Anyway. That wasn't the problem I had in mind. This is my problem.


It is nearly Christmas. When you have an office job at nearly Christmas it is your god given, constitutional and ECHR sanctioned RIGHT to be a bit useless and giggly for anything between a week and a month before the big day. This tradition is a cultural hangover from primary school, when, from mid-November, all efforts were directed towards covering every available surface in glitter and cotton wool balls, and rehearsing for your part as "third pine tree" in the Nativity play.


Things you have to do in an office - well, a British office - before Christmas:


1. Do all your online shopping in office hours and get it delivered to the increasingly sarcastic men in the post room.

"Parcel for you from that famous law firm "Amazon and Partners", miss".

"Er, thanks. Do you have one from, uh, Hamleys LLP?"


2. Decorate your bay, or office, with "ironic" tinsel. Drape miles of flashing fairy lights around the managing partner's office, insisting "It's CHRISTMASSY!" with an increasing note of jovial menace, if he complains. Install a dancing miniature santa with a hair trigger motion sensor in the busiest corner of the office, so that 90000 times a day the whole department can watch him gyrate lewdly to a tinny version of Jingle Bell Rock. Advent calendars are also popular and can waste up to ten minutes a day, particularly the ones with a chocolate inside.


3. Not just eat mince pies, but make a fuss about eating mince pies.

"Oooh, isn't it a bit early? Are we allowed?"

"Shall we put them in the microwave?"

"Ooooh I've got icing sugar on my tie"

"These aren't as good as Waitrose".

"I like the M&S ones with frangipane".

etc.


4. Sign 8000 company Christmas cards for all your clients. Corporate Christmas cards come in two versions: menacingly abstract - your corporate logo rendered slightly glittery on a matt black background - or distastefully jolly - your corporate logo being pulled along in a sledge by a cartoon version of the managing director in a santa suit. In either case, the slogan will be a triumph of empty non-offensiveness, like "We hope you have a prosperous winter" or "Seasonal good wishes". The subtext is as clear and glittering as the fairy lights that now festoon the managing partner's office: "Please do not succumb to the deepest recession since 1929, and continue giving us your money in 2011".

Actually, this shows how long it has been since I worked in a British office; they all do e-cards now, because of The Planet (or is it The Recession). Disappointing. How is one supposed to waste a decent amount of time with an e-card?


5. Spend a week preparing for the office party.


6. Spend a week debriefing after the office party.


7. Plot your Secret Santa gift, then resentfully conduct an in-depth inquiry to try and find out who got you the "hilarious" tube of Canesten and packet of remaindered Superdrug condoms.


Of course, it doesn't always pan out like this, and I have on occasion had to actually work at Christmas. However, the rules clearly state that if you are required to work during this unofficial extended holiday period, you are entitled to be viewed by your colleagues as a holy martyr in the league of St Stephen and brought regular offerings of Cadbury's Celebrations and mulled wine. It also entitles you to a free pass for your annual appraisal.

"I had to work at Christmas".

"Of course, we are most grateful for your efforts. Take this large bonus to tuck into your hair shirt".


What, then, does the freelancer do? I have no kitchenette to lurk in, conducting comparative mince pies taste tests. I want to sit in an overheated windowless box, staring into space and wondering how to get myself next to the hot intern on the christmas lunch table plan, to wear paper hats to five canteen Christmas lunches in two weeks, to eat Celebrations by the fistful from ten in the morning and down tools for mulled wine at regular intervals. BUT I CANNOT. On top of that, my two main "employers" (a big word, yes) are both holding their Christmas parties on 16th December when I have already arranged to be in London selling rude biscuits. It is a tragedy of epic proportions. Seasoned freelancers (that sounds wrong, like you have been sprinkled in salt and pepper) and other non-office workers. How should I make this season extra-special? Ideally this should involve no outlay greater than 20 centimes and be easily achievable by someone with the energy and motivation levels of a catatonically depressed giant panda. Go!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tea

So, I've decided - through the medium of denial fuelled inertia - to stay here for Christmas. Anything else would have felt odd, except possibly going to London, and that would have just been dangerously, ruinously expensive.


I'm ok with it. Various people are around, so I probably won't fall down my stairs and lie there until I freeze to death as the dog whines gently and places tennis ball after tennis ball on my cooling, broken corpse. I can do interesting, frugal things with small tins of tuna and lentils, and curse the dog and do some writing. I'll have the tiny, tepid glow of virtue to keep me warm when the four hours of daylight are over. Doesn't that sound festive, boys and girls!


It's fine, really. Without the boys, it doesn't seem to matter much and I know they will be happy in a giant nest of cousins and wrapping paper and things that go bleep. I think my ritualistic delight in Christmas got a bit broken anyway the first year after mum died, when we just didn't bother, and it felt weirdly liberating - a bit transgressive and grown up. Since then, I can only think of two years in seven when I actually had a proper Christmas dinner, and even they were French ones, which don't really count, because ewww, foie gras and that nasty, sweet, flaccid toast, no roast potatoes and gravy and the horror of the bûche. Stupid bûche with fork raked, overchilled buttercream, icing sugar snow, a deformed plastic robin, and a cold disc of bad chocolate with "Joyeuses Fêtes!" in curly yellow script on the top. I mean, presents, sure. You can hardly escape that with children, and I wouldn't want to anyway, I like presents, love hoarding away tiny, clever, treasures for stockings that I can go and gloat over during December, choosing what colours of tissue paper to use for wrapping. I've inherited that from my mother, the stocking genius. But not a big old family meal, paper hats and cracker jokes. Last year we had fishfingers and oven chips, that was good.


Anyway, where would I go? I never used to see my dad at Christmas, so there's no tradition being broken there. My sister is staying in a Copenhagen squat, and Prog Rock is threatening to take a tent up to the Lake District. It's either that or stay in York and cook whatever the single meal in the universe is that meets the dietary requirements of all his female relatives and friends (variously unable to eat meat, gluten, dairy, fish, potatoes..). The single meal may not exist, he's still looking.


I'll miss the boys of course. I don't relish that part at all, even knowing they'll be fine, better than fine. But apart from that, do you know the only other thing I'll really miss?


Tea.


Let me explain. Of course, I can make myself cups of tea. Belgium has both electricity and teabags. It even has milk, after a fashion, if you can tolerate UHT. But I miss the tea of my childhood home, the constant, relentless rivers of Yorkshire Gold tea. Pots of tea, stewing under the grubby, duck shaped teacosy. Always, but always, someone saying "do you want a cup of tea?" and me always, but always, saying yes. Putting the kettle on, again and again. Half drunk, abandoned mugs dotted around the house. Coming home in adulthood there was no more instant short cut back to childhood, adolescence than the onslaught of tea. Slumping into the corner seat in the kitchen by the wall with a cup of tea and one of Prog Rock's neatly folded Guardians as he cooked, meticulously, the sagging wickerwork of the chairs, the slight restlessness of knowing there was little to do except read and watch tv and doze, or mooch around "town" (always described as "town") eating pastry products and walking the same circuit around the same eight or ten streets I walked down every Saturday afternoon for years.


I'll miss that. I'll miss the tannin soaked certainty of my York Christmases. Most of me knows that everything fractures, changes, reforms. That I will, we will have "good" Christmases again. Not the same, not as thoughtlessly content, perhaps, but good. Even so, a wistful little part of me wishes we could have kept it how it was, preserved in tea like bugs in amber.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Damages/Apology

I woke up this morning and my first thought was how self-satisfied and boring yesterday's post was. Well, it might have been my second thought, after "I really shouldn't have watched Patty Hewes hallucinate horses until 1am on a school night", I am not entirely sure. Yes! I care about this shit! Also, I think I'm superstitious and wary of any hint of triumphalism when my week doesn't suck, or where I might reveal that I have some semblance of a social life or odd snippets of work. This is a really British thing, isn't it? There's something wrong in our brains.

Anyway, whatever moment of tiny triumph I might have had at potentially earning, over the next 6 months, enough to pay 2 weeks rent, has evaporated in the usual miasma of inadequacy, the traditional Monday tram tears, and the realisation that in order to survive, EVERY week has to be as least as good as last, or ideally far better, something which seems ludicrously improbable right now. I'm not complaining, though. I enjoy it, and at least I don't work for Patty Hewes or her real life equivalents. I do love the portrayal of careers in the law in Damages. Number of times any one of my employers gave me a Chanel handbag in 11 years in the law: 0. Number of times my employers offered me a beautiful apartment or sent me to Bloomingdales with a blank cheque: 0. Number of firearms used in the execution of my legal duties: 0. Number of legal meetings that took place in anonymous cars on street corners: 0. Conversely, number of times Ellen Parsons has to sit in a windowless beige conference room for fourteen hours at a stretch putting small colour coded post it notes on the corners of documents without the slightest suspicion of a biscuit: 0. Number of times Ellen Parsons has had to sit through the night trying to manipulate giant, unstable spreadsheets of exchange rates with little or no grasp of mathematics, intermittently getting screamed at by investment bankers: 0. It's hard not to feel a little cheated by my experiences as a lawyer. Can anyone in another frequently televised occupation please reassure me that the gap between reality and tv drama is similarly gutting? Vets, doctors, police, spies?

I digress. If you were irritated yesterday - and god knows I irritated myself - I apologise. I mean, honestly. This blog is not the place for cheerful tales of happy social events and satisfying professional triumphs however tiny! This weblog promises death, despair and biscuits and dammit, I will deliver.

Today I will be irritating you further, but in a different way, by putting ads on the blog. I don't know quite why I have finally capitulated, but the state of affairs described in the previous paragraphs is probably something to do with it. And seeing as Facegoop manages to generate revenue equivalent to several economy bags of cotton wool balls every month, I can't wait to see what dizzying amounts of money I will be entitled to here. I also very much look forward to seeing what Google considers appropriate targeted advertising for you, my lovely, long-suffering readers. Things I hope to see advertised: owl experience days, special cashmere blankets made from the tender throat hairs of kids, Sadaharu Aoki cakes. Things that will probably be advertised: hair transplants, stomach stapling, deworming treatments, self-help books for social anxiety.

It only seems fair, though, that I should give something in return. Is there anything in particular you would like to see more of? Confessional? Craft projects? Belgian politics? I have a plan for a special end of year video treat, but it will take some preparation. In the meantime, I am in your hands. Well, I'm not and you should be very thankful for that, since I haven't actually washed today, but you know what I mean.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Weekly review with added penumbra

I thought I'd do a weekly review, but I can't actually remember what in the name of Nathan I did all week. What? What??? I remember snippets but there's no coherent narrative. Did someone spike my, uh, air? Did I actually spend the whole week sitting slackjawed in front of that penguin webcam?


Monday, for instance. I remember a meeting in the morning... No, it's really no good. This reminds of when I had a proper job with timesheets in London and I had to account for my actions in five minute increments, something I never did it on time, or indeed, ever, before an irate partner was standing in my office doorway spitting feathers. Then I was forced to work it out by looking through my 'sent items' folder at the bitchy emails I had sent to BMF, complaining. You can see why I was an underwhelming lawyer, right there. I was probably watching penguins all day and making lists. I'm going through a list phase. Oh, I had a lot of ailments too. Awful ones.


Ok, let's try Tuesday. Aha! I know about Tuesday, sort of. My internet friend F bullied me into beating my phone phobia and talking to her. She was extremely insistent, verging on terrifying, but it was lovely, actually. Not exactly productive. Well, maybe productive in the medium term since we have great plans for world domination. Ok, long term. Super long. In the short term she told me a scandalous story involving haemorrhoids (sp?), which was something of a comfort. Also, all the lights the Assassin "fixed" blew, leaving me once more in near darkness.


On Wednesday it gets slightly clearer, because I know I went to see a FILM. Quartier Lointain. I was extremely sceptical when I read the synopsis (slightly melancholic, creatively stymied strip cartoon author in his fifties gets mysteriously transported back to his teenage self on an accidental trip back to his hometown and tries to stop his father leaving), but it was actually great, beautifully acted, and full of dreamy 1960s French rural period gorgeousness. Well. My companion (who wishes to be described as "the internet dullard", and who am I to editorialise such clearly expressed wishes) had several gripes about the period detail, but I am a fairly uncritical viewer. Also, the teenage version of the melancholic fifty year old was just lovely. Sweet and wistful and gentle, like the film.

I also know that it was snowing like fuck, but then so does the rest of Europe, so I hardly get a gold star for that, do I?


On Thursday I went to an event on a boat. It was weird. I stole a marshmallow virgin, which now keeps appearing around the house, unnervingly, and got harangued about corporal punishment by a terrifyingly opinionated woman in fingerless gloves in front of a chocolate fountain. Then my friend T and I escaped from the boat and struggled, little match girl stylee, through the blizzard to an Ethiopian restaurant where they had very decent cocktails (T needed them after her first encounter with a real life Père Fouettard:

Oh yes)

and I ate a whole sheep. The very decent cocktails might have been responsible for me getting on the wrong tram and ending up in the arse end of nowhere, then having to trudge back to the station, mid-blizzard, after midnight, to find a taxi. Actually, this week has taken place under the star of transport lameness. That may be its unifying theme (it would be hard to think of a duller one, wouldn't it? Comparative VAT legislation in EFTA states, perhaps).


Friday. Friday was odd. I had to write something about the economics of market abuse and dominance at a car event in a tent. The two were entirely unrelated, it was just unfortunate timing. I hope I didn't get them confused, but only time will tell. There were little snacks, this much I know, and nice men to bring you glasses of champagne. As a result I feel filled with expansive love for the car in question even though I could not pick it out of a line up where the other participants were a penny farthing bicycle, an articulated lorry and a pony.

Later I shopped resentfully for St Nicolas in a variety of shops selling brightly coloured Japanese tat and in the evening, I wrestled with more transport ludicrousness to get to B's birthday dinner. The dinner was lovely and B introduced us to the concept of "Birthday Penumbra". I like this part of the definition: "the grey area where logic and principle falter". In this context, however - and I think this concept should be used more widely - it meant that the existence of B's birthday required everyone to do EXACTLY what he wished without argument or any attempt to impose reason or logic. This fits exactly with my feelings about birthdays and also shows why B is amazing and must be showered with baby penguins and kittens carrying baskets of Speyside malts in their tiny paws and unlimited shopping trips to Hunting and Collecting and as much slow commuter stabbing as he would like me to undertake for him.


On Saturday I went to a Hungarian market and bought - look away now if you are a member of my family and expecting a Christmas present - a notebook with invisible rabbits on it, a mug, an apron featuring famous Hungarian moustaches and a bakelite hedgehog. The market was completely lovely and I am very pleased with my Christmas shopping. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the vin chaud. I also tasted a Hungarian cake shaped like a potato. Belgium does marzipan potatoes. Hungary and Latvia do chocolatey ones. What is this desire to make dessert potatoes, Europe? Let the potato be a potato!

Then I went to a young person's popular - music - festival - for - countries - not - fêted - for - their - popular - music, and fell in love with this Italian electro-trumpet-bouncy combo featuring great hilariousness, good hair, even better moustaches and a TRUMPET. They had a song called "giant squid" and another great one about a washing machine. I also cheated the giant icicles of certain death outside the venue and was lent a hat by a very cheerful tramp, despite my demurrals and claims of having a gigantic head. I had another transport disaster on the way back and had to walk half the way home. Even so, my good mood didn't finally evaporate until I got home to see the carnage wreaked by the dog on my St Nicolas shopping. He is still in disgrace.

Today was very peaceful and hygge apart from the slightly alarming discovery that the basement had filled with water and a furious semi-feral cat was nesting in my embarrassing mountain of Bags for Life. I am just ignoring it. The water and the cat.


Do tell me about your week in the comments.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Deck the halls with boughs of Bakugans

Sorry, sorry. It's hard to type from inside Chantal Biya's hair (though it is, at least, warm), and I haven't done anything much in the last couple of days except make ever more elaborate lists, stomp round the neighbourhood like a crabby babushka with the limping, pathetic dog (pavement grit gets in his paws, ramping him up to at least 500 on the cringeometer) and watch the penguin cam. Actually, that's not fair. I have also been powering through my lists with terrifying laser focus for ooh, two or three minutes at a time. I slightly hate myself, actually, even though I haven't yet tackled such crucial list items as:

"Search through the recycling bags for missing invoices disposed of in a fit of misplaced zeal".

or

"Make 12 months overdue orthodonist appointment for eldest child".

or even


"Wash"


Even so, I have done as many as three or four oustandingly tedious multi-stage, Belgian administrative tasks and made a luxurious, multi-columned list to pin on the fridge, as well as scrabbled indefatigably around for work for days. I would like to reward myself with a week in bed or better still, a trip to buy scent to replace the second bottle my children have broken this year, but apparently that's not allowed.

Anyway. I have been punished for my absence by having to leave that last, embarrassing, dignity free post up for days and days, long enough for someone to suggest I probably have herpes (I DO NOT HAVE HERPES). In the meantime I was on a boat in a snowstorm watching grown women sit on the knee of a creepy St Nicolas with a loo roll beard and eyebrows. At the same event, I also learned that if you put certain items in your shopping basket in a particular Delhaize in Antwerp, you are signalling your sexual preferences to other shoppers. Other things I have learned about in the last week: cultural proclivities of the Latvian diaspora, passionfruit liqueur (nasty), some car stuff that I have already forgotten, and the details of the Directorate General for Competition's Chief Economist's mandate. I can tell you about all of these (you might prefer it if I didn't), and about my amusingly inappropriate new job involving things with wheels tomorrow, but tonight I have to go out in two minutes, so I will leave you with these pictures from my advent calendar, made for me by my delightful children. I am very proud. How Christmassy!

Look!



Day 1:


Day 2:



The cowboy (?) is saying "I have a snake". No, me neither.


Day 3:


As mysterious to me as it is doubtless to you.

I feel more festive already! Deck the halls with .. snakes. And three eyed aliens.