Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Devil

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know the kind, the ones that are made of a thick matted pelt of ferret hair and melted down lead piping, stolen from an outdated Cluedo set.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.

"HELLO! YOU LOOK NICE, HUMAN! I LOVE YOU! DON'T GO! I'LL JUST SIT HERE AND WAIT FOR YOU!"

"I'LL JUST SIT HERE AND LICK MY BALLS WHILE I WAIT, OK?"

"BALL! SAUSAGE! BALL! MY OWN TAIL! SAUSAGE!"

"WOW, THAT PEE SMELLS DELICIOUS ON YOU!"

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:

Sheep
Hamster
Godfather
Goldfish
Parrot
Tortoise
Grandchildren
Canary

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)

Monday, 30 January 2012

Life Skillz

As a struggling freelancer writer, one of my new skills is dealing with constant rejection. I say "skill". I haven't really mastered it yet, but this kind of thing used to knock me for a week, now I just feel slightly sick for half an hour, so I am claiming it as another shitty personal growth opportunity (who coined that phrase? I love them). You too can battle your tiny sense of self-worth and triumph! These are my current top coping strategies:

1. Delete any rejection email so quickly it as is if IT NEVER HAPPENED. Then empty your deleted items folder. Then your sent items. If necessary, forget your password. Or emigrate. Whatever it takes, really. What email? If you can't show me it, it never happened. Nope. Not me.

2. Elaborate a pleasant deferred gratification fantasy scenario for yourself, ie. "When my book is fabulously successful, and I am the acknowledged wunder-non-kind of Anglophone Belgian literature, you will be BEGGING me to write for you". (Do not, whatever you do at this point, go and look at your book manuscript as this may catapult you into terminal decline. Just let yourself think you have a gem hiding in your documents folder. Don't have a book in your documents folder? Doesn't matter! If anything, that's better, because the fantasy of its planet-dominating success will be easier to maintain).

3. Pretend to yourself you sent the pitch in error. 'Oh god. Did I send that? Did I? SHIT. Thank god that person didn't say yes, that would have been awful'.

4. The way of M: "There is no such thing as failure. You try something. It does not work. So you try again, or you try something else". I find this mantra works best recited with a Chunky Peanut Butter KitKat clenched between your teeth, and a YouTube video of a sloth on screen. Messy, but restorative.

5. Remind yourself of your blessings: 'I have a wonderful family, two beautiful and kind, if somewhat scornful, children, a scavenged rabbit the size of Geoff Capes:



an incredibly stupid dog:


several of my own teeth, my health, some nice Frédéric Malle body cream and a collection of really great shoes from when I used to earn decent money. I am doing great. Why do I need external validation?*'.

(*The answer to this is mainly: money. But also: craven need for approval.)

6. I can often distract myself for up to quarter of an hour by looking over here, at my weblog, and trying to think of ways to 'monetise' the fucker. This has always been a catastrophic failure in the past, but hope springs eternal.

7. Remember that rejection is very good for the soul. With each rejection, my soul looks less like a blackened, blighted raisin, and more like, erm, a UNICORN. Possibly. If I put it in caps it become true, apparently.

8. Think of another publication which you haven't humiliated yourself by approaching yet, and TRY AGAIN.



How do you deal with rejection? Any hints?

Saturday, 28 January 2012

I want to live in a nice magazine

I like nice things to look at on a Saturday. I miss the proper, British Saturday papers, back in the day when I could read them without my simple pleasure being faintly but consistently undermined by career envy. Here in Belgium, I read 'Victoire', the lifestyle and fashion magazine which comes with Le Soir. It is a pleasing, if utterly eccentric read. Last week was pubic hair themed. This week it is all about Japanese sexuality (and an unrelated bonus feature discussing the etymology of euphemisms for blow job). I wish I could write for Victoire, but quite apart from being ten years too old and not having a waxed moustache and a fixed gear bike, I don't think I am comfortable enough with FILTH.

I could, of course, go to Waterstones or similar and buy the proper British Saturday papers, but that feels a bit shameful, somehow. Like 'I embrace your culture wholeheartedly, Belgium, oh yes, just as soon as I have picked up this Guardian, four Crème Eggs, some overpriced paperback middlebrow fiction and 90 Yorkshire Teabags'. Oh, hang on, that is exactly like me, as you were.

