Thursday, 25 April 2013

Important Announcements

1. None of the following announcements is important.

2. The hedgehog is alive! On my third night's vigil (for which you may read 'having stayed up to watch the appalling, traumatic, savage spectacle of bears being bears narrated by Billy Connolly'), I went to put the dog out and there it was, sitting in a saucer eating food, very fast. Welcome back, ferocious small flea-ridden creature who is basically a spiky rat! I have missed you. Sort of.

3. I finally have new glasses and I am very ambivalent about them. Talk among yourselves a while as I attribute far too much significance to my new spectacles. My old pair of glasses - which, as I recently complained, I have had for about 6 years and which were becoming embarrassingly broken and smeared - were on the 'badass' end of the spectacle spectrum. The spectacrum. They may not have been the most obviously flattering, but they said "yes, punk. We are glasses. What the fuck do you want to do about it?" They were Qu'est-ce qu'elle a ma gueule glasses, for the Johnny lovers (= no one, ever).

These new ones, whilst not unattractive in themselves, are at the other end of the spectacrum. They are apologetic glasses. Owlish glasses. Dweeb glasses. Obviously, that set of adjectives describes me infinitely better than "badass". They are my glasses, they really are, but they make me feel a bit.. feeble, which is not really the vibe I need to be giving off more of (hello, incredibly ugly end of sentence construction). Then again, the badass glasses never really made me act like a badass, so I suppose I could always hope for a sort of reverse effect? I guess my real fear is people thinking I am even more pathetic than I actually am which would be really, really unfortunate, because HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE.

No, I am not showing you a picture. I am ashamed.

4. The worst lunches of the past week in reverse order:

In third place: "Four large, dry, slightly reheated pieces of fresh pasta, unsauced and unsalted, with no accompaniment".
In second place: "Half a Snickers from the bottom of the bag my riding boots were in, coated in sand and hay, and some orange juice 'for vitamins'"
In first place: "A fistful of burnt, reheated oven chips that were left in the oven overnight, with a few dessicated baby spinach leaves, vintage unclear". I think the awfulness was enhanced by the simultaneous work disappointment and €10 000 social security bill ("we miscalculated your income"), but the whole thing conspired to make last week - and especially last Friday - very, very very grim. Do NOT eat reheated oven chips for lunch, kids, no good can come of it.

5. I have been shortlisted, very kindly, for these blog awards, as you may be able to see in the sidebar. If you are so minded, you can click on one of those sidebar badges and go and vote for me, in categories 7 and/or 18 and I will be very grateful. There is no pressure. The last time I asked you to go and vote for me in something was just about this time last year in those Belgian awards, and I ended up sitting drinking gin and crying and smoking on a bench and saying how shit I was at everything, so that went well. I would like to think I have matured sufficiently that I will take defeat a little more graciously, but I think we all know that is very unlikely. Anyway, I am not going to go on and on about it. Once is plenty. I will try and locate my long-lost dignity. Maybe it's in the bathroom drawer under those teeth and wigs.

6. An alluring offer from my neighbours:

What, the WHOLE breezeblock? Really? Are you sure?

And a horse emergency on the Avenue du Toison d'Or, right in the middle of town:

I'll admit, I was curious. What kind of equine emergency could there be between Paris XL and the FNAC? Might they need any assistance? I could see myself volunteering to help with Horse Secours. I would not be good at any of the parts involving hot iron, or indeed driving, but I could definitely do 'soothing noises' and 'carrots' and especially 'covert sniffing of delicious equine neck'. CALL ME.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


The theme of the school fête this weekend is "Belgium". The call for Belgian flags has gone up, and the tickets feature, of course, a cone of chips.

So I find myself wondering what, exactly these are, and how they fit in?

Initially I thought 'kangaroo', but is that a tail curving over the giraffe's back? And if so, is it in fact a squirrel? Inquiring minds must know. The shades and headband say kangaroo to me, on balance. Please weigh in with your thoughts.

This is easy. It is a giraffe wearing a veil. She looks a little Bridezilla. I hope you have cleared your outfit with her.

