Tuesday, 27 May 2014

To the snail shells

Dark days in Belgium and across Europe, the kind of days when you find yourself quite seriously wondering where else you could live. But where is left? I have had to put aside, regretfully, my long-cherished fantasy of goat herding in Larzac. Perhaps Yorkshire could obligingly declare its independence from the rest of England? I am reframing my daydreams to include a bunker somewhere under Wensleydale.

Dark days, too, in Uccle, where my noisy neighbour has acquired not only a saxophone, but a set of bongos, which he has been employing to full effect over the weekend. Prior to saxo/bongo fiesta, the neighbour had slightly deflated my outrage by bringing me a sack of straw for the chickens (you are not supposed to bed chickens on straw, but he didn't know that), but it's ok, now I am all pumped up again. It would be a shame to have any teeth left by the time I turn forty.

Let us revert to the usual format when I have no brain (ie. all the time).


My children are making me watch every tap dancing, dog wrangling, warbly singing second of the Britain's Got Talent this year and the semi-finals are on every night this week. I tried to sneak off for a shower earlier and was dragged back to see some gyrating infants. I have even had to forswear my favourite French flouncy pâtisserie competition, the catchily named "Qui Sera le Prochain Grand Pâtissier" AND they were doing croquembouches tonight.

The rest of the week is basically a write-off: Wednesday (half day at school), Ascension Thursday, Friday "teacher training", hmm yes, how convenient.

The builders hermetically sealed me into my office with thick plastic sheeting today, which sadly did not cause me to work harder.

The rat is back at the vet's (probably for the best given the dust issues, but the prognosis is very poor and very costly).

I have lost one of my favourite pair of earplugs. What? It's a problem.

Our new Prime Minister may be the man who doesn't actually want Belgium to exist, thanks.


F was fiddling with my wig tonight and I said "leave it alone, it cost nearly a thousand pounds" (true, but think of all the haircuts and styling products I don't need) and obviously he was shocked, so I tried to justify my hair extravagance by saying "it's made of real hair" which caused an absolute seismic shock of disgust that has made me laugh and laugh. F looked genuinely shocked and revolted and shrank away from me, whilst L became quite preoccupied with whose hair it was and how I had obtained it. "Maybe it's the hair of a tramp?" It certainly is now.

The hedgehog has taken to waiting for me outside the back door at around 11 at night when I usually feed it. It is fanciful to imagine it gets a little huffy when I am late, but I do sense a certain aura of impatience. Here it is last night, after FINALLY getting served, honestly, the place is half empty but can you catch the waitress's eye? Can you buggery. That is where it sits every night, craning its neck and sighing and vowing never to come back to this shithole again.

Neither up nor down: 

Amusingly,  I have just been sent a copy of this:

Never have I needed a book more, frankly.

More amusingly still, the reason I was sent a copy is that I am quoted in it. It's ok, I am not giving advice. Ha, imagine.

The unfortunate sequel to what I describe here is that over the past six months I have started to quote somewhat higher for the jobs I'm not desperate to do and this has resulted in me not getting any of them whatsoever. This was not exactly the desired result.

A picture:

A godalmighty huge swan we met on Sunday. Whilst this one was threatening to break L's arm, half-heartedly, her mate was violently attacking his own reflection in a BMW. Swans: not noticeably peace-loving.


30% should be working
30% fetid aroma of supposedly odourless fake tan
20% tramp hair
10% dry lip picking
10% past best-before date tiramisu.


Friday, 23 May 2014

British problems you don't get in Britain


1. Every Wednesday for over a year, I have been going to the same café. I drop F off at his Chinese lesson and go round the corner for a cup of tea and an hour's free wifi. It's quite dark, the music is sometimes amazing and sometimes awful (old reggae =  yes, bossa nova Nirvana = no) , but mainly, it's quiet and convenient and the mere fact of being out of the house is cause for celebration for me in these barren, have-worn-the-same-clothes-for-three-weeks-my-wig-is-full-of-toothpaste times.

It's always the same waiter on shift at 3pm on a Wednesday. He's very nice: mid-twenties, super laidback and friendly, but also efficient. Initially we had a normal customer-customer service provider relationship, at least in a Belgian context. I ordered a cup of tea, he brought it. He went to sit outside and smoke until I waved a vaguely embarrassed hand in his direction to pay. I paid, and left a 50 cent tip. Sometimes he called me 'mademoiselle', which is either faintly flirty or faintly satirical when you're dealing with a make up free scarecrow/crone hybrid in an ill-fitting bra and bobbly shrunken jumper, but whatever. That was the full extent of our interaction.

