Thursday, 27 September 2012

Belgian History, Lesson 1

Less 'Liberty leading the people', more 'some people milling around, a fat baby and an extraneous dog'. 

It is La Fête de la Communauté Française today. Happy Fête, French Community. A radio item this morning explored how most people entitled to this holiday (basically only schoolchildren and municipal employees) and the people who are forced to take this day as holiday because they are responsible for members of the former group (me), do not have a clue what it commemorates. This is not, of itself, particularly surprising in the country where, in 2007, the Prime Minister didn't know the national anthem and most of the political class when interrogated by a television news crew was unable to explain what the National Holiday celebrates.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of self-improvement and also because there is arse all else to do (the children cannot be relied upon to leave me alone for more than ten minutes, so I can't work, but they do not particularly want me to prevail upon them to do anything either: Lashes is working on his novel (oh yes) and Fingers is.. actually I do not know what he is doing and long may that continue), I thought I would try and work out what on earth we are being forced to celebrate. Admittedly to date, our celebrations have included two hours of homework, a lengthy trip to the vet's, driving rain and lunch in the hospital canteen (it's a nice canteen, but you know). Nevertheless, here we go. I have a history degree. I can do this.

Ok, so.

It would appear that in 1830 "Belgium" (then the Southern Netherlands) was part of Holland, a country ruled by William I.

NOTE: Even though he was a king called William and Holland is the country of orange, this William is not the William of Orange they sing about in parts of Northern Ireland and Glasgow. Confusingly, everyone who ever ruled Holland is called William and some of the Williams were also kings of other places, like England and Scotland, whilst keeping the same name (William) and changing number. The whole business is unspeakably sordid.

Holland was invented by the Congress of Vienna which was a Ferrero Rocher sponsored event designed to stop Napoleon causing further aggro around Europe, what with his shouting and his horses and his wife's terrible teeth. It did not work very well, because by 1830, the natives were getting restless in the "Southern Netherlands". William was Protestant, much of the "Southern Netherlands" were Catholic, the liberals wanted more liberal.. stuff, the harvest had failed, there were angry petitions. There was repression of dissent and calls for unpopular ministers with complex names to be replaced went unanswered. It was generally A Bad Scene.

William compounded Belgium's seething sense of outrage by coming to Brussels to celebrate his birthday, then understandably changing his mind and deciding it would be nicer to celebrate his birthday somewhere were the natives were not revolting, causing firework displays to be cancelled and generally making himself unpopular.

There followed a peculiar incident on August 25th just after William sloped off home to blow out his candles, in which spectators at an opera by Daniel Auber called "The dumb girl of Portici" at La Monnaie opera house in Brussels were apparently driven to start rioting following the aria "L'amour sacré de la Patrie".

There are two theories about this:

(i) The orthodoxy

Revolutionary fervour stirred up by themes of patriotism and struggle and in particular the stanza:

Amour sacré de la patrie
Rends nous l'audace et la fierté
A mon pays je dois la vie
Il me devra sa liberté.

Which is indeed quite stirring, though I doubt it would cause me to rip up and throw cobblestones, maybe just sway slightly. You can hear it here. If this is really the reason, I can only conclude that there wasn't a great deal of excitement to be had in early 19th century Brussels.

(ii) My theory

Revolutionary fervour stirred up by patrons having nothing to eat. Operas tend to be exceptionally long and La Monnaie only ever has about 3 tiny stale sandwiches between the many hundred patrons. Low blood sugar is a significant risk factor for revolution. Fact.

Regardless of the cause, there was rioting. Riots spread beyond Brussels, following a familar, comforting pattern of smashing up of factories, smashing of windows, and scrapping in parks. William sent in troops on 23 September who were met by fierce resistance from Brussels residents and - and this is important - Walloon volunteers who came to help out.  After several days of fierce fighting, mainly in the Warande Park which seems to me rather a small place to fight over, but no matter, on 27 SEPTEMBER, YES THAT IS TODAY ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION troops led by Frederick, William's younger son, retreated from Brussels.

