Friday, 28 October 2011

Muttering, fire

I have become less tolerant of the tram recently, partly because I use it less, tending to lurk at home in the manner of some kind of pale, furtive trogolodyte, partly because I get more furiously intolerant by the week and partly because sweet baby jesus, they really are so SHIT.

To be scrupulously fair, only half my local trams are shit. The other half are like shiny, silver visitors from the future with a semi-reliable timetable and only a light, mysterious scattering of sunflower seed shells on the floor every time I get on one. But the shit ones, my god, they are sent to smite us, like wheeled scorpions. Lurching, rickety yellow wagons of death, they appear randomly every half hour or so with cavalier disregard for the "timetable". I hate how they're always packed. I hate how they smell. I hate the way, when the traffic is heavy, the drivers delight in accelerating, then braking really heavily, causing my peri-arthritic ankles to buckle, throwing me onto the nearest tramp or supercilious teenage girl. I have become a tram mutterer, fulminating into my sleeve about Youth of Today and the like.

Today, in a beautifully farcical turn of Brussels events, my tram caught fire. It was one of the old, crap ones, decorated in green with the logo of the tram museum to make it look even crapper and older. I had to wait about a half an hour for it to finally show up, packed to the gills with demob happy teenagers celebrating the start of half term. Which was all bad enough, but then the bloody thing caught fire. FIRE, I tell you. I confess I didn't notice, I was too busy glaring at the teenagers like the bitter, furious pensioner I have become. Nor did anyone else, until the back half of it filled up with acrid black smoke.

The teenagers tried to tell the driver.

"Euh, monsieur, monsieur?"

He didn't even look round.

"Monsieur? Le tram? Ca fume".

Stony, eyes forward. A nattily executed sadistic accelerate/brake combo.

"Serieusement, monsieur, il y a de la fumée, là"

Nothing.

Eventually, the doors decided to open by themselves (they had been doing this on and off for ten minutes, which perhaps should have alerted me to the imminent peril) and we all escaped, then stood on the pavement admiring the giant billowing clouds of acrid tram smoke: a combination of rubber, greasy tram seat fabric coated with tramp effluvia, smouldering abandoned Quick frites boxes, and the sloughed off skin of the be-mulleted man who wears the John Galliano vest top in all weathers. The driver stayed, squatting in his cab like a furious, uniformed toad, refusing to react. He's probably still there now, lightly smoked.


To add insult to (near) injury, Place Stéphanie, in the throbbing (or possibly decelerating) heart of Brussels's "uptown" (hahaha) now has a LUSH.




It is right next to Annick Goutal, purveyor of beautiful, subtle scents. If I were Annick Goutal, I would totally sue.

My loathing of Lush is a matter of public record, at least on Facegoop, where despite the blog having been dormant for the best part of a year, fanatical hippies still come and tell us we are mean and unfair and ignorant witches for dissing their favourite purveyor of olfactory WMDs.

I am unrepentant. Indeed, I understand there is an ancient Chinese curse that translates as "May you live next door to Lush for all eternity".

I think what I need is this axe-wielding bird, found via Mimi Smartypants, to sit on my shoulder. He has given me much joy today.




I am going off to mutter in a corner now.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

European Affairs





As the elected heads of Europe were corralled in some unpleasant Brussels conference room with, as Mrs Trefusis calls it, "Trusthouse Forte décor and individually wrapped speculoos" to prop up the Eurozone with a packet of Mikados and several cubic metres of emissions tested hot air, I am posting something Relevant and Timely.

Because yesterday, so that you don't have to, Beatrice and I went to the shiny new European Parliament visitors' centre. It is called the "Parlamentarium", presumably reasoning that some kind of pseudo-Latin name was the best way to avoid tetchy, language-based unpleasantness. Good luck and godspeed, Parlamentarium, you big old pile of money rendered into touch-screens on qualified majority voting!

The Parlamentarium is made of glass, flags, pulped Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee position papers and the iced, sculpted, tears of interns*. You enter through a door made from Jerzy Buzek's old ties* and smiling, be-scarved, moonie apparatchiks greet you, multilingually. Then you have to go through the security barriers that are, reassuringly, staffed by the same grumpy, disapproving bastards you find at the entrance to any European Union institution.

Beatrice asked for the Latvian version of the interactive, iphone based multimedia guide. One of the many hundreds of smiling, be-scarved moonie apparatchiks handed her a guide. She frowned at it.

"This is Lithuanian".

"Oh!" said the scarf lady taking it back with a cheery laugh and arsing around with some buttons until another flag appeared on the screen. "Yes! I always get those confused".

Undaunted by this slur to Latvian, we continued, first examining a (frankly rather dull) scale model of the Strasbourg parliament, then sinking deeper into the bowels of the glamorously named "Willy Brandt building", past many, many, many screens. I tried to listen to the audio commentary, but I couldn't get my CTU Jack Bauer earpiece to stay in my ear. I mean, I really couldn't, it was technically, biologically, physically impossible. Are my ears in breach of the Directive on External Auditory Biological Equipment Proportions (EC/2011/159)? Will enforcement proceedings be launched against my ears? Would I find out at some point in the Parlementarium?? In the first instance, I had to resort to just sort of lamely holding it against the side of my head when I could be bothered. Images appeared on our touchscreens as we walked along, as if by magic. Slightly boring magic.

On the mezzanine, we were able to see some pictures of the Second World War, and some pages from the actual, original EU treaty. Or maybe not. It might have been the the Potsdam Agreement. I was a bit distracted by the fact that all the text on walls and freestanding panels was sort of blurred, with all the different language versions of the signage displayed in a sort of overlapping, confusing, liable-to-induce-epileptic activity fashion. You can see it here, on the heading to the website. Also, if you touched your exciting multimedia toy to the key icon next to exhibits, it told you stuff, in a language of its choosing which might or might not be the one you had selected. Or it might be Lithuanian. They are easily confused. There was other stuff, but we were going quickly, in the hope of bigger and better interactivity. Down the stairs again, about a thousand miles under the Place de Luxembourg, we reached a room full of pictures of MEPs, and brochures for the political groupings. It was looking intensely promising.




Next, there was a bank of screens featuring pictures of the heads of the political grouping, each with some kind of artefact of their choosing, displayed in a glass box. We particularly liked Martin Schulz, leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and his piece of rock. We stared at it for a long time.

"Why he has a rock? To show he is tough like rock?"

"Could it be a bit of the Berlin wall? Is he even GERMAN? I'm lost"

"Eh".

Rebecca Harms had an old wallet. We didn't know why she had that either since, by then, my multi-media genius pod was threatening "low battery", we could only get the text in Latvian. Instead, we watched Guy Verhofstadt on mute, fascinated.

"The teeth!"

"You could fit several member states into that gap".

After that, we entered the Exciting Multimedia Area, where you could push around a sort of .. trolley over a map of Europe and watch small factual films on the trolley screen.



The ceiling was my favourite bit of the whole place, featuring what I think must have been a map of Europe in pretty, spherical blue LEDs.




"Move sensor to capture zone? Eh?" We were a bit bewildered by the Highly Informative Trolley, and a Scarved Operative had to explain to us. We rolled over to Riga to check it out. A short film about the integration of economic migrants kicked off. B and I watched, B frowning more and more deeply with each image.

