Saturday, 30 July 2011

Vacances

I shouldn't be here, I should be looking for the dog-eared piece of faxed paper from DVLA, circa 1995, that is my excuse for a driving licence. Or something. The summer "holiday" (aka family trip to the Beddington Cotswold Tetanus Theme Park) is imminent and I am downloading shitty scrappy maps and forging the dog's passport. I am looking forward to it a great deal, which is only partially indicative of just how shit things have been recently. Not big shit, you understand. Just the kind of aggravating, financial/admin/work shit that makes you long for a minor bout of lockjaw, some dead baby mice to examine and those extra-special leaden British holiday skies. I am also looking forward to it in a more straightforward way, because of the possibility of reading a book. Possibly sitting in a chair and drinking tea. I am hoping to do each of these things at least once in the course of our 8 day stay. Baby steps.


Good things about the summer "holiday":

- absence of masonry dust

- unlimited wine

- seeing my amusing, frequently furious nephew who hates animals/farms/farmers/the country

- and my niece, who likes all that stuff, and is a total peach.

- possible trip to the Cotswold Farm Park to have clothing eaten by aggressive escapologist goats

- Can wear the same thing for 7 days and no-one will notice/care

- Access to leaden, stodgy sponge cake offerings from Shipston on Stour

- Rumoured existence of a coffee machine in Shipston on Stour (unconfirmed)

- Children thankfully too old for Bourton on the Water Fundays playbarn.


Bad things about summer "holiday":

- the eery quiet and poor television/mobile phone reception of rural England

- strong likelihood of being very cold

- strong likelihood of being woken very early

- no suitable footwear

- children will get bored and violent after 48 hours and come over all Lord of the Flies

- dog will continue its descent into pathological neurosis, and probably pee on something antique or get savaged by a badger

- large amounts of driving

- many great big fuck off objects to incompetently drive into

- no money

- access to stodgy Shipston on Stour sponge cakes will make me even fatter than I am already

I think on balance, however, being away from the current home environment of dust, financial terror and builder angst is beneficial, but it could go either way. We shall see.

I went to Paris this week, anyway, where I recovered my children from their grandparents. They were happy to see me and pathetically grateful not to be required to fold their pyjamas for the first 24 hours, then reverted to mainly requesting regular cash injections and hitting each other. Lashes, in particular, has grown again over the last 3 weeks and reaches nearly to my nose, and treats me with a sort of kindly condescending manner that is by turn amusing and maddening.

It was a good trip, with some full and frank science park action, and a Lashes-enforced trip up the Eiffel Tower which ended with both he and I queasily clutching each other in the second floor gift shop in the grip of Hereditary Pathetic Vertigo. Fingers, who did not want to go in the first place, waltzed around like a slightly sulky moutain goat, entirely unaffected. Apart from that, I did not have time to buy any tiny choux buns or eat cold udon noodles and tempura in the 2ème, which saddended me. However, I did observe two Paris phenomena:

1. Tourist idiocy

In the - admittedly massive - queue for metro tickets at Gare du Nord, I listened to the following conversation between two - youngish American guys behind me. Not teenagers. Distinctly old enough to know better. I swear I am not exaggerating this conversation. Several times I turned round and openly stared at them, but they were entirely unmoved.

Idiot 1: This place sucks. This would NOT happen back home. This is a disgrace. Man, Paris is a disgrace.

Idiot 2: Yeah! Is it always like this?

Idiot 1 (authoritatively): Yeah. France sucks. They do not give a shit for anyone. Paris is a shithole.

Idiot 2 (reverently): I guess I didn't realise how lucky we are.

Idiot 1 (magnanimously): Yeah, coming from the best place in the world, I suppose everything else is gonna suck. Man, I hate this place. I hate France. I hate Europe.

Idiot 2 (tentatively): London was ok?

Idiot 1: London SUCKED. I hated London. I hate the English. The French hate the English too.

Idiot 2: They do? Why?

Idiot 1: (portentously): It's historical. They always have.

Idiot 2: I shouldn't be wearing this shirt then! (Union Jack polo shirt, very fetching)

Idiot 1: You wouldn't last two hours in London anyway. You can't stand the food! You wanted hamburgers and hotdogs!

Idiot 2 (conciliatorily): Yeah, that's true. But apart from the food, London was ok.

Idiot 1: It's a dirty shithole. Like Paris.

This discussion of the general suckage of Europe continued for a full fifteen minutes until we reached the front of the queue. Welcome, messieurs! May your pockets be picked repeatedly!


2. Senior violence

YET AGAIN, within hours of arriving in Paris, I was beaten by a furious, slightly mad, elderly lady. I did almost nothing to provoke her. I tried to walk across her path in the metro station, but at a sufficient distance ahead that it did not require her to slow down or alter her trajectory. She zoomed towards me like a thing possessed and started thumping me, shouting "Dégage, dégage, dégage" (get out of the way). I swear, once more, that improbable as this sounds, it is absolutely true. I was not even surprised. I am a magnet for Parisian geronto-violence. I remember getting beaten with a walking stick once at the market on rue Poncelet, to my tearful horror. The cultural image of the elderly lady in England is of someone kindly, who is likely to give you a dusty extra strong mint, and possibly tell you your baby needs a hat. This is all wrong in Paris (and according to my Czech colleague, also in the Czech republic, where old ladies are viewed with appropriate fear and caution). This time, at least, I found it irresistably funny, which is evidence of at least some limited degree of personal growth in the last eight years. My laughing just made her more furious, of course. Whilst I do not condone venting your irritation with your fists, I have some respect for this kind of naked display of aggression. Madame will not be dying of an ulcer, at least, will she?

