Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Parish Events

Oh Belgium.

I walked home in the pouring rain this morning to be greeted by this tent, outside the local church (which is quite picturesque if you are into that kind of thing):

(Terrible picture, due to pouring rain).

I went into Pain Quotidien and asked the girl behind the counter about the Havana Club tent outside the church. She said:

"Oh, yeah. They're serving mojitos and rolling cigars".

Of course they are. At 10am. In the pouring rain. Outside a church. In the 'burbs. In an area where the local population gets unnaturally excited by, and can stare for hours at, small scale roadworks, or a stray dog. Will this end in tears? Quite possibly.

I also encountered Bizarre Homemade Trumpet Amplification Violin Busker on the metro.

I like to think that he brings good luck even though I have no evidence for this whatsover. I gave his companion, Tiny Tambourine Boy Who Should Be At School €1 in small change. I am hoping that means that next time I look outside I will find a miniature Shetland pony grazing my brambles.


Now there is a red carpet! And a potted palm! I can tell you, excitement levels are reaching core meltdown level here. There is an exceptional amount of standing around and staring going down. Oh, yes.

I do not, however, have a miniature Shetland pony yet.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

London, Dog, Cracker, Carob

Internet, I am sorry I am still not maintaining the kind of service levels you have come to expect from this weblog (semi-regular whining, repetitive complaints about squalor and weight gain, occasional references to Belgium, poor quality photographs of an emotionally unstable dog). I am somewhat fucked, workload wise. And given that I am also somewhat fucked, money wise, I am trying to knuckle down and do the many many small jobs, all of them earning 43 pence, I have signed up for.

HOWEVER. I will not let you down, I can definitely squeeze in an incoherent twenty minute. You are going to be so glad I did.

I went to London for all of 36 hours this week. It was filled with goodness, though also filled with water falling mysteriously from the sky, darkness, and biblical thunder. I was cold and underdressed for all 36 hours, my bare pasty legs puzzling pretty much everyone, including me. I was out of practice at important things such as not establishing eye contact on public transport, and stringing together a conversation with someone other than myself, but this did not stop me having a lovely time. Apart from that, the following:

- a visit to Cybercandy in Covent Garden for small boy appeasing. I bloody love that place. I bought an Oreo Chunky KitKat for myself, as well as a range of peculiar Japanese tat for the small boys. Eating an Oreo Chunky KitKat, it transpires, is a bit like eating a pasta sandwich: extraneous. But with added diabetes. It is not a patch on the much lamented Peanut Butter Chunky Kit Kat, which I was saddened to see they did not have a carefully guarded stock of.

- Lunch at Rose Bakery at Dover Street Market with H. It was extremely entertaining indeed and H made me laugh and laugh. However. People who rave about Rose Bakery: did you never go to health food cafés in the late 70s and early 80s? Those of you familiar with my background as hippy scum will be able to imagine readily that I spent a LOT of time at such places, and I am telling you, Rose Bakery is one, rebranded. The heavy sludge coloured crockery. The plates of worthy salads. The ever present danger of finding a RAISIN on your plate. For all its YSL and Carven and Lanvin, I am intransigent: that place is one carob cake away from sending me into full blown flashback to the Gillygate Wholefood Shop Café, York's premier hippy-nourishing venue. Rose Bakery, though, is filled with beautiful people who do not look as if they have made their own clothing out of boiled felt coloured with vegetable dyes and you eat your grated carrot surrounded by some of the most beautiful, covetable and eye-gougingly expensive pieces of clothing in London. Also, the staff look attractive and well-nourished, unlike normal health food café staff, who invariably look like they have a lifetime of heroin use behind them. It caused me intense cognitive dissonance.

- Trip to see my lovely friend Violet who had MADE MACAROONS, impeccable beautiful perfect ones I thought were bought, as well as marmalade cake. All this while being relentlessly harried by two - beautiful, charming, completely unreasonable - toddlers. Wow, I had forgotten how relentless toddlers are. Well, I remember in theory. I was telling Fingers about his horrendous behaviour recently, a memory triggered by someone using the phrase "cracker waiting". In our house, you cannot have a cracker, you must have a "cracker waiting", which is because when Fingers was one-ish or two-ish with the sunny, easy-going temperament of Ghengis Khan and the people skills of Vlad the Impaler, he used to lurch towards me in the kitchen every evening while I made dinner, 80cms of pure baleful malevolence, intoning "CRACKERWAITING. CRACKERWAITING. CRACKERWAITING".

This meant "Would it incovenience you greatly if I were to have a cracker while I wait for you to prepare our no doubt delicious repast?" If, for any reason, I was unable to provide the cracker, or delayed unduly in finding it, he would rend his garments, bellow, and frequently headbang the cupboard door, until I gave in. He was a terrifying infant, and several times I locked myself in the bathroom to get out of his way. Lashes asked "what was I doing?" and I was able to answer with absolute assurance "you were sitting on the sofa, completely immobile, watching 'Here Comes a Digger' for the 983rd time". Happy, happy, nervous breakdown days. Violet is infinitely more patient than I ever managed to be. She is a toddler whisperer.

