Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Scent of Inadequacy

Maybe I should start every day, Dexter style, by dragging a bag of decomposing meat up from the cellar and out of the door, then washing the, uh, "remains" off the cellar floor? Because it certainly perks up even the most mundane subsequent tasks that don't require retching or bleach or a trail of putrid blood across the kitchen.

It helped put into perspective the worrying revelation that the children have started eating my food. Yes, I run this household along the lines of a student flatshare, there is shared food, and then there is *my* food, namely anything produced by Saint Bonne Maman of the Dairy Goodness, and St Cadbury of Caramel. I fall just short of putting labels on things, but only because they are lawless fiends and would take no notice. Yesterday, however, Lashes said casually over breakfast:

"Can you put one of those crème caramels in with my lunch today? Ils sont TROP BONS".

Yes, child, I know they are and that is why I have been keeping them from you. This is a very dangerous development. They have already seen through my attempt to pass Caramels off as "medicine", and now they are developing free will and helping themselves to the Bonne Maman stash? It's a worrying trend and no mistake. I am hoarding them in the crisper where no child will think to look. For now. Thankfully they are heading to their grandparents tomorrow where they will be fed on a variety of tinned goods for three weeks, and the fruits of the "cocotte minute", which is a tool for boiling everything until it looks like brain tissue. I hope this will lower their culinary expectations satisfactorily.

It is the end of school tomorrow, another year of irregular verbs and last minute demands for €7,30 a soldering iron, 5 yellow socks and a fragment of the thigh bone of St Anthony is drawing - thank the merciful heavens - to a close. The children did not win anything at prize giving, though we did get to hear them sing a song called "If I ruled Belgium", which is presumably some form of irony, given that at this rate, their generation will be the next people to actually run Belgium. I am so glad it is all over for another year, though the children keep saying ominously how very much they are looking forward to buying their new year's school supplies, the tiny stationery junkies. Apart from stealing food, they are celebrating the end of the year by taking toys into school and losing them, and torturing each other mentally and physically, as is traditional. They show every sign of having lost the ability - desire? - to understand anything I say and squint at me quizzically every time I open my mouth as if I am talking some kind of rare Macedonian dialect. Presumably they are practising for adolescence.

In other news, I appear to be having an unpleasant skin reaction to some - beautiful, expensive, desirable - free perfume I got on Monday. This is cruel, but predictable, particularly since I went and read the marketing materials for the two fragrances I most liked and am wearing. They are unisex, and there is a description of the inspiration for both men and women. They are all magnificently appropriate for me as you will see.

The first one reads:

"M: Ocean going sand boys. Jacques Mayol in The Big Blue
F: A radiant, natural beauty. Sun kissed (with bikini lines of course)"

And the second:

"M: Clean, fit, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (the film)
F: White teeth and lip gloss. Young, sexy, fashion models"


You can see why I have come out in a disfiguring facial rash now, can't you?


I have had lots of fun with the whole brochure. My other favourite descriptions include:

"Mirte Maas on Mount St. during London Fashion Week"

"Fashion girls out to lunch. Roquette salad and spring water".

"Daria Halprin in Zabriski Point".

"An elegant weekend gardener"

"An equestrian abounding in natural grace. Faye Dunaway in Roman Polanski's Chinatown".

"An immaculate young priest".

I got slightly hysterical just typing these out. The silly thing is, they are beautiful, exquisite scents, and I love them. But how can I wear them now I know how hideously far short of the creator's references I fall?


"Sagging with mid-life defeat. Wearing a bin bag. Smells of Old El Paso burrito seasoning. Eyeliner smeared to mid-cheek".

Admittedly no-one would actually want to smell like that. Especially with the ephemeral top notes of dog and putrifying meat disposal.

I think I will have to start each post for a while by informing you whether I am "immaculate young priest" or "tanned, dressed all in white, sandals, no sunglasses". Or perhaps you can suggest your own deathless fragrance inspiration in the comments?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Slug-pocalypse


I started writing this on Sunday and got distracted by a speck of dust. Or by watching stupid stupid twattery nonsense Engrenages then hating myself for doing so. Or by Lashes trying to read me "the funny bits" from his book (all of it). Or possibly by a vicious fight about a Beyblade leading us to land up once more in the headmaster's office. Fuck knows, but suddenly it's Tuesday.

Well. It's Sunday evening and what have we achieved this weekend? I am, as you know, relentlessly performance focussed. I am all about the quick wins, the low hanging fruits, the ceaseless pursuit of weekend excellence, every waking minute crammed with saving kittens from trees, tousle-haired children in Bonpoint outfits playing Bach partitas for fun and a house full of people with good teeth laughing over an artlessly perfect brunch. Maybe squeezing in a business-critical conference call here and there, without upsetting my work life balance, of course.

Here are my achievements:

1. Put some petrol in a car

2. Kept children alive for another 48 hours (albeit with some fairly Jacobean tragedy style threats, they have been, hmm. Lively. Vic and I decided yesterday that salt mines were due a rebranding as a costly, but excellent, form of holiday child care, run by us. Vic came up with the name "Summer Sodium Adventure!" I think it's a winner).

3. Wore jeans instead of the physiotherapist trousers one day, but they hurt my waist. Even though I still have no sensation in my stomach, some 4 years after surgery on it. Is this normal? Who knows. Apart from the odd hot water bottle burn, it hasn't proved life-altering. I think I am wandering off topic here.

A successful weekend, then. Oh, hang on. I have just remembered I went to the only remaining manned petrol station in Brussels, so SOMEONE ELSE put petrol in the car. We might have to cross that off the list.

I could tell you about all the ridiculous things that have made me cry this weekend (Jessie J at Glastonbury, an advert - one of those excellent local cinema ones that are comprised of some mid-80s still photography over a shonky voiceover - for the Copenhagen Tavern, a pile of privet), but having spent an unedifying hour trawling through my archives looking for something yesterday, I was struck by the unleavened gloom of most of the last year. Holy crap, it was depressing reading. Maybe it's especially gloomy if you were also living through it? I can only hope so, because otherwise you must all be masochists or really fond of whippets. So .. well. Thanks for hanging around, masochists and weepettephiles, but I think the time has come for a phase of total - fabricated if necessary - levity. I will not dwell on any more inappropriate crying, or skirt uneasily around the complicated and intermittently painful business of, you know, life. Screw the crying, I am playing this weblog for cheap laughs for the foreseeable future.

