Thursday, 28 April 2011


You are all on your holidays, you English people, so I might as well just write about the dog, I reckon.

The weepette is extraordinarily world-weary at the moment.

It's strange, the amount of weary indifference this dog can convey. I fear he gets it from me.

Sometimes he lies like a broken corpse after a devastating fall from the 48th floor.

Sometimes like a gay centrefold.

'This?' his look seems to convey. 'You need this? Give me a fucking break. You look at the ratchet screwdriver like it's Fermat's last theorem. Let me rest my heavy, heavy head on it while I contemplate the futility of existence'.

This morning it rained for the first time in weeks, and the weepette, whose memory is unreliable (but not as bad as the simple dog's, god this made me laugh) had entirely forgotten about rain. He stepped outside gingerly and froze, appalled at the whole water from the sky thing. Fingers had to drag him down the road in miserable confusion, claws scritching along the pavement as he tried to cower under cars and make a break back for the house.

"Come ON dog" we coaxed (bullied) him as he stared in abject misery at us, unable to make any sense of the falling wetness.

He really does look extravagantly unhappy most of the time. That's his superpower, looking extravagantly unhappy. If I leave him outside a shop for two minutes, he will gather a small crowd of concerned well-wishers within seconds. "Poor little thing!" they say, as Oscar cowers, with a sheepish glance at me. "He looks so folorn!"
I bet I could leave a child wandering the streets for a similar length of time without exciting the slightest bit of attention.

It made a nice change, then, when someone at the gulag looked at him appraisingly this afternoon and said "isn't he getting a bit .. FAT?"


Poor Oscar. Body dysmorphia dog is body dysmorphic. He will hide in this blanket, stony with despair, for 6 months now. We have so much in common, he and I. He's even going bald! All he needs is a purple tracksuit and a face like a Glaswegian heroin addict.

(Belgium, incidentally, doesn't seem to be going big on the whole royal wedding thing. I asked Lashes if anyone had mentioned le mariage to him at school and he looked blank. I tried to explain and he looked blanker still, and deeply bored, as well he might, then started on a long anecdote about whether three horned cameleons could lose a horn. ).

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


An impromptu visit from my landlady was a nice gloss on the day, which already included some intense bank related angst and a vomiting Fingers. Fingers is not actually vomiting now, of course. He has been perfectly peachy since I was summoned to collect him from school (having previously sent me running to the supermarket at half 7 on a Camembert box emergency for vital school craft projects, oh Mother's Day is shaping up nicely again) about an hour after he arrived there, and has spent the day snacking, bouncing off the furniture, asking questions and generally being on absolutely top form. Ah well, rather that than the alternative.

Into a nest of squalor and chaos, then, stalks my landlady, unannounced, slipping in behind the postman like a tweedy Nosferatu, claiming to have texted me. She is in her sixties, I suppose, but she wears it heavily, wearily, with that leathery patrician finish to her, as if she's spent the last fifty years riding to hounds. She's whip thin, with an impeccable grey helmet of a bob, and a nice line in tweed separates, often a polo neck, often with some kind of chain on her neck over the top, drawing the eye to her bony clavicles. Her lips are drawn together in a tight grimace of disapproval that she doesn't even bother to try and rearrange into any kind of greeting. Thankfully I am not wearing the Tracksuit of Inadequacy, but I am wearing trousers that seem to be made of some kind of wipe clean material favoured by hospital orderlies and a grubby hoodie. I am unwashed. My shoes - Marks & Spencer flats - have split open down both sides, mysteriously She casts a disdainful eye around the house, and over me, as well she might. The dog, totally misreading her, bounds over and jumps up, ball in mouth, pawing at her impeccable, skinny knees. I push him away, ashamed. After a brief inspection, she declares that what she has come to look at is my responsibility to fix (of course), declares herself uninterested in the collapsing wall of vegetation in the back garden for the moment and fixes me with a gimlet eye.

"The Von Trapps".

A quiver of dread shakes me as I remember them, and them, disapproving and dessicated, with their plainsong singing, saxophone practising, jumper tied around the shoulders, bouffant haired troup of indentikit Catho-kids. "Yes?"

"I have never had worse tenants. €4000 of cleaning costs. €4000!"

"Goodness. Well, they did have a lot of children".

"And they didn't even get their post redirected! I have a pile of post COMME CA (she gesticulates, her hands a metre apart) for them, Madame. The tax, the water, the Commune".

"Yes, the community policeman rang me up to try and find out what had happened to them".

"Hmm. I thought I'd hit gold there, a good Catholic family, especially when they moved the giant crucifix and the missal into the bedroom. I thought they'd be responsible, strict, have a sense of duty towards others".


"But no! Disgraceful. We're in court tomorrow morning. If they turn up. They probably won't. It's a point of principle for me now, I won't back down".

She stares at me with weary distaste.

"I've noticed, the larger the property, the more trouble I have with the tenants. I have one man who lives in a basement flat in St Gilles, a cupboard really, unpleasant little man, always insisted on kissing me. Anyway, before he went into the retirement home (and I was very glad he did, I was always scared I'd find him dead on the floor), I told him "Monsieur, you're going to have to do something about the chip fat stains here". But when he left you know what? It was impeccable. Bon, it wasn't brand new anymore, sure, but impeccable".

"That's good".

"Whereas this lot? Disgusting. I would have been better off renting to Roms" .

Charming. Delightful lady, my landlady.


"So. I hope you won't be any trouble when you leave". Pointed glance over my shoulder.

"I won't".

"Good. So. You're paying for the shutters?"

"So you tell me".

She nods, and stalks away, leaving me feeling about 6 years old, in my shabby clothes, dirty house that I can't really afford, filled with misgivings about some hypothetical future état des lieux, my mind reviewing yet again all the tiny chips and stains and breaks that I know will land me in the small claims court facing that gorgon. I flop a floor cloth about for a while but the mess is too big, too pervasive. Where did all this damn STUFF come from? I could clean and tidy for a week and she'd still find fault.

Thankfully my small boy is there to sit on my knee and hold, delicately, forensically, onto my wrist with his long long fingers, still, and tell me in mind-numbing detail about macaws. He has extraordinary eyes, that boy. They change colour every day, like those mood stones that used to fascinate me in tacky seaside gift shops. Today they are greeny grey. His roughly hacked, assymetrical fringe, courtesy of the depressive barber has grown out so he looks less like an evacuee treated for lice. He has a blush of colour from the sunny weekend, the nape of his neck is golden. I rest my chin on the top of his head. He smells every so slightly of sick, but he is lovely and alive and he doesn't give a shit about the dust. I squeeze him quite tight, though not tight enough to make him sick again. 'When I leave', I think suddenly, a weight lifting, an arm round Fingers's warm stomach, 'I'll get Fatima and her kids in for the day and we'll all do it together. It won't cost €4000'. There's usually an answer. I try and tell myself that often. I wish I were better at remembering it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The clothes I regret

I think of myself as a conventional, cautious shopper and dresser, but looking through my collapsing rails of clothes, there are so, so many mistakes. Years and years of expensive, and cheap, mistakes stare back at me, gaudy and ill-advised, a mammoth jumble sale of sartorial disasters, and that's only the ones that made it out of the boxes when I moved in. There's a whole other layer of unmentionably horrible things lurking in the basement. Sometimes you get let down by the quality, or the washing instructions, or you grown out of a garment, physically or mentally. But the regrets that sting worse are the ones of stupidity, poor judgment. I look at them and they make me wince.

There are the pregnancy hormones attributable Pleats Please dress and matching jacket that make me look like a Vulcan emperor. At least I could sell them though, there are nutters - not all of them even pregnant - who love that stuff.

Then there's the far too expensive ivory silk top with the knot detail neckline that was beautiful on and off, then shrunk the first time it was washed. No hope for that, I fear.

