Friday, 30 September 2011

Leave the house, idiot

Last night my friend R and I went to a slightly bizarre event on the Brussels equivalent of Bond Street. I have showed you a picture of this place before, noting carefully how on the Brussels equivalent of Bond Street, Tiffany is opposite tawdry fast food chain Quick, and next to the dropping off point for the vans of beggars who sit around the town centre. There are at least two, sometimes more, waffle vans parked on the street corner. It is very aspirational.

I nearly backed out, even though it was my idea. Firstly, because at the moment I look like I have been living in a skip and eating squirrel carrion and empty KFC boxes for months. I have a vague notion I need to wear "clothes", which worries me. I used to have some, I think. Now I just have pyjama trousers and sacklike Cos dresses that make me look like a mid '80s suburban pottery teacher. Secondly, I am fatter than I would ideally like, so even if I had any of these "clothes" I hear so much about, I would not fit into them. Thirdly, I'm having a moderately agoraphobic spell at the moment. Both of the people who used to regularly drag me out of the house have left Brussels, leaving me stagnating in my cosy nest of self-loathing and sagging confidence. On top of that, the freelance thing means I spend my days watching my double chin in my laptop screen as I fail to make any money and it's leaving me a bit .. broken.

(Yes, I am lame, and pathetic, and need to grow up. I can provide a signed and notarised affidavit to this effect if necessary. I got a comment saying something broadly along these lines recently and it was as if the contents of my own head had ghostwritten it themselves)

Anyway, I had a babysitter booked, and I was thoroughly sick of my own company, and R had made her husband come home early so we could go, so I put on a nearly clean sacklike Cos dress and off we went.

This is not a story with a moral, or an amazing redemptive tale, whereby within half an hour of arriving at the party someone had offered me a job sitting next to the tapir enclosure at Antwerp Zoo, writing wry monologues and occasionally testing lipsticks; thereby turning my whole life around.

No, it is more of an aide-memoire to myself to remember that leaving the house is broadly speaking a good thing. It was a rather odd concept, this event: each shop was supposedly serving a different wine, but since you - we - were only invited by 2 shops, we could only, theoretically try two, whereas it would surely have made more sense if you could wander around more. But we had an amusing time, admiring some gorgeous Ferragamo flats (I have tried and failed to find you a picture, and just ended mad with shoe lust) and staring at other attendees, who were extraordinarily dressed up, and included a couple wearing co-ordinating natty shoes pushing four chihuahuas around in a customised pushchair, like so:

It was so peculiar, their writhing nest of tiny dogs in the middle of a high end shoe shop where everyone was drinking champagne in their finery, though no one else seemed to find it anything out of the ordinary. I like to think of this as the Brussels "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple": "When I am an old woman I will take my dogs to luxury boutiques in a buggy and not give a shit what anyone thinks, then I will take them to the Cirio and sit them on my knee and feed them biscuits while I drink seven half and halfs". I aspire to it, though not with chihuahuas. Perhaps ferrets.

There were also some enjoyable dreadful outfits and some very very short men, or possibly my alcohol induced height dysmorphia, where I think I am far taller than I am, had kicked in. R not only charmed us into a shop we were not invited to but which looked more fun, but also proved incredibly deft at hearing the click of a champagne flute at 400 paces and drawing waiters into her orbit and there were some quite nice mini bagel type things and raspberry tarts. When I started to think that placing a sub-par canapé (a sort of cheese biscuit with a grape sliver and some white ... ugh. Stuff) in the matte black box of (matte black) pop socks in the Armani shop would be hilarious, we went home.

It was good fun and my conclusion is that I must go out more, without my adored and terribly missed human crutches. Brussels is full of funny, strange, occasionally disturbing things to do, and when I'm not being a dickhead, I love to go out and find them. It's a bizarrely entertaining place, this city. Even the New York Times says so, innit, so it must be true.

This weekend I am starting well by going to the European Space Center, deep in the Straw Dogs heart of the Ardennes, for a "Mission Discovery" weekend of space themed activities. The Space Center's address is "Rue devant les hêtres", which amuses me. "Street in front of the beech trees". Why not "Rue derrière Pâcquerette et devant le Massey Ferguson de Jean-Henri" while we're at it? Turn left at the one horned Friesian, by the gorse bush that looks like a banana. There is no trace of this street on Google maps, I note.

We are building micro rockets, testing zero gravity, erm, things and sleeping in "space design themed" dormitories (bring your own sheets). "The grey crumbling replica space shuttle looks so much better in harsh sunlight", says Dee, who lives nearby, encouragingly. There is even a bowling trip. I think the children think they are actually going into space, which may prove awkward. "There are no words" said BMF, darkly, when I explained it to him. I promise to report back.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Further mushroom thoughts

If I had been rewriting the stupid mushroom song for our risk averse times (and yes, I know about the Horse Whisperer guy and I agree mushrooms are a GREAT PERIL, worse than cars and honey badgers and crack cocaine), I don't think I would have gone for the lame picking, then replanting angle. I think my version would have gone something like:

"I met some mushrooms
Big/small/thin/fat/yellow etc etc"

"They were in the market garden of my uncle who grows edible mushrooms for the organic co-operative
Big/small/thin/fat/yellow etc etc" .

"And you must never pick the ones in the forest if you value your kidneys
"Big/small/thin/fat/yellow etc etc"

"And, indeed, are committed to the preservation of woodland bio-diversity
Big/small/thin/fat/yellow etc etc".

"We cooked an ate them as one of our five a day according to WHO Guidelines
Big/small/thin/fat/yellow etc etc"

Why on earth I have not been offered a job writing right-on lyrics for primary school songbooks I have NO idea.

Prog Rock, unsurprisingly, is a mushroom picker. You are not astonished, are you? He would emerge from the dank mist on our rainy Lake District holidays, his hands full of fungi, and place them on the kitchen table. Then he would then get out his "Mushrooms and Toadstools of England and Wales" and pore over them for several hours, before usually declaring them "edible but boring", which I believe was one of the stock phrases the book using in taxonomising mushrooms. "Edible and delicious", "edible and good", "edible but not good", "inedible but not fatal", etc etc. I have asked him to clarify as a matter of urgency.

("Edible but boring" is a good description for everything that emerges from my kitchen, I think)


Prog Rock responds with typical elegance.

"Actual rubric was less explicit, just "edible", leaving reader to interrogate its silences. This, when read aloud, would be unequivocal".

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Mushrooms: non-edible

I forgot, when discussing mushroom things earlier, that both children have been required to learn a mushroom song whose pleasing stupidity I have been greatly enjoying this week. I say song, but it's more of an incantation, since the "tune" seems only to feature three notes.

"I met some mushrooms", it goes, improbably. "White ones yellow ones small ones fat ones thin ones long ones short ones". Etcetera. All the mushrooms, quoi. We get the picture.

