Monday, 31 January 2011

Happily Missed Connections

I am introducing a new feature, where I am going to write a Missed Connections ad a week based on my many adventures in public transport. Like Kiss & Ride, but all my own. I spend an awful lot of time on public transport, you know. Guest submissions for particularly regrettable or searing encounters on public transport are welcome.

27th January, Central Line, Westbound, 23:30

You: mid 30s, suit, sandy hair, possibly a small beard, unsteady on your feet. Me: jeans, glasses, black coat, reading Polly Samson's Perfect Lives. You grabbed my book and told me you thought the cover was pornographic, then asked me "if it's rude", with a sort of unfocussed leer. I told you it was middle class wistfulness not porn, unless you found piano tuning erotic. I showed you the back cover quotes, which you squinted at, then pointed at the word "romp" and said "Romp!" and laughed. Then you swayed back against the upholstered window ledge bit of the carriage, nodding to yourself.

You told me you "had a book in my bag but I've had a few drinks so I'm not reading it". I asked you what it was but you said you couldn't remember. You said you had "read a good book once". I asked what it was but you said you couldn't remember, then, just as I got off the train at Notting Hill Gate you shouted "Carlos Ruiz Zafon!" after me, the last syllable truncated by the closing doors.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Life in Marks

There are cruel rumours floating around my corner of Continental Europe that Marks & Spencer may be on the verge of forgetting the public relations and labour law disasters of its previous early 90s foray into Abroad, and reopening stores in Europe. Can this be true? I mean, can we dare to hope for the return of multipack shorty knickers and Viennese fingers to these shores?

I have a sick, hopeless dependency on Marks & Spencer, as proved, yet again, this Friday when I went to THREE separate M&S stores to sate my junkie cravings for 12 quid ballet pumps and Colin the Caterpillar cakes. I pleaded in vain with the internet to stage an intervention, but even their excellent advice to go and check out the June Whitfield cardies and elasticated waisted skirts in the 'Classics' section fell on deaf ears. It is simply unthinkable for me to be within a mile of Marks & Spencer and not go in there to pay homage to the knitwear and bread products. Unthinkable, I tell you. It's not even a product of my exile either - 'twas ever thus. It's my mother's fault for introducing me to M&S ready meals (individual steak and kidney pies and lemon mousse, particularly) at an impressionable age, thus blowing my tiny, greedy mind. For years my Saturday treat was to choose an M&S ready meal and get to eat it before watching Casualty (not eat it IN FRONT of Casualty. We weren't animals). After that, at Quaker School Alex Smith and I would always slope off to M&S to buy chocolate ginger biscuits whenever we went on school trips, marking us out as the most hopelessly middle aged, middle class teenagers who have EVER LIVED. Oh! Alex Smith was also my partner in BRIDGE CLUB, as I only dredged up from the shameful recesses of my memory this very afternoon, thus proving we were a scant National Trust membership away from being 55 year old retired teachers as 14 year olds. Terrifying.

After the teenage biscuit rebellion, there was my first experience of a foreign M&S in Rouen - presumably at the height of their demented, suicidal expansion - where I worked for my year off, frequently popping in for packets of pants and English muffins. Next came Oxford M&S, which for the whole of my batshit crazy second year and third years, provided nearly all my sustenance in the form of diet ready meals and bags of microwave ready vegetables. I am completely, totally not exaggerating. Well, except that every ten days or so I would pop into Londis and buy 3 tubs of ice cream and 400 Twixes and well, you know. Eating disorders are famously de rigueur in female Oxford students (man, it's such a joy not to have an eating disorder any more, you really can't imagine).

London brought first Pantheon - surely the best name for any M&S store ever - and latterly Moorgate M&Ss. I used to walk through Moorgate M&S every morning on my way to work and spend a pulse slowing, restful twenty minutes wandering around the store floor in a trance. When I was in the process of going slowly batshit in 2005, my walks around there became longer and longer and when I was finally on lunacy leave, I probably spent a good hour a day wafting through the store trying on everything that caught my eye. Ah, happy, mental days.This was in the early days of Limited Collection when there was a massive thrill to be had in going in on Wednesday morning and rifling through the new stock, some of which would be quite pleasant (this is me in my 7 stone lunatic incarnation - now Limited stuff strikes me as mainly alarming and very very small). I reckon I could navigate my way around that whole shop blindfold, even now, six years later.

I admit it: cut me and I bleed M&S custard. Open up my heart and you will find 'Greek Style Probiotic Yoghurt' inscribed upon it. M&S is just so .. NICE. So comforting, like a hug from a big bosomed matronly mother figure who makes excellent steamed puddings. I might like to think I'm a Liberty girl, but really, who am I kidding? It's always been M&S for me. I want to be appointed Writer in Residence at Marble Arch. Read my DNA with a bar code scanner and it'll look just like a multipack of Autograph opaque tights. Consequently these rumours are working me up into a frenzy of excitement. Can it possibly be true? Will I no longer have to face the opprobrium of the men at the Eurostar security checks for transporting four chunky breaded cod fillets and 12 packets of falafels into Belgium? I daren't even hope.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Minor epiphany

Friday already? Not sure how that happened. I think I'm still stuck somewhere around Wednesday. I think I might need to tell you about Wednesday.

So, Wednesday morning, my lovely Belgo-mag editor asked if I would go and test drive a car. This is now part of my job, which is an absurdity that will never get old for me. Me! A driver so catastrophically bad that several of my friends refuse to get into a car with me. The woman who has driven in to MORE THAN ONE stationary skip. Amazing. Actually, Lovely Editor and I were discussing my first column this week over mushrooms, here (excellent, incidentally, though we were too chicken for the porcini ice cream).

"You actually sounded quite professional! You said something, I can't remember what, but it sounded all technical".

"Was it the thing about 'short wheel base'?"

"Yes! That!"

"Ha, yeah. I researched! I started by looking up 'why is the Fiat 500 really bumpy' on Google and took it from there.."

So after a meeting in the DG Agriculture canteen (you can but dream of such meetings, non-Belgians! There was semolina for pudding and everything!) I went off to try and find this car. The thing about much of Brussels is that it's not made for pedestrians, and the bit I was heading to is particularly not. I looked it up on a map. It's in a sort of light industrial hinterland, between Ikea and Brussels's specially illuminated power station chimney (this, I imagine, is what Electrabel is spending my €1900 on. Buying new LED bulbs). There was a metro station fairly close by, though, so I thought I'd give it a shot. The metro station looked like something out of a Crimewatch reconstruction, the kind of thing you might see in fuzzy CCTV footage, and it took me about five goes backwards and forwards to find my way from there down to the canal that my map suggested I needed to follow in order to track down the elusive test drive showroom.