(I'm only glad I didn't buy the dress in the same fabric and pattern, at twice the price).

There's a black satin Jaeger dress that looked so perfect, that I obsessed about, stalked online that and bought when I couldn't afford it, perched on a hotel bed in Edinburgh for M's birthday party. It looks like a saggy, synthetic, '80s party dress. Jaeger! What have you done to me? I trusted you, and you have let me down. You were supposed to be my safe place, the place where nothing could ever go wrong. Now I look like a choral singer in 1987.

The Gerald Darel wrap dress that wanted to be DvF but wasn't. Especially because of the peculiar fringed neckline detail.


The one shouldered red silk Jaeger dress - not because it's not wonderful, it is, but because I'll never have the guts to wear it. I'm simply not the person - not brown enough, not confident enough - to wear that dress, sadly.

Never worn. That's one for Ebay, I suppose, but I can't quite let go of the idea that through some magical transformation I will one day become the woman who wears that dress. I won't.

The highest of high patent black Louboutins that looked like bandwagon jumping, and feel like a special kind of slow, toe-compressing torture.

The Anya Hindmarch heels in the crackled silver leather that I chased around the internet like a woman possessed. I've never worn them - too fancy, too sore - and the dog chewed the special crackled silver leather off the heels when he was little so I can't wear them until they're fixed. Unworn.

The Paul & Joe tunic dress with the pussy bow that makes me look like an emo Grayson Perry. Another internet find, obsession, purchase, disappointment, mistake.

And then there are the thin clothes. They aren't really regrets in terms of style, but everything I bought when I was really, cadaverously skinny makes me a bit sad now. There are some brilliant dark indigo jeans that barely reach my knee now, an Issa dress in a violent green stripe, a lemon yellow Vanessa Bruno top, a Paul & Joe dress, all Brick Lane sample sale buys, back in the day when I would run away from work at lunchtime and sneak over to Spitalfields to hunt for bargains. There are all the tops that don't work with cleavage, that look obscene with my chest escaping from them.

Especially sad is the exquisite simple Temperley black crêpe dress with the silver appliquéd flower pattern, most expensive thing I own, never destined to fasten around this body again (unless I can get it let out? Possibly). I'm not sure I'd regret this, even if I couldn't ever wear it again. It's beautiful, and the first of the two times I've worn it was at BMF's beautiful winter wedding at Claridges, which was wonderful, memorable. I tried to put a great deal of petits fours in my handbag, and hid some flipflops behind a lamp post in Davies Street, then reeled home. It was brilliant.

And so much other tat: shrunken Top Shop t-shirts, a wealth of bad black trousers, all of them nearly but not quite right, most of them from Reiss, white shirts that gape. I peer in, then shut the door, disheartened by the quantity of crap clothing.

What, then, are the successes? Gap has a pretty high strike rate, as does Marks & Spencer. Between my Gap shorts and breton tops and this M&S jacket (cotton, 3/4 length sleeves, another stalked and triumphantly located online purchase, but this time utterly successful)

.. many summer disasters have been avoided. That jacket is on its last legs and I despair of finding anything to replace it. Cos has a decent record too, and there are a couple of Uniqlo +J treasures.

Heading up the price bracket, Comptoir des Cotonniers (sale, usually) has rarely, if ever let me down and my 3 Maje discount outlet dresses are among my favourite garments ever. All my other best dresses - 3 of them - are DvF.

Ferragamos win the shoe competition. These geranium ones:

.. their violet twins, the hot coral peep toes and the forbidding Thatcherite patent pumps. Most comfortable heels ever.

What does it all tell me? That I used to spend too much money on clothes. That I buy lots of black jumpers, but it doesn't really matter because they're all I really wear. That I'll never manage to replace the fabulous heavy Margaret Howell black crêpe trousers that were so flattering I wore them to death, and I should stop trying and try and find another kind of trousers that don't make me cry in changing rooms. That I won't go to enough parties in the rest of my life to justify the number of party dresses I already own. That I don't really know how to dress anymore, now that I don't have a proper job to go to. I'm ripe for one of those women's magazine wardrobe makeovers.

I started writing this today because I was yet again spending the day in my purple tracksuit bottoms, a shapeless grey t-shirt that I have inherited from some relative, and Fit Flops. I am wearing no make up and it looks like something curled up on my head and died. I needed to remind myself I occasional wore other stuff, that I won't always be grubby and pink eyed and dressed like a long stay patient in a psychiatric unit. Perhaps.

What do you most regret buying? What have you never regretted for a moment?

Monday, 25 April 2011

Tiny Bat Cave filler post

(Lashes, explaining to a lemur that it lays eggs made of finely milled cubic zirconia and nests in viking longboats. Scornful lemur is scornful.)

Not much to say tonight, I have just eaten some paprika crisps and I think my throat is swelling up. However, the Scary Bat Caves had not lost any of their magic. Well, they have closed two of the 'poke your own animal' exhibits. I thought that presumably international animal welfare norms had led to this policy change, but when I asked a staff member about the pick your own snake barn closure, she said, wearily "people kept stealing the snakes". Despite no pick your own reptile, I have had a blissful day staring at furry stuff and being told utter crap by my eldest child (The youngest spent the whole day walking twenty yards behind us, which is exactly how I used to send my father into incoherent rage, aged 14). Example:

L: The baby kangaroo lives in its mother's pouch for 2 years until it is full grown

E: But then how does it fit? Because it is fully grown and so is the mother, so how does it get into her pocket?

L: (patronisingly) You don't understand Maman, the baby is fully grown, but not fully grown like the mother. They are BOTH fully grown.

E: Yes, you are right. I do not understand.

I particularly liked how after a the €800000 entrance fee, both children spent a good hour and a half sitting on a patch of scrub ground looking for caterpillars on some nettles. Really? This is what amuses you? I have many perfectly good weeds and some bare earth back at home you would be most welcome to, hell, I'd thrown in a few stones for free and all the slugs you can catch!

Apart from the obvious attractions of earth and larvae, we were repeatedly assaulted by lemurs, fed some giraffes and spider monkeys, and discovered PIZZA CONES.

Look how happy they all are to have discovered pizza in a cone! Their whole lives have been but a set of empty, mechanical preparatives leading them to this, this convenience food nirvana. On a careless first glance I thought they were novelty ice creams made to look like pizza. I could sort of get behind that, cognitive dissonance, sure. But Fingers insisted I look closer, and sure enough, no, they are pizzas in cones. At this point I surrendered entirely to animalistic enjoyment of my ice lolly and the sun, then tried to catch myself a peacock, or a coypu, or ANYTHING to mate with, because the end of days is surely coming, and fast.

(other sign the end of days is coming, and fast: there was a deer in the petting zoo corner that was insistently following a gigantic turkey around, licking it. It got very angry if any other creature came near the turkey. This is not normal. No-one can lick a turkey and get away with it, surely. AND the lemurs were mortally scared of the ducks. Properly, twitchily scared. I think this shit comes straight out of the Book of Revelation).

The end of days does not seem inclined to come tonight, though, so I suppose I will just have to unearth some clean clothes and deal with the glaring and unacceptable absence of Pritt Sticks for school tomorrow, my spotty countenance and incipient migraine, the cowboy outfit that must mysteriously be sourced for the school fête. I also vow to get to the bottom of the repeated, insistent demands for "a used lightbulb and wooden spoon" from Lashes. It's been a lovely weekend, I hope yours was too.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Minor adventures in consumerism

1. Happy easter! Look, here is a gigantic egg with a hand-painted Atomium on it (I wish cows did graze in the shade of the giant burnished balls. I love this vision entirely). I quite wanted to roll it home with me. I have not had very much chocolate today. I managed to eat enough Daim eggs by mid March that the whole idea of chocolate faintly revolts me, not that this stopped me shoving odd leftovers mechanically down my gullet until my head is actually tired of the sound of chewing (that genuinely happened this morning). I need to have my jaw wired, or find myself a tapeworm. Or both. Or perhaps I should learn how to hand sew my own sack dresses (ok, this one is even more unlikely than a tapeworm)? I look bad. Very very very bad.

