Tuesday, 31 January 2012


I have had an odd day. All that wotthehell defiance of yesterday evaporated and was replaced by one of those heavy stones in the pit of the stomach, you know the kind, the ones that are made of a thick matted pelt of ferret hair and melted down lead piping, stolen from an outdated Cluedo set. That was somewhat improved by having a conversation with M, where we both started out really quite serious and gloomy and hand-wringing, and ended up pretending to be dogs.





I was sort of half-laughing, half-crying, snotty and hysterical by the end, as I often am with M. This is why we are friends, I suppose.

Then I went to a presentation about a diet meal delivery service, and after that I went straight on to a presentation by Pierre Marcolini where I ate three puddings. Which was nice and not remotely contradictory. He was absolutely charming, and the chocolate sorbet was like shooting cocoa straight into your eyeballs. In a good way, in that it did not cloud my vision or involve needles. Ok, FINE, I mean it tasted nice.

Finally, on my way home, after this unprecedented day of leaving the house and speaking to people I am not even related to, a group of approximately six unconnected passengers on my tram started CHATTING, as if no one had ever explained the basic rules of public transport behaviour to them. They were discussing the new, zealous breed of ticket inspectors, who, from what I heard, are creatures of stark ferocity. One of the women involved in this outrageous cross-tram discussion actually worked at the STIB and she said they were allowed to fine you €100 even if you were in possession of a valid monthly or yearly 'Carte Mobib' (our folklorique version of the Oyster card) but had not touched it to the reader. You know, like in most other countries. But we have been used to never having our tickets scrutinised here in Belgium and most of us just assumed public transport was free. Combined with a message from Beatrice on Sunday who had to text me in shock to tell me her ticket had just been examined, I feel it is incumbent on me to present you with this awful warning (well, the four of you who actually live in Belgium): we are now to look forward to more frequent inspections. You might want to consider buying a ticket and so on. I believe you can buy them at, erm, stations? And possibly in machines. I will investigate and report back, if I am not incarcerated by the forces of transport law.

That is possibly the most boring thing I have ever written on my weblog and god knows, there is some very significant competition. Apologies.

Then I got home and dragged the dog out in his pissy, ridiculous whippet coat to throw the ball in the park strewn with frozen dog turds in the -9°C dusk, until I could no longer feel my hands. The children were already cheerfully in their pyjamas at 4pm with the babysitter, as is their wont, currently. They get home, put their pyjamas on, make themselves a selection of snacks and sit under a duvet on the sofa, refusing to do anything. Genetics is a wonderful thing.

Dutch words I have learned courtesy of my children this week:


The phrase "Concentrate, this is my father". (?)

I am building up to an excellent vocabulary, slowly but surely. I can sing a song about sandals, tell someone I live in Mons and boast a very sizeable menagerie, all of which will surely come in handy at some point. This current conflation of family and animals pleases me greatly in a Gerald Durrell kind of way.

Also, as a sort of thrilling homework bonus, Lashes went on a "history walk" round the neighbourhood today and has been reporting back. Notably, he told me a fascinating, if garbled, tale about a bar just round the corner being five hundred years old and the King of Spain calling the owner a devil. He also mentioned Victor Hugo, who I am quite confident he has never heard of in his short life. I have untangled the story slightly. It is this place and apparently the owner was very rude to Charles V, caretaker manager of the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburg jaw. It is comforting to know that Brussels service has not changed greatly in 500 years, and that being King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor does not make a shred of difference, so I might as well renounce my claim to the throne. There appears to be some other story about a group of travelling players all getting massacred* there whilst performing a play (the Spijtigen Duivel - something devil - of the bar name) parodying the Duke of Alba. Do not mess with the Duke of Alba, I suppose, is the moral of the story. The bar was also, apparently, frequented by Rimbaud, Verlaine and Baudelaire and it has taken my nine year old, who probably thinks all these people are characters in Galaktik Football, to tell me about it. Shame on me. I will go soon and find out more.

Wigs on the Green did finally make me laugh last night, in a scene where reprobate youth, Jasper, goes to Peersmont, the "special sort of bin for lunatic peers .. built on the exact plans of the House of Lords, so that the boys should feel at home" to try and extort money from his incarcerated grandfather. He meets the "curator", a jolly young man, who explains that his grandfather is:

"deputising for our Lord Chancellor, Lord Rousham, who is on the sick list again - no, nothing at all serious I am glad to say. He has just nipped up to the top of a big elm tree and is building himself a nest there".

Where would you build a nest? Mine would be very, very far from the Duke of Alba.

(*Did this thought cross my mind during the English-language-performed-by-French-speakers Oliver Twist I saw recently? I suppose that is possible)


Julia Ball said...

This reminded me of the Duichess of Alba, who remarried last year http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cayetana_Fitz-James_Stuart,_18th_Duchess_of_Alba this is a VERY flattering oicture of her :-)

MsCaroline said...

Love the dog conversation. I thought I was the only person who did that. We used to have a ponderous and dignified basset hound who was the most fun to 'voice' - basso profondo, of course. Mostly, he gave commands, which we obeyed.

Anne V said...

my life seems to have devolved to a rotation between staring open mouthed (so attractive) at the various items my new dog has chosen to destroy and staring at the creature himself, who falls asleep immediately he is aware of observation, and he is enchanting in his sleep.

the only thing I can say with confidence is that this dog could create a nest out of anything. anywhere.

Pueblo girl said...

The "this place" link led me to a screen of brown, and nothing more, which seems appropriate given all you've said about Belgium.

And seeing that my WV is "weboar", I think I'll take the hint and give up completely.

Margaret said...

There is a Spuyten Duyvil here in NY, in the Bronx--I always thought it translated as Devil's Whirlpool. Wikipedia seems to believe it means "in spite of the devil," which seems...unlikely.

Is 9 degrees cold? Isn't it like 50 real degrees?

I am so, so happy you're posting so often. But not in a creepy way.

Waffle said...

Ah interesting Margaret. I google translated the bastard. Having walked past many times I always thought (hoped) it meant spitting devil. Which would be more entertaining. Historians! Dutch speakers! Give us your thoughts.

Pueblo Girl - HA. This seems entirely appropriate. I will however see if I can coax it into working any better.

Julia - Goodness. Erm, indeed.

frau antje said...

Unfortunate devil?

Dutch words learned this week: mede canadezen (fellow Canadians). It's now vying with 'Hey you! Martin van Buren!' for favorite Dutch phrase.

I'm so happy you're posting so often, in a totally creepy way.

Waffle said...

Yes, that's what I got from Google Translate FA, but then I lost confidence. Because, is it an animal or a family member? No. Then I am lost.

I am glad to have you back too. It was very strange without you.

Pat (in Belgium) said...

I'm guessing "Spijtigen Duivel" means "poor devil" -- as in miserable wretch (from "spijtig" meaning regrettable or unfortunate).
Asked Dutch husband, who was CLUELESS (spijtigen duivel!).
We used to have these "discussions" all the time when I was laboriously translating art and museum news from French & Dutch into English.
Looks like it's gonna be a nit-picky kinda day...

wv voodis (or voodat, either way, it's gris-gris)

MargotLeadbetter said...

My nest would be in my parents' airing cupboard: warm, safe, just roomy enough, and smelling of my childhood. Funnily enough I spent a bit of time in there over Christmas, when it was all the rage to play hide and seek with the boys, and they kept getting distracted and leaving me there for up to 20 minutes at a time. It was wonderful.

I just read Wigs on the Green too. You are right that there are echoes of Wodehouse and the Black Shorts. I quite enjoyed it though, especially the moral vacuum that was Jasper.

Anonymous said...

I don't wish to be picky, but I live in Belgium, there's little else to do - shouldn't Mons be being described as Bergen if it's in Dutch?? (Or is the linguistic divide so great you have to mention the place name in French in a francophone school?) :))

Waffle said...

Anon: You do of course make an excellent point, but the phrase I have learnt, religiously, goes "Ik woon in Mons, Bergen in het nederlans". Spelling may be dodgy. Almost certainly is. Maybe it is because it is supposed to be a francophone speaking? Whatevs.

Anonymous said...

Talking about the forces of law here in Belgium and elsewhere, a Facebook friend of mine was chased by a police car with sirens on in Sweden for not having properly cleaned her front window from frost. Thought it might give dear Waffle some comfort that we live in Belgium, even if we do have to pay for public transport nowadays.


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