I think this is my favourite. Look at his eyelashes, like something Shu Uemura would come up with, and his long neat row of incisors! I am in love. I hope they put him up for auction after the festivities, when, hopped up on plastic beakers of warm vin de table, cabin fever and relief that it is all over for another year, I will definitely be bidding. I fear not, because I think he incorporates a canteen chair.

A tent, disguised as a giant tortoise. With my child for scale. I fully respect this. I could be reconciled to camping if my tent looked like this.

Our own household's role in this year's festivities throws no light on this papier-mâché menagerie. F is performing highlights from the oeuvre of Jacques Brel, a school ritual as immutable and oft-repeated as 'the Egyptians' or 'the water cycle' but for me, far more welcome. We have spent a considerable amount of time studying the great man's performances on YouTube for choreographical tips (very poor dentistry, but danced like a demon, Brel, a real bête de scène, I never get tired of watching). I am particularly tickled that the  3ème primaires will be performing "Ca sent la bière', because a year that goes by without small children singing drinking songs at school events is a wasted one in my opinion.

L is engaged in loftier things: he is taking on the role of the Duke of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo. Here he is, contemplating the heavy responsibility of leading troops into war, in a highly historically inaccurate outfit. He has made his own sword.

I suppose it's not too bad. The facial expression is right, at least. The man in the hire shop kept proudly displaying the lacy cuffs, as an alluring special feature (at €15 for 3 days hire L should look like Liberace, I reckon) and I kept tucking them back in, even mindful of my duty towards historical truth, hem hem.

He has one line:

"Allons, old fellows, nous allons combattre ces envahisseurs de français" which he is supposed to say with an English accent. This is proving impossible, despite my extensive coaching. He can speak English, and obviously French, but he can't do the one with the accent of the other. I suggested he said the whole thing in English, but apparently that kind of ad-libbing is frowned upon. I am not quite sure what exactly this performance is going to consist of, because apparently it also features the Smurfs, and Godefroid de Bouillon. Total history.

I promise to report back.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Books, cronedom, a drawer full of hair

Now the children are back at school, I have to find other things to talk (complain) about. This is difficult since I am basically the most boring human being in the world, I discover to my distress. Last night I sat in the kitchen in the dark for an hour like the mad old crone I am fast becoming, waiting to see if the hedgehog came out, even though the chances are it is dead (update: I have just done exactly the same again tonight. Still no luck. "It is just a rat, really. It is probably dead" commented a child, briskly).

So. Erm. Let's have a scrape of this barrel.

1. Books.

Ok, this is not too barrel scraping, as I have read some absolutely wonderful stuff recently.

- Life after Life, which I think everyone in the world has read or is about to read or is halfway through. Wonderful, affecting, clever, haunting. Bloody hell, she's good. Of course the 'starting your life over and over' thing is the headline here, but this is also a book with elements of wonderful, waspish comedy and sharp dialogue and characters you become viscerally attached to and proper, painful emotions. Actually, one of the things that really stayed with me was the beautiful, dreamy, longing-filled descriptions of English countryside. It's got an incredibly elegiac, wistful quality. Lovely.

- Lottie Moggach's Kiss Me First as still displayed in the sidebar, although I gobbled it up in about 4 minutes. This has a really smart, well-executed central premise about whether and how you can disappear in the Internet age, with a fascinating, unreliable narrator.

- One of my very, very favourite authors, Charlotte Mendelson, has a new book out this summer and I threw my British reserve to the winds and begged for an advance copy. It was totally worth it. Almost English is glorious, probably my favourite portrait of the graceless, awkward, longing and bathos of adolescence since Jane Gardam, a wonderful tale of squirming sympathetic embarrassment and hilarity. It's also about Englishness and not-Englishness, as the title suggests: Marina, who is sixteen, and lives with her rather broken, genteelly falling-apart mother and three very elderly, secretive-yet-demonstrative Hungarian relatives makes a break for freedom via the dubious means of a traditional English boarding school, but it's far from the haven of sanity she hoped. It's both wickedly funny and very touching and it will have you saying things like "VonDAIRful, darlink" and I want to read it again, now.

- Brussels residents or ex-residents or enthusiasts (yes, I am informed that these exist) may also enjoy this, reviewed over on my Belgian blog, a creepy thriller set in the prosperous expat suburbs of the city.