2. In more cheerful news, my coffee machine has risen again! It only deigned to do so after I brought it to the Nespresso shop, where it was regarded with intense disdain and my "régime de detartrage" (limescale removal regime) subjected to intense and sceptical scrutiny. I lied like un arracheur de dents. "Oh yes, four monthly. That's exactly what I do".

"Bon" said the flight attendant lady with distaste and resignation. "Since you have brought it in - in contravention of our advised procedure - I will test it for you".

Taking protective gloves and several miles of kitchen roll, to protect her from the contagion of my poorly maintained machine, she plugged it in, using only her fingertips, and with an exaggerated expression of revulsion, and tested it. It worked, of course. Bastard. Nespresso 10,000: Emma nil. I reckon it's actually preprogrammed to do that, just to reinforce the fact that you know nothing and George Clooney owns you.

(You are delighted that I keep you up to date with the health of my domestic appliance, yes? This is what you come here for)

3. I went to the Ikea on Good Friday, which I am sure is what the Lord had in mind, so now I have a desk! Well. Let's be clear. I have two large cardboard boxes in the hall that may or may not contain the necessary to construct a desk, and then only if one of the boxes contains a tiny handyman you can reconstitute with half a pint of cold water and a handful of kanelbullar. I do, however, have a garden table and two mismatched Bargain Corner garden chairs, so I can confidently predict that this unseasonally gorgeous weather will end within days and the rest of the summer will be spent going gently mouldy with the heating on. Ikea was quite painless, until:

(a) I had the usual attack of Ikea dysphoria ("This one or this one? What does it matter, they are ALL THE SAME and we are all destined to end up as compressed hardboard dust in a Anømie
occasional table!") round about the picture frames and plastic plants, and had to fight the impulse to put everything back and curl up under a pile of winter weight duvets crying gently; and

(b) I was once again, as always, subjected to the self-scanning spot check, and found to my shame to have failed to scan a €0,79 flannel. It was quite shaming, even though I had spent several hundred € on a range of essential tat and the security guard was pink with embarassment too.

Anyway. I am enjoying my table for the few scant hours the weather holds and at some point in the next five years, perhaps I will build a desk. Who knows? I like the idea of the desk. "Everything" I tell myself "Will be so much more manageable with a desk!". It seems a shame to shatter this optimistic vision against the harsh reality that it will be the same hopeless bag of distraction, procrastination, despair and bird wedcam addiction that will be sitting at it. For as long as it sits in a box in the hall, the hope remains.

4. Easter Sunday has gone off relatively painlessly considering.

Considering what, you ask, in your ones, and possibly twos?

Considering the following:

- I only got to bed at three, following an evening of Czech cinema and accompanying Eastern bloc refreshments. The film didn't last until three, but afterwards we needed more restorative vodka to cope with the absence of hope it engendered, and then I had first to organise the elaborate egg treasure hunt Lashes had stipulated most explicitly by telephone earlier in the week, and second, to spend half an hour catching up with the easter hatchings chez Ted and Sylvia Slechtvalk and Paul and Linda Ooeivaar (Miss Underscore's names). The former actually made me cry a bit. What? It was 3am and I had watched an unremittingly grim tthough actually quite good) film about a Czech secret policeman and had to place and remember a complex series of egg clues over 4 floors through a haze of hard liquor and stupidity. It was very heartening to watch the wobbly peregrine chicks dismember their first small mammal (M is rolling her eyes at this point. Birdcam has caused a rip in the fabric of our brain twinnage).

- I got the popping candy eggs because I thought they both liked them. Turns out Fingers no longer likes them, and with each egg he found, his face fell further. "WHY did the cloches bring me eggs I don't like???" he muttered, mournfully. Parenting fail number 8000000 in an occasional series. I am very glad they are back, anyway. I have missed them viscerally this week, for some reason. They are more glad that I acceded to them buying Rio Angry Birds, but everyone is happy, anyway. Tomorrow we are going on a Family Trip Out to the Scary Bat Caves and I am almost certainly the person who is most excited about it by a considerable margin. Will the capybaras have once again made a bid for freedom and be wandering around the picnic area in furious scorn? Will we take a free range snake home (there is a mocked up ranch part where you can go in and poke snakes who are not even in cages, entirely unsupervised)? Quite possibly.

- Oscar was far faster at finding eggs in the garden than either child, predictably. He has not learnt any type of lesson from the previous popping candy egg unfortunateness, and is still nosing round for forgotten ones.

- I skinned two toes falling upstairs and ran out of swear words into which to channel the pain. Sorry, Jesus.

5. Why is it that after 5 years in Belgium and eighteen years of legal alcohol purchase, I still feel filled with shame when I buy booze in a supermarket? What the hell is that all about? Is it a Quaker thing? It feels more like an 'I am only faking this adulthood business and could be caught out at any time' thing, but it's definitely got non-conformist undertones too. There's some kind of incredibly judgmental Scottish presbyterian living in my brain, and he/she has an opinion on EVERY kind of booze I might buy. The Presbyterian in my head only cares about what I am buying. Everyone else can buy any variety of booze they like with impunity.

This is my hierarchy of my supermarket booze shame, from least to most (please tell me if you experience this, and where yours differs from mine. Understand that I will, and do, buy all of these. It is just the degree of mortification that varies):

- Wine (acceptable face of alcohol exemption, also used in cooking)
- Premium spirits (might be a gift?)
- Budget gin, rum (might be a party, but might also be low rent solo boozing)
- - Fizzy wine, but not champagne (possibly a gift, but whiff of the hen party/Per Una/relentlessly organised fun )
- Champagne (ostentatious, showing off)
- Budget vodka (far more likely to denote low rent solo boozing than a party)
- Wine box (dypso with pretentions)
- Pre-mixed cocktails (so naff, but so convenient)
- And this mystifies me, especially living in a place where it is not really considered alcohol at all, but as a vital staple, BEER. I am inexplicably mortified when I have to buy beer, and I cannot get to the bottom of why. What unjustifiable prejudices about beer is my brain unconsciously holding? I do not know, and I fear I cannot be truly happy in Belgium until I work it out.

Great drama, you see, here, on this bank holiday weekend. I hope yours has been peaceful and full of polyphenols.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Friday fantasy

1. Things that are shaping up to be a tremendous pain in the ass

(a) Dealing with the evil empire of Nespresso, the Scientologists of coffee, over my defective, capsule eating, money pit of a coffee machine. Do I have a receipt? No. I do not appear to have a receipt. WOE! WOE! I will be ejected from the shiny, sinister boutique where everyone wears cravats and looks like flight attendants, and sent down to some basement dungeon where John Malkovitch will kick me to death. It is my own fault for having beverage aspirations above my pay grade, I expect.

(b) The garden. A man comes to give me a quote for making the garden look less fucked. He is a lovely, helpful man. Truly. As part of his helpfulness, and to save me money, he tells me that both my main areas of concern are in fact my neighbours responsibility. I think he doesn't quite appreciate that I would rather gnaw down the over-hanging branches with my teeth than get into neighbour unpleasantness on the one side, and negotiations with my landlady on the other. Ah, British social awkwardness and conflict avoidance is a force to be reckoned with. My landlady's default position on everything is that it is my fault. I can't really blame her, that's my default position too, but she is impressively convinced of my fecklessness.

Example 1:

E: Er.. the heating is not working and I have no hot water?


Example 2:

E: Er .. the house next door that you own is leaking water into my basement damaging my stuff?


(c) These talking easter eggs I bought for virtually no money from discount shop, Blokker.