Because this was a time - and perhaps, let me suggest, a place - of highly bureaucratic revolt, there were then lengthy congresses attended by many men with elaborate facial hair, who finally decided that Léopold of Saxe-Coburg could have a go at being the king of the newly invented "Belgium".

(Incidentally, and for a bonus mark, the Belgian National Holiday, 21 July, marks the date in 1831 when Leopold I took his oath to ascend the newly invented throne of Belgium. You are now better informed on Belgian history than much of its political class, I hope you are grateful).

This riled William so much, he had a go at getting Brussels back with a Ten Day Campaign in 1831, but, after some intensive siege action in Antwerp, failed. The rest is .. Belgium.

In conclusion, as far as I can elicit, today we are celebrating:

- Beating the Dutch

- The brief show of unity between Brussels residents and the Walloons (ie. Francophone Belgians).

So there you go. I, at least, have learnt something today and it is: "do not try and understand Belgian history when you could be reading Scandinavian crime novels in front of the fire while your children beat each other with Wii controllers". And possibly also "opera is dangerous".

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

20 questions I have asked myself today

1. What will be the next owl and/or moustache? Could I predict it and make a killing? And actually, what came before owl and moustache, because I can no longer remember a time before owls and moustaches.

2. Why did I ever buy these fucking shoes, and why did it take me so long to realise they are viciously uncomfortable and half a size too big? (Shoes in question: Rupert Sanderson ultra pointy toed low heel dark red patent courts with a cutaway side. Beautiful, yet the purest evil in shoe form) Or have my feet shrunk? Do feet shrink? What other bizarre physical manifestations of galloping decrepitude can I expect in the next 10 years?

3. How much Lemsip is too much Lemsip, really? Is there any room for negotiation with these dosage indications? What, I suppose I am asking, is my liver's bottom line here? Also, in bed with my back mysteriously and painfully locked in Prone Crone position and my nose running out of control, is it acceptable to wipe my nose on the only thing I have to hand (a pair of tights)?

4. Why do I own this Zara tweed dress that looks like something a recruitment consultant might have worn circa 1993, and what on earth possessed me to wear it today?

5. Why exactly does the gulag need my mother's date of birth and maiden name? Is this "family tree" business a front for an audacious identity fraud sting?

6. Why have I never heard of this brilliant blog before?

7. Are my children really too old for conkers now (this because walking the dog I saw some brilliant, brilliant ones littering the Avenue Albert then I realised no one in my house would care and got all melancholy, because perhaps my conker days are finally over)?

8. Is current income : expenditure ratio viable? (I know the answer to this one, it is: no)

9. If not, what should I do about it? (Get a proper job)

10. How would I go about getting a proper job? (1. Get my entire dusty work wardrobe dry cleaned 2. Relearn all the law I have forgotten 3. Hire some kind of online hitman to erase my entire digital presence)

11. Could I thus afford to do what is necessary to get a proper job? (No)

(I run through 8-11 daily without getting to a better result.)

12. Why does my face look like the dermatological interpretation of Munch's Scream? Is it the Cleanser of Evil, or merely my essential badness coming to the surface?

13. Who is the man I saw yesterday aged around 65 sitting in the ice cream parlour at 9pm on his own, wearing a suit and reading the business section of Le Soir whilst eating an enormous sundae with chocolate sauce?

14. Should I give up Twitter, since it makes me twitchy and feeds my envy and inadequacy problems, but also makes me laugh enormously and in the past has actually been useful for work?

15. Why is the answering machine on this phone so strident and bullying and why does it insist on calling me up to give me the gift of (mainly blank) messages when I am three flights upstairs and really cannot be arsed to go downstairs and tend to it?

16. Where are the nail clippers (AGAIN)?

17. Where on earth am I going to write about for my 3 monthly 'Breakfast in Brussels' thing? Why are there not more nice places for breakfast in Brussels, especially ones in a postcode other than my own?

18. Why can I not reward my eldest son's new and frankly incomprehensible enthusiasm for getting a bank account by finding him one which gives presents? Surely all bank account openings are supposed to be accompanied by a branded nylon drawstring bag filled with pointless crap, but no, no Belgian bank is offering him as much as a Griffin Savers dictionary. How is this possible, banking industry?