Anyway. This is my lifestyle edit (ahahahhahahahhahaahaha "lifestyle edit". Going up: bruxism (so chic!), accountant's bills, frowning and extra chins. Going down: cerebral capacity, time management, personal grooming) for the weekend, since I do not have a magazine to do it for me and I am too lazy to go to Waterstones, and even if I did, I would end up lusting after things that are not even in the right country for me.


Shops:

I have just discovered My Table in Rue de l'Aqueduc, a sort of kitchen and fripperies shop. It ticks several of my pervy, lizard brain shop boxes. Esoteric cake decorations: yes. Good, large tea cups: yes. Bizarre household items that look like animals: yes. Same sex Barbie and Ken couples in catering sized boxes of Quality Street: yes.







Pleasing. Also: lovely man running it.

It is opposite Moss & Bross in front of which I often linger, admiring the gorgeous array of Porselli ballet flats. Yes, yes, ballet pumps, so fucking boring but these ones are so pretty and so soft. I think I love the violet best, but the real delight is seeing them all together - racing green and hot pink and sunflower yellow and silver and leopard. It reminds me of the agony of buying Converse for the first time, some time in the mid '80s. How can you choose just ONE colour?

I actually went in there today, which was probably a mistake because the lady made me stroke some kind of ultra luxe goat tummy stole of catastrophic softness, in actual goat hair colour with the prettiest deep green border. It was entirely without function, cost something hilarious like €390 and the moths would have devoured it in less time than it takes to say "filing for personal bankruptcy". Nevertheless, I aspire to a life with cashmere stoles and jewel coloured ballet slippers of many colours and NO MOTHS. Also, she had a good line in telling me how very rarely they get the good colours of Porselli in, and how if I see a colour I love, I should snatch it up. And that they wear them at Le Scala, vous savez. I am the ideal candidate for this kind of flannel.


Beauty:

I finally bought myself the Heeley Menthe Fraîche scent I have lusted after since the summer, with my leftover Senteurs d'Ailleurs birthday voucher. I love Senteurs d'Ailleurs but Senteurs d'Ailleurs does not love me back: I am always stared at with undisguised suspicion, as if I might start stuffing testers down my pants.

This is my new scent, which as I explained recently on Facegoop, is supposed to make me smell like "Patrick Bateman in Psycho" or, possibly worse, "young, sexy fashion models". Hmmm.



I aspire mainly for it to take off the edge of fox shit and rancid towel that is my natural perfume. I am sitting on the sofa next to the dog, and he absolutely reeks. Also, he is sleeping with his eyes in Full Zombie:



.. which is convivial.

I am also wearing Essie Clambake on my nails, but I cannot show you, because even with 2 coats you can still see the frankly revolting state of my claws beneath. However it is a nice hot coral, and takes me at least three days to bugger up. Approved.


Gluttony:

Christine Ferber rhubarb and mint jam and a quart Poîlane for breakfast.



Ah, Christine Ferber. Why are you so delicious and so expensive when your raw materials must cost pennies? Perhaps it is because handling hot sugar is dangerous? Is that it? Do you have to pay your staff - presumably all apple cheeked grandmothers of great kindness - danger money? Are there jam maimings? I do not even care. You taste good. Send the rosy cheeked old ladies back down the jam mines to boil MORE RHUBARB.


Services

The Most Talkative Cobbler in Europe, who I love to distraction even though he is foully disapproving of my shoe-knackering ways, has found a way to fix my dog eaten Anya Hindmarch shoes. Look!




That heel was the same crackle effect silver leather as the rest of the shoe until El Stupido decided to chew them to a slobbery mess of €300 leather. This was a mistake he did not make twice, happily (that sounds like I beat him senseless, or dominated him in a Cesar Milan mind melding fashion. In reality I do not even have any memory of when this happened - it was several years ago - or how he went off shoe chewing, btu I am certain it was nothing to do with my powers of persuasion. His brain probably just short-circuited). Anyway, "we" (he) has constructed me a contrasting heel, and now I can wear the least comfortable shoes I own again. Welcome back to the fold, Tory shoes! You fit so perfectly with my lifestyle, with your 5 inch spike heel and your disco colouring! This is what my fleece/tracksuit botttoms/grey jumper with holes in combo has been missing.