- Tall Tales. Every time I do Tall Tales I am assailed with a sense of how shit I am compared to everyone else. This is honestly true, not false modesty, I really am. These people are PROPER. They are incredibly funny and clever and perhaps even more importantly, they are not paralysed by being on stage facing other people. I had a fit of microphone ineptitude on Thursday night, which meant that I ended up sitting right off on one side of the stage, sort of facing sideways, because I was too intimidated to move the microphone. I am a twat. Everyone else was brilliant. There were two I have not encountered before: Helen Arney who I am now slightly in love with. Watch this. Just do. Also this man who made me laugh a great deal. Duly blog-rolled, even though that sounds peculiar.

- a free and delicious lunch with Mrs Trefusis, which is the best kind of lunch in the best kind of company, before staggering back to the station with Japanese confectionery spilling from every pocket. I do not want any of you to be alarmed but I did not visit Marks & Spencer during my trip. I did not trust myself after the fairly recent unfortunate incident where I ended up in Westfield Marks & Spencer trying to cram the entire shop into my bag for life and had to turn to the internet to try and talk me down from the ledge of dangerous, all-consuming Marksandspencism.

- Most exciting of all I saw an Exciting Dog Incident on Kilburn High Road. I was minding my own business, admiring, from a wary distance, a giant slavering pit bull type hound tied to one of those swingy metal signs they put outside corner shops advertising, uh, the national lottery and things, when the shutters on the shop - which was a bookies (of course it was a bookies) - came down, scaring the giant slavering hound into bolting into the road, still attached to the large, clanking metal sign. It stopped traffic in both directions on the High Road, trying its very best to get itself run over, galloping round in circles with the sign bumping and swinging in its wake. At one point, a man in a white van got out of his white van to just shout random abuse at it, clearly puzzled by a traffic incident in which he couldn't justifiably punch someone and people scattered like nine pins trying to avoid being thwacked in the shins by the trailing metal sign. Eventually a man staggered out of the bookies, looking furious and shouted to no-one in particular "WHO UNTIED THE FOCKING DOG" (of COURSE he was Irish), at which half of Kilburn pointed wordlessly down the road where an exceptionally brave soul - heroic, I would say, had managed to get one foot on the metal frame of the sign and was restraining the dog from a respectful distance, jabbing an umbrella in its direction to fend it off. It was strangely brilliant, and could have ended so much worse, but I fear I am not telling it well. You had to be there, in mortal danger of being knocked unconscious by a fleeing dangerous dog and his gigantic metal weapon-cum-ineffective restraint.

It is Saturday night - the time people are statistically least likely to be on the internet* - and I am telling the internet a bathetic story about a dog running away. That tells you all you need to know, for now.

*I made that up but it sounds plausible.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Great Britain: a primer

I was amused this morning by Lashes's geography homework, which is sort of a basic primer on Belgium.

You'll need to click on them to see properly, sorry.

It lists Belgian monuments:


Manneken Pis

Lion of Waterloo (this is pushing it, frankly)

Er.. that's it.

Then it lists Belgian celebrities:

Justine Henin, tennis player (boring, but ok)

Axelle Red, singer (seriously? When did she last do anything? Also, best version of her only memorable song, Sensualité, is here:

Benoît Poelvoorde, actor (ok, I suppose)

Maurane, singer (Who? Connais pas)

Tia Hellebaut, high jumper (if you say so)

I think it might have been politic for them to include more than one Flemish person in the list, and how about Stromae? If Kanye knows who he is, I reckon he beats Maurane, whoever she is. Or, indeed, Dr Evil?

Then finally Belgian food:

Steak frites

Moules frites

Firstly, I do not think, Belgium, you can really claim steak and chips is "yours". It is everyone's. It is the people's steak frites and Nicolas Sarkozy will probably invade you to forcibly demonstrate the primacy of French steak and chips. Secondly, where is the américain? Chocolate? The mighty chicon? I asked Lashes and he just looked at me scornfully and said "Le chicon c'est pas Belge", which is an egregious lie.

I should be doing many things this morning, including faking an entry form for a cross-country run for my eldest child (yes, he has been quite bad recently), but instead I find myself wanting to recreate this document for Britain with similar brevity. I have made a start (you can click on these too, I would hate you to miss a detail of my incredibly skillful drawing):

I feel this has been a very valuable use of my morning. I would, after all, hate for my children to lose their precious British culture. If you feel I have omitted anything essential, do please let me know.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Gaga day

Let us start this long overdue post with Belgian news: Lady Gaga day on the Brussels metro seemed to pass off without incident, to my sadness. I was hoping for a flashmob at the very least, possibly some kind of mass civil disobedience. This video about it is fucking hilarious in every possible way. I love the voiceover man's incredibly soft, deadpan delivery, the fact they have featured metro Kunst-Wet, which is not at all open to misinterpretation by English speakers, oh no, AND the lady from the STIB using the expression: "Highlight the modern and trendy image of the Brussels metro". At this point I had to restart the video and watch it again, gleefully, in full screen as she apparently says that in front of what appears to be a scene of grimy, early '80s soviet cinema verité, but is in fact Brussels's busiest metro station. I love this city.

I was, however, slightly disappointed not to see a single person wearing a dress out of américain or hatching out of a giant witloof. I feel I missed a trick by not dressing up myself, really. I wish someone had sent me to wander the platforms in prosthetic horns and giant hoof shoes. I would happily wee through my fishnets for money.

