Wednesday, 26 June 2013

I fail Instagram

For impure and unclear reasons I signed up to Instagram last week. I had to do ("do"? I'm fairly sure that's not the correct verb) Pinterest for work reasons so I thought in a flurry of enthusiasm I would try Instagram too. It's where people I admire sweatily, creepily, from a distance hang out and I wanted to be like them and share desirable retro styled pictures of flat white froth and nail art.

Well! It turns out I fucking hate Instagram. Let me be clear: it's plainly a creation of genius with a powerful and distinct appeal. I can totally see the attraction, indeed I feel that attraction but I also hate myself for it. Of course, there's a thrill to giving my horrible pictures that supernatural glow of desirability through digital magic. With a sprinkling of magic pixel dust, any boring scene can be transformed it seems. How crap does a picture have to be to be Instagram proof? Is there actually any picture too shit for Insta-magic? The sulky bastard side of me wanted to try it out.

The shit Ukkel street scene:

.. becomes gloriously retro-stylish.

Dirty breakfast dishes:

.. even caked on Weetabix looks quaintly appealing in the right light.

Some rubbish on the street:

Like the title sequence in a lesser known Wim Wenders movie. How do you do it, Instagram, you spooky bastard? Or is it rather that we are so attuned to finding Instagram images stylish that some part of our brain automatically characterises the image approvingly without actually analysing it? THAT'S STILL GENIUS.

A receipt that has been on the floor for about 5 weeks that no one ever picks up because we are all animals:


Horrifying fast foods and the lurking Frite Cone of Menace in the background:

Like a Dazed and Confused shoot.

Go on, Instagram you smooth fucker, see what you can do with the crap under the fridge that was uncovered when we shifted it slightly earlier this week:

Yeah, that beat you didn't it? Did it? You know, I'm not even sure it did.

Reasons I hate Instagram:

1. I am not very visual - ie. I have all the aesthetic sensibility of a partially sighted weasel on crack - so I will never be good at it and my posts will look awful and languish despised and unliked until I feel embarrassed and inadequate and furious and delete them.

2. More importantly I rarely go anywhere or do anything or get given anything amazing, so my scope for aspirational shots is very limited. Likely subject matter:
- the kitchen table
- the dog looking pained
- Old El Paso fajita dinner kits
- Yeah, that's about it. You can't really get a flat white in Brussels. Well, that's a lie, you can, but the sole purveyor's froth has been relentlessly Instagrammed by the entire Belgian food scene (12 people) about nine thousand times.

3. I am such a late adopter and techno fool, that I feel completely ridiculous, smashing around at the tiny buttons with my blunt dinosaur arms, while Instagram whispers to me, silkily "I am not for people like you" and shows me a glorious picture of someone's limited edition something I haven't heard of

But mainly:

4. I simply don't have the temperament for making my life look attractive and desirable. It's not that I'm unhappy, very far from it. Admitted, I do enjoy a regular spirited whining session with M, but that doesn't undermine my basic contentment. I'm just.. what is it? Suspicious of overt positivity, I suppose. Wary of drawing attention to good things. It's a facet of my "medieval peasant" character: DO NOT TEMPT THE ONE EYED CROW THAT DECIDES OUR FATE WITH A PICTURE OF YOUR NICE NEW SHOES (ed's note: I do not have any nice new shoes, back off, crow). It just feels wrong.

I don't recommend having the world-view of a medieval peasant: there's nothing good to be said for dragging a grey serge burden of superstitious gloom behind you, like Eeyore trudging through the Hundred Acre Wood, because who would want to be associated with that? No one. Also, everyone thinks you're a relentlessly negative, sneery bastard. I'm not really: there are so many things I love, truly love: food and places and well-upholstered equines (I even wrote a list!) and I actually quite like looking at pictures of other people's lovely things most of the time (unless I'm absolutely consumed with jealousy). Nice things are nice. I do believe it. Even so, I just can't admit to any nice things of my own for fear of being smote down. It's a problematic character trait. I don't think I'm alone in being thus afflicted, but I do get the sense that there are fewer and fewer of us and that soon the last handful of miserable survivors will be despatched to live in the distant caves of relentless negativity, where we will eke out a bleak, joyless existence without kittens or cronuts or Liberty Nike Air Max, moaning wordlessly at each other and scratching sad drawings of dead things on the cave wall with burnt sticks. We don't deserve Instagram. I don't deserve Instagram.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Aspirational Belgian Lifestyle Ephemera

I have little to relate but that has rarely stopped me, has it?

1. L continues to read his Charles Dickens biography.

Chapter 10 is entitled "In which we ask ourselves what kind of dad he is", which is topical. I must have read, rather wearily, six or seven think pieces on whether fatherhood is being devalued or misrepresented this weekend. Consider Dickens, opinion writers!