"That's not Riga".

"That's not Riga".

"What the fuck? That's not Riga".

"Ok, that one's Riga".

Next we went to play an interactive legislation game in a round room entirely surrounded by a bank of screens showing action shots from the "hemicycle" (why?) of the European Parliament. This was my other favourite part: it was quite hypnotic being entirely surrounded entirely by parliamentarians, trying to spot the ones that were yawning when they were filmed (several, mainly Brits). In the interactive game, I managed to engineer a compromise over some tricky environmental legislation by pressing a random combination of buttons, whilst Nigel Farage's ruddy face was looming at me from a full 360°, and I can tell you, this is no mean feat. I have a new respect for our European lawmakers. I was very pleased with myself, actually.

Beatrice pointed out her favourite MEP, an elderly lady with slightly Fabiola-esque hair and a floral jacket, to me on the screens of sensory overload.

"She is Luxembourgeoise. She loves bees. Whenever bees are discussed she must be present".

There was another circular room featuring what appeared to be a selection of chairs from the whole of Europe and The People Of Europe telling you about their lives. We were having major audio difficulties at this point, so we did not get to hear about the man whose life changed when he had his second child, or test out the quite comfortable looking leather sofa (we were not sure which member state it represented, but we quite fancy moving there).

We failed to find the special children's section, and we did not have two and a half hours to take part in the role playing game. Instead, we found ourselves directed to the final screens where we could express our wishes for the future of the European parliament.

Me:


Beatrice:


Both our ideas rendered in pretty colours on a large screen:


The shop was tiny but quite good, though singularly lacking in Euro-kitsch and majoring to a bewildering degree in candles. There were also a great deal of starred scarves, which were actually rather nice and soft, but also €55. I bought four miniature advent calendars made to look like pills, Beatrice bought a passport cover. Then she cast an expert eye over the café and declared it non-subsidised (but quite cheap, at least).

Really, the Parlamentarium is probably the best, shiniest, most informative visitor's centre you could make with such profoundly unpromising material and with the heavy weight of responsibility to make everything fair and balanced and representative. You can feel, viscerally, leadenly, the hundreds of man-hours, the weeks and months of debate and compromise that has gone into each exhibit and predictably, this doesn't make for the most fun of experiences (though arguably, that does fairly accurately replicate the EU lawmaking process). I mean, a 'whack a mole' style exhibit featuring MEPs might have helped. "Would my children enjoy the Parlamentarium?" ask the Frequently Asked Questions on the website, touchingly. Their answer is:

"Yes. There is something for children in each section of the Parlamentarium".

My answer is:

"Possibly, if they have been kept in a darkened cupboard for a week with only the Works Directive for company".

If my own children are very, exceptionally bad one day, I might take them.

I suppose, if you are fourteen and your school forces you to go there on a trip (this is the only plausible target audience I can identify), it will be better than double maths.

The verdict: Better than double maths. Unless you really enjoy quadratic equations.

The Parlamentarium
Batiment Willy Brandt
Rue Wiertz 60
Free Entry
Open 7 days a week, more hours than you could possibly imagine. Or want. Ever.

*Disclaimer: may contain lies.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Lies, damn lies, horse lies

The problem, I think, with a blog like this is that if you update it really regularly, you can fill your posts with pointless fripperies and inconsequential trivia, whereas if you inadvertently fail to update for nearly a week for no better reason than autumnal inertia, you feel a heavy burden of responsibility to have something worthwhile to say about the Eurozone, or about the nature of intimacy, or at least, I dunno, offer a half decent recipe. I have none of the above unless you want to know how to make my signature Old El Paso Tacos.

(Open Old El Paso Box. Put virulent orange taco shells in oven. Fry a packet of mince. It is very important, when frying the mince, that the whole mince portion falls out of the packet into the pan with a heavy thud, ideally lightly splashing you in cooking oil. The bloody paper from the bottom of the packet of mince should still be adhered to the raw meat, requiring you to peel it off, perhaps retching gently if you are not in the américain mood. Add Old El Paso MSG Special Delicious "Seasoning". Put on plates with bad grace and serve with ketchup and shouting. Open a tin of Géant Vert sweetcorn kernels if you're feeling fancy. Drink heavily to forget the smell. )

However, I must write something or the responsibility becomes heavier and heavier to turn myself into Alain de Botton. With that in mind, and throwing off the tyrannous yoke of content expectations, I can tell you the following, fairly humdrum developments:

The dog required four stitches yesterday, after opening his muzzle grotesquely in a wildly improbable 'running too fast in the undergrowth at dusk' scenario. After an overnight stay at the vet's, he is now sporting the infamous colerette de la honte, or cone of shame, thus:




Whilst he has been fairly stoical about the general indignity of it all, he is having difficulty judging his new width, and keeps bashing into things, then staggering back in confusion to general amusement. Poor weepette. He has to keep the Cone of Shame for ten days, until his stitches come out.


I read The Family Fang (that review I have linked to is rather odd, and underplays the humour, I think), which I recommend highly. It is about a couple who are situationist performance artists and how they force their children Annie (Child A) and Buster (Child B) to become part of the "work". It is dark and funny and quite lovely on sibling relationships. I don't think it's the absolute best book that could have been written on this, it's actually quite restrained, when I could see it with a bit more of a fractured, demented, explosive ending, but I really like Kevin Wilson's style, and it's hugely enjoyable. Another stellar recommendation from Irretrievably Broken.



I tried to steal two separate sets of small fat ponies this weekend. The 'Poneys de la Cambre' really are a stellar selection of the fat pony genus, in particular the tiny chestnut whose weeny legs seem impossibly small to carry his vast stomach. He challenges the laws of the physical universe in the manner of a bumble bee, basically. Sadly the ponies are only accessible to 3-7 year olds and neither of my children could be bullied into riding one so I could nuzzle it. Kidnap it. Bundle it onto the tram. I went to look at a couple of stables too, because I'd really like to find somewhere to ride. They were hilariously unchanged from the stables of my youth - loads of teenage girls milling around a yard with very little going on, and some kind of brooding, golum like elder stateswoman in an office-cum-tack room-cum-nest of hoof oil and pony nuts, terrifying everyone. I was torn between a mad desire to jump right back in, standing outside a stable and sniffing manes surreptitiously, and a strong awareness that I am no longer 14.



Speaking of horse lust, and my younger days, I found my Domesday Project entry online, after my friend Violet forwarded her sister's (which majored on descriptions of looking after her stick insects. "Thank god" said Violet "I can't find mine, talking about all the joy to be had from dissecting owl pellets"). If you are my age and lived in the UK, I think you must have taken part in this .. thing. You had to write some stuff about yourself and then the BBC kept it somewhere in a big vault. I am not sure what the point was. Were we recreating the Domesday book? Anyway, whatever. It is now on line, I have found my entry and it is a WEB OF LIES. I am shocked. Shocked! See for yourselves:

HORSERIDING. EMMA BEDDINGTON. AGED 10

In my free time I enjoy going
horseriding. I have my own pony and
my friend and I ride together. We go
in a car to the riding school. On a
typical day our riding teacher might
be taking a pony into the stables when
we arrive. One of the girls who works
there taks Tommy, my horse, out of the
stable and helps me mount. Our
instructor gives me hints as we ride.
Usually towards the end of the lesson
we jump our fences. When we do Tommy
takes firm charge and goes over the
jumps TWO AT A TIME! He is a golden
colour called Palomino. We ride for
an hour, then dismount and return our
ponies to the stables. I remove
Tommy's saddle and bridle. Often he
tris to squash me against the wall.