Instead, I did enjoy this new platform signage, which made me think of B's perpetual fury at Brussels' commuters and their total inability to grasp the basics of getting on and off trains in a reasonably logical fashion. This is now proved by the introduction of amateurly painted ARROWS to assist them. Wonderful.

If they really think this is enough to convey the message "LET PASSENGERS OFF THE TRAIN FIRST, YOU UTTER MORONS", I think they are woefully mistaken. I will be looking forward to seeing how this is interpreted by commuters. What would Lady Gaga think? I bet she could do a better job of it.

Apart from that, nothing is working today. The "book" is full of holes - mysteriously sliding tenses, characters I am bored to fuck with, plot screw ups, a creeping sense of dread at the pervasive crapness of it all. I am trying to keep a JK Rowling style redemptive narrative of triumph over adversity in my head to spur me on, through the financial apocalypse and the self-doubt and the embarrassment and the hiding the electricity bill under the book case, but there is a nagging voice in my head that says 'somehow, I don't think that yet another novel about middle class adultery is going to spawn a multi-million pound industry and six film extravaganza, you dumbass'.

On top of impending literary and fiscal doom, my face is full of gigantic insect bites, my lips are dessicated like Ramses II's scalp and I threw my pants in the bin in a fit of rage earlier because they were too tight. I am behind on everything except my invoicing, which I am compulsively, obsessively, up to date with. Instead of actual trying to generate some revenue, I am now watching the French news (which I usually wouldn't touch with a shitty stick, but I have a terrible compulsive need to know exactly what they are saying about DSK. They are making me pay for my prurience with lengthy reports about the level of compliance with the French MOT) drinking a large gin and eating a bowl of spinach. There is pasta too, but I realised too late there are only 5 tortellini left in the packet. It's an almost Hurley-esque portion (apart from the fact that pasta is carbohydrate, obviously, and that I am the size of six Hurleys. Or a Hurley from Lost. I am reduced to my Gap occupational therapise trousers that are made of some kind of suspiciously wipe clean material. My top has both blood and tomato on it. I am 36).

I bet you're glad I've updated you on public transport, my dinner and other whining, finally. You were holding out for that weren't you? I hope your day is going better. Perhaps a monkey brought you banana pancakes in your hammock? Perhaps tiny ponies brought you mini choux à la crème and gave you a gentle massage with their tiny hooves? No? Ah well. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

People who really need to stop emailing me

1. Jaeger Online

Jaeger. Beautiful Jaeger.

It's not that I don't like you, you know that, don't you? I can say this honestly: I'm in love with you. (Well, parts of you. Not the ones that make you look like a school governor at the annual prize giving in 1989). We have a long history and I'm not going to lie, I think about you a lot, often late at night, when I lie in my bed, listening to the moths chewing their way through my M&S cashmere blend jumpers.

But you know it just can't happen. I mean, come on. We live in different worlds at the moment, you and I. You, with your peony print silks, me with my brown padded body warmer I inadvertently stole from Hackney City Farm five years ago, thinking it was a child's coat (is it yours? I will return it. Sadly, but I will). Sometimes it lasts in workwear, Jaeger, and sometimes it hurts instead. This is the latter.

I will not forget you. Maybe one day we can be together. I doubt it though. Be happy, Jaeger! I want you to have the best of everything. Run free, in your perforated leather shorts and leprechaun outfit (yeah, that one might have benefited from a little bit more thought. I'm only saying that because I love you).

2. Guardian Soulmates

Listen, Guardian Soulmates,

I know you say you only want to help. "We don't see you around here anymore!" you say. "Here are your top matches!" you say, trying to tantalise me with pictures of Weeble from Stoke Newington and Simon01 from Carlisle. "Weeble loves to cook!" you say. "Simon01 likes to curl up on the sofa with a good DVD and a bottle of wine". I don't want to be mean, but you are plainly misguided. I think you were meaning to submit Simon's picture to Sexy Executives rather than send it to me. As for "Weeble", he is swathed in orange fabric from head to foot. I am sure I have seen him parading around Carnaby Street in the daily Hare Krishna parade, his bejewelled money (? or not) pouch waving to the rhythm of the drums. I don't want to be mean, but you don't know me at ALL, Guardian Soulmates. Actually, scratch that. I do want to be mean. I hate do-gooders. Bugger off.

3. La Réserve Hotel, Geneva

La Réserve.

I don't want this to sound harsh, but I think you need to get real and stop mailing me. What we had? Sure, it was fun. But it was a three night stand in 2007 and it can't happen again. I'm just not able to give you any more now, or probably ever. You're gorgeous, don't get me wrong, but you smell like an ashtray and you have, like, really REALLY expensive tastes. It was great while it lasted, and I'll always think of the jellyfish shaped lamps in your spa café fondly. Have a nice life, La Réserve. Be cool.

4. The PR company who write to me thus:

"Hi Belgium,

I have not heard from you about our amazing offer for you to host these gigantic pictures of a bar of soap on your website in return for nothing, not even a sample sized bar of soap that you could regift to someone in extremis had you happened to forget their birthday. Could you let me know if you'll be taking up our excellent offer? Thanks Belgium,



Dear Holly, or do you prefer United Kingdom?