(My cobbler: Rue de Livourne 27. Quite slow. Hates cruelty to shoes. Talkative. Genius.)


Books

This week I have read:

An appallingly written, dreary book about the 17ème arrondissement that I found on the shelf, for 'research'. It has a couple of ace pictures of Communards with cool facial hair standing nonchalantly around Batignolles considering what to shoot to fuck next, but apart from that, no redeeming features whatsoever. Called something inspiring like "L'histoire du 17ème Arrondissement". I told you.




Wigs on the Green - I thought I would love this, Nancy Mitford's light, frothy fascist satire (oh yes) re-released a couple of years ago, but it is failing to engage me. It feels a bit Wodehouse by numbers but without the simmering menace of Roderick Spode. Perhaps it will perk up.

Also, in retro-reading corner (tonight we're going to read like it's mid 2010), I have just finished both The Hare With Amber Eyes (oh, so beautiful, so vivid, so luxuriously indulgent, but wonderfully so. In places, it quite undid me. Seems unfair that De Waal can be brilliant at writing books AND making pots) and Freedom (I was expecting it to be Hard Work. It was not remotely Hard Work, though I skipped several pages of environmental longeurs in the middle).

Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet - What should I try to make out of this, my Christmas present? I have limited attention span and skill and require a very favourable effort/reward ratio, but also, I am wary of baking something that only I actually like, because then I will get monstrously fat again, and I am only just starting to slough off the monstrous skiing fatness. Maybe bread. I have an excellent track record with bread. Do you remember my last attempt?




Yes, of COURSE it was supposed to look like a medieval gargoyle. Tsk.

Oh, also highly recommended in my imaginary magazine are my friend's beautiful baby quilts which you can buy here.

And if you want a bit of fiery online op-ed with your Saturday trivia, can I recommend you go and read Peter's post-slash-rant, here on lame ass commercialisation of online food writing.

Travel section? Here's M's very very funny guide to surviving Cambodian spiders. "Don't come crying to me when one of your eyeballs hatches spider babies".

God, it is exhausting half-heartedly pretending to write a lifestyle supplement. I am going to go and load the disher (red hot for Feb) and grind my teeth a little (so chic!) with my fox-scented companion and try and forget that my eldest son told me at length tonight how Richard Hammond is his favourite person in the world, and that my younger son has developed some interesting form of toe leprosy.


Friday, 27 January 2012

Board games are awful

It is winter, it gets dark at 4 and I have spent all our money on jumpers and Picard Surgélés eclairs, so we have been playing a lot of board games recently. Yeah, like the nineteenth century or something, I know, it's almost unbearable, I might as well just send the children up a chimney and have done with it. So they tell me.

This has given me ample time to develop a grudge on every game we own, for a variety of reasons. Board games are awful*: most of them are just a fight in a box. In French, they are called "jeux de société", which suggests society is full of rampant individualism, untamed aggression, vicious reprisals and sulking, which is completely .. oh.

I give you here the fruits of my research, so that you do not need to suffer needlessly. Say no to board games people, make this madness stop. Read a book. Send your children to their bedrooms. Wash the kitchen floor. Do anything, but do not suggest brightly "shall we play a game?"


Dominoes

Are you ninety? Are we appearing in an episode of The Archers? Are we in a half-timbered country pub with a fat labrador dozing by the roaring fire? Are you of an age when being able to count to six is a cause for celebration? If the answer to all of these questions is no, none of us has any place playing dominoes. Step away from the spots, punk, no one gives a shit and winning doesn't even feel good since it's PURE DUMB LUCK.


Uno

For a game so apparently innocuous, Uno creates a fugue state of hysteria in my children far worse than any food colouring, Nintendo game, violent Japanese cartoon or Haribo. I think it's the colours and the potential for minor acts of cruelty to your nearest and dearest. Do I know if you can keep putting "plus 4 cards" down infinitely, eldest child? No, I do not, nor do I care.
I want no part of it. Fuck off, Uno and take your pointless, expensive derivatives and variants (Robot Uno, Uno Extream, iPad Uno, Uno themed cheese strings for all I know) with you.


Scrabble

A Scrabble board is no place for the bilingually semi-literate. I love my children dearly, but their vocabulary and spelling renders this farcical: I end up playing for all of us, and getting progressively angrier as their proudly placed 3 letter words close the board down catastrophically.

