Thursday, 31 March 2011

Poisson d'avril


Early evening in the Waffledome, and it is total fucking chaos, as usual. Homework is finished, but Lashes has decided that we must form a production line to make him paper fish for tomorrow, April Fools Day. Poisson d'avril, see. They stick paper fish on each other, for some reason. Don't get the fish thing? Nor me. It's not being French, I think. Lashes is wildly excited by April Fools, mysteriously. "It's a special day tomorrow" he told me reverently, when he got up this morning. We are going to Disneyland for the weekend on Saturday (oh yes, hipflask and benzodiazepines at the ready) and this has had no discernible effect. April Fools though? Frenzy. So, I am colouring, minutely, carefully, like a nutjob, making a particular effort to get realistic fin effects around the tails of all 300 fish. This is where most of my sanity has gone, off down tiny, pointless, labour intensive and perversely enjoyable tangents like this. I am very much enjoying it, actually. Fingers has ignored his instructions to join the paper fish sweatshop, because he still has some shred of free will and a steely resolve to get past level 4 of Tiny Wings. I have failed to interest either of them in Frau Antje's amazing amazing bird webcams so the three of us are talking about April Fools jokes. We have previously viewed both the spaghetti harvest, and the flying penguins, and are wondering how to catch their father out.


E: Hmmm. How about we tell him we've spotted a tortoise in, say, the school yard? And that it has a red III on the shell (NDLR: the CFO's tortoises are numbered for easy recognition)?

L: He won't believe that. The tortoises are inside.

E: Ok. Well. How about we tell him we've spotted a tortoise and we think it's Julius? He always suspected he wasn't actually dead and the vet just kept him.

F (looking up from Tiny Wings): Why?

E: Um. Well, the vet seemed to like Julius. And we never saw his body. So we wondered if he had perhaps kept him.

F (sagely): I didn't THINK you could die from a une maladie du zizi.

E: Wellll. I think you probably can, darling. But Julius just got an infection.

F: Why?

E: Uh, I don't know. Because of having an operation? There is a risk of infection. Not that you normally get an infection when you have an operation, not when you're a human. But maybe when you're a tortoise it's more risky? (Bad science, right here, right now, in my kitchen).

L: How can you cut into a tortoise? It has a shell.

E: They just .. well. They cut off the bit that was sticking out.

L: The tail?

F: No, the zizi.

E (shuddering): Yes. The zizi. It did sort of look like a tail though.

F: How did he pee when they cut it off?

E: I really have no idea. Maybe tortoises don't pee with their zizis.

F: Maybe the vet DID keep him!

E: I doubt it. He seemed a very nice man, I'm sure he wouldn't fake a tortoise's death. So. How about I say that Papa has to come into school because the two of you have tried to set fire to the canteen?

F (suddenly animated): We could tell him I drew on the wall again! And Lashes helped!

E: Erm, let's not, shall we. It was bad enough the first time.


So right now, we're stuck. Lashes is desperate for some good April Fools tricks and all he has is 300 paper fish (Fingers doesn't care. He mainly wants some tricks to get to Level 5 of Tiny Wings, but I'm not encouraging him). I am trying to come up with something a bit more entertaining. My friend Violet and her sisters always pull the most elaborate, wonderfully executed ones on their father. I can only remember one which involved a faked letter from Bill Oddie (who he hates with the heat of a thousand suns) coming to film some rare wildlife in their back garden. What were your best ones? Remember any? Any thoughts gratefully received.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Various

I have really missed you, the internet, this week. I have been trying to get on with the stuff. There was a lot of the stuff, and I haven't really got on with it. Well, I have, but there seems to be just as much as there was when I started, so I've learnt my lesson. The stuff will always be there, resistance is futile. I should just roll naked in a bath of Daim eggs instead, then lie in a chocolatey heap on the floor googling "elephant seal snuggle" until I am old enough to be thrown into a nursing home.

So today, mindful of the need to leave paid work to the last minute in order to generate a proper, invigorating panic, I have mainly been indulging my obsession with Eric C Sax. This is Eric C Sax:




He is in charge of "population" at the local town hall. I have been following the activities of Eric C Sax (such a good name) for a couple of years in the Wolvendael magazine, our catchily titled local free publication which can boast a full page spread on the opening of a new branch of an interim agency. You think I'm joking, but I'm not.



And actually, flicking through for more pictures of Mr Sax, I found a full page on Chez Francky's body shop.


It doesn't have the sensationalism of the York Evening Press and its many variants on Unpleasantness in Acomb (the East Riding's Creepiest Suburb TM), but I am growing to love it, with its pithy think pieces about whether le lissage brésilien is really a revolution in hair care and street golf.

Anyway. I am getting distracted. About half the Wolvendael magazine, when it isn't extolling the virtues of a shop selling replacement electrical appliance spare parts (also an ACTUAL TRUE FACT), and information on when vehicular access to the Verrewinkel cemetery is permitted, is devoted to pictures of Eric C Sax standing behind people.

Warning: exceptionally dreadful phone pictures follow. I am tired and there are no functioning lights in the house.



This one's my favourite. Where are they? Has he gone round to her house to stand behind her chair? Also, there is no way in the world that woman is 100, she looks a sprightly early 70s. She just wanted a chance to get close to Eric.








There are many more in a similar vein, and I am fast becoming obsessed. He's a tumblr blog in the making. What do you have to DO to get an audience with Eric and his yellow sash? Oh god, you have to live to be 100 or be married more than 50 years, this isn't looking promising. I'm also interested that wedding anniversaries get the full brocade 'n' medal combo, whereas centenarians get the rakish suit and yellow sash. I prefer the suit and sash, so I had better start following that stupid Okinawa island diet, because once in my life I want to be ushered into the presence of Eric and his radiant tan and luxurious, highlighted fringe. It's something to aspire to, isn't it? I bet he smells of Eau Sauvage and cigars and the heady promise of a ride to the cimetière de Verrewinkel in his Renault Safrane de fonction.

I am sorry. I seem to be slightly delirious. I promise I haven't just been staring at a free magazine all day. Sometimes I also stared at:

- my 1000 page spreadsheet (affectionately known as "that fucking spreadsheet").

- the rain, crushing my six daffodils.

- Occasionally, guiltily, owlcam (nearly a month to go of staring at a virtually motionless owl before anything happens).

- Lashes's Dutch vocabulary. He's reached the page in Robald with the picture of the man smoking on the beach, do you remember that? We had an ill-tempered fight about the pronunciation of seagull. "Meeuw" (ace word).

E: How do you say 'seagull'?

L: (long pause, furrowed brow) Worm?

E: No! Not worm, er, meow. Miaow. Mew. Oh god. SOMETHING THAT IS NOT WORM. (points)

L: That's what I said!

E: No it isn't!

L: Yes it is!

E: I promise you, you said worm.

L: No I didn't.

E: Nggngngngnngngngnngn. It is 8am. You only told me about this vocabulary test ten minutes ago and we have to leave, well, ten minutes ago. Now is not the time to go all absurdist on my ass.

L: C'est un gros mot, 'ass'?

E: Don't push your luck.

Etc etc etc etc until my brain seeped out of my ear and there was no time left to have the equally essential fight about the pronunciation of fototoestel. We eventually made up after the totally brilliant discovery that squirrel is Eekhoorn. Acorn! A squirrel is called an acorn! Best language ever.