Then there is some prolonged business about picking the mushrooms and taking them home to maman in a panier followed by another jaunty taxonomy of mushrooms (big, small, yellow, very small, zzzzzzzz). Whatever. The whole thing is unspeakably sordid. What you do in your spare time with spored fungi is of no concern to me, mushroom song protagonist.

The bit I like, though, comes at the end, and I strongly suspect to be a recent health and safety inspired addition.

C'est défendu de les manger alors je les ai replanté!

It is forbidden to eat them, so I planted them again!

Oh? Ah bon? So why did you pick them in the first place, you utter sap? AND WHY ARE WE SINGING ABOUT THIS, THIS ABORTIVE NATURE DESTROYING MISSION?

It is a far cry from Park Grove primary, where if memory serves, we mainly learnt Flanders and Swann numbers.

In other news, rabbit/canine tension is in a period of uneasy détente for the moment. Initially when weepette ventures into the back yard, Satan chases him around. He is most insistent about this, the chasing, even when weepette has only come out for a quiet pee. Weepette runs away, looking appalled, then comes back, as if drawn, against his will, into Satan's orbit, only to be chased away again. Occasionally they try and sniff each other, an enterprise which is entirely doomed to failure due to their height difference, and once, in an act of astonishing daring, Weepette stole Satan's carrot and sat with it defiantly between his front paws for 30 seconds before giving up in terror and slinking back into the house. When they are not busy with this farcical routine, they seem to have settled into a fairly amicable cohabitation, thus:

Sweet, though personally I would not allow the dark lord that close to my defenceless, recumbent form.

This is all I have for you today, pet drivel and an impotent rant about mushrooms. However I can now spell 'young woman' in Dutch, so it wasn't an entirely wasted day (it was, really it was).


Another day in thrall to my pre-pubescent overlords, due to an entirely spurious school closure. Ok, it's in the calendar this time, but fête de la communauté française? Eh? As my friend R noted, pertinently, the actual French community of, you know, France (and its Belgian representation, the Lycée and the embassy) was still at work. Indeed, only a tiny fragment of Brussels seems to take this holiday and as an ignorant outsider and a layperson, I would have thought that a public holiday only celebrated, and celebrating, one half of the highly sensitive linguistic divide wasn't the most brilliant idea, but you know, whatever. What do I know? Nothing, except how to say that I live in Mons in Dutch (which I don't, but Angélique Dupont, Robald's new tormentor in the Dutch textbook, does).

Just as an aside, do you know what Mons is called in Dutch? Bergen. It's not even within wild guess-hazarding distance, is it? It sounds like it's in Norway. Perhaps it is. This means that if you are looking for Mons, you might quite credibly end up completely lost in some bit of Flanders, unable to find ANY signs for Mons because they all say "Bergen". You can see why Belgium struggles for common purpose and cohesion when it can't even call medium sized towns a name recognisable in both languages. I do realise that these things were probably not decided by committee around a table in Laeken sometime in the 1840s shortly after the European Nation State Creation Sub-Committee invented Belgium, but for my own personal pleasure, I like to imagine that is precisely what happened.

"And this blob here, in the middle to the right, the one with doing the marvellous things with steel and so on? What are you calling it, Walloons?"

"We thought, 'Liège', your majesty".

"Liège. I see. And you, Flemings?"


"Hmm. A bold choice, but I'll allow it".

Whilst I am complaining about that, an honourable mention for Mechelen, a beautiful medieval town with a fucked up name. Firstly, Belgium, two separate towns called Mechelen and Machelen in vaguely the same area? Asking for trouble. Have you ever been on a Belgian motorway in a tiny, failing Japanese lawnmower-car in the general area of Mech/Machelen looking for the Mechelen exit? Because I have, and it sucked. Secondly, calling Mechelen "Malines" in French. I don't know what Leopold I was smoking in my imaginary Laeken naming scenario, but this is almost as terrible as the Mons-Bergen conundrum. I mean, really.

I interviewed someone from China a few months ago who said he spent a miserable, frightening half hour at Brussels station on his arrival from Shanghai trying to work out how to get to this "Mons" place he had been told to find, when the only thing on the timetable was some frightening hybrid called Mons-Bergen. It's ok, the story ended happily, he's been living here for thirty years now (probably because he can't work out how to escape due to the impenetrable multilingual signage, but nevermind).

Simplistic geo-politico-linguistic digression over.

Things we have done today:

- Printed out many pictures of mushrooms for some ill-defined school project. Wondered why a an edible mushroom should be called Trompette de la Mort and whether the Tuemouche in fact tues mouches. Fingers also taught me the word for a mushroom's roots, but I have already forgotten it, not to mention being somewhat puzzled since I did not believe they had roots. I liked this part of the day since it involved me lying on the spare bed and occasionally right clicking on an image, while they fluttered around the printer, thrilled at the miracle of the rickety HP occasionally deigning to spit out a lightly chewed sheet of A4. The wonder of childhood.

- I undermined a rant about the correct use of capital letters by attributing the wrong gender to the word "majuscule", drawing generalised ridicule.

- Bought 4 cactuses for €4,60 and made them "clothes", out of old socks. Beatrice, this is basically your fault for knitting your cactus a jumper, and mine for mentioning it to my highly suggestible children. Not only is the floor covered in sock offcuts, but I am covered in cactus lacerations. It turns out getting a cactus to wear a balaclava is harder than one might intuitively imagine.

- Went to Ikea for no good reason at ALL. Left with 2 alarm clocks and a plush head of broccoli. There were no Daims. Let us pause for a second. NO. DAIMS. Has Ikea fallen out with Kraft, or whoever produces the Daim bar? How can this be? Why have there been no riots on the streets of Stockholm? Or is this simply an Anderlecht supply chain issue? That seems, on balance, more likely.

- Made the worst bread in the history of bread (and we have previous on this), bread so horrible we had to throw it away. Bread that looked like the ghost of my past come to haunt me, an eery amalgam of an Alligator (York's premier hippyshop) wholemeal loaf from 1983 and a misshapen stone gargoyle from York minster. As heavy as the latter. As dense, and full of what appear to be woodchips, as the former.

- Discovered Fingers has a tooth growing at a jaunty angle out of an improbable part of his palate. HAI ORTHODONIST.

- Watched the worst, cheapest most pointless programme on Guinness World Records, which seems to be ancient clips from across the world of people being underwhelming at pointless things. None of them dates from after about 1992 and they all feature lame-tastic voiceovers because of the language issues. It is really very, very bad, a close second only to "Hilarious Home Videos", which is like all the worst clips You've Been Framed rejected during the '80: fuzzy, frequently boring, terrible clothes. The children adore both of these programmes but they reduce me to the full high court judge in seconds.

"WHY? Why is that person jumping in and out of a pair of pants? What is the POINT? This is the most spectacularly stupid thing I have seen since ... well, since you made me watch the man breaking lavatory seats with his head yesterday".

The secret (that I hardly dare whisper) about these boys at the moment, is that they are lovely. Ok, they tease each other, and they don't listen, they lose their coats every sodding week and they spread pants, and Lego and biscuit wrappers and mangas wherever they go, but I love this phase, these ages. They are full of humour and curiosity and they seem to learn exponentially, like that thrilling phase when babies first start speaking and every day floods of words start pouring out, startling and wonderful, revealing a whole person you didn't quite know before. They have ideas, and they go off and execute them with an exuberant, blokeish confidence I'd love to have, even if they do leave a trail of water and iron filings, soil and shrivelled conkers behind them and show an unhealthy interest in Stanley knives. They need me far less, but they still like to have me around and so far, I don't mind being edged, ever so slightly, out of the centre of their world; I'm enjoying watching it all unfold. When it all starts to accelerate, I won't be as sanguine, I know.

Even so, I am quite excited to find out what they get up to next.

Tea making, perhaps? I could get behind that.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Rabbit don't care

On Friday the children were chucked out of the gulag unjustly early, in some kind of unofficial wildcat day off type action, and we were left to roam the streets getting bored of each other. Having exhausted board games, a trip to the horrible toy shop and some light bickering, we washed up at around 3 in the parc du caca. Just us, a gang of truanting teens with a tiny joint between eight and a couple of semi-feral Staffies, an unfortunately garrulous lunatic, the entirely silent, sad man with the Great Dane, and a liberal sprinkling of dog turds. The usual crowd.

Slouching ten paces behind me as ever, I hear Lashes call out with unusual animation (he's very languid at the moment).

"Un lapin!"

"Where?" We look round. He's pointing to one of the scrubby parc du caca "flower"beds. I go closer, squinting.

"There, look!"

Sure enough, a gigantic black rabbit is methodically chewing its way around the decrepit herbacious border. It seems entirely indifferent to the fact that it is surrounded by canines that would have been banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act in the UK and bored teenagers. Indifferent to the certain peril that surely awaits it at the hands of the slavering Great Dane.

"What on earth is it doing there? Has it escaped?"

"Hmm. I wonder if someone abandoned it?" On closer inspection, the gigantic black rabbit does not appear to be in the first flush of youth. Under its gigantic jowls the black fur is greying, and its eyes are slightly rheumy. Not that this seems to bother it in the slightest. It is making an excellent start on the beech hedge, working on the overhanging branches.

"Noooooon, pourquoi?"

"I don't know, really. Maybe they had to move and they couldn't look after it?" I'm trying to put the best possible complexion on things. Maybe he has a HIDEOUS, expensive disease? That seems more likely. He looks a pleasant enough old gentleman, really though, I think. Not sure why I'm assuming it's male. He just seems quite .. blokeish. I could be entirely wrong. Maybe it's just a butch female.

"We can't leave it here! It'll get eaten!"

I'm not wholly convinced that it would be that way round. The rabbit seems to have the eating thing pretty much sewn up around here. Even so, they have a point, regrettably.

"No, I suppose you're right".

We catch the rabbit without difficulty. It doesn't really try to escape, just sort of sits, world-wearily, as I pick it up, scratching me a couple of times just to show me it can, if it wants to. We sit down on the grass and examine it. It is a rabbit, without many distinguishing features, we conclude. It lunges, suddenly for Lashes, and bites him twice.

"Ow!" He's laughing, but also slightly shocked. I'm not shocked. I am recovering memories of my own rabbit, a miserable, bad tempered bastard who spent its life trying to rape the guinea pig, and methodically lopping the heads of all my mother's flowers. My attempts to get it to show jump over garden canes, or walk to the park on a lead, were doomed to failure from the start, since all Big Ears (he was inherited already named. My father's rabbit was called Heraclites). Instead, it just sort of lurked in the back garden, a looming, furious presence, for a ludicrously long time. I am sorry to say that the prevailing emotion in our household when it finally died, aged, what I can only imagine is about 350 in rabbit years, was relief.

The rabbit gives up on its escape attempt and starts to eat my trouser leg.

"Oh god, we're going to have to take it home, aren't we?" I'm not thrilled at the prospect, but it doesn't seem fair to leave an obviously domestic animal to fend for itself on the mean streets of Uccle.

"OUUUUAAAIIIIIS!" The children, however, are thrilled the afternoon has taken a turn for the .. peculiar.

"We'll put up some signs to say we've found it, in case anyone is looking for it". I'm not hopeful.

We carry our prize home, well, I do. He sits in my arms, indifferently, like a medium sized sack of potatoes. He is moulting like fuck, and my entire nose seems to be full of fine, sneeze-inducing hair. I am reminded of the story of my father, then living in the Highlands, giving my mother a rabbit to take home with her on the bus to Glasgow, to the puzzlement of all the (many) drunks on her route to Coatbridge. I am genetically pre-destined to end up with an impromptu rabbit, clearly. Rabbits are the perennial disappointment of the pet kingdom, I think, possibly unfairly. My sister-in-law had a gigantic house rabbit for years. It was sold to her as a dwarf lop-eared. It turned out to be neither.

We put him in the garden, where he hops straight over to the most decorative of all our fairly crappy plants, and starts eating it.

"Ouuuaiiiis! He's happy!"

The children lie rapt in the garden for several hours staring at the rabbit, and offering it things from the kitchen. Carrots, celery, rice cakes, cornflakes. It eats everything, and refuses all gestures of affection, loping just out of reach, dragging the carrots with it. The weepette looks on, appalled. Occasionally, when our backs are turned, he makes a sort of run for the rabbit, as if some vestige of instinct is emerging. When he gets closer, however, he entirely loses track of what he was doing and just sort of stares at it, hopelessly, fearfully. We tell him off and he slinks back into the house to stare out of the window at the interloper. The rabbit reacts to the occasional dog peril by hopping neatly under the bench where it sits, looking superior and not remotely bothered.

"Rabbit don't care!" says Lashes, laughing. He's referencing the honey badger, with whom I feel the rabbit would feel some kind of spiritual kinship. I do quite like its total indifference. It's the anti-dog; self-contained, entitled, with a capybara-esque expression of utter superiority. I don't think it likes us, though it will grudgingly accept the contents of our fridge.

So it continues throughout the weekend. My whole respiratory tract feels like it is full of rabbit hair and I can't stop sneezing. Every, but every, time I look out in the garden, the rabbit is eating. He seems to have an astonishingly dedicated approach to eating: everything that used to have a stem now no longer has one. Everything that had a flower is now trampled down. Bare stalks litter the flower beds as a stark reminder of our new tenant. Even when I look out at nearly midnight, the rabbit is there, sitting in the middle of the grass, chewing methodically. He's so big and black, and implacable, it's a little bit unnerving. I am starting to fear we have adopted some kind of demon pet, who will not give up until the garden is reduced to scorched earth. Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and .. Satan. He's probably immortal. I bet he outlives me. And probably eats my corpse.

No one, unsurprisingly, has responded to our appealing notice, devised and written by the children and posted around the neighbourhood.

"Rabbit found. Big. Black. Old" it reads, enticingly. The picture they have taken to accompany it makes the rabbit look piebald, which is also helpful.

Warning: does not ressemble actual rabbit

We go to the pet shop and buy hay and rabbit food. It is unsurprisingly far dearer than I remember, from my days at the Minster Pet Shop, staring wistfully at the chinchillas and buying hamster after boring hamster. I refuse requests to buy a rabbit leash. Once bitten, twice shy: rabbits do not walk to heel.

"Oh!" says Lashes peering into the pet shop cages. "The baby rabbits looks so cute!" There's a sort of note of regret in his voice, I think, at introducing Kali the dark destroyer into our garden.

"Well you can't have one, I'm afraid". Satan/Kali would probably eat them. "No more animals until you're ten. And not a reticulated python then. I haven't changed my mind".

So. It appears we have a rabbit living under a bench in our back garden. We are not really calling it Satan (or Kali). I'm resisting giving it a name at all, actually, in the faint hope that someone will have second thoughts and reclaim it.

Warning: photograph may present distorted impression of benign cuteness

What would you call a gigantic, elderly, ravenous, supercilious rabbit?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Oh my god it's a double rainbow

My neighbour took this amazing picture of our street. Ours is the one swathed in green polythene, which is always reassuring when the sky looks like that.

The smooth, smooth silicone baking sheets of home

Wednesday rarely brings much productivity, and today is no exception, so I wrote this while I should have been doing other things. Ready for further adventures in freelance inactivity? If not, save yourselves while you still can, and study the mating habits of the leopard slug (courtesy of Simon).

1. The dog waited until I left the house and ate my Caramel today. I only went to the post box and came back to find him licking the wrapper with the most perfunctory, token display of shame. I can only imagine he was quite literally sitting and waiting for me to leave, having already worked out where I had hidden my afternoon treat. He's a bit like having the worst flatmate ever. "Oh, I thought it was mine, sorry". "Oh, you weren't saving that were you? I'll get you another. When my giro comes through. Oh, just leave the washing up, I'll do it later. I'll have a tea if you're making one, thanks. We're out of milk though".

I was less furious, however, than I would have been, say, on a day when I hadn't eaten ten salted caramels with that demented "if I eat them all, there will be none left to tempt me" logic.

2. I tidied my baking supplies last night (yup, wild times). This is a classic soothing activity of mine. I love nothing better that a neat pile of paper cake cases, graded by size and theme. The chaos of the world, the state of the Eurozone, the plight of the ginger seal; all recede momentarily. Anyway, it transpires that far from evoking a calm, frugal orderly world of fresh scones, my baking cupboard is evidence of a dangerous compulsion of Elton John proportions. I discovered: 13 types of edible glitter. 57 novelty biscuit cutters. 4 loaf tins. 14 types of food colouring. A whole box of Christmas baking supplies, including: special paper cases, the rancid plastic pine trees and Fimo snowman of my childhood Christmas cakes, a silver robin, three sizes of reindeer cookie cutter, plus the normal bell/angel/star/bauble/holly leaf cutter selection. I kept expecting to open a box and find Jane Asher in there, where I had imprisoned her some months earlier. Except for the fact that she is all over the papers at the moment, so either she has her Blackberry in the cupboard with her, or the newspapers are full of LIES, and that surely can't be, can it?

I wonder about this baking equipment thing. I bake about once a month on average, I reckon, habitually using the same four recipes (Nigella brownies, Trish's sponge, random cookie recipe from the interweb, Hummingbird Bakery stupidly delicious and easy cupcakes even though admitting to liking cupcakes is as bad as, I don't know, liking James Blunt or something). I watch the Great British Bake Off much as I might watch someone trying to ascend Everest solo - fascinating, but not remotely relevant. 'Cor, a croquembouche cone. Hard core'.

On some level, then, this hoarding of supplies is plainly Not About Cake. Rather, I have imbued baking with some kind of ritual importance, so that in my head it is a proxy for all manner of nurturing, and organisational skills. A bit like my friend the barrister telling me that if you had house plants they wouldn't take your kids into care. If I have baking supplies, I must be a Proper Mother. Things I have an unearthly respect for that also fall into this category:

- sufficient numbers of pairs of scissors

- not just sellotape, but parcel tape AND masking tape

- a sewing kit which is more than just one of those stolen cardboard pieces of crap from a hotel

- a selection of wrapping paper and cards

- many Christmas decorations of great antiquity and most importantly, one of those Scandinavian fabric advent calendars with pockets, where you put sweets in each pocket. I gave mine away in a competition on here a couple of years ago and have been trying desperately to replace it.

The only one of these I actually have is the scissors, but in my head, this is what a "proper" home should have. It doesn't come from my own childhood, where the only scissors were Prog Rock's left handed ones, and no one baked except on birthdays. Ok, Prog Rock did own, and use, a darning mushroom, so perhaps he has left quite a deep imprint of what a real home looks like. I don't know, the inside of my head is an oddly reactionary, 1950s sort of place sometimes.

3. Whilst making terrible, halting progress on my edits of doom (which basically amount to: DO IT ALL AGAIN, BUT LESS SHIT THIS TIME, KTHXBAI), I did at least work out what my absolute ideal career would be. I have been having a considerable amount of professional angst, recently, but I now know what I should be doing, so I can call off the pitiful self-flagellation. What I need to work towards is becoming a writer in residence in a zoo. I have found little evidence that such a position exists anywhere in the world, but I don't really see why that should stop me. Having recently discovered real positions both as an intern for "EUROPATAT, representing the interests of the fresh potato industry" and as a reporter for Poultry World, reality seems considerably stranger than fiction. Moreover, I would happily do it for free, in return, perhaps, for the occasional cup of tea and slice of coffee and walnut from the cafe and a pile of straw in the tapir house to sleep on. Go on ZSL, you know you want me.

Let's throw this open to the floor. Either:

- What arbitrary thing makes a house/flat a Proper Home for you?


- What is your dream job that does not actually exist?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Eurostar Helpful Suggestions

Kapibarasan, beady with disapproval

Eurostar have just texted me asking for comments on their service, which is nice as I have many comments, which I outlined at dull length to them.

(My message went on in this vein for several paragraphs).

I basically love the Eurostar, it seems like a small miracle of the modern world that it only takes me two hours to go from Brussels to London, in great, peaceful comfort. The seats are starting to look quite shabby, yes, and their pricing is out of control, but apart from that it is an astonishingly good and efficient service 90% of the time. The remaining 10% is a black hole of catastrophe as the last two winters have demonstrated, but I did not dwell on those dark, dark times in my response, because I am British, a fact Eurostar relies upon to keep anarchy from breaking out entirely when it is keeping a train full of Christmas travellers prisoner in a metal box in a hole in the ground with only half a stale waffle and a sachet dehydrated Carte d'Or coffee granules between 300.

I also resisted the temptation to ask for one coach to be turned into a petting zoo in the Bompas & Parr 'rabbit café' mode, or indeed to text them the single word “owls”. Instead, these are my suggestions:

1. Segregate the middle managers

A “no corporate bullshit speak” coach where no one is allowed to cock on to their companions or down the phone about how well the kick off meeting went and how busy the next three weeks are looking, or how they've set up a call with the Dusseldorf team because they really need their arses kicking. Maybe seat pockets in these coaches could be equipped with a laminated card you could hand to corporate miscreants that would read “No one gives a shit about the third quarter sales results”. Perhaps they should also have a "corporate espionage" coach where you can listen at luxuriant length to details of the third quarter sales results, and the problems in the Swindon office.

Other coaches needed:

(i) The chatty American senior citizen coach

(ii) The stag/hen party coach

(iii) The bile-inducing beautiful, glossy haired, glamorous job, Euro-fillies coach. I imagine this one would prove popular with gentlemen travellers.

2. Self-opening doors

Because I hate that thing where I’m the person nearest to the door as the train draws into the station. The train always does this ‘I’ve stopped, no actually, I’ve nearly stopped, I’ll just shuffle forward a little. Ok, now I’ve stopped but I haven’t actually done that thing where the whole train sighs and the door release button works’. So Either I wait, and worry that everyone behind me believes I am a halfwit who does not know how to open the door, when in fact I am just WAITING for the moment when the door release button works, or I press it pre-emptively and look like a tit. Take door release out of the hands of passengers, Eurostar. It worked for London Underground, it can work for you.

(This, I realise, is the kind of anecdote people in group therapy were always telling, and I would nod along knowing EXACTLY how it feels to agonise internally about how the way you nodded when the man in the shop asked if you needed a bag could be interpreted as cold and dismissive. Group therapy was good for confirming that you are not the only one experiencing those kinds of thoughts, albeit the others are in the basement of a private psychiatric hospital in north west London).

3. Decoration

Give us something to look at in the tunnel when we cannot even play with our telephones and are alone with the thought that a gazillion tonnes of water sits a few feet above our heads, ready to crush us at any moment. Maybe a nice illuminated mural of fish outside? Some kind of son et lumière? Get Jean Michel Jarre involved. Actually, don't.

4. Get rid of that fucking statue

A ballot box into which we can drop suggestions for something to replace that godawful statue at St Pancras that looks like Jack Vettriano decided to try his witless hand at sculpture. I HATE IT. It is irredeemably naff. I would suggest a gigantic, deformed pigeon in its place, angled so it looks like it is swooping towards your head in low, erratic flight. What would you like?

5. Lavatory matters

Remove shelves from onboard loos, so that I cannot forget my possessions in there like I usually do. Also, what is it with that odd mirror configuration in the loos? If I wanted a slightly vertigo inducing view of my own arse, well. I don't know what exactly, but I DON'T and nor do most other people, I think. Confine such mirror madness to the Euro-filly coach.

6. On-board parlour games

Once passenger per train - selected randomly on the basis of seat number - should be required to dress up as Hercule Poirot and parade up and down the train asking the others searching questions.

7. Improved retail opportunities

Less crap shops on the post-passport control side of the terminals. No one wants to go to Caffe Sodding Nero, it is foul. At least the old Waterloo terminal had a bagel shop. Bring one of those back. As for Brussels, Pierre Marcolini is all very well if you are, say, Peter Mandelson and you have forgotten to buy presents for your serfs, but you need to sell a kidney for an 80 gramme bar of Peruvian Civet Grand Cru. Cheap and cheerful gift corner please: less Edition Limitée ganache, more Manneken Pis corkscrews (yes, you can get a few in the paper shop, but I want MORE) and sickeningly sweet Leonidas Type 2 Diabetes selection boxes.

8. A proper bloody loyalty scheme for the Eurostar lumpenproletariat

Even though you do not let us, the regular passengers who do not pay your ridiculous full-whack business rate ticket prices, earn enough points to reach Lounge Nirvana, the place where you serve roasted swan on a bed of shredded stagiaires, and celestial harps play the Ode to Joy, I think we deserve some recognition. So, I am suggesting that after 20 trips, we should be allowed to have a badge that reads "Regular traveller. Do not stand in front of me and faff for fifteen minutes looking for your passport or I WILL TUT".

I think that covers it. Anything else, Eurostar travellers?

Friday, 16 September 2011

I pine for the simple summer days of being bored witless (I don't)

I swear (inaccurate granny talk alert) when I was at primary school, the full extent of my mum's involvement in my school life was putting an orange Club biscuit in the pocket of my Clothkits pinafore and restocking my supply of Pullein-Thompson pony-lit at the library once a week. Now, my evenings and early mornings are spent running around in small circles trying to satisfy the gulag's stringent requirements.

It would be fine if I was comfortable with minor failure, with 'just about good enough'. But my inner joyless harridan and overachiever wants it all to be PERFECT. We control what we can, I suppose, when other things are chaos, and I like to sharpen the pencils and put the right things in the right envelope on the right day. The gulag always manages to outsmart me though, blind-siding me with a last minute demand for 17 used stamps and a 3 metre length of unpatterned oilcloth. I am very relieved the weekend is coming and we can revert to our natural state of lying around watching Steve Backshaw over-enthuse at wildlife and eating crisps and ignoring each other. Though who knows what fresh hell the homework diary may bring? A request to invade Holland, perhaps, or to construct a particle accelerator from cereal boxes and empty washing up liquid bottles.

This week:

1. Another 8 cahiers to be covered in the plastic film of parental punishment. We have run out of plastic film. I am not going near any stationery shops because the last time I tried, the queue stretched right to the back of the shop, filled with furious women searching for cahiers sans marge and farde à glissières and other esoterica. It's a film plastifiant stand-off.

2. A 7 stanza poem about a monster called Arthur for the whole family to learn, which Lashes has drawn as a sort of dumpy purple depressive, like Barney the dinosaur on Mogadon. He got 0/10 for copying the text off the board, which was an excellent start.

"Ses grandes cornes
Ses griffes pointues
Son nez crochu,
Tout lui donne un air morne".

"Do you even know what morne means, Lashes?"


"Well, it's that face you're making right now".

The poem rote learning experience is, I find, greatly enhanced by your children making fun of your accent.

3. A much shorter poem about a pelican with toothache, plainly written by someone on crack.

4. A request to draw an apple, and a rabbit, with a ruler. Why would anyone do that?

5. Request for €42 for textbooks, €15 for Tutankhamen exhibition, advance request for €250 for seaside language gulag in October for Lashes (how do you say 'second stage hypothermia' in Dutch anyway?) and twice €65 for skool dinners, chiz. This week, I note with interest that my children had Satan meatballs. Oh, alright, Seitan. Either way, I think this is culturally insensitive to children of French origin, for whom meat substitutes are indeed the work of the dark lord. Their father is horrified and heading off into the woods to kill a horse for them to gnaw on, I think.

6. Persistent anxiety about the curse of Tutankhamen, prompted by Howard Carter video. Impervious to all arguments about how far Uccle is from the tomb of the boy king.

7. Barrage of "facts" about the Nile crocodile, also gleaned from a video. The staff seem to be easing themselves gently into the school year with lots of videos, and frankly, who can blame them.

"It weighs 50 kilos! Or 500. Or 150. I might have got that wrong, the zeroes".

"I see. Anything else stick with you?"

"It has warm or cold blood".

"Good stuff".

8. Request to provide 2 swimming hats, a passport photo, three kitchen rolls and a plant pot. No further elucidation forthcoming.

9. Ninety thousand spellings to learn in two languages.

10. Some maths. I just ignore that, especially when it involves the freakish lips. "Yes, that looks right to me. Have you checked it? Good, good".

11. I can now introduce myself to someone in Dutch, and say I am pleased to meet them, but only if their name is "Angelique Dupont". This would be perfect if I only ever met characters from French textbooks.

12. On top of this, Lashes is causing me great mortification by insisting I find him someone to teach him Japanese (for manga watching/reading purposes, obviously, rather than the simple love of learning). You can't imagine what a pushy parent twat you look trying to find a Japanese tutor for your nine year old. Of course, I know that within about a week of me finally finding someone, he will go off the idea, but who wants to be the parent who refuses their child's bright eyed, lisping request to learn a language? He could probably shop me to social services or apply for his emancipation or something.

Ah, modern parenting. Fill in your own anecdotes about a childhood spent sharing one copy of the Sporting Post and a clog between seven in the comments.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


I went to meet Beatrice for lunch yesterday, passing through courtesy of Michael O'Leary's airborne celtic Megabus. I was wearing: grey woolly tights, red patent shoes, grey woolly jumper with t-shirt underneath, black wool shorts, short thick black wool jacket, and black pashmina (I know, I know, but every year my stepmother buys me a scarf, and this is just one of the many, from the foothills of the Ukkel scarf mountain. Also, it is cosy, I have a cold and I feel fairly sure no one will ever mistake me for one of those patrician, long-limbed, Middleton-esque sloaney pony types of girl, since I look like I have escaped from a particularly troubled period of the Dark Ages, before the local farrier took up dentistry. Today I also looked like a local mammoth had taken up residence on my head, since I have lost my straightening irons). I was, basically, keeping the European sheep and goat industry going. The Wool Council should have given me a loyalty card. The Moth Council already have.

I spotted Beatrice on the other side of the Place St Boniface and shouted her over. We kissed hello and then paused, stood apart and appraised each other incredulously.

"You're wearing a winter COAT!".

"Oh my god, you're wearing SANDALS! Are you mad? And a t-shirt!" She was. Strappy, open sandals, a t-shirt, jeans. She was all ready for the rosé-terrasse-salad kind of lunch, whilst I was very much thinking steak-frites, verre de rouge - dark feutré brasserie.

That is the kind of week it is. Mi-figue, mi-raisin (which makes no sense in this context because both those things grow at the same time). We compromised on inside at a Thai place. By halfway through lunch, I was sweating into my tightly knit wool cocoon, and she was covered in goosebumps.

Anyway, apart from this gripping disquisition on the weather, which I know is precisely the kind of thing you were aching to read, I need to share a Mystery with you.

A little over a year ago, I received this, posted through the letterbox without further explanation or information:

It says something a bit like "you need to build on solid foundations".

This bit says "a ninety two year old lady made this card, hoping you would like it. Have a nice day".

Last Friday, my friend Valérie, who lives on the other side of town, got this:

Hers says something like "nothing is impossible if you believe".

I viewed it as faintly sinister, Valérie as a random act of kindness, which says everything you need to know about our relative degrees of cynicism, sadly. However, I would note that in my post on the topic I made some unrelated but prescient remarks about John Galliano. Sort of.

WHAT IS GOING ON? Who is the mysterious nonagenarian benefactor with a large collection of stickers? How has she not aged since last July? Or is there some kind of pensioner sweatshop in Woluwe St Lambert churning them out? Have any other Brussels residents received similar? I need answers. Please assist in any way you can.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Alternative reasons to move to Brussels

There are many reasons to move to Brussels. Shut up, there are.

1. Economic performance of Belgium in percentage growth terms is currently oustripping that of the US, UK, Germany, etc. This is attributed by several reputable commentators to Belgium not having a government. Go figure.

2. Get THE owl mug of the season before it's even in stock at the V&A.

(courtesy of Hunting & Collecting, Brussels premier fey hipster destination retail outlet, where I once saw, and surreptitiously photographed, this:

a "hairbrush", as in, a brush topped with hair. Bleeeeeh.)

Do not be too harsh on what I accept is my entirely unnecessary cup buying. I literally haven't bought anything but food, household cleaning materials and fournitures scolaires for about three months. I will be returning to my Cif and cornflakes ways immediately.

3. Excellent quality universal health care, including, in my personal experience:

- ambulance collection when you faint on a tram, thus: fall over, nee-naw, nee-naw, nee-naw, gurney, oh, you're fine now, nevermind.

- arse x-ray when you fall over in the street. Technician will do relatively well at not laughing as they 'position' you and your damaged cocyx.

- amazingly nice hospital café where you might actually go voluntarily and which sells Pierre Marcolini chocolate. For health reasons, of course.

- A&E departments which can rapidly, cheerfully, fairly brusquely restitch your child in under an hour or your money back (not the last bit).

- compensatory morphine when they leave you in the fracture room by mistake for 7 hours when you are too immobile to escape and too British to call for help.

- Benzodiazepines prescribed as a little treat for migraine sufferers.

4. If you have a child, it will be sent to the Côte d'Or factory for patriotic indoctrination purposes. They will admire giant vats of melted chocolate ("the size of that HOUSE. Turned on its side") and watch a "really boring" video about chocolate. They will design their own chocolate wrapper to put on their own bar of chocolate. But! Then, better still, they will be sent home with "a gift package to discover with your family". Clearly, this is the kind of cynical, brand building exercise one would expect from the evil Kraft empire. However, I am now in possession of a family sized bar of Côte d'Or's Sistine Chapel of industrial chocolate, the mythic Chocolat au Lait aux Amandes Caramelisées avec une Pointe de Sel so my ethical objections are temporarily set aside. (Incidentally, I am led to believe that having a baby in Belgium is something like spending a fortnight at luxury spa, in the manner of Chewton Glen or similar, though sadly I have no experience of this and am willing to be contradicted)

5. Bobbi Brown is finally arriving at Cosmeticary, which means no more bulk importing of Caviar Ink gel eyeliner.

6. The collection of anatomical wax models at the Université Libre de Bruxelles medical museum.

7. Hours of fun imagining alternative Mannekin Pis outfits, viz:

- velociraptor

- Maman from Chez Maman (actually, Maman should probably get an entry all to herself in 'reasons to move to Brussels 'see a grumpy middle aged man in American Tan tights stumping around lip synching half-heartedly on top of a bar in a tiny sauna where you may be imprisoned against your will')

- Darth Vader

-Pygmy jerboa

(Though frankly, nothing I can come up with would be more bizarre than the real ones. Nelson Mandela, anyone? "Tibetan monk?")