No, that seems like a perfectly sensible idea! It's as if the drowning in the fishtank, then burying, of the Tamagotchi never happened. And no-one mention the dreaded 'bougie magique' that sang, drunkenly, as it set the flat on fire. Small cheap electronic novelties are ALWAYS a good idea, right?

(Blokker reminds me of Boyes in the UK. It has that same smell of long-outlawed solvents, remaindered confectionery and insane bargains. I love it.)

2. Consider the mouse deer

E: The mouse deer blows my mind. I mean .. how? I keep staring. Is it photoshop? I can't believe it actually exists.

Cephalopod correspondent: How does the mouse deer WALK? I want to see it in motion. I can't imagine it do anything other than totter appealingly.

M: Isn't that the one I put Helena Bonham Carter's face on?

3. The goat part

The ING, my long-suffering, but also rubbish, bank, have released this advert featuring a man getting his toes licked by a goat. I can't help but admire it. Of course, in real life the goat would eat his whole foot. Then his computer. Then his wallet. Then the rest of him.

4. Paris fantasy

M and I spent some time yesterday cheering ourselves up by imagining a perfect day in Paris. It started innocuously enough with me moaning about how very much I want a trip to superior frozen foods purveyor, Picard (they actually deliver to Belgium online, but I want a trip to the shop to peer into the freezers and choose 18 boxes of miniature salted caramel eclairs, to eat before they are entirely defrosted).

M: OH MY FUCKING GOD. I would kill for that. And I want a sandwich grec by Notre Dame somewhere with super hot fries.

E: Do you? I want to go back to that cold soba and crispy crispy tempura place in the 2ème.

M: Yes! And then the lovely box of petits fours for pudding.

E: (simultaneously) And the Sadaharu Aoki petit fours. Lots of them.

E/M: Snap!

M: Then we could go to Maje and buy shit.

E: Or Le Bon Marché. Because then we could stop off at La Grande Epicerie .We might be too fat to fit into any clothes, so we could just go to the park and fall asleep.

M: In the shade of a fat pony. We would feed them outrageously expensive sugar from La Grande Epicerie.

E: Couldn't we just steal some sugar from a café?

M: Oh god, yes, a café. We can sit on a terrasse and laugh at passers-by. And have one of those amazing giant hot chocolates. And a cappucino éclair (from here, cake lovers). Could we go to a spa? Caudalie or something?

E: I went to the Caudalie spa in the Meurice once, when I had money. (sighs. Then brightens.) I hear the Nuxe spa is lovely.

M: Nuxe. Yeah, Nuxe. Sounds like 'luxe'. Must be good.

E: What's for dinner?

M: Hmm. Some sort of bistrot familal. Roast chicken and truffle mash.

E: Mmmmm.

I am supposed to be meeting Alexa in Paris next week, so maybe I can drag her on some small part of this fantasy trip? If I had to select one, it would definitely be Sadaharu Aoki (This Is Why You're Fat, part 873).

We were both enormously cheered by this, so I suggest you do it too. Ideal day in your favourite place. Blog it and link, or put it in the comments.

5. Warning

When you find yourself musing out loud to yourself "Why you hatin'? I LOVE Pokémon! I wanna collect ALL them motherfuckers!" as you wash the floor (again), it may be time to step away from solitary confinement and the internet.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Various Wednesday ephemera

Has anyone experienced having a total mental block about working in the place you are supposed to do your work? I am guessing the answer is yes, since you are human beings. I have found recently I cannot work at my kitchen table, where I normally work, at all. I think it's the sunshine - I can see it out of the French windows, it calls to me, I go out, realise I can't actually see if I try and work outside, come back in, feel dissatisfied and now faintly cold, and the cycle begins again (yes, if you look closely I am complaining about the unseasonably beautiful weather. Pinchy pinchy diamond shoes). This means that I am either working in bed - too redolent of nervous breakdown to be entirely comfortable - or in Pain Quotidien - gradually becoming expensive, and I know far too much about the lives of the staff and they look at me with faint pity, obviously assuming I go there for the company. Which I don't. Honest. Most days.

The time may have come to buy a desk. Do you think? Shall I? I unwisely showed the CFO the desk I had fallen in love with (too dear for me, though not objectively massively dear, very pretty, very handmade, look, here's a photo I took through the shop window and occasionally stare at longingly:

) and he bought it for himself, so now I am sulking, and don't want one made out of crispbreads from the Swedish deathstar. However, I think my muscular-skeletal system, and productivity, nay, my bank manager, demand it. Easter weekend at Ikea, that sounds peaceful. However: direct bus and cinnamon rolls. I could be persuaded.

I walked the dog round the streets last night rather than trudging to the park, because I don't see why he gets to choose all the time. It is strange round here at the moment, lots of people are away for the holidays, it is unseasonally, beautifully warm and the wisteria and lilac are all out so everywhere smells wonderful, and hot and dusty. Occasionally I would run into a gang of small children messing around on the pavement, or playing with water pistols, or riding their bikes slowly up and down the deserted streets. It was like being back in the seventies, I swear, I half expected to see the younger me wandering along in the other direction with a rabbit on a l lead (yes, I did that). Maybe I will take more photos if I do it again tonight, but for the moment, I ran into this amazing, brilliant, wonderful fountain which, although it is very close to my house, I have never seen before, attached to some kind of technical college/school type place.


I liked it so much, I looked it up and look! It it quite new, and was opened by the portly enfant terrible of the Belgian monarchy, Prince Laurent! There is a whole, highly philosophical concept behind it, predictably, but mainly it is an excellent fountain featuring bronze animals designed and made by children. I love.

I think this is a snail wearing false eyelashes:

This possibly a griffon?

(I love the way it is spitting water disdainfully out of the corner of its mouth)

This a jellyfish. Or a crab. Or a spider! No, I think it's a spider, definitely.

Further investigation reveals that this place is partly an école hotelière, which means they run a restaurant thingy in the school where the food is cooked and served by the pupils. I used to live near one in Paris (an incredibly strict, serious one as such things always are in France) and never went, but always wanted to, so now I am determined to go. I want teenagers to do complicated things with the backs of serving spoons behind my back and serve me flan de courgettes all for virtually no money. This is my perversion of the moment.

Three small whines and three tiny pleasures:


1. The house is intolerably dirty when I only cleaned it last weekend. How can this BE.

2. My Armani blusher that I love like a pony, and better than my first born, has run out.

3. I am covered in insect bites, of course I am, there is no frost in the air so obviously I must be eaten alive.


1. I am up to date on my admin. I feel quite supernaturally smug about it (even though it reveals, unsurprisingly, that outgoings exceed incomings by some margin, somehow the mere fact that I have that set out for me neatly in an accordeon file and on a spreadsheet makes it ok).

2. I still have no neighbours nearly a year after the Von Trapps moved on. I can lie, drooling, in my garden without fear of disturbance by madrigals, or trumpet practice.

3. Zizi is still doing its parma violet ice cream, also known as "this is why you are fat"

(Out of shot: dog eating 43 abandoned wafers)

Tell me yours?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Bonus post

That last post was so extravagantly BORING you get a bonus post. No, don't argue, it's my treat, I have plenty more tedium where that came from!

1. I am very very very fat (for me) at the moment. I fit into about 13% of my wardrobe. Of that 13% I would say that 11% is dirty or requires ironing and 1% is broken or missing some essential part. As a result I had a total toddler tantrum yesterday when the only thing I could find to wear was - do NOT laugh, I am sensitive - cropped, Dorothy Perkins, man-made fibre trousers. There was crying. Snot. It was quite pathetic. I am over the worst of it now, but the dilemma remains, let me share it with you (so lucky!).
- I do not fit into most of my clothes
- I cannot afford to buy new ones
- I do not allow myself to restrict my diet due to my history of being a batshit crazy eating disorder type. Give me a couple of weeks of the most modest calorie control and I would either be breakfasting on an eighth of an apple, high on smugness, fondling my prominent collarbones, or having nothing but coffee until 9pm then emptying the entire contents of Kraft factory down my gullet. You get the picture. I value the fact that I am not 'funny' about food anymore. I consider it one of my greatest - indeed possibly my only - areas of personal growth in the last 5 years.
- I cannot be arsed with exercise, and when I do it, I invariably get gigantic thighs. No, don't argue, it's simply never going to happen.