19. Where am I going to find a cheap, chic, outer garment which is warmer than my €15 army surplus jacket yet not as full on wintry my MaxMara coat? Cos? What is the likelihood of me yet again not managing to find such a thing and ending up wearing the decaying Barbour jacket composed of a heritage blend of mould and rips and scented dog poo bags? (high)

20. Is it bedtime yet (This one repeated at ten minute intervals since 7am)?

What questions are you asking yourself today?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Weekend

Well. The weekend.

1. Firstly, the agricultural fair was SHIT. Shit, I tell you, and I was entirely predisposed to love it. The dog bailed at the last minute (= we could not be bothered to take him on the tram), so we were thrown on the mercy of the "Remarkable Cats" for entertainment. My god, the remarkable cats. They were remarkable chiefly for being: some cats in nylon carry cages in a species of church hall, displaying no particular distinguishing features. The younger son and I walked around doubtfully saying things like "I suppose that one's quite large?" and "is that one of those Egyptian ones? Ah no, he's just lying funny", before finally concluding that everyone in there was dangerously mad and we should exit at all speed.

"Remarkable" cats

We went to the fair around 1pm which was apparently and tragically too late for the majority of the animal based entertainment, and by the time we reached the far-flung animal part of the whole sordid business, there were only a selection of exceptionally pissed off horses tied to lorries waiting to go home. Fingers had a testy hoof aimed at him by a sinister Welsh pony, but he has good reflexes and managed to avoid maiming. The angry pony reminded me a great deal of Evil Jimmy who I used to ride in my childhood, a grey hellion who had never met a child he did not want to separate from several of its limbs. As well as a seriously energetic bucking habit, Evil Jimmy broke one of my friend's toes stamping on it with great precision, and once bit me with such conviction that he removed a whole chunk out of my tweed hacking jacket (I liked to dress like a PG Wodehouse character in my childhood) and managed to break the skin. The whole 'mill around close to the arse end of lots of overwrought horses' fair activity seemed a little dubious from a health and safety perspective, what with my deeply-ingrained belief that "standing close to the arse end of a horse you don't know" is generally to be avoided. We missed the advertised horse whisperer, but I assume he was just wandering around whispering "don't kick people, please".

Get tae fuck, says this Shetland pony, quite plainly, through his heavy mullet.  

Other than horse violence and unremarkable cats, we were pursued around the square by a slightly menacing tzigane style percussion band, got a free lollipop and a Ville de Bruxelles baseball cap by standing and pretending to be interested in a poster about archeology, and a free apple from the organic hippy shop which was doing its strenuous best to ignore the frites/candyfloss/hotdogs fest going on outside. The apple was offered "parce que c'est la semaine du client" which somewhat begs the question: what are the other 51 weeks then? After that, and despite the dubious promise of some men in a car park waving wooden swords, Fingers insisted we left.

"I will never come back here, ever" he said very seriously, as we hiked wearily up the hill to where the tram was terminating without any warning. I could not think of a very good argument against that. Thankfully, I spotted Eric Sax's campaign car, which cheered me up:

Remember Eric Sax? Well I saw him IN THE FLESH recently in a stationery shop, and it has fanned the flames of my obsession. He was extremely glossy and tanned and had a lavender pocket handkerchief. More generally, it is local election time in Ukkel and I really must collect more election material and analyse it for you. There is much to be said on the subject.

2. Physical disintegration continues apace: I have acquired a stye, the first since I was about 14, and a selection of attractive facial wounds indirectly attributable to a cleanser that is not working out for me at all. I am also sporting lip dessication to the point of bleeding wounds and a big red nose from my inevitable Rentrée cold. Tomorrow I have a proper law meeting and yet again, I will face the grubby embarassment of my working wardrobe. Pray for me that it is very cold and I can wear my Uniqlo +J pencil skirt and, I dunno, something else? Maybe a jumper. One without holes. Or a roomy blouse (ugh, blouse) that does not gape. I have not worked this out to my own satisfaction, perhaps I should get up and do so. What do people wear to work nowadays? How essential is a jacket? How essential is it that the jacket should be clean?