I spent the next hour and a half, wandering the pathways of a windswept canalside industrial development, looking for the road I needed. My map suggested I could follow the canal, then cut up to the left. The only thing up to the left was an 8 lane motorway and a few rolls of barbed wire I followed the canal for about 1000 years in both directions, looking for a way to get to where I needed to be, thinking how very much the landscape looked like somewhere you would dump a body. A cross between that and Series 2 of The Wire, but less glamorous. There was almost no-one around, occasionally a jogger with facial tattoos would whoosh past me, staring as they went. I was walking around an industrial estate straight out of Crimewatch in red patent shoes, coral nail varnish and shorts. Yes, shorts. What? I was wearing tights. Actually, I wasn't, I was wearing hold-ups and I could feel that one of them was starting its inevitable slither down my leg. I prayed it would hold up until I found the car, or was brutally murdered. I did not want to be brutally murdered with a hold-up bunched round my ankle. Also, I really needed to pee. There were too many facial tattooed joggers, and my outfit was too impractical, to consider peeing. I might just have to be brutally murdered with a full bladder.

I was using my phone to navigate, and of course, it ran out of battery, just as I was crossing a sort of rusting footbridge over a mudflat, between two warehouses onto what appeared to be a building site. My red patent shoes were sinking deeper into the mud, and my whole forearm had gone raw red with the cold. It was starting to remind me less of Crimewatch, and more of the instructional video we were forced to watch at primary school about the dangers of building sites, which featured bloodstained shoes in mudddy puddles next to piles of bricks, and charred, smoking clothes by high tension power lines. It was HORRIBLE, I can remember every scene. Now I was about to relive them. Thankfully I was distracted from my imminent death by spotting a rat. Nature walk!

I finally found the garage. It had a zen garden and three slightly bored but very kind and welcoming marketing people eating miniature waffles. It also had a lavatory, thankfully, because the noise of the water feature in the zen garden was like the worst kind of torture.

They made me sit in the car and tried to tell me how it worked. It is an electric car and you push a twiddly thing backwards to go forward, and forward to go backward, which is an, uh, interesting choice. I could not work it, of course, and it took all three kindly, slightly bored marketing people to get it moving and I got the giggles. Then they sent me out onto the ringroad, which gives me palpitations at the best of times, with only a stern GPS lady between me and ending up in Slovakia, and the terror of breaking their special car. The whole thing was bloody hilarious, apart from the TERROR and the PALPITATIONS. It was much more hilarious once I had managed to bring the bloody thing back in one piece and eaten 27 miniature waffles. I trekked back off across the mudflats and the building site and the location for The Wire Series 2 and the Crimewatch video, clutching my gift of a scale model of the car in a cardboard box.

On my metro on the way back, my neighbour, who did not smell at all nice, fell asleep, so his beer can tipped up and poured cheap lager over my red patent shoes (washing the mud off! Swings, roundabouts). Across the aisle, a teenage boy was carefully preparing a small quantity of cannabis resin on a copy of the free Metro newspaper. With my phone long dead, and only a single sheet of technical specifications and a model car to distract me, I had plenty of time to think. And I thought, truly, 'I bloody love this'. I love doing completely absurd, nonsensical things and writing about them. It's ace. It might not make me enough money to survive, but god, it's fun. My friend The Teapot wrote a very lovely post a while ago about sometimes not noticing that you've got somewhere you wanted to be, not appreciating what's extraordinary about your life (she put it better than that), and I'm definitely guilty of that. I get caught up in anxiety and fear and a superstitious aversion to tempting fate by saying things are good. I've been insanely anxious recently, even though nothing terrible is happening, god knows why. Of course, partly the fear is useful and appropriate; life without a salary can be pretty bloody frightening. But there should also be space to say, yes, this is great. This is really a lot of fun. So there you go, I'm saying it.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Child rearing wisdom

I have topped a parenting blog index this month, I see from my statistics. Welcome, people who are interested in childcare stuff and thank you for visiting! I can't imagine you'll be sticking around for long, so I feel I should mark this moment in some way. Perhaps I could share some of my parenting wisdom quickly, while I can? I have LOADS. Yes, no-one in this house ever comes up to me and says "Je sais que tu vas dire 'fucking hell', maman, mais..*" Also, one of my friends has just had a baby. I bet she's dying to hear me make like Gwynnie and give her a heap of worthy advice about never letting your baby cry and banning tv and breastfeeding on demand for 18 years, bwahahhahahaa.

The things I have learned - and wholly failed to implement - in 8 years:

1. Never buy those brightly coloured maize pellets they sell in worthy Germanic toyshops, you know, the ones with those stupid Haba games that are almost as rubbish as Woodcraft Folk non-competitive games. As they disintegrate attractively, the colour runs all over you, your children, your pet, and your carpets. Maize pellets make you hate everyone and drive you to commit acts of frothing, elaborate violence.

2. See also glitter, the dandruff of Beelzebub. Playdoh is also the work of the forces of darkness. In fact, screw anything creative that requires your input. Nothing brings home to you quite how unpleasantly arsey and uptight you actually are - well, I am - than craft projects "NO not like that darling just give it here for a moment", then five hours later, there you are making a precise replica of the Lindisfarne Gospel using Fimo and raffia. Evidence here.

3. Buy more kitchen roll. Then buy even more. See also: tissues. Gloves. Socks. Pencils. Red and black felt tips. Wine. Especially buy lots of that.

4. Do not give in to their incessant demands and get a pet. "Please mama", they will say, all big pleading eyes and fluting, longing voices. "We really will look after it and walk it and brush its hairs and feed it bones". You will feel yourself start to weaken. Animals are good for children, you will tell yourself. They teach them vital life lessons about responsibility, and nurturing. Ha. Do they hell. If you feel you yourself need lessons in nurturing and responsibility (hmm, in my case the answer may be yes), go right ahead, but otherwise, do NOT give in. Also, please remember, even RABBITS live for more years than you could possibly imagine, probably far after your children, who have looked, desultorily, at the rabbit four times in the last ten years, have gone off to rack up 6 figure debts at university learning Gaming Science or something. Do you think they are going to come back to squeeze the pus out of the rabbit's abscess? To massage the iguana's arthritic hip? Worm the senile dog? Well, do you?

No. Get a Roomba and tell them it is their special robo-pet. Damn! I really wish I had thought of that a few years ago, it would have worked like a charm.

5. Do not promise you can make a cake in the shape of "Gyrados fighting with Regigigas on the top of an erupting volcano" if you can't, however seductive it is to see their tiny faces lighting up. Manage expectations:

"Your cake can be square, or round". See? Choice, but MANAGEABLE choice.

