Sunday, 13 April 2014


Spring in the city, though it's not really the city, not here in lazy Uccle, where everything smells of lilac and honey and the reluctant charcoal of overly-optimistic barbecues. Where there are kids playing with a football outside the ice cream shop, kicking it through dusty piles of fallen cherry blossom and cats lazing in the chicory crates outside the corner shop. Everyone knows everyone: a woman I don't even recognise stops us on the doorstep to ask if it's true we have chickens, and can she have the eggshells. I can differentiate between the unmedicated shouting of the terrifying angry, mad local old lady and the other shouting mad local lady from the top floor; everyone knows where you shop and who does your hair and what you recycle and the hairdresser notices when you've got a new coat. The strange, brilliant man round the corner with the multipurpose bench has rigged up a new invention: in his corner flat above the shop, he's rigged up a weird system of projectors and screens that project a huge image, visible from the street. That's how he watches TV now: standing on the opposite pavement, looking up at the scrolling image.

The sun came early and stayed and we're all a little giddy with it, the foxes have been taste testing the bin bags of an evening, strewing mussel shells and gnawed-clean chicken bones down the street. There's a snowstorm of dandelion clocks blowing across the garden and down the street. bouncing across the grass, floating over the back wall, collecting in the plant pots and silting up the spiders' webs in the ivy. The hens have dug themselves a dust bath and are stretching their wings out and preening. Last night one of them got over-ambitious and escaped from its enclosure: when I got back late at night, we had to search the garden to find it, crouched, confused, under the nest box. The tortoises trundle, purposefully across the garden of an afternoon, following the narrowing band of sun as it slides up the wall and away. The dog stands by the back door in an agony of indecision: asks to go out, sits uneasily for five minutes like Marcel Proust worrying about chills, asks to come in again.

Inside, I am desultorily tabbing between the Betty's website, where I am torturing myself by provoking intense Easter homesickness (Easter fondant fancy cakes, giant hot cross buns, the easter eggs with the sugar flowers mum would get us every year...) and the Brussels falcon cam, which B and I are also discussing.

E: WHERE HAS THE MOTHER GONE? I am calling social services.

B: Time to go fetch one!

E: She wouldn't miss one. And a peregrine falcon would totally keep the menagerie in line. Ideally by eating key troublemakers.

B: I want to see a peregrine v weepette fight, please. Do you think the chickens will step in and defend him?

E: I'm thinking... no. Maybe peck over his corpse?

B: Good enough. Please arrange.

The mother returns, dismembers something furry for the babies, then sits on them. 

E: As a parent, I find that "enough now, I am going to sit on you" wiggle she does immensely charming. If only you could do that to human infants.

B: This is a Daily Mail story waiting to happen. I'm currently imagining that as she pokes at their heads she's saying "Get back under there. Shut up. Mommy needs a drink."



That evening as we let the dog out to pee, it darts over to a dark corner by the window and growls. After nearly 2 years, look who came back:

Where has she been all this time, hedgie Lazarus? She's well past her allotted hedgehog lifespan and we don't think it can be another one, because the walls go down a good half metre underground. I can't quite believe I saw her; was it a spring hallucination?


MrsKettle said...

Hi - just passing through to say that I love your blog - and as a freelancer/chicken-owner/one-time resident of France, it strikes lots of chords. (Don't wear make-up though, soz. But will still click through to Guardian.)

Ellie said...

I am very jealous of your hedgehog. Supposedly I am in armadillo country, and my husband once startled one rooting around in the yard at his old house, but I myself have never been lucky enough to have even an armadillo pay a visit; we have the regular 10:45 Possum To Yuma (you can set your watch by him) and two horrible squirrels and that is all.

Thank you for a lovely evocation of spring in Uccle!

Xtreme English said...

uccle sounds a lovely place, even with the noisy neighbor

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully evocative writing, as always. If I ever go to Brussels, I will definitely go for a walk in Uccle, it sounds wonderful!

In today's chapter of the neverending saga of the delinquent accountant, the first tax fine letters have started to arrive (for not having submitted forms properly). I have placed them under a big pile of sundry papers and am trying to carry on with my work but they are making nervous and I'm finding it hard to concentrate. This is not helpful in meeting my deadlines. To make matters worse, although the b*astard signed a letter promising to pay any fines or interest that might be charged by taxmen due to his negligence in submitting my forms, I received a registered letter from him in the post today in which he categorically states that he will not pay any fines or interest that arrive after the date on which I terminated the contract with him (i.e he won't pay any of them, because the tax people only found out when the new accountant resubmitted everything with the right values).

All of this is making me very angry. Actually, more than angry, I feel very disappointed and shocked that he could behave in such a brazen way towards a long-standing and uncomplicated customer like myself. Basically, once every 3 months I would send him a few cordial emails with my invoices and expenses and he would do my tax forms for me in exchange for a sum of money (not insignificant over the course of a year). I'm sure he would have managed to do my work in a couple of hours at the most. Why me? That is the question.

I wish the problem would go away, but it obviously won't. I really hate confrontation and this kind of stress, but either I let him get away with this or I will have to fight for my rights, or at least for some financial reimbursement.

To be continued...

BDM said...

Oh my. Uccle is a real place, you say? All along I thought it was your totally clever (and loaded) euphemism for la Belgique in general. Please continue to educate me.

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