3. We made a salted caramel cake, by combining (i) a Nigella butterscotch cake recipe that looked a bit grim but sounded do-able (ii) a Trish Deseine recipe for salted caramel sauce that I must have already made but had entirely forgotten (iii) a number of resource-motivated substitutions (who the fuck knows what Muscovado sugar is in Belgium anyway? Sucre roux? Cassonade? Whatevs. We used 'some brown stuff from the back of the cupboard'). It had caramel flavoured buttercream between the layers and salted caramel sauce swirled on top. I thought the cake both delicious and successful and surprisingly symmetrical, however I am the only one. We made caramel twice as part of this exercise, which has now left me with the dangerous belief that I am totally on top of this caramel business and I have made a rash promise to make tablet/fudge. I welcome your recipes.

4. We have just been to the flea market at the Place du Jeu de Balle, which was its usual combination of appalling and amazing, with a particular emphasis on UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN and 'What in the name of all that is holy??' I was tempted by a stuffed guinea pig and also by what I believed to be a ptarmigan, but both were way out of my price range so I settled for an obscure Zola novel in a garish 1970s edition. Lashes bought, for reasons best known to himself, a packet of mid-80s German stamps for €3. Fingers sulked throughout. He is suspicious of crowds and does not feel the siren lure of cardboard boxes full of postcards of Queen Paola c1982 and cats made out of seashells. A woman tried to sell us a perspex coffin.

On balance, I am thus voting this weekend: highly successful. Please let me know about yours.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Meanwhile in Uccle

 Having left you for some weeks with a vision of me gently flaking into oblivion while dressed in old newspapers and afflicted by an advanced case of mange, I feel duty bound to provide some scrap of new content to displace this career-enhancing image. I am not actually saying it is inaccurate, mind, merely that there are other facets to me and to this blog. Also, I am woefully short of work, so god knows, there is regrettably little to stop me. I have recently sent a significant proportion of my cake "book" to an agent and my main activities can be summarised as follows:

- convincing myself it is shit and unsaleable (I am really good at this);
- convincing myself that it is actually a book about something completely different and requires total rewriting;
- pointless unfocussed anxiety about everything in the world;
- writing unsuccessful feature pitches or trying to think of ideas for more likely-to-prove-unsuccessful feature pitches;
- fighting with children about homework;
- wondering if I can justifiably watch another episode of harrowing police drama "Good Cop" in daylight hours without succumbing to terminal self-loathing or indeed terminal be-harrowedness.

There are surely better things.

In my absence, we have, for instance, missed the extended media polemic about Bernard Arnault moving to Uccle and thoroughly lowering the tone with his Picassos and private Bahamian islands. Whatever my ideological objections to this kind of fiscal bastardry, I must be practical. A vast amount of ready €€€ has just moved in up the street and one day I would like to own a pair of Isabel Marant boots, a miniature Shetland pony or indeed merely 'the wherewithal to pay my 2011 tax liabilities'. I would like to assure M. Arnault that I am available for all types of consultancy and advisory work he may need in my core areas of expertise: Anglo-Saxon cakes, opaque hosiery, Emile Zola, EU cartel law circa 2008 and capybaras. Get your people to call me, Bernard. I can blow your mind.

We have also missed discussing the exciting siege situation over the bakery round the corner, when a man unhappy about a parking ticket barricaded himself into his flat and shot three rounds vaguely in the direction of the street before, well, giving up and coming out. Before he did so, a crowd of several hundred people came to stare at precisely bugger all, as I can bear witness as I had to walk past them several times. Did you get that in Paris, Bernard, eh? Bet you didn't. They were giving away free sweets on the trams too this week! The RATP is more likely to give you a free tazering or some free criticism of your trousers. (Admittedly, Bernard has probably never heard of the metro, or if he has, believes it to be a creature of myth, half hydra, half minotaur).

We have also missed me dropping my iphone down the loo and having to perform the traditional 72 Hour Rice Resurrection Ritual, to surprisingly good effect. It is not quite as it was before, but I am willing to overlook the failure to work at less than 70% battery and occasional fits of temper because it is not dead and I do not have to go and get upset in the Mobistar shop again, which was not fun for anyone on any of the previous sordid occasions.

We have missed La Rentrée, with its usual ridiculous load of self-adhesive plastic film to swear at, large and fiddlingly precise sums of money to be provided in envelopes, forms to be filled in in triplicate with details of grandparents' blood groups and distant relatives' criminal records and darling cheeldrenne to send off to school looking by turn mutinous, indifferent and slightly apprehensive. Thus far, Fingers has cried about his dictée, Lashes has already come home with a giant page of red angry teacher scrawl, and I have had to learn YET ANOTHER SODDING MAURICE CARÊME POEM, so all is much as ever.

Oh! Also, I bought new pyjamas of great joy, look, have a terrible waterlogged iPhone picture:

Veritas. Very cheap, very fluffy. I only went in there to buy self-adhesive velcro strips for a Dutch textbook (don't ask). And you can try and tell me owls are passé, but I will just pretend not to hear you.

You will doubtless be relieved to hear that we haven't missed absolutely all the fun. This weekend is the St Job Agricultural Fair, and I am really quite excited, since it promises a "Exhibition of Remarkable Cats", a horse whisperer, the "Fanfare Don Fiasko", a treasure hunt and a competition for Le Chien Le Plus Sympathique. The Weepette, as befits a former prize winner (First Prize "Dog the Judge Would Most Like to Take Home With Her"; Third Prize "Dog With the Waggiest Tail", Cherington Flower and Produce Show 2011) will be entering, even though I would not necessarily consider "sympathique" the most accurate descriptor for him. "Tourmenté", perhaps, or "Profondément fatigué". Viz:

I think it would be accurate to say that the only one who is at all excited about this event is me, but I am not allowing that to be any obstacle to enforced agricultural themed jollity. I promise to report back more promptly this time.

What news with you?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

State of the matron

Whilst the prospect of an Indian Summer sounds lovely in the abstract, all golden sunlight on gradually turning leaves, I would actually rather it just hurried up and got properly cold now so I can swathe myself in 80 denier and moth-eaten wool. Summer grooming has let me down somewhat, or rather I have let myself down, more accurately. I seem determined to sink into Soap Opera Depressive territory: currently I am the barest highly flammable tracksuit short of the full Paul Robinson. The last time I looked this bad, I think I had a newborn to blame it on, or at least was on morphine recovering from major abdominal surgery whilst accidentally pregnant (yeah, good times 2007, woohoo!). Let us survey the damage:

Lower limbs: covered in mosquito bites, including two on my right foot that I have been conscientiously picking at and preventing from healing for about six weeks. Legs still peeling and dry after July freak sunburn incident.

Fingernails: ragged, long, dirty. Cuticles chewed, a newly acquired vice for this year. Nails have not seen varnish since the old King died*. I wander the house like a lost soul calling for the nail clippers, but answer comes there none. They have probably all been used in ill-defined and unfinished 'craft projects'.

(*Leopold I, perhaps)

'Hair': last washed several weeks ago (you can get away with this with wigs, unfortunately, though you shouldn't). Beginning to go bald in patches. Soon I will be reduced to rifling through the drawer of old wigs and looking for ones with less mange. Yes, I have a drawer full of mange-wigs. Every home should have one.