Lashes asked me to buy it and told me he "loved Scrabble". I can only assume this was one of our many linguistic misunderstandings. He must have said "I love taking off my dirty socks and throwing them into the corner of the room" or "I love fighting", or "I love being bought enormous boxes of Lego". At least no one ever asks to play Scrabble anymore after my last strop about the use of "Yo" as the starting word.


Memory

This is a source of great sadness to me. I used to love Memory. When I was a biddable, bookish, shadow of a child, much preoccupied with death and ponies, we had a tragic but much-loved French Memory game with pictures of several kinds of nougat de Montelimar, champagne corks, pieces of the Eiffel Tower and stinking wheels of Brie. It was like a great, seventies middle class game-gasm. Best of all: I usually won. Imagine, then, my bitter disappointment that (a) our Memory game features Diego, Dora the twatting Explorer's overachieving, sloth fondling cousin; and (b) that my children DESTROY me at it.

"I've seen that damn coatimundi!" I hiss, staring angrily at the grid of cards. Then I jab at one, hopefully. It is not a coatimundi. It is fucking Diego riding a fucking turtle. My children fall about laughing, not wholly unkindly.

"Mais non, maman" they say, with infinite condescension, patting my hand. Often Fingers is cackling with joy and rubbing his long, long digits together as he swiftly locates the two sloths AND the two Diegos riding turtles. I start every game in high spirits, confident of victory this time and end every game contemplating mortality, my inevitable decay, loss of critical faculties and undignified death, or at least where I can find a draught of hemlock. Which is nice. If I want a memento mori, I'll find a more aesthetically pleasing one, thanks, Diego. Lo siento, and all that.


Monopoly

I don't really need to go into it, do I? We all know about Monopoly and how it's an interminable, conflict generating, heap of old toss. It is the original "fight in a box". I don't know why they don't just put that on the side. "Monopoly: a rancorous fight guaranteed every time". How do you play, reader? Fight, or get bored and abandon? I favour the second option, but I am always outvoted.


Pictureka

I like you, Pictureka, but you try too hard. Four different "rounds" in a single game? Teams? Miming? Eh. I'm exhausted just thinking about you. Two specific pointers for you, Pictureka: First, how the fuck do you expect me to mime "singing nurse?" And second: a board game shouldn't involve physical exertion, so don't go asking me to "jump like a frog". JOG ON.


Cluedo

In our household, we all believe we like Cluedo, but I am here to tell you that we are labouring under a massive delusion. Here is why:

1. Modern Cluedo seems to be set in some kind of low rent Champneys crossed with an episode of the Young and the Reckless. "A soirée at a millionaire mogul's mansion", says the description. It is monstrously vulgar: hitting people with a dumbbell? A trophy? A SPA (I don't think you hit people with the spa, but you get my point)? What was wrong with the candlestick, for pity's sake? What of the noble lead piping? Why does Miss Scarlet look like Stephanie Beacham circa 1982? I feel like a high court judge when I look at the board, furious and confused.

2. Again, this is a game my children are shit at. The youngest often forgets to show us his cards when he's supposed to. The eldest likes to show us all how clever he is by expounding his deductive reasoning out loud. Both of them forget to write anything down. Nevertheless, Lashes is convinced from about five minutes in that he knows all details of the horrible crime and hastens to the swimming pool (I TOLD YOU, vulgar) where he is proved wrong, and retires to sulk. After that, the youngest and I continue in increasingly mutual confusion until one of us decides to give it a punt. We will also be wrong. Then the last person tries and is also wrong. At this point what usually happens is that we realise that one of the cards is missing, probably under the dog.


1000 Bornes

Does this piece of shit even exist in English? God knows, I hope not for your sakes. It is, I am assured, a French classic, though it used to just be a card game and they have only recently introduced the board version for extra "fun". You are a small plastic car. You must travel 1000 kilometres before the other cars, by playing cards with varying kilometre values, that you pick up from a central pack, while the other players try to stop you by giving you cards with flat tyres, red lights and empty fuel reservoirs.