There was, for instance, another close encounter with The Most Belgian Shopping Ever, recently:



This one beats the last one by 5 cans. Why the five individual cans? What precise calculation leads the mystery shopper to this point? And what is in the small, membrane covered sausage shaped meat derivatives that are his only other purchase? No-one knows.

There was also a cheering discussion of the slug-pocalypse with M.

E: I am too tired for this shit.

M: Humanity should be wiped out. Just, have done with us. We are pointless.

E: Leave the earth to the slugs.

M: Yes. Slugs. Our giant slug overlords.

E: Sllurrrp. Sllllurp. All over the major monuments of world civilisation. A giant one on the Eiffel Tower waving its antennae menacingly. The Slugosseum. The Slugtomium.

M: One on Big Ben. One living IN Notre Dame. It would drink water straight out of the Seine and wear the cathedral as its shell.

E: La Limace de Notre Dame.

M: The survivors would have to make it giant lettuce offerings.

E: Would we survive?

M: Hmm. We are quite sluglike, I think we have a good chance.

I do miss M, I wish we were in the same timezone. Our shared brain is suffering acutely from one lobe not being able to whine constantly at the other. I hope you read her blog, it is excellent.

Also on an invertebrate theme (slug, not M) my dearest friend B who is deserting me, the bastard, sent me this funny-slash-entirely-horrifying-slash-nauseating Youtube gift this morning under the tagline SNAIL DEATHMATCH!




"Snailworm is awesome and terrifying", he added, in the manner of someone giving it an Amazon review "The BEST way to start the day". He also gave me the gift of the phrase "sweet fucking Christ on a tiny crutch". He has a very elegant turn of phrase.


Finally, things I am looking forward to:

- Festival stupidity next Sunday

- Two trips to London and one to Paris this month, lock up your patisserie.

- Rachel Cusk's divorce memoir which sounds like a corker. If it's possible to read something through your fingers whilst wincing in discomfort, I imagine that is what I will be doing.

- Reading my new Fred Vargas, L'Armée Furieuse. Possibly once the children have been despatched to Camp Sudoku (their grandparents) for THREE WEEKS on Thursday. I will miss them, but at least I will do my VAT return and maybe find out how to repair chipped bath enamel. And read my book. I love Fred Vargas, she is my idol and my queen. I sort of want to be her. She studies plague and writes intricate, clever, funny, strange detective stories. I study face creams and competition law and write whiny, solipsistic blog posts. Very similar.

Now I must prepare for gulag prize-giving by scouring the house for horse tranquilisers. It's going to be a long afternoon.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Exercise

Walking the dog this morning I found myself contemplating exercise once more. Should I do it? Has it really come to that? What kind could I possibly bear to do? I am deeply ambivalent towards exercise. I don't think it has done me any favours, most of the time. It usually makes me fatter, because of all the food I have to eat to reward myself for putting me through the torment and humiliation. I am not a natural athlete, and latterly, I have not been even an unnatural athlete. I have reclassified dog walking as exercise, even if I only saunter to the park and sit on a bench playing with my phone while the dog tries to sexually harass twigs and bracken and so on.

My attitude to exercise through the ages:

4 - 8 The Golden Years

Undisputed school beanbag- on - head race champion. Constant needling rivalry with Rachael Pool for the "running race" crown, like the Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis of Park Grove Primary. When we came together, thrillingly, inconceivably, in the three-legged race, sparks flew. We TRAINED for that race. All year. Also: gymnastics. Good, but not brilliant. Spent most of 7th year in a headstand. All photographs of me during that year feature me upside down - on roadsides, at home, in restaurants.

8-11 The Pony Years

If it didn't have fetlocks, I didn't want to know. Ok, this is embarassing, but during one of these years, there was a slightly disturbed but very strong Eastern European girl at our primary school who was my substitute pony when I couldn't get on a real one. She would give me endless piggy backs round the playground while I pretended we were doing olympic dressage, or doing the Hickstead Grand Prix. This is also the period during which I trained our rabbit to showjump over poles in the garden. I am not proud of that either. Dark, dark times.

11-16 The Remedial Years

It sure as hell didn't get any better next, when puberty fucked with my centre of gravity, co-ordination, spatial awareness and sense of self. School games was the torture most of you, I imagine, know and remember, compounded for me by the strange physical law that if there was a ball within 800 yards of me, it WOULD hit me on the back of the head. Repeated humiliation at the hands of the more able, the windswept hockey tundra a two mile trudge from the school, horribly constricting blue nylon knickers, tiny pleated nylon skirts, smelly changing rooms, punishments for forgotten kit, small, hard, balls on mysterious trajectories and the icy fetid menace of the concrete mortuary that was the Skool Pool. If Jean-Paul Sartre had been required to do Games, he would have revised his estimation of exactly what hell is.

Things improved slightly when our games mistress, frustrated at the unteachable crapness of me and my friends decided to introduce streaming in PE. We, the "bottom set", the fat ones, the dyspraxic ones, the speccy ones with overly long limbs, the tiny misshapen shrimpy ones, all of us, were herded into a netball court with the correspondingly remedial boys, given a couple of poorly inflated netballs and abandoned. We might have been socially untouchable, but at least we didn't need shin pads any more. It was brilliant, and excellent preparation for....

16-18 The Refusenik Years

This was the time when not liking exercise became socially acceptable, thank GOD. Wednesday afternoon was a cue to hole up in the common room eating Mother's Pride and Nutella and watching Australian soap operas right up until we were already slightly late for games, then dawdle so slowly up to the hockey tundra wearing various shockingly non-regulation items of clothing such as cycling shorts (sorry, it was the early '90s, we knew no better), get bollocked for being late, stand for 15 minutes in the corner of the field flicking our fringes and rollling our eyes, then dawdle back. Happy, happy days.