Clothes: My wardrobe - although to all appearances full of clothes - seems to have been reduced to two alternating pairs of slightly cropped, narrow trousers. I sort of wish I had never rediscovered the forgiving embrace of trousers: I went several years without wearing them at all, but now I seem unable to wear anything else. They're not even flattering: last week a man specifically went out of his way in the street to come up to me and tell me my arse was too flat ("Non, toi, ton cul n'est pas assez bombé". Oh no, I am so distressed not to have met your exacting standards to qualify for street harassment, let me go and get lethal backstreet arse fat injections where I will be injected with chip fat and diesel oil, so that you deem me fit for sleazily chatting up on street corners), thus confirming this groundbreaking survey I read about today.  Today, for instance, I am wearing The Greenish Pair, with an elderly, dog-hair adorned black jumper with moth holes in the armpits. It's not great, but I can't seem to find any alternatives: I bust the zip on my expensive jeans trying to stretch them after washing and need to get repaired. My limbs are too ghostly white/peeling/dessicated for skirts/dresses and it's still really too warm to wear tights in all good conscience. I wore them anyway yesterday (with Gap wool shorts) and when I pulled at the leg to hoik them up, a dusty cloud of dead skin cells fluttered around me. I did it again, fascinated. Same result. It was very picturesque.

Shoes: alternating pairs of shabby, shabby, scuffed, broken flats that look like they were recovered from an archeological dig in a Viking burial ground. I took a pair off yesterday and several whole LEAVES were inside, and a piece of bracken. Which explains why they weren't very comfortable. I threw that pair in the bin, but look, today I am wearing these, which are even worse:

My flawed reasoning is that from a average person height distance, no one will notice that I am wearing shoes where the front decorative leather origami thing has fallen off. This has already been proved wrong but it has not stopped me.

Face: distressingly, patchily freckled. Puffy. Itchy spots on eyelids. Series of insect bites around left ear where a conscientious mosquito has enjoyed an extensive walking buffet. Red nose from some kind of idiotic summer cold, and a day of intermittent, frustration induced weeping yesterday. Last time I wore make up other than a bit of melted lip tint from the bottom of handbag: Dunno. It's been months, even though I know it genuinely makes a difference. Without, I look like a mournful potato. A child came up to me at school this afternoon and quizzed me extensively on my (tattooed) eyebrows (Why do you do it, does it hurt, why do you choose brown, why don't you do them another colour...). I'm usually quite robust about this kind of thing, but I had to get up and go away, pretending I had to fetch something before I started crying (again), because I felt judged and found wanting by an 8 year old. Not that that is a particularly new feeling. I just, I dunno. I thought I "passed", but this is the second time in a couple of weeks someone has made overt comment on my eyebrows. IF I HAD A CHOICE I WOULD NOT DO THIS. BUGGER OFF. Ok, not you, 8 year old girl. Come back, don't cry. Shit.

The only speck of improvement, is that I am not particularly fat at the moment, because I have mainly been consuming my own stomach lining with endless, boring anxiety. I am not exactly thin - I still managed to close a fold of my stomach in my own laptop yesterday - but I will Do, mainly thanks to my prominent clavicles which, regardless of my state of corpulence, can be used to good effect to give a vague surface illusion of thinness. I have conserved my double chin, however. I think it is my body's famine fat reserve, so at times of high stress it probably gets even bigger. Soon I will look like Denis Healey or Nigel Lawson before he got thin and started talking utter nonsense about climate change. Or like this:

Unless it gets cold very speedily, Something Must Be Done. I am not sure what. This is just a status report. At the moment it takes me twenty minutes to find the resolve to stand up and plug my battery drained computer in. So far I have put a sidebar link to that nice That's Not My Age blog for inspiration. Tomorrow, who knows? I might get as far as flossing.The pink rimmed, naked mole rat eyes are the worst of it, really. The rest is probably manageable. So all I need to do is give up weeping and buy some new Bobbi Brown gel ink eyeliner. Easy! Give me about three months.

Are you planning to up the grooming ante this autumn, or mercifully slip into no longer bothering? Any recommended quick fixes for Summer Hobo Syndrome?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

My sister's bracelet

I am achieving nothing today, but I can't just give up and write something here instead, because that would feel like cheating. Instead, I am posting this, something I wrote months ago for a project that never happened. The idea of the project was to tell a series of stories about clutter: what the flotsam and jetsam of your life, present but barely seen or piled up or tucked away, says about you. I quite liked this one that I wrote this about my sister's hospital bracelet.