The Kingdom of Belgium is delighted to hear from you, and I am of course very flattered that you consider me the mouthpiece of for 11 million of us.

I am sorry we have not replied to your kind offer of some pictures of soap to use on our website. We have been a little busy lately with matters such as attempting to halt the fragmentation of our tiny nation, beating those lightweights, Iran, in the governmental interregnum games, and berating Witloof Bay for being shit. I am even more sorry to have to disappoint you by telling you we will not be using your soap pictures, since we do not feel them to be a good fit with Brand Belgium. We're currently trying to reposition ourselves as a sort of gritty, dirtier Switzerland, so this wouldn't really be sending out the right messages.

Have you considered approaching Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, or, and this is a wild card, but go with me, Scotland? Anyway. Great hearing from you.



5. The Innkeepers Lodge

Dear Innkeepers Lodge,

You have to stop and you have to stop now. What we did was wrong, very wrong. Your repeated attempts to contact me are in direct breach of the restraining order I have taken out against you. Do not think I have forgotten that night in Glasgow. The whole, no sheets, locked out at 3am in November débâcle.

Do not contact me again. Ever. I feel dirty just thinking about you.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

I am back (I never went away) (more's the pity)

"Please write something soon" says The Student Cook, which she will live to regret, I expect. But I have missed you all very much whilst Blogger was being an arse and I was, where? I forget. Here and there. Mainly here. Right here. At this table, collapsing my spine into dust and snacking incessantly. Freelancing: the career choice of HEALTHY LIVING. I am as fat as ever and getting nicely spotty, which figures since I have to have my picture taken on Friday. I would imagine by then I will have three chin boils and an extra three chins to put them on. The universe decrees it so.

I remember:

1. A lengthy meeting where I thought I might have to fake my own death to escape. One would have thought that HEALTHY LIVING! freestyle life might allow me to avoid such things, but no. The only difference is, away from the fleshpots of the Corridor of Ennui, there were no stale miniature macaroons, or biscuits. We used to be able to gauge the state of profits in my erstwhile workplace from the quality of meeting room snacks, which varied from homemade cake, delivered by unicorns (almost) at the height of the merger boom, to some unpleasant sachets of generic trail mix in 2009. I am not in favour of this, any of it. Meetings, I mean. Snacks I am thoroughly in favour of.

2. The paintballing birthday extravaganza, which turned out to be possibly the most painless children's birthday party in the history of children's birthday parties. We dropped the children off. "See you in three hours" said the taciturn, heavily lined paintballing man, a sort of Walloon Clint Eastwood figure whose sense of humour had doubtless been beaten out of him by an endless series of shrieking, armed children.

"Oh, don't we come back for the goûter?"

"No. See you in this field in three hours".

"Right you are".

We did not need to be told twice.

The CFO and I went to the supermarket unmolested by small children, and then had lunch in a nice fish restaurant. There was wine. The worst thing that happened to us was the unsolicited amuse-bouche of sea slugs, which we hid in a plant pot. We returned to the field and sat in the sun until the children were delivered back to us, quorate, undamaged, tired, clutching bags of crap, and not even dirty. Today a brown envelope dropped onto my mat containing a DVD of what happened in the intervening three hours, which I have no intention of ever watching, unless Lashes is particularly insistent. I give this party 9/10. I have taken a point off because there is no way in holy hell we could ever afford it again, but as an experience, it's a winner. If you are rich and live in Brussels and have small boys (anyone?), recommended.

3. My Eurovision party. This was an unqualified success (for me at least if no-one else) based on the following Key Performance Indicators:

- I did not get so tired and cross cleaning up for the party that I could not enjoy it. My new technique of opening the door to the cellar and chucking things down there indiscriminately is to thank for this. I was quite tempted to throw both children indiscriminately down there, as they followed me around dropping things and creating mess, but thanks to the morning of paintball respite, I managed to resist.

- Lots of people I liked came and were funny and delightful. I even knew everyone's names without even having to think about it.

- There was a great deal of good snack-age, including two types of cake made by me, or rather made by the small boys following my totalitarian patisserie production instructions. A sort of friand and cup cake sweatshop, if you will.

- And Hendricks. Lovely Hendricks and tonic and lemons and ice, due to having had the opportunity to go to the supermarket unmolested.

- The whole affair was its usual catalogue of euro-kitsch and below par boys band twattery and highly enjoyable. My only slight sadness was Belgium's failure to qualify with its awe-inspiringly horrible acapella number "With Love Baby, by "Witloof Bay" (if you can last more than 14 seconds, you are a better Belgian than I am).

(Parenthetically, I want to say how much bloody easier writing this blog entry is than anything else I have written over the last week or so, all of which has either been anxiety inducing (law), dreary (book edits) or massively frustrating (also book edits). Such a shame it doesn't, you know, pay the bills. Make it so, universe)

4. I do not think there is a 4. I think we have now exhausted anything I could be arsed to do over the past week. Oh, there has been cash machine crying, conjugating, continued inexplicable (ha!) fatness, unsuccessful pitching, hedgehog examining, cowboy outfit buying and a lot of board game playing. The children are very fond of decaying, retro board games at the moment. They like boring Memory style games, miserable multiplication games, interminable battleship games and the nine-numbered dominoes of doom. I have no idea where I have gone wrong, I bloody hate board games. Shouldn't they be in a corner, getting all squinty eyed staring at their Nintendos? Incidentally Lashes withdrew his request for a Nintendo 3DS at the last minute and ended up with the electronic battleships game I despise, some mangas, and the promise of a Stuffyourdoodle. He already has one of these, but they are really brilliant and I can sort of see his point. Talking of points, was there one? Oh yes, the children are making me play games. I think they are not mine.