I must go and do more stuff. It is difficult living on your own when you are doing 4 bitty, time-consuming jobs whilst in the grip of a peculiar obsession with a fuzzy owl webcam and a municipal officer called Eric. There is no-one to pry your twisted fingers off the computer keys and send you away to have a shower because you look and smell like a tramp. You have to learn to do it yourself. I am still learning. It might be time for the cheap nursing home before I actually get the hang of it.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Spring Photo Miscellany


Brussels was looking nice yesterday. I felt like its patronising husband, or overbearing mother, walking around. "See? See how nice you can look when you make an effort?"




I had not spotted this fish before, though there is lots of fish grafitti generally.



Léopold and his ridiculous rectangular beard were admiring the late afternoon sun.



Cat in a box on the rue Blaes, where I was discovering the exceptionally well-hidden Institut Confucius, for obscure reasons that are continuing to erode my sanity.


Le Vieux St Martin, Brussels's best café terrace, empty because it was in the shade. The opposite side of the Sablon was packed, but I still love the Vieux St Martin best, because it is perfect and you get a large palmier biscuit with your coffee and an opportunity to admire some of the most accomplished tweed wearers in the whole kingdom.



Oscar later assumed his favourite male centrefold pose in the park, crushing the municipal daffodils. He was exhausted by performing, for the first time this year, his Circuit of Shame. It goes like this:

1. Arrive in park. Bound up to gaggle of hair tossing teenage girls with your filthy ball and scatter them, screaming.

2. Run at full pelt through the wooded area, terrifying the lurking gangs of dope smokers.

3. Find a heavy petting couple and sniff insistently around them, refusing to leave.

4. Get over-excited around some small children and bounce about like a terrifying hound-marsupilami hybrid. Make one or more small children cry.

5. Shit at length, in full public view, surrounded by infants, right in the middle of the thoughtfully provided spring flowers.

6. Find something unpleasant to roll in - mud, fox shit, or alternatively jump in the pond, then shake yourself all over the hair-tossing teenage girls, making them scream again.

7. Pass out. Last year he performed the Circuit of Shame so enthusiastically on a hot day that he actually passed out and I had to carry him home.

I have nothing else for you today, I am accidentally hungover (the wine just FELL down my throat) and useless. I could say there'll be something better tomorrow, but it would be a lie. Presumably you are all keeping up with Antonia's joyous daily lent blogging? That, and constant checking on owlcam, are the only things keeping me going. There's something indescribably thrilling about the odd moments that maman owl looks towards the camera and you see her vast, owl eye that keeps me watching long swathes of motionless feather. She just did it! Just now!

What has kept you going this week, if anything? Do share it with the group..

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Bon Père de Famille

I had to drive another expensive car yesterday and am still frozen in a rictus of terror. My jaw is wound so tightly that, rather like the lobster we saw on the Isle of Wight last summer, I could snap a biro in a nanosecond (with my teeth, that is, if you could prise them apart. With the lobster it was its claw, obviously. Lobsters don't have teeth. Or perhaps they do. Anyway, I know what I was trying to do with that simile and it worked in my head, so let's move on).


I know this sounds like one of those pinching diamond shoes type complaints, I do. I know many people would love to do this, but most of them - am I gender stereotyping? Somewhere in gender neutral, secular heaven (where they are serving Chablis and chips and there is a gigantic Jaeger), my mother is furious with me, but then she couldn't drive - are men and thus not reading this weblog. I do not love it. I like writing about cars, it is amusing and I am extravagantly grateful that someone is kind enough to pay me to do so. But the big expensive ones, the ones that cost more than a racehorse, or a flat, or a flat with a racehorse in it, wearing caviar hoof oil and eating diamonds, scare me to death. I am fast discovering that driving big expensive cars that go VROOM when your foot slips is a job I am even worse at than being a corporate lawyer, and that's saying something. When you drive a massive expensive car, I have also discovered, they make you sign a release form. The first time I signed a release form, it was in Dutch so I had no idea what I was signing. I think it was best that way. The second time, today, I have discovered that I have warranted to drive "en bon père de famille". I swear. The actual form, that I actually signed, has me stating that I will drive like a "good father", look:




(I have just consulted a francophone and apparently this is a standard clause. Like the man on the Clapham omnibus, or the reasonable bystander. I love it.)

I doubt that bon pères de famille deal with narrow roads in racehorse cars by shouting OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD I DON'T KNOW IF THERE'S SPACE OH GOD, PLEASE LET IT BE OK and gripping the steering wheel in their sweaty palms in abject terror as they lurk in a lay by until there is no traffic left at all. Or declare the acceleration "scary" and stay in the slow lane all the way round the ringroad. Or fail to discover how to open the boot. That said, I am at least exceedingly safe since I get palpitations over 110km/h, so in that respect if no other, I am indeed a VERY good father to the racehorse car.

Anyway, I did not break it, the sun was shining, it had some kind of sci-fi camera to show you how to park, and I had coffee on the Place du Grand Sablon where one of the cafés has installed some sort of white leather benches which are delightfully vulgar, so I sat on one. All the men were channelling Bernard Henri Levi (giant hair and shirts open to the point of risking hypothermia) and the women either Carla Bruni or La Cicciolina and everyone stared at the monster racehorse car with naked envy. Given another five years and someone else's brain, I could probably have almost enjoyed it. I did like the GPS which would only direct you to beer and dollars:




Pleasingly Grand Theft Auto.

Also, it had "porte-gobelets escamotables" (removable cup holders) which is (a) a fabulously complex expression, and (b) entirely without use. Also, they looked faintly sinister and medical, like so:




Enough luxury complaints. I did get hit on the head by a bottle of Dr Hauschka bath oil this morning, but that's more of a middle class injury. I am going to investigate the massive protests taking place in Brussels today. So far, I have a report from Schuman that "the protesters are already taking up every terrasse seat in every café for miles". It sounds like my kind of protest.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Nombriliste

"Why" asks a keyword searcher in Bulgaria, very pertinently, "Belgian Waffle always looks at her navel?"

Good question, my Bulgarian friend. I would suggest that it is mainly because I (assuming you were actually thinking of me, and it's not some kind of recipe mangled by Google translate) hardly ever leave the house and there is very little to look at in here other than my navel and possibly some dust. Also, I did have a very expensive reconstruction done a few years ago, so perhaps it deserves more attention than it gets.

Anyway. In the interests of proving I am not utterly self-absorbed absolutely ALL the time, here, I will tell you about what I did outside of the house on Sunday, when I went to Mechelen to see eighties miserabilist Lloyd Cole.

Observations:

1. When attempting to go to Mechelen, you should be aware that in the same general direction, there is a place called Machelen. These are not the same places. Nice trick though, Flanders.

2. The Cultural Centre in Mechelen is very impressive, another worthy destination for my taxes. Moreover it has the most exquisite public lavatories I have seen in Belgium and NO DAME PIPI. There is something very decadent about being allowed to pee for free, when you are used to being relieved of a fistful of small change by an elderly lady in the most unexpected places (Mcdonalds, the cinema, metro stations). In Botanique, a venue I love and visit very regularly, not only is there a Dame Pipi (so far so normal), but she parsimoniously doles out rationed single squares of kitchen roll to dry your hands. In Mechelen Cultural Centre you can luxuriate in as many hand towels as your heart desires FOR FREE.