What I would really like to see, obviously, is crazy old hitting lady take on the two tourists. Perhaps with a son et lumière production by Jean Michel Jarre. Make it happen, Paris!

I had better get on. Once more unto the Dunkerque ferry, and so on. I suggest you keep the roads of Belgium free tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

National Day

It is the Belgian national holiday. Happy .. DAY Belgium! Who needs a government, eh? It's your party and you can cry if you want to.

Things Belgium is very good at:

- Not taking itself too seriously

- Bizarre, moderately wrong folklore type events (Ypres cat throwing festival, Doudou de Mons, the horrible, eery Gilles de Binche). I am desperate for someone to let me write at length about all this medieval wrongness, but it creeps every commissioning editor in the universe out, and who can blame them.

-Endive rehabilitation


Belgium's national day is a fairly mysterious event. In an infamous investigation a few years ago, Belgian television reporters discovered that most of the political class had no idea what the 21 July was the anniversary of. It was during this same report that head potato, and current caretaker prime minister, Yves Leterme, sang La Marseillaise when asked to sing the Belgian national anthem, La Brabançonne. I will not deny that La Marseillaise is a vastly superior tune, but if you are Prime Minister of a country, knowing the national anthem seems to be a fairly basic requirement. I know it - though not the words - as it is always played, solemnly, at gulag prize giving. Whenever I try to sing it, it morphs mysteriously into 'Hail to the Chief', so I would have some sympathy for Mr Leterme if he were not such a witless tuber.

Seriously, play one, then the other. You'll see what I mean.


Hail to the Chief

Now I defy you to try and hum La Brabançonne without morphing into De Souza. Go on, try it. I should turn this into a Belgian National Day drinking game, probably.

Anyway. The streets - already empty for the summer - are completely deserted. When I took the dog out earlier, it was eerily silent and the only sign of life was a scrawny fox, hanging around a dustbin. I feel it should be a holiday for me, even though no-one I work for currently is based in Belgium, so unilaterally declaring that I will be having a day off, thanks, to commemorate Leopold Saxe-Coburg taking an oath to become - lucky man! - first king of Belgium is unlikely to be a good idea. So I am doing the next best thing and being moderately inefficient and resentful. I based a whole career on this, so I am an expert.

Part of the problem is I am living in a dustbowl at the moment. There are Works. Travaux. The kind that feature monosyllabic men with schedules as elusive and rapidly changing as Madonna's and giant, great, fuck off pieces of plant. ("Plant". That is what it's called, isn't it? As in the sign, "Heavy plant crossing"? I mean pneumatic drills. Lots, and lots of pneumatic drills). Works are always fun, aren't they? Everything is dirty, I am dirty, the dog is dirty. The dirty dog is so distressed that whenever I sit down, it jumps onto my knee, even though it is plainly too big to be on there, and cannot get comfortable once it is up there. So it circles sadly around my knees, leaving dusty pawprints all over me, then jumps down, then regrets its decision and jumps back up and the whole dismal cycle continues until I throw it out of the kitchen window (soon, at this rate). Look, here he is, preparing for his 98th leap onto my knees today.



The paler patch on my jeans to the right is a series of dusty paw prints. He looks quite sweet from that angle, but I assure you, he is hell-bent on ensuring my total psychological collapse.

My main observation is how fast one becomes (ok, I become) entirely feral. Once the kitchen is reduced to a heap of rubble, there is little point in doing anything. Why wash, when within minutes I will be covered in masonry dust? Why wash clothes, or dishes? And HOW? Why wear make up? In fact, why get dressed - or indeed, get up - at all? I might as well fester in bed, gnawing on an arbitrary selection of frozen foods without bothering to defrost them first. This will happen, I am sure of it. I would say I am, at a conservative estimate, three days away from eating out of bins and wearing a pillow case. By the time the Works are finished (supposedly a month, I do not believe a word of it, the builder has the weary, devious look of someone who is working on 43 jobs at once), I will probably have been placed in protective custody.

Given the immense (canine) strain on my sanity, and the surprisingly large amount of law I STILL have to do before the children return (they have been away for ages on some far flung campsite with their grandparents, and I am missing them painfully), you will forgive me if the only other thing I have to offer tonight is this, the CFO's leaving present from his au pair:



An oven glove and three packets of moth repellent.

What was your worst ever present? Can you beat moth repellent?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Kawaii-bara



"So ... that picture you just sent me. Is that three severed plush Capybara heads?"



"No. It is a capybara that is 94% face. It has tiny legs underneath. I was going to get you one but they only had the giganto-bara left and they wouldn't sell me the display one".