6. Whatever Oliver James says, do not listen. He is just cross that someone stole his lips.

7. A high tolerance for whining can move mountains. The higher your tolerance, the more likely your children will give up and go and find some way of amusing themselves. This is the nirvana of parenting, the higher state of existence to which we all aspire. Deafness probably also helps. Earplugs, at a pinch.

8. Have an odd number. An odd number of children avoids the Two Child Stalemate Law (The Two Child Stalemate Law: whatever a parent suggests, one child will agree and the other will not, unless the thing is tidying bedrooms or walking the unwisely acquired real pet). If there is no deciding vote, you are always thrown into the rôle of weary, screeching Solomon. It you had wanted to be a judge, you would be a judge and get paid for it and get to wear excellent robes and a wig and not know who The Beatles and Gazza are. You are not a judge. Have an odd number of children and give them an early lesson in simple majority voting.

(People with odd numbers of children: I suspect I am being naive here. How does it all go wrong?)

9. In every large shop, in every town, in every country there is an elderly lady waiting to disapprove of your parenting. Greet her with a cheery smile, and a wave of your crack pipe.

10. Children have the aesthetic sensibilities of weasels on acid. Let them choose their own clothes, by all means, but not your living room rug.

I think that's all I have. One or more pieces of childrearing advice from each commenter, please, to mark this happy day.

(*"I know you're going to say 'fucking hell' mum, but..")

Monday, 24 January 2011

Zen Koans, Paranoia, Hungarian mud

I developed a peculiar fear of the internet over the weekend as part of a minor attack of The Mentals, as if the internet might crawl out through my keyboard during the night and destroy me, the same way my mother used to unplug everything, but everything, at night in case The Electricity escaped through the plug and set fire to her house. Thankfully it has worn off.

Actually, it was nothing like that really, I am being fanciful. I was experiencing severe anxiety, most of it unrelated to the internet and mild paranoia (which was), not an extended hallucination featuring internet gremlins. Oh dear, I'm not making this sound any, better am I? I'M FINE. The above is all exaggeration. Actually, you can see in the very existence of this disclaimer that the paranoia has not quite worn off, I am still worried about the impact anything I say on the internet may have on some unspecified future scenario that I cannot even begin to imagine.

The thing is, I am not actually sure what proportion of the internet is videos of frisky bear cubs and lovely chat about people's favourite kinds of cheap chocolate, and what proportion is dead eyed trolling and chilling lunacy, but at some point in the last week the entirely fictitious proportions I keep in my head as reassurance got dislodged. I think it was because I was writing a piece on this kind of online profile stuff, and whenever I do that I begin to see terrible pitfalls in the most innocuous statements. I have confessed to using Dr Oetker's pancake mix (shite, don't do it kids)! I will lose custody of my children! That kind of thing.

Both Paranoid Me and 'Preserving The Fiction The Internet is 50% owls in boxes and 50% nice chat with like minded people' Me award that last few paragraphs a special prize as "Paragraphs Least Likely to Reassure Anyone of my Metal Stability and Employability".

The internet is all meerkats dozing in boxes, correct? Thank you. Normal service can now resume.

Oh, you want me to say some stuff now? Ah, right. Well, there is little to report, you might regret that.

1. Alopecia is very in at the moment, honestly it's all over the couture shows in Paris, so let's have some alopecia chat. In fact, better than that, let's have a photo. Alanis Morissette must never be allowed to see this picture, her head would explode with the irony.

Yes, my friends, once more (yes, it's happened before) my WIG is going bald. I showed F a picture.

F: But wait.. that's like a Zen Koan. "The bald wig".

E: I am supposed to derive some comfort from this?

My new one will be here soon, which means a trip to see John who I love and revere above all men and who has always cut my "hair", so it's not all bad, I suppose. And I am surfing that alopecia zeitgeist good and proper, yeah baby.

Other things that need attention: my glasses (scratched, buggered), 80% of my shoes, anything that was supposed to have buttons. Stay 200m away and I look fine. Stay on the internet, in fact, please, and imagine me less stained and unravelling than I am in reality. Actually, you could come into my kitchen where all the lights have blown yet again. I probably look quite hot there.

2. Belgium is getting a little riled by the lack of government (8 months and counting). Look, it says at the top of this page here that even Pravda have noticed. There are protests and stuff. You have doubtless all heard about the beard growing? I am obviously going to have to put aside my scruples about public life and sort the constitutional crisis out AGAIN. No-one has listened to my idea of making a coalition of female tennis players, cartoon characters and Stromae. We could have Alors On Danse as a new national anthem, everyone already knows the words. Fine. I will sort it out. Give me a week or so, honestly, must I do everything round here?

3. Forthcoming entertainments: Tall Tales on Thursday which will feature the full unexpurgated tale of the Assassin as a distinct low point in what will otherwise be a programme of great hilarity. I like War Horses particularly ( these are letters from Napoleon's horse to Wellington's horse, who have the kind of relationship that would give Melanie Philips a stroke). You can still come if you like, you just email the address on that link. I'll let you admire my balding wig and everything.

That means I am going to London, hooray, it has been aaages (erm, about 6 weeks). M has instructed me about some special Hungarian black facial mud I have to go and poke in Liberty, Fingers has been promised a box of Lucky Charms, his favourite diabetes in a box style treat and I am all out of Bobbi Brown Caviar gel eyeliner. What with that and John to pay, I had better start saving up, or better still robbing.

4. The dog hates me tonight because I washed his stinking blanket. He's like a child with a comfort blanket that must preserve its specially fetid scent (I have one of those, children, not fetid comfort blankets). I did not Febreze him, as I threatened, although he fully deserves it.

Looking at this picture, I note that I would have been well advised to wash my net curtains instead. It's a good thing that shutter is broken plunging me into perpetual twilight, if the neighbours saw the state of my nets.. Well. It doesn't bear thinking about. Except to note that the nets aren't, perhaps, strictly necessary when the shutter doesn't even open. Maintenance. It's exhausting.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


One of those snakes and ladders kinds of days. Several good pieces of work news, followed by the ominous slither - flop of the post bringing a reminder for a €693 bill, another bill for €444 and a joyful missive from the tax office. OH GOOD. My friends at the Belgian Revenue, you have finally tracked me down! Welcome back, Service Public Fédérale des Finances! How I have missed your cheerily impenetrable 8 point type missives!

Mrs Trefusis and I debated the fraught subject of correspondence with the Revenue, sorrowfully.

"Why" she said "Does one never get NICE correspondence from the Inland Revenue? Imagine if they wrote:

Dear Emma

Hope you had a nice Christmas and new year break and that 2011 is treating you well. Awfully sorry about this but there's a little local difficulty with the tax... do you think you could give us a call. If you can pluck up the courage to call us today, we'll knock £50 off the bill as a gesture of encouragement. love The Tax (wo)Man"

She is quite right. I would respond far better to this softly, softly approach.

