Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Trials


Monday

(i) Twenty grand tax bill five months ahead of when it should have come according to the previous year's schedule. I will be handmaking all Christmas presents henceforth and they shall be made from the dust and tiny Lego bricks that gather in Roomba's reservoir, and my tears, topped with the glue of shame and the ubiquitous glitter of despair. Honestly, how is it possible that Belgium is a tax haven for Gerard Depardieu and not for me, hmmm? I enjoyed a hilarious report on the Belgian news a few nights ago where Gerard - who has just bought a house in a rather grey and undistinguished Walloon town near the French border - was reported to have expressed great, unforced enthusiasm for the quality of life and great friendliness of Belgium. The culture! The conviviality! The report was accompanied by a photograph of Gerard smiling heartily in the dingy town hall towering over, and with his vast arms like whole hams spanning, seven slightly shifty looking municipal officials simultaneously, as well as excellent footage of four toothless old men in a dilapidated bar wordlessly drinking, and long static shots of Néchin town 'centre', with a sort of low, grey mass of rain moving in on the leylandii and bungalows. The whole thing was a little bit Dardenne brothers, and absolutely delicious.

But I digress.

(ii) Discovery eldest has nits. God, the tedium. Do children just stop getting nits at some point or is it that they become teenagers and you are no longer permitted anywhere near their heads? I remember I spent all my teenage years self-medicating for any and all possible ailments with drastic and slightly medieval remedies so that I would not have to talk to my parents about Stuff. I distinctly remember cutting a small wart off my leg with nail scissors and taking a great deal of garlic capsules for reasons that are now mysterious.


Tuesday

(i) A €70 painful, scary filling from a teenager who the dentist had very naughtily got in to replace him. I am still aching from all the metalwork she seemed to have carelessly left hanging around in various crannies of my sad donkey mouth.

(ii) A €90 trip to the dentist with children who were told in no uncertain terms their teeth were filthy. "NULS" bellowed the dentist with a sort of jovial fury. "VOUS ÊTES NULS". We skulked away, shameful, never to open our mouths again.

(iii) Spillage of a large glass of red wine intended for post-filling therapeutic purposes all over me, kitchen, floor, cupboards, and over my new - FINALLY THEY ARRIVED - Topshop boots.

(iv) Theft and consumption by the dog of my Picard scallop and Riesling pie intended for post-filling therapeutic purposes while I went upstairs to change out of wine-stained clothes. He's fast, the little fucker, you have to give him that.


Wednesday 

(i) As a near inevitable consequence of (iv) above, rising to discovery of a sea of dog effluvia of both main offensive types in every corner of the ground floor at 7am this morning. I should perhaps be grateful the dog avoided the rug, but I was too busy being furious he had chosen the floor with the big gaps between the floorboards and also, couldn't he have considered alerting me to his gastric distress in some way, rather than just exploding silently, then going back to sleep on the sofa? Horror.

I cleaned up all the dog effluvia. I did not do so with a shred of stoicism. I did not offer up my suffering. I raged and moaned and used four whole rolls of kitchen towel and a large bottle of Monsieur Muscle Salle de Bain because it was all I could find. I shouted at the dog, because I know perfectly well that he has no idea that the pie and the gastric issues are related and this maddens me, the stubborn tininess of the whippet brain, and the dread knowledge that given the slightest sniff of opportunity he would do exactly the same again. Then, finally, I ran a large bath of bleach (well, cheap eucalyptus bath salts) and sat in it scrubbing all my skin off and wondering whether I dared to leave the house in case a gigantic anvil fell on my head, cartoon style.

Apart from that, and a broken glass, and the Roomba eating a whole DS cable in the manner of a hungry boa constrictor (note to the dog: I do not see Roomba loosening its robotic bowels all over my house when it swallows something untoward), and one mad tram man who kept shouting EMPTY SEAT EMPTY SEAT EMPTY SEAT, today has been largely without incident. But the tally for the week is: €20160 down, gained a pair of boots but also a splattering of wine stains, may have contracted e-coli from dog, back tooth wholly reshaped by a YTS infant. I've had better weeks. However I must confess, and I know this is twisted, I think part of me rather likes it when smallish things like this go wrong (though no one could call the dog bowels "small". Who would have thought the bony dog would have so much shit in him?). On some pre-rational level I believe that small misfortunes innoculate you against huge ones, so I now consider myself vaccinated for the next 6 weeks or so against all larger disasters: death, fire, flood, tempest, locusts, etc. Oh hang on, I think it only works if I don't tempt fate by expressing that sense of relief out loud, so now it was all in vain! I have broken my bad luck vaccination! Sigh. It is SO HARD having the mindset and world view of a medieval peasant sometimes, you have no idea.