Here is one of them preparing for the gulag's annual festival of kitschery. He has already warned me it is a re-run of Cotton Eye Joe from two years ago, but has said, mysteriously, that he will keep some of the moves a surprise. I am scared.

Shortly after this picture he wrapped the dog entirely in pipe cleaners. I have nothing to say about that, really, the dog probably deserved it. The dog woke me at 2am on Sunday by getting its head and leg stuck in a Bag for Life it was mine-sweeping for forgotten chocolate. I have not forgiven it.

Lashes is in a 'no photos', sulky, pré-ado phase. It is quite the delight. I managed to capture him climbing into the neighbours garden, presumably practising so that when he's 14 he can go there to drink cider and sniff glue, or something.

Maybe he was just contemplating running away from home? You will see why he might be tempted as we turn our attention to the Rubbish Dutch Song Of The Week, from Op Weg Met Robald, the Dutch textbook where hope goes to die.

Ik neem mijn pennensak
I take my pencil case
Ik open mijn pennensak
I open my pencil case
Ik luister naar de leraar
I listen to the teacher
En ik ben klaar
And I am ready

(I am doing this from memory, I do not have it in front of me, so Dutch speakers please to correct).

There are many more verses but they are limiting us to one a week to properly build the suspense. I am hoping by the end of term we might be getting out our particle accelerator and getting ready to split the atom. Now that would be useful vocabulary.

I don't really know what qualifies this as a 'song'. If it has a tune, I have not been informed. Op weg met Robald, where the fun literally never starts.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Competition time

A tiny post tonight. My smallest is all sick, and floppy and hot today. I have been handing him teatowels filled with ice to his exact specifications and squeezing menthe à l'eau and Nurofen sachets down his throat like an owl mother (except way more attentive and with less ripping limb from limb of small mammals). I have watched four episodes of Pokémon, one of Galaktik Football, and two of Inazuma Eleven. Greater love hath no parent. If I see another anime face today, I will be punching it, hard.

So. Competition time - stealing an idea of Lee's - while I listen to some Schoenberg and stare at a blank white wall to detox my brain (easier said than done, all the walls are rich shades of peach and tangerine round here, mmmm this colour scheme never gets old).

Fingers has come home with instructions for supplies for Father's Day. He has to supply: one empty tin can and a blank CD. (There is also a request for a cowboy hat, but I believe this to be unrelated cruelty on the part of the gulag).

I would like you to give me your best guesses as to what the lucky, lucky CFO will be getting for his present? The winner will, hopefully, get some of these amazing Mexican Wrestling Chocolates, which I am going out to ransack all of Brussels to find. Otherwise, they'll get some tat from the back of my cupboard and the Royal Wedding Commemorative CD the CFO kindly gifted me today. No, I will definitely get you Mexican Wrestling chocolate. It's one of my special shoddy promises. The Fête des Pères isn't until 12 June so you have some time to think about your answers. What handy, cheap, masculine gift could he possibly be constructing from a CD and a tin can? Previous gifts have included: a box file, a photo frame and, errr. No. It's gone. Some other stuff constructed from household detritus. You're on your own, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Up and Down

The last twenty four hours have been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. That is actually a lie. It was more of a very gently undulating ride on a motility scooter, but nevertheless, there were ups and downs.

Down: Crossed town (desperate scramble for clean clothes, double tram fun) for a meeting that had been cancelled.

Up: They let me into the building before they told me that, and they have nice coffee.

Down: The dog was sick, copiously, right next to the sofa last night.

Up: I narrowly avoided stepping in it, barefoot AND he avoided the (white) sofa.

Down: I still had to clean it up, which was enough to start me retching.

Up: I was quite productive yesterday and wrote a 1400 word article in one concentrated burst, thereby freeing myself for tempura and pottering downtown.

Down: Then I decided it wasn't quite right and I have spent the whole of today arsing around with it to little avail.

Up: I had tempura and miso soup on my own, in total peace in the sunshine at St Géry, and wandered around downtown Brussels for half an hour.

Down: My tempura was a bit rubbish and approximately 93% batter.

Up: Cosmeticary now sells Laura Mercier - the first place in Brussels to have half decent cosmetics, hurrah.

Down: I can't afford Laura Mercier.

Down: I am really quite fat, and I can't quite work out why. I think I have hit a metabolic wall, and will have to stop eating crisps and cinnamon rolls (and 93% batter tempura, you may quite justifiably add).

Up: It has mainly gone to my chest, which is attracting quite the following among Brussels perverts.

Down: My chest hurts like hell.

Up: It is not because I am pregnant, thank fuck. Or if I am, it is a miracle, and they can start a cult in my honour, which might be lucrative.