My sister's hospital bracelet

On my desk, there is a green tin box that followed me home from my last job. Inside there are a pair of scissors, several sachets of pepper, a roll of sticky tape and seven packets of coloured document flags, relics from the final weeks of that job, where I thought I that the shock of redundancy could be attenuated by stealing boxes of coloured drawing pins. Since washing up on my desk it has further acquired a Kinder Egg toy tricycle, one of those plastic clips for closing cereal packets, a selection of felt tip pens in unpopular colours, the business card of a man who sells Maseratis I spoke to once three years ago and a deflated orange balloon advertising a bank. There’s a lower sub-strate of coloured drawing pins, single staples and escaped pepper I generally avoid. 

It also contains the handwritten pink paper and plastic wrist tag issued to my sister when she was born. ‘Baby of Sarah Baldwin’ it reads, though no one ever called my mother ‘Sarah’, then the date and time of her birth.  When I take both cut ends and hold them together, the circumference is comically, unimaginably tiny: my sister is 27 this year. 

I know where my own children’s hospital bracelets are: as is traditional in families, my eldest son’s is in an album, carefully preserved with the hospital card noting his height and weight, and a proud sequence of near-identical photographs; whilst my younger son’s is stuffed in a plastic bag with congratulations cards and a lesser bundle of pictures somewhere in the corner of my office, guiltily noted from time to time, never quite transformed into an album. 

I don’t know how my sister’s got here, but I know where it came from: the tiny hexagonal raffia box that lived on the chest of drawers in our mother’s bedroom, where she kept both our hospital bracelets, and a selection of our baby teeth – tiny bloodied shards like voodoo accessories. I remember the musty, hippy shop smell of it, the faded red star shaped design on its lid. I suppose when we cleared out her bedroom, it must have washed up accidentally in the pile of things I kept, with her red silk scarf, her handbag, a couple of jumpers. I can't remember what my sister took: hardly anything, I think. 

I didn’t like my sister when she arrived. I was ten years old when my mother went into labour and my father came to take me out of the way, to the country: I remember sitting in a damp armchair looking out over the bleak January Dales landscape, sodden sheep and muddy fields, and hearing I had a sister. “Half sister”, I would correct, angrily, for years. Her pregnancy had been both a shock and a betrayal, and acquiring a de facto stepfather left me stunned with fury. I simply hadn’t seen it coming; I had met my sister’s father, yes, but hadn’t for a moment imagined he might be a rival for my mother’s affections. We had been alone together for years and she was all I wanted, and all mine. I was extravagantly displeased with the baby: there’s a picture of me holding her shortly after she was born and you can see my brows knitted, my hands unwillingly around her, slack with distaste. 

I came round, gradually, and now my mum is gone, they – my sister, my stepfather – are my family; they are home. I grew to love them slowly, almost against my will, sharp edges rubbed smooth in the careless routine of daily life. Then, when she died, I loved them harder and more urgently, with the intensity of grief and need. I discovered a hard knot of loyalty towards them that never shifts now. They are mine. 

They are quite alike, the two of them and nothing like me: gentle, tolerant, inclined to see good. My sister makes me laugh, remembers things no one else does, loves my children fiercely. She forgives my short temper and my failure to pick up the phone, makes me feel connected when I threaten to drift into isolation. I see parts of my mother in her that I emphatically did not inherit: the gentler parts, the ones I miss most, actually. The cataclysm in my ten-year-old life now helps keep 37-year-old me afloat. 

Holding the tiny bracelet in my hand, I wonder, momentarily, whether I should put it in an envelope and send it to my sister, to whichever of her many addresses – Paris, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, London – is currently working. But then I think of her propensity to lose everything that passes through her fingers, the drawer downstairs filled with her forgotten cables and nail varnish and single socks, her peripatetic life, and I know I won’t, not yet at least. Nor will I send it back to my stepfather for whom possessions are like dust, who lives so much inside his head that a physical prompt or relic of a memory is unnecessary, of scant value. 

Because I think someone should care where your tiny pink wristband is: someone should want to preserve the ephemera of your arrival, treat it with reverence. My sister should have that, and she does. I have moved her bracelet to the small Liberty paper box in the drawer of my bedside table, where I keep my children’s milk teeth.