Saturday, 26 October 2013

Out of Office

We are off on our holidays. The dog has gone to the Ardennes for the week with a lovely whippet owning neighbour (they share the same "sensitive digestion" kibble, it was meant to be), I do hope he behaves. I do hope his stomach behaves. The rats are getting an occasional drop in visit from another neighbour. I hope the anti-social grey one doesn't die.

It is a proper package holiday to a hot place, which is obviously frightening for an anxious Celt who hates aeroplanes and gets heat rash in anything over 23°C. And is physically repulsed by sand.  I have attempted to prepare by removing the 8 month old nail varnish remnants from my big toes (I wish that was a joke) and putting on a new layer of "Dragon". I have applied fake tan of a dubious vintage and efficacy late at night assisted by a hysterical nine year old: I can't wait to see how that looks in the morning. I have tried, really tried until I couldn't see straight, to get all my work done and got most of it out of the way and my last act before putting on my out of office has been to harry the people who are still holding my money hostage after the Belgian postal service's non-boot delivery (god, this tedious business has taken months off my life but I will not let it go). My second last act was to upload a stock photo with the immortal title "disgusting looking woman with a glass of Pilsner" (I assume it was supposed to be 'disgusted', she looks perfectly pleasant). My priorities are totally right. I feel I am ready for this break.

I am not taking a computer and I'm turning off my phone (though I am bringing a paper notebook and will try and write stuff down for my return). I'm going to eat Groaning International Buffet for all my meals and read The Goldfinch and fret about getting freckles whilst getting burnt shoulders for a week. On current reckoning the children will mainly practise that stupid Cup Song and be sarcastic at each other and bitch about the absence of origami tutorials. It's going to be great. I will see you in a week.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Battle ferret

DOWN:

Aaargh, so tired. Still 3.5 pieces (ok, admittedly 2.5 are small, but those ones are in French and one of them doesn't even exist as an idea in my brain yet, because OH YES, I have no brain left) to write by Sunday.

Drove (most reluctantly) L to his guitar lesson only to find out the guitar teacher had cancelled it without telling us.

Roads exceptionally full of lunatics.

Having some issues with these notes of mine for a hotel review:



"Botanical"? Possibly "Barry Spence", whoever he is. An interesting "€180m2", however that works. "Sublet chocolate covered"?

The horrifying rustle of YouTube origami tutorials continues. I have been 'gifted' a crane the size of a small dog. I dream of bonfires.


Make this madness stop.


UP:

Got a go of a new horse today, the perplexingly named "HERMESS" (I don't know if the capitals are significant). He is excellent, a Rolls Royce of equines, who makes you feel like you're actually really good at this horse business.




Both children have brought home wholly satisfactory bulletins (half-termly gulag reports), so I do not have to send them down a mine yet, nor indeed pay more attention to their homework, which is a mercy.

M introduced me to an eight-legged Norse Horse, Sleipnir (though why you'd call an eight-legged equine battle badass "Slipper" escapes me) and a boar, or "battle swine" called Hildisvini.

E: They were good at names, the Norses.

M: They were awesome in every way. None of this salvation bullshit, just DESTRUCTION.

E: Perhaps we could bring it back? The world is ready for more smiting, I feel.

M: Yes, let's. Bring back Thor.

E: Thor is very now, I feel. Got a problem? Smash it with a hammer. Still got a problem? SMITE IT WITH THUNDER.


A PHOTOGRAPH: 




I saw this chap advertising a crêperie on the Rue de Flandre, prompting me to think there should be more caped ferrets on signage. Also, I bet the Norses would have a good name for him.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Fragrant intestine

DOWN: 

I did four interviews today and sounded like an idiot throughout, though all the people were lovely and interesting and I have become quite obsessed with what I am researching.

Got caught in a huge rainstorm without a coat.

Another unwelcome outbreak of Child-Imposed-Origami in this household, which is strewn with papery carnage and filled with the sound of YouTube video lamentation.

Still abysmally busy.


UP: 

No Bake Off spoilers! Watched tonight and very cheerful about whole thing.

With a very pleasant flan pâtissier.

Visited a lovely new café for work.

Experienced a brief wave of euphoria and longer lasting affectionate feelings towards Brussels today (interviews, café, purchase of flan, much wandering round the streets) which means that tomorrow the city will probably crap on me, but it was great.

Today is Chinese day, and F learnt that 'sausage' in Chinese is, as he told me, "intestin parfumé" (xiang chang). I don't know quite why I found that so funny (idiocy?), but I did. I quite like bacon too, which is péi gen, pronounced, well, 'bacon'.


A PHOTOGRAPH: 




This is Chirac, who lives at the cobbler's. They are both famous. Chirac is more talkative than the cobbler.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Eine kleine knackered

DOWN:

So, so busy (not a down in itself, I grant you, far from it), because half term next week, and last minute wild cards thrown in by the children, viz "I need 40 cupcakes for tomorrow morning" or "I need to transcribe the first ten bars of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik though I don't really know how to write music (but I will fight you tearfully to the death if you suggest gently I may conceivably have got any part of it wrong)", or "we both need to bring a pump action soap dispenser to school tomorrow as a matter of urgency" (I kid you not) or maybe just an extended bout of sibling taunting, or the poking of the dog with a crochet hook, or perhaps an escaped rat. Also a wildcard: butter so wildly, unexpectedly salty that the aforementioned 40 cup cakes taste like a bad Heston Blumenthal experiment. No, I did not start again. We just put more sweets on the top.