18-20 The 'Can't Remember' Years

I can't remember what exercise I did at this point in my life, but 'none' would be a safe assumption.


21 - 23 The Oxford Mental Years

At Oxford, I descended rapidly into food related lunacy and lost my hair, living on Marks & Spencer's low calorie prepared vegetable selections and reading "Zest" magazine for tips on fat free treats, juice fasts and cellulite treatments. I variously walked for miles, swam and ran with no shred of pleasure, purely for the weight loss benefits (dubious). The swimming was the worst. I hate swimming at the best of times and the dismal lengths up and down the swimming pool slow lane with all the other aquatic losers when all my peers were off cheerily drinking were particularly tragic.


24 - 26 The London Mental Years

Greater income and opportunity in London meant I could extend my exercise lunacy to the gym and yoga classes on top of endless running. This is the period in my life when it was entirely within the bounds of possibility that I would run to the gym four times a week, THEN work out, and then roller blade and do hours of yoga on Sundays. Mental, and a bit sad really.


26-31 The Baby Years

Yeah, I didn't really bother once I had babies, it just sort of petered out into nothing. I persisted with the lunacy for as long as I could during my first pregnancy, lots of swimming and yoga, but once I had actually had the baby I did try and go to a yoga class a couple of weeks post-partum and got sent home. But after that, I just surrendered to the grinding exhaustion and more consoling pursuit of eating cake. Oh, I did do Pilates in my second pregnancy, but that was just a couple of hours a week in between intensive cake eating bouts. When we moved to Paris, my knee got fucked up too, which gave me a cast iron excuse never to exercise again, or so I have interpreted it. I had it operated on and everything. "I have a bad knee!" became my excuse for everything. It still is. No, I can't take the bins out, I have a bad knee. No, I can't do my accounts, my knee is smarting.


31 - 32 The New Insanity Year

Having slipped off the sanity wagon again, and considering a bowl of miso soup adequate nourishment for the day, I went back to exercise at this point. For a year or so, my neighbour and I shared a personal trainer. Weirdly, I quite enjoyed this. I liked getting muscles in my arms from the boxing, liked having someone to push me harder than I would ever push myself, liked showing off balancing on bouncy balls. Once I had started eating again, but was still exercising, I had the best body I have ever had, definitely. It was noticeably good, defined, hard. HOWEVER:


32 - Present day: The Can't Be Arsed Years

The very second we moved, and I didn't have the personal trainer any more, I felt nothing so much as relief. "Oh good, I don't have to get up at 6 and put lycra on anymore" was the sum total of my thoughts on the subject. I didn't miss it a shred, and I have not missed it since. I miss looking good, but I know that to look good again, I would have to eat about half as much as I currently do AND exercise, because otherwise, all that happens is my thighs become terrifyingly vast. I can't. My brain can't bear to go that loopy again and my body can't be bothered. Also, I have a bad knee. Fingers has taken to amusing himself with my long abandoned 3 kg medicine ball.

"Medicine ball. Pourquoi ça s'appele medicine ball?"

"Because it is as bad as medicine. Now please don't drop it on my toe again".


I don't know. Can I continue to pretend that walking the dog is exercise? Why can't I just pay someone to take my body away and bring me back a better one? Meh, I say. Meh.

How do you feel about exercise? Can you be bothered?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Dystopian Pigeon Ruled Underpass

I have no idea what has been happening in my absence (mental absence. I have been sitting here, in front of this filthy, crumb-filled laptop, but I have been doing "proper" work for money. Tiny, tiny, barely visible to the human eye amounts of money that make me make strangled noises in the back of the throat and think kindly of my father's steely determination in forcing me to become a lawyer). Hmmm, let's see.

Oh yes. Yves Leterme our gormless, illegitimate stand-in prime minister has got himself in trouble for sending 849 filthy texts to his mistress. This comes in the wake of two unfortunate 'public message instead of DM' incidents on Twitter (I'm not judging, we've all been there). Discussing this earlier, we decided that the only way to keep him safe would be to confiscate all his electronic devices and make him live in the 1960s, with a secretary who would take dictation of all his emails, texts and tweets. Far safer.

Brussels has 'gained' its first city centre Starbucks today (there has been one at the airport for a few years, but that does not count, because no-one in their right minds goes to Zaventem for a coffee. Or indeed at all.). It is in the poorly lit, stinking pit of despair that is Central Station, which is quite where it belongs, but I do wonder which wily, sadistic real estate broker convinced Starbucks that this was where the frappucino-hungry moneyed hipsters hang out. Have any of you been in the underpass that leads to Central Station? It's like a scene from a Dardenne brothers film, gangs of pissing tramps, toothless zombie malcontents, rats snatching waffles from children, popcorn footed pigeons stealing wallets, empty cans of Jupiler used to store human organs, people roasting witloofs alive over open fires, that kind of thing. Arrive in Brussels at Central Station and exit through that tunnel, and you will no longer be surprised that the city's emblem is a pissing boy (oh, Lashes's history homework included two versions of the manneken pis legend, and a photo of the janneken pis - the girl version - that he had to label. Erm..).

The dog took it upon himself to eat a whole box of bird seed and spent the rest of the day confused at the digestive surprises it provoked.


(You try and oprapen your hondenpoep when it is 100% bird seed. Tricky)

I think it's a cry for help, but I am not listening. He also trod on the hedgehog inadvertently a few days ago. I am fairly sure he won't be doing that again in a hurry.

Fingers got into unspeakable trouble at the gulag and is on washing up duty in the canteen until the end of the year. It also means I get to put him to bed half an hour early. Win! He is very sorry (he is not).

I tried to be go all Tiger Mother with Lashes's exam revision for about 4 minutes ("you DO know where the femur is. AND who Baudoin's wife was. DO IT AGAIN"). I did it in the hope of him avoiding the "and the rest of the class who have NOT won prizes may come up now" walk of shame across the stage during gulag prize giving next week. It is very much like that photo in Molesworth where the matron is holding the tray of medicines and Grimes is saying "and these are the prizes for the boys who have not won prizes" chez Gulag.