Also, there is one that is like a cloak for children, so they can have a hood like kapibarasan's head, but then on the packaging it says that it can be used as a blanket/hand warmer by crazy women like us".




"I see. Reading this, I am filled with the strange, soothing certainty that everything is going to be alright".





"M? Are you just walking around Seoul stalking giant rodents?"

"YES".

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Bodies

You know that 'life is passing me by' feeling? I have that at the moment. Which is plainly ridiculous since I have cleaned the bathroom cupboards out. I mean, how much more viscerally alive is it possible to be, than spending Sunday afternoon throwing 7 year old vitamins and multiple tubes of rancid Protect and Perfect serum out? I blame social networking. I'm sure I would have been satisfied with my day of wondering why I have seven tubes of Caudalie Crème de Corps Nourissantes when I have never knowingly bought one if I wasn't exposed to other people's weekends, the parties, the festivals, the aspirational shopping. It's engineered to create dissatisfaction, isn't it? Well, unless you are preternaturally well-adjusted it is. And no-one will ever accuse me of that, I fear.


Actually, I blame social networking AND my slightly too tight trousers. Everything looks wrong in too tight trousers: the world is leached of all joy. My waist and I are cinched into a perpetual loop of grumpy recrimination with each other. Also, I think, tight trousers leave me slightly oxygen deprived, the symptoms of which include "drowsiness, shortness of breath, anxiety and tension". I think "desire to eat more cheap chocolate" must also be a symptom and so the cycle continues. You may quite rightly wonder why I am wearing too tight trousers (or, far more likely, you do not remotely care why and wonder why you are still reading this, which is like your annoying auntie telling you about her gynecological complaints at length, without the slightest provocation). I am wearing them because I have mislaid my trusty Gap physiotherapist's trousers and I can't leave the house in turquoise tracksuit bottoms. Should I buy more trousers? Yes I should. But buying trousers when you are over your fighting weight and have no money is not fun. I'd go on the rob to buy myself new trousers, but I am too tired and breathless, it's a tight trouser Catch 22. My only hope is eventually the money gets so short I can no longer feed myself, and I get thin enough to fit into the trousers again. I do not actually see this happening in my lifetime. I'd wear dresses, but it keeps pissing down and the average temperature is about 12°C.


I am thinking about body shape today, because I tried to buy a swimming costume yesterday. Is there any more dismal experience for the generously torso-ed lady than trying to buy a swimming costume in a non-specialist shop? I think not. Ok, if I thought long and hard, I could probably think of a couple. But it's pretty wretched. I did it yesterday in Spa.


Spa is a small town in the Ardennes attached to a motor racetrack and a droning chanson française festival. If you can avoid both of these things, it also has a most excellent Sunday market where I found a stuffed squirrel string quartet once, and, reason for my visit, the spa. The spa is bracingly municipal, but it is a good, cheap way to sit in various temperatures of water and doze in public. There is also a series of benches under heat lamps, so you can bask like a lizard. I am very much in favour of those things.


What I am not in favour of is buying a swimming costume, but sadly it was necessary. I do not have one that fits at the moment, partly because I seem to have lost several, partly because I am expanding alarmingly (see above) and try as I might, you cannot wear a M&S minimiser bra with a swimming costume. People look at you strangely. Also, it is surprisingly hard to find a full length Victorian bathing gown. Harder than finding a stuffed squirrel string quartet, actually, which I think shows a skewed sense of priorities among the citizens of Spa.


I went to Spa's ladies underpinnings shop and found a couple of unlikely, but just conceivable, black, matronly contenders on the sale rail. I tried them on. They looked horrific. One of them got stuck around my ribcage and made those worrying "material stretched to breaking point" noises. The other one had a sort of unwisely deep 'v' in the décolleté out of which 98% of my chest was trying to escape. I tried to adjust the straps, and one of them pinged farcically off across the changing room.


The saleslady - size 6, bra size approximately 28AA - came in to offer me a couple of extra horrors. There was a purple one, and one with a hideous geometric pattern, like a dog had eaten, then vomited up, an Escher drawing. They were both over €100. I tried to suppress a sob and forced my defeated body into the Escher vomit one, which made me look like the Queen mother from the neck down, a nightmarish optical illusion. Impregnable. Shaped like an unwisely upholstered pouffe.

"How is it?" she said through the curtain.

"C'est môôôôôôche, it's HIDEOUS". I couldn't even muster enough British reserve to lie.

"Vous faites du 38, 40?" she said drawing back the curtain to look at me. She meant dress size. I was so distressed by this point, however, I thought for some reason she was talking UK bra sizes and nearly wept.

"Non! Je fais du 32! Du 85 quoi! But with a large cup size". This was not a conversation I ever wanted to be having with anyone. Ever. There should be some system where you step into an unmanned booth which scans you, then provides you with a humane, appropriately sized swimming costume. Make this happen, inventors of the world.


She tried to sidle away before I could get any more unhinged. She had nothing else to offer in any case, so she went back to folding negligées. An awkward silence fell over the shop as I muttered and struggled in the cubicle.