Buying a swimming costume is just awful. Sure, major department store lingerie department, you only have 5 swimsuits because it's not the summer and WHO would want to swim in any month other than August, but must all five be so bloody awful, and in such arbitrary and unhelpful sizes? "WHO" I ranted to M "Is a bloody thirty four top, bottom and all over? NO ONE". I bought one, which makes me look like a Ukranian grandmother. It made me angry. The ghastly cubicle strip lighting playing over my porridgey thighs made me angrier still.

No one in Belgium answers their emails, which is difficult for a pitiful phone phobic. Worse still, are the ones who answer their email ONCE, then disregard any further attempt to progress discussion/arrangements. I am exhausted from willing people to answer their damn emails, an exercise in magical thinking that has thus far resulted in absolutely no success whatsoever.

In an act of saintly and superhuman self-sacrifice I have saved watching the Great British Bake Off final until we are all home, which means 24 hours of social media purdah (no bad thing in itself), and the sure and certain knowledge that SOMEHOW, I will end up spoilered despite these precautions.

My skin is having its twice yearly breakdown. Dear skin, I am sorry about the central heating and the rain and so on, now STOP BEING A DICK. One of my eyes has gone manky and bloodshot and weeping too, so I look like a crap Halloween costume.

My working life seems to break down currently into 70% requesting pictures from recalcitrant Belgian businesses, 10% guilt and inadequacy from multiple origins and 10% totally forgetting about the big picture (assuming there was one once).

The Belgian postal service have stolen the expensive Sisley eye cream sent to me for testing, and I am furious (I have still not been reimbursed for The Lost Boots of Tragedy). Where is the Belgian 'Watchdog' or 'You and Yours', hmmm? Dead of overwork, probably.

Went into town to test a café today (some distance away), reached distant cafe, reached into handbag for purse, purse not there. Cue a sweaty and terrified forty minute trip straight back in the other direction praying I had just forgotten it. I had just forgotten it, thankfully. Is that an up? Maybe, despite the wasted hour and a half and loss of several months off my life in cortisol poisoning.


UP:

Weekend without work (are this, and the first 'down' point related? Almost certainly), with long walk in the near-Brussels Belgian countryside, which was looking very pretty.

Here is a child collecting chestnuts:



And here is another child sulking with a whippet:



Seconds after I took this picture Oscar leant casually forward and ate half of L's dinner in an impressively fluid and speedy movement. It was like he had been working up to that moment his whole life. I couldn't even get angry, it was so comical.

Nice drink at La Mort Subite with Ms McD last night, where I was repeatedly scorned by the old whiskery waiter for ordering a Kir, after some arbitrary unwritten cut off point in the evening when Kir is no longer an acceptable beverage. And a lovely walk back in the balmy (it is weirdly mild at the moment) night, through the Galeries de la Reine where the chocolate shops were still open at eleven, and the Grand Place, looking beautiful and full of slow moving tourists, then onto the gaping maw of hell that is Bourse metro, where a man was explaining cheerily to his not-at-all-interested neighbour that he had "episodes of pyschotropic distortion" because of all the weed he smokes. That bit was not really an 'up' but getting home unscathed from a trip on the late night number 4 tram is.

A lunch entirely composed of tea and cake today.

A commission that I actually really want to do, though I have already reached the point of knowing too much about it, which usually makes for really boring reading, but enough relentless negativity. It's a good gig.

A PHOTOGRAPH:



It's Halloween at the hairdressers and this owl is totally ok with that.

Your day?

Friday, 18 October 2013

Er is een meeuw in mijn stapelbed

A return to the usual daily muttering.

DOWN: 

1. I couldn't go to my riding lesson this week due to a meeting in a featureless Stalinist tower block in the lashing rain, which made me sad. I miss decrepit Noblesse and sturdy Gecko with his slightly punk mane and reluctance to do anything (I don't miss that other horse Nekao that walked sideways like an angry crab when you got your aids fractionally wrong so much, but nevertheless).

2. Chaos has gained the house. There are drifts of bank statements and caches of socks and casting an eye around the room where I am hunched in semi-darkness, also a lot of printer detritus and several apple cores. This is linked to the fact that I can't get out of bed in the mornings. I lie in a patch of drool until the very last minute and then drag myself up whilst discarding things around me as I listlessly trail my slug-like body from the kettle to the chair. Tidying seems inconceivably energetic. I'm going to have to invite someone round to galvanise myself into action. That, or set fire to the chimney again (I did NOT set fire to the chimney, neighbours). Or take some vitamins/minerals/baobab powder/virgin's blood.

3. A worrying tourist attraction opens in Brussels:

E: This. What on earth is it? Basically a lift in a metal tower? A lift in a box? WHY.

M: Grossness. The stuff of nightmares.

E: Just awful. Also, it'll probably break.

M: Or just trap you.

E: The lift operators, as Belgian public service employees, will of course take an impossibly lengthy 'heure de table', leaving hapless groups of tourists stranded.

M: They will forget about you, huddled in the sky.

E: Like penguins.

M: Against the Norse winds.

E: This is a terrifying vision. I must not enter the tower.

M: NEVER. Have you learnt nothing from Game of Thrones? NEVER ENTER THE TOWER.

4. All my joints ache due to advancing decrepitude and bad posture. What do you take for aching joints? Fish oil? My knee doctor once made me take liquid collagen shots, but if memory serves, they were rather dear.

5. I miss cake judging. I would happily eat any of those 24 cakes now. Any of them. Even the ones I placed last. Even the cream cheese frosting.

6. Some expensive eye cream sent for Facegoop shows every sign of being lost in the post GODAMMIT.


UP:

1. This could be up or down, actually, but I am delving in the worrying world of French pre-adolescent sex education literature, which is full of appalled, sniggery entertainment for a repressed and childish British person, with its blend of philosophising, breezy sextalk and photographic nudity. I like lines like "notre société est ainsi faite qu'on ne parle pas des éjaculations. C'est injuste".  Which sounds like an essay title for the Bac philosophy exam. The effacement of ejaculation in society: discuss. I fear we may return to this topic.

2. My smaller child is coming back from his bracingly spartan week of Dutch at the Seaside (I imagine he now knows lots of words for rain and wind and possibly "help, there is a seagull in my bunkbed") in a couple of hours and it will be especially nice to see him, since older child no longer really speaks, to me or anyone else. This may be related to my attempt to give him these awful sex ed books. He's probably planning to run away. I would be, in his place. The Body Book was bad enough (especially the traumatic death chapter, waaah).

3. I don't think I have to work this weekend (apart from this sodding book outline, but that requires thought more than anything else), so I can surrender to the grey weather delights of piles of books and red wine and a fire and the many, many delicious derivatives of the PIG. Also "Friday Download", a children's programme which I enjoy, whilst barking at it like a retired Colonel, to aggravate my children. "What on earth is wrong with his hair?" "Why is that funny?", etc etc. It's basically a gang of really wholesome teenagers, of the kind you hope your own children will turn into, doing harmlessly entertaining stuff in front of an audience of semi-hysterical eight year olds.

A PICTURE:

I haven't done on seen anything remotely aesthetically pleasing in the last week, shame, shame, I must rectify this weekend. So here is my child, finally back. He looks very small, suddenly, says the food was "épouvantable" and he's told me a lengthy story about moss.


How have you survived the week, and what are your weekend plans?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Unravelling

It’s ten years since my mother died this month (the week after next, I think. I don’t actually know the exact date, though I suppose I could check. It was in that part of the year when autumn gives way to winter, when the dark seems to close in and the first proper shock of cold makes you wish you’d remembered your gloves. All Hallows and All Souls and bonfire night and her birthday, my mum’s birthday, just around the corner, I know that much).

People want to mark it, in some way. My recent rash of houseguests have, in their careful, thoughtful way, wanted to acknowledge the moment and I have been dead set against it. I have been mutinous, blank and uncooperative: I do not want to light a candle or raise a glass. I do not want a quiet reflective chat. The thought of being forced to acknowledge this ugly anniversary has made me prickly and trapped. I have cried: angry, grudging, hairball tears at my desk and I have felt cornered in a way I haven’t felt since her funeral. It has brought up the spectre of unravelling and I don’t want to unravel. I’ve kept everything tightly ravelled for so long and over the last few months it has felt like threads are coming loose, threatening to unwind and trip me up.

First we went to York in the summer, something I always look forward to doing. I like the easy comfort of my stepfather (my mother)’s house, the lazy walks around ‘town’ and the cakes in Betty’s. But this time, for the first time, I felt sad. I was sad to be in my mother’s house, sad at how little and how much of her remains there all at once. Then I felt angry at how unfair it was that she didn’t get to enjoy this bit, this golden time when my children are old enough for some independence, interested in everything but not yet adrift on the unpredictable tides of adolescence. I thought how she would love my prickly, tightly wound, razor sharp youngest with his love of opera and his steely will and how she would have seen past the pre-teen surliness and intuited and loved the kindness and the gentle wit of my eldest. All the things I never quite let myself get sad about back then just crept up and coshed me around the head when I least expected it, complacently ready to eat buns and drink cups of tea in the back yard and potter round the shops.

I haven’t quite shaken it off since then. I’m dragging a new, old sadness around and it's unnerving. I find myself wondering how things might have been, without ever actually thinking they could have been another way. I don’t do, never did, magical thinking: I didn’t think she was still here; didn’t imagine a parallel life in which she had lived. I knew that she was dead, felt the weight of it, when I put down the phone in my office in the early afternoon after my stepfather called. But these tentative projections that come unbidden are sore, tender like unused muscles put to rough work. Would she, I wonder, have even liked me now, aimless and cowardly and frustrated (loved, of course. But liked?).  I wonder if she would have told me that sometimes you get bogged down and lost in middle life, of course you do, but that you emerge, wiser and kinder and with new energy. I feel like I saw that happen to her, and it gives me some comfort, sometimes, when every day looks the same and I feel stymied by my own failings.