I never, ever, had my own pony. I think maybe I wanted one so much I thought it counted. I love how I have basically invented a fantasy existence - not merely a pony, but one who jumps two jumps at a time AND some kind of servant girl slave/groom - for myself, then used it to skew the data of a nationwide BBC project. Something to be proud of, right there.

Please, if you are of a similar age to me and British, go and find your Domesday Project contribution in the bowels of the internet, and see if it is as disturbing as mine.


PS: Oh! And if you are in the UK or otherwise able to get Radio 4, you MUST listen to Warhorses of Letters tonight at 11pm, because as epistolatory, gay, equine, romances go, I'd say it was one of the better examples of the genre.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Wednesday Whatever

Meanwhile, back in this particular corner of Belgium:

1. Fingers came home from school with a torturous story of schoolyard high jinks that ended, unconvincingly, with the deathless line "So I didn't bite him, I just fell on his arm with my mouth open". Since then every time I go into the gulag, children stare and point and huddle, making that finger across the throat gesture in our direction. Oh dear. It was all going so well this term. I await his imminent report with some trepidation.


2. I have been wrestling with a bag of Daim pieces given to me - along with a whole box of amazing goodies - by a very, very kind reader. I will take a picture tomorrow because it is BEAUTEOUS and includes dainty liquorice owls of great loveliness.

The seven phases of Daim:

- I'll just have one. They're only tiny and that won't fuck up my stupid-asshole-diet-which-is-basically-just-no-puddings-and-no-wine.

- One is so tiny, though. Three is a sensible number.

- Did I say three? I meant five. Five is, like, the size of a normal snack. Sort of.

- My finger are no longer under my control.

- DAIMDAIMDAIMDAIMDAIM I'm not even enjoying this anymore DAIMDAIMDAIMDAIM

- Bleeeurgh. Sick sick sick regretful and sick. Gum ache.

- This one, offered by someone on Twitter and adopted wholesale by me: "Aching void of withdrawal, disconsolate excavation of molars for remnants".

I tried taking the box downstairs, but then it became a battle royal between sloth and greed in which there could be no winner and many losers, including my productivity, concentration, and chins. Or perhaps, by multiplying, the chins are winning. Who knows.

Yup, it's all go around here.


3. We tried to make sort of custom rabbit seed balls for Satan, in ice lolly holders, after buying such a thing in the supermarket for a rapacious €3,50 for 3. It has been an unmitigated disaster. There are now six malevolent rock solid lumps of ... THING, still in the lolly holders, abandoned outside. Not even weepette will eat them. Not even the birds. Nothing. I am imagining Terry Nutkins shaking his head at us, more in sorrow than in anger. Also, we won't be having ice lollies any time soon, but that's ok, because it's freezing.

I become fonder of Satan by the day, incidentally. Things I like about Satan:

- mute

- lives outdoors

- small, manageable excrement ('manageable' = can ignore entirely/allow dog to eat)

- "lawn" maintenance

- Comes to the back door every morning looking for food, but without the high pitched whining noise that characterises same demand from Oscar.

- Looks pleasing, if slightly ominous, especially when he is chasing weepette around the garden in the manner of Benny Hill.

In short, I am coming round to the Way of the Rabbit.

(However: I have still not learned my lesson about looking up pet stuff on the internet. If you believe the internet, the hedgehog will get some kind of horrendous parasitic infection if it eats too many slugs and die of internal bleeding, the rabbit needs a hutch the size of Blenheim, and let's not even mention the numerous indignities I am apparently heaping on the dog)

4. Learned the provincial capitals of the Belgian provinces in Dutch with Lashes. Forgot most of them. Namen. Luik. Antwerpen. Hasselt. Some others. If this continues I will soon understand both Belgian politics and Belgian geography, and then what can I be "amusingly" obtuse about, hmmm? Stop this influx of actual knowledge. Other gulag tasks this week:

- poem about the "Flipper Centre" (no, me neither)
- Capital (Kapital?) Ks. Bizarrely complex, as all French capitals seem to be.
- two days of the unending evil that is packed lunch - I have told them they have to make their own now. I am all about the delegation. It's empowering. Or something.


5. Did whole days of work on jobs that will earn me about 30 pence. I'm quite sanguine about this kind of thing, now that I have basically decided that the financial apocalypse of all Europe is imminent. "Rat kebabs", I say cheerfully to M. "Grass. Slug pesto. Bartering". Then I add "You will help me with the bartering, won't you, because you remember how shit I was at it when we did Craftacular?" Then there is a pause as she thinks about what a dreadful burden I will be to her, come the apocalypse, always being too shy to demand a squirrel carcass in return for my pile of dandelions. Also, I believe working hard for no money is my payback for all those years spent sitting on my arse in a luxury office miscalculating exchange rates, looking a stuff on Net à Porter and sending waspish emails to my friend, the BMF.

Anyway, I have worked quite hard this week. My eyes sting and my spine looks like a Bionicle. I need to get out. I don't have much planned, so any suggestions for thrilling, yet cheap activities in the greater Brussels area gratefully received in the comments.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Belgian News

As Belgium nears the point at which it will be terminally embarrassing still not to have a government, I have FINALLY found an explication of the current state of Belgian politics that is pitched at the right level for me. It is here, on the Elle Belgique website, and headed, "The Belgian Political Crisis for Dummies". I admit it, this is my level.


I give you my own reduced, translated version here, in case anyone quizzes you on the Belgian constitutional crisis and you DON'T have any vegetables to hand. I realise this is only useful for like, seven people, but I am determined I will understand it, and step out of my insular bubble of staring at pigeons and eating soup, so you must suffer along with me. I have placed bonus animal photographs at crucial junctures through the explanation, as a teaching aid, as it were. Mainly small primates.


1. The habitual bad-tempered truce gives way to total chaos

Elections were called early in 2010, because the Flemish liberal party Open VLD pulled out of the coalition over the issue of voting and administrative rights for French speaking residents of BHV, Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde. I do not know why they pulled out. They were cross, I suppose, at the failure to resolve the whole ongoing BHV ridiculousness.

(In verrrry brief: BHV is part of Flanders but the population includes a majority of French speakers and officially considered bilingual. In Flanders, you can only vote for Flemish parties and access public services that are Flemish speaking. In BHV, French speakers are allowed to vote for French parties. This was judged unconstitutional in 2003, because Flemish voters in French communes do not have the equivalent right. The Flemish parties want to split the area into 2 separate voting districts. The Francophones don't. If I say any more I'll get confused again. Let's steam ahead, ignoring all subtleties )

You survived a paragraph! Here, have a pygmy jerboa:



Those are the ears of government.


2. The Patapoufs and the Filifers both win, causing chaos.

In those elections a large percentage of votes in Flanders went to portly Flemish separatist Bart de Wever's N-VA. The other big electoral success was the Francophone socialists, led by dapper bow-tie wearing elf, Elio di Rupo.