(After I wrote this, I got so paranoid that even though there was no possible way I could be pregnant, I actually wasted €7 on a test, which,
Up: Was negative; but

Down: That means I'm just fat. M says it's probably the menopause, and they are putting hormones in my chicons. )

Down: Organising Lashes's birthday party (paintballing, never again) is a complete ball-ache. I have had to provide full postal addresses, phone numbers, ages, dental records and DNA samples (ok, that might not be strictly accurate) for all attendees ten days in advance (when of course, no normal parent has even located the invitation, let alone replied to it) on an online form of enormous complexity. It is also frighteningly expensive: I could probably build my own paintballing centre for the price. I have lost all festive spirit in the preparation.

Up: Parents are actually BANNED from staying on site at the paintball place. They will cancel the party if we hang around. Oh, shame. I supppose we must comply though. Oh look, there is a conveniently placed chateau with a café just a brief stroll away.

Down: The oehoe cam is entirely obscured by leaves

Up: The baby Slechtvalks are quite nice.

Colossal down: I have just looked and there seem to be only two left! Oh DEAR. There used to be three. Bloody nature. This whole birdcam thing is fraught.

Sheepish, but very relieved up: I think the third chick had just wobbled off screen and hasn't plunged to its death. Phew.

Down: This post is utter rubbish.

Do let me know your ups and downs of the last few days?

Sunday, 8 May 2011


Oh man, I am very tired. If today were a Pokémon attack, it would be called something like "Intense Torpor - mimics the sensation of drowning in wet sand whilst listening to that plinky plonky music they play in sub-standard spas". Benelux was - probably apocryphally - declared the hottest place in Europe this weekend, so we have all mainly been staring in confusion at the sky and waiting for it to start raining locusts, or blood, or something, because it must be the end of the world, there is no other explanation. To give you some indication of exactly how dead from the neck up I am, I have not taken any anti-histamines this weekend even though my sinuses are entirely clogged with pollen (and even though I LOVE anti-histamines, yes please, the drowsy kind is just fine, mr pharmacist), because I was worried I might actually forget to breathe, or might mislay my children on the 2 minute walk to the park, or similar. It was like that from about mid-week onwards, actually. I think someone is secretly sedating me, my brain has been replaced my some kind of whipped marshmallow. Probably the assassin, the fucker has taken to calling very regularly even though I never pick up the 'phone, and we know all about his covert skillz.

There has been a lot of Pokémon this weekend, anyway. Someone on Twitter kindly pointed me in the direction of this amazing tool, so mainly we have been making Pokemon cards of ourselves. These ones aren't particularly funny (a shred of wit or intelligence about me today since I have exhausted myself staring at the sky in peasant terror), but the potential is limitless. Well, it is limitless if you have ever been enslaved by the evil empire of Pokémon, which I have in several ways, since apart from the children syphoning offf most of my net income into poké-products, I used to work for the people who produce the actual cards back when I had a proper job. There was a time when I could have told you the name for most Pokémons, and the rationale for the differences, in three languages. Which I am sure you will agree is an excellent party trick if you only go to parties attended by 8 year old boys. Ideally in the year 2000.

ANYWAY. We made these.

(Yes, Oscar has fleas. It's been a delight. I suspect he got them from the CFO's hedgehog when we went round there. I was quite impressed with the hedgehog, incidentally, which does not seem to have received the memo telling it it is nocturnal. It spent its time sprawled around the garden in a sort of passive-aggressive territory war with the tortoises. I have some film of it, but is quite brown, silent and boring, and I will spare you. )

Do make your own, they will be a million times funnier than mine, I am quite certain.

Oh, today was mother's day too in this country (can we still call it a country after a full years sans government? I have my doubts). I was greeted, very sweetly, if slightly early, this morning with a Petit Filous, and four Oreos (reduced to two after enforced "sharing") on a tray, and a poem recited by Fingers, complete with actions. Then, finally, my long awaited camembert jewellery box, a crucial rite of francophone motherhood, complete with vanity mirror and "compartments". Lashes jumped the gun somewhat, summoning me to his father's house on Friday afternoon for what he described as "A NINTENDO EMERGENCY YOU HAVE TO COME NOW, MAMAN". I dragged myself there with much eye rolling and muttering only to be presented with a magnificent surprise tray featuring: a slice of Crabzilla, some pineapple juice, a card, and a vase he had lovingly created out of a beer bottle Aww. They are very lovely boys, and I will look back on these moments, I know, very fondly, when they are stealing out of my handbag soon.

I am stopping, because I will definitely forget something crucial, like, my own name, if I continue trying to type in my current state. Please send fish oils or something.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Names and Dog brains

I have been in the creative doldrums since Crabzilla. It's taken me until this afternoon to get the house looking like something other than a fatal explosion in a confectionery factory. Mainly I stuck to looking around in sorrow and sighing deeply, it seemed safer.

The best fun of the last 2 days has been an exchange with my friend F about the gender of hippy names.

E: Mulch?

F: Boy. Grumble, Mooncrater.

E: Both boys, I think.

F: Lacinato (a type of kale, I had no idea). That's definitely a boy's name.

E: Sandal?

F: Girl

E: Nimbus.

F: Girl. Cymbal?

E: Also a girl.

F: Pubis?

E: Definitely a boy. Like Clovis.