I should be ready to be properly, decorously sad by now, after all this time. I’ve cried, I’ve seen counsellors, I’ve watched a tree planted. I should be able to do the dignified thing: light a candle, listen to Schubert lieder or go to Rome and look at where she died. But I’m not, I’m raw and puzzled and angry. It feels a bit embarrassing, not to have got further in ten years, proof of a stunted emotional life. God knows, we've been here before: me saying I don't know how to deal with these anniversaries, these feelings. But I do wonder if perhaps this new sadness is a good thing. Because if you don’t feel, how can you remember? My father asked me recently whether I thought about mum often and I didn’t really know what to say. I did and I didn’t. She had become an abstraction. But to be properly, viciously, uncomfortably sad is to acknowledge what we, I, lost. My warm, funny, intensely alive mother, who loved to dance on tables, steal chips, wear silk scarves and Chanel 19 (but also coloured in the holes in her tights with black marker pen); who fought and laughed and loved and dared. Who knew reams of poetry and music and all the best cafes and all the little brown birds in the garden, and all the ways to make you feel you weren’t hopeless.

So I’m marking the occasion by feeling sad and angry and by getting a bit unravelled. But mostly I’m marking it by feeling, and that’s a start.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Great Brussels Bake Off

So last night, in the absolute high point of my professional career to date, I judged a CAKE COMPETITION, an even more exalted event than the time I had dinner with Kirstie Allsopp off of the telly. It will be downhill all the way from here. This is all I have ever wanted from my life, well, this and an Icelandic horse and a lot of cashmere and some boots that don't get lost in the post. I am available to judge all cake competitions from now until death and possibly thereafter.

The cakes were of a very high standard, truly, and that is not just the obligatory judgey lip-service waffle. Behold their beauty:




Observations:

- People like walnuts a LOT. I mean, I thought I liked walnuts, but there are people who like them far, far more than me.

- Cream cheese frosting is a tricky beast, especially in a hot conference room.

- Chocolate and carrot are by far the most popular flavours of competition cake, though I am not mad for either of them.

- 24 cakes is more cake than even I can handle with equanimity. By around cake 18 you become a glazed, sticky bundle of misfiring synapses and walnut fragments. "IT'S A FOUR. EVERYTHING IS A FOUR", you slur, your face a twitching mess of hundreds and thousands and syrup. There is salted caramel on your handbag and phone and buttercream all over your pen. It is a gravely sweet business, cake judging and it is not for everyone.

- There are some very serious bakers out there and it was a good thing I was judging and not competing, because I would have come last and ended up crying on the pavement in the rain, soaking up my tears in the leaden layers of a soggy Victoria sandwich.

My personal coups de coeur were as follows:

1. The team who had constructed a colour-coded EU legislative timeline out of cake. Respect, EU nerds. There are definitely not enough cakes out there depicting EU committee hearings. Also, it was a lemon and thyme cake, so they called it a "thymeline". Very good.



2. This incredibly charming Halloween cake:


I LOVE THIS CAKE. I love the approximative marshmallow vampire bats and I love the rather shy-looking pink backed spider and I loved, beyond all reason, the accompanying RAT IN A BOX that sat beside it, as a sort of spooky bonus.


Make me fondant rat droppings and win my heart forever. I don't know who made this rat, but they are my hero, henceforth.

L, who accompanied me, was very concerned no one had eaten the rat. He had already basically eaten all the decorations off the top of that cake, plus about twenty gummy Smurfs that garnished the gigantic blue cake up the top, there, and was starting to look slightly green around the gills but he was still totally prepared to go in and give the rat the respect it deserved, because he is his mother's son.

3. The eventual, and very worthy, winner was this magnificent scale model of the Grand-Place. I mean, come on, it's the GRAND PLACE MADE OF CAKE.


Also, when we cut into it, the cake was striped in the colours of the Belgian flag, which was above and beyond the call of patisserie duty. Here is a man very nervously cutting into it, and he does well to be nervous, because national pride is at stake.


As for the actual judging, I was overruled on everything, but it did not matter much, the winners were totally deserving and in any case, as described above, I was fully crazed with sugar and incoherent by that point. I think I started hallucinating that the whiteboard where we were totting up the points was a giant dancing meringue.

Thus ends my brief but glorious reign as a bake off judge. It was amazing. You might imagine it would have put me off sweet things for a while, but by mid-afternoon today my KitKat was most welcome. That's dedication.

Conversations with a stranger

Deplorable lateness, my apologies, I was judging a cake competition, of which more later today or tomorrow.




I promised I would write about the immersive theatre performance/happening thingy, so here goes.

So. I bravely went to this thing on Friday night, and it was called "Conversations with a Stranger".

Just to set out my basic attitude towards unpredictable social exchanges, let me set out the categories of conversation with strangers with which I am comfortable:

(i) Basic commercial transactions in a shop or restaurant in a language I speak.

(ii) Short travel related exchanges of information on public transport.

(iii) Elderly ladies on the street who don't bother to wait for you to answer and talk enough for two.

Categories of conversation with strangers with which I am not comfortable:

(i) People at parties.

(ii) Chuggers.