In the end I had to buy the one with the stupidly deep 'v'. I had come all the way to Spa, I was not going to let this put me off. It was a Large, which meant it was saggy over the body, whilst barely covering my chest. I looked ridiculous. I fiddled with the straps. Then I went up to the baths and stood in the damp, echoing changing rooms and had a little cry.


I have been at war with my body for most of my adult life. Once it started dicking me around with alopecia, I opened hostilities on the damn thing. I starved it, beat it up, filled it full of crap. I was never satisfied, never liked it however hard I worked on it or how much I deprived it. I suppose everything else became so much more important when I lost my hair; once that was wrong, I couldn't bear for the rest not to be "right"; not to be the way I wanted it. Anyway. A few years ago - I suppose around 2008, perhaps not entirely coincidentally when I started this blog - I finally got too tired, too sad, too damn bored, to fight with my body anymore. I thought of all the time I had wasted being pointlessly dissatisfied, or worrying about food and cellulite and stretchmarks, and it horrified me. Also, genuinely terrible things - illnesses and accidents - happened to people around me which made me profoundly grateful for the basic fact of my body; it worked. It allowed me to enjoy things and to look after the people I loved.


I stopped being the person who couldn't find a single thing she was prepared to eat in a motorway service station, who wouldn't eat chips to save her life, who didn't drink alcohol, who ate spinach every day, who obsessed and fretted, and body brushed, and calculated everything, even on holiday. I relaxed. I ate chips, and it wasn't a big deal. I drank wine. I had a sandwich for lunch if that was what there was for lunch. I simply stopped caring. I ate whatever was put in front of me, and if we had to find lunch in a motorway service station shop, I'd eat a Snickers and a packet of crisps and not agonise for a second.


For a long time, this felt like the most amazing revelation. It was - still is - wonderful not to be "fussy" any more, not to attach such fetishistic importance to food. But of course, you can't hit 36 eating exactly what you damn well want (and being naturally very greedy) and doing no exercise and stay as skinny as I used to be. So I am bigger. Lots of my clothes - bought when I was both rich and thin, back in London - don't fit any more. I've mentioned it here in passing quite a few times and I can't pretend it doesn't bother me a bit. It does. There are whole sections of my wardrobe that I know not to even try, and others I approach with increasing trepidation. But even so, I remember what it felt like to have a constant hunger headache, to keep a running tally in my head of everything I had eaten in a day, to feel genuinely panicky at the thought of someone else cooking for me. I remember I remember bingeing mechanically, joylessly on ice cream, knowing it was the easiest thing to throw up again afterwards. It was horrible. I know what's more important, and actually, I'm not that unhappy with my body. It's a perfectly ok shape, really. Would I like to be 10% thinner? Yes. Am I willing to go insane again to get there? Hell no.


But sometimes, and it's partly a reflex, I think, a learnt way of channeling anxiety and strain that never quite left me, I find I want to wage war on my body again. I want to cause it pain, deprive it, make it suffer. And standing in the changing rooms at Spa, I felt like that again. I felt revolting, disgusting, angry. I wanted to hurt myself. I walked into the pool hunched and weepy in my towel, sick of myself. I stood in the water, blinking back tears and picked at the dry skin on my lips until they bled.


It was Saturday afternoon, and the spa was quite full. All around me people wandered around in their swimming gear, all shapes and sizes and ages, going from pool to pool, lying reading the paper, several of them having a crafty beer and a fag outside, this being Belgium. There were babies, floating luxuriantly fat and serious in their rubber rings. There were several cadaverously thin, pale, ginger youths, their bodies almost luminously blue white. There were solidly barrel shaped women in their forties and fifties in sensible one pieces, and other women of the same age, lithe and tanned mahogany with layers of waterproof mascara, string bikinis and elaborately bleached peacock coiffures. There were men with vast bellies in tiny trunks, unselfconsciously lying legs akimbo on loungers, reading the sports pages. There were frail, stooped elderly ladies in floral swimming caps and costumes with frilled skirts, carefully negotiating the steps down into the water. There were lots of larger chests than mine, including some on men, and lots smaller. As I looked around, I could feel myself ever so slowly uncurling, the tension starting to dissipate.


There were some really beautiful bodies too. Gorgeous leggy teenagers in tiny bikinis with impossibly perfect honey coloured limbs. Bony, angular ten year olds with peach soft skin that reminded me of Lashes zooming around and getting reprimanded by the lifeguards. There was one woman of about my age with amazing red hair, who was absolutely beautiful, tiny and completely compelling, impossible to take your eyes off. But there were lots and lots of completely ordinary, unexceptional bodies. Bodies with the odd sagging bit, a few thread veins, bruises or stretchmarks, bodies like mine. There was an endless variety of tattoos, some luxuriant back hair, a range of Caesarian scars, and some ludicrously clear tan lines (particularly cyclist's ones. The Ardennes is full of serious, iron-calved cyclists in lycra). There was one man, about my age, with alopecia, like me, though he wasn't wearing a wig, of course, and a girl with a large port wine stain on her face, joking with her boyfriend in the hot tub. The hot tub was ferocious. It wobbled away lots of my anxiety. I sat next to three generations of, I think, a Japanese family, who kept laughing and taking pictures of each other.