So what now, I ask myself? Is there some kind of sacrifice I should make to placate the plainly angry gods? I am willing to offer them, for instance, 2 capfuls of Elemis Supersoak or one Peanut Butter KitKat. To whom does one address the sacrifice? Help a medieval peasant out here.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

In which I watch the Great Frenchish Bake Off





I was gleeful to learn that France was doing a version of the Great British Bake Off, because it combines many things I love: stupid French television, the Great British Bake Off, cake, and the tenuous possibility of calling sitting in front of the television watching someone's choux pastry go wrong "research".

But oh dear lord. I have tried to love Le Meilleur Pâtissier, for that is its terrible, terrible name (French TV and film naming first principle is: 'describe the programme in the flattest, most prosaic and descriptive way you are able'). I was disposed to love Le Meilleur Pâtissier. But sadly it is impossible. Even its mother could not love it. You know I am not opposed to French cooking programmes. I live for French Masterchef with all its big emotions and angry chefs and blood and sweat and tears and the oft repeated phrase "c'est GROSSIER" spat in the faces of people whose blanquette de veau is poorly presented. This? This is just a sad, stale cupcake of a programme, iced by someone doing occupational therapy during a catastrophic breakdown.

"Patisserie" says the programme description with bland lunacy "is a discipline known for its rigour, but also for its creativity and conviviality". Which makes it sound like we are going to have a heap of fun and thus it transpires.

Of course, as with all these bought-in formats, it looks spookily like GBBO. They are in a big white tent in the grounds of a château, everything is pastel and pastoral, the incidental music is identical, the title sequence is stolen wholesale from GBBO to the point where there is even a SCONE visible at one point, as if a French cookery programme would ever sully itself with anything so, comment dire, stodgy. But it has lost its soul. There is no heart, no humour, the magic has evaporated: it's just some awkward people in a tent making cakes, suddenly.

Visually, if GBBO is Cath Kidston, Le Meilleur Pâtissier is some kind of nasty British Home Stores Kidston knock off. Everything has just a bit too much frou frou, too many curlicues, too much brain bleeding chintz. It is France doing le style "so British!" and doing it all wrong. Knock it off, France. Put the doily down. Step away from the bubblegum pink Smeg and the twirly-wirly white wire cakestand. I will however give them this: their château is vastly superior to the GBBO stately. It has turrets and ancient sun-warmed limestone. One point to France. The absence of large testicled squirrels lets them down slightly, but I will let it pass.

And oh, the presenters. The role of Mary Berry is played by her French stunt double, "Mercotte". Mercotte is famous (I use the word in the loosest sense) for her internet tutorials on macaron making. She is approximately the right age and shape. She seems perfectly nice. I bet she makes a lovely macaron. But dear lord, she has all the televisual presence of a pot plant. Last night the technical bake was rum babas. Mercotte must have said the sentence "Ce n'est pas assez imbibé" (it hasn't been soaked for long enough) approximately 8 million times, varying her intonation about as much as my younger son does when he tries to demonstrate the difference between Chinese tones, ie. not at all, in any discernible way to the human ear.

She is paired with Cyril Lignac. Lignac is a sort of French Jamie Oliver figure: matey, hearty, salt of the earth, hail fellow well met, and OHGODEVERYBLOODYWHERE. There is not a format in European cookery programming that has not been turned over by the blind, dumb, gods of French television programming to Lignac. Perhaps that is why he seems so drained of any shred of life or enthusiasm here? He is probably rehearsing for Cyril et Son Club de Bataille de Nourriture, Cyril's Cuisine Cauchemars and Cyril Derrière les Barreaux on his break: the man is plainly exhausted. Occasionally someone will give him a kick behind the scenes or a vitamin B12 injection and he will come out and taste something and wave his right hand up and down sideways as if scalded in that special French emphatic way as a sort of limp proxy for animation and say "oh la vache, c'est bon" whilst laughing hollowly like a man who hasn't been home for 5 years. As the two of them made their way along the line of rum babas last night, it was like absurdist theatre, but even more boring.