(iii) Late night perverts at Bourse metro.

(iv) Jehova's Witnesses.

(v) Pretty much everyone else.

I have been known (frequently) to rehearse basic, uncontentious conversations in my head many times over. That is how socially inept I am. Imagine, then, my state of mind at the thought of conversing, through the medium of interactive theatre, with THREE strangers. I said yes because objectively it sounded amazing, but then spent the next few days totally dreading it. 

The event took place at Hôtel Le Berger, which I think is why I was invited (I wrote this about the place, which is amazing, such an odd, dreamy piece of Brussels history), but before you were allowed in, you had to go to the arts centre next door and exchange your ID for a ticket, which was not at all worrying, no.

Next, you went into the hotel reception and were given a key and two envelopes. Or in my case, three envelopes. The first envelope read:

"Go and sit at the "reserved" table behind reception and wait for your first rendez-vous".

When I got there, it looked like this:


I sat there for a while, then plucked up the courage to look in the envelope. "Put the blindfold on" it said "and keep it on until the end of your encounter".



HIGHLY REASSURING.

I did as requested and sat in a busy-ish hotel lobby wearing a leopard patterned sleep mask, which is an interesting way to spend a Friday evening. Eventually a woman came over. She did not speak. She took me by both hands, and led me in total darkness, stumbling through the hotel. Eventually we came to a room and she brought me inside, shut the door and gently sat me down on the bed.

BRITISH EMBARRASSMENT LEVELS: edging into the danger zone.

The sound of running water. And a recording, of someone's voicemail messages. She's called Jeanne and she's vanished. Various people are concerned, or not too concerned about it.

The person then came back towards me. Took my hands. Washed them in warm water.

BRITISH EMBARRASSMENT LEVELS: off the chart, psyche beginning to shut down.

(I later found out she usually washed feet. That would actually have broken me. My feet are .. no. Just no).

There was still no talking.

After that, she pushed me back so I was lying on the bed, and lay down next to me. Then she sang me a song. It was quite a nice song. The whole thing made me feel quite peculiar.

That was the end of encounter one. I was escorted out of the room, then she whispered in my ear that when I was ready, I could take the blindfold off. That was the first time either of us had spoken.

When I did, my favourite bit of the whole experience started, which was the confused roaming around the hotel corridors, peeping in at other people having confusing experiences, and crossing their paths as they searched for their next encounter. Everyone looked discombobulated and lost, except two elderly gentlemen who were going around together and who were plainly having a whale of a time. They were magnificent. The hotel corridors look like this:


Dark and velvety, with unexpected dead ends and curtains and half-open doors. One bed was covered in plates. There were occasional outbursts of laughter or shouting or music. It was fantastically mad.

My second encounter was with a fellow attendee, who was a Dutch girl. Most of the time we sat, waiting for something to happen, but in fact, we eventually realised, the something was each other. I was not very good at this, predictably.

"I like your skirt", I said. Her skirt was made out of a pair of men's suit trousers turned upside down, and it was exceptionally clever. After this, I had pretty much shot my bolt, conversationally, but we managed a little awkward smalltalk.

Encounter 3 in Room 408 was a man in a suit, washing his hands in the weird, mirror tiled open bathroom. He addressed me as "Madame la Ministre' and proceeded to try and gauge my susceptibility to bribery and corruption for his dodgy Congolese development project. This involved building a forest landscape on the bed out of pillows and a terrible word association game. I am a bit shit at anything improvised and I was DREADFUL at all aspects of this, allowing myself to be corrupted into assisting with his land seizure mainly through politeness.  Thank god I will never have any political power. This was my last encounter, and I found I was quite disappointed it was over. I wanted to stay and poke around more.

Afterwards, you had to go back and write a letter to the people you encountered before you could get your ID back. My letters were terribly polite. "Thank you so much for washing my hands, you have a lovely voice", that kind of thing. God, it is a trial to be English sometimes. Finally the nice ladies returned my passport.

In summary, the whole thing was wonderfully loopy, and I wished I had gone to one of the late night sessions after enough booze to weaken my inhibitions and wandered the corridors for longer. It gave you a weird insight into how Le Berger might have been in its heyday, with peculiar meetings and encounters going on behind every door, which was perhaps part of the point? Maybe? Who knows. Who cares. It was excellent, and even I, with my huge social awkwardness and nagging belief I was Getting It All Wrong enjoyed it. If they ever do it again, I would urge you to go. I mean, anything which involves someone whose job title is "théoricien spécialiste de la sérendipité" has to be good news, surely.

Many thanks to Jeanne and the Conversations with a Stranger team for the invite. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Slug

DOWN:

Immensely sluggish, after a mere two glasses of wine last night, to the point where it took me two hours from formulating the thought that I needed to take a Nurofen, to swallowing it, and most of that time I was just staring dully at it on the table in front of me, wondering if I could get it to just jump down my throat and whether there was any way I could slope off to bed for half an hour, but then realising I couldn't even get up the stairs. You can imagine what an excellent day of work it was.

Bad skin (especially the bit I keep picking at).

Having one of my periodic (ie. 'regular periods of each day') fits of professional jealousy.

No French Masterchef this week due to football.