F: "Little Pubis! He's so like his father". Hummus?

E: Boy. Tarama for a girl.

F: Yes, Taramasalata. Tarama for short.

E: Then there are the triplets, Seitan, Tofu and Quorn. Girl, boy, boy.

F: My mother once asked someone her child's name and she said "Lasagna". My mother just asked if it was with an A or an E.

Please suggest your own, with gender, in the comments.

I also took the dog to the park yesterday evening. We had a pleasant enough time until its brain just sort of exploded. I filmed it briefly, to give you some inkling of how most of our interactions go. You will see that I speak to the dog 1. In French (seems to work better); and 2. As if both he and I are profoundly stupid (which may well be true on the strength of this clip, but I am not sure if this 'works'. It certainly didn't here).

The bit where he gets distracted at the end, by dust, or possibly someone opening a packet of crisps 300 miles away, is entirely typical.

It's been a long, pointless day, and now I have to take the dog out AGAIN. Entertain me, please.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Crabzilla Masterclass

I realise many of you may be wondering how you, too, can make a cake shaped like a giant Japanese spider crab. That is precisely what I am here for. That and whining. Read on!

The journey to cake madness starts with some freeform, traybased improvisation. Try and make sure you haven't had more than 5 hours sleep. Any more and you might have sufficient distance/common sense not to get into this kind of lunacy .

At this point, you should expect to be feeling a combination of fear, frustration, self-loathing and a profound desire to go back to bed. Your best friend might chip in helpfully, saying:

"You do realise your children are taking the piss, right? 'What will drive her nuts? Oh yes, that stupid giant crab she's obsessed with'".

Next, it might be fun to go to the supermarket and find out they have run out of yellow food colouring to make the crab shell the requisite orangey colour. Because, otherwise, where's the fun? When you return, this is a good time to experiment with a wider variety of ancient cake toppings to try and get a better shell-like effect. If you have a dog, at this point it will start making a mind-numbing high-pitched whining noise, wishing first to go out, then to come in to the house. How amusing!

You may find, whilst you are bashing miniature orange smarties with a hammer, that thoughts of how many hours this is going to take and how much you could be earning if you were still a lawyer for that many hours work will cross your mind.

Dispel these intrusive thoughts by making some cakes. You might burn one of them. It's ok, no-one actually cares about the cake, remember. Ice one blue, even though blue icing makes you remember a children's birthday party where you were violently sick after eating a blue cake shaped like a rocket. Dispel these further intrusive thoughts by making your own cakeboard with a baking tray and some tinfoil, because that makes you feel like a Proper Mother.

Remember to keep an eye out for the dog at this point, while the cakes are cooling outside. It could all go tits up if you allow yourself a five minute doze at this point, tempting though it is.

Next! Put the small cake on the big cake. Put some burnt outsidey bits on too. Remember: no-one cares about the actual cake. Let this be your mantra. This, and "I used to have a proper job".

We're getting to the shit scary bit where I forgot to take pictures.

- Attempt to make crab coloured icing. This is impossible without yellow food colouring. Your crab will be pink. You can try and make the obvious bits less pink by slicing open a tube of orange writing icing of very dubious provenance and mixing it with the icing. This is also known as 'making a significant tactical error', because there will not be enough of the newly blended, quite good colour, to cover both front legs. Fuck it, never mind.

- Try and stick the shell texture stuff on the crab. It will not stick and will all fall off, sullying the blue icing. You will find yourself picking individual shards of miniature Smartie and caramelised nut off the cake whilst wondering why you went to university.

- The next part is the most fun you can have whilst trying to make a giant spider crab cake. Put his eyes on. These are two slightly fluffy black sweets that have been mysteriously residing in the pocket of your shorts for the last few hours. Next, chop up some bootlaces for his "disgusting frondy mouthparts" (technical term). With your current level of exhaustion, and impending hyperglycaemic coma, due to eating all the cake off cuts, extra icing, and sweets that fall off, around now you can confidently expect the scissors to slip, causing a shallow but extremely bloody cut on the palm of your hand.

- Do his other 'legs'. These are rubbish. Try not to care too much.

You are probably exhausted. There there. Put him in the fridge for a while so you can lie on the sofa with a flannel on your forehead for half an hour.

Your best friend might unhelpfully send you a link to the restaurant where she is going to eat Jumbo Crab tonight.

It's nearly over. He looks so anxious sitting there in the fridge. Poor Crabzilla, with his steroidal forepaws and puny hind legs.

Wake three hours later in a panic. The shops are about to close and you have nothing to make claws with. Go to three shops. None of them have the sweets you were thinking of using. In a moment of GENIUS buy some vampire teeth. They are perfect! Or you have lost your mind! It's definitely one or the other. Throw a shitload of edible glitter and silver balls over the top, because it's not one of your cakes unless it looks like it's been at Studio 54 all night, partying hard (and Bianca Jagger's horse has probably stepped on it).

Indulge in a moment of satisfaction (eat twenty five more sweets. Survey the carnage of the house, ignore it).

On the way to the birthday boy's family birthday dinner, you might have the following conversation.

E: So did you have a good time at the Sea Life Centre?

L: (exhausted, sullen, after 5:45 start and school trip) Hmm. We didn't really see anything. We only did the outside.