Two down! Here's a baby tapir:




3. Lots of politicians get "eur" jobs.

A succession of politicians were appointed by the king and given names ending in "eur". Their role was to try to broker agreements between the many, many, MANY parties.

Bart de Wever - Informateur
Elio di Rupo - Préformateur
André Flahaut/Danny Pieters - Médiateur
Bart de Wever - Clarificateur
Johan Vandelanotte - Médiateur
Didier Reynders (who my friend once interpreted for, or at least in the same room as and described him as "quite the silver fox") -Informateur
Wouter Beke - Négociateur
Elio again - Formateur.

Who are all these people? Does the king draw their names out of a hat? Does he know who any of them are? Do they get to choose what "eur" name they get? So many questions.

The slow loris is anxious about the fate of Belgium.


Let us plough on with this singularly joyless exercise.


4. A bewildering number of people start to actually negotiate

Elio put together a proposal - a "note" - in July of this year. Bart de Wever's N-VA didn't like it and he took his ball and went home, basically. Because of the budget, and because they couldn't reach an agreement on BHV. This meant that Elio needed another party in his coalition negotiations: CD&V, the Flemish Christian democrats. CD&V finally agreed to take part, and the negotiations started with 8 parties, many of which have odd names, that sound like diseases, or medical procedures, or desperately trendy design consultancies:

PS (French, headed by Elio)
CD&V (Flemish, Wouter Beke)
sp.a (Flemish social democrats, headed by Caroline Gennez)
MR (French moderate right wingers, Charles Michel)
Open VLD (Flemish liberals, headed by Alexander de Croo)
Groen! (ridiculous name, Flemish Green Party, Walter Van Besien)
CdH (French centrists, led by Benoit Lutgen, formerly Joelle Milquet who is one of the only ones I ever recognise on TV, because she looks like she's escaped from a dreary French police procedural on TF1. I mention her name for this reason and this alone)

"Yah, the CEO of sp.a had an MR so they've taken him in for an Open VLD".


(Are you bored yet? I am. I've forgotten why I started doing this so I went off and had a nice read about okapis on Zooborns. They are pretty, okapis. I met one once. I'd quite like a biscuit too, but I'm not allowed. Maybe I'll watch Made in Chelsea instead, for a glimpse of Mark Francis and his pocket handkerchief and deep tan, and blazer, and compelling eyebrows. I am obsessed with Mark Francis. I want him to be my friend and make his maid Gianna bring me champagne. Did I just admit that out loud? I blame Belgian politics, I am losing my mind. Sorry, I will take a break to read a chapter from this Iris Murdoch novella whilst working on Catalan's Mersenne conjecture)

Oh yes, your animal. Here you go. This might be another slow loris. I do not know. I like its toes.





5. They agree, at last, on something

On 8 October last, an agreement was FINALLY reached between the 8 parties.

Key elements:

- greater regional autonomy, particularly in the areas of health and employment

- the right for regional governments to collect a proportion of direct taxation

- child benefit will be administered regionally, as will the Highway Code (WHY IS THIS WORTHY OF MENTION. It keeps being mentioned, but no one can explain to me why on earth it matters).

- Most of the Francophone special rights in BHV will be withdrawn.


This marmoset is sad to hear that:


The crowd are on the pitch. They think it's all over. But it isn't, because this is BELGIUM, suckers.

6. We still don't have a government.

Although it looks almost certain that Elio di Rupo will be able to form a coalition now, he hasn't actually DONE it yet and there will doubtless be a few more rounds of unseemly squabbling before that actually happens, predicted to be in November. Also, they all still have to vote the budget through. And of course, now they have to try and sweep the charred remains of Dexia under the carpet, so it's not all speculoos and Leffe, and unicorns yet.


Oh god. That was EXHAUSTING. I feel despairing and confused, and humble and somehow diminished as a person. Imagine if you'd been locked in a room talking about this stuff for over a year, it's more than flesh and blood could stand.

Here's your last animal. I'd totally vote for him.





(Tomorrow normal service will resume and I will try to dredge something entertaining from another week of sitting at my desk and muttering, I promise.)

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The shops

OH GOD I AM SO HUNGRY, DEAR LORD. I might just gnaw the dog's leg off. He's being specially annoying this week (constantly whining to go out so he can steal Satan's food, which is stuff he would stare at in blank disdain if I offered it to him, like cauliflower leaves). Dog eating is in, according to Hugh Faintly Ridiculous Perm, so I would be in good company.

Actually, I'm not so much hungry as headachy, and obsessed with eating, and more particularly, the idea of macaroni cheese and palmier biscuits and flan patissier. Not together. Though if that was the only way I could have them, I suppose I would deal with it somehow.

Ok, we will not speak of this further, I promise, it is boring, I fully accept that. I am not even doing some kind of entertainingly bonkers restrictive diet filled with mad diktats about egg whites and cayenne pepper, I am just trying not to shove everything in the house that is not actually still alive in my mouth. It is surprisingly difficult. I suppose all the previous times I got thin, I had lunacy (or indeed, money for shopping, which I always found a massively effective appetite suppressant) to distract me.

I have been pottering round the shops this afternoon, like on a proper Saturday, back in the day. The children were gainfully (hmm) occupied at science club, aka nerd school. They LOVE nerd school, it has been the most improbable success in the history of all extra-curricular activities, though I suspect this is because it is total, complete anarchy once the parents leave. I am basing my theory on the fact that they seemed to be practising cage fighting, unsupervised, in a corridor when I got back today. I tried to work out what they had been doing but they sort of waved at me, airily dismissive.

"We made something turn blue, then white" said Lashes, happily.

"I lit a match by myself!" Fingers was incandescent with excitement.

I am not sure of the pedagogy, or how completely the "science" element has been absorbed, but they are delighted to go, and do not want to leave, so I am happy. Incidentally my elder child returned from the Dutsch seaside work camp and has told me virtually nothing about it, as is normal. We got a three line postcard from him written in Dutch, that says that the staff were horrible, and "P.S. SOS", but he assures me it was a joke.

Anyway, in my THREE HOURS of Saturday freedom, I:

1. Pottered aimlessly around the many many discount stores around Rue Bailly, and saw some horrendous, awful shoes and some disappointing, expensive boots and many many many many remaindered Superdry hoodies. Amidst all the nasties, I saw one lovely soft cashmere/silk mix cardigan for €35 that I would definitely have bought, and one pair of fake Tory Burch flats I might have bought, if I had been buying.

2. Stared in the window of the Caprices du Bailli patisserie like a woman possessed, admiring the beautiful Debailleul chocolates, and the palmiers, as mentioned above. They looked to be precisely the right mix of crunchy and chewy, which is important in a palmier, which tends to boring dryness in the wrong hands. Sorry, did I drool on your window? Sorry.

3. Bought a small carton of coconut water from the nouveau-hippies at organic/raw/ridiculous food store Tan, where even in my "starved" state, almost nothing looked appealing. Actually, most of it looked like rabbit treats. Had a bet with myself how much the bottle of maple syrup cost (€15) and lost (€27, dear lord).

4. Admired many, many light fittings that I do not need but nevertheless covet in a home type shop I had not seen before.

5. Went and stroked things in the bonkers shop on Rue du Page that sells giant pinatas and miniature folding Atomiums and also, today, a knitted anglerfish. The shop's name is its street number but I cannot remember what that number is. If you live in Brussels you probably know where I mean, and if you don't, this will make no sense, but you won't really care, will you?

6. Bought some star shaped Japanese paper cake cases and stroked beautiful tea caddies in the tea and coffee shop on the same street.

7. Admired many coloured Italian soft, soft, leather ballet pumps with the purest shoe lust in Rue de L'Aqueduc.

It was brilliant. Hooray for nerd school, and for Saturday. Now it is time to prepare a small plate of bitter herbs for my delicious dinner.

What have you been up to today?

Friday, 14 October 2011

Sigh


I have decided that even though I am almost certain to go mad in the process and end up eating paper, licking apple cores and dreaming about custard, I do need to lose a little weight.
Because nothing fits and because I can't buy any more clothes and because I am sick of wearing the same seven unflattering things over and over again, as evidenced in the sidebar of sartorial catastrophe. The prospect fills me with gloom, of course. I am not filled with much else today, since that's sadly the point. Don't tell me to exercise, I'll ignore you. I already walk the dog, which is "sport" enough for me and my dodgy knee. I'd rather just get a tapeworm.


So yesterday I had watery porridge for breakfast, spinach and broad bean soup for lunch and a fajita (this is my household's favourite dinner, the freaks. Trish, don't read this. Chicken breast, Old El Paso burrito mix, cucumber, red pepper, "eisbairgue" lettuce, tinned Géant Vert super sweet sweetcorn, avocado, though not for the children who would rather eat their own fingernails, and as a bonus, "hair" that smells lingeringly, deliciously of Old El Paso until you fumigate it) in the evening. NO PUDDING. None. God, it was dull. Working from home means that you put attribute a disproportionate amount of significance to your meals, I think. Well, I do. Without it, well. Let's say I had to watch several more internet baby animal videos than usual.


As a result, I am already scrutinising the children's school menus with the demented fascination of the hungry and slightly mad. They are a far cry from the spam fritters and cornflake topped jam tart (GOD, I loved that. Did you have that? I loved all of the puddings, except the ginger sponge, but cornflake tart was the holy grail of school meals) of Park Grove primary, or indeed the iceberg lettuce on Mother's Pride that I had for lunch every single day for about 6 years at secondary school. The menus come with a chatty message on the back for each month. This month it's: "mastiquer, c'est la santé":




.. which is jolly. I do like a reminder to chew, it would be terrible to forget.

I interrogate poor Fingers, alone and at the mercy of my whims whilst his brother is at Dutch gulag. He is trying to play Mario et Luigi Frères du Temps on the DS in peace, but casts a patient, expert eye over the menu, which is full of oddness. Quorn bolognese, after last month's Seitan Con Carne? Puréed sprouts? And the perennial question: what are Côtes Holly? (not even the internet has been able to help me with this. They appear to be an invention of the Belgian school system)





"Soupe de poireaux (leeks).. yeah, I like that. Soupe de cerfeuil (chervil)? Hmmm. Ooh! Purée de potiron! J'adore".

I give him a hard stare - I mean, who on earth could like puréed squash? It's baby food. And what are all these purées when we have just been told the importance of chewing, hmm? But he seems sincere. I quiz him further.

"Poêlée de navets! So .. sautéed turnips? Really? How .. interesting. What's that like Fingers?"

"I don't know".

"And when it says "biscuit" for pudding, what is that, exactly?"

"Speculoos".

"Of course it is. How about when it says 'purée de choux de bruxelles', does that mean JUST mashed sprouts, or are they mixed with potatoes?"

He just looked bored at this point, as well he might, so I put him to bed, and watched nearly three hours of French Masterchef, the lingering shots of plump veal chops, the forensic analysis of the depth of flavour of jus, the caramelised seared scallops, the disastrously melting - but apparently delicious - ice cream from the Pêche Melba, the live crayfish escaping all over the work surfaces and nipping contestants cruelly. I would even eat one contestant's attempt to make an "English" meal, which is viciously, but I think correctly, penalised for crapness: tarragon lamb chop, with pea and mint salad and two of those droopy, etiolated baby sweetcorns. "You could have done le feesh en cheeps" suggests one of the judges, helpfully. "You can do absolutely sublime things with le feesh and cheeps!". Instead, I have a floury Cox and a cup of tea and go to bed to grind my teeth at phantom Michelin starred dinners, or more likely, phantom steamed syrup sponges.

It will be a long, hard road back into my target 35% of my wardrobe, but I am determined to try and do so with some shred of sanity. So, you know, send me lots of owl videos please.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Bemused in Belgium

You know how people say "only write when you have something to say" about blogs? Yeah, well. I'm ignoring that at the moment. God knows what happened to yesterday. Did you see me? Can we piece it together? I remember buying a purple cauliflower but I can't quite establish the thought process that might have led to this. I know that in the evening there was some high pitched panicky screeching about the most terrifying junction I have ever encountered which had no rules whatsoever and just CARS, coming at me from all directions, in the dark, like a video game. Now there are women posing "façon streetstyle" with their IRONS in my inbox. It's all too much, bloody Wednesday. Soon, I'll be able to blame the government again, because apparently we might have one in a week or so. Can you believe it? Can I? Can they? Do they even remember what they agreed after 18 months of negotiating? They must be hallucinating with despair and fatigue and speculoos poisoning.

Belgian Politican 1: So we're all agreed? We're shutting Belgium and rolling the Atomium to Greece, ball by ball, providing subsidised genièvre for the over-sixties, and turning the Dexia headquarters into a Magritte theme park?

Belgian Politician 2: Hang on, I thought we were selling the Atomium to Mr Berlusconi for his summer residence?

BP3: Tired .. so tired...

BP4: I NEVER agreed to that. We were going to turn the Atomium into a massive disco ball to house the federal parliament.

BP5: No! We were going to use it as a wrecking ball to flatten Charleroi!

BP2: And I thought it was free ugly, curly-haired, white, semi-balding dogs for the over-sixties?


Who knows. Elio di Rupo, he of the bow tie and very soigné slightly bouffant hair, who I am dressed up as on my "About" page, and who may finally be allowed to form a government, looks fatigued beyond imagining. His bow tie is drooping at the corners and now everyone is hatin' on his Dutch. Bart de Wever - the furious, quiz winning, ultra Flemish separatist is hiding in a dark corner of the Rue de la Loi sulking, ready to pounce and eat him. All in all, he has a thoroughly unenviable job ahead of him and they haven't even agreed a budget yet.

I tell myself this in the mornings, when Elio is probably already in the gym. Though I bet his internet connection works at his sodding desk. I am writing this in the spare bed. It has been moved away from the wall so I am leaning backwards against the very low bed head, then craning my neck forward. It is perfectly disastrous, physiotherapists would cry to see me. Then ask why I have stolen their trousers, probably.

The other dregs of yesterday:


- Inveigled into making chocolate chip cookies to replace Monday's M&Ms cookies that were already finished. I do not even much like cookies, unless they are quite salty peanut butter ones, on the cusp of being completely disgusting, but I do like baking, endless baking, at the moment. I could make cookies in my sleep, but what I really want to make is the lemon loaf in the Hummingbird Cookbook. Apparently it's gorgeous, but I am fat and none of my clothes fit, and must not make baked goods that I might actually be tempted to eat.