Both boys have stuck their hands together with Superglue in the space of 24 hours.

UP:

My stepfather is here, with a bag full of crisps and Caramels and he has just told me a stupid joke about Proust and Zola in a spa. He and F have been working on an impossibly complicated Meccano set of a motorbike that falls to pieces if you touch it.

I had breakfast with this lady, who is wonderful and for whom I'm doing a bit of work (possibly IN RETURN FOR A JUMPER) and who always cheers me up.

Had a lovely half hour at lunchtime with a bowl of soup and Educating Yorkshire. God, I love Educating Yorkshire, even though all those voices make me homesick.

I went to an amazing immersive theatre/performance art thing tonight, but I really need to do a whole post about that. For now I will say only that (i) I had to wear a leopard print blindfold, (ii) I was lucky I was wearing tights so they didn't wash my feet (IMAGINE, oh god, I feel weak at my/their lucky escape, the horror of my feet).

I have absolutely no photos to offer today, so here's one from Wednesday of L tormenting weepette with a chip, in a nest of shoes and plush dinosaurs. Another fairly typical scene.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Nutritionally deficient

Very late, but I mustn't fail twice in one week, that would be a grave dereliction of (entirely self-imposed and pointless) duty.

DOWN:

I have eaten too much tiramisu (following an appalling lunch of "a palmier and some chips") and my stomach is gurgling like the dog's (the ominously gurgling dog is banished to sleep in the corridor, I am not having a repeat of Wednesday's performance).

I found a long, sticky skein of green chewing gum waiting for me in bed last night. God knows where it came from (oh hang on, I'm going to hazard a wild guess: A CHILD). I was too tired to even think about it so I covered it up with a spare pillow case and went to sleep. This evening I noticed that is has all transferred to my leg, so that's nice.

Sheet:



Leg:



I've just found out our babysitter is now a fully qualified neuropsychologist, which means:

(i) She has more qualifications than me; and

(ii) Soon she will get a job and I'll never be able to leave the house again.

UP:

I went to an opening and drank free champagne and admired the outfits (strong look, elderly blue snakeskin cowboy boots guy) tonight, which is why I'm late and remiss. It was fun. There were macarons and small chocolate squares and lots of people I half recognised from various places and could vaguely nod at.

Riding day. I rode a new horse called Nekao (?) and it was a fucking nightmare, but in a sort of good (hard) way. I was terrible. By tomorrow morning I'll be walking like a 1950s theatrical interpretation of Richard III.

A PHOTO



This afternoon I also had to go and test the new World First Belgian Automatic Chip Dispenser (for the princely sum of £40 for write-up plus photo) in the freezing drizzle. It is eccentrically sited in a supermarket car park in a very rough part of town and you can see, it will win no beauty prizes. I only had ten and twenty cent coins and the whole thing was quite mad and took ages, and the machine's wrangler stood and observed my progress (contorting myself to try and get a vaguely aesthetically pleasing picture, at times on my knees, to the amusement of the passing tough eggs of Molenbeek) silently throughout and I had lots of time to wonder how on earth my life came to this.

Anyway, here are the resplendent ROBOT FRITES:



They were ok, I suppose, but €2,50 is quite dear for not many frites in a supermarket car park in Molenbeek.

You may wonder what Samourai Sauce is, but I can only tell you that I have no idea, as I find the thought of any sauce at all utterly repellent. I was forced to put mayonnaise on here for photographic purposes but I renounce sauce and all of its works.

On this bombshell I must leave you to continue gestating this horrifying tiramisu baby.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Homeland is Secure

Sorry, I missed a day. There were attenuating circumstances (visitors, nits. Possibly now on reflection, visitors with nits, sorry visitors).

DOWN:

I have just agreed to let my children set a fire in the garden just so that they would stop playing the guitar.* I have reached this point.

The dog had one of its periodic gastric explosions in the night so 7-8am was three rolls of kitchen paper, bottle of bleach, skewer for the gaps between the floorboards and all the swear words time.

Both children have nits, obviously.

*L has just acquired a guitar and now my head feels like it might be about to rip itself off my neck and just run away to escape the strumming.

I have to write F four postcards by tomorrow morning to be provided to his teacher and taken on his class Dutch language seaside trip next week. What on earth am I supposed to write? I can hardly say I am missing him or tell him about amusing household incidents since HE IS STILL HERE.

UP:

Do you remember the tiny turtle crochet kit Google translated from Korean ("aha, it looks so perky")? Probably not. Anyway, having been definitively beaten by this 'Age 6+' kit, I have finally found someone skilled, soft-hearted and suggestible enough to pressure into MAKING THE TURTLE.

Turtle kit:


"Armor with hard shell, I am going to defend my homeland". I feel this is a somewhat ambitious claim for a crocheted tortoise.

Turtle "volunteer" trying to decipher the cryptic and fierce instructions:



TURTLE (sort of):



"It looks" said her husband R thoughtfully, his head on one side "like one of those rasta hats".

Which, once seen, cannot be unseen, so we have called him Bob.

As well as Bob and the guitar, and a frog shaped clicking keyring and a tiny wooden rhino with an even tinier wooden rhino inside and a pomegranate and a small stone elephant and a set of sculpting chisels for the boys (they are not believers in travelling light), Les and Rob brought me the most beautiful tea cup and saucer and perfectly formed small plate for cake, as modelled here by Bob:


Even though it is nowhere near my birthday.

There is a coffee eclair somewhere in this house and it is my settled intention to locate and eat it now. I hope Wednesday was kind to you.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Hippo

DOWN:

It was a bit of a shit day, busy and fiddly and crap. I had a lot to do and I did it all day with that slightly buzzy, self-satisfied feeling you (well, I) sometimes get 'look at me, multitasking so efficiently'. Except that by the end of the day I had made several minor fuck ups including getting someone important's name wrong twice and various other misdemeanours, so I have ended up both very tired, deflated and faintly ashamed of myself. Yes, "both" those three things, that is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about.

The children are being really quite unpleasant to each other: on collecting them from school it transpired one had denounced the other to the headmaster for throwing soil (a morally ambivalent act, the denouncing, with which I struggled to deal - snitching on a family member clearly wrong as all mafia dramas tell us, but going to tell a teacher rather than retaliating when someone is behaving like a dick = the parentally approved course of action) and there were tears and recriminations and several sets of unreliable testimony and it's been downhill since then. They are about to both get sent to bed for the second time this evening and it is nowhere near bedtime (actually in the end we played three viciously cathartic truth games of dominoes and everything is more or less ok).

VAT return of death.

My friend F told me at length about her dream in which I had a penis which was distressing for both of us.


UP:

Trip to the scary bat caves on Sunday to meet the baby hippo. Yes, that's BABY HIPPO.



Here it is, being firmly nudged out of the water by its mother. It is not much cop at the swimming yet (it's only about three weeks old): she poked it around with her nose like a barely buoyant sack of potatoes.


Ponderous, synchronised water exit.


Shuffling.



 Synchronised dozing.

Oh god, I loved the hippo. It was amazing. I keep going back and looking at the pictures at trying moments and smiling to myself . Truly wonderful.

Also, here we are, just sitting on a bench with our goat, yeah.



The sacred covenant between man and goat. Or possibly between man's t-shirt and goat's mouth.


The red river hoglets were quite charming too:


Also excellent at dozing:



We also met this sweet black and white lemur who was bullied off his island by a gang of dominant females and lived a quiet life hanging upside down in a bush eating berries.


That look in his eyes when he looks at my handbag: I can't decide if it's haunted by the memory of gynocratic oppression, or just sizing up which bit is most likely to contain snacks.

CAKE OF THE DAY

.. is actually the cake of Sunday, but it was very good, particularly as eaten for breakfast and in bed:


I wish I was back there now, with a baby hippo in my future. Tell me about your weekend, if you are so minded, or about the shitness of your Monday.

Friday, 4 October 2013

My cornflour hell

DOWN:

I have eaten and drunk far too much this week and my stomach looks like a giant failed pancake. I have a new snake oil cellulite cream I am half-heartedly rubbing on my thighs without any belief it will make any difference (I got confused and ended up rubbing athlete's foot cream on yesterday).

F keeps pinching my tights between his thumb and forefinger then letting go and admiring the clouds of dead skin that float up, which in combination with the above makes me feel quite the femme fatale.

The very particular pain of those holes in the toes of your tights when your big toe gets caught in the hole, or in my case tonight BOTH my big toes, cutting off circulation painfully, ow, ow ow.

I am not rich enough to take part in the anthropomorphic guinea pig taxidermy workshop (though one day I might be able to run to a mouse).

An advert for a remedy for "ejaculation précoce" just came on whilst F and I were watching Masterchef and that is not a conversation I am ready to have with him.


UP:

Delicious (work) lunch of crespelle with spinach and walnut pesto. So good.

French Masterchef tonight includes Camargue horses (not to eat) and angry balding meilleur ouvrier de France Frédéric Anton is furiously bollocking everyone, which is just how I like it. 

I'm sure there must be more but I have been lying on the sofa for 20 minutes trying to think of things, and I think that time might be better spent in bed.

A PICTURE

This has been the scene in the garden for about three weeks now, following yet another "experiment".


No one could claim I do not suffer for science.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Two for one

DOWN:

There is no cake left in this house and the Teaser bar I had squirreled away has vanished. I think I am actually too hungry to sleep (I have had a perfectly adequate dinner, yes).

I am really behind on all sorts of stuff.

I feel deflated by the end of Breaking Bad (not because I didn't like it, just because it's gone).

There is a child trying to talk to me as I type and it is not even mine, so I can't just chase it away with a stick.

I have to go to a law meeting where you wear proper clothes tomorrow and I don't think I have any clean ones, or any decent ones, or any that fit. Also: shoes? What shoes does one wear? God knows. I'm guessing none of muddy electric blue New Balance/knackered orange ballet flats/sturdy low cost Decathlon walking boots in colourway "bog"/Top Shop boots with a broken heel and a large stone wedged where the heel used to be. The last time I tried to wear heels, I had to take them off after 20 minutes, because my ankle is still knackered from falling over running for a tram. I might have to wear terrifying hooker Sergio Rossi boots bought some years ago, apparently during a psychotic episode, since they are the only unbroken shoes I have that give any ankle support.


UP:

This is more of a 'did you know' than an up, but it has brought me a considerable amount of amusement: F is preparing a project on the Eurasian Eagle Owl, having held one during the summer holidays (here), and in the process of trying to find out what one is called in French (an 'hibou grand duc', FYI), I found out that its Latin name is "Bubo Bubo". BUBO BUBO! Amazing. BUBO BUBO. "The bringer of avian pestilence" comments M.

Horse of the Day was Cassis, who may also be called Cassie, or Kacey. All three spellings are available on her tack/hooks/stable door. I do not really trust this stable's spelling since I met "HERMESS".

This is HERMESS, swaggering:



Anyway, it was not a high octane kind of lesson, but fun and Cassis/Cassie/Kacey is so beautiful I'm slightly in awe of her and her spindly thoroughbred legs and shiny, shiny coat.



She really did not want me to take her picture.


M tried to get me to pitch an article called Oseriez-vous le cannibalisme? today at the next editorial meeting, and to bring an inflatable dinosaur with me, which was just like old times.

My agent has got back in touch! A mere 2 months later than expected, and maybe something will finally happen now. Then again, maybe it won't. I wouldn't put money on it either way. I still have to produce two pages setting out the narrative thrust of the book, which may be tricky, since it doesn't really have one. I stopped believing in this whole project about three months ago (to the point of deleting the reference to it from my 'about' page, in a petty act of pique), so now I have to shrug off my mantle of gloom and try and believe in it again (it is so cosy, the mantle of gloom, so heavy and enveloping). Hang on, that's not very 'up' is it? It is up, though, because I thought I had written another book that was wholly beyond redemption, which would have been really embarrassing and it doesn't quite seem to be, yet (though it may well yet prove to be so).

I'll just be over here if you need me, turning good news into anxiety and self-doubt, like a reverse Rumpelstiltskin. That, and gnawing at my own hand.

Fail

Argh, I have failed. It was Wednesday (ie. the day the gulag chucks the children out at lunchtime cackling, then bars the door) and then I had to go out in the evening and blah blah blah, whatever. This is basically yesterday's anyway. I might try and do another later, I might not. 

DOWN:

I am currently suffering the unbearable sadness of the shrunken jumper. The one I'm wearing in my 'about' page. The jumper I'd wear every day between September and May if I could. It is unbearable (I have two, it is fine, but it is still unbearable).

It is impossible to work because this is going on next to my desk (with accompanying electronic fairground music):



Roomba bashing repeatedly into your chair and a mild hangover are incompatible.

Also incompatible with a mild hangover: being called on to unblock the lavatory with an untwisted coat hanger at 7:30 in the morning.

The lost boots saga rumbles tediously, bureaucratically, on.

Quite a lot to do today and signally failing to even get started on it.

Lack of household supplies reaching critical levels. No milk may finally galvanise me to go to a shop, I fear.

UP:

I just ate this - a real flan pâtissier and it was excellent:


Belgian bakeries do a thing that they call a flan but it is a sad, pasty, leathery, travesty, with spooky, spongy skin on top. This is the real deal. Also, there is another one left in the fridge which no one ate while I was out last night THE FOOLS.

The sun is still, astonishingly, out.

Went to an actual party last night (well, this) so I feel more like a member of society and less like a jaundiced hermit. It was fun.

I must go and do some work. I will try and return.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Ugh, titles.

DOWN:

Nothing, really. I feel a bit sick and headachy, but it's related to an up, below. However, scraping the barrel I can give you:

No progress on tedious VAT, obviously.

Forced to watch a large part of an episode of Top Gear by eldest child. This is what purgatory looks like, with Jeremy Clarkson in a wetsuit.

Forgot to record the blood, sweat and perch filleting gladiatorial food combat that is French Masterchef whilst in England at the weekend. Dommage. 

UP:

I went to review a restaurant with my friend R this lunchtime and they kindly but firmly made us eat an eight course tasting menu (for free). I confess this was no hardship at all, though I did eat so much, I still feel a bit food-drunk and confused. This lopsided chocolate thingy was especially good ( even though I don't normally like chocolate puddings at all) and is standing in for the cake of the day:



Sun. Beautiful warm, balmy sun.

I am extremely intrigued by this, which seems basically to mean talking to strangers, but with an added layer of Art weirdness-stroke-hilarity. Do I dare go along? Can it possibly be as good as The German In the Box? (no)

I met a hilarious man this morning who showed me his hilarious invention (I don't think I can really say what it is, because I would hate anyone else to steal it*) and it cheered up my morning entirely.

(*most unlikely)

This red panda freaking out over a pumpkin has never been shopping in Uccle (and is also highly reminiscent of a live WeazelBall)

I discovered this man on Twitter a few days ago and he is wonderful and funny (in French).

I went to a GOOD new bakery. More of this tomorrow, when I intend to return, much more hungrily.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

My eldest son has developed this pictorial representation of 'everything you need to know about the Belgian revolution but were afraid to ask' as a history test aid:


All clear now? Marvellous.

William of Orange gets his own separate picture:



Bed now. Please place your ups and downs of the day in the comments, if you are so inclined.