And everyone was just getting on with it. They were just bodies, doing what bodies do. Wobbling bosoms in the jacuzzi, prominent hip bones under the heat lamps, pregnant bellies and knobbly knees, old ones, young ones and somewhere in the middle ones, all soaking calmly. After a couple of hours I fell asleep in my stupid new swimming costume, lying on my lounger, soothed by the constant sounds of the water. My tits probably looked a bit odd, determinedly trying to escape out of the sides of the idiotic swimsuit, but whatever. By 6 that evening I was deeply, deeply relaxed. Well, until I had to put my stupid tight trousers back on.


I wish I could go back there every week. Failing that, I am committed to buying a couple of cheap pairs of trousers that fit. Also, if anyone can suggest where I can find a decent swimming costume for the generously torsoed, for god's sake PLEASE let me know.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

L'Odeur Fraîche des Poneys*

Hello. Speak quietly please, I am struggling with dreadful insomnia and the insistent sensation that I have been swimming in, and binge-drinking, embalming fluid. My suspicion that my gin was switched with formaldehyde at Brussels' premier (only) (unless you count Homo Erectus, and really, who would) transvestite cabaret bar last week is apparently inaccurate, however, according to the mighty forces of Science, or at least Mr Cookblog. Apparently "our bodies produce aldehydes as part of metabolising alcohol", so it is my own fault I feel like a long dead thing.

I am currently in London, international city of glamour and so on. This is demonstrated by the following facts:

1. Shopping

I have purchased two Marks & Spencer minimiser bras for the modish sum of 14 of your British pounds. I am very delighted with my newly crushed chest, it is everything I hoped for and more. With the sterling elastic assistance of my new bras, I can probably fit into almost 20% of my wardrobe, progress indeed. I also went to Londis for deodorant and Maplins for an adaptor, but then I had to stop before I became overwhelmed with retail opportunity excitement. The latter was an excellent retail experience for a Belgian resident, since it:

(a) took 30 seconds; and

(b) was very cheap; and

(c) took place on a Sunday.

London 1, Brussels 0, but Brussels doesn't care because it has a lift museum, and popular music in the metro.


2. Romance

An elderly Irish gentleman smelling strongly of Tenants Extra chatted me up on the 31 bus. Actually, he offered me his seat but I am fairly sure he did not actually think I was pregnant.


3. Livestock

There has, apparently, been an escapee peacock down my father's street in recent weeks. "The neighbour's dog barked at it, so it flew onto Ivo's roof (ed's note: if you live in Notting Hill, there is a strong likelihood that one or more of your neighbours will be called Ivo) and sat there".

I caught a tiny frog in Beckenham which tried to jump into my cup of tea.

The CFO, who is also in London just called me. "I am in an office in Sussex Place", he said. "And I am watching a fox in the corner of the room scratch its ear. There is another one sleeping next to it".

Which was odd.


4. Social events

I went to 52 Betty's book launch last night, in posh sex emporium Coco de Mer. There is nothing like nervously sipping pink Cava and waiting for someone you recognise to arrive in a forest of high end vibrators and jade dildos to make you feel like a bit of a tool, but thankfully the Harridan arrived and I attached myself to her side, like her mute, black, parrot. We made an excellent double act, I think: her telling everyone whose paths we crossed that her "stroke face" was due to her root canal work rather than a stroke; me getting people's names wrong and knocking over flogging paddles and god knows what else at every turn.

Betty's book, The 52 Seductions, based on her former blog of the same name, is about Betty and her husband Herbert's year long mission to revive their sex life by seducing each other every week. It is not a how-to manual, and it's not self-congratulatory or likely to make you feel inadequate. It's warm, often thoughtful and frequently very funny. Actually, it's at least as much about love and vulnerability and the meandering course of long term relationships as sex. It feels a very brave book, actually. I would no more be able to speak of such things than I would be able to do particle physics, so I am particularly awed by her candour.

Most importantly, it was an excellent do, with mini sandwiches shaped like pants and pink Cava. I took a picture of the pants-wiches, reasoning, why be classy when you can make an arse of yourself.





Speaking of arse, there were also biscuits with chapter headings on them, very similar to my own arse biscuits, but larger.



Now I must return to Brussels, but not before I have walked around Marks & Spencer in a fugue state.



*The title of this post comes from today's chat with M, which also covered our respective attitudes to various geometric shapes.

"So, you're saying a disc is ok, but a circle is bad?"

"I don't know. Am I? I have nomenclature problems. I am saying bagel bad, biscuit good".

"Noted. Cheese: ok, elastic band: not ok. How do you feel about squares?"

"I associate them with caramel shortbread, which is positive".

"How do we feel about half circles? Like, a rainbow? Or half a reblochon?"

"I am against them".


This did not even arise in the context of Google Plus, it was just common or garden stupidity. How do you feel about circles?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Chipping Norton Set





I have a pressing question on the phone hacking scandal, and it is this.

What the fuck are the Chipping Norton Set doing in Chipping Norton?