- Watched a man in Pain Quotidien eat two gigantic slices of lemon meringue pie, one after the other, in about 30 seconds. I took a photograph of it, surreptitiously, but it looks really unimpressive.

- Ate some very disappointing Coxes. I am really, really missing my dad's Spartans at the moment. I want my apples to taste of mist, and autumn and sharpness. Actually, I can hardly bear to admit this to myself, but I have started to get really homesick for my dad's Tetanus Manor at this time of year, with its brambles and tiny sharp apples and low-lying mists obscuring the sheep. The Ardennes gave me a tiny taste of it, when we were off time travelling to 1991 for the space weekend, and now I am pining for wet walks and fires and crumble (and dead badgers and only the Oxford Mail in the newsagents, and no coffee) like a CRAZY person, because I do not like the country. This is old age, isn't it? I might as well stop fighting it and buy some Marks & Spencers Classics Range wool mix slacks. I could also eat steamed puddings with impunity, which is exactly what I want to be doing this afternoon.

- Watched Fingers climbing, at high speed, like a rat up a drainpipe. Miles up. It was quite impressive, in a terrifying sort of way. He reminded me of my childhood friend who got caught scrambling to the top of one of the Abyssinian lions in the British Museum. However, climbing walls are sordid places that smell of old sweat and gym mats and are populated with wiry uber-mensches. Scary.

- Some light speculative Euromillions spending, revolving around exotic livestock, mainly. My co-speculatee (word? Non-word?) said "you could print millions of copies of your manuscript and just flood the market with them!" and I got slightly hurt and sniffy, and said that even if I was a multi-millionaire, I still only wanted my manuscript to succeed ON ITS MERITS. Then we had to talk about less contentious topics like who we each wanted to employ as a private chef, and how many ponies was too many.


Incidentally, things I do not get which the rest of the internet gets:

- Feminist Ryan Gosling (because I do not actually know who he is)

- Lana del Rey (I dunno, it just doesn't work on me)

Please explain them to me in short, loud words, as if to a difficult elderly relative.


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Bonsai cat, crisp injury, books

Normal service has resumed. I am nursing a cruel, disfiguring gum and palate injury incurred eating crisps too fast. It is raining. I am wearing the special trousers of psychological unhinged-ness. Most of my mental energy is going on thinking about eclairs.

Intrusive eclair thoughts

I entered a competition to win some Marcolini eclairs this morning. 16 eclairs "for you and your colleagues", courtesy of the Belgian Post Office. Of course, if their delivery were dependent on the good offices of the Belgian Post Office, the likelihood of them being fit for human consumption on arrival would be vanishingly small, but hope springs eternal. Now all I can think about is WHEN ARE MY ECLAIRS COMING. I mean, come on. Surely I can win? Surely? How many people enter this kind of competition? As each hour goes by, my sense of injustice at not having won the eclairs yet grows. Why I think it would be a good idea for me to win 16 eclairs is a whole other story. My excuse is that it is so wintry, my entire psyche has reoriented itself towards winter survival, which mainly translates into thinking obsessive, repetitive thoughts about custard. Who was it said they had a really easy steamed pudding recipe? Please provide it, instantly.


Whilst my mind is filled with suet, I have little else to report.

Mug

There is this:




I had to physically restrain myself from buying this in WHSmiths (DO NOT JUDGE ME) in Paris. My bag was already so heavy I ended up with a bruised shoulder, but it took a lot to leave this behind. I will ask for it for my birthday, though it's actually slightly smaller than I would like and the china seemed a bit crap. I used to have two lovely Quentin Blake bird bowls, but I'm not sure what happened to them. Broken, probably.


Bonsai cat

And there is this:



We went to a Bonsai shop at the weekend because Lashes has developed a new, slightly boring obsession with bonsais. I'm not complaining, it's better than Japanese fighting stars, or something paramilitary, I suppose. I really, really, dread being the parent of one of those teenagers who wears fatigues and reads "Guns and Ammo" magazine, I would be mortified.

So. He has decided he wants one for Christmas, which seems - assuming he doesn't mean one of those ones that cost 3 grand - a reasonable request. Anyway, in the bonsai shop we met this brilliant cat. It stalked, precariously, between rows of 700 euro mini trees, and then sat, posing stonily for me.

Domestic animal farce

In other news, Oscar's behaviour towards Satan has hardened into a clear pattern I would describe as "petulant toddler". I have caught him in the last week stealing the following: 5 carrots, 2 heads of chicory, a stick of celery, an apple core. Of course, he does not like any of these foods, but will sit stubbornly in the garden chewing them without enjoyment until they are thoroughly coated in nasty dog saliva. Then he comes inside and sits on the sofa, all pleased with himself and farting. It is entirely obnoxious, but also funny. I almost felt sorry for Satan, then I looked at the garden again. God, that reminds me, I have to plant bulbs now, don't I, so that Satan can gorge himself all spring on my daffodils.


Book club corner

I didn't read at all much when I was doing my first draft of my stupid stupid manuscript, because I tend to soak up and parrot written styles maddeningly. Now I am stuck as stuck can be, I have resorted to reading as much as I possibly can in the hope of inspiration. Things I have read recently (I can't be arsed to hyperlink. Amazon paid me the sum total of about 4p for my sidebar link, so I have deleted it in pique):

More Edward St Aubyn. On the Edge, this time, which is all about new age weirdery. I love his white hot cleverness at anatomising the infinite oddness, little unworthinesses, weaknesses of people.

Sarah Winman - When God Was a Rabbit - I did like this, a lot, it's thoughtful and nicely characterised, but in the back of my mind I was constantly asking myself, in the manner of an irascible high court judge "but what is it ABOUT?" The book group notes by the author at the end say she describes it as "a love story between a brother and sister", but it's also obviously about chance and fate and the arbitrariness of events and catastrophes and how they shape people. Hmm, I dunno. For some reason this need to put a label on it kept interrupting my enjoyment of what is a really accomplished piece of writing. I like the talking rabbit, of which very little is made at all. It's a sort of throwaway gift to the reader.


Louise Welsh - she of The Cutting Room and The Bullet Trick, both of which I really liked - Naming the Bones. This is the slowest burning thriller of all time about an academic researching a promising poet who published a single volume, then drowned. Will anything ever happen? Does it matter? It's profoundly, dreich-ly Scottish, like Rebus without the murder. I think the murder is coming, eventually. I hope. I'm over halfway through.


Chartbusting amnesia thriller Before I Go To Sleep (S J Watson) which was very good and clever but I kept getting anxious about how the author would maintain the INCREDIBLY FIDDLY conceit throughout. The answer is: pretty well, with some necessary and timely 'oh good, the amnesia is getting slightly better' business.


Monogamy by Adam Philips - This is a reread, in the 'research' category. See, this book "121 aphorisms" puzzles and faintly enrages me. Is it profound, or is it basically a series of fortune cookie fortunes? "A couple is a conspiracy in search of a crime". "Fidelity shouldn't always be taken personally". I DO NOT KNOW. I always put it down mildly enraged, but also engaged.

Let me know if you've read anything good recently, ideally something that might motivate me to get my head out of my arse and finish this dumb book.

(Now where are my fucking eclairs, more to the point).

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Food. And some more food. And minor social awkwardness.

For once I actually have some stuff to tell you, because I have been on my micro trip to Paris. If this all sounds a bit over-excited - and it does - bear in mind that I spent most of last week nit-combing and doing my VAT. In the rain. I never leave the house! I am now experiencing sensory overload! There will be too many adjectives! Normal jaded service will resume tomorrow.

First, I left my Sadaharu Aoki green tea eclair - that I had waded through the ten deep crowds in Galeries Lafayette to obtain - in a bar and a man had to chase me down the street waving the small phallic parcel, to return it. I wanted a "Bamboo" really, which is a cake of criminal, insane, deliciousness, but it was too fragile to transport. As it is, the eclair is still in my bag, getting sadder and more squashed by the minute. It's a desecration. Of course, I should have eaten it, but the problem was that I had not factored:

(a) Large lunch at Mamma Roma


The condemned man ate a hearty meal before his séjour linguistique in a Nissen hut on the North Sea coast.

(b) Salted caramel ice cream from Capoue (despite the torrential rain); and

(c) Three tiny eclairs on the train that it would have been churlish to refuse

into my patisserie purchasing equations. A sad truth revealed itself: I was not remotely hungry. This did not stop me from buying a small selection of Pierre Hermé macaroons, since I was passing the front door of the shop and there wasn't a queue and it actually seemed CRIMINAL not to. I was very glad of this for reasons to be revealed shortly. I also bought some matcha salted caramel truffles, which are strange, but compelling - somewhere on the frontier between delicious and repulsive. I think I can only eat one at a time, but then actually, I need a second one to check whether I still feel the same about them.

Next, I ended up on my own at a reception at the American ambassador's residence for 40 minutes without the person whose 'plus one' I was supposed to be, which was not at ALL awkward, especially as:

- I realised too late my dress was sort of squalidly sweaty;

- I was holding a bag of semi-squashed cakes;

- I actually tripped over on my heels in the cobbled courtyard from the front porte cochère to the main entrance. I did that carefree laughing 'oh! how amusing! I am on my arse!' kind of performance, then got up and tried to pretend it hadn't happened;

- it turned out to be a very SMALL reception and all I knew about the whole event was a cryptic text from Trish that read "Nathan Mirth Void modernist cuisine book". No one could work out what on earth I was doing there, being neither a chef or food writer or otherwise remotely great or good. I exchanged frantic texts with her.

E: Ambassador's speech starting. I am sweating.

T: Nearly there, just moving car.

E: Pleeease hurry. Am staring at garden and pretending to be mute.

T: They are letting me in!

E: THANK GOD. Have eaten all petits fours and on second wine. Danger zone.

"Nathan Mirth Void" turned out to be a moment of autocorrect genius. His name is not actually Mirth Void, but Myhrvold and he is some species of culinary uber-geek and savant fou who used to be chief technology officer at Microsoft and has produced a six volume meisterwork 'Modernist Cuisine' on every kind of food and cooking in the world ever*. I had ample time to study it, because I was entirely paralysed by social embarassment and could not really cope with starting a conversation, where I would have to explain that I had absolutely no place being there, so I stood in a corner turning the many, many, many pages and accepting any small snacks that came my way (tiny hamburgers, some kind of miniature possibly pork meatballs, spring rolls. Not massively amazing, I am sad to relate). The book is .. encylopaedic. It is an extraordinarily large and comprehensive tome of frightening erudition and I thought I would fracture a wrist just trying to pick it up. I am definitely not the target audience being (a) not male (this book is infused with food-nerd testosterone on every page) and (b) as culinarily talented as a lame weasel. I would no more go in for 'spherification' than I would sprout wings and fly.

When I was telling Mrs Trefusis (who is blogging more at the moment, I hope you have noticed) about it, first she said "So it's like your dad, if he started cooking?" and then "Aha! So it's Microsoft XP Cooking?" which is very accurate. I did like the pictures where he had cut all his saucepans and other kitchen equipment - including a barbecue - in half to show what was happening on the inside. All the photography was completely extraordinary, in a sort of "take it apart to see how it work" way.

Anyway. It was lovely and rather astonishing to be there. Because the book is epic. Because the building is exceptionally beautiful, with exquisite (repro, the ambassador said, the originals are in a museum) gold moulures and a huge garden in the middle of Paris. Because the number of evenings in my life where I have ended up at an ambassadorial reception numbers precisely NONE prior to Saturday. Because I got to "meet" (stare at covertly and wordlessly shake the hand of on departure) the US ambassador who is like a tiny, perfect elf of a man like a Sèvres ornament and blow my nose on a US embassy crested napkin. And because, most excitingly of all, I MET PIERRE HERME.

Let us pause for a minute to think reverently about Pierre Hermé, the high priest of patisserie and his unearthly genius with vanilla and rapsberries and sugar and almonds and the like. There he was, the dolorous man mountain of cake, looking very, very grave, perhaps because the full six volumes of Modernist Cuisine do not contain ANY patisserie. Trish - who had finally been allowed in despite not having her passport - introduced us, even though I could barely speak for patisserie fan love and general social inadequacy. I told him I had a box of his oeuvre in my bag, like a cakey stalker. He nodded, seriously, and said that he never tired of people talking to him about cake, then he said he had to go because he was having dinner with Heston Blumenthal. How wonderful.


When I told M, she said "I bet he smells of Ispahan. Did you lick him?" Then she went on to steal my thunder by telling me she had fed a manatee a potato (video here, I am so so jealous). I forgave her though, because she also filmed a mouse deer licking its own face for me, which I think you will find is the dictionary definition of what friends are for.


After that, we ran away, I dumped my torture shoes, and we went for dinner (here, charming beautiful waiters, nice wine, MASSIVE amounts of food for not much money) with the lovely BB and we ate gigantically fat frog's legs/buttocks and squid and artichokes and prawns and a slightly dubious octopus saucisson, drank lovely Languedoc white wine and laughed a lot about the worst things we had ever stolen, among other things. No, I am not telling you. I tried not to think about cakes all evening, but then they brought us this:



It's what Pierre would have wanted AND the coulis pattern matched my dress AND it was a gift, so obviously we had to eat it, even though I thought cream would start coming out of my ears by the end of it.

(Incidentally, Trish said as we were driving across Paris that she thought her writing was workaday, functional, not brilliant, and I need to tell her how wrong she is. No one evokes the comfort of ritual, the reality of cooking for a family, and the poetry in both better than Trish. You need to go and look at her lovely new blog and you'll see exactly what I mean. She takes the most ordinary kinds of cooking, the plainest foods that ACTUAL PEOPLE eat, and turns them into something beautiful and desirable with her writing which is simple and sensual and full of humour. She's the anti Mirth Void, actually, and I know whose writing I'd rather take to bed with me. So there. )


*Description may not be wholly accurate

Friday, 7 October 2011

Incidentally..

... the current batch of delousing fluid smells very much like Ricard, or Pernod, or some other anis based drink. I like this. I like to imagine, when I am pest-controlling my progeny, that I am in fact on the terrasse at the Colombe d'Or in St Paul de Vence having a small apéritif as the sun sets over the arrière pays niçois. Come, let us cast aside this nit comb and play a short round of pétanque, then maybe Yves Montand will dance with us! Yes, it is still infestation o'clock in Waffle Towers. I suspect neat ouzo might be the answer in more ways than one.