E: What? You went to the Sea Life Centre and didn't go inside?

L (bored): Mmmph. We went to the forest bit.

E (with a dangerous edge of lunacy): You saw Crabzilla though???

L (disinterested): Non. Je crois qu'il est mort.

(No, I think he's dead).

E (manic laughter): Are you kidding me??? He can't be DEAD. Not. Dead.

CFO (with a worried glance at me, like a bomb disposal expert surveying a particularly ominous package): I'm SURE he isn't dead, Lashes! We would have heard about it.

E (demented): HE'S THE BIGGEST CRAB IN THE WORLD. Of course we would have heard.

L: En tout cas, we didn't see him.

E (deflated, trying to remember it is L's Special Day): Oh. Well. Nevermind. Did you see any crabs?

L (unenthusiastic): Mouais. Yeah, I suppose.

E: Do you think your class will understand why you have a cake shaped like a giant crab, darling?

L (staring out of the window, melancholy): Je ne sais pas.

E (hissing to CFO): Are we nearly at the motherfucking rabbit island, because I need a massive, massive, massive drink.

It was ok in the end. Lashes got the sparkler in his ice cream, I got a nice lot of wine, the sugar/alcohol perked us both up, respectively. Rabbit Island had nine goslings sitting on the terrace and 7 free range bunnies, and even though they have changed the chips and they are no longer the best in Belgium, we had a lovely time.

When we got home, I showed him Crabzilla. Awww.

Happy birthday Lashes!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Nearly nine

Tomorrow Lashes will be nine. Nine years ago I would have been pleading, like the lentil botherer I was, not to be induced, in a boiling hot WC1 basement. Strange how that kind of thing matters absolutely, intensely, for a very short time, and then suddenly doesn't matter at all, because you realise you've been focussing on entirely the wrong thing and holy fuck, now you have a baby to look after, why on earth didn't someone tell you? Nine. Good lord. This inspires many thoughts:

1. Only a year left before, in accordance with the sacred covenant entered into when he was four, he can have his own pet. I can't say I or the CFO are very much looking forward to this, particularly as his enthusiasms currently tend towards the high maintenance and lizardy.

"Are you sure, darling, about a monitor lizard? They are, uh, very large. What about a nice gerbil?"

He looks dreamily into the middle distance, plotting. "Maybe a three horned cameleon? Or one of those Golden Dart Frogs?"

"NOTHING VENOMOUS. We have agreed this already. You cannot renege on the no-venom agreeement".

2. He is huge. Colossal. Barely a head shorter than me. His legs are a mile long. If he is anything like me, he has about another year of being vast and lording it over his contemporaries, before he stops growing entirely. His father is barely taller than I am, so I do not fancy his chances of staying vast. However I think he already has better social skills than me, so evolution is clearly good for something. He definitely has his father's terrier like negotiating skills. We are having an eye-wateringly expensive paintballing party (oh joy, small children armed with guns, my favourite thing) but he has already sidled up to me and tried to negotiate to have someone to sleep over on the night.

"Ugh. Lashes. Really? Hmph. Do you have any friends who are NOT loud?"

"Errrr. Maybe a girl?"

"Ha. I do not think that is any guarantee of non-loudness".

"Hmm. I will think. You agree then? "

"I did not say that! Gah".

(The last sleepover nearly broke me. I had to point-blank refuse a direct request for another one from a child last weekend because I could not trust myself not to have a PTSD style breakdown and lock myself in the cellar muttering 'toothpaste in shoes! Toothpaste in shoes!')

3. I have terrible terrible cake anxiety. I feel he has outdone himself in the sadistic cake request stakes this year, with the demand for "Crabzilla, and a spinal column. On the same cake". "Or" he offered with a magnanimous wave of one hand in my direction whilst lying on the floor reading mangas "on two cakes, if that is easier, maman".

As a consequence I am now spending important time which should be spent earning money, thinking about how to achieve the spiny texture and red colour of Crabzilla's legs. I have some giant extra-sour cola flavoured bootlaces, and some Fraises Tagada (wow, the Fraise Tagada has its own Wikipedia page). I am thinking a finely chopped mixture of the two sprinkled on ridges of thick piped icing, perhaps. And what about his face? Does he even have a face?

(I love this picture, incidentally. Look how proud that man is to be holding a giant spider crab. I wish I had job satisfaction like that.)

I don't know if Crabzilla has a face. It has some sort of .. ugh. Business. Gills, and other unpleasantness. I don't know. I estimate he is about 68% leg, 23% unspeakable business, 9% claw.

Here it seems to have a sort of gloomy menacing anime face like thing, sort of.

Despite many previous cake triumphs (well, disasters averted might be more accurate), I'm really not feeling it, this spider crab cake. Emergency cake advice, people? Please?

(Why am I trying to pander to my eccentric eldest child's bizarre request, you might wonder. It's traditional, I suppose. I tried to explain my cake neurosis already here, but in brief, the cake is some kind of ritual demonstration of love, in my twisted reasoning. There are, I think, so many things I do badly as a parent, I try to make sure there is this one constant, something I do right. So I cannot fail. The crab must be at least recognisably crab-like. I am willing to forget about the spinal column, because sanity is precious and should not be wasted on unco-operative fondant icing.)