Ok, my main problem with this game is that you need a green light card to get started. I never, EVER get a green light card. The whole shagging game is usually over before I get a green light card. On the odd occasion that I do manage to limp a few hundred kilometres, one of my children blasts me with a red light and I get stuck again for the remainder of the game. Do I sulk? Yes, yes I do. I am thirty seven years old and I want to win 1000 Bornes for once in my life. Is that too much to ask? (Yes)


Bazaar Bizarre

This is like a visual acuity and deductive reasoning test and unsurprisingly, I fail every single time. There are 5 wooden figures: a red chair, a green bottle, a grey mouse, a blue book and a white ghost. There is a pack of cards. On each card there is some combination of some of the figures, but the colours are mixed up. Or they might not be. You have to find EITHER: the thing that is missing, OR the thing that is accurately represented on the card. Confused? Yes, that is normal, you are supposed to be if you aged over 10. I have stopped even trying to play: it is hopeless, I am far too slow to ever win a round, and the risk of injury from my children's fingerclaws is too high.

I think I nurture a particular prejudice against this, because it is one of those really wholesome Germanic board games that cost a million Euros and which your children tire of within 30 seconds because they are both boring and complex. Though at least this one comes with extra violence, I suppose.


Which board games do you play, gentle readers? Do you hate them all? Am I missing some gem which will reconcile us all?


(*Any suggestions that I am prejudiced against board games because my redundancy leaving present after 11 years service was a board game called 'Anti-Monopoly' are frivolous and unfounded.)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Why French Masterchef is better than English Masterchef

It is the season of sackcloth, ashes and tax returns, I have sworn off booze, chocolate, Jaeger sale breton jumpers, St Aulaye lemon loaf cakes and anything that smacks of fun. All that remains is watching the endless hours of blanket coverage of the French presidential election campaign until François Hollande's neck wattle haunts my dreams, shifting and dancing like Salome's veils. For light relief, I sometimes look at the back of cupboards and try and locate bank statements from 2008.

I have, however, also watched a couple of episodes of the new series of British Masterchef (as well as a few of "The Professionals" in the autumn) and I am sorry, but it is a load of old rognons. Greg Wallace with his ventouse-baby head, demented enthusiasm and lubricious facial expressions, that man Torode with the made up accent who is composed from humanoid silicone and manufactured irritation = horrid. Michel Roux, cadaverously displeased, is the only one I have any respect for and he just looks resigned and intermittently embarrassed. There is no point in being needlessly emphatic, Michel, I can see defeat in your empty, empty eyes.

No: what you need is FRENCH Masterchef and I will tell you why.

1. They cook better. They just do, I am sorry. This has the potential to be boring, I grant you, what with no one going to pieces over a slimy, curdled puddle of espuma, but actually it just means you end up watching in forensic detail and getting shocked to the point of hyperventilating if someone presents the judges with a slightly undercooked quail, or an underseasoned jus. They are more attractive too, I think, but that is my fatal weakness for French men speaking.

2. It is more "rigoureux" (rigorous, thorough, exacting). Great attention is paid to things like: naming 400 varieties of cheese and locating the various cuts of hoof. Identifying four species of near-extinct root vegetable. Filleting sea creatures that look like they are laughing at you. Trussing things up in the right type of string with the right type of masonic knots. On one of my favourite episodes of the most recent season, live angry crayfishes pursued the candidates across their worktops, nipping them cruelly. The judges are obsessed with cleanliness of work stations and are constantly chastising candidates for failing to scrub them down properly. You are not here to emote about your "journey", is the subtext. You are here to use a fucking j-cloth, repeatedly, and with vigour. It looks NOTHING like anything that would ever happen in your own kitchen, and as such, it is far more fascinating.

3. The judges are filled with righteous anger that is wonderful to behold. The judges number two chefs and a critic. First, there is small, Southern fury, Yves Camdeborde:

(he NEVER makes this kind of face during the programme, however fucking great your brandade de morue is). Yves Camdeborde refuses Michelin stars and spits in the face of a cluttered worktop. He looks like he is probably very handy with his fists. He could fillet Greg Wallis and his vegetable fondling fingers. With his TEETH.

Then there's proud, perpetually disappointed culinary monolith Frédéric Anton, hewn from some kind of adamantine, Alsatien rock:


I love Frédéric Anton. His angry disappointment at a poorly executed sauce béarnaise is Shakespearean in its intensity. Very movingly, there are a couple of points each season where Frédéric Anton puts on his special "meilleur ouvrier de France" chef's whites and sash and medal and prepares something complex and classic for the candidates to copy, the tip of his toque trembling with pride as he spatchcocks a thrush with a gigantic sparkling knife.