... I have small pieces in both Red and Elle this month. The Red one was written with an interweb friend, which makes it even more lovely. Hurrah for the internet and the meeting thereon of like minded, clever, funny, wonderful people. Does that sound like I am saying I am clever funny and wonderful? Jesus. Obviously that is not what I mean. And hang on, does "even more lovely" sound like either:

(i) I think my article is "lovely"; or

(ii) The Red one is better than the Elle one?

OH GOD. I DO NOT MEAN EITHER OF THOSE THINGS.

This is hopeless. I'm never mentioning anything I've done ever again. I'm just really grateful anyone gives me any work.



... Once again my child is being removed from my care by the Belgian authorities (well, the gulag) and taken to the seaside for a week, this time for "Classe de Mer Néerlandophone". Crucial vocabulary for the North Sea in October that I hope he will be learning:


1. I think I have hypothermia.

Ik denk dat ik onderkoeling.

2. No thank you, I would not like to go for a swim, it is minus five degrees.

Nee dank je ik zou niet graag gaan zwemmen, is het min vijf graden.

3. I am very sorry about my handwriting. Please let me go home now.

Het spijt me zeer over mijn handschrift. Laat het me nu naar huis gaan.




... Conversations with my brain twin:


M: Do you think we will look back on 2011 and think it was ace?

E: Erm, no. No, I don't think I will.

M: Well, from the perspective of the apocalypse, it probably will have been ace.

E: Oh. Yes, I suppose from the perspective of the apocalypse. If I am living in a cave and eating rat carcasses, maybe I will look back nostalgically on these happy times.

M: Juicy juicy rats.

E: En brochette. The brochette stick made from scavenged iron railings.

M: Rat satay. With peanut sauce made from ground up seagull beak and possum feet.


***


E: I really wish we were together, punching seagulls in the face.

M: Oh god, I would love to punch a seagull. Or maybe thwack it across the face with a packet of crisps?

E: Yes. Spicy Doritos. I bet they're really hard to hit though.

M: Oh, I don't know. Dangle a pizza in one hand? Hit with the other?

E: Yes, lure it in with a KFC bargain bucket.

M: Yup.


... I have slightly less than 24 hours in Paris this weekend. I need to plan out a careful itinerary, which basically means taking in as many cake shops as possible. Both Sadaharu Aoki AND the choux bun place, Popelini are absolutely essential. I defy you not to click on the flavours tab of the Popelini website and spend ten minutes drooling gently. I reckon I can do both Lafayette Gourmet and Popelini in the time available, but I might have to sacrifice Pierre Hermé. We shall see. I like a (cake-based) challenge. I will attempt to show you my spoils before shoving ninety three choux buns into my mouth simultaneously, ideally whilst running down the street, because Parisians love nothing more than people eating inelegantly in public.


What are your weekend plans? What would you do with 24 hours in Paris? And most importantly, how would you catch a seagull?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Things

Some things:


1. I am once more living in the house of pestilence. Daub a primitive cross on the door and stay far, far, clear. No sooner had Lashes come up to me joyfully in the "Extrême Bowling" in Libramont (a long, space camp related story which I am not yet ready to tell) brandishing something between thumb and forefinger which turns out to be a headlouse he has caught off his own head, but the dog started scratching ominously. I do not know what to delouse next, but it is one of those moments when alopecia feels like a distinct blessing. On top of that, Lashes also has a stomach bug, which has turned his face a pretty grey-green colour that looks very Farrow & Ball and causes him to mope around the house in the manner of a consumptive nineteenth century heroine whilst I clean up after him, and the rabbit has a cold. I do love how living with children and animals brings you back to the Dark Ages. I think, in the manner of Horrible Histories, I should probably just make the sign of the cross in toad's blood on their foreheads and say a quick prayer, modern medicine seems to have very little to offer me now that Nurofen Plus has been withdrawn from circulation. I am trying some poor substitute called "Nurodol", but I do not believe in it and neither does my exhausted, constantly grinding jaw.


2. It is very hard, it turns out, to write about infidelity whilst making your characters sympathetic. I dunno. Do they have to be sympathetic? Maybe I can make them all hateful. Oh lord, it is too late even to do that. That burning smell you may be able to detect is my brain surreptitiously setting light to itself to escape from this conundrum. I wish I had chosen to write a book about crime fighting cavies now. Maybe I can just crowbar some crime fighting cavies into the weakest bits of characterisation? Is cavies the plural of cavy? Or are they cavys? All the important questions, right here.


3. I have read some excellent things on the world wide webs recently, notably:


AL Kennedy, whose writing column for the Guardian is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, wrote this nice essay on insomnia and illness and writing for Granta.

A furious Maurice Sendak in the Guardian calling Salman Rushdie a "flaccid fuckhead". I have no particular opinion on Salman Rushdie, but I think this is a world class insult.

The lovely Miss Jones writing about Strictly Come Dancing. I do not really watch SCD, but I did see Russell Grant and her description is bang on and terribly funny.


4. My second hand Dutch is coming on a treat. I can now have a conversation with myself where I ask myself where I live, then say that I live in Mons, then ask where Mons is, then explain that it is in the province of Hainault. This is fabulously useful. I could not, however, say that I am Emma and I live in Brussels and I do not know what region that is in. I can, however, name a large number of sports in Dutch which is also very useful given my passion for all forms of exercise.


5. In order to compensate for my current blogging inadequacy, I have introduced a new sidebar novelty feature, where I tell you what I am wearing every day. It gives me the illusion of productivity and allows you to feel superior since nearly everything I wear is either broken or dirty or just really, really wrong. We'll all get bored of it pretty soon, but for now, it is a scrap of new daily content. If you have any other sidebar suggestions now that I have given up on my feeble attempts to "monetise", do throw them across. I used to do polls - they were quite fun. Maybe I could bring that back? Ooh, maybe a "would you rather.." poll in the manner of that John Burningham story? Hmm. For further thought.


6. What I would buy if I had some money right now:

- some nice flat boots to escape from the tyranny of the M&S patent flat. There are loads in stock at the dodgy discount shoe shop at the Place du Châtelain, including some excellent Prada Sport ones.
- Some of the beautiful black/nude trim flats I saw in Ferragamo.
- some Armani Luminous Silk foundation because my skin looks like, what? Porridge? Porridge with goji berries in, representing the myriad insect bites and burst veins.
- Two new boring black bottoms and two new boring shapeless tops, plus a new sack dress to stop myself being sad about being fat.
- The book recommended here by Irretrievably Broken, because her recommendations are invariably BANG ON, as she is a woman of exquisite taste.
- Lots of scent: Menthe Fraîche from Heeley, because my sample has run out and I miss it terribly, some Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady scented body cream because it is massively sensual and delicious, some Serge Lutens Bois de Sépia for more serious days.
- Some Elemis SuperSoak, to eliminate the need for Nurofen Plus.
- A syrup sponge. Ok, I can afford that, but I can't actually FIND it here, and if you think I'm going to start arsing around with suet, you are very much mistaken.


Oh, sorry, hang on, this list is infinite. Why not add yours in the comments.