8. Excellent employment opportunities in old age as a dame pipi

9. You can always be vague about where you live. "Europe", or "on the continent" are good answers, I find.

How would you lure someone do move to where you live?

Friday, 9 September 2011


So, I have a desk now. Look, here it is.

Deceptive professionalism

I can't actually use it at the moment because Prog Rock is asleep in there, so I am sitting at Lashes' desk, on a tiny, hard, Ikea spinny chair, surrounded by Lego, mangas, Nerf pellets and discarded socks. It is horrible in here, horrible. I also suspect there must be a bag of rotting conkers in here somewhere, given the smell.

The view

Even so, I thought I might tell you what's on my tragically inaccessible new (ish) desk.

This was a gift from my adoptive gay son (go and look at his beautiful website, I have just spent twenty minutes clicking around it dreamily). It is a small fragment of a Grayson Perry pot in a sort of reliquary. I completely love it, it is almost as good as an ACTUAL DRIED OUT SAINT'S FINGER in a reliquary, which would be my dream possession (along with a miniature Shetland pony).

These are the only books I felt I really needed on my desk at all times. There is a stack of ancient, orange spine Penguin PG Wodehouse next to the desk too, but there were too many to actually fit on it.

This tin - now full of boring cables and other techno-rubble - was the cake tin of my childhood, so I can almost taste the jelly diamond topped lemon curd sponge when it catches my eye. Look, you can still see traces of sellotape from the last time Prog Rock made me a birthday cake and carefully transported it across the channel in a Sainsbury's bag for life. I love the pattern, love love love it. It reminds me of my mum's Biba babydoll nightie, which was like that, but trimmed with a wide band of black lace. We never saw her wear it, it lived in the cupboard admired and occasionally taken out for fancy dress, a relic of a time long before we existed.

My great friend Violet gave me both of these beautiful birds at various times. She is the best present giver of all time. The big Palo Samko bird, I had coveted for a million years and stared at daily on various deco websites. The little fat bird, who is beautifully round and heavy and sits in your hand in a very comforting way, is made out of Thames clay.

My mug came from the Cotswold Farm Park, which qualifies as one of my happy places, filled as it is with furious goats and small strokable things. The stapler, well. it is a stapler with eyes, I'm not proud, but I do like it.

The glass puffer fish has no special significance, it is just a tiny glass puffer fish from the local hippy toy shop, where Fingers does cutting and sticking classes on a Wednesday. I have been repeatedly ruined by that place and its desirable tiny fripperies. There was an owl too, but I'm not sure where it went.

While I was sorting my desk out (proxy for work), I found something Lashes had made for me, which made me smile.

'Birds for mum'. It's a sort of handmade envelope, decorated front and back with cartoon birds, filled with bird stuff.

It includes "le perroket" (sic):


And these, which were on a sheet headed "Fout du scait", which is a very approximately spelled "Mad skaters". I love them.

My boy knows what I like. Also, it reminds me of Albie the Skateboarding owl, which is how I met B, when he sent me a link to this ridiculous Folkestone-based, low speed avian comedy clip.

Ok, I hear Prog Rock stirring, I am going to try and reclaim my space.

What do you have on your desk?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Five tiny triumphs

1. I defeat the forces of calcium carbonate

For the first time in several years I am drinking a cup of tea without each mouthful coming with a teaspoon of suspended limescale. Man, if I had known the obscure satisfaction of descaling the kettle before, I would have being doing it obsessively.

2. I reclaim my Saturdays

Despite it claiming to be full, I have, by dint of pleading and flattery and prayer, managed to enroll both my children in DORK SCHOOL on Saturday afternoons. It isn't called Dork School, of course. It is called something seductive and science related. I can't pretend they were white hot with enthusiasm but I do not much care, particularly since Lashes's only other suggestion for an extra-curricular activity was a faintly insolent "golf?" followed by some Muttley style sniggering. It is three hours on a Saturday afternoon and they will learn about circuitry or the water cycle or something. Perhaps they will love it, perhaps they won't. We all have our cross to bear. I will go and buy the English papers and go to "boring" shops filled with soft furnishings and clothes rather than mangas and Bakugans. I will go to exhibitions and drink cups of tea peacefully. Imagine, I'd even have time for a FILM, or better still, I could finally go to the Plasticarium. A hundred and fifty euros for a year of peaceful Saturday afternoons is an even bigger bargain than that time I got an 800 quid pashmina from Pickett for 80 quid, back when it wasn't shameful to admit to having a pashmina. This is transformative stuff (until they get expelled).

3. I accomplish ninja level administrative fuckwittery

I have tackled the complex Electrabel telephone "help"line ("si vous avez votre numéro de dossier à portée de main, tapez 1 et attendez jusqu'à ce qu'on vous remet tout au début du menu téléphonique, mais cette fois en néerlandais, crétin") without giving in to my impulse to throw the phone out of the attic window AND with alleged success (doubtful). AND I finished "plastifying" all the exercise books (AKA the world's most futile task) with only one complete catastrophe) AND I finished my VAT. AND I to the Post Office, AND it was empty AND I remembered to stock up on stamps andzzzzzzz. Ok, you can wake up now. Boring admini-boasting over.

4. I plan to leave the house

Later today I am going to assist my cleaning lady with a photo shoot I have roped her into. Mainly my rôle will probably involve saying "I am very sorry I roped you into this, please do not sack me", but it's an outing. On Thursday I am going to a dishwasher sponsored fashion show. This is deeply mysterious but my FREE tickets say they are worth €68 each (how???), so I can only assume there is a shred of entertainment, or possibly a free drink, to be had. Then next week I am going to London by myself like an adult for a couple of days (including to a party with an '80s dress code, I am thinking this) which is always cause for rejoicing, and planning how much Marks & Spencer's convenience food I can fit into my wheely case.

5. I walk the dog without simmering resentment

I have spoken before of my fundamental misunderstanding of the "walking" bit of dog ownership. In my head, pre-dog, I had assumed that the dog would come with me, in the manner of an elegant accessory, on nice walks to the shop and cafés. When we both got older, it could sit on my knee in Le Cirio and eat biscuits apéritifs while I got gently sozzled on 'alf en 'alf. I was soon disabused of this notion by weepette's intense fondness for running fast, pulling me along obnoxiously, entwining himself with my legs, grossly licking up puddles of other dogs' pee, barking at wastepaper baskets and other idiocies. Instead, I found myself condemned to daily trips to the park, a place I ordinarily avoid at all costs, due to having a head that is a ball and frisbee magnet. Occasionally, however, against my better judgment, I find myself enjoying it. Today was one of those days. We went to the wood and it was cold, with a pale wash of autumnal sun. On arrival a large fox trotted casually past us, jogging along the line of trees and ducking under the fence. Have there always been urban foxes? I don't remember ever seeing a fox in York growing up. I like them, anyway, them and the screeching green parakeets and the chipmunks I keep seeing in the Bois de la Cambre. All this odd, displaced fauna going about its business.

Weepette did not even notice the fox, anyway, nor did he harass me endlessly with vast, inappropriate half trees dropped at my feet every twenty seconds. The ground was littered with perfect fat conkers it was hard not to pick up and fill my pockets with. Annecy, the cold blooded attack terrier did not try to kill either of us. I did not have to talk to the Italian guy with the obese labrador. My ipod did not insist, as it usually does, that I listen to endless The XX tracks (I tired very quickly of The XX). It was a good morning.

Tell me your five tiny triumphs of recent weeks?

Monday, 5 September 2011


I am currently leading a life of modest virtue. Nothing actually virtuous, you understand. No good works, saving kittens from trees, curing pernicious diseases, donating organs. Just the occasional vegetable, spending no money, drinking less, not going out much (except to the dump with dreary regularity), limited "screen time". I am living through it resentfully, like a teenager with really mean, arsehole parents. It is quite boring: "It is a strange, lonely world when you are GOOD" as Molesworth says.

Advantages of a life of relative virtue

Enjoyable sensation of mild smugness. "Wow, look at me, putting on all this washing, I am such a grown up. Now I will put some pieces of paper away, and maybe sharpen some crayons. I might have a cod liver oil tablet later. I rock". I know, it's pathetic, you don't need to tell me.

Better skin - though still horrendously freckled (my virtue does not extend to locating and using sunscreen) I have lost the full Dot Cotton raddled face. I did manage to get a sunburnt shoulder today though. In the rain. Also, I think I am STILL harbouring Lashes's dreaded suppurating skin disease, even though he shrugged it off about a year ago and has that luminous, glowing, poreless nine year old skin that makes you feel like Methuselah. And I have a cold sore. Ok, maybe not better skin.

Managed to read several books in the time I would normally be falling asleep face down with my glasses on after too much gin, or staying up all night staring fruitlessly at dusty corners of the internet. The only problem is that the books are GOOD, which casts me into further career despair. My "book" is languishing. It needs stuff done. Even if I do the stuff, I am not sure it will work, which is a shame because there are at least 14 words in there I like. Maybe I could just make fridge magnets with those words on instead and sell them on Etsy? I would probably make more money that way.

Slightly - very slightly - improved Chopin playing. This one go plunk. This one is very dusty. This one segue alarmingly into Regina Spektor because it is easier.

Slightly reduced sense of fiscal foreboding. This is completely wrong headed, because I have basically NO money coming in at the moment. Even so, although I am not actually working, I have convinced myself that the mere fact of having opened all the ominous envelopes and tidied them away neatly in hanging folders will be my salvation.

Have managed to lose about 3 ounces in weight. I still can't wear 97% of my clothes, but it is to be welcomed. I got a bit over-excited and decided to try on a thin era bra yesterday. Big mistake. BIG mistake. I can't really describe the full effect without straying into obscenity (suffice to say it reminded me of this post, which taught me another meaning of the word 'pasties'), but it was a whole universe of wrongness. I will attempt to continue losing 3 ounces a month and by the time I am ninety five, perhaps it will fit. Though of course, by then, the moths will have despaired of me ever buying any more cashmere and eaten it.

Disadvantages of a life of relative virtue

Becoming very boring indeed due to total lack of external stimuli. Head entirely empty of thoughts.

Faintly aggrieved sense that surely I ought to get a medal for all this starter level virtue.

Unhealthy attachment to stationery, and the correct arrangement thereof. The correct arrangement of everything, actually. What, you cannot discern the important - though I conceded subtle - distinction between 'mugs that are nice enough to go on the shelf' and 'mugs that are ugly and must be hidden in the cupboard'? Never darken my kitchen again.

A related incredibly low tolerance of stationery related mishaps (see: unpleasant Pritt Stick incident, VERY unpleasant plastic film incident, moderate shouting about 4 colour Bic incident). In my reduced, health and safety checked, U certificate universe, the thought of anyone not having the requisite number of highlighter pens appalls me. Anything could happen. The plastic book covering has bubbled! I have failed! I have started stockpiling supplies in a drawer and instigated a cruel system whereby if the children lose any of their two hundred quid's worth of school fripperies they have to BUY the item back from my drawer of child punishment. I do not like what I have become.

My joyless emporium of child punishment

Forming an unhealthy attachment to French Masterchef. I could claim my interest is anthropological, part of my fascination with the dark, peculiar corners of the French psyche, but that would be a lie, I just like to watch them all suffer and weep and emote over their brunoise and espuma. Anyway, French Masterchef is fascinating and I commend it to you. The jury is composed of Sébastien Demorand, Yves Camdeborde, and Bald Guy Who Never Speaks. Demorand, lanky and pale, with a neat beard and glasses and a penchant for beige toned formal wear, is like your enthusiastic young geography teacher gone very badly wrong. Rather than rhapsodising about oxbow lakes, he is filled with the white hot heat of fury at under-seasoned oyster tempura, and insufficiently "abouti" (they like these abstract adjectives. This might be translated as something like 'complete') reinterpretations of blanquette de veau. Yves Camdeborde is a chef. He is full of Southern down to earthiness and machismo, whilst also being a man who spends his working life arsing around slicing things on a perfect 23° angle and putting teeny weeny dots of sauce and edible flowers on plates. I like this chef dissonance. The other one mainly looks thunderous and doesn't speak much but when he does, he's furious about a lack of "respect" for ingredients. All three of them are very much in the 'more in anger than in sorrow' mode of culinary mentoring. None of them is a hundredth as revolting as Greg Wallace, so as far as I am concerned it is a televisual win.

Still do not know more about Belgian political situation. There was a rumour of progress over the summer, but that optimism seems to have receded somewhat. This week may be "decisive". Or it may not. "How many times have we declared that it's make or break time, only for nothing terribly spectacular to happen?" Well, indeed. Bart de Wever hasn't eaten anyone yet, so as far as I am concerned the negotiations are still quite dull. B minus, Belgium, for your constitutional crisis. Things that would improve it:

- BdW eating someone

- Jean Claude Van Damme getting involved: why on earth has this not happened yet? I am frankly appalled that he hasn't seized what would be a career crowning opportunity to bellow senselessly about "rigour" and "discipline".

- Secession of Belgian state to the European Union, renaming of country DG BELG, everyone given a nice fonctionnaire job with 800 days holiday, 3% tax and retirement age of 36.

In conclusion, I think a life of modest virtue is not working out for me. Once everything is tidy and tranquil, I sit in the middle of it feeling faintly empty, and waiting for something interesting to happen. Which of course, it doesn't because I am spending all my days categorising Lego bricks and date sorting my invoices. I should return to my rat's nest of chaos. Just let me finish this spreadsheet first.