Wednesday, 9 January 2013


Oh, god. I promised my friend Irretrievably Broken (ha, that sounds ridiculous) not to update my blog until she did, but I am going to break my promise (well, I did ask her first) because someone did sad pleading and also because one of my deadlines in this WEEK OF HORRIBLE JANUARY TORMENT has gone away. As a result, I now feel like I am luxuriating in a warm eucalyptus scented bath of free-ish time, when I had expected to be running around Brussels crying, trying to find graffiti that no longer exists whilst also writing about leftovers and children and visiting possibly the smallest and least Internet friendly Belgian town I have ever had the misfortune to be hired to write a guide to. Perspective is wonderful. I still have to visit the town and write the leftovers, but you know, I no longer feel the need to hitchhike to a remote cave in Turkey and grow a beard and burn my passport and eat moss and thrushes I kill with my bare hands for all eternity. Though actually, I wrote that paragraph yesterday and the urge is already returning.

So Happy New Year! How are you? We are very well, by which I mean, we have mainly vanquished the Persistent Christmas Pestilence and have not yet succumbed to the January Gastro which is reportedly sweeping the Gulag, ô bonheur. I am not sure what has happened since we last met on these pages, nothing of any great note, in any event, but I shall attempt to ferret around in my hazy, Toblerone and gin silted memory for a few highlights.

First there was Craftacular, where I accidentally got into a disagreement with Rob Ryan about the Messiah (and made up over a packet of arses) and where M taught - or rather attempted to teach - me how to do Hermès approved gift wrapping.

I love how elegant and demure M looks here in her beautiful vintage dress and pearls. I was letting the side down in a Cos sack, as usual. However, more of the time it was like this:

Note the scene of scrabbly chaos, I kept dropping stuff and being caught by customers with half a spinach pie trailing out of the corner of my mouth like something on a David Attenborough programme.

We did not sell very much, but Rob Ryan (who is like a lovely, jolly, hobo Santa) was giving away beautiful Christmas decorations from his magical grotto for free (I got a large smiling star, M a Christmas tree),  and we had a good laugh at the enormous numbers of ironic East London Christmas jumpers, and lots of lovely people came to talk to us, and one of them even brought us snacks, and I met Grace, so it was all worthwhile. Afterwards M discovered mulled mead which was possibly not a good thing, because  it turned her into an angry Hackney Viking warrior.

There was F's Gulag Traviata, which definitely deserves its own post. I have video. I cried a little. The headmaster gave a speech about courtesans.

There was me being a colossal dickhead and getting my wallet stolen on the tram, with attendant ugly street crying and chaos. This made for an unexpectedly cheap run up to Christmas as I was thrown on the mercy of my nearest and dearest for cash. I do not recommend this approach to seasonal economising, however, and I still have to run the gauntlet of the incredibly painful visit to the police to declare my ID card, driving licence and social security cards stolen, before I start the equally prolonged and painful process of attempting to replace them. Oh, the tedium. Also, the uneasy sense of having done something wrong that settles upon me whenever I enter the police station. What with my recurring dream about having buried a body in a basement I can no longer access but which someone else is about to enter, it's all too unnerving. I CONFESS, OFFICER. THE BODY IS BURIED IN MY SUBCONSCIOUS.

There was Christmas, spent in a windowless hut in Normandy decorated with extensive and mysterious signage on how to deal with blood clots and strokes. I will draw a heavy, tear-stained veil over Christmas, haunted as it was by the Jellied Quails That Kept Reappearing and with its high point featuring a half-hour afternoon nap in L's shark sleeping bag in a Kyriad hotel room, but I did get some excellent presents.

Presents of excellence in no particular order:

1. Ridiculous Lakeland teabag squashing claw that fills me with delight.

2. Aromatherapy Associates mini bath oils.

3. Chanel nail polish in Lotus Rouge, in your face dead mouse beige.

4. 2 bars of Dime chocolate from my eldest son. This is the first time he has expressed an interest in the giving side of Christmas, so it was quite touching, and even the fact that he made me pay for my own present did not entirely spoil the effect.

5. Posy Simmonds Mrs Weber's Diary Omnibus.

6. Much-coveted Barbour jacket which proved extremely resistant to discovery, but was finally tracked down in Robert Smart's Old Buffers' Outfitters in York, home of all the tweed and shooting requisites the landed gentry could possible require. I am now joining their ranks with my many pockets for cartridges and hip flasks and dead game birds. Say goodbye to dog walking shame, though say hello again to January dog walking misery, because even a smart new jacket can't make that fun. Not even the dog enjoys it.

There was also a long overdue trip to my ancestral lands. Yorkshire was excellent and delightful on very many levels, even though I was sick the whole time. We went to the magnificently nonsensical York panto (of which more here), had breakfast in Betty's and fish and chips in Petergate and "Yorkshire Pizza" from Thomas the Bakers, and sat around in bovine teenage fashion whilst  Prog Rock lavished many of his greatest hit meals upon our unworthy forms. We drank this, with some trepidation:

We also trailed around the designer outlet feeling uneasy about the human condition, got lost on the Clifton Moor industrial estate with a brooding ten year old sulking histrionically in the back of the Yaris and finally - and I may well expand on this later - went to my father's largely abandoned house in the Yorkshire Dales, scene of the darkest years of my teenage holiday incarceration. Oh god, I loved being in the Dales and that confuses me. The weather was on its very best behaviour (the briefest half hour intervals of horizontal rain lashing up the valley only), I found the total lack of phone reception very restful, the landscapes were even more beautiful than I remembered, and of course I AM OLD NOW and thus more receptive to nature and so on. Even so, my most very favourite bit was sitting in bed looking out at the hills with the electric blanket turned up to "extra steaming cosy like a sauna that smells of mildew", drinking tea out of my favourite giant blue cockerel tea cup and reading a pile of my childhood pony books under my childhood patchwork quilt.

I am not sure what the children were doing while I was reliving the rare rose tinted scenes of my early years, playing DS probably. They were astonishingly patient about my self-indulgent trip down Painful Memory Lane, and actually seemed to enjoy scrambling around the various vertical bogs in the neighbourhood, admiring dead creatures, eating crisps in cold pubs and getting buffeted by the unforgiving Dales wind. My father's excellent collection of stuffed creatures helped, probably, L slept under the watchful glassy eye of a 1908 pike, F with some kind of exotic and slightly mangy duck in a box I remember with great affection from our own period of cohabitation. We spent New Year there doing absolutely fuck all and went to bed at ten (woken only briefly at midnight by a 7 second firework "display") and it was bloody lovely.

Also enjoyable: sorting out Prog Rock's bowl of crap.

We managed to coax him into parting with about 700 pieces of carefully preserved unidentifiable random plastic. The rest we organised into small piles: treasury tags, single earrings, elastic bands, keys to unknown doors that cannot be thrown out just in case, kirby grips, buttons, safety pins, obscure bicycle fixing ephemera, radiator bleeding keys, right-on badges for York causes...

Then when we finished, Prog Rock cheerfully gathered up the whole lot in his cupped hands and dumped it all back in the bowl. Never let it be said that we don't know how to have seasonal fun in our family.

I think that will do for now. Still to come: horses/fear, the enforced confronting thereof. Anvils. The return of Nouvelle Star and my undimmed crush on André Manoukian. Possibly the tedious Brussels saga of refuse collection. Almost certainly the sorry tale of my trip to Binche.

What was your best Christmas present? What family ritual did you particularly relish over the holiday season? Amuse me, please, there will be no internet in my Turkish cave.


Helen said...

Yay! You're back!

I also received Mrs. Weber's Omnibus, and spent several days trying to get it back off my dad. Did you go to the Posy Simmonds retrospective at the Comic Strip Museum? I loved the way they showed pages of rough ideas, then the first draft, then sometimes alternatives, alongside the finished product.

My best present was the sheer number of huge coffee table food porn cookery books. Friends and I are talking about starting a supper club a little like 'Pip Cooks the Books', where we have to cook from one of our beautiful books rather than just reading them in bed, which I rather enjoy.

Sorry not to have made it to Craftacular - I was very ill before Christmas, which buggered up my PhD work. This did not stop me having a very lazy and wonderful Christmas! We had our usual quiet family one at home. Heated debate occurred at my birthday meal as to the 'correct' way of doing things - couples who are spending Christmas with their in-laws were getting most distressed about when one should open presents, the right ingredients for stuffing, what to do post-lunch, etc. etc. etc. When I asked the Dutchman about his family Christmas traditions, he shrugged and claimed not to have any.

Very much looking forward to hearing about the Gulag Traviata.

Good luck with the January Torment. Hoping we can meet up soon!

Mara Gaulzetti said...

I missed your brilliant and witty writings as well!
I spent the holiday flying five hours across the US to visit my mum (who is quite ill and undergoing chemotherapy), hacking up a lung due to bronchitis which has now developed into walking pneumonia. All this while being vastly, enormously pregnant. My husband stayed behind and skied. Bastard.
Wonderful times.
Now I am home doing fuck all apart from coughing and drinking tea.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm glad you're back. I can't think about Christmas right now, it's just too enervating to summon all that up (special Christmas treats for the veganesque offspring, etc.).

But another vote for Gulag Traviata!

Unknown said...

I shan't bore with my well intentioned but poorly considered gift list, if only as I'm so desperate to understand Yorkshire Pizza....

Waffle said...

Ha. It's a sort of puff pastry square with a smear of tomato paste and some nuclear orange cheese. It is also mystifyingly delicious.

Lisa-Marie said...

I love this post. And I'm glad you are back. I have missed your chat!

Will the tourist guide be sold IN the village of no internet or tourism? Because if not, you could just make it up!

It sounds like Christmas was every nice family Christmas ever - people eating too much and doing nonsensical things and going on walk they wouldn't usually. Also, Dime bars are excellent presents! That is a child ho knows you well.

I got mostly cooking/baking things for Christmas - a slow cooker, a whistling kettle (which I asked for) a risotto pan with a special rice spoon, and a mixing bowl with a spout for making pancakes. Also, posh gin, and a lot of chocolate.

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Patience_Crabstick said...

I am so glad that you are back!
Currently in Lisbon with sulky children. We are having "fun" interspersed with much bickering.

The Reluctant Launderer said...

I am SO GLAD that other people were nagging you to post, because I was also doing so in my head. (I may even have tweeted you, i can't remember; I know I thought about it, but these days I'm a bit like Father Dougal: the boundaries between thoughts and reality are hazy). I too am sorry I didn't make it to Craftacular; I swear I meant to - I had even discussed it with my husband weeks before hand, but then there was the sick baby etc, and enjoyable afternoon jaunts were postponed for another few years (what had I been thinking??) Sorry. Christmas was crap, but I got socks and books and chocolate, so it could have been worse. Next year I'm hoping to get a book about memoirs and cake, which must PLEASE include all all tales you referred to - but omitted - here.

Anonymous said...

My youngest bought me my third copy of the complete works of Shakespeare, for 1 euro in the Swedish church. It is actually better than the others I have, because it's easier to browse. And Hamlet has a happy end. No, that last bit was a joke would you believe it.

Being from Yorkshire, how do you feel about the Calendar girls?


Nimble said...

Wish I could see the Yorkshire panto some time although sure I would miss many jokes.

Christmas in Texas was pleasant except when my MIL took a bath at 2:45a and her senile dog with the long toenails paced up and down the hard floor hallway looking for her. On Christmas Eve.

Leona said...

Waffle, your writing makes me so happy. It's how I'd like to write, if my brain matter hadn't all solidified and congealed like scrambled egg (fault of children.) Please never stop. From Leona, and PS WHAT is that hairy, oddly plaintive, repulsively elongated face thing?! That's fucking terrifying.

Leona said...

* From your Binche post, of course I meant. I didn't mean M has an elongated face. Her face is lovely and completely in proportion, and not hairy.

M said...

Oddly plaintive, however, is spot on.

Xtreme English said...

Yorkshire Pizza sounds a lot like 7Eleven pizza, which is made from imitation this 'n that but also mystifyingly delicious. Maybe it's the price?? $1 a slice, $5 for a whole pizza!!

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