So. The fatness, it is a struggle, currently. I am just saying. Mrs Trefusis and I were discussing it (though she is not at all fat, not even remotely, she is sylph-like and stylish, I am a whey faced slattern in purple tracksuit bottoms, wearing broken patent Miu Miu flats with one bow missing to trail around the house developing mild agoraphobia). She favours "L'Oréal Paris (NOT Garnier) everyday fake tan, red lippy, huge shades (even indoors, like Anna Wintour) and painted toenails" as a quick fix. I favour .. actually, I don't know. I favour only leaving the house under cover of darkness, Chanel Mademoiselle, having an affair with a dry cleaner and extensive surgery. That might do the trick. No, I suppose I will do what I always do, and wait for it to pass, furiously. But what if it doesn't? What if my metabolism is trundling to a halt?

2. I also have an attractive facial wound. I have no idea where it came from, maybe I started scratching a hole in my face during the night, as a change from grinding my teeth? Taken in conjuction with the red hayfever eyes, I look like I have been sleeping rough for approximately 5 years. It is quite the look, I can tell you. Sexy. Ideal for snaring myself a kindly, co-operative dry cleaner.

3. Apart from that, I am working on new money making schemes, because the current laughable one isn't working:

- Start my own version of the Bompas & Parr rabbit café here in Belgium. I reckon Nicolas from the Charleroi safari would be game, he likes a challenge. I just have to convince him to go into the rabbit breeding business with me. Easy, surely. I could make the cakes, he could deal with the rabbits and the customers. Who says it has to be rabbits, anyway? We'd probably have less of an intellectual property problem if we chose another animal. Tarsiers, say (my cephalopod correspondent of earlier today has got me thinking about them). They seem co-operative, and I bet you can get them in legendarily dodgy Belgian pet shop, Animals Express.

- Get someone to pay for me and F to go on a tour of all the most disgusting relics of Europe and write about it. F thrilled me recently with this quixotic promise:

"Someday we'll go to Gubbio. There's a whole saint there, all shriveled, in the church. Also there's a museum of torture. Great town. Good truffles in season. Saint in a box. Win win win win win"

- I still favour becoming a goat. I don't think goats have such a cult of physical appearance,but I may be wrong. Are your hooves pointy enough? Your eyes yellow and slotty? How luxuriant is your beard? Do my horns look big in this? Incidentally, Eireann suggested I open a goat café because "when it fails, there would be no problem with the excess stock and fixtures and fittings. The goats would eat it all". She has a point.

- I am open to other ideas. God knows, I don't seem to have any.


So, I went to that Cube thing I mentioned for lunch today, balanced precariously on top of the Arche du Cinquantenaire. Bonkers, but in a very pleasant, if slightly last days of empire kind of way.

There are only 18 people at each sitting and on arrival you have to listen to a sweet, faintly embarassed, I felt, hostess tell you all about Electrolux's magical technical innovations and the harnessing of tradition and cutting edgezzzzzzzzzz, in a sort of dark dusty garret filled with 19th century weapons and shiny new washing machines. Then they escort you up to the Cube - not remotely cuboid, rather the kind of random shape you get when you try and do drunk Lego - and start plying you with champagne as you gaze out over most of Belgium, which was bathed in unsustainably beautiful sunshine.

This is not going to be a proper review, obviously, because I didn't take a picture of any of the food, or remember what it was, and most importantly, because of the booze. However, I vaguely remember the following. Amuses-bouche: Prawn thing on a piece of crispy prawn cracker-like toast tasting strongly of the sea (delicious) , anchovy thing on a sort of crunchy black rectangle a bit like a mini pissaladière (also delicious), raw mackerel with aubergine purée (meh, ok) thing all whilst standing outside watching misguided tourists emerge disappointed from the various dreary museums they store up in the Parc du Cinquantenaire. Then inside for a sashimi-esque fish thing that had to be viewed through a reversed magnifying glass that made it look small (no, no idea why, it was pretty small to start with). The bread came with a pot of peculiar herbs and a pair of scissors chop up and garnish it with, and some giant shards of intensely savoury crispy chicken tuiles as a sort of extra snack. And wine. Lots of wine. Two kinds. Then sole with cauliflower and cauliflower purée and some kind of strange but delicious black dust, and squid made to look like tagliatelle. After that, the serious business started with an endless stream of puddings - Nettle mousse and magnolia sorbet with strawberries, a sort of mousse/ice cream/tapioca combo flavoured like pina colada (yes, I have made that sound disgusting, it wasn't) and eight million petits fours in a two tiered box of goodness, including a magnificent tiny cheesecake dome with a base seemingly made of nothing but chilled peanut butter, passionfruit mousse, weeny chocolate fondant, cinnamon marshmallow.. Many things were made into ball shapes in hommage to the Atomium which was glistening on the horizon as if someone had polished it specially.

Occasionally someone would bombard us with a barrage of pointless factoids such as how many hours it took to install the non-cuboid Cube, the unwelcome fact that it is not secured in any way, just plonked on the top of the arch (lovely, thanks), how many layers of dusty municipal government had to be cleared before installation could even start, or even the weight of the table. Truly. At one point, the chef - who goes by the magnificent name of Bart de Pooter and who was very calm and jolly - appeared to tell us that the table was made of coriander. That seemed highly unlikely but I thought it unwise to challenge him. You all sit together at the same table, so it seems to have taken on a sort of higher significance for the staff. The staff had various exceptionally peculiar jobs to do, like snipping leaves from the vertical hanging display to make tisanes, or taking photographs of guests on Electrolux branded iPads.

I took my own blurry crap photo:

That was the view behind me, which made me feel a little bit queasy if I got too close, so I didn't.

It was all very pleasant and surreal (though unlike Simon, I did not get either to admire a luxuriant moustache, or eat a bird's nest full of smoke and rereading his account of lunch, it looks like he got considerably more food than we did, chiz), and I only dropped food down my front embarassingly once. I'd suggest you go, if you have a pet millionaire to stand you lunch, but one of the factoids they threw at us was that they currently have 1500 booking requests a day, so you'll have to have very fast fingers. The only real weirdness came from one of the 18 being a faintly crazed Belgian patriot, who kept haranguing all the non-Belgians to admit Belgium had the best food in the world. On the way out, I walked past her standing, admiring the view, chin thrown back in Belgian pride.

"Say what you like, he had vision!" she said, presumably referring to the lunatic ambitions of Léopold II the rapacious sociopath who oversaw its construction using money from his murderous rampages through the so-called "Congo Free State". Er, yes, quite, do go on revelling in his glories.

When I got home, I had a magnificent and entirely unrelated email, largely to do with cephalopods. It contained the following:

"I have a mortal terror of things with claws, possibly stemming from the fact that once when I was seven I came upon a tank containing a large, lumpy orange crab which was meditatively stuffing a smaller crab, headfirst and kicking furiously, into its mouth with both claws; or perhaps it was the Japanese spider crab, as tall as I was at the time, that indecently dropped its gill cover and began picking through its horrid circular gills in front of God and everybody"

There is nothing I do not love about that sentence.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Owl recidivism and other stories

Firstly, you know at the end of the last post I said I was going to google image "tiny baby goat"? Well, when I did, a picture of my eldest child holding a goat appeared on page 2 (rereading this post has made me desperate to go back to the Scary Bat Caves, which is the best place in Belgium without exception, including the spa at Spa where they serve violet mojitos poolside). I think this is a sign that my corner of the internet may be eating itself. Caution is required.