I mean, have you been to Chipping Norton? Because I have. I got my first and only speeding ticket to date trying to leave Chipping Norton, actually, and that's no coincidence. Ok, it's very pretty. The Cotswolds is, generally; I must concede that it is exceedingly attractive If You Like That Kind of Thing. If, however, the tunnel from Barbican tube to Silk Street is your idea of beauty, you may, like me, struggle. I suppose the fact that there's a Londis AND Co-op helps (actually, scrupulous fairness requires me to disclose that there's a Sainsburys, which I will admit is the height of Cotswold sophistication. I often find myself weeping tears of gratitude when I get as far as the rubbish Tesco in Broadway). And yes, there is a nice hotel and two delis. But the discovery that Chipping Norton is a nexus of News International evil baffles me. Do they perhaps get up to such depraved, horrible things because there is arse all else to do?

Even before the current brouhaha, I kept hearing about the London-on-the-Wold side of the Cotswolds, how it's lousy with celebrities - Liz Hurley Kate Moss, Damian Hirst, Kate Winslet.. And other people I have just looked up on this handy list. Well. I have never spotted ANY of them. Not even at Brailes Agricultural show, where they have a live pensioner fruit machine (this, magnificently, is three old people sitting in a row with a basket of fruit each, no word of a lie, I promise this is true) AND ferret roulette, so I am deeply sceptical. What on earth could they possibly find to do which would beat that?

The reason I know so much ("so much" = virtually nothing) about the Cotswolds is that my father, the Bearded King of Science lives there, has done for years. He used to live in Blockley, which was supposed to boast a more reasonable selection of notables: Alan Rusbridger, Will Hutton, Joanna Trollope and The Fat One From Lovejoy. Not quite premier league, but you know, enough for a little frisson. We never saw any of them. My stepmother did once claim to have seen Sting in the pub, but we didn't believe her. Our idea of Cotswold celebrities remained the homicidal goat at the Cotswold Farm Park (pictured here, that man in the flat cap doesn't realise he's dicing with death).


Now he has moved to a remoter corner of the Cotswold firmament and I have yet to spot so much as an extra in Hollyoaks. I am not saying there are not compensatory delights. Regular readers may remember the dizzying array of activities on offer for small children: the opportunities for fishing dead mice out of storm drains, chasing spiders the size of ponies out of the shower, the cheery parlour games of 'guess the cause of death of the small mammal', the hours of fun dicing with death or amputation in The Tetanus Adventure Playground TM (barn full of rusting agricultural machinery). Well behaved children may be offered the chance to go down to the stream and poke a decomposing fox corpse with a stick. If I am very very good myself, I may get an hour's free pass to go to the nearest market town while my children roam free range near the septic tank, whining about the absence of digital tv. Until recently it had largely escaped the gentrification of most of the Cotswolds and a good day out involved wandering round the hardware store, then buying a lardy cake, that tasty traditional Oxfordshire blend of diabetes, heart disease and raisins. Sometimes, if were feeling lucky, we would beg the depressive café-gallery owner to turn his coffee machine on, though this rarely ended well. Now there's a proper hotel and everything, with reading material other than Cotswold Life. Maybe next time I go I'll see Lily Allen or something? I live in hope. I did once go to Daylesford, but it was terrifying, filled with women in Tod's loafers assaulting each other for the last jar of plum compôte. I'd rather take my chances with the horse sized arachnids and the badger carcasses.


I do not understand The Country, this has been long established. But this whole Chipping Norton set thing has piqued my curiosity. What do they do? Presumably they just go to one another's houses for cocktails all the time, and none of them have to deal with the queue in Londis or negotiate the challenging journey to the Costwold Motoring Museum to see Brum. I am quite certain none of them have ever been to the "Fundays Play Barn" in Bourton on the Water (it is hard to type those words, the scars are still fresh). But I am going back there in the first week of August (children and dog have tetanus boosters scheduled) and I will investigate. Maybe Brailes will be throbbing with paparazzi? Goodness, I am almost looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wednesday, no brain left for a title

All is well in law jail. I have progressed speedily (ish), and been exceptionally annoying all day. Thankfully I am the only one here to witness my own annoyingness, but it will be reflected in the dreary tone of the following. Just be thankful I haven't added footnotes.

The answer

Finally, after years of vague unease, I know what has been missing from my life. This.



It is perfect. Perfect, I tell you. I would not care about my inability to make any money or be any good at anything if I had one of those in the back yard quietly grazing. I would just sniff the tiny pony's neck and feed it Polos and be filled with contentment.


Well.


So I tell myself. In fact, once I had the tiny pony I would, indeed, be briefly ecstatic, but then I would start to tire of the constant manure shovelling. The pony might well be bitey and evil-tempered, and prove less than co-operative when I tried to put my neck-sniffing plan into action. It might bankrupt me in polos and carrots. I would become ever more resentful of the embarrassment the tiny pony caused me when the neighbours complained about it eating their sturdy perennials. There would be difficulties about what to do with the minipony when I wanted to go away for the weekend. I would start to complain about it on this weblog whilst entertaining oft-repeated fantasies about some OTHER kind of tiny animal.

Self-knowledge is not always a good thing.