- I'm now reading Capital (some strands more compelling than others, for me, but a rattling, clever read and the death of one of the characters was very very powerfully, forensically written, I thought), then I'm going to read the new Nicola Barker which I have been saving for, clearly not a rainy day, or I would have read it 6 months ago, but something. A functioning brain perhaps, but that is beyond all reach and hope.

Have you read anything wonderful recently? Or even anything sweatily, brilliantly, nastily gripping? I especially like those.

2. In 'professional' (ahem) news, I have lost one of the jobs I most liked, which is a shame. I haven't really lost it, exactly, I mean, it isn't a result of my incompetence for a change: it has ceased to exist in the present format, but the result for me is the same. I am trying to use this to galvanise me to find more and better jobs, but I am such an abysmal pitcher, it is utterly pitiful. My basic starting position is that I am importuning the recipient of the pitch in such a ghastly and awkward way, that I will die of shame if they read it/reply/acknowledge my hideous faux pas in any way. I am throwback to another age, 12th century Japan, perhaps. I have managed a feeble 3 pitches in the last week, success rate thus far an unsurprising 0%. I will be writing hotel copy until I die. I am, I discover, actually very good at writing hotel copy, however, so there is that, I suppose.

3. I am also the woman who cried owl. The owl chicks are AMAZING at the moment, huge, fluffy balls of ridiculousness, experimentally flapping their ludicrously tiny wings and making heart stopping practice jumps on the edge of their cliff, but tragically, I am shouting into the ether, since I have already bored everyone I know both in real life and on the internet with my sodding owls. 'Come and look... ' I start, then my voice dies in my throat because I can't bear the pitying, not remotely interested looks from my infants.

4. Things that are currently broken:

- my glasses (frames 6 years old, glasses misty with age)

- my eyes (constant infections, can no longer use Bobbi Brown Gel Liner, may as well just wear a paper bag on my head and dress like a tramp and walk the streets muttering to myself, oh hang on, I already do)

- my handbag (so old it now looks like it was dug up from an archeological excavation of a Viking settlement)

- my elbow (arthritic)

- the dog, who is having one of his periodic nervous collapses, for no apparent reason.

I'm putting all this decrepitude and decay down to the harsh new scrutiny of the SUN (all five minutes of it). I am sure things will settle down. I have started taking some new baobab capsules someone sent Facegoop. I'm sure they help with fading eyebrows and a broken handbag and canine temperament issues. Otherwise, there is always the sweet, seasonal embrace of Piriton.

5. This is distressing me:

What 'dialogue des cultures' is that, exactly? That is not a poster with mass appeal, Branly, you will attract only weird hair perverts. Also, I am not sure that your full page ad in 'Science et Vie Junior' is perfectly targeted.

6. Speaking of hair perverts, I opened this drawer in the bathroom whilst searching hopelessly for nail clippers this morning and it made me laugh out loud with its horrifying contents. I mean, really. Voodoo? Contemporary art? One of those horrifying tumours that are made of hair and teeth (a teroma, is it?)?

There is really not a shred of dignity to being me, I think. Not an iota. Why am I stockpiling threadbare wigs anyway? Perhaps a donation to the Quai Branly is in order.

What is broken in your life? What unexpected items lurk in your bathroom drawers? Any other business?

Monday, 15 April 2013

What you learn in a week eavesdropping on CBBC

My elder child continued to be sick for the remainder of the week, getting quietly hooked on Nurofen Junior, looking grey and wan, demanding regular top ups of ear drops and lying in a consumptive fashion in front of the all-nurturing telly, his long limbs drooping over the edges, festering hankies clutched in his grubby fingerclaws. I sat in the kitchen and tried to work. It was not a wholly satisfactory arrangement for either party, but I did overhear a great deal of CBBC (the BBC's channel for 7-12 year olds). It was surprisingly illuminating.