"Ce n'est pas assez imbibé"

....

"Ce n'est pas assez imbibé non plus".

...

"Ce n'est pas assez imbibé".

"I think you are getting more demanding, Mercotte!" said the presenter lady, desperately.

"Si ce n'est pas assez imbibé, c'est pas bon". 

By this time I was ready to suck every single misshaped rum baba dry.

Cyril's eyes are filled with mute, millionaire entreaty. He doesn't know who he is any more. He just wants a microwave pizza and a cuddle. The two of them together have the chemistry of, I don't know. What is the most inert element in the world? Helium, apparently, says Google. Well, together they are like a sad, sad, cylinder of helium. Cyril patronises Mercotte uneasily in that 'isn't she marvellous?' way. Mercotte says "imbibé". I weep. The saddest times are when they make him and Mercotte go and sit in a little tent with a tea pot and talk about the candidates who Cyril obviously doesn't know from Adam despite some frantic last minute briefing from the production team. All the sadness of the world is in that flouncy tent of broken dreams and dead formats and bad cakes. Maybe it doesn't matter. I think I'm the only person in the world watching.

The presenter .. no. I can't even go there. Imagine Mel and Sue. Imagine taking away everything that makes them funny and clever and interesting and real and touching. Give them glossy hair and a Zara trouser suit and an expression of faint, glazed anxiety. There you go. She does, however, get to say "A vos marques, prêts, patissez" which as my television companion/fellow sufferer kept saying angrily IS NOT A VERB.

"Well" I say pedantically. "Pâtir is a verb, so pâtissez does actually exist".

"Yes. But it is NOT THE VERB TO BAKE".

(Pâtir means to suffer, or endure. This is perhaps not entirely inappropriate).

They have kept the signature bake, technical bake, showstopper format, but the theme of each week is so loose as to be absolutely indiscernible. I turned on late last night: someone was making a macaron, someone made a Paris-Brest, then everyone made rum babas, and then they all made "gâteau surprise anglo-saxon", of which more later. What on earth was the theme? I have gone to look it up and apparently it was "Family cakes". Because who doesn't make rum babas every Sunday to relax. Nothing says 'chilling with my family' to me like a temperamental, sticky, unpredictable dough I need to soak in syrup for two hours at the risk of it collapsing entirely.

Also, because it is France, and French cookery competitions must resemble painful, transcendent, gladiatorial combat in which everyone is pushed to sweating, quivering breaking point in the manner of an erotic film about the Foreign Legion, they have introduced another, final, knock out elimination bake in which the bottom three bakers must "reinvent" a classic cake and only one of them is saved (for some reason they have decided the format can only bear 4 episodes, I cannot imagine why). It takes the programme time to a ludicrous TWO HOURS and is a colossal yawn. Cyril "reinvents" the thing by making it square instead of round, usually, and everyone stands slackjawed in admiration at his audace and creativity. Last night they "reinvented" the bûche de noel. One lady made hers into spring rolls with a dipping sauce but was censured as insufficiently creative because it still involved rolled up sponge. No, me neither.

Three tiny salvations.

1.  ELODIE. Most of the candidates are dull as anything. Elodie is not. Elodie is obsessed with the 18th century and making everything PRETTY. She is basically Marie-Antoinette crossed with La Cicciolina and in her eye is the glint of sugar-fuelled madness. There is nothing Elodie will not apply glitter, or a butterfly motif, or a sugar curlicue to. Last night she made a sort of Wedgwood inspired blue and white bird cage cake, complete with a life sized robin on the top and green butterflies concealed within. Everyone looked a little bit frightened as she brought forth her creation, as well they might. I want to see how she's going to top it and this alone is keeping me watching.  A coach and four driven by a lifesize meringue Cyril Lignac? A scale model of the Hall of Mirrors in Versaille in gilded genoise? I would also like to see her against Brendan, actually, though Brendan could totally take her.

2. Last night's slapstick around the "gâteau surprise anglo-saxon". This - those silly things they do where you cut the cake and there's something hiding inside - we were informed are "very fashionable in anglo-saxon countries". You could almost feel the ripple of disapproval around the room at this crass notion. Thomas, who is an utter perfectionist swot and almost certain to win, pursed his lips and refused to sully his hands with fondant icing. "I do not like those cakes which are all about appearance and not taste" he said, tightly, putting defiant raspberries on the top of his distinctly gallic looking cake. The "anglo-saxon cake specialist" brought in as a guest judge remonstrated with him. "Are you using pâte à sucre?" (fondant) "No. I do not like pâte à sucre". He was unrepentant, and his uncompromising attitude was of course rewarded when he finally won star baker, despite the grudging, barely discernible "surprise" in his cake. No one puts Thomas in a fondant corner.

3. The guests during the "boring history bit", because it is almost always Philippe Conticini from the Pâtisserie des Rêves, who looks exactly as a genius baker should, big and jolly and like he enjoys his cakes. Also, there was a short sequence in Stohrer last night, which made me weep with nostalgia and wish I was there with M eating a pistachio macaron with raspberries and getting shouted at by the local pensioners.

I am actually quite sad about Meilleur Pâtissier. I feel cheated: it could - should! - have been amazing. France is, basically, a thousand times better at cake than us, and they aren't short of fiery, angry, amazing pastry chefs to do shouting, and coaching, and to bring some heart to the programme. Why such an unseemly rush to get it on screen and why didn't they take their time and make something a bit Kings of Pastry? Why is there no time to get to know and develop some kind of affection for the candidates? If feels like they sort of realised they had a turkey while they were still filming and decided to get the whole sorry business over in an unseemly rush. I am going to need an enormous cake to get over my disappointment. Maybe Elodie could oblige with one shaped like a Regency fop on a pony? I would not even mind if she put a gilded butterfly or forty on the pony's fetlocks.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Deck the halls with boughs of lunacy

I wonder if I am obsessing about my online deliveries because I think I can generate an illusion of control over them in a way I can't over various other elements of my life? I mean, if that's the reason, it's stupid because I demonstrably have no control whatsoever over the whereabouts of my rogue Hex Bugs, and "B-Post" - a.k.a. the only European post office that can tell you with a straight face that they have "run out of stamps" - are not amenable to any form of reasonable discussion.

God knows. Maybe I'm procrastinating (yes, I am). Maybe I just really like Christmas. I am certainly experiencing my yearly momentary craving for a cheap, oversweetened mince pie and a carol concert right now. There are no good Belgian carols as far as I can elicit: just creepy St Nicolas placating songs about being as good as a sheep. I want to taste once more the wild anticipation of the foggy York Christmases of my youth, when Prog Rock and I would go down to his Favourite Shop Full of Shite on Gillygate and buy deformed cat mugs and highly polished slices of stone and tiny decorative pen knives for all the family. A highly pragmatic shopper who likes to concentrate efforts in one trip/place, Prog Rock mourns deeply whenever one of his favourite retail destinations shuts, viz. the museum of automata, hideous favourite tat shop, etc and is thrown into uncertainty and well, Waterstones. This is obviously a characteristic shared by males of my acquaintance, since my father always used to go to his office Christmas lunch, then buy all his Christmas presents in a half hour of expansive, highly flammable bonhomie in the Science Museum shop. As a result, my childhood was filled with spaceman food, several of those space pens, the odd Newton's cradle and on one memorably tragic teenage year, the Times Encyclopaedia of World History. I admire the solo destination shopping whilst knowing myself to be constitutionally incapable of ever doing such a thing.

In any event, to further my online shopping travails, today I had a long, slow, ludicrous conversation with a nice man with a West Country accent at the Hawkin's Bazaar call centre. Hawkin's Bazaar, for the uninitiated, is a shop and website where they sell all manner of cheap, tasteless plastic novelties of the kind greatly loved by small boys. If it is filled with goo, or if it farts, or if makes an unbearably annoying noise, you will find it on the dayglo shelves of Hawkin's and there will probably be a three for two on something unspeakable like "toilet putty" or "hilarious prank vomit". Despite this, I have a great affection for Hawkin's, at least since the Tridias catalogue, where me and my sister's stockings were always sourced without fail, died. It rarely lets me down with the garish tat my family craves.

It sounded quite busy when someone finally answered the phone at Hawkin's. I imagine the Hawkin's Bazaar Christmas call centre to be a rather cosy, tinsel strewn place with flock reindeer and tins of Quality Street and people who are quite slow to get started in the mornings and require a good half hour debrief on last night's telly and two tea rounds.

(Incidentally, Roses are much better than Quality Street, due to the Caramel Barrel, so why have they become the Betamax of cheap seasonal chocolate? Why can I not get Roses in this benighted country? My mother's first gay husband - long story - used to live in Glasgow upstairs from a rather elegant, formidable retired academic called Margaret, who was always getting into trouble of one kind or another, falling over or setting fire to things. She lived in a large high ceilinged flat permanently wreathed in in a dense cloud of Sobranie smoke and cat hair and when we went down to visit it was always time for gin, or sherry, and for me there was always a bowl of Roses slightly softening by the sweltering heat of the gas fire. I thought it was the absolute pinnacle of sophistication and always assumed when I was grown up I would have my own bowl of Roses on a doily on the polished walnut sideboard. Actually, I think if you had asked me at any time up to about 25 what I thought adulthood looked like, it would have featured living alone with cats and Roses and Sobranies and a frequently replenished bottle of amontillado. Currently I have a half eaten Kinder Egg and some clementines of very dubious freshness as well as a full portfolio of mammalian responsibilties. I suppose there is still time for the Sobranies and cats and genteel decay and Roses at some point. I certainly hope so. )

Anyway, in my mind's eye, Hawkin's customer service is peopled by jolly Somerset ladies talking about what they're having for lunch and mercilessly teasing the student Christmas temps. I think I am slighly craving a job there, actually. How could anything ever go wrong in the Hawkin's Bazaar customer service department? Apart, obviously, from delivering the wrong stuff.

I told my amiable interlocutor that I had been sent a box containing a pointless selection of crap for consumerist hippies plus a bonus puzzling box of twelve rather upmarket "birthday boy" badges, that look like something you might get as a runner up in a golf tournament. They are in plain navy blue presentation boxes and have an enamel finish. I am utterly unable to think of a single thing to do with them. Ebay? Fly tipping?

"Oh dear" he said with engaging honesty. "This is going to be a pain. God, I've only just got here".

Then he put me on hold while he went to get a cup of tea and I listened to the Light Classics for five minutes and watched the wet snow fall on the skylight and picked at my dessicated lips, idly.

Eventually he came back on line and told me I could keep my box of poi bothering equipment and they would send me a new order, but he had to place it again.

"So. You wanted two splat frogs?"

"Yes"

"Two bog eyed bugglies"

At this point I start to get slightly giggly.

"Yes"

"One Pull 'n' shake goldfish"

"Yes indeed. That is right".

"Two Fools Gold"

"Absolutely"

"One stretchy caterpillar"

"Correct"

"One crazy shaking keyring".

"Erm, yes"

"Classic Range Fake Dog Poo - two of those?"

And so it went on for a very, very long time and it was almost certainly the high point of my day.

If it ever comes, which seems vanishingly unlikely given my current delivery luck, I'm keeping it all for myself, I reckon. No one ever buys me astronaut food any more and I feel certain a pull 'n' shake goldfish would fill that psychic hole.

Oh. Here's an actual question. You know those Japanese paper flowers we (well, I and several others) used to get in a little paper envelope that you floated on a saucer of water and then they opened out MAGICALLY (for a really quite limited value of 'magic')? Has anyone seen them in the last twenty years? Can one still obtain them or were they made from monkey skin and asbestos?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The news (no, there is none)

1. Grooming news

I had the birthday stain removed from my tooth yesterday, so I am basically winning at this year and no longer need to do anything, yes? Admittedly, it has had the usual domino toppling effect and now I have to go back and have something else done and the whole operation will doubtless cost me hundreds of euros I do not have. But. At least I can (i) leave the house and (ii) open my mouth in public. I will take this puny win, thank you.

The dentist is awful though, isn't it. Even when it's not actively, hurtily, awful and frightening, there is not a scrap of dignity to it, lying there having your drool sucked up by a tube as a nice young lady scrapes at your tooth filth with a high tech hook. I felt like a mangy rescue donkey having its giant yellow molars filed. Someone needs to invent an alternative to teeth, and fast.

Other sartorial issues currently pressing:

(i) No waterproof footwear apart from wellington boots. Resorted to patent Marc Jacob flats with glittery stars on for lunatics and primary school children at birthday parties yesterday (not a great look for an adult-shading-into-crone). Bastarding Top Shop have sent my boots by, I can only surmise, flightless pigeon, since it has been three weeks since I ordered them and still there is no sign.
(ii) Facial leprosy improved but ongoing. I had to resort to BURNS CREAM as suggested by someone in the comments.
(iii) No trousers that are decent and of an appropriate size.
(iv) Angry red infected eyelash follicle, which is pretty fucking ironic when you do not HAVE any eyelashes.

Solutions: none. Not getting dressed or leaving the house works most of the time, but it means that when you do go out, the problem is a million times more acute.

2. Cultural News

Further details emerge, slowly, tantalisingly, of F's 20 December opera extravaganza. There will be a scene featuring a dead Verdi (a much coveted role, I am given to understand) ascending a pile of Pompeii victims. F has several minor roles, including "Pompeii ash victim" ("How does one costume a Pompeii victim?" my friend E mused. "'Here, wear this sand cloak. Try not to move'") and my particular favourite, 'anvil'. This is well up there with all our nativity disappointments, isn't it (this, incidentally, is a good compilation of bitter Nativity stories. I have a great deal of long-cherished bitterness about being passed over various times in the school Nativity play and it was a cathartic read)? F doesn't seem to mind. He will be the very best anvil that has ever been. He will be vibrating with great musicality.

He has just filled me in on the very interesting introductory song, which includes a section that goes:

Verdi aimait beaucoup les femmes 
Mais les gens n'appréciaient pas
Que Giuseppina et Teresa
Habitait sous le même toit. 

Verdi loved women
But people did not approve
Of Giuseppina and Teresa
Living under the same roof.

I am febrile with excitement about the whole business.

3. Rage news

Having attempted to get ahead with my Christmas preparation with the assistance of online retailers I am being crushed from all directions for my naivety and hubris. My aforementioned Topshop boots have vanished without trace into the ether somewhere between whatever sweatshop they are made in and Uccle. Topshop customer service is predictably unmoved. Hawkin's Bazaar, normally one of my top three retailers (I am not sure what the others are - Lakeland? Betty's by Post? Yes, probably those), has totally failed to deliver me my splat frogs, bug eyed bugglies and classic joke range fake doog poo. Instead they have sent me a fucking DIABOLO, as if I were running a holiday camp for hippies. I am full of puny, foot stamping frustration. Then, to add insult to injury, I tried to track my Amazon parcel and discovered that my long overdue Hex Bugs (a sort of jolly, low-fi robotic insect) have been in Charleroi for the past five days. Five days! What the fuck are they doing in Charleroi? I've never managed to spend more than three hours there.

"They are breeding in that package, you realise" someone said. "By the time they deliver it there will be THOUSANDS of them writhing away in there"

"They have taken over the airport" someone else suggested, which would indeed be a vast improvement on Ryanair. "A swarm of them has carried Michael O'Leary off to their lair".

Which at least gave me a laugh. What a vision. Hex Bug Air would be an interesting take on aviation, I feel, going round in round in circles really fast without any discernible purpose and occasionally falling over.

I must go now, because I am behind on seventy eight types of thing, including grudgingly dumping a handful of sweets and a tangerine in the children's slippers to celebrate Saint Sinisterklaas and his horrible festival of fear and leaving realistically equine bite marks in the carrots left for his donkey, this at least, I am amply qualified to do (see 1, above).

What are your main sartorial issues currently? And which online retailer do you currently hate with the heat of a thousand suns (other rage triggers are also acceptable)?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Brain parings, various

Shorthand update on recent developments.

1. Snow! Well, more slush now, but still, seasonal and beautiful (briefly, before becoming grey and crap and dog wee stained). View from L's bedroom:


Most pathetic sight on a snowy day: a weepette (or "wimpet" as my neighbour misheard, which also seems appropriate) in a too small dog coat with half its bony arse exposed, being forced to "have fun" in the park. Creature really, really needs a new coat. Amount of time wasted on stupid websites looking at ludicrous whippet clothing: redacted.

2. Younger child increasingly eccentric. Spent half yesterday looking up and painstakingly copying out Chinese characters. Has taken to wearing a woolly hat with pyjamas in manner of a potholing Wee Willie Winkie. Still singing Verdi constantly. Requested a snack of "half a raw onion" for school tomorrow. At his paroxysm of weirdness yesterday, he made me converse IN CHINESE with a plush red blood cell for several minutes even though my Chinese is limited to a poorly pronounced "Hello, how are you, my name is Emma" (so he tells me. For all I know, I might be saying"you have a compelling forehead") and "The Great Wall of China". The plush blood cell did not have much in the way of conversation anyway. I have pressed a DS into his clammy hands this evening but he is still singing "Wassily Kandinsky" to the tune of Gangnam Style, which does not even scan properly.



3. Haven't actually been reading NW, as suggested over in the sidebar, because I started it, but was still slightly reeling from May We Be Forgiven which was so odd I needed some time to digest it. Instead, I finished someone else's cake memoir (research, but quite gripping), inhaled India Knight's Mutton in half a day (very cheery) and started on a pleasant series of archeology themed thrillers. Sigh. The brow, he is resolutely low. Next, either I attack NW again, or possibly move straight to The Yips. Thoughts?

4. FINALLY went to the Dr Guislan psychiatric museum in Ghent, a long promised treat, with Eireann. Sadly the Roca collection of wax venereal diseases and pickled curiosities had moved on, but it was still rather amazing. The building is beautiful and the collection deeply weird.

Signage:


Hysterical women to the right, Jan Locus to the left. 

The door where you stick your sticker:


And Dr Mesmer's glass organ!



Ghent was looking absolutely stunning in the winter sunshine, and the train journey was cosy and delightful, with frost tipped grass in the fields and a low, cold mist through which I could occasionally make out sturdy horses with teddy bear soft thick winter coats standing, watching the train pass with understated equine curiosity (get your anthropomorphism here! Cheap and plentiful!). It made me wonder why I leave the house so rarely, but as Eireann and I discussed, the temptation to stay in and become a hermit is strong. "I could be working!" you justify to yourself, idiotically, even though you plainly aren't in fact working, as you forage a meal of old digestive biscuits and chicory from the back of the cupboards. Well, you think it rather than saying it, because you have probably lost the power of speech because you haven't seen another soul for days. Anyway. It made me determined to go out more. "Out". There is a whole lot of "out" out there. I have lists. There is, for instance, a medical waxwork museum somewhere in Anderlecht that has my name all over it.

5. Wintry joy is: a new series of Minuscule on DVD. I adore Minuscule: it is clever and touching and funny and if you have children of any age and any nationality (there's no dialogue) to buy a present for this Christmas, you could do a lot worse than this. I can't decide which is my favourite, but I especially love the newly introduced team of evil red ants (there is a particularly lovely twist on them in the longer bonus episode, La Nuit des Mandibules, which filled me with happiness). You can watch quite a few episodes here to get a taste.

I must go. My children are shrieking like feral beasts. I can only surmise that they have forgotten that the sinister Père Fouettard is scheduled to visit and throw them in his sack this week. I tried to remind them that judgment day was nigh but they just fought about whether whipping was better than being kicked around in a piece of burlap all the way to Spain. The smaller one is humming Rigoletto whilst whirling a wire coat hanger over his head and the larger one is asking me quiz questions off a pack of cards from the supermarket, including whether couscous is a bird. Wish me luck.