Anyway, I very rapidly got sick of it. He is NINE. If he doesn't care, then I won't. There are years of me fulminating at him about his homework and revision still to come, so we might as well save our mutual energy. I will run out of hyperbolic threats as to what might happen to him if he doesn't study otherwise. 'If you can't remember that, you will cause the polar ice caps to melt'. 'Every time you get a past participle wrong a puppy dies'. I need to keep something in reserve. Also, what did my extravagantly over-performing school results do for me? They certainly didn't provide me with a shred of common sense, entrepreneurial spirit or creativity, that's for sure (I don't count this kind of writing as creative. It's more reportage. Or therapy).

M made me install the "Skype". Friends! Family! I have the "Skype". You may attempt to contact me using it. I do not know how it works.

I am still surrounded by the cheery cacophony of Polish builders and their gigantic sanding and drilling machines. Sometimes someone plays the violin nearby, scree, scree, delicious torture. Sometimes - often, I would say - the dog at the foot of the stairs and whines anxiously, trying to tell me that he needs to go outside yet again to shit 500 grammes of millet, or the canary imitates a car alarm. Often a child inflicts mental torture on another child, loudly. This has left me in a state of such deep, zen calm that I have nearly got into three fights in the street in the last week. This morning I caught a woman giving my (admittedly unsatisfactory) outfit the once over and I stared back at her with such ferocious attitude and under my breath muttering that I thought a vein in my eye might pop.

Someone I know got given a giant nail clipper by her boss, who also told her to "wear something sexy, yeah? With some cleavage" for a presentation. She is an intern.

I have ended up in a state of colossal wardrobe crisis, due to poor wardrobe maintenance, mainly. Of the six things I can bear to wear, five of them are now either missing some crucial element - such as fastenings, or buttons, or hems - or dirty. I have basically gone feral. This is all very well when I go no further than the corner shop and the gulag (ie. 95% of the time), but I have had to go to two proper meetings this week. For the first, I had to rub mud off my trusty pair of physiotherapist's trousers with an old flannel. Then when I was halfway there, I realised the top I was wearing (nice, Philip Lim, makes me look a bit like a pug, but otherwise pretty) had some kind of mysteriously tenacious white dust on the shoulder, probably builder related. I had a little breakdown and told B who suggested I drink some wine. This is his answer to most things and it is indeed excellent advice. My outfit looked much better after wine.

Today, my dress had foundation on the belt, and I had to cover the blue white cadaver glow and mosquito induced pockmarks on my legs with a mixture of some kind of facial highlighter and old foundation from the bottom of a drawer, having mislayed - probably wisely - my fake tan. I did not need to have wine to make it look better, which was a good thing since it was a 10am meeting.

Here is a pointless photo of a local 'window display' that alarmed me today, to gloss over the fact that I have to stop typing now and go and put a child in bed.



Saturday, 18 June 2011

Eh?

O hai the internet. I have lost the hang of you. I look at you a bit squinty a couple of times a day and try and remember what I am supposed to be doing on you, but I'm struggling. I can remember how to scroll down Twitter with my mouth slightly open, drooling, but apart from that, zilch. I have entirely lost my mojo, a fact which extends to:

- having abstract or humorous thoughts

- wearing make up or clothes other than physiotherapist wipe-clean trousers

- perspective

- common sense

I am face down in a plate of daily life at the moment. It's not facepasta, exactly, but it is very loud and unrelenting. Things that are particularly loud today:

- children, of course. There was a particularly unfortunate incident involving the firing of tiny magnets at each other from empty Frisk mint containers. This was better than the previous incident where Lashes gave an excellent imitation of a child with appendicitis for an hour last night. I did not enjoy that much, brrr.

- the dog

- the CFO's au pair's canary (long story, but fuck me it's loud and horribly reminiscent of a car alarm)

- next door's drilling

- my teeth grinding themselves down to dusty stumps

- the circular panic soundtrack that rumbles around my brain


(I appear to think that what I used to do on the internet was write lists. This may be at least partially true. Lists, whining, yes, it's coming back gradually).


At one point yesterday, I thought maybe I could just give up Twitter for a few days and write down everything I might otherwise have put on there and call that "blogging", but so far all I have thought of is 'why are fortune cookies so fucking hard to make' and I forgot about my plan and tweeted it anyway. We made fortune cookies today, well, we tried four different recipes for fortune cookies and fucked them all up, with the net result that I am now 71% biscuit dough and thwarted creativity (I was especially looking forward to getting Lashes' chosen fortune, which read "You will marry a whale"). For some reason my children took it upon themselves to have an asian themed Saturday, which meant, for me: standing, bored in the corner of a manga shop saying 'no, you can't have a stainless steel throwing star even if you do have enough of your birthday money left', dealing with a minor durian spike injury in the Chinese supermarket, cooking supernoodles and tasting spectacularly nasty octopus flavoured (and shaped) crisps. I don't know where the enforced trip to Pizza Hut fitted in, but it was mainly to do with the torrential rain. Man, that place is unpleasant (though the staff are unusually delightful).

Apart from that, all I have to offer is a large collection of photographs of my children wearing a selection of false moustaches they got free with a bribery magazine. (Bribery Magazine! This is an excellent underexploited market segment, consider diversifying into Sweetener, Pay Off!, What Inducement?and Payola). I have another series of photographs where I am surrounded by a gang of hungry goats who try to eat, in turn, my jacket, my purse, and my sunglasses case, but they aren't terribly, uh, visual. I'll spare you the goats, but I like this one:




They all look so grave. It reminds me of those Fantin-Latour group pictures, Atelier aux Batignolles and so on, like they've just had their radical art turned down by the Paris Salon and run out of absinthe. They are very Belle Epoque (or "belly pork" as Prog Rock Stepdad once misheard it) moustaches, even though they are actually the Wario, Luigi and King Toad models, cover mounted with Nintendo magazine.