Things I learnt:

1. What actually happened in the charge of the Light Brigade. Also a crash course on the basic tenets of classical philosophy in the style of the Monkees (thanks to the glorious Horrible Histories, the only programme where I would actually sidle in and watch. My favourite, though, was the Apprentice spoof which pitted the Neanderthals against Homo Sapiens. "Well Team Neanderthal did manage one kill" "Shrew!" You can watch it if you are in the UK or have the ability to fool the internet into believing you are, here, around 20 minutes in. It made me laugh and laugh). 

2. There is a malign pleasure to be had in watching Steve Backshall, the preternaturally cheerful bounding labrador of a man who presents the wildlife show "Deadly 60", getting savaged by a wolverine. I am not sure I really believed a wolverine was an actual thing until I saw that, but there it is, small and fierce and angry, like a steroidal weasel, trying to attach itself to the meaty Backshall thigh. It does not look like congenial company, the wolverine. Anyway. I could have watched that scene again and again, possibly I did watch it again and again, I could not comment. His preternatural cheer does not slip for a second, but it's still delightful. Steve Backshall is reported to be something of a sex symbol among bored mothers who spend more time than they might wish in front of children's telly. I find this utterly mystifying. Is a labrador puppy sexy? No. No it is not unless you are depraved in ways I do not even want to imagine. He is as sexy as a glass of milk. Flannelette pyjamas. A hearty stew. Watch as he laughs delightedly as an anaconda wraps him in a death embrace. No, still not doing it for me. 

3. You should not let a twelve year old girl be in charge of administering anaesthesia to a parrot. WHY IS THIS NOT OBVIOUS TO YOU, "JUNIOR VETS"?? I actually can't believe this programme that allows children to SUTURE A PONY exists. I thought it must have been a bizarre waking dream. But no, it is real. Children. Operating on animals. I am sorry about the shouty capitals. It's just jealousy. I would have killed to do this when I was there age. Killed family members. 

4. "Dani's Castle" should have been compassionately but firmly smothered before it was allowed to air. And whoever was in charge of the soundtrack should be placed in a room with STING for all eternity (punishment indeed).

5. Ok, this is the weirdest of all. Nathan from The Four O'Clock Club (a sort of jokey Grange Hill-alikey with breaks for expositional rap) is Zadie Smith's brother. Obviously I should already have known this, but it totally breaks my brain.  

Now the children are finally back at school (after a weekend of a febrile F emotionally reenacting the most dangerous highlights of science camp, which has left me with smoke inhalation injuries after an attempt to set fire to a sugar lump went haywire), and L is on a brutal Nurofen withdrawal programme, I find I am quite missing the madly enthusiastic burble of children's TV presenters. Everything is so bright and primary coloured. Hilarity is everywhere. Things start and stop at a clearly defined time. You can be 14 and get to stick your arm up a cow's arse under expert supervision whilst wearing brightly coloured scrubs. Sigh. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

5 Wednesday thoughts from the charnel house

1. Well, it turns out I am a total bastard, because L was sick about eleven million times last night and only came to get me ONCE. Both my children are in fact heroically stoic, and I am the only histrionic one who requires constant soothing and sympathy. Also, the sickness really needs to stop now, rather than just mutating as it jumps from host to host and back again (I now have the throat/glands/fervent longing for oblivion version) in the manner of shit X files episode with a lot of product placement from Lemsip.

2. There cannot possibly be a legendary Pokemon called "Kieran" because that is a footballer's, and not a Pokemon's name, yet I am fairly sure that is what they just said on CITV. L's sickbed (sicksofa) commentary on CITV has been most entertaining. He is outraged by it, in the manner of Jacob Rees-Mogg. He has just said, incredulously:

"C'est QUOI ça? C'est un truc qui se propulse avec des PETS".

(WHAT is that? It's something that moves along using FARTS)

Then, with a disgusted headshake:

"Maintenant il y a un truc qui s'appèle Stinky Monkey, c'est un monkey qui vomit et qui fait caca tous le temps".

(Now there's something called Stinky Monkey, it's a monkey who vomits and poos all the time).


"Nearly Naked Animals, c'est un dessin animé d'animaux en slip. C'est ridicule"

(Nearly naked animals is a cartoon of animals in pants. It's ridiculous)

I realise as I type that this isn't at all funny unless you can see and hear his lip curling disdain at the vulgarity of it all, so sorry, this is not funny at all. However, you are by now used to that, surely. I have not left the house of plague for days except to go and fetch Picsou magazine and take the dog for a crap, so "not funny" is about as good as it's going to get, I fear. My only other registers are "plaintive" and "burning martyr".

3. We spoke to F on the phone, briefly. His answers were mainly monosyllables, but cheerful ones. I am no wiser as to what he is doing. There was mention of clay (that golem again). He hung up very briskly while I was still bleating at him.

4. I had a rather longer and more meandering conversation with Prog Rock. Topics covered:

- The demise of Whiskers, his sort of timeshare dog, and his strange mystical dreams about Whiskers turning into a dog made of pipecleaners. Poor Whiskers was lovely, but very much on his last legs (literally. Actually it might have been leg, singular) when we were in York at Christmas. It will be sad without him.

- Whether Thatcherism would have happened sans Thatcher. Prog Rock developed a lengthy counter-factual for the 1979 election based on Denis Healey introducing a 6% pay norm.

- The meaning of the lyric in Jacques Brel's Ce Plat Pays that goes "quand les fils de novembre nous reviennent en mai" (best guess: The War)

- Shoes.

- Doom.

It was very satisfying.

5. Coincidentally, in view of the Prog Rock/Whiskers conversation which I did not discuss with him, L has been spending much of his lengthy convalescence making pipe cleaner animals. He deposits them on the table next to me, I have to guess what they are, then he goes away and makes more. I mean, it's less disruptive than setting fires, I suppose.

A bar of Milka TUC for the person who can correctly identify all these creatures (good luck with the yellow and orange one in the middle).

Yes, this is how we are spending our days. We tried to go to the cinema, but L got terribly weak and wobbly and the film was atrocious. We may never go out again.

I sent that picture of the creatures to M who said "for some reason, that reminds me of this picture"

"That's you, sitting in the middle". Like a general in a Cambodian royal funeral cortège. Yes.

Uh oh, he's back with another.

It is time for someone to rescue us now. Possibly the sun. I'm thinking the sun could mount a good rescue operation. Some soft breezes, a little golden warmth, the gradual shy unfurling of some vegetation? I could go with that.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The holidays (again)

The school holidays seem to have lasted most of my natural life already, and there is still a week left. Yesterday we despatched F to an eight-day science camp, in a damp corner of the Ardennes. What am I saying, all of the Ardennes is damp, like driving through a large, mossy sponge. As we neared Spa, the weather shifted in barely perceptible increments from merely grey to damp and grey, to solidly rainy and as we drove into the lane heading to the gîte where science camp is taking place it started properly lashing down. Welcome, campers! We picked our way across a field that looked like it had recently hosted a reenactment of the Battle of the Somme, into a slightly chilly and basic brick building, with a perceptible degree of indoors humidity, though the jolly science animateurs remained resolutely cheerful, setting up a worktable of alarming tools: many hammers, wrenches, a great deal of gaffer tape, various bottles of unspecified potion. I suspect the science project for the week is to raise a golem out of Ardennes mud.

I should say science camp, like Chinese and violin, is something F positively chose and insisted he wanted to do, even though I gave him ample opportunity to back out. I think I have to accept that he'd rather not spend two weeks with me: this is, after all, my future. When we dropped him off he was extremely no fuss and tight lipped about the whole thing and just sort of willed us away, looking appalled and faintly sickened that I dared to do anything more effusive than give him a brisk, manly handshake. He is extremely stoic, possibly to a fault, which one could not say of his older brother.

L spent Friday afternoon/evening wailing and ululating in a frightening fashion like a banshee, suffering from earache (quite understandably, earache is foul, I would doubtless have done the same). We went on a mad emergency doctor and pharmacy dash, to a soundtrack of intensifying wailing, then despatched him home to the sofa with a continental amount and variety of medications: drops, expectorants, sinus tablets, anti-inflammatories, the full panoply of the francophone pharmacy. "You could have suppositoires?" the doctor asked L, quite seriously peer to peer, looking over her varifocals at him to solicit his opinion, but he shook his head very firmly with a hiccuping sob, so we were spared that joy. About four seconds after installing him, Nurofen-ed up, on the sofa, he raised his tear streaked face to look at me and said very perkily that he was "starving" and could possibly manage a few chocolate digestives and maybe one of those vanilla yoghurts and ooh, was that saucisson? Were there crisps? Perhaps a little juice might be good for his throat?

In contrast, F is not given to much expression of his emotions, sensations, desires, or other incontinent human outpourings. Whilst we were at Tetanus Manor, he came briskly into the bedroom at 3am to tell me he had been sick. "I was sick earlier", he explained, "so I just made a bed on the floor and slept there. But now there's too much sick". Nails. Anyway, Science camp looks nice, if you like that kind of thing - being cold and wet  and extremely matter-of-fact in a group - which he clearly does (I don't suppose I need to tell you he does not get this from me). It looked a bit like Woodcraft Folk camp, actually, but with fewer psychopaths and acoustic guitars. I have thought of him anxiously a few times, just because you can't really be a parent without occasionally giving in to the lure of irrational worry, but I am actually perfectly confident he will be just fine, barring a little light trench foot.

This means that I am spending the week with L, the child who vibrates with pleasure at the thought of a hot water bottle and pyjamas at 5pm, who, when you tell him on a Sunday afternoon that you are going back to bed for an hour or so to read your book, says he is going to do the same and is not heard of until he gets hungry, around four hours later, ie now. I can hear him rummaging idly through the cupboards in search of snacks, but he has not felt the need to come and see me, nor has he attempted to make a homemade lava lamp from bicarbonate of soda and cooking oil, devised a DIY wormery, or made cornflour slime, all of which F did within a few short impressive yet trying hours last week. L's plans are more leisurely. He has written a list of what he wants to do this week and it reads: "eat Thai food, eat Japanese food, have an ice cream every day, watch films, perhaps sleep over at one of my friends, teach Peanut (the more sociable of the rats) a trick, learn which way round to write question marks and on Wednesday DO NOTHING AT ALL" (every Wednesday should be like this). There is a tick box by each item and we are committed to ticking each one off.

I don't know why this entire somewhat tedious post is devoted to my children, delightful as they are, nor can I stir my feeble limbs to go and find a picture with which to illustrate it. Apologies. I am a broken reed of stupidity at the moment, my brain as sharp as Ardennes mud, my time divided between (i) adjective wrangling (ii) existential angst (iii) red wine (iv) Netflix (v) financial brooding (vi) stoking my sense of inadequacy via excessive passive consumption of social media (vii) frantically trying to come up with a viable career strategy and (viii) removing cables from the jaws of the Roomba. I have, however, cooled it slightly on the 'compulsive picking of facial wounds', so for this small triumph, I give myself some credit.

What tiny source of pride can you claim this week, if any? 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Hotel Facepasta

Oh, we are full of the joys of spring here in Ukkel. The icy winds whip my balding wig combover across my scaly forehead, the dog shit is frozen hard to the pavements, the children are variously vomiting and oozing profusely, I haven't taken off my thermal vest since November, or seen any of my own naked flesh apart from hands (a mercy).

Conversation with M this morning:

E: It was so cold on my way to buy a sandwich that I actually CRIED. Real tears.

M: Tell me about it.

E: Welcome to the Hotel Facepasta.

M: It's cosy here, let me stay a while.

E: Ha. Such a lovely place. Such a lovely face. Plenty of room at the Hotel Facepasta.

M: You are singing this to the tune of Hotel California, aren't you? I am.

E: Of course. I'm hoping to elaborate a whole set of Hotel Facepasta lyrics instead of doing what I'm actually supposed to be doing. You can check out any time you like.


Hello. I hope you haven't come here seeking anything in the way of description, because I have adjectival overload sickness, after three weeks of copywriting (many more still to come). I am taking a break because something in me has rebelled this afternoon and I cannot make my fingers type "spacious" or "elegant" again.

One of the copywriting jobs I am doing involves, as part of my role, chasing a number of hoteliers again and again until they read what I have written. It reminds me very much of a farcical six months I once spent in the property department of my Vast Law Jail, trying to sell some pubs. There were sixty pubs in total to sell, and they were split between me and another trainee. We were only the next in a very long line of fresh-faced legal idiots to try and sell the pubs, many of which had been passed hand to hand over a matter of years, still awaiting a consent from a head tenant, signature, payment or similar minutely idiotic (adjectives!) piece of bullshit. They were a particular crap set of pubs, mainly in depressed northern towns, in a poor state of repair and with dwindling income, sited near the local dump or the scene of some notorious atrocity or with complex litigious networks of shitty tenancies that were tangled like skeins of wool used in a weasel wool wrestling contest (no, I know that makes no sense), which was presumably why they had been assigned to a pair of idiots like Philip, the other trainee, and I.

Every day, we would settle down for a day of self-consciously dictating - we were FORCED to dictate, which we were informed was 'more efficient' - tediously repetitive (adjectives!) letters requesting permissions, and calling other lawyers in provincial firms to try, timidly, to request that they return the papers they had been holding hostage since 1978. There was one particularly mardy northern female lawyer we both had to call numerous times a week who delighted in being flatly obstructive, or bawling at us for things that had or had not been done by our predecessors, or pieces of paper lost in long-forgotten office moves in the 1960s. It was rapidly clear that she thought we were posh, clueless idiots, and she was most probably right. Philip and I became quite competitive in our shared adversity and when, occasionally, one or the other of us would manage to wrangle some kind of resolution to the troublesome easement or the unpaid service charge and would manage to dispose of a pub, we would run wildly into the other's office to seize the communal spreadsheet and gloat "THE RED LION SCUNTHORPE! GONE!". In contrast, there were particular pubs the mere mention of which was enough to send an unhappy frisson of dread round the whole department (I wish I could remember their names! I thought at the time they would be etched onto my psyche forever. Now I just recall that there was one with "Jolly" in the name that evoked the least jolly thoughts imaginable). Happy, if somewhat Dickensian, days. The dizzying, ecstatic sense of freedom I felt when I finally dictated my handover notes to whichever poor sap replaced me ("The deeds to the Ferret and Gluesniffer in Goole appear to be missing from the deeds envelope following an extensive search, perhaps you should query their whereabouts with Land Registry?") has rarely been bettered.  In conclusion, I am now doing the same kind of thing I did back then, but for about a tenth the money and with more adjectives. No one shouts at me this time round though, they just avoid my calls.

So there we go and here I am, with a shitty cold and terrible, terrible skin, a pint of sunflower oil spilled down my good Isabel Marant jeans (accidentally, rather than as a last-ditch attempt at hydration), pink eyes and a fairly foul temper. A great deal has doubtless happened since I last dragged my dessicated fingerclaws over these keys, including:

-  Easter weekend at my newly retired father's terrifying country retreat, Château Tetanus (dead creature count low, but particularly searing: 2 baby lambs in the barn with big HOLES in their tiny woolly sides, ah, the glory of spring). My father was nominally on Science King Duty until midnight on Sunday, so we kept teasing him with rumours of pandemics and natural disasters. In the event, everything was calm, and I even spent a surreal hour watching 'Cupcake Wars' with him, which is not something I ever expected to say (he was appalled by the whole sordid business, and particularly the pizza cupcakes with battered onion ring toppers, quite rightly).

- Fingers' birthday "boum" (Gangnam Style played a thousand times, marshmallows smeared all over the floor, a treasure hunt where I got distracted and forgot to put the treasure out, and some episodes of inexplicable weeping).

- My sister the Space Cadette acquiring a kitten called Vagina in Arabic and losing it in a cupboard.

- a lot of reading of books, many of them fantastic, which I hope to get around to writing about at some point, but you know, there are "sensuous textiles" and "stunning sea views" to bore on about. View here is mainly of of ice-scorched bare earth and seven vast pigeons squabbling over the last crumbs of my extra-large fat ball, but imagination is a wonderful thing.

- The mystifying Uccle car safety campaign which appears to involve putting a piece of paper on car windscreens that says "OI! YOUR CAR IS UNLOCKED! SOMEONE MIGHT STEAL IT!":

Which I can't see any problem with, no, absolutely not.

I will try not to be gone for another three weeks. Here, have some lambs that aren't dead: