Wednesday, 28 September 2011


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.


MsCaroline said...

I have loved every minute of being the mother of two boys, even now when their shoes are so enormous and I'm always tripping over them. Mine have gone through some fascinating phases and varied interests (magic, gymnastics, geocaching, lacrosse, making your own flour from mesquite pods, you know the sort of things I'm talking about) that have always been a delight. At the moment, Son #2 is teaching himself to play the Ukulele. Never a dull moment here.

Margaret said...

They are getting way too tall. Please do what I've asked my brother to do with my niece: Press down on their heads daily to keep them small.

Anonymous said...

Boys look lovely in the sun! I notice there is a viburnum bush behind the lounger - lucky you! The loveliest fragrance in the garden.
Heather (NZ)

frau antje said...

Had to read this with the usual sidewalk business calls in my ear, 'courtesy' of the usual suspect. May be a case of too much blokeish confidence (sort of like lead drives you crazy). If only Prog Rock could come squeeze it out of his hindquarters.

Waffle said...

Heather - I'm afraid that's not my garden, which contains neither live vegetation, post Satanbunny, nor gigantic loungers. If only...

Moosette said...

There are no Daim bars in Nottingham Ikea either! A strike at the Daim mine, I'd say.

PS Given that I've been lurking for months I thought I should say that your blog offers much-needed respite when I am bored of translating articles about the new-look packaging some supermarket in Italy has introduced for their value range. Merci bien! :)

Anna Maria said...

We pick trompettes de la mort here in Hampshire, in the New Forest - they are also called horns of plenty. They are dark purple/black, hence the name, but are not poisonous, on the contrary - they are quite delicious.

The Bookselector said...

Trying to bore holes in my brain by learning XML in my spare time and look what rocked up in the tutorial!

Belgian Waffles
two of our famous Belgian Waffles with plenty of real maple syrup

Strawberry Belgian Waffles
light Belgian waffles covered with strawberries and whipped cream

Berry-Berry Belgian Waffles
light Belgian waffles covered with an assortment of fresh berries and whipped cream

As the old post office ad goes - "I saw this and thought of you..."

The Bookselector said...

Damn these computers! It has taken out all thge coding and just displayed it properly F*@LHYDF*!

Lisa-Marie said...

In Scotland (as I'm sure you are aware) we have the English name and the (approximate, somewhat phonetic and probably quite made up) Gaelic name for towns on signs. You'd think Blegium could just do that?

Anonymous said...

The Ikea outside of Philadelphia is getting rid of/has gotten rid of their Daim supply as well. I am heartbroken. It would appear that the Happiest Place on Earth has had a falling out with the Daims.
I hope they don't ditch the caramel laces too.

Anonymous said...

Place names - have you noticed that Leuven is Louvain in French but then they have put Louvain la Neuve just the other side of the border - I don't know what the Flemings call it, but I bet it doesn't help anyone trying to find either of them...

(Boys are lovely, I agree, I have two, one of whom now pats me on the head and has to bend down for me to kiss him...)

Fat Controller said...

Bergen IS in Norway. It happens to be home to the northernmost Beech forest in the known world. How do I know this? Because Controller Towers is in close proximity to the second northernmost beech forest in the entire world.

I feel your pain with cheap, pointless programming. When I fly budget to UK the drop-down screens on the bright, shiny Boeing 737 show nothing but awful Dutch 'candid-camera' type shows of a type produced specifically to torment cheapskate passengers. I suppose it could be worse, on Austrian airlines one is treated to non-stop Strauss from the moment of boarding and for the duration of the flight.

Cactus socks sound dangerous. If yopu want to start a cottage-industry then do like my sis (also a lawyer) and knit smartphone-cosies.

Dara said...

Must see cactus outfits!! Pictures, please....
your boys are lovely!

Anonymous said...

Giggled a lot, thank you! You should be kind to Belgium and tell people about the nifty roadsigns in Brussels (when they exist) that say e.g.
which is a very efficient way of combining a Romance and a German language.

Eireann said...

mons = mountains in old-time-speak, non? and berg(en) = mountain(s) in flemish. voilà, no cognate, but they at least mean the same thing. where, exactly, the 'mountains' are in belgium is another thing altogether.

Gillian said...

Hello. I love your blog. No Daims or Marabou
in IKEA in Dublin either, very upsetting. Asked a lady who
told me they won't be stocking them anymore,
only their ick own brand chocolate.
Your two boys sound lovely. I have two boys too, one turned 2 on Wednesday, the other is 10 weeks.
They are wonderful but all consuming, it's good to see that
they do grow up :)

Marie said...

What ? no Daims ? can't be !!! where's the government when needed ???

Funny I've got the same feeling towards my children,especially my boy of 7, he's getting wiser,nicer,has started to make jokes that makes sense (relief!) and even beginning to listen to the news (if weather forecast counts as news)

Belgian-names for town-and-villages are a legend in the family since my mum spent a entire morning looking for Tubize (Tubeke)and I still can't make out the difference between Mach and Mech -elen.The one I never get wrong is Gent (not to be mistaken with GenK).

Janet said...

Your boys are lovely.