Super Mario, baking disasters, lists and whining. Yeah, it's all coming back.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Things I Have Learnt During Infant Revision Time*

Revision continues, endless, frustrating, revealing more about my shortcomings of patience and pedagogy than actual facts. Facts thus far are thin on the ground, but I have gleaned the following:

1. Guignol was created in 1808 in the image of an Italian silk merchant living in Lyon called Signor Fabio. He has a friend called "Gnafron". This is plainly ridiculous. His friend should be a crocodile. I explained that all puppet shows should involve a crocodile, a string of sausages, a baby and endless hitting, but that was deemed unhelpful.

2. The Stegasaurus had plates that changed colour, which seems terribly evolved of it. When I asked Fingers if it was a carnivore or a herbivore, he hummed and hawed for a while and settled on "un peu des deux". Stegasaurus is cutting down on meat, actually. It's a health thing, and, you know, an ecology thing? He'll have the silken tofu tonight, thanks, because he had a burger this weekend and he still feels bloated? Stegasaurus is a neo-yuppy.

3. The silk workers of Lyon in the 18th century were called "canuts". Best to teach this to children whose first language is not English and who are under ten, I reckon.

4. Jullie zijn dik, which means "you (plural) are fat". Robald isn't big on political correctness.

5. No-one in this house knows what a non-equilateral pentagon is called in French.

6. I have all the patience of a wounded anaconda.

7. . I also know how to say glue stick in Dutch. No, I will not tell you. I am keeping it a secret.


*May not be factually accurate.


The winner of the father's day tat competition is....




... whoever first said "pencil tin".

(Talk amongst yourselves whilst I check who that was)

That was Alienne who wins .. something. The Mexican wrestling chocolates remain elusive, but I will use my imagination. Email me an address, Alienne.


Apart from that, wretched irrational terror remains the order of the day. I interviewed someone today who has accomplished completely jaw dropping things, who started a vast, extraordinary project with no financing and no experience, who took on an unimaginable level of debt, who everyone confidently predicted would fall flat on his face within six months. 19 years later, with a massively successful venture on his hands, he still invests €60 million every bloody year in it. It's mind-blowing.

"Weren't you terrified?" I asked. It fascinates me, this level of nerve. "How did you ever sleep?"

"I was blessed with not realising quite how deep in the shit I was in at the time" he said.

There is no lesson here. I was just impressed at that belief and confidence and sheer nerve. Now he gets to ride around on an elephant whenever he likes. One of his five elephants. At Lashes' behest, I asked him why he had shut the snake barn (with the free range snakes). He casually got out his phone and called the snake guy. "Philippe? Is the barn open again? There's a very sad lady here who wants to touch snakes. It is? You've put some snakes back in? They haven't escaped yet? Thanks. I'll let you get on".

Best interview ever. He's like a BILLIONAIRE FATHER CHRISTMAS. I was slightly disappointed he didn't thrust a baby owl into my hands as a parting gift, but still, best interview ever.

(This is a tiny video clip of a baby seal, or something, from the park website, but what I really love is that in the comments box it says "there's an armadillo on its back by the exit to the bat cave, is this normal?" which entirely mirrors my own conversation with them a few years ago about escapee capybaras wandering the picnic site, sneering at people's sandwiches.

"C'est normal?"

"Oui, c'est normal".

"Ah, ok alors" .

My interviewee told me escapees were common, the worst offenders being the maras who had developed a taste for his rose bushes. "Ces petits salopards". I am not surprised, I have seen them descending in marauding hoardes on the snack van. Pampas hares are surprisingly intimidating en masse. Try saying THAT in Dutch).


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Hedgehog v Tortoise

I'm deep in the doldrums, but there is only so long you can sit in the park and cry (the weed smoking teenagers are very offputting, honestly, isn't that what bus shelters are for? Who told you you get the splendours of nature too? Youth of today, pfff), so I am counting my blessings:

1. Full complement of toes.

2. Do not live in Congo.

3. Or the thirteenth century.

3. Children healthy, happy and occasionally even affectionate.

4. Found (small) cache of money obstructively hidden in a secret account invented by my friendly neighbourhood banking halfwits, which has attenuated slightly the self-loathing I was feeling at apparently managing to spend said amount of money without even knowing how, or on what.

5. Weird spotty phase mercifully over.

6. Wonderful friends.

7. VAT exempt status of nearly all my work. What do you mean scraping the barrel?


With this firmly established, I offer you this, a (slow, largely uneventful) fight between a tortoise and a bag of parasitic pestilence, sorry, a hedgehog. The full version is marred by Fingers insistently whispering "c'est terminé" and "je m'ennuie" (I'm bored) He is no David Attenborough. The last thirty-ish seconds are quite enjoyable if you like gladiatorial contests between small brown animals. You may or may not hear the point at which the CFO correctly identifies that the hedgehog is going in for a merciless nose jab. He is much more like David Attenborough.




I hope your Sunday is all unicorns and prosecco and uninterrupted naps. Or not, if that sounds thoroughly unappealing.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Ten things I love

I have been tagged by the lovely Betty to talk about ten things I love. I'm fairly sure I've done this before, but I quite fancied doing it again, and I thought I should try and mention some things I love that I don't discuss all the time. That excludes:


Owls
Goats
Small fat hairy ponies
David Sedaris
Gin
London
Armani Cream Blush Duo
Marks & Spencer
Cadbury's Caramels
Whining



So, here is, let's be honest, the B list.



Avocados

I haunted the supermarket chains of Belgium when I arrived here, searching hopelessly for a half-decent avocado, before settling on Delhaize as the only place capable of supplying them. I feel genuinely unsettled if there isn't an avocado in the house. They are good for you! They are pure fat! I feel nothing but love for my friend the avocado. Pretty colour. Essential fatty acids. Nice with almost everything. Except maybe chocolate and gin. Avocados. They're good.



Rimmel Coral Romance nail polish

Big fat brush for easy application, lovely brash summery colour. Hard to fuck up. Does not make me feel like a transvestite.


That "look! It does not stop me HOLDING THE ACTUAL BOTTLE" pose always amuses me. If Facegoop were not languishing, we would definitely be experimenting with other things to hold whilst displaying your nails. Tin openers. Puppies. A large potato.