The third judge, Sébastien Demorand, is a food critic. He is the kindest, but also very, very cutting.


And sometimes he wears a cravat. Really, what more could you want?

Together, they are like three culinary furies, swirling in a black cloud of disapproval around the kitchen. How DARE you overcook this beef says Yves Camdeborde, puffing himself up like a courting pigeon. You are disrespecting the cow, mother France, and me. Frédéric Anton stares bleakly at a poorly filleted sole as if it represents a personal assault. On his MOTHER. He simmers with incandescent anger like Brando in On the Waterfront. Demorand doesn't need to talk. Or taste. He pushes his plate away with heavy disdain.

Of course, this makes the few occasions when something satisfies them all the more magical. There is nothing as touching as watching Frédéric Anton's granite features soften with real pleasure at a well glazed confit. I can see how you would do anything to see that smile again.

4. Which is a good thing, because the tests major on gladiatorial cruelty, such as cooking on the flat black roof of a New York skyscraper in 40°C heat, or having to wade through the rising - and, indeed, notoriously dangerous - tide at the Mont St Michel, holding cloched plates. Brilliant. Finger tips are severed with abandon and viewed only as distasteful foreign bodies sullying the produce. On the British version last night, a man cried about his black forest gâteau failing to set, and another had a panic attack when faced with a cod. MAN UP, Britain.

5. Just as a bonus, there is always one week - one only, as a concession to, I dunno, the twenty first century, perhaps - where the candidates are required to get to grips with "foreign" food. Thrill, as the poor soul who has drawn the courte paille of British cuisine is reduced to preparing a lamb chop and some peas in a "reduction" of tarragon.

"But" says Demorand, appalled, poking a pea. "You could have done something really playful and refined with le fish and chip!"

You need to see it, really you do. I know you probably can't, but you must: you will never look at a crayfish in the same way again. I am willing to do the subtitling, BBC. Call me.

Now with 100% the same old toss

You will note that nothing has remotely changed here: not the layout, not the content. It's almost as if - can it be? - I have done ABSOLUTELY FUCK ALL in the three months I have been absent. Well. I have and I haven't. I have done nothing productive or quality enhancing, this is correct, but I have done lots of agonising, it has been tremendously fun*. (*guess what, it hasn't).

First I was genuinely quite busy, then I was blocked and uninspired, and during the whole time I was thinking circular thoughts about whether there was any point in the blog, whether personal blogging was in fact, dead, whether I hadn't said everything I could interestingly say and that kind of thing. I also developed some kind of low-level internet phobia: the exposure! The permanence! The potential for people to tell you what a twat you are! How had I even survived this far?

The other side of the argument that trotted around my head was that in any event, all the hideously embarassing things I had put here over the last three years were still floating around the internet in perpetuity making me unemployable, so I might as well keep going, since god knows what else I could do. "There are pictures of the inside of your nostrils on the internet" M reminded me at one point, shortly before uploading a picture of a buttock encompassing hole in my tights to Facegoop (we have revived that too! Our cranky, furious, lipstick fondling corner of the internet is BACK). The other - and more persuasive - argument was that I missed you and your funny, dark, kind, erm, weirdness and I missed writing poorly punctuated, possibly litigious, self-indulgent posts about whatever the fuck I like.

(I do not expect you to give a flying fuck about this, it is merely by way of explanation of the prolonged absence and lack of shiny, dancing, blog makeover action).

Anyway. Here I am, back, with only my poor personal grooming, irascible parenting and still-stupid pets to offer you, same as usual. I have half a mind to also do some comparative reviewing of British and French TV, but it will probably come to naught.

Highlights of the last 3 months:


1. We went skiing. The children mocked my slowness, my trousers kept popping open since I am far fatter than the last time I skied, I was subjected to constant electric shocks (I still can't touch a door knob without pulling my sleeve over my hand for protection) and on the last day, we got snowed into a ski resort full of Dutch giants. The prospect of cannibalism preoccupied us greatly. We lurked around the breakfast buffet, casting anxious glances at our dairy-loving overlords.