(On reflection, that might not be true, but the impenetrable 8 point type is not particularly conducive to feelings of urgency and contrition).

Other minor tragedies:

1. I set fire to my pashmina tassles whilst making homemade chicken nuggets from an organic chicken breast from my local market, which has to be one of the most middle class accidents possible. Sadly, the breadcrumbs were straight out of a packet from the supermarket, rather than gently toasted Poîlane crumbs, or organic pinhead oatmeal. I lose several points, right there. Suggestions for even more middle class accidents are welcome (Miss Underscore has a nice line in middle class injuries, involving some kind of scented candle injury, but I can't bloody find it now).

2. I have had to wash my children's hair, they smelled like tramps. I tried to kiss one on the tram and recoiled, I am not sure what they have been rubbing against at the gulag, but it's not right. There was a lot of chat from Fingers about thoraxes and abdomens and other insecty stuff, but I hope the two are not connected.

I try not to groom them when I can avoid it, it is dangerous, they go mad with the excitement of lather, but it was unavoidable. It was as unspeakable as usual, sloshings of water everywhere, screeching at the soap in the eyes, me flailing in panic. When you can remove your hair and wash it conveniently in the bathroom basin, you are ill-prepared for hair attached to heads. I do not have this excuse with their fingerclaws, that's pure superstitious terror. Anyway, I reckon it's now the CFO's turn for the next 6 months.

3. It is Wednesday, this needs no further explanation. I had two industrial muffins for lunch, yet I smell mysteriously of Old El Paso fajita mix, and all I have to show for today is four envelopes stuffed with administrative bucks I am trying to pass. I have had two baths. Baths are my main entertainment these days. Our bath is well stocked with Hot Wheels Colour Change Monster Cars (do you have small children? Do you have these? If the answer to 1 is yes, and 2 is no, you are missing a trick. This is not a sponsored post, I just like putting cars shaped like spiders and stingrays in the freezer, and then under the hot tap, for kicks), which provide me with excellent low cost entertainment, and if I put enough cheap nasty bath salts and dead cormorant scented powdered seaweed in, I can pretend it's equivalent to a diet.

However, look: Hungover Owls has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Joy. "German police pick up drunken owl" is likely to remain my favourite headline for some time.

I am quitting while I am - and I use the term extremely loosely - ahead. I would advise you to do the same.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Songs that need a German word to describe them

The closer my "professional" life ("career" is just as ridiculous - what would you call it?), gets to limping off the starting blocks in the direction of the minimum wage, the shitter this blog becomes, as I spend ever increasing amounts of time doing precisely nothing except sitting in front of my computer, snacking and cursing and doing a fair amount of the third of this brilliant, brilliant list. I must stop the rot, somehow (possibly by dint of such ambitious projects as: leaving the house and talking to other humans) but I sure as hell won't be starting tonight, when the rot seems to have settled in around my brain.

Instead, tonight I find myself thinking about songs you surprise yourself by knowing the words to. I don't mean songs that you consciously listen to, love, that are part of your conscious musical universe. Or indeed songs that you hate with the heat of a thousand suns, but get so much radio play you can't avoid knowing them. I mean the ones that only emerge astonishingly word perfect when you accidentally hear them, as if they have been living perfectly preserved in a time capsule somewhere in the recesses of your brain. Does this happen to you? I keep getting it, and I think it's another thing that there should be a word for. Germans? Can you see to it please?

My recent ones:

You Go To My Head, Frank Sinatra

I heard this one in the Eurostar terminal at Bruxelles Midi just before Christmas and couldn't stop myself from mouthing along with it. A good twenty year gap, I reckon, since I last heard it.

You go to my head,
With a smile that makes my temperature rise
Like a summer with a thousand Julys,
You intoxicate my soul with your eyes..

It instantly made me think of my dad, because this is my him, driving around the Dales. I am, depending on my age, either staring out of the window pretending to be riding a horse across the fields, staring out of the window trying not to be carsick, or staring out of the window wondering if startlingly blue-eyed sixth form thespian Ian Chisholm will ever notice me (he won't). We are off on some horrendous walk, of course, a four hour forced march across some far flung bog with only a packet of Rolos to keep me going. The Rolos will be in my father's rucksack. My father will be a very long way ahead of me, barely visible through the gloom. As I approach, he will take the Rolos out and waggle them enticingly, then stride off again. Bastard. My dad likes a bit of Frank. Our other car artistes are, variously, The Beatles, Crystal Gayle (I suspect, but have not been able to test this theory, that I know a great deal of Crystal Gayle deep down in my lizard brain), Nat King Cole and Kris Kirstofferson. Mozart - Clarinet Flute, and Flute and Harp concertos only - occasionally gets a look in. (By contrast, Prog Rock's car artistes, were: Bob Marley, Dylan, Tom Waits, Little Feat, JJ Cale and The Blues Band. I know, not Prog Rock at all, it's a total misnomer, but it suits him.)

Ask, The Smiths

A few months ago, clicking on some internet link, sitting on the floor in my dad's spare bedroom.

Spending warm summer days indoors
Writing frightening verse
To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg

I just stopped listening to The Smiths entirely at some point, I think when I left for France at 18. Big mistake, since all they had to offer me in return was, what? At that time, Alain Souchon, Francis Cabrel, Mylène Farmer. (Actually, that's still pretty much all they have, sorry France. Yeah, yeah, Phoenix, BB Brunes, I know. But still). Anyway, hearing that opening guitar intro took me right back to my attic bedroom in St John Street in York, and I wept (I didn't really) my contrition to Johnny Marr and Morrissey for abandoning them for ponderous French singer-songwriters.

Actually, the last of these weirdly memorised songs is precisely the kind of decadent nonsense I took up when I abandoned Johnny Marr:

L'Eau à la Bouche, Serge Gainsbourg

Je te veux confiante je te sens captive,
Je te veux docile, je te sens craintive,
Je t'en prie ne sois pas farouche
Quand me vient l'eau à la bouche.

I heard this in H&M today. They had a very peculiar selection on indeed, but this one - and vast swathes of Gainsbourg - are fixed in my head forever, it seems. I mean, I knew about some of them. I have L'Anamour on my ipod, and I know all the words to Le Poinçonneur des Lilas simply because it's ace. But this one arose, ghostly, straight out of a tape made for me by one of the CFO's friends on the day I left Normandy to go back to the UK and start university after, I dunno, 9 months or something. I remember they stayed up all night with me, because my flight, or train was at some stupid hour of the morning. I remember she was pregnant, the first person I had ever known as a friend, who was having a baby. That baby is 16 now, brrrr, the tape is long, long lost as is the Renault Clio I used to listen to it in, but it's all in here.

Ok, your turn. Songs mysteriously lodged in your brain for all eternity, and/or songs played repeatedly on car trips by your parents. Excuse me, I have to urgently go and download 'Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night' now.

Monday, 17 January 2011


My children are being unnervingly saintly today. They have done their homework without complaint and have not lost any crayons, marker pens, pointy sticks, busts of Stalin or crucial pieces of paper. I asked Lashes to look at Fingers's homework and he patted him kindly (if slightly patronisingly) on the head and said "I don't need to check it, you're really good at it". Then he came and kissed me unprompted before heading off to watch tv peacefully. Just a moment ago, Fingers called downstairs to ask if he could go to bed. It is sweet, and profoundly suspicious. They must be plotting something. I bet they've stolen my credit card and ordered consumer electronics via the televisual evil that is Disney XD. What does XD stand for anyway? It sounds like a brand of batteries, not a tv channel. They are currently in thrall to something called Generator Rex, which is strangely gloomy, post-apocalyptic anime nonsense about small robots taking over the world and a person who can talk to the small robots and make his arms into swords, or something. They tried to explain but I was driving at the time, and desperate not to lose any wing mirrors inadvertently. No matter. The little I have seen of it makes me nostalgic for the golden era of Pokémon.

Anyway. This odd state of domestic peace gives me time to reflect on what I am doing wrong, as is required by law of all mothers. Thankfully Oliver James is here to help me out, as ever. Regular readers will know how much I love it when the sainted Oliver James, Protector of the Preschooler and Fount of All Parental Wisdom ("think of the children! Will no-one think of the children!") tells me what I'm doing wrong (what we're ALL doing wrong), so I was delighted to see he had extended his repertoire of observations on how maternal choices, circumstances and failings damage children to encompass mess and domestic chaos. Oh GOOD. Now that my children are too old to be damaged by, say, nursery, or maternal depression, or shocks in utero or all of the many and varied things I did terribly, irrevocably wrong in the past, it is greatly reassuring to see that OJ has not taken his eye off the ball in making me feel worthless and guilty. No, not for a moment. A chaotic house, OJ wishes to ensure I know, is one in which children feel "less parental warmth and enjoyment and more anger and hostility". Oh, le big fucking sigh avec le big fucking 'here he goes again' eyeroll.

I thought my ability to work myself up into a froth of outrage at Oliver James was ebbing away with age and the clear evidence that my children are not yet sociopathic child-wolves, shaping up for a life of empty violence and anomie, unable to form relationships, clubbing elderly ladies and puppies to death on every street corner for a tiny, fleeting high. But I think I have just become more skilled at avoiding him. The minute I went back to read his recent oeuvre the familiar Jamesean red mist descended once more. That's probably because I come from a broken home, of course, raised by one of those scary "blind feminists". I should channel all this excess aggression into tidying, presumably.

Further evidence of my depravity is provided by a correspondent today, who notes with interest that my blog is now barred in his workplace. He provides me with a screengrab of the reason.

The verdict has fallen. "Violence", indeed. There is only one way around this: I am going to ban myself from everything that makes me angry. I have started to compile a list.

1. Oliver James;

2. Too-small bras, tight waistbands, control underwear;

3. Belgacom;

4. Poor quality "non-slip" rug underlay from Ikea;

5. The UK government;

6. Google Adsense;

7. Loudly sexing on a Sunday night neighbours.

8. Poor bladder control in whippets.

9. Sneakily deposited cards from the sodding postman when you were in all sodding day.

The list could go on all night since, as previously observed, I have many unresolved rage issues from my childhood, but sadly I must now go and tidy my chaotic house, self-flagellating with a Lakeland Microfibre Venetian Blind Duster all the way. Feel free to add your own. If you wish, rather, to be soothed than share your rage, please go and read this blog which is filling me with endless joy. Finding a new blog you completely love is one of those 21st century experiences so particular that it deserves its own word. Unlike the 21st century experience of living on a knife edge of boiler based uncertainty, which is the other defining emotion of my day, and is best expressed with a sort of rasping, wordless ululation.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Catch up, now with NO Ukrainian brides, but moderate block capitals

I have been away too long. Believe me, if there were a post I really didn't want to leave up for an alarming length of time, it was that one about cringey early sexual encounters and if there had been any way of pushing it off the top with some inconsequential nonsense about animals earlier I would have done so. I have been very busy, and I will most certainly not be complaining about that because busy means "not imminently having to fend off the bailiffs by pretending not to speak French".

However. I am now finally back and in a feedback loop of procrastination so intense that I have already emptied the crumb tray on the toaster, descaled the coffee machine and uncovered a box of paperwork from 2008 whilst delving into the deep sendimentary layers of mess on the sideboard. This is no way to spend a Saturday, but I am too hungover for Ikea which was my initial plan and there are several more pressing things I am avoiding doing. I do not have a great deal to say, but that will not be stopping me. Onwards!

1. Tiger Mother

I am deeply entertained by the whole Tiger Mother thing, but got distracted, predictably, by thinking what kind of animal best reflects my parenting style. I raised the matter with V.

E: So, Tiger Mother. What kind of animal mother are you? I think I'm Sloth mother. Maybe hamster mother, that eats its young.
V: Easy. Seahorse mother. I abandon the baby seahorses with Papa Seahorse and swim off.
E: Oh yes, like the Eric Carle book!
(This book, Mister Seahorse, for those that are not familiar with it, is an uncanny look at male parenting using aquatic life. Firstly, all the papa fishes swim around boasting about their childcare credentials ('Mrs Pipefish laid these eggs in my mouth and I must take care of them!') like they want a medal. And then at the end, as soon as the baby seahorses hatch, one of them tries to swim back into the pouch and the Papa Seahorse says something along the lines of "Oh no. I have looked after you until you hatched but now you must fend for yourself". in a sort of "whoa, dude, don't get too comfortable, my work here is DONE" way. Ace.).
V: Seafoals catch on at an admirably young age.

I raised it with M, who suggested 'Sugar Glider Mother'.

E: So.. Bitey, musky smelling, high pitched shrieking, not fond of children.. and always pissing down your arm?

M: Yup. Let's go piss down someone's arm RIGHT NOW.

(Tiger Mother on Twitter, incidentally, is rather fine).

2. Ewwwww

Things not to do five minutes before a telephone interview: find and watch a YouTube clip of your subject talking about his sex life. Particularly if your subject, a 'relationship expert', uses an extended food analogy to do so, which involves comparing his wife TO AN OVEN. "On prend du temps.. on fait chauffer le four...". No. Whilst I am in no way qualified as a relationship expert, as anyone who has met me can testify, I feel comfortable assuring you that comparing your wife to an oven, sexually, is unlikely to do you any favours. Just .. no.

3. Illegal activity

Google Adsense have shut me down for illegal activity. I think that is because you very kindly clicked repeatedly on the mystifying adverts for Ukrainian brides, reclaiming your brain, and all you can eat buffets with gyrating macaroons in lurid colours (well, these are what I got, and very nice they were too). I don't know whether I should bother trying to appeal, they make the whole process impressively difficult. You are, for instance, not allowed to know what "invalid click activity" they have detected or indeed, anything at all. So, essentially, I have been offering free advertising to Ukrainian escort services for the last month, which is nice.

This has to be one of the most boring kinds of "illegal activity" imaginable, doesn't it? Quite apart from the fact that it's not, strictly speaking, remotely illegal. If I'm going to get penalised for illegal activity, I'd like to actually have some fun in the process, thanks. Or at least get a free tram ride (EXCEPT WE DON'T TALK ABOUT THAT, OH NO).

4. "Fuck the Crips and the Bloods - Blastoise versus Charizard"

You should only watch this clip if:

- You have been repeatedly exposed to Pokémon;

- You have an exceptionally high tolerance for spoken obscenity;

- You have a very wrong sense of humour.

If you tick all these boxes, you may be as helplessly reduced to hysteria as M, F and I were. M and I decided the internet could actually close down now that this existed. It has fulfilled its purpose. Incidentally, F mocked me mercilessly when I wrote "Cribs" instead of "Crips" when discussing it. I am extremely street. I could not be more street if I tried.

5. Animal of the Year

This has been hotly contested, and my children, after a brief flirtation with the DikDik, were most unhelpfully insistent that this owl should win, when he hadn't even entered, and I had decreed, Diana Vreeland style, that Owls were Out (I don't mean it, owls. You'll never be out with me, but fashion is a cruel mistress).

I am sorry to the cross eyed opossum and to the Highland calves, the late flurry of swaddled baby bats, the wonderful Potto over there in the sidebar and the many other excellent candidates, but I simply cannot see past the aye-aye. The extraordinarily mournful eyes, the special pointing 'loser' finger, the vast and weirdly leathery ears. I am overwhelmed with love. It's 2011's naked mole rat and no mistake.

That means commenter Diabolo wins a tiny, derisory, low value prize. Email me your address, Diabolo and I will despatch it.

Coming soon on Belgian Waffle: Oliver James's new crusade against my sanity, further thoughts with props - and possible Exciting Multimedia Content - on the Belgian constitutional crisis, and almost certainly a lot of empty promises that come to nothing. Here, have some more aye ayes. It's all going to be ok.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

First kiss

I liked the First Kiss article in the Guardian today, it made me a bit wistful, because I did remember mine, and then it led me onto thinking about being 16 and 17, and how odd and frustrating and intense that was. Not that I'd actually want to be 17, obviously, you couldn't wish all that back, could you? Exhausting. I do remember my first"proper" kiss though. It was in the shadow of Dungeness power station, behind a tent, on a Natural History Society summer field trip, somewhere between the Fitter brothers' moth trap and the catering tent. I would have been, what, 14 maybe? Actually, I can work it out because it was a World Cup year (we sat together on the coach and watched matches on a tiny tv, I remember), so it must have been 1990. No! That would make me 15! Gawd, really? That is pathetic, and entirely in character. Before that I had several sort-of boyfriends (Danny, Sam, and ewwww Jim, who was more of a stalker than a boyfriend) who I tried not to touch at all if possible and tried to find ways to chuck after about 3 days of awkward hanging around with nothing to say to each other. I did not want to do kissing, or anything else for that matter. I think I found them completely repugnant because they weren't ponies; certainly they inspired me with nothing more than the desire to run away as far and fast as possible.

In contrast, the first kiss boy was a lovely chap, actually, and I have absolutely nothing bad to say about him whatsoever. The panicky "this is not a horse, get me out of here" feeling took over soon enough, but before it did, he was actually an excellent school boyfriend who was able to form sentences, did not have atrocious skin, and had a sense of humour. I was reminiscing about him only today before I even read the article, because Prog Rock has sent me a copy of my old school magazine, which features a photo of his sister's wedding and the bombshell that in 2010 he was crowned "Bird Brain of Britain". Obviously he kept up the natural history more assiduously than me, though if the subject were capybara mating I would still totally walk it.

After that there was my French exchange trip to Casablanca, organised via the Catholic Herald (which, events would prove, is NO guarantee of moral rectitude in the matter of language exchanges). My exchange partner was a beautiful, icily French model who had a boyfriend, ballet, and a modelling career to keep her busy, and precisely no interest in me (rightly so, I should think). She abandoned me entirely, which was the best thing that could possibly have happened, and I spent an entirely unsupervised fortnight being shown around (ahem) by the older brother of one of my exchange partner's friends. My three weeks in Casablanca was a strange, beguiling whirl of galloping arab stallions on sand dunes, staying in a riad in the medina in Marrakesh, driving along the coast to Essaouira, seeing the snow-covered tips of the Atlas mountains from desert roads, going to weird nightclubs, eating cornes de gazelle and riding around "Casa" with the lovely Karim listening to Prefab Sprout, and sex. It was amazing, truly transformative. There was a first kiss in his car, somewhere along the stormy seafront at night. Sigh. I came back hopelessly in love with everything French and North African (the Prefab Sprout thing passed more quickly) and probably horribly spoiled for most subsequent romantic encounters.

In return, poor Aurélie's fortnight with me involved a lot of trudging around the shops of York, and a couple of trips to the Clifton Moor multiplex cinema with me and a couple of my spotty, monosyllabic mates, who I remember stared at her like an escaped okapi wandering along Coney Street. We might have gone to someone's house and watched a video once. The trip culminated, triumphantly, in a rainy, muddy week in the wilds of the Lake District in a run-down farmhouse filled with academics. Those kind of holidays are an endurance test even when you are used to them, so I can barely imagine what they're like when you're used to driving your own jeep around Casablanca. All those terrible rural holidays blur into one another, but I think that was the holiday when my infant sister got a tic the size of a 50p piece, we found a dead mole one day and we played an awful lot of Racing Demon. Aurélie, I know, did a lot of gloomy solo rowing around the lake "pour la poitrine". I would imagine she has never set foot in England again. Ha.

Look, look at the two of us:

Finding this photo in my archives, I realise I wrote almost EXACTLY the same thing about Morocco on this post, almost EXACTLY two years ago to the day. Obviously January is "reminisce about Morocco" time, which has a kind of logic, I suppose, since being 17 in Morocco in the spring is definitely a more attractive prospect than being 36 in suburban Brussels in January.

Anyway. I came back to York after Karim and became almost immediately entangled with a student teacher who worked at Quaker school, which was thrilling and transgressive and eventually completely heartbreaking, in a seventeen year old way. I remember that first kiss terribly clearly, I'm not sure anything has ever topped it. I had been waitressing, and he left me a note in my study (pre-mobile phone! So romantic) asking me to meet him in the Black Swan pub (important York detail, for Yorkshire readers, the Black Swan is actually a quality, historical public house, unlike, for instance "The Stabber", which we also frequented. We had to go to pubs which weren't full of people from school. When he dumped me, I used to walk distraught around town from pub to pub, trying to find him). There had been a lot of flirting in the school darkroom, but nothing more, and I thought he was going to say that Nothing Must Happen. I don't remember anything much about what we said, but I remember walking home, still not quite sure what was going home, and him suddenly pushing me up against a lampost on Peaseholme Green and kissing me, and it being amazing. It was early summer, with that soft northern evening light and oh, the thrill. Man, it was brilliant, that summer. I can't say it was worth the year of moping and sorrow and bulimia that followed, but it was still brilliant. I was in droopy, besotted, seventeen year old lurve. Our relationship had to be secret of course (because DUH, it was completely inappropriate and he could have been sacked), so he used to leave me typed up slips of paper with snippets of Yeats poems in in my study and sneak me into his room in Quaker school at night. Basically, he finished off what Karim had started, by raising my expectations of romantic encounters in a ruinous and utterly unrealistic fashion. Now, of course, looking back, it all just looks WRONG. Ewww, what was he thinking? Fule. It was a great kiss though.

Hmm. Anyway. I agree with University of Texas researcher Sheril Kirshenbaum, I think, in her cunning piece of media friendly pseudo-science. A first kiss is a bit particular. Not important, or meaningful, or a sacrament, but .. something. Or maybe I was just lucky.

Go on, tell me yours.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Weepetteversary and other matters

It seems weirdly important that I write something today, which is probably a combination of displacement anxiety and a fetishistic desire to keep my stats looking nice. I shouldn't admit to the latter, it reveals me for the sad, validation-craving creature I truly am (ok, you could probably have guessed that from an almost infinite number of other, people-pleasing clues).

So. What to tell you?

Lashes reported a day of "looking through microscopes" yesterday (I suspect the Holiday Gulag has subcontracted them out to the nearest cytopathology lab where they are reading smear tests), whilst Fingers made origami frogs, which seems to me to veer dangerously away from the original brief of a full week of sticking stuff. All three of us are vastly cheered by the gorgeous little car I am borrowing for a week. Mmmmmmmmm, car. It's terribly seductive having a car to play with as the rain sets in over Belgiana for the next six months, especially one that's small enough for me not to break its wing mirrors off on the nearest likely stretch of wall. I have been dizzily exploiting my new mobility with trips to out of town shopping centres until I get sweaty palmed and panicky at how much budget loo roll, bleach and cheap consumer electronics I have bought and have to put my head between my knees.

I have also "celebrated" the two year anniversary of acquiring the weepette. Look, this is him on the day we brought him home:

This gives a good idea of how small he was compared to that also very small child (who, in comparison to the weepette doesn't seem vastly changed).

This is also amusing, from a couple of weeks later, the CFO made it for him out of an old jumper sleeve:

Now look at him yesterday, practising his very best pleading look whilst begging for, well, anything really. I think it was a mushroom here.

(What's that? My floor looks strangely like the floors in the Holiday Gulag For Obedient Children? Yes it does. it is dirty, half the lights have been fucked over by the Assassin and no longer work, and I cannot be arsed right now).

30% bat, 30% pathetic, 30% random electrical connections in his empty skull. I actually think he has more dignity in the one where he's trussed up in the jumper sleeve. I probably had more dignity two years ago too though, so who am I to pass judgment.

I am particularly amused by the comments on that 2 year old post. Firstly, there are a great deal of people who refer to their own pets as in some way spawned by Beelzebub, which delights me, and many more that say I am "brave", which we all know means "insane". Secondly, I loved this from Grit, which shows great prescience:

"You have an animal in the house and look at it already. it is lolling around doing exactly what it wants while you fetch biscuits and carry blankets. soon you will be going ooochycoo at it, leaving the heating on, buying it squeaky presents and worrying how to amuse it in moving vehicles. This is not sweet. This is evil dressed as dog".

This happy event has motivated me to generate my first video. Its only merit is that it is very short. You also get a brief impression of the prevailing squalor, which is nice if you want to feel good about your housekeeping.

I won't make more animal videos, I promise.

In other news (I use that term exceptionally loosely), I had a brief flirtation with trying to tell myself I liked porridge until it exploded over the microwave, taking me instantly back to my happy, eating disorder days at university, when I would consider a spoonful of microwaved oats and water adequate nourishment for a day, so I dumped it. My "new year, same old shite you" (thanks Tigerbaps) policy demanded it. Also in line with the "new year, same old shite you", I will not be:

1. Taking up gardening. The best kept secret of adulthood is that gardening is just OUTDOOR HOUSEWORK. It's tidying up, but with a different colour palette. The parameters are the same: whatever you do, however you try to stem the irresistible forces of chaos, they return stronger than before. Say no to outdoor drudgery.

2. Drinking less. How can that possibly help? I have ten dry years to compensate for! I have to keep drinking or B will drug me and steal my liver, he's already threatened to.

3. Walking more. I can feel that my knee of death is coming back, after a year of respite thanks to the Dr Kevorkian of knees and his magical lubricating injections (bonjour, keyword searching pervs). I have got one of those ball throwing spoons and am refusing to walk further than the entrance to the park.

What are you not doing to ensure you preserve the old, shite you?

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Character Building the Belgian Holiday Way

No school all of this week. Somehow our childcare arrangements over the holidays have involved the CFO getting Christmas (Magic! Childish wonder!) and me getting New Year (Booze centred adult amusements! Childish early rising and boredom!), and the dead, dark, cold week in January when all the Christmas toys are broken or disdained and my angelic, articulate and highly sociable children are so sick of the sight of one another that their interactions span a scale from extreme violence to cold hatred, with an occasional sprinkling of dangerous hysteria. Another piece of masterful negotiating from Beddington, Master Negotiator In Chief of All Belgium (Learn my secrets in book 3)

Obviously I wish to spend as much time as possible with my darling boys, each discarded wrapper handed imperiously to me is a privilege and every impenetrably puzzling cruelty or injustice one has inflicted on the other that I am required to unravel is a gift from the heavens. Neverthelesss, I must try and scrape a living in ever more implausible ways and a week off is out of the question right now, so I am grateful for the wide range of extra-curricular activities provided by the enlightened society in which I am fortunate enough to live. This week I have enrolled them in the Jolly Holiday Gulag for Obedient Children. Look how much fun it is! Welcome, children!

I must get you more photos of this venue (which is a school, suddenly the real Gulag looks as soft, welcoming and cuddly as the Tellytubby house crossed with a boutique hotel). It is very much rocking the "Romanian Orphanage Chic" interior design vibe and looks like it would make an excellent venue for an avant garde fashion shoot. I keep expecting to see moddles in Ann Demeulemeester leaning languidly against the tiny hard metal chairs, their cheekbones reflecting the yellow toned strip lighting. I had to sneak this one whilst delivering Fingers to something called "Collage". Not "collage" in the English sense, just your basic "sticking". I thought I had signed him up for "Peinture, Dessin, Collage", but it turns out those were three different activities. I mean, you wouldn't want things to get TOO exciting. A tube of Pritt Stick between ten is quite sufficient entertainment, surely (Head of Holiday Gulag Entertainments: O. Cromwell Esq).

I asked him how it was going, with some trepidation. Oddly, he appears to be enjoying it greatly, though he did have a couple of practical comments.

"It's very cold"


"Yes. There's a broken windowpane. We had to wear our coats all day".

"Goodness. I'll give you an extra jumper tomorrow".

"And we aren't allowed to drink. I'm soooo thirsty".

I asked one of the heavily bearded supervisors about this, mildly, as he sat, slumped against the gymnasium wall with an expression of defeat I recognised, having seen it often on my own face after prolonged exposure to groups of small children. He looked shifty.

"We give them a beaker of water. At ... intervals".

I love this. So marvellously Soviet.

In the meantime, his elder brother is in the basement, doing "Science", though all I have seen so far is four coffee filter papers that are supposed to represent the northern lights. I think they are actually building a life-sized replica of Sputnik 5 out of egg boxes and an makeshift glue (Atelier Collage having all the real stuff) made from Speculoos and tears. Either way, he is also, it appears, having a whale of a time. I dread to think what this implies about my parenting.

At the end of the week there is an "Exhibition". I can hardly wait.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

10 Self-Help Books I Could Write

Feel The Fear And Hide In Bed Feeling Like Life Is Passing You By Whilst Passively Consuming Social Networking Sites

Dynamic techniques for turning fear, indecision and anger into more fear, indecision and anger, but with an added layer of Twitter and self-flagellation!

2. Men Are From Mars, Women Are Absolutely Fine, No Nothing's Wrong, Why On Earth Should It Be?

My ten step plan to silent, resentful loving! Learn how to express your displeasure by harnessing the awesome power of passive aggressivity when your partner unaccountably fails to read your mind.

3. Getting to Doormat: Of Course I'll Lend You Ten Grand, Are You Sure That's Enough and Would You Like This Kidney, No Honestly I Don't Really Need It?

A moron's guide to negotiating. Follow these simple rules and ensure you'll get nothing but an all-consuming sense of resentment and impotence!

4. Who Moved My Despair?

Failing to anticipate and manage even the most positive change thanks to a relentlessly gloomy, superstitious mindset better suited to a Medieval peasant.

5. Women Who Overthink Too Much

In Part 1 of this invaluable guide, you'll learn how to fully script a ten second conversation with the postman several days in advance and still be sweaty palmed and incoherent when you open the door. In Part 2, you discover how to spend most of the next week rehashing and dissecting that ten second conversation in new and exciting ways that reveal your essential crapness. A must-read.

6. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Procrastinators

Powerful lessons in rearranging the kitchen cupboards to obtain better than ever management of your tinned goods inventory, whilst deadlines assail you from all sides!

7. The Demented Little Mother

The simple secrets of shouty, inconsistent parenting: appease and alarm your children in equal measure with this easy to follow routine.

8. Difficult Conversations: How to Entirely Avoid Discussing Anything That Might Lead To Unpleasantness, or If Pressed, To Discuss It So Obliquely That No-One Has A Clue What You're Saying

Learn the age old secrets of the English in this new guide. Remember: we didn't get where we are as a nation by Talking About Stuff!

9. Hemlock For The Soul: 101 Ways To Whine and Bitch Your Way To Mental Health

By rights no-one should give a shit about your puny first world problems, but this guide will teach you how to inflict them on everyone you know regardless, exhausting any shred of sympathy they might ever have had for you!

10. I'm OK (As Long As You Pretend You Like Me), You're OK (But I'm Probably Obscurely Judging You On Some Level).

Leverage your own insecurities to think faintly uncharitable thoughts about others, then hate yourself for it, whilst irrationally craving approval from all around you!

New year, new brain

I wrote and deleted a lot of stuff on Friday, some of which read like an Oscar acceptance speech, some like notes scribbled on the back of a napkin and discarded by Alain de Botton after taking all Switzerland's hallucinogens, and some that was just random listing of badass animals I quite like. It all had to go, and then I got distracted by a full day of rain, compulsive baking and light child haranguing. Then I tried again last night and got distracted by exhaustion and wine. I didn't realise quite how accurate my prediction in the last post that it would be the last coherent thing I would write would prove.

Anyway, when I finally got back to this I decided that the only important thing for 2011 was that I should lighten up a bit.


I will not be wiser, or grow a backbone, or learn how to say no, or reduce my electricity bill or call my family more often, or shout less, or eat more fruit, let's face it. But if there's nothing else, there must be more inappropriate levity. Last year was the year in which I got sucked into fretting, self-flagellating and catastrophising. It wasn't exactly unjustified, in the circumstances, but enough is enough. I am boring myself. I am boring commenter Naomi. I am surely boring you. (If you are bored right now, do a google image search for "bored animals", it's weird and a bit wrong, very few of them look bored but it features both an aye aye and a turtle with a protuberance that reminds me unpleasantly of Julius's demise). Thank you so much for still reading, even though I have been a boring bastard all year. It was almost as if I didn't dare be flippant, or silly, because of all the serious things that were happening. But you know what? Fuck that. Moping is doing no-one any good.

So instead of giving it some big old New Year retrospective, I just drew my brain last night to remind us of the good old days. Then, this morning, I tried to take a less shit photo of it and there was some kind of technological bitchfight between my Macbook and my SD card and decent brain photo was the collateral damage. So here! Have a really shit photo! If you click on it, it's half legible. I think the stygian gloom is probably an accurate representation of how it looks in there anyway.

Would you like to draw me your new year, new brain?