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.