When Charles's fifth child was born he declared "I refuse (on principle) to look at the object in question". 

There has also been some upleasantness involving liaisons with actresses, inevitably. Since the recent Horrible Histories song (amazing, do watch it), Charles Dickens and Morrissey are inextricably linked in my brain, so I am finding this difficult to comprehend.

2. F is still living in a medium sized cardboard box, in which I am instructed to shut him every night before he goes to bed (he does go to bed in an actual bed afterwards, but the box is a necessary intermediate stage). He is also pursuing a solo project I am not wholly clear on involving covering eggs in papier mâché and an unholy mess.

3. Oscar appears to be moonlighting for the Guardian. We spent some time trying to adjust him into that pose and take a picture, but failed. He looked less dynamic and speedy, more puzzled and faintly ashamed, ie. much as usual.

4.  It's exam season in Belgium as in much of the rest of the world. Mercifully the children seem wholly indifferent to the whole business, which I prefer to neurotic. Without any conscious desire for their or my betterment, I seem nevertheless to be absorbing an unfortunate amount of primary school knowledge for which I have no earthly need. The precious few brain cells I have left are now taken up with the following:

- the names and capitals of the Belgian provinces of which I consider there are a quite excessive number.

- the dates of the kings of Belgium and their distinguishing features (Sideburns. Bearded bastard. Tiny 'tache fought in WW1. Very dodgy WW2. Everyone's favourite, gave out free driving licences. Current chap.)

(conceivably useful if there were a Belgian citizenship test and I wanted to take it, neither of these things is true)

- the name and course of various Belgian rivers, no that's a lie, they are far too difficult. I just know their names. Vaguely.

- How to describe a house that is not mine in Dutch. Een verdieping, een benederverdieping, een zolder en een kelder. Or alternatively debate the relative merits and expense of different types of meat "mar rundsvlees, kalvsvlees en lamsvlees zijn wel duur. Dan nemen we varkensvlees!". I do not vouch remotely for the spellings. We have only done the oral exam so far. I can, however, spell "zenuwachtig", which I believe, appropriately enough, may mean 'anxious'.

- a lot of ludicrous details about the sex lives and other private doings of bees that is none of my business. Let bees be bees, Belgium.

- The water cycle in mind-numbing repetitive detail x 2. God. How many times do you have to learn the following in a school career?

(i) The Water Cycle
(ii) The Dinosaurs
(iii) The Egyptians

Is there some kind of universal law that these subjects must be taught twice yearly between the ages of 4 and 16? It would appear so. We are raising a generation who will be absolutely fucking brilliant on an extinct race of giant angry lizards and some long-defunct people who liked cats a lot and walked sideways. The water cycle, I concede, may be of some use, but barring some catastrophic time travel accident in the near future, the others are perhaps less pressing.

I cannot wait for the next week to be over so I can jettison this rubbish. I find myself gently muttering Dutch dialogue to myself ("kijk, dit is een tekening von onze huis") as I walk around the house picking up people's pants. Presumably this stuff is replacing useful stuff like knowing how on earth to proceed with my fucked up career. I am at a loss with this subject currently. I have concluded that I am massively temperamentally unsuited to freelancing (shy, solitary, atrocious at networking, not overburdened with brilliant ideas or confidence, fear of telephone, financially incompetent). But then, I do not know how to get a job any longer. I realise I am basically waiting for a giant mythical eagle to come and carry me away to a magical land of plenty. It is taking a while.

5. Speaking of matters vaguely ornithological, meet my new friend who I encountered in Waterloo this weekend (a frustrating attempt to see some jolly Napoleonic reenactment which ended with us examining this fine specimen in McDonalds car park and me refusing to buy an €8 thumbnail sized jar of Waterloo battlefield soil, the perfect gift for the utter bastard in your life). I was unable to buy him, sadly, but I suspect he might be back. He's something of a minority taste.

On a similar subject this made me laugh and laugh today. The vaporised bunny! That ... bird! Brilliant.

Other tempting items in the Ukkel area, this noble whippet aviator cushion:

And the prospect of a visit from MJTonyJackson, Ukkel's foremost Michael Jackson imitator. Do admit. Shall we perhaps club together and hire him?

That is all, really. Tell me your news, for I am bored and lonely and waiting for a giant legendary bird that I am beginning to suspect may never arrive.

Thursday, 13 June 2013


Hello. Long time and all that. I'm not at all sure where the last ten days went, but I imagine most of it went into aimless faffing, since I see no concrete sign of any achievements to speak of. F has moved into a cardboard box. L is composing a strip cartoon about vengeful pumpkins. I just press refresh a lot and snack. Thank goodness I can still compare myself to Oscar and come out looking dynamic (ish, as long as no one suggests a race). I'm beginning to suspect the whole household has Hand Foot and Mouth disease too, so that's delightful. Public health warning: when you google image that, you get a picture of a scrofulous infected bottom, so don't. God, living with children is like living with medieval peasants, disease wise.

However! I have had a haircut. This is a somewhat nerve-wracking process, in the way that only a haircut where the hair in question costs you a grand and from which there is no going back for 2 years can be, but it has all turned out Just Fine, indeed better than fine. Brilliant John who has been cutting my wigs for fifteen years did a brilliant job, all interspersed with glorious Yorkshire gossip about all the famouses whose hair he cuts. Both he and Sophie who does my brows are from just round the corner from where I grew up, and there is no greater joy in my world than having your head seen to by acerbic, funny, plain-speaking, genius Yorkshire people. I only had the wig done yesterday, but already I have had several of those nice moments when you see your reflection and preen slightly, which is the sign of a good cut: it has given me back a suggestion of cheekbones, and provides a cunning distraction from my incipient jowls (I am totally getting jowls. I am displeased with this, obviously, but it has become an unavoidable truth, the jowls are biding their time, installing themselves gradually but surely until one day I will wake up and be Cyril Connolly. Wikipedia informs me he died on the day I was born! I AM CYRIL CONNOLLY REINCARNATED. I'm fairly sure he wouldn't approve).  On top of my new eyebrows from last month and my new glasses which I have more or less come round to, I am in a real sense something of a new woman now. One who can leave the house in daylight hours without a balaclava. Sometimes.

In hindsight, I don't think I ever much liked the last wig: I was moved to hack it around with kitchen scissors late one night its mullety rear section was annoying me so much and you can imagine what a success that was. Then it started shedding until there was a big bald patch on one side. Then my skin had a total ludicrous collapse at the start of the year leaving me all scrofulous and pimply (medieval peasant, again) and my eyes started reacting to all sorts of make up very badly and I couldn't wear any, just had to go out with my bald, pink lids all exposed and naked mole ratty. My fingerclaws split right up the middle and flaked and broke with the shitty awful winter. All in all, I felt a bit .. unlovely. I did not like my reflection.

I managed to talk myself round to reasoning that I had reached some kind of middle age milestone and was simply past vanity and no longer needed to think or care about that kind of thing (an excellent quality in a beauty blogger, this): I could simply devote myself to higher things (undefined. World domination, perhaps. The life of the mind. Translating Montaigne. Sequencing genomes). I was telling myself how refreshing it was no longer need to try and shore up my crumbling looks against the inexorable advance of decrepitude in a Sisyphean fashion, but of course I did still care, really. You can't really switch it off at will, can you, caring about how you look? Not short of going to live in a cave halfway up a mountain in Greece with a small herd of goats (I'm currently reading My Family and Other Animals, which I view as a sort of aspirational life catalogue, to the boys. Young Gerald has just negotiated the purchase of a small tortoise from a hermit). Short of hermit cave dwelling, I do not want to look like a prematurely aged potato. Who would? But I was a bit stuck: I just had to wait for my skin to clear up and the new wig to arrive and the sun to finally come out and make me a little less tuber-like.

Now it's finally happened. I am not going to attribute magical thinking style qualities to getting a decent new haircut and some non-orange eyebrows, but it certainly doesn't hurt on the confidence and self-esteem front to be able to leave the house without having to dust my face in a thick layer of mineral powder and concealer and construct a complex thatch of hair over the balding side of the wig. I feel lighter (I am lighter. That was a shit ton of product I was wearing). I wore a DRESS yesterday. I can only think of about 4 times I've worn a dress in the last 18 months: I had deviated from the way of the sack frock and taken up sensible trousers. Now the sack is back and I am eyeing up lipsticks in colours other than "apologetic beige" or "normal human lip".

I've found it quite interesting following Nadine Dorries getting loudly angsty about her hair loss in the media in the past week or so, but it's also stirred up a weird nest of emotions. I felt a bit prickly at this suggestion that she felt "ashamed" at losing her hair even though someone else's emotions about what they're experiencing are no damn business of mine. Faintly affronted that she should be presenting what seems to be quite limited hair loss as a cataclysm (again, none of my damn business). Quite uneasy that she'd compare hair loss to a mastectomy. But also, I suppose, a recognition that her distress is very real, and hazy memories of how it actually felt to wake up every morning to a pillow full of hair and having to rush out and find hats and scarves to cover the yawningly giant bald patches. It's an odd thing, alopecia, because it's distressing, but it's not an illness really and you're not afflicted in any very physically significant way. Then confusion at feeling any scrap of kinship with Nadine Dorries whose every political conviction I oppose. I dunno. I AM CONFLICTED.

God, this is really boring, sorry. Here, it looks like this (I can't get the picture to go in here for some reason), and now I can stop trying to work out what I think about baldness for a while and try and earn some money to pay for all this cosmetic frippery.

Anyway. I am still woman, not goatherd, basically, which is good because it turns out I actually have no idea how to herd goats. I will continue to fight the jowls as best I can and try and relish the process (il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux, after all). Tangentially relevant to that, the Facegoop Guardian blog page is now properly live and if you are minded to go and look at it I would be delighted and grateful and approximately 0.000001 pence richer. Yeah, our profile picture looks like an ING advert and the fourth highest search term for Facegoop this evening is "cockstump torture", but IT'S SOMETHING.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The least predictable hobby yet

I had one of those phases of being utterly delighted by my children this weekend, which hubris is usually a precursor to a phase of extravagantly bad behaviour on their part. Also, it's usually a reflection of having achieved absolutely nothing in a given week other than managing to keep them alive and thus being anxious to celebrate that fact. Nevertheless, let me record it for posterity and in order to tempt fate even more comprehensively.

Of all the things I expected my children to get into, I think sewing was fairly low down the list. Probably well after 'arson' (F has dabbled, admittedly) and 'shoplifting'. It's a distinct improvement on the blue gel ant farm-slash-morgue and the kitchen based science experiments involving all the bicarb in the world.

I can't really sew myself, beyond putting buttons back on and occasionally sewing their pockets back onto their coats when they fill them to the brim with crap (F explained that he does this because when they are asked to each pick up five pieces of rubbish in the schoolyard, he can just get five out of his pocket, which is resourceful, if immoral). It is all Blue Peter's fault. They have developed a new passion for Blue Peter and all the multitude of tantalising craft activities demonstrated therein. Last week we mummified oranges. I'm not complaining, exactly, it's all good constructive stuff, though I suspect the 'organ removal' for the orange on the left was not quite as comprehensive as it needed to be. There is seepage.

It's not tidy, but nothing they do is.

We spent all of Saturday afternoon quite peacefully like this, sitting at the kitchen table, sewing, like something out of the nineteenth century but with more potent glue. Mainly I threaded needles and did knots. My assistance in all other areas was swiftly dismissed. It took them about 15 minutes to get better than me anyway.

The devil was wholly designed and executed without any input on my part at all, and resized down to a miniature version from the Blue Peter template, also without any input, except ironing the fold on the horns (melted felt on your iron? Yes indeed).

I'm not entirely sure who this lot are. The one in the middle is a shark. I think the others are a ZZ Top tribute band.

Apart from that, as foreshadowed in the first paragraph, I had a week of utter losership and failed to get anything constructive done. Tally:

- 2 excellent but ruinously expensive cocktails (here)

- 1 excruciatingly awkward professional lunch engagement at which I acquitted myself very poorly indeed

- 1 blissful hour with Noblesse the horse who is happily recovered from her gammy leg (I was slightly worried I might turn up one day and she'd just be gone, sent off to be made into lasagne or something, poor old lady)

- 0.5 pitches (pitch not good enough to merit a whole 1)

- 1 not-entirely-solicited-written-on-offchance-fingers-crossed story written and sent

- 0.00003 hours of sunlight

- 43 hours of fruitless self-loathing

- 5 Horrible Histories series 5 episodes watched (no regrets)

- 2 soakings in thunderstorms

- 24 plays of Step (I have booked to go to a festival JUST so I can go and see Vampire Weekend again this summer. I'm not at all convinced I like any of the other acts. Go on, tell me who else I should see).

- 32 plays of F's violin accompaniment, only for the concert to be cancelled the night before

- 45 compulsive online checks of bank balance (a new neurosis for S/S13!)

- 1 hairdresser's appointment acquired for next Tuesday, thank the baby Nathan. I have tried the new un-cut wig on. It is very dark and luxuriant. I have high hopes that for a short while I will not look like myself at ALL. I fear I will instead look like an Apprentice candidate. Hopefully not Alex with the Vulcan eyebrows.

1 great spotted woodpecker sighted in garden! (This would not have merited an exclamation mark in any previous year, but now I am old enough to really really care about birds and I don't even care)

400 stupid but salutory gchats

8 detailed fantasies about going to live on a deserted Greek island with some goats, followed by 8 memories of this conversation.

Give me a tally of your week in the comments, if you are so inclined.