Doing my quarterly VAT accounts this weekend has left me spent, weak as a baby, like some kind of mythical creature following a dangerous metamorphosis (yup, that's exactly what dealing with VAT is like, shut up). I need to lie low, regain my energy. I keep staggering out to the garden, lured by the brilliant sunshine, to lie face down on the grass, breathing in the scent of dog pee and lilac, as gigantic fat pigeons circle hopefully above me, waiting for me to die. The dog pokes me with his nose a few times, then gets bored and slumps down next to me to lick his bald patch. He is limping from too much ball chasing this weekend. I am bent and broken from sitting in a stupid position in front of a hot, uncooperative printer (someone sent me this while I was whining about the printer, which cheered me enormously), quietly whispering revolting curses and have an attractive sore on my cheek. I was woken this morning from an obscenely detailed dream about trifle and I have been trying to get back there all morning. I am wondering if I have the energy to go and fetch ice cream and thinking I probably don't. We are the poster children for Broken Belgium.

As a result of a weekend spent either threatening my printer or lying on a rug in the garden drinking cheap fizz, I have very little to tell you. Erm. Let me see.

1. I am going to The Cube tomorrow, which is thrilling. The Cube is a pop up restaurant in a glass box on top of a giant arch. My friend Simon went and got to:

(a) Stare at washing machines
(b) Eat a bird's nest in a smoke-filled dome (the bird's nest, not Simon)

I will settle for no less than this, and promise to report back fully. Maybe I will try and sneak out with a dishwasher? God knows I need one, mine is a master of gently warming the dirty dishes so as better to encrust the food on them. I hate it.

2. In bird news, today there is a list of everything the owl has eaten since it started incubating the eggs. I put it into Google translate, and BLOODY HELL.

"mouse: 28
rabbit: 18
pigeon: 9
thrush: 4
rat: 2
hare 3
jay: 1
frog 1"

I am slightly concerned that baby owl one may soon be adding to the list

sibling: 1

.. it seems unfeasibly hungry. Miss Underscore (very funny yesterday, incidentally, on Gwyneth Paltrow's concept of "grounded") opines that it has ADHD and needs owl ritalin. It certainly gets alarmingly close to the edge of that damn nest.

The owls remain utterly delightful. (I can talk about them briefly because M is in Jakarta with a very poor internet connection and a date with some zorses, so she won't get around to kicking me). Both babies are fat and fluffy, as you would be on a diet of HARES. However, I have developed a more worrying fascination with the Slechtvalk, which seems to be living out its own melancholy avian psychodrama. The Slechtvalk (peregrine falcon?) spends its every waking moment, as far as I can ascertain, lying face down in an unembellished, empty nestbox full of small pebbles, which seems to me a healthy attitude to impending motherhood of a brood of 5 merciless, ravenous, scrawny balls of fluff. If it didn't occasionally turn round, or raise its head, grimly, I wouldn't even know it was alive. Occasionally, you can hear the tinny sound of far away radio, which adds extra poignancy to the scene. I wouldn't say she was exactly glowing. Once, in a scene of great Pinteresque drama, the male slechtvalk turned up and hovered awkwardly on the nestbox threshold for half an hour. The female did not react in any way. It was fabulously gloomy.

Further use of Google Translate seems to suggest that they are taking it in turns to lie face down on the pebbles in an attitude of catatonic despair. Well, I think that's what this means:

"During the daylight period, however, the male half of the time on the eggs. The female takes almost the entire night period accounted for, although we have seen that the male still in the dark can be paid off. It seems the temperature to be related. We see that all the male great difficulty for the whole brood to retain good and incubated. At night it is colder and it is important that tired with her great body incubates the eggs".

Tomorrow, I will tell you about how I am being terrorised by a book without even opening it. I wouldn't exactly say it's worth waiting for, but it's all I have.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Goose Attack

I had some kind of random discharge of electricity in my brain yesterday afternoon which resulted in me inviting another small child to the cinema with me and Team Indifference. This was in itself not fatal (though the talking, dear lord nathan, the talking, I found myself longing for them to fast forward to some nice adolescent grunting). At the cinema we met up with child 4 and child 5, nominally supervised by their mother, and through some appalling tactical miscalculation on my part (I blame Hop, which was atrocious, for rotting my remaining grey matter), and some savvy manoeuvring by Lashes, ended up with two extra children for the night:

L: Can X stay the night? It's nearly my birthday, and I really want him to.

E: Errrr...

L: Pleeeeasse? It's the holidays! We will be soooo good!

E: Does X even WANT to stay the night (hopeful, he's scared of dogs)?

X: Yes! Yes I do! I am not even a tiny bit scared of the dog now!

E: (sensing defeat) We need to check with his mother, they might need him to come home? (Ha, as if. We check. She is delighted to get rid, of course)

Repeat process with Child Y, except the refusing is INFINTELY HARDER, because Child Y's mother is standing there and I can see that she, like any sane parent, is highly in favour and now I've said yes to X, how can I say no to poor Y? I can't, can I? Fuck. I try one last time:

E: Y, you know I have a dog, don't you? Are you scared of dogs?

Y (contemptuously) Of COURSE not!

And thus I was defeated, due to my own stupidity. Both X and Y were, of course, royal pains in the arse with the dog, flapping round and shrieking if he came anywhere near them. The dog found them by turns thrilling and terrifying, and spent the evening whining at the precise pitch that ensures maximum irritation to all parties. This is not remotely entertaining is it? Believe me, it was a whole lot worse if you were actually here.

(Incidentally, and by way of additional context, on the way home from the cinema with four children, I got into a fight on the tram, just to add to the general mood of serene contemplation and peaceful enjoyment. A man shoved teeny tiny Fingers violently out of his way, sending him flying, and the beserker rage came upon me and I found myself squaring up to him, millimetres away from his face, possessed like a fury, asking him what the fuck he thought he was doing assaulting a child. In the end he apologised but there were a few moments when I thought I might actually get myself arrested for fist fighting in the tram. In front of 4 children, not all of whom were mine, which would have been a new low, surely. But it was one of those moments where you get that demented red mist on. It's my Glaswegian side. Touch mae wean and feel the full force of my 5'4", profoundly unfit, weedy armed rage. I did once get into a fist fight at Liverpool Street station when 6 months pregnant, which ended up with me getting slapped in the face, so I have Previous. The Quakers would be so proud. The childre were unmoved, except by the fact I used A Rude Word).

So. I am at home. I have 4 children. The children do not sleep much, and instead concentrate on shrieking and fighting and taking all their clothes off. I have no food for the children because I was not expecting them, and have to conjure 4 packed lunches (FOUR) out of some stale crusts and 2 wafter thin ham slices and a drooping, flaccid carrot and some speculoos pieces scavenged from the bottom of my handbag between 4.

This morning, in quick succession, the following happens:

1. We are running late, I shriek at the children to put their shoes on. When Fingers puts his on, the other three collapse laughing because they have filled his shoes with toothpaste. Toothpaste! Boys. You are so freaking funny. Thank goodness I am wearing my corset, my sides are splitting, though you might prefer it if I was wearing some kind of restraints because I NOW WISH TO KILL YOU ALL.

2. I round them up and cattle prod them down the street to the tram. On the way we come across a group of local residents, lurking around, plainly excited about something. I assume it is just a new hole in the road for them to stare at, and breeze past. I notice, vaguely, that there is some kind of peculiar noise, like a sort of, what? Honking? Yes, honking. Suddenly we see the object of their attention, which is, on a busy street, a brood of seven baby geese and their parents, staggering around, faintly disorientated. The baby geese keep wandering off in the wrong direction and falling over, much like the small boys, except the baby geese are not so bloody noisy. Everyone is staring, bemused, at the geese. When anyone tries to get past their cohort, mama goose ATTACKS, hissing, beak out, pecking at legs, and handbags and anything she can grab hold of. Several people fall victim to brutal goose attacks and have to run away, flapping their arms and shrieking. It is very funny. Someone says they have called the police. I really, really wish I could wait and see the Belgian police deal with geese, but sadly I cannot. I bet they have a written goose protocol.

Once I have deposited the children at holiday gulag, with their stale carrot sandwiches, I come home to find the weepette guiltily eating the last few of what was, when I left, a full bag of popping candy eggs. His facial expression, faced with the mouth sensation of popping candy, is quite something to behold. It is his own fault, he is an idiot.

After that I worked all day on the sanity shattering assignment that will ultimately net me 43 pence, only for it, at the last minute, to be held back a month, so that's another month for me to lose my mind with European folklore. Hurrah! After that I went to the bank and my bank balance made me cry, so I went to get an ice cream. It's ok, nothing bad happens with the ice cream, it was great. I wish for the next 24 hours to be all violet and almond milk ice cream. I would bathe in violet ice cream if I could, but instead, I am doing my VAT return and trying to make the house look less like a bombed out slum. Don't you wish you were here?

I think we all need to look at a picture of a very small pony now:

Maybe one more?

(Yes, I have just googled "very tiny pony". Next I will google "very tiny goat". This is where we're at tonight. )

Thursday, 14 April 2011


I am back, and not just because M has repeatedly threatened to kick me. Not blogging made me morose, so here I am. After all, it's not like I have much to do with my free time other than eat Daim eggs, cry, watch Mad Men, pick at my exceptionally dry lips, spill stuff down my trousers, click dully on Cute Roulette, sweep the floor and snarl at the dog, so why not share a little of this infectious good mood with you all? Little has changed, I am still uninspired and writing like I am wading through treacle, but I will try to at least guarantee there will be no mention of ornithological events today. This is my promise to you (stick with me, it gets slightly better further down the page, I promise. Yes, I suppose that is also my promise to you, aren't you lucky)!

Firstly I went away for the weekend. Whilst I was away, I made the great mistake of getting on a bicycle. Some people are just not made for bicycles. I fell off into a hedge within twelve seconds of getting on, which may be a new personal best, at least since puberty. It takes a certain quality of dyspraxia to fail your cycling proficiency test (a test so easy it only seems to involve going in a straight line and reading a letter), and I am proud to say I possess it. Apart from that, the sun shone, and when I was not engaged in a little light swan-baiting*, I sat and looked at this rather pleasant view, whilst wondering what to eat next:

It was 28°. I got heat rash. It was lovely (not the heat rash, and not the bicycling injury, but all the rest).

I was also transfixed by the choice of red and white Bordeaux on the breakfast buffet. All hotels should offer wine for breakfast. Hell, I should offer wine for breakfast. I feel sure it would help.

In other news:


B made me laugh (he makes me laugh repeatedly) with this, this morning:

"I saw a terribly depressing, bleak japanese opera last night. Sample dialogue:

HE: " fan........"

SHE: "fan?"

HE: ""

ME: (leaping from box seat and strangling singers, shrieking) "NEITHER OF YOU IS HOLDING A GODDAMN FAN AND THERE'S NO MELODY."

Fin. "


This, from M and I, speculating at the possibility of a change of identity. Only on rereading our conversation, do I see that, actually, SHE came up with the idea, then made out that it was my fault. She is devious.

E: So, I have been thinking about running away to become a goatherd. Changing my identity, faking my own death, that kind of thing.

M: Oh man, I love that fantasy. Disappearing into the ether. You could make fromage de chèvre? No! Better! You could BE a goat.

E: Mêêêêêêêêê. So, you're in?

M: Eh?

E: We run away and become goats? 'Cos, you know, this human thing is overrated.

M: Yeah, sure. We can live off, errrr... the clothes people dry in their gardens?

E: Dude, we can live off ANYTHING. WE ARE GOATS. We start by eating our passports and take it from there.

M: YES! GOATS. Avec une barbichette!




(Ed's note: this is a stupid French song/game. You hold onto each other's chins and sing this. Then try and make the other person laugh, whilst still holding their chin. If they laugh, you can hit them (the 'tapette', see later). And you wonder why French comedy is rubbish?)



M: Wait. Hang on. I'm getting déjà vu. We've discussed this before, haven't we?

E: AURA UNE TAPETTEUUUUUH. I don't know. It's entirely possible.

M: *stern look*

*stern unflinching look*

E: What? It's my fault we've talked about becoming goats before? How do you work that out?

M: You so deserve a tapette.

The dog's bollocks

I do not know whether it is his age, or the weather, or just the universe fucking with me, but Weepette has just discovered sex. Yesterday morning he spent an embarrassing half an hour trying, ineptly, to fuck another dog called Oscar (a golden retriever so stupid, it seemed to be having trouble remembering how to breathe. They were a good match, actually), which was confusing on many levels. It has had a go at both children's legs recently, in a fit of confusion, and Lashes's large plush dog has had to be removed to his bedroom for safekeeping after repeated sexual assaults. This cannot continue, it is embarrassing. I do not want to see these kinds of public display from an animal I am nominally in charge of. The last time I discussed castration with the vet, he seemed keen for Oscar to keep his testicles, the dirty hippy. I will be returning to discuss it again as a matter of urgency, because this town is not big enough for two "Speedy Sexeur"s, as my children call the priapic and eternally optimistic Jack Russell in the parc du caca.


For an assignment which has taken my sanity and stamped it into a million tiny pieces, I have found myself occasionally dipping into European folklore this week. It is a dark, dark business, in which our pathetic British Morris Dancing, cheese rolling, antics pale into insignificance. I have, I know, frequently mentioned the Ypres cat throwing festival on these pages (it's on next year! Who's in? Field trip! Look, you can pretend to drown someone in a cauldron and everything!), but I have had reason to explore these other delights:

The "Doudou de Mons": Men between 19 and 45 who have lived in Mons for at least 15 years and have 4 sponsors are allowed to dress up as various things, including enormous bottomed horses called Chin-Chins. They carry a large papier-mâché crocodile (they say it is a dragon but they are patently lying) around and the crowd tries to grab its tail in the manner of small children on a French fairground ride, trying to grab the pompom. It has Unesco world heritage status, which should make us tremble for the fate of our culture and for our children, surely.

Festalavn Danish carnival, largely concerned with flogging. Wikipedia:

"A similar custom is mentioned in the book "Frauenzimmerlexicon", published in 1715 in Leipzig (Germany), which describes how bachelors and virgins "bid each other goodmorning" by flogging each other and spreading ashes on each other. This custom is also known in Denmark.
Earlier, it was mainly the young women and the infertile who were flogged. It was also common that a young man would carry his "fastelavnsris" and (of course gently) strike at young women he met on the street. Later it became the children's special right to flog their parents on this day. In any case, the reward given for the flogging would be a fastelavnsbolle".

I like "of course, gently". Of course.

A Fastelavnsbolle is a special flogging cake (this is a lie, it is just a lent cake, but that is not amusing enough). Lovely.

The Gilles de Binche. I think I have mentioned this before too (I have no original thoughts left), but I have found this hideous video to go with (I like the first comment that the music is "horrible, almost offensive". Yes, indeed):

(Do not, whatever you do, watch the whole film, it will make you ill)

Note they are all carrying ominous bunches of twigs. What is it with Northern Europe and carnival flogging? Is this really our idea of an unbridled good time, Northern Europe? Spanking each other with sticks with silly names? I despair. I want to go to Spain where they are all busy burying sardines. But then, in Spain, I bet they don't have Pacman pizzas drinking cheap beer.

Yeah. Suck on THAT, Spain.

(*Swans are not actual birds, so I am not breaking my promise. They are enormous, mythical creatures, part pitbull, part Komodo dragon, part giant sea-serpent. The feathers are just a disguise. No need to call the chicken police).

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


"Your last post" says M, which the crushing frankness I greatly value in our friendship "Was fucking insane. It basically just read OWLOWLOWLOWLOWLOWLOWL. I was going to count how many times you used the word 'owl' but I got bored".

She is right. The fact is, I am running on empty at the moment. I am devoid of inspiration in any part of my life - I'm not pitching for new work, not editing my book, not tweeting, and only occasionally suggesting you look at sleeping birds. I am not exactly dressed, not exactly leaving the house much. In fact, I'd say I'm:

40% Uninspired attempts to work

10% Cleaning (of which 1% Cif Multi-Surfaces, 1% virtuous, 1% Ewwwwww, 7% bored now)

20% Mad Men in bed (Mad Men - I'm on Season 3 - is really melancholy isn't it? Exquisitely gloomy, but gloomy all the same. I'm not complaining, just observing).

5% Sartorial catastrophe (of which 1% no make up, 1% dreaded skin disease, thanks kidz, 3% dirty tracksuit bottoms)

25% Fuzzy low-res images of sleeping o**s

It's not disastrous - we're not talking about a total facepasta scenario. Quite apart from the important fact that I have my health and all my digits and so on and these are luxury problems, I've done some good stuff since I went freelance (got fired). I'e got some good jobs through wheedling and persistence, met really brilliant people, done bits of work I'm moderately proud of. But just now, I'm a bit .. meh. Boring. Uninspired. Cowardly. Financial catastrophe is still winking at me from the horizon, but it's not absolutely imminent and I'm diddling around doing thoroughly unprofitable bits and pieces and feeling a bit lame. I think Twitter is quite pernicious in this situation, because it's full of people writing 8000 words a day, and getting brilliant jobs and doing amazing things. One part of me is delighted for them, and the other wants to put my head in down a waste disposal unit. Perhaps I should stop looking, but it's really useful in other ways, so I can't. Hmm.

So what do I do? What do YOU do when the 'can't be arsed' comes upon you, when your brain rattles with dust and owl pellets and dreariness? Do you keep on plodding through the trenches, or do you try and shock yourself out of the apathy? Should I ignore the absence of money coming in for a few days, give up and concentrate on getting some admin done? Finally sweep up that pile of dust on the stairs that I seem to be keeping as a low maintenance pet? Tackle the fact that all my clothes live in a heap on the floor? Keep writing and see what comes out? Lock myself in a wifi free box and do some hardcore writing? Go to a museum, a concert, a film, a petting zoo? Play the piano? Take on some insane project? Go on, give me some suggestions, I'll consider pretty much anything (offer does not extend to Morris Dancing or using the telephone)..

Monday, 4 April 2011

Ja, ik adopteer een oehoe

So, where were we? I am not dead. I went somewhere for the weekend that slightly made me wish I was at times but I Cannot Talk About That. No, not a pyschiatric institution.

Oh yes, I think I have a problem. My problem is this: I am in love with an owl, a female owl, living at an unspecified location in the Netherlands. It's bordering on a dangerous obsession. I can watch her sleep for hours, indeed I have just this evening sat motionless for twenty minutes as she plumped up her feathers and shifted around slightly. I have watched the clip where she gets all excited when Mr Owl brings her a rat (described with admirable economy on the log of events as: 'man brengt rat', which should surely be a film title) then she swallows it whole in the manner of the Bronx Zoo Python coming across an abandoned Big Mac at least 12 times. I get an indescribable thrill when she looks straight at the camera with her gigantic, scathing owl eyes, as if to say 'what the fuck are you looking at?'. I'm not too concerned about the effect on my productivity, partly because I could arse about pointlessly for hours without bird webcams, and partly because I find them enormously soothing. I can watch the storks' feathers blowing gently in the wind and feel my pulse slowing (well, until some bastard knocked the webcam. Now I can just stare at a close up of some twigs).

Anyway. I am in love with an owl. Earlier today, returned from my entirely unnatural weekend I turned on the webcam, greedy for some soothing owl action, and watched her dismember some creature (a bird, I think), dispassionately, efficiently, with long breaks for little sleeps next to a pile of feather and gut. It was perfect. It's oddly moving watching birds nesting. Seriously though, I feel extraordinarily privileged to be alive at a time when such a thing is possible, as opposed to sitting in some damp corner of the northern hemisphere with binoculars, a wet arse and a clammy slab of Kendal Mint Cake, all for the occasional distant glimpse of a wingtip of some hard to identify brown bird, as the previous generation (including my own mother and father, freaks) was required to do. I am turning into my parents, but with better technology.

On the basis of my lengthy observations, I am very taken with the owl approach to child rearing. There are supposedly two chicks in the nest now, but she seems utterly unmoved by their presence; they have not put her off her intensive programme of sleeping, occasional grooming, and extra hard staring. For one terrifying moment last week, I thought she was eating one of them, but it was only an empty egg. Not that I would put it past her. So far, however, her approach is entirely constructed around ignoring the chicks 23 hours a day, and occasionally flying off for a snack. She is sometimes gone quite a while, and you can just make out their wobbly, fuzzy heads, staggering around the nest in atavistic panic. I read an article in French Grazia on the train this weekend about parents who abandon their children for the evening to go to the pub, or out clubbing and leave them at home, or locked in the car. Being French Grazia, there was a lot of philosophising about the nature of the pressures of modern motherhood, and the mental tipping point where something culturally aberrant becomes imaginable, as opposed to UK Grazia, where I imagine they would have:

1. Made the offending mothers stand in a field somewhere overcast, their hair blowing in the wind and their hands in their coat pockets looking soulful;

2. Taken them for a special 'feel more like yourself and get back the old you' makeover, probably featuring a new hair colour and finally:

3 Put them on a special 'gain maternal instinct on the three eggs a day!' diet.

Anyway. I am telling you right now, there would be none of this soulsearching with owls. If she was caught snogging a bouncer after 23 blue WKDs whilst her chicks woke the neighbours with their panicked crying, Mrs Owl would not be all shame and contrition. No. She would barely pause to claw your face off before heading off for vole and chips and a lock-in somewhere.

I need to come over a bit more Owl with my own children, who have just reached that delightful age where absolutely nothing is more fun than beating the shit out of each other. I am ill-equipped to deal with this stage (which kindly observers tell me is likely to last "their whole lives"). Not only did I never have a sibling of an appropriate age on whom to enact hideous acts of mental and physical cruelty (I blame the parents), but worse than that, I was educated by Quakers. Pacifists. Basically, we were taught to sublimate our angry and frustrated impulses into (a) candle dipping (b) egg cup painting (c) Scottish country dancing; and (d) Singing the legendary Quaker anthem 'Old leather breeches, Shaggy shaggy locks (OH WOW THAT LINK JUST BLEW MY MIND. It launches straight into the audio and then goes round and round for ever. Quite loud on my computer, which is set to 'loud enough to hear the faintest rustle of an owl)'*. You had to see that of god in everyone, which, at least theoretically, precluded calling them an imbécile and hitting them over the head with a giant plastic iguana.

As a result, I am wholly unprepared for the repetitive, loud, amazingly annoying phenomenon that is small boy conflict. It makes me by turn panicky and furious. What would Mrs Owl do, do you think? I am tending towards 'ignore them completely', but also wondering about 'peck them to buggery'. Either way, I know it would be swift, low impact, and fiendishly effective. I really need to work on my owl parenting. I think I need to watch a few hours more, just to make sure I've got it...

*Strictly inaccurate picture of Quaker life for comic purposes, though I did do all of those things repeatedly in the company of Quakers at various points. I love the Quakers and have nothing but gratitude and affection for them. They are lovely. Including George Fox, and not just because of his leather breeches and shaggy shaggy locks. His implacable opposition to maypole dancing endears him to me greatly, and I bet he'd have had no truck with Morris dancing either.