Weekend happenings

I realised that in order to counter the - fairly accurate - impression given on these pages that I never leave the house, I should really have told you I went to a festival this weekend. So: I went to a festival this weekend. This one.

I am not, um, a natural festival-goer. It's not the mud, or the discomfort, or the sitting in a nest of discarded plastic beakers and condoms, but I do have some trouble controlling my gag reflex around "challenging" foods and I had particular trouble this time with people eating chips with not only ketchup and mayonnaise (the twin sauces of satan), but also a sort of lumpy brown meat poured on top ALL THREE AT ONCE in the stifling heat. Imagine, if you will, that these people had been at a festival for three days already at that point and several of them had white dreadlocks and you will have some notion of my discomfort. I found the latrines less troubling, actually, than the rivers of ketchup and mayonnaise and unspeakable Brown Sauce and the wafting scent of a thousand rancid spring rolls ALSO served with mayonnaise. Brrrrrr. Make this madness stop.

Apart from the slight nausea issue, however, all was lovely: there was sun, we* did not have to walk fifteen miles to get to things as you usually do at festivals, there were several excellent sets (Kaiser Chiefs, Fleet Foxes - complete with their herbal teas - and crazed disco pixie Robyn especially) and we successfully avoided hearing more than a few seconds of a two hour ear-bleeding drear-fest from Iron Maiden (apart from the piteously horrible noise, some of their coiffures were intensifying my nausea problems). Also, and this is crucial, we went straight back to Brussels afterwards and there was none of this unspeakable, rolling around in a canvas coffin surrounded by halfwits business (yes, I am filled with festival spirit). Actually, I was in my nice clean bed and intensively, vigorously showered by midnight, which is proof of how exceptionally rock 'n' roll I am, oh yes.

I resolved the food problem by eating PLAIN chips and drinking many tokens worth of nasty rosé. I was quite entertained to see that there was a mussel stand, from whence many people emerged with large metallic pots of mussels. Mussels: the obvious festival food. So there. Proof that I occasionally leave the house. Before the festival I also went to a birthday barbecue and a nice man showed me round his beehives, which was fun. See? I have a social life. Of sorts. Sporadically. On current reckoning I might do so again around mid -October.


(*"We"= me and the CFO reprising our excellent festival going exploits of a few years ago, where he tried to smuggle soap flavoured vodka into the venue in a recyclable shower gel container hidden in his pants and passed out at 9pm)


Collar of Calm

This picture, requested by commenter Beccy, might suggest the Collar of Tranquility is working:



I do not know why the dog is bathed in a greenish light. Maybe that is an aura of pheromones?

Booktrauma

I despatched my overdue edits on Monday night, praise be. Now they can languish, unread and unloved, on someone else's desk for a while ("while" = anything up to another six years, I should think). I have lost all belief in this book business; I do not think I am any good at it and I am filled with renewed admiration for anyone who can string a semblance of a plot together. Goodness knows what I am good at, except carving marrows and catching spiders. It doesn't matter though, because one day I will have a tiny pony.

Or a sugar glider.

Or .. something.

What are your obscure talents?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Human Appeasing Pheromone

Tuesday already. My inbox is bulging with temptation. Can I review 60 50 page judgments on subjects as crucial as equipment for electricity substations and butadiene rubber? Would I like to test some washing powder? Submit missing documents to my accountant? Scan these official pieces of paper? Get even more dates wrong? Try to establish the reasoning behind the current spate of mysterious demands from incompetent electricity supplier Electrabel? No. No, I would like to curl up in a small dark cupboard - under stairs would be ideal - and make loud retching noises like a cat with a hairball. My right ear has developed an unsightly, itchy rash and I nearly kicked the printer down the cellar stairs today for being an ink-guzzling ingrate twat with poor communication skills. The better news is that I am no longer looking after a canary. I am at a loss as to what the point of a canary is. It is like a car alarm, but even more boring.

After a bit of early morning puny impotent techno-rage I settled down to an exquisitely boring job of the kind I used to rather like when I was being the world's most half-hearted solicitor. I still rather like it. It's the kind of job where you make nitpicking notes in nice handwriting in the margins of things without having to actually do or achieve anything. I have been arsily marking up all day whilst tutting and muttering superior comments to myself. I become extremely hateful when I do this job, so it is a good thing I only do it for 2 weeks every six months. Any longer and I would start correcting people's grammar in the supermarket queue and sending back personal emails offering me videos of puppies marked up with 'please see my comments in bold square brackets' and track changes. The amusing thing about this outbreak of twattishness is that I am mainly amending and correcting work I did myself six months ago during my previous outbreak of legal pedantry. See? Pointless.

Better news: yesterday, in an exciting development for humanity, and possibly even my sanity, the CFO's au pair bought the weepette what she claims is a pheromone diffusing calming collar. The box claims that it gives a sense of calm and wellbeing and diffuses anxiety.



The Collar Of Tranquility is very large, and he has to wear it looped twice around his neck. It looks rather chic on him, like one of those Hermès double strap watches. He seems as neurotic as ever, but I suppose we should give it a few days. "It also comes as a plug-in diffuser" she told me.


"What, like Glade?! AMAZING".


"Yes, I suppose". She was wearing a 'humour the nutter' expression at this point.