3. Mechelen also looked rather nice, what little I saw of it. Medieval and so on. Very Dutch looking buildings, a castley sort of thing, a moaty sort of thing, a cathedral.

4. Lloyd Cole was extremely charming, funny and self-deprecating, and played a lovely, long set. It was just him and two guitarists and it was gentle and melodic, and the arrangements were accomplished and frequently very beautiful and his voice has hardly changed at all, but my god, it was melancholy. The old ones, which he graciously played plenty of - Perfect Skin, Lost Weekend, Rattlesnakes, Like Lovers Do - reminded me intensely of being 19 and the newer ones were full of horribly evocative middle aged pathos. I give you this, as an example:





This one too, though it's jauntier. It felt a bit pointed for me. "Do you have nothing to do on this fine afternoon but to write?"

Also, Lloyd Cole really did have cheekbones like geometry back in the day, and now, well. He looks like someone's dad. Someone's lovely, cuddly, quite sexy dad, yes, but still.

I did enjoy it though. He was lovely. Because Belgium is quite small, and the Lloyd Cole demographic quite tightly defined, I knew several people there, and did a lot of double takes with almost everyone else, since they pretty much all looked like people I knew. It was funny, looking around, and seeing us all in our severe glasses mouthing along to "She looks like Eve Marie Saint, in On The Waterfront and / she reads Simone de Beauvoir, in her American circumstance".

Lloyd said near the end, deadpan "It's getting to that time of the evening when your babysitters are all texting you" (a joke I imagine he can use every night and still get a laugh) and we did indeed all have the look of people who were slightly wary about being out so 'late' (it finished at 10:30) on a Sunday night. It was in fairly stark contrast to the last Sunday gig I went to, where a fight broke out next to me over a spilled pint, everyone looked like they should be at home finishing their homework and I was half deaf by the time I emerged.

5. Talking of pints, it once again made me wish I could get the hang of drinking beer, because the wine I got to try and shake the middle aged melancholia was spectacularly horrible. Perhaps Lloyd had the right idea with his 12 neatly arranged bottles of still water.

I do not know what dizzyingly insightful, outward looking observations I can bring you tomorrow, but I will strive to find something. Maybe I could go and stare into one of the local holes?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Relaxing

"When I get home" I say to myself on the crowded 92 tram, which has decided to jerk erratically along the line, stopping for extravagantly long periods at each stop. "I am going to sit out in the sun for quarter of an hour and relax" (I say it in my head, I try and keep the talking to myself out loud confined to the house). "I will take these spiteful, evil shoes off, and sit down in the back yard with a cup of coffee. It'll be great". We are all crammed in and testy as battery hens, because the previous tram broke down, slowing our progress and making my frustrating morning even more unproductive. The jerky progress means I repeatedly stagger and bump against the widely splayed leg of one of the many teenagers (none of whom are wearing pinching high heeled shoes and all of whom have managed to get seats, bastards). My ankles hurt. I keep trying to put my headphones in, but I have to hang onto a pole for balance, and it takes more co-ordination than I can muster. I look out of the window instead. Brussels is a lighter shade of grey in the sun, and the tiny, idiosyncratic architectural details that characterise Brussels buildings are easier to spot. A teenager treads on my toe.


"Coffee" I say to myself again "Sunshine". Of such tiny promises to oneself is the resolve not to burst into tears, or kick someone in the shin, made. I can almost feel the sun on my back, though possibly that is Galliano vest man. His jeans are so tight they create their own forcefield.


So I get off the tram, finally, and hobble past 15 new holes in the road, then sprint unsuccessfully after the postman who is just leaving one of those "You were out, sucker", slips. I go in, put the coffee on, open the back door.


12:00 The coffee machine fails to pierce three successive Nespresso capsules. That's, what, like €3 to the evil empire with nothing to show for it for me. Serves me right for joining their stupid, George Clooney worshipping cult. The machine is obviously buggered, which figures, since it is about 2 months past the expiry of its guarantee.


12:06 I go and sit outside with a cup of tea instead. On the floor, I have no garden furniture. The dog skitters around me, whining, bringing me a selection of heavily foxed soft toys, balls, a squeaky chicken. "Bugger off, Oscar". I shake my head crossly, close my eyes and try to relax. The sun is shining and birds are singing, the dog's whining has slowed to a sort of breathy note of inquiry. Even so, I cannot relax. My eyes snap open, unbidden. I can see from here that the kitchen floor is very dirty, and so are the windows, even though I actually cleaned them last week. I start listing things I need to do: wash the floor, pay some bills, find a representative of a non-European diaspora (don't ask), hoover? Do I need to hoover again? God, I did it last month. The shutter. The chip in the bath. Dust the piano. Emails from last week, last month. Driving licence. Composition de menage. Bigger, scarier things I try not to think about at all. There are infinite tasks and I am incapable of keeping up with more than 5% of them, it seems. My jaw hurts from grinding my teeth. And why do all my shoes pinch at the moment? Am I getting fat feet? How is that even possible?


12:11. I hear my phone chirruping inside, and go and fetch it. I deal with a text message even though it's not remotely urgent, then look at the garden again. Most of my bulbs have not come up. They have been eaten by the evil thorned triffid that takes over every inch of the garden if not kept in check. The Christmas tree catches my eye. Bugger. I really have to deal with that bastard. I force myself to close my eyes again. I try and breathe deeply, through the knot of chaos in my chest. The sun is deliciously warm. Soon the lilacs will be out, I think. I try and imagine I am on my Mediterranean goat farm (a recurrent fantasy of recent months, even though I hate the country. That's how strong my desire to run away is, right now).


12:13 The dog is whining louder again. When I look over at him, he is standing strangely, uncomfortably, his back legs saggy. I ignore him, shut my eyes again. Goat farm. Warm winds. The smell of wild thyme. The sun on the waves. Gentle bleating. Suddenly I am aware of his presence far closer to me. He yelps in my face. Looking more closely, I can see that he has a large turd trailing from his back end that he seems unable to get rid of, hence his expression of unease. By the time I realise this, he is skittering dangerously close to the house, the poo bobbing along, still attached, behind him. "NO", I shout and rush off, shutting the door behind me, for kitchen roll. I come back out, shutting the door carefully behind me. I grab the dog by its collar, and wipe his arse. It is properly revolting.


12:14 I give up on relaxation for the day.


16:15 I find this brilliant poem, via this blog, and it cheers me up no end (and mentions uncomfortable shoes too).



Antilamentation

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read

to the end just to find out who killed the cook.

Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,

in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.

Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,

the one you beat to the punchline, the door,
or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones

that crimped your toes, don't regret those.

Not the nights you called god names and cursed

your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,

chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.

You were meant to inhale those smoky nights

over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings

across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed

coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.

You've walked those streets a thousand times and still

you end up here. Regret none of it, not one

of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,

when the lights from the carnival rides

were the only stars you believed in, loving them

for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.

You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake,

ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house

after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs

window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied

of expectation. Relax. Don't bother remembering

any of it. Let's stop here, under the lit sign

on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.


(Antilamentation, by Dorianne Laux)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Craft




I was inveigled into facilitating acts of aggravated craft today, which always leaves me feeling .. well. There are a range of responses, actually, and usually a single session can produce all of them.

1. Smugness - Look how creative my children are. Look how totally laid back I am about the mess they are making as they sweetly create googly eyed monsters! Look what a gigantic stash of craft materials I have! Look, I'll make my own because I'm SO damn relaxed!

2. Control freakery - "Darling, that cardboard tube slide is never going to work if you balance it on the sheet of felt at that angle. Just give it here I'LL do it. Now pass me the red beads. No, not those ones, the smaller ones. And another 3 pipe cleaners. Just put your finger here and don't move. DO NOT TOUCH THAT!"

3. Foreboding - Are they ever going to stop? Do Fimo stains come out of Ikea pine? This is all costing me more than a family trip to Disneyland, isn't it? Oh crap, is that a packet of Satan's dandruff (glitter) I see clasped in a claggy hand?

4. Irritation - Ok, there's really NO need for that many google eyes on one pompom. I don't CARE if it's a spider, can't you go and watch tv like normal children, godalmighty. I mean, pipe cleaners? The clue is in the name, kids, pipe cleaners have no place in 2011. We only played with them when I was little because Nintendo hadn't been invented, you utter clots.

5. Shame. I am in fact an uptight, killjoy, arse. Not only that, but my pom pom monster is shit, far worse than theirs.


6. Resignation - Fine, whatever, sure, stick eyes on all the cutlery and my phone and the dog's arse. Sprinkle glitter into my cup of tea, and use my Wolfords for monster sleeping bags. I am just going to put my head down here on this slightly sticky corner of the table. Wake me up when it's over. Or, if you are a dog, hide under a blanket and stay verry verry still until it's all over and the tuneless, soul-sapping bleeping of Mario lets you know the coast is clear.


Sssssh.

(The dog is slightly less folorn than yesterday, weepette watchers, though he still has the pained expression of one who would be more at ease sitting on an inflatable rubber doughnut).

I am working on a patented Beddington formula to define the tipping point into parental meltdown on any given craft project, but it needs refining. I also need to work on The Immutable Rules of Craft (such as 'the lid is gone and it is never coming back. Do not even bother looking for it', 'whatever scrap of tat you throw away will be instantly needed and irreplaceable', and 'if it's wet or stainy, it's already all over your tax return'). If anyone has made a breakthrough with this, I would love to hear it.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Friday

Well, it's been a right old couple of days -- few achievements, many minor disasters. The weepette had a tail accident, I got a puncture with the godalmighty Maserati I was test driving (a whole other story featuring my blank, utter terror at driving a gigantic piece of metal worth about 5 years income with my shonky driving skills and worse spatial awareness), and the oven fell off the four chipboard blocks upon which it was inexplicably balanced, narrowly missing me and buggering up my frying pan, which does not strike me as appropriate behaviour for an appliance named Competence Trophy. Oh yes, it's been heaps of fun.

However. There are several bright points, not all of them involving lying in the dark rocking backwards and forwards and eating Daim eggs.

Lashes, for instance, has, unprompted produced a Household Charter, like a UK government department ten years ago, full of unlikely to be fulfilled pledges and idiosyncratic spellings. French speakers will particularly enjoy (4).


I'm not sure what (3) is supposed to be, my best guess is "grogne", as in complain, bitch, whine. If it also applies to me, I will definitely be the main contributor to the ice cream fine box. There has been some discussion about the size of the box for fines, but he claims he has measured it exactly to hold €5, enough for 2 double scoop ice creams. I am faintly concerned as to what can have prompted this, particularly taken in conjunction with his decision to put his pyjamas on at 5 this afternoon, and to request raw cauliflower for dinner. My best guess is that he has done something extravagantly terrible at school I don't know about yet. I am prepared for the worst.

The weepette tail incident was pitiful, pitiful. I did not see what happened, but heard him yipping in misery (we were in the parc du caca). After some discussion with the Portuguese woman with the giant Rottweiler, who thought it was his "bijoux", I realised his tail had gone all floppy and took him to the vet. The vet rarely disappoints. Today I was also party to a conversation where a woman revealed that she left her boyfriend because he was unwilling to accept her Pekinese's prostate problems. I live for this kind of thing. Apparently Barry - that's the Pekinese, not the boyfriend - has total urinary incontinence due to his prostate problem. The boyfriend knew when she moved in, but even so, it reached a point where he asked her to choose between him and Barry, and apparently, even though she was very much in love with him, there was no contest, it was Barry all the way. We all of us sat, rapt, listening to this tale: me with my broken tailed whippet, the man with the horse sized doberman with a stomach upset, and the woman with the geriatric husky that needed its thyroid function tested. There was a woman with a cat too, but she went outside to wait after Barry peed on her boot (I am not even joking, he really did).

The Pekinese was almost worth the €102 I was charged to find out my dog is stupid enough to sprain, but not to actually break, his tail in a feat of possible stick based idiocy. During all this time Oscar was unable to sit down and hovered uneasily an inch off the ground, the picture of whippety misery. Anyone who has ever bruised, or fractured a coccyx will know exactly how that feels, and as someone who has had the embarassing arse x-ray myself, I was sympathetic. Look, here is the offending appendage, floppy and useless (welcome, keyword searchers!):




And here is the front end, quivering with pathos in the hope of gaining a pizza crust:




Apart from that, I have watched in growing disbelief as my neighbourhood proves that it is basically a small provincial town, as large groups of my neighbours have gathered to stare at holes in the road. Whenever I go past said holes there are at least 5 or 6 people looking at them attentively, as if they must contain the secrets of the universe. They are spoilt for choice at the moment as every day a new hole springs up somewhere in the immediate neighbourhood, none of us has a clue why, just the excitement of not knowing whether we will be able to get out to buy our crates of Jupiler and copies of Le Soir. Heady times of uncertainty in Uccle.

Also, this local window display pleases me:




Several questions:

1. Why is green the universal colour of cellulite and fat fighting? How did this happen? Even the sleeping man's sheets are green. I'm not sure green has the necessary aggressivity to deal with my stubborn deposits. I want a black and silver cellulite product with white chevrons, please.

2. Are the men of Uccle particularly susceptible to chiselled chested pharmacy advertising? This is the first place I have seen the arrival of spring heralded by MALE cellulite product advertising. I welcome this equal opportunity body fascism, obviously.

3. Perhaps if the men of Uccle are very cellulite prone or merely very cellulite intolerant, they should consider a form of exercise other than standing and staring into holes? Nah, just kidding. Mes semblables, mes frères, let us celebrate our shared belief in the magical powers of seaweed based pomades by walking very slowly to the end of the street to buy an ice cream, then coming back to stare down some more holes.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Spring

When we arrived back last night it was very apparent that spring had snuck in while we were gone. It was raining, yes, one wouldn't want to go overboard, but it was a soft rain, and the air was warm. WARM. I had forgotten what that even was. I had a drink with Beatrice once the boys were back with their father and we congratulated ourselves on this development.

"The best thing is" said Beatrice, tempting fate terribly "That's it now. Winter must be over".

We waited for the freak ice storm, but it did not come. Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime the bright spring sunlight, which is a joyful, wonderful thing, gives me several problems, what with being a mardy old cow. The first is the house. There's a reason spring cleaning is called spring cleaning, and it's because the spring sunlight makes you realise just what a nest of FILTH you (I) have been living in all winter. Ye gods. I thought it was bad, but now I can see it's .. well. I was going to show you what I found behind the recycling box, but apparently I can't, because the thing that looked like an enormous dead spider clearly WASN'T DEAD. Nice. You'll just have to take my word for it. The not-dead spider is just one of an endless series of housekeeping unpleasantnesses that I now feel I must tackle, and they all seem inextricably linked in a wearisome way. If I want to get the front shutter mended, I must dispose of the Christmas tree in case the landlady takes exception to it, wash the windows, and deal with the chip on the bath. If it does get mended, I'll be able to see the state of the sofa, and I know I won't like it. Can't I just sit here in the sun? Maybe go and get a Cornetto?

Worse, even, than the house is the sight that greets me in the (smeary, toothpaste flecked) mirror, where the sun also gives a new, entirely unwelcome clarity. Who the fuck is that old woman and what is she doing in my house (and why hasn't she hoovered, if she must be here)? It's not that I let myself go over the winter, exactly. More like I pushed myself of a cliff into a sea of butter with salt crystals, bouncing off the jagged cliffs of Daim bar and Hula Hoop. Alcohol should also be included in this ridiculous simile, but I can't be arsed to crowbar it in. Whatever. I look "rough as a badger's arse", as my former cleaner (wish she was here too) used to say. Particular problem areas: jowls (brrrr), general skin tone and everything south of my neck. This was definitely the winter my upper arms became unfit for public exposure and the rest? Well. I will draw a veil. I would, if I could, draw a veil over my entire person and wrap it five times around myself in billowing, forgiving folds. I might need to do just that as my clothes are all mysteriously too small. I'd say they shrunk in the wash but they're all dirty too.

It's impossible to know where to start, so I started by going to Di (substandard Belgian Boots, but with more household cleaning products) and buying a kilo of Epsom salts, something to descale the dishwasher, dental floss, bath oil that promises "forme et vitalité" (I'll need them), some cotton wool and an economy sized Cif. Then I drank some juice. That seems to cover most bases, apart from the ones that require actual effort on my part. As long as I don't get my products mixed up, that might sting.

Any spring cleaning or spring grooming tips? Bear in mind I have neither 1. money, nor 2. a shred of inclination to get off my arse.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sunday

So, I wrote a tiny Observer piece in a bigger, and slightly doom-laden piece, about confessional blogging. Firstly, if you can find it online without using that link, give yourself a medal. I think a grand total of 8 people have come to the blog from it. It's a good thing I'm not some kind of attention hungry trollop, cravenly intent on building traffic by any means poss.. oh. Sssh.

Anyway. I had a terrible job writing so little: there was so much more I could have said, wanted to say. I'd have struggled with 3000 words, probably, because for the last year or so I have thought about these questions around online identity pretty much constantly, and without any satisfactory resolution.

The thing I found myself thinking mainly, once the deadline passed, and I had turned in something that was incomplete, partial, though true, was this: I think, really, I'm constitutionally unsuited to confessional blogging. If you want to write very candidly on line, you need to have a very robust sense of self, and of your own boundaries. You need, if not a thick skin, at least a slightly reinforced one. You have to know when to take criticism on board, and when to laugh it off as the frothing of lunatics. I have none of those things: I sway in the slightest breeze of disapproval, become completely uprooted by anything stronger. I'm weak and uncertain, I lack perspective and I want everyone to like me. Objectively speaking, I have no place on the internet; it's like I wandered off one day and found myself somewhere I wasn't really equipped for.

I didn't even know to be wary when I started ; there was no calculation, no cost benefit analysis when I wrote. It was a bit stupid, definitely naive. It wasn't like I was in the vanguard of blogging like some of the people mentioned in the Observer piece; I'm a pathetically late adopter and I could very well have known better, but I simply never thought in those terms. I did it for myself, I enjoyed the feedback, so I did it more. It was pretty raw, occasionally mean, entirely honest. Some of those entries make very uncomfortable reading for me, some got me into a heap of trouble. Even so, I haven't taken many down.

And I still write. I don't write quite as unguardedly as I used to: you never quite get over your HR manager quoting sections of your blog back to you, I think (mmmm happy days). But I write, and I have no intention of giving up and the reason (it's going to get a bit sappy here, you are warned)? I have been exceptionally, extraordinarily lucky with what this blog has brought me. I don't think that article as a whole gives a good sense of how very much blogging can confirm or restore your faith in human nature, and how that can be a driver to keep doing it. To the extent the piece sees an upside to blogging, it's as an adjunct to some kind of commercial venture, a brand building exercise or conceivably as a forum for intellectual synergies. That's not why most people write personal blogs, and the benefits they derive are not commercial or even necessarily intellectual; they are about belonging, exchanging, giving and getting comfort. I don't argue with the author's assertion, which is quite elegantly put, that:

"Our digital lives are interwoven at every point with the rest of our lives. When we pretend otherwise, we risk making appalling, life-wrecking mistakes".

Of course that's true. I've written about this, talked about it with experts in order to write about it, and felt and learnt the truth of it personally in all manner of ways. But if I had been as reticent as perhaps I should have been two, three years ago, I would have missed out on some extraordinary exchanges and experiences. I have, as I say, been lucky: every time I have said something revealing, or painful over the last three years, people responded with enormous compassion and kindness. That's not everyone's experience of personal blogging. I'm very conscious of my good fortune, of how lucky I have been to have the readers I have. It has given me hope, and optimism, and an extraordinary set of relationships: intimate friends I can barely imagine how I lived without, acquaintances, people I can occasionally get drunk with, correspondents, sharers of one off meetings, or fellow lovers of capybaras. This is a bit schmaltzy, I know, but when I have a dark night of the soul about the direction my life has taken in recent years, I think of M, of Mrs Trefusis, of B, of Trish, of Beatrice, Katy, Tom, L, F, and lots of others, I think of testing a magnetic penis ring on a goat with Antonia, or Fountain Pen Sue sending me a massive box of Pokémon cards and some knee vitamins, and I can't regret it, I just can't.

I was staying with an internet friend this weekend and we talked about this kind of thing. She mentioned this post - and this gives me a very clear sense of how things have evolved; I looked at it and winced, and wondered about not including the link. But dammit, that's how she came into my life, and I certainly wouldn't want to have not known her. I might not quite be able to publish and be damned any more, but remembering that, and all the other moments like that, reminds me of the value of still trying to publish and be brave, occasionally.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Saturday

Keywords of the day leading here:


"better ways of carrying pint glasses"

"shrew with quarter"

"picture of defecated tapeworm"


This probably goes down in history as the day on which I have done the least since having children. I have walked about three hundred yards, slowly, with my friend's two shaggy dogs, and otherwise barely moved a muscle, been provided with constant food and drink and chat. The children - ecstatic that I have not been marching them ill-humouredly, on a tight deadline, across London in pursuit of Education - have sunk into a joyous haze of Nintendo and trampolining. They are having faintly pidgin, but delighted, conversations about Pokémon. The sun shone all day and the house has rung with the sound of four small boys cackling about various scatological topics. It has been brilliant.

As a result there is absolutely nothing that I can possibly tell you. I had an idea, but I have forgotten it with all the intensive lying around I have been doing, so you might as well have my conversation with Prince Philip. This was totally worth waiting for.

My conversation with Prince Philip this week:


(Prince Philip walks across a basement room where people are politely drinking small quantities of wine and not fighting over the inadequate quantity of pretzels. He is smaller than I expect, tawny coloured and dessicated as one of those bog-preserved bronze age corpses. He stops for a few seconds to talk to everyone. He is, mystifyingly, unsupervised, given that he has told several lengthy anecdotes about people blowing up condoms in the course of the evening, and declared immigration A Bad Thing (again). He stops, with an expression of beatific indifference, next to me)

PP: Did you ask a question tonight?

E: Uh, no.

(Prince Philip turns away with an expression of faint disdain)


I think he was definitely impressed. Please let me have your equally profound and epoch-defining encounters with members of the royal family in the comments.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Friday

Today I took my children to a Science Fair, which, my friend and I have agreed, gives me some kind of free parenting pass for at least a month, because of its very great worthiness. I am very tired. I think they are even more tired. I thought Fingers was going to cry when some lovely enthusiastic girls were explaining osmosis with a hollowed out carrot filled with sugar solution. It was very good, really: we were able to misidentify six types of medical prosthesis, fail to blow up a balloon using a yeast solution, receive free pens from at least 3 weapons manufacturers and talk to a robot in French.

However, scienced out as I am, I have very little to offer tonight except today's Stat Counter keyword searches leading to this very weblog. They are a typical selection, with the old faithfuls "Kate O'Mara" and "blue waffle" making a strong showing.

Fourth most popular search term of the day is "dress up like a camel", interestingly.

Thereafter, in no particular order:

"Dog knitted fotos"

"Tapir sex with woman"

"Empty youth club"

"Birthday cake angler fish" (I really want to make one now)

"Hair plugs"

"You had better have one child"

"Badger cake"

"I want to be a woman"

"Folding bike race Anderlecht"

"Don't look here"

and my favourite of the day: "picture of a person dressed like the vegetable turnip".



(Proof)

That is all I have for you, because it is terribly late and I am hallucinating test tubes. I did actually talk to Prince Philip this week, IN PERSON, but you will have to wait until another day for details of that (split-second) conversation. Lucky.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Thursday

I am just sneaking in under the wire on the daily blogging thing today (and thank you so much for saying you are enjoying it, you are lovely). We have been out all day, and then I had a small quantity of wine and got involved in an incredibly lengthy discussion of taxidermy, because that's how we roll here in W8. I am lying in bed typing this, with my sacklike smock top (and possibly also my sacklike face, I have not checked) covered in melted cheap chocolate, stolen from children's Easter eggs that were entrusted to my safekeeping and which I have eaten. Plenty of time to replace them, Easter's not for months.

Today I skulked away into a dimly lit corner of the Natural History Museum while the children rampaged around with their pocket money (for which read 'money foraged from every surface in my house') and what happened? Lashes came back INSISTENT he must have what looked like an indistinct plush blob, one of the cuddly molecules he is currently obsessed with. I did not pay it much attention (I think my faculties melted down around the 700th interactive display. Honestly, what's wrong with a stuffed horse and a colouring sheet and, indeed, a shop selling nothing but tins of boiled sweets and souvenir pencils?) and shepherded him to the cash desk. I was thinking, with a high, to the point of obsessive, level of detail, about the precise composition of the cup of tea and cake combination I would choose when we got the hell out of there (lemon drizzle/builders, disappointing, but it hit the spot anyway. The spot is fairly large).

It was only when he asked me "c'est quoi, en fait, 'gonorrhea'?" that I realised exactly what he had bought. Another proud parenting moment. I would like to emphasise that we spent many hours looking at improving stuff in two museums. HOURS. I even found a dusty corridor full of decapitated birds to walk them along, bitching and saying their feet hurt:



This one in particular is fucking FURIOUS about having its head cut off:



But even so, gonorrhea. I am going to have to creep upstairs with the kitchen scissors and take the label off.

Here. Gonorrhea. It's cuddling up to e-coli and, I think, a streptococcus. Can you guess which one it is?




I had better sleep now, because science never does.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Wednesday

Weepette is practising his 'being read aloud to' face for his new job as a literacy dog:


1. Victor Hugo face

Ô gouffre! L'âme plonge et rapporte le doute..



(This is also slightly like his Footlights headshot, I think. He could, indeed, use it to audition for Les Misérables, neatly squaring the circle, whatever the fuck that actually means).


2. Chekhov face

"What's the use of talking? You can see for yourself that this is a barbarous country; the people have no morals; and the boredom!"



(He was in fact on his way to dog borstal during this heart-rending photoshoot. He had turned up the reproachometer to maximum, just in case I had a change of heart and smuggled him into my wheely suitcase).

3. I am not sure what this one is:





In the meantime, we are in London. I have already got into a squabble with a German man who called me an arsehole because he thought I was trying to hurry him off the train. I was probably actually rolling my eyes at my own children who have tragically become OUT OF TOWNERS. They have perfected the art of walking slowly across a mainline station concourse whilst looking slightly dazed AND getting stuck in tube barriers, then, to break my heart even more profoundly, Fingers sat on the Hammersmith & City line with a slightly supercilious expression and said "je préfère les trams de chez nous". I was rendered temporarily speechless and have had to bundle him straight onto the top deck of a Lahndan bus to try and rectify the damage. He remains unmoved. I am not sure what I still have in reserve, their entire plan for the next two days is "aller acheter les microbes" (buy plush bacteria, from the Natural History Museum). We are going to something at ExCel with Sir Waffle on Friday morning which sounds fun, even though for me, ExCel is irrevocably associated with my brief stint in the property law department of my erstwhile employers, hallowed be their Chambers Directory ratings, where I signally failed to deal with some tricky easements over a pylon in a barren corner of the ExCel site. The giant, cigarette paper thin plans I shoved guiltily in my desk drawers still come and rustle at me in recurrent nightmares.


In fact though, I have already struck holiday gold in the most unexpected way, and I think nothing will quite match up. Leading a reluctant constitutional around west London this afternoon, I realised we were very close to the fish pedicure place that I went to for Facegoop last year ; we took a detour so I could show them. It was love at first sight for Lashes, like a piscine thunderbolt. He stood, open mouthed and completely entranced at the sight and pleaded and pleaded with the single minded insanity that only an 8 year old can muster to be allowed to have his feet nibbled by small fish.


ING forgive me, I could not find it in my heart to say no, and I do not regret it for a second. If I am trying to rediscover tiny moments of pure joy, this was certainly one. They both did it, the ridiculous fish pedicure. Lashes had an expression of the most distilled, concentrated bliss throughout and Fingers laughed so hard on his precarious bucket perch that I was quite sure he would fall in. The Japanese lady on the front desk couldn't help giggling too. We all laughed and laughed as the sun set over the fleshpots of Notting Hill, and back in Square Marnix in Brussels, I don't suppose the ING were laughing much, but wotthehell. My children had a goddam fish pedicure.



(at this point, you can see they had got beyond the AAAAAH FISH stage to the 'yeah, fish. But also: biscuits!' phase)

"I will ALWAYS remember this" said Lashes, reverently, towards the end. I think we all will.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Tuesday

Lies about reptiles and biscuits

Implausible statements made on the way home yesterday:

1. Lizards have three eyes, one of which gets covered in scales when they grow up.
Source: "mon livre sur les reptiles" (my book on reptiles)

2. The tyrannosaurus cannot run, but instead "hides behind trees and jumps out on its prey".
Source: "On a vu un film" (we saw a film)

3. Komodo dragons are venomous, like human flesh and can paralyse you with one bite.
Source: "il y a quelqu'un qui m'a dit à la garderie" (someone told me at gulag holidaycamp). Oh, I have just remembered this one was followed up with "elle avait de la chance, ta copine" (your friend was lucky), said sagely and soberly, with head shaking, referring to this.

4. Dinosaurs can crush stones with their teeth, verrrry slowly.
Source: "c'etait aussi dans le film". (that was in the film too).

5. English people cannot say "speculoos".
Source: none cited.


The €1 a day gulag did not seem to have been particularly terrible. I suppose when you spend your school days rote learning poems about leaves and writing out your eleven times table in painstaking copperplate, being allowed to huddle around a pile of sticks without any particular goal is a dizzying luxury. I should keep this in mind next time I am fretting about laying on holiday entertainment, and perhaps keep some poems on hand to wave menacingly when boredom is mentioned.


By The Hammy Big Collared Entertainment Divided

I got distracted this morning by a memory of this civil war drama that used to thrill me to the core of my geeky pre-teen being (I would have been 9). I remember being completely, utterly immersed in it, finding it terrifying and swashbucklingly wonderful all at once. Now, well. See for yourself.




It turns out to be laughably, spectacularly terrible, at least in this extract. Favourite lines:

"And didn't I cure your goitre?"

"Good Margaret help me compose myself. Is my gown straight?"

"Let us ride into the woods while they prattle .. we have a sorrel mare for you (scriptwriters obviously reading La Peste, existentialism and civil war drama being excellent bedfellows), a stout beast of speed and full of bottom, she will make a good mount".

I suppose The Tudors is just as terrible, but I find it amusing how period drama dates just as badly as other drama. I mean, how, exactly has the seventeenth century changed between 1983 and now? One would imagine not at all, and yet.


A list of stuff I have fucked up or broken in the last week:

Lovely enormous Ikea mug, destroyed by scales falling out of kitchen cupboard;

Measuring jug, filled with plaster of paris (part of an ordeal by craft, something the 17th century was probably very hot on), then forgotten for several days. I burnt myself trying to see if pouring boiling water on it, then jabbing at it with a knife would help. ASTONISHINGLY, it did not. My father, the king of all science, must once again be so proud.

Adored hot pink Skandium mixing bowl, again knocked off work surface by something falling out of kitchen cupboard.

Pretty white mug from wanky teashop the Tea Smith in Spitalfields (kitchen cupboard victim 3).

Bottle of Diptyque Philosykos scent destroyed by things falling out of the bathroom cupboards. On the upside, the bathroom smells nicer than usual.


(I do not even bother to include the usual catalogue of phone calls not made, invoices not despatched, bills not paid, dwindling reserves of money, no clean clothes and the fact that I am wearing nauseatingly ugly stripy socks of dubious provenance with black patent ballet pumps because of the no clean clothes thing. It is all too tediously predictable).

What conclusions can we draw here? Either I have too much stuff, or there is not enough storage space, or both. The kitchen in particular is a series of expensive accidents waiting to happen.

You are being very patient with the daily blog tedium, which I think is proving therapeutic. Here, have a loris holding a cocktail umbrella, as gifted to me by reader H, as a reward:




Monday, 7 March 2011

Monday

Interesting (cough) Monday observations:

My nails are a disaster, I have hacked them down to nothing and they are split and deformed from prolonged contact with a range of Monsieur Propre kitchen unguents. Ô tristesse. I want the geisha nails I used to have in my former life as a pampered corporate lawyer. I did not actually have geisha nails when I was a corporate lwyer, they were an eyesore even then, but my hands certainly did not have even a glancing familiarity with Mr Propre Mousse Toutes Surfaces. I do not feel this particular aspect of my new life to be particularly enriching. Where once there were trips to lie in the louche gloom of the Porchester Spa reading magazines, now there is only the realisation that I am standing in my coat in the kitchen eating cake crumbs out of the tin, watched, more in sorrow than in anger, by an as yet unwalked dog, during the "working" day.

Thinking of nails, I have just remembered that I only got halfway through the child claw trimming session yesterday and gave up when the wriggling got too much for me, damn. "We haven't washed since Fingers' birthday", they told me cheerfully yesterday (a fact for which blame can be shared equally between me and their father) on the bus, shortly followed by some loud comment about removable hair. Lashes added gleefully that his toenails "are curling under". OH DEAR LORD. Welcome, social services. I have sluiced them down now, and will renew my efforts with the claw clipping later today, honest.

Apart from thinking about fingernails and achieving nothing, I have decided Oscar needs to start pulling his weight a little. It's not an ultimatum (yet), but all this lying around, helping himself to unguarded muffins, licking his bits and sleeping is starting to grate. I think he should requalify as one of those reading dogs. Alternatively, he would make a great personal diet coach, standing eerily close to you with a sorrowful expression as you eat. What with his being so thin and supercilious looking, it's about as off-putting as having Heidi Klum watch you eat. Or so I imagine. If I was actually in a room with Heidi Klum and food, I expect I would be all "oh, I had a huge breakfast, I'm not really hungry, maybe we could just share this kiwi fruit?" and all that crap.

Alternatively, maybe he could leverage his, um, strong personal brand with some kind of sponsorship deal? The little bastard gets recognised more often than I do*, and it's about time he started generating a revenue stream. There is simply no room for dead wood in this household. Well, except me. That is my job, the useless sitting.


The children have been despatched to (non-residential) half-term gulag. It costs a thrilling €1 a child per day, making it the cheapest thing you can possibly do with a child in Belgium. This gives me some insight into where my 50% tax goes (wow, I sound like the Telegraph. I am massively in favour of being taxed to fuck, let me clarify, for the record). It takes place at some other school which is an epic double bus trip away and where I imagine they will be huddled, 40 to a blunt green wax crayon, making their own entertainment with a tightly rationed supply of small stones and dust. I did ask them if they wanted to bring anything with them, but they declined, more fool them. I look forward to tidal wave of moaning and recrimination when I go and pick them up. On arrival this morning, the terrifying spectre of Josette the gulag's teaching assistant greeted us, so at least it is the devil they know (and rightly fear), I suppose. I can rationalise this act of parental neglect, because we are heading to the Lahndan on Wednesday for high jinks and I must somehow earn money to spend on plush bacteria and Japanese tat.

On which note I suppose I should make some token attempt to do exactly that.

(*Let's not get over-excited. Twice to my once, perhaps)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Sunday



It would be pretty feeble to declare a brave new daily blogging regime and then fail on day 2, so here is a photograph of the dog. The sun is out and the dog has spent large swathes of the weekend doing this. Proper animal bliss; I would be doing exactly the same if it were two or three degrees warmer.

In other news (watch as I stretch the definition of that word far beyond any defensible boundaries), I travelled home on the tram tonight (after seeing these people, fun, but I was quite preoccupied with trying to work out whether the singer was Antony Hegarty or not. I am still not sure. Then there was an exciting beer based GIRL FIGHT and I lost my concentration entirely) with a gigantic old skool TV abandoned by a passenger, and a great deal of sand:


(Yes, I took a photograph of a pile of sand. Your point is?)

I also discovered an interesting Czech beverage called "coffin varnish", which may be responsible for the poor quality and tardiness of this post.

I am going to sleep, because I need to get Team Indifference to substitute holiday gulag early doors tomorrow with packed lunches and I do not even know where it is. If you are in Brussels this week (2% of you), I strongly recommend you go to some of these. They are taking place at Space Without History Man in a Box gallery, and who knows, there might even be coffin varnish.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Ragout d'araignée

I am going to try and post every day for a while to see if it gets me back in the swing of things. It will be tedious and probably short-lived, you are warned.


Today:


1. We went on an old skool style Saturday trip 'into town': new, viciously expensive boring trainers for elder child, worthy reading books for smaller child, several hours loitering in the FNAC, McDonalds, then Rango (extraordinary, quite peculiar but beautiful). In my childhood, any single one of these events would have been considered sufficient entertainment for a full weekend (and McDonalds was entirely outlawed). But no, this catalogue of decadence was followed up with hot dogs and Total Wipeout. I'd come over a bit John Knox if I could be arsed, but I can't, I'm tired. I've had to spend the rest of the day throwing balls for the dog, who was feeling abandoned. Tomorrow we are going to see the new Studio Ghibli Borrowers, which pleases me, but I suspect will bore Fingers rigid. Lashes will stage whisper 1950s domestic ephemera to me throughout I expect, because of 2 (below).


2. Lashes got a copy of "Le Guide des Castors Juniors" (some kind of Francophone stealth scouts) with his Picsou magazine and has been giving me helpful suggestions all evening.

L: Eh, maman. If you need to get bloodstains out, you can use fine grained salt, or soluble aspirin.

E: Er, thanks. Out of what?

L: If you save the old oil from your deep fat fryer, you can give a teaspoon a week to your cactuses.

E: I have neither deep fat fryer nor cactus but will keep that in mind.

L: If you get an insect bite in your mouth, you should gargle with salty water and consult a doctor.

E: Good to know. Any tips on how to remove a stubborn cork from a bottle of €3 cava?

L: There is a recipe for homemade syrup?

E: I suppose that will have to do.



3. Galliano vest man was on my tram on the way home: I wonder how he is dealing with recent events. He was wearing python effect leather trousers so tight they were more like leggings, and his hair was taking up enough space for 3 passengers. Interestingly (it's all relative, shush), he was wearing a jacket, when normally he wears his vest with pride, which gives you some idea of how stupidly COLD it is. I am always pleased to see him. He and the tragically occasional bitchy assymetric hair shop boy always brighten my journey.



4. I found a French version of John Burningham's 'Would you rather' today, which was fun. Both my children would like to be swallowed by a fish rather than the far better option of being gobbled up by a crocodile. One of them would prefer "ragout d'araignée" (which I agree, almost manages to sound pleasant, far nicer than spider stew) and the other "jus d'escargot" (again, sounds like a plausible menu item and less icky than snail shake).

This has made me terribly nostalgic for Apple Pigs. Did anyone else have this 70s marvel about what a household does with a glut of apples? I LOVED. I don't suppose the children would much love, I did not have great results with Amos & Boris or Miss Jaster's Garden. and they were roundly appalled by The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, even though that picture of Samuel rolled in the dough remains one of my all time favourites:


Any successes introducing your favourite books to your children, those of you who have any? Or are they just humouring you?

There, this debate can be my contribution to World Book Day, which I am sure was otherwise languishing without me.

Friday, 4 March 2011

The most Belgian shopping ever

The man behind me in the supermarket this week was buying the following:



24 cans of Jupiler and a small container of americain (delicious mince for consumption raw, non Belgianists). The only thing that could possibly make this more Belgian would be an economy bag of 40 heads of chicory, and I almost think that would have spoilt the perfect symmetry of it.


It's not like I'm judging, incidentally. This was my shopping:




I'm bringin' scurvy back, one (eight) packet of Daim eggs at a time.

Look, this is an owl handwarmer:




You want it, don't you? Well you can't have it, it is mine. Look, here is its big brother, the hot water bottle:




I have nothing to tell you, as you can probably tell. Kitchen table, fret, repeat. It is, however, half term in a few short hours (now it's less than an hour! Gott in himmel, today is dribbling away without a shred of productive activity), and I must turn up at the festival of awkwardness that is the gulag's occasional goûter crêpes. As with all collective festivity in Belgium, it is run on the Ridiculous Ticketing System, whereby you cannot simply join the queue at the table with the crêpes on and pay over the odds, with bad grace, for a pancake. No, you must join a preliminary queue to buy TICKETS first. This requires you to estimate how many crêpes your children will want. You over-estimate, because the last thing you want to do is queue up again, or you under-estimate through parsimony, and have to buy more. Either way, you end up with far more tickets than you need. I love it. It is pure, demented Belgian bureaucratic brilliance.

Let us finish with three nice things, just, you know, because.

1. The sun is shining, and with four layers on, it is quite pleasant. So pleasant that I would consider a trip to the ice cream parlour named after a penis, if I could get a quorum of members of my family to agree to it. The chances of this are vanishingly slim, but a girl can dream of black cherry frozen yoghurt with a giant swirl of chantilly.

2. I no longer have to interview the perpetrators of this festival of teen choral inappropriateness in Kortrijk, which is a very long way away and when I had very little to ask them except WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS SACRED WERE YOU THINKING???

3. I have decided that half term will have to be a 'hang the expense' week, so there will be small treats and taxis as needed to keep us all sane, and stop us from feasting on each other's spinal fluid. My reasoning is that, whilst this may be financially disastrous, if I am not sane at the end of the holidays, my earning capacity will be reduced to nil anyway, so it's an investment in the future. Yes.

Oh god, I am late for gulag goûter, pray for me.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A late resolution

I was looking for a picture for something today, and I came across this:


It's in Spitalfields, Fingers would be about 18 months, I think. We were all having a very tricky time: we'd moved house - and country - for the second time in a year, we were grieving, and I was juddering gently off the rails after a period of making far too many huge decisions and juggling too many responsibilities in a short space of time. But look, look at us. It's one of those little moments of pure joy. I remember having a lot of those, even at the worst of times then. I was so bloody glad to be out of Paris, for one thing and I loved living in Spitalfields, completely loved it. I could get an enormous amount of pleasure from just walking through the market and up Brick Lane. I need to get better at finding those kinds of tiny pleasures at the moment: it's been a long winter and I can't buy my treats at the moment, I have to find them in other ways. I am in a phase of Calvinist self-loathing which is doing no-one any good. It's odd; even though for large swathes of last year things were, objectively, far blacker than they are now, I seemed to be better at finding fun. This has to change, somehow, whether it's with books, strings of profanity and unicorns from friends, or the three short stemmed irises in my garden/slum.

The clue is partly in the picture, though, because look how that boy is making me laugh. He still does, he and his brother. They are daft and delightful and very, astonishingly, willing to cuddle me on demand. I worry a lot about not being up to scratch, I worry about worrying them. I worry about pretty much everything at the moment, so that's no surprise, but I particularly worry that my anxiety is leaching the joy out of things. I want to hold on to the tiny moments of pure pleasure, not to just be the miserable cow worrying about clearing up afterwards, or money, or The Future. I am going to try and be better at it. Next week, is half term and I am going to try and stop gnawing at my fur, and do some daft stuff with my lovely children. Horrible crimes against craft, and outings to poke things. The kind of stuff all three of us love.

Even if I am struggling slightly, I am still me. I know this, because I only realised I had to get to Waterloo an hour before I had to be there today. Then I called the GPS in the car I was forced to borrow in order to get there a "fucking bitch" and had to make an illegal turn across a dual carriageway. And when I got to my destination, late, I conducted a twenty minute interview with eyeliner all over my left hand and a sock on my shoulder (the interviewees did not mention the sock, it fell off in the car park as I left). I think the sock thing might just make my children laugh.