Then, after a few months, one Wednesday he tutoie-d me. You know about the whole French informal tu / formal vous thing, presumably. Other languages do it too, because they hate simplicity, the bastards. Anyway, he called me tu, which, whilst unusual (sometimes Dutch speakers do it in French because they can't be arsed with vous but generally you wouldn't expect it in a commercial transaction), wasn't per se problematic. I don't mind informality at all, I am not actually a high court judge. You can call me whatever you like: mademoiselle, madame, shithead. Whatever gets you through the day. But if he was tutoieing me, then surely it would be rude not to reciprocate? I mean, if I didn't tutoie him back, I would look snotty, insisting on formality when he had made this friendly gesture.

So. The next time, I asked for my tea as follows.

"Je peux te prendre un thé?"

You know what happens next. Friendly Waiter vousvoie-d me and I stiffened into Full British Embarrassment Code Black Brace Position. HORROR. Now I sounded utterly rude, addressing my customer service professional in such an offhand, condescending way. The next week, I of course reverted to vous. You know what happens next: in reply, he tutoie-d me, making me look snotty and cold. And so on, backwards and forwards, in a limping carnival of mortification for weeks. I started to think he was actually screwing with me deliberately to see me squirm. I seriously considered changing cafés. I devoted far too much mental energy to the whole business.

As of the last few weeks we seem to have resolved the tu/vous dilemma in favour of a solid tu. Which is good. We have even exchanged pleasantries about the price of tea and his (recently quite shit) music choices. But this brings its own problems. Can you actually tip someone you tutoie? Is the customer relationship now fatally distorted? Have we reached that tipping point of familiarity when British commuters, who have been catapulted into actually speaking to each other by some exceptional force majeure event are then forced to change the route of their commute entirely to avoid subsequent awkwardness? I don't know. I like my Wednesday café, so I am going to try and brazen it out. Maybe one of us will die or be struck dumb avoiding further embarrassment? Perhaps the café will be destroyed in a freak accident? One can only hope so. God, being British is exhausting sometimes.

2. Thanks to the magical workings of democracy (yay, democracy) my younger child has had to give up his classroom as a polling station and has been at home all day. Of course, they couldn't have used the classroom of the child who would have been ecstatic to stay in bed 'til midday reading and then watch TV all afternoon. They had to pick the classroom of the easily bored child who woke at 7 and has since been, variously, tormenting the dog by wrapping him in a blanket, releasing the chickens onto my flowers, making me watch Angry Birds videos (admittedly this 'birds get their revenge' video is excellent), making me test him on his Chinese characters and trying to enlist me to find his Blue Peter badge, then, when thwarted, trying to play with a diabolo in the corner of my office. Democracy, I am suffering for you. I cannot pretend I am doing it gladly, but I am doing it, so surely this counts for something.

3. Still editing. I became completely paralysed with mortification at a sex-related marginal note at one point this week and lost about 3 hours to rocking backwards and forwards whimpering.

4. Men sanding the floor  = constant noise, dust and poor prognosis for respiratorily challenged rat.

5. The Glasgow School of Art fire is making me very sad and making me think of my mum.

6. Reversed into a bollard.

7. 2 school holidays next week HELP ME JESUS.

My magnificent friend B sent me a 'Make your own Highland Pony' kit. I am hugely looking forward to making it, in the manner of occupational therapy.

Why does the pony come with a companion snake? I have no idea.

There must be more 'ups'. Hmm. I have a tiramisu in the fridge and a box of Picard petits fours and a lot of wine and I intend to deploy all of these things in short order this evening.

Oh! Late update: surprise sloth baby.

Neither up nor down
My father emails - an exceptionally rare occurrence - to tell me he has bought a life sized bronze horse. What does one say to this? "WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT WHEN YOU NEVER BOUGHT ME A REAL ONE" was high on my list of responses, but I went for a tepid "ooh, lovely!", which I hope covers most bases.

A picture

Mr Burns seems to be standing for election in Uccle:


40% distracted by CBBC
20% mourning departure of Aidan from Friday Download (also CBBC)
20% failure to write about cold pressed coffee
10% generic allergy medicines
10% shouting at dog

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Loin gird avoidance

Hello. I am still reeling from a weekend of back-to-back child events: the school fête, a genuinely endless guitar recital, and the chaotic Festival of the Godless, where apparently L had to dress up as a binman and lie on the floor for an hour, then throw cushions, both of which actions apparently had something to do with Plato, no, nor me. My only involvement was logistic, thankfully. Apart from that, I have mainly