September

The favourite month of scholarly dweebs the world over, September brings the delicious prospect of new grey clothing, new stationery, and relief from the horrifying, anything-goes self-tan scented, brightly coloured anarchy of the summer. It is fresh and new, full of the possibility that perhaps this year you will not end up entirely ostracised, with a cruelly accurate nickname, spending breaktime skulking in an empty classroom with Middlemarch. September's margins are neatly ruled and it smells of shoe polish.

The whole cult of the rentrée has slightly tarnished my September love, what with the forced cahier covering sweatshop, the €200 of minutely, bureaucratically detailed fournitures scolaires and the ever-present, and entirely accurate, sentiment that you have forgotten something. Even so, I still get a little shiver of anticipation. It's September. Anything could happen. Anything dweeby, that is.


Commenters

This sounds like a nauseating outbreak of toadying up, but it is true. It has been on of the real delights of the three few years to find so many people who are sharp and funny and compassionate and who can make me laugh out loud. Especially the ones who teeter on the edge of unhinged. Those are my favourite. You probably don't know who you are, because the voices in your head are distracting you, but I know who you are. And I hope you never stop.



I would move into this stationery, design, gift and general wonderfulness emporium if I could. The child unfriendly alphabet tea-towel? The beard balaclava? My beautiful Rob Ryan washbag? All found in Magma. I have reined in almost all my spending excesses over the last few Grandgrind years. Clothes? Nope. Going out? Ha, do me a favour, I never went out even when I was solvent. Organic wanky foods? Haven't missed them for a second. But the thought of going past Magma and not being able to go and buy beautiful, papery fripperies BURNS.


Someone else making my dinner

It doesn't have to be flash, or luxurious. I just mean, dinner. Your ordinary, unthrilling, weekday dinner. It's the mere fact of it that is exciting. I find it very boring cooking every day, which is why I mainly eat Bonne Maman crème caramels and avocados. But I do like food, and I wish I could be arsed. I go and stare at Redfox's sidebar longingly sometimes, and wish she was cooking for me.



Coffee on the Vieux St Martin terrasse




Because of the procession of land-owning tweeds and groomed dogs. Because of the excellent seating and the giant, sand-weighted brass ashtrays. Because the coffee comes with a decent sized palmier biscuit and the service is suitably brusque. Because café terrasses are basically the reason why I live in Abroad.


Vuillard



If I could steal a painting - just a little one! - from a major collection, it would have to be a little Vuillard oil. He's the god of small things; I love clever, quiet exaltation of the domestic, his magpie's eye for a beautiful print or pattern or shape - wallpaper, rugs, a vase of flowers.

Just a little one. A tiny square of brilliance. I'd look after it.


Lilac

Because it's so ephemeral and it smells like my childhood, and there's occasionally a stall on the Sablon that will sell you giant mountains of it. Or someone lovely and kind, like Fatima, will give you a giant mountain of it.


(I got slightly drunk whilst writing this, so the last two may be succinct).


Don Marquis

For the Song of Mehitabel, which Uncle Tom (not a real relation, hippydom oblige) read at my mother's funeral and it was just right, perfect, one of her favourites and my sister thought of it and it hit all the perfect unapologetic notes among all those Quakers and weegies and grave social policy types and all the rest of us. I will give you the whole lot, even though I think I've already done that on these pages, just because. Because we all need a little wotthehell. Because I particularly need a little wotthehell at the moment. Damn, it's made me cry again, it always does this. But she was


this is the song of mehitabel

of mehitabel the alley cat

as i wrote you before boss

mehitabel is a believer

in the pythagorean

theory of the transmigration

of the soul and she claims

that formerly her spirit

was incarnated in the body
of cleopatra

that was a long time ago
and one must not be

surprised if mehitabel
has forgotten some of her

more regal manners


i have had my ups and downs

but wotthehell wotthehell

yesterday sceptres and crowns

fried oysters and velvet gowns

and today i herd with bums

but wotthehell wotthehell

i wake the world from sleep

as i caper and sing and leap

when i sing my wild free tune

wotthehell wotthehell

under the blear eyed moon

i am pelted with cast off shoon

but wotthehell wotthehell


do you think that i would change

my present freedom to range

for a castle or moated grange

wotthehell wotthehell

cage me and i d go frantic

my life is so romantic

capricious and corybantic

and i m toujours gai toujours gai
i know that i am bound

for a journey down the sound

in the midst of a refuse mound

but wotthehell wotthehell

oh i should worry and fret

death and i will coquette

there s a dance in the old dame yet

toujours gai toujours gai

i once was an innocent kit

wotthehell wotthehell

with a ribbon my neck to fit

and bells tied onto it

o wotthehell wotthehell

but a maltese cat came by

with a come hither look in his eye

and a song that soared to the sky

and wotthehell wotthehell

and i followed adown the street

the pad of his rhythmical feet

o permit me again to repeat

wotthehell wotthehell

my youth i shall never forget

but there s nothing i really regret

wotthehell wotthehell

there s a dance in the old dame yet

toujours gai toujours gai
the things that i had not ought to
i do because i ve gotto

wotthehell wotthehell

and i end with my favorite motto

toujours gai toujours gai

boss sometimes i think

that our friend mehitabel

is a trifle too gay


I am all in favour for tagging on this one, because I want to know, so I tag:




The Harridan Oh. She has already done it. It is funny, go and look.

Parma Violet Tea (who cannot say owls either)

Maybe the Brain Twin can do it at some point about Singapore. Can she find ten?

Or anyone else who would like to. I love reading these things. If you do it, please tell me.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Je suis fashion

Ok, now I am pissed off. I have read this in which Elle Belgique has invited "le blogosphère belge" to a lovely party. Hang on. I call bullshit. Le blogosphère belge, c'est moi. Not only do I write for Elle Grande Bretagne (I know this is hard to believe), have a blog and live in Belgique, but also, I breathe fashion. Je respire la fashion. I even wrote about pleats for Elle Collections and everything! Si si si. I likened my school kilt to dragging the felled corpse of Mel Gibson in Braveheart behind you on a daily basis (true, stupid Quakers), which is extremely fashion. Ok, I would have been ten years older than every other attendee and I am shit at parties and would have walked twice around the room avoiding eye contact with everyone by doing the "I am looking for someone" searching gaze, then hid in the loo for five minutes, then left, but still. No fair.


Look. Just LOOK what I am wearing today and run weeping to my door, begging me to attend your next party full of tiny Polly Pocket people in alarming clothes.

Ballerines Miu Miu:



This is taken avec my mop. C'est plus chic. You might think the left ballerine is broken: I call it elegantly distressed. Have I left the house wearing these shoes today? Yes internet. Yes I have and I will do it again.




This is a sort of impressionistic, overall taster of the outfit. That skirt is Sonia, innit. The rest is just cheapass crap. Oh, I think the t-shirt might be from American Apparel (AA sizing size: gigantic). That place scares me silly, with its exploited child staff, cheap '80s shop fittings and gold lamé leggings. My hand looks strangely tanned, but I think it is a chemical burn. I am holding Mr Propre Eau de Javel because I have been involved in a battle royal with a nest of tiny spiders behind a kitchen cupboard ("battle royal": spraying them from a distance, then jabbing at them with a broom with a j-cloth on the end). Mr Propre Eau de Javel is a hardass. He catapults me into respiratory distress but I still love him. Mr Propre Eau de Javel is my boyfriend.



Details. It's all about the details.


I am crouching artistically next to the recycling here to show you my ill-fitting bra and sturdy matron shelf to good effect. Because I am that committed.


Oh. I think I've talked myself out of it now. Never mind, as you were.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Sphinxish

(This post is like an amateur version of Countryfile, with really shit production values. You are warned).

I have no time at all, but I think, at the very least, you need to see this, which is my new favourite picture of the moment, from our trip to the seaside at the weekend.





It's the eyes, I think. The mute entreaty. The shame.

Ah, while I'm here, you might as well have the following. When we were at the seaside (Starfish! Gale force winds! Dog burial! Failure to speak adequate Dutch!) weepette broke his collar, so we had to stop off at the evil petshop of all evil on the way back. The evil pet shop of all evil remains as evil as ever.

Look what you can buy:




Yes, that is what you think it is:


I wish I was joking, but sadly I am not. Much as I fantasise about having a flock of highly disapproving owls all of my own, the reality of an owl in a pet shop is extremely wrong, surely of dubious legality, and makes me very sad. I hope whichever twister fucker decides to buy this beautiful WILD creature gets its ear ripped off.

Then, in the next enclosure, this chap who was rightly furious:



Yours for only €950.



I very much hope this sign says "I will eat your fucking face if you come a step closer, pal".

It's ok, it's not all sadness. There was a miniature chestnut Shetland pony that came up to my knees for a bargainous €500, entirely cruelty free (ie. in a field). It would easily have fitted in the boot of the car. And when I have more than five minutes free I have a film of an excellent slow-mo WWF face off between a medium sized tortoise and a flea-ridden, pestilent spiky thing. Who do you think wins? You might be surprised...

Final point:

Which of the following do you consider the best name for a (putative) (future) (possibly ball python) (whatever the fuck that is) snake? Lashes is trying to decide. 11 months, he thinks, is no time at all and his (putative) (future) (etc.) snake needs a name. The shortlist is as follows:

(a) Crochet Venim
(b) Garchakrok
(c) Fluffy
(d) Bertrand
(v) Vertébrale

I have his permission to "demander à l'internet", so do your worst.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Sort of not confessional confessional. Ish.

It's therapy Friday! Was yours as shit as mine? We had:

- drilling
- fleas
- incompetence
- password fuckwittery
- child duplicity leading to unnecessary packed lunch making
- whining. Lots of whining.

There have been many requests for the Confessional to return. I, personally, can no longer confess my actual crimes, because my gurning, moronic horseface and slightly too long name now grace these pages, and people who might be inveigled into paying sums as princely as 173 pounds for my efforts might accidentally read about them.

I have an idea though. I am going to "confess" (list) my anxieties. You, in the comments, can choose either to confess the conventional sins, or anxieties too.

Things I am anxious about:

1. I am anxious that it has been about three years since I went to the dentist and almost everyone I know is having dental trauma at the moment. Mine must be imminent. I am afraid that one night I will grind my (rubbish) teeth that extra 5% harder than usual and all my molars will simply crumble.

2. I am anxious that I will continue to live a life of constant vermin infestation of one type or another, like the medieval peasant I am at heart.

3. I am so anxious about financial matters that I cannot say more or I will have to go and find a paper bag to breathe into. I will lump the fact that the accountant has asked for all my, uh, what do you call it all that white papery stuff? "Stuff"? That. About a fortnight ago. I have done nothing. I am pretending I did not even see it.

4. I am anxious for my tiny little sister, who is quite ground down by life and could do with getting a break. And this goes a hundredfold for my big brother.

5. I am anxious about the scratches on the floor in the Salmon Palace.

6. I am anxious I am being punished for having good skin in my teenage years by now looking like SHIT until I die. I really look like shit. I do not understand it.

7. I am anxious about a raft of other things that must remain obscure, and not because they involve me being on the brink of signing a six figure contract to do something really fucking impressive.

8. I am anxious that my understanding of the Hart Scott Rodino Act will let me down on a conference call on Monday on which I am, laughably, supposed to be an expert.

9. I am anxious that B will finally coerce me into playing the piano while he plays the flute, only for him to realise I have NOT been modestly talking down my piano abilities, but that I actually am utter shite.

10. I am anxious that all my friends including the aforementioned and cherished B are going to bloody well leave me alone in Brussels, with only the reprobates on the 51 tram, my hole staring, net twitching neighbours, my increasingly teenage and indifferent children and the fecking dog for company.

11. I am perpetually anxious I will get sued for some minor incompetence or inaccuracy. I doubt I am insured for that. Cue extra anxiety.

12. I am anxious how I will survive the literal, multiple, empty nest syndrome that beckons over in owlcam land.


This could go on for ever, so I am stopping. If you have any fears or anxieties or more entertainingly, VILE CRIMES to confess, please do so in the comments.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Public holiday

A cheery wake up on this, the Ascension bank holiday (I had to get theological advice as to what Ascenion is exactly. Apparently, it's a bit like the Rapture, Jesus shoots up to heaven, well worth getting a Thursday off. Why it's always a Thursday is any bugger's guess).

"Come down! Now!"

"Ugh. Why. It's early".

"JUST COME".

I drag myself out of bed, and come down. My head jerks back with shock as I see the horrible truth: the dog, looking faintly guilty, andd crawling, literally crawling, with fleas. I know who the culprit is: it is the CFO's godammned hedgehog which exercises a fatal pull over the dog whenever they encounter each other. He has stuck his head into the hedgehog's house to bark at it in weirdly compelled terror for two minutes and now look. It is fricking revolting. I recoil in horror.

"OH GOD OH GOD, SHIT SHIT SHIT"

"Maman! 20 centimes!" (they have a swearing fund now. They have worked out that they now have enough for a 3 scoop ice cream extravaganza with all our foul cursing).

"Well, look at him! Ewwwwww this is not good. Not good not good not good".

We start de-fleaing the dog. Fleas are persistent little bastards and to kill them, you need to basically explode them with your nail (gross enough? Even nicer at 7am, I can tell you). The children bloody love it. Lashes is actually laughing with joy.

"This is AMAZING" he says , delightedly popping another tiny corpse. "It's like a shoot 'em up game! But real!" (Disclaimer: he has never played a shoot 'em up game, at least whilst in my custody). "It's like the Wii but BETTER!"

"Ugh".

Next we go on a trip to the emergency pharmacy. Flea treatment: €28. Standing in line for 45 minutes with twelve elderly gentlemen with lengthy questions to ask the poor sole pharmacists and the local slightly disturbed man who has "had a fall" and needs bandaging up and anti-psychotics: priceless.

When we get back and the dog is fumigated, Lashes turns to me with the sinister cheery smile of a scout leader:

"Now we make a volcano! Out of CAKE!"

"Says who? I did not agree to this".

"Yes you did, you said we could make a brilliant cake on Thursday because Thursday is a holiday. Today is Thursday".

"Sh.. ok. But I'm warning you, I don't think we've got half the ingredients we need".

"I want molten lava! Made from jelly! And a ski lift! And dinosaurs".

"Whoooa! Ingredients, remember!"

"Ca va aller, maman. We will use jelly and Côte d'Or". (Where have I gone wrong, or is it that Belgium has gone right? This child does not like Cadburys, but only Côte d'Or, the spawn of the evil Kraft empire. Serpent's tooth, sharper, child, thankless).

So we did. It is a crime against cake but they are happy. And it is a public holiday, so my inner pastryfascist is en vacances.




I should probably dedicate it to my father who is now an Ash Tsar, but frankly, I think it's the last thing he needs. I was thinking 'Mount Type 2 Diabetes', but Lucy (do you read Lucy's blog? If you don't you are missing out big time) suggests it should be called Popancreaspetyl and I like hers better.

It's ok, it's not a public holiday tomorrow. I hope.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Do not wear your rights. Please.


Prizes prizes prizes

The school fête was a little dull this year (compare and contrast this, my favourite ever year, which we eventually worked out was supposed to be approximately Mamma Mia themed, when the boys wore swimming trunks and danced to Erasure's 'I love to hate you' and the girls wore bikinis made from CDs). Stalin was not even dressed up. Fingers did an exact re-run of the kitschy cowboy routine from 3 years ago, whilst Lashes was skulking at the back of some kind of weird colonial spectacular. "I am an African" he told me. "Because I have a legging noir. The ones with cameras are aventuriers". Er, right. Apart from that, the whole event appeared to be sponsored by Jupiler, which seems a sensible way to deal with having to spend an afternoon in the wind tunnel school yard being hit up for money for appalling tat whilst toying with a tepid hot dog. If you like beer. Which sadly I don't.


Anyway. The whole thing was almost redeemed by the "tombola", which is actually not a tombola in the sense of the summer fêtes of my own youth, and more of a sort of administratively officious raffle. Either way, we totally ruled, with FIVE prizes for ten tickets purchased. Impressive, no?

No.

Our prizes were:

TWO pairs of (I suspect free with purchase) Leo (substandard Milka KitKat pretender) branded purple fluffy slippers

One skull motif trivet:




One (three for two) copy of Edgar Allen Poe's Extraordinary Stories:




And, cerise sur le gateau, a Gordon beer branded cool bag:



The children were excessively pleased with "their" prizes (even though the tickets were both bought by me and had my name on).

"Only ONE other person in my class one a prize" said Lashes, exultant. "Théo".

"Oh? Did he win anything good?"

" One of those square plastic shades you stick on the car window. With the Little Mermaid on it".

We all fell about laughing, because nothing puts a shine on your shit raffle prize like someone else's even shitter raffle prize.


Lame Euro Merchandise Part 1

A new occasional series, now, which I am calling "Lame Euro-merchandise". Courtesy of Beatrice, please marvel at these 'Wear Your Rights' t-shirts. I urge you in the strongest terms to follow that link and wait for the revolving gallery of "celebrities" wearing the t-shirts to go full circle. It's like an aesthetic car crash. I have found it literally impossible to decide which of them is worst.

1. Barbara Hendricks, that is NOT a good neckline for you.



2. Bianca Jagger looks terrifying, and having a noose round her neck is not helping.

3. "Mark Makai from Hungary", you are actually James Blunt's lovechild and I claim my prize, which I sincerely hope is not the t-shirt you, or indeed Emilia Ciovor, are wearing.

Why are these t-shirts so bad? Why? WHY? Would it be possible to design a worse t-shirt? Why is there a picture of a pleated skirt on the "fair trial" t-shirt? I have no answers.


Photo of the day

My photo, and actually probably my story, of the day, beating off strong competition from some excellent cucumber related copy, is about exploding alarm clocks in Ghent Ikea. This is the happiest alsatian you are ever likely to see.

Oh. I can only get a tiny version. Click on the link, it's a joy.

B: Is this Belgian terrorism?

Beatrice: I think it is a flamboyant wake up call to alert people to the fact there are many excellent flea markets in the region.

Indeed.