"They're going to eat us, aren't they?"

"Wellll. It looks bad. But don't you think there's a good argument to be made that we're a bit .. scrawny? I mean, you'd have to eat three of us to make up one of them"

"They're way stronger than us though. They'll just overpower us and gnaw our limbs off".

"But we could eat for a week on one of their forearms!"

"Why did I ever agree to this?"

There were no normal television channels in our chalet, so I now know a great deal about several esoteric documentary topics including: social engineering in post-Katrina New Orleans, the death of Pierre Beregovoy and capucin monkeys. Go on, ask me a question. (Don't).


2. It was my 37th birthday. The children made me a CAKE, which was a thrilling first and Prog Rock bought me a challenging Estonian CD and I bought myself some new boots, and we went to Rabbit Island for the now traditional birthday chips and salted caramel sundae (not at the same time) and met Gertrude, the duck with learning difficulties who is in love with the Rabbit Island boatman.


Dear lord, but 37 is making me twitchy. I have a new, gnawing consciousness of how incredibly unimpressive my achievements are. 'What the fuck have you been doing for the last few years?' I ask myself, unhelpfully, late at night, like a tactless but well-meaning relative at a funeral. I don't know. Treading water? Floundering? On Friday night I saw some ex-colleagues and had to explain what I was doing at the moment: what came out of my mouth just sounded ... lame. "I've written some .. bits and pieces. No, nothing you would have noticed".

This has, at least, resulted in some interesting conversations about failure. M doesn't believe in failure, I discovered. "It is not failure you fear" she told me "It is the judgment of others".

"Well, yes, I suppose you are right. But why is that any better?"

"You try something. It does not work. So you try again. Or you try something else". She was a bit like Yoda. Yoda with giant spiders in her hair (have you seen M's new blog, Fat Ponies?)

I am working on this (and have started working on a new writing project, leaving my shitty novel to rot in a drawer until I can face it again), but it does not come naturally. Why be optimistic when you can enjoy a full three months of sterile self-flagellating? I have been working with this gentleman again recently and he had all manner of problems and knock-backs and disappointments before finally getting five star reviews in the broadsheets, so I have been trying to take inspiration from that. Having some core of self-belief seems to be important. I am trying to locate one.

Sorry, this is preoccupying me, but it is fantastically boring and I really need to shut up about my luxury problems. No one gives a shit, just send me down a Nigerian sawmill already. Next!


3. The alarming discovery that neither of my children could remember the word "thirteen". Their foreignness continues unchecked.

"I want you to be able to speak to me properly, dammit!" I flounce at them.

"Ca va maman, on va mettre Kid Detectives, ne t'inquiète pas" they reassure me, unreassuringly. Kid Detectives is on one of those cheap Freeview digital channels made out of Dairylea triangles and string. It is an Australian import where minor "crimes" are investigated by a crack team of child forensic technicians and deductions of guilt are made on the kind of shonky premise that even West Midlands Serious Crime Squad might baulk at.

"Sherina has soil on her shoe ... so SHE must be the one who dug up Mrs Smith's flowerbeds!"

The whole thing is unutterably sordid, but at least contains dialogue. Usually when the children appease me by watching English TV, I find they are watching a cartoon about a lizard that is entirely silent. Also, I quite like Lashes's comments (in French, you can't have everything), which are usually along the lines of "if this was a real crime that would be blood/brains/blood again".


4. Christmas in 140 characters: 2 vegetarians, 1 extra dog, 80000 cups of tea, a red plastic puzzle cube triumph, 2 sister credit card débâcles, gin, gin, rillettes, gin.


5. And now, here we are in January. My teeth are falling out and I smell of Old El Paso Fajita sauce. All my clothes have been eaten by the mothbastards, and I have put my unkempt nails through several relatively nice pairs of tights. It has not stopped raining for approximately three weeks, Satan the rabbit has dug up and eaten all my bulbs, and stands at the back window pawing furiously for more nourishment, the dog has descended to a new plane of psychological disturbance and developed an obsession with slippers, which he collects furtively from the basket in the hall and then hides under his scrawny body. The children treat me with a sort of amused condescension most of the time and have homework I no longer understand. I spent yesterday writing about inflated pig bladders. ALL IS WELL, my friends, and I will try and write here from time to time.

How are you?