"Mmm. Calming Glade. Glade Prozac Plug-in. I need one of those". The au pair had disappeared by now, closing the door firmly behind her, but the germ of an idea was born.

My entrepreneurial mind (ahahahhahaha. If anyone locates that, do send it my way) started to work overtime. Surely mankind is missing a trick not developing these for humans? Mrs Trefusis and I, always on the look out for good business propositions (when we are not refining our plan to move to a Bulgarian hill village and breed pygmy goats) brainstormed around this idea extensively when we should both have been doing other things.

E: I so want one. I mean, why? Why would dogs get them and not us? We need them MORE.

H: It's perfect. Every office in the land would buy these.

E: Yes, it's a winner. I think this might beat even www.philanderers.com as a business proposition. AND www.mycurate.com. Possibly even our plan to write pulp romance novels à deux to sell in Tescos with big "Selected by idiots" stickers on the front.

H: Imagine, when I have difficult meetings, I could simply Plug in a Prozac air freshner and clients would go 'marvellous, simply marvellous' and wave their hands airily.

E: I suppose there might be minor legal issues, but I'm sure we can get round them somehow.

H: How about a collaboration with a fragrance house, slipping 'mood enhancers' into scent? Because if you bought it for yourself, then it would be fine.. it would be forcing it on others that would be a problem. Just imagine:

"I like to spritz on a little [insert catchy name here] in the morning - it's an active chypre, which combines the scent of success, with the cognitive enhancement effects of modafinil"

E: What I like about that is how it's less a long-term commitment to your mental health, and more an accessory. See, I am already aching to buy this and it DOESN'T EVEN EXIST.

What nonsensical business propositions have you come up with? And consider yourself on notice, I will think about stealing them for a moment, then be overcome with indolence and not bother.

Friday, 1 July 2011

In which I leave the house briefly with regrettable consequences

I am wearing a scent today that is supposed to smell like the noise of the sail clanking in a gentle breeze on your yacht on the way to the Aeolian islands, whilst you drink a last limoncello (last? Who drank the rest of it, pray, Aqua Viva?). I actually smell of frozen duck shepherds pie with peas, sinusitis, damp towels that have sat for too long in the washing machine and resignation.

I wish you could get away with this kind of flimflammery in other professions. I would quite like my plumber to tell me that my boiler is "a fiery, long-lashed grey stallion, flaring its nostrils and pawing the ground with one hoof on a gently rolling Tuscan hill covered with wild thyme at sunset as the first autumn chills creep over the ancient fortifications of the nearby medieval hill town". Or, when I was a lawyer, I would have very much liked to say "you could, perhaps, view this non-compete clause as a cherubic toddler, with golden ringleted hair the texture of spun silk, spilling menthe à l'eau down his pristine sailor suit because his nanny will not let him have a third turn on the ornately painted wooden horses of the fairground ride in the Jardins de Luxembourg, circa 1912".

Sorry, I am getting obsessed. What else is new? Oh! I BOUGHT something which is neither food or for children. This has become such an extreme rarity (tiny violins, please) that it is very noteworthy. I went to have a potter round les soldes in the hope of finding excellent discounts on pygmy goats, gin, ponies or Sinutab. Instead I found a dress. Here it is, in a photo so spectacularly fuzzy and dark, as to be entirely pointless:



Is it a dress? A unquiet soul manifesting as a ghostly robed presence? An angry fox on its way to eat my face? Difficult to tell.

I dunno what you'd call that colour. Baby poo, perhaps. Not Black, anyway, which is something of a shock to me. Look closer, anyway, at the very exciting thing about the dress, which was in a rather smart shop that sells Repettos and Paul & Joe and other costly fripperies (no, I don't know what I was doing there. Looking for a miniature Shetland pony, maybe):



That's a mere 24,95 of your euros. I am not surprised you can buy a dress for €25, I live round the corner from H&M, but I was astonished to find it in a shop where everything else had another digit on the front. It must be made by an army of sweatshop pygmy jerboas, wearing their long fingers to the bone sewing. Thanks, jerboa army. My shopping companion sounded a warning note, however:

"You might want to wear some other pants with it. Those ones are quite ... obvious". Which is always good to hear about your new dress. Thanks. No flamingo pants, got it.

Better still (some might disagree), I found a paper model of a chip van you can build yourself!




You can see the full range of paper models of echt Belgian monuments and scenes here, including a most magnificent Atomium AND A TRAM.

After this excitement, I had a piece of rhubarb cake and was quite badly seduced by some beautifully packaged Debailleul chocolates, but I had a stern word with myself and escorted myself firmly back to Uccle, muttering. I will not try and leave again, it's dangerous.

Now I must go and watch the last Engrenages, because even though it is extravagantly stupid, it has sucked me in. Everyone in it looks like people I used to work for. Corporate partner from the Paris office! Why are you getting into bed with that police lady? Ewwwww, I DO NOT WANT TO SEE YOU NAKED.

On that bombshell, here is a goat eating a vintage (old) Cerutti jacket. Never let it be said I do not spoil you.





UPDATE:

This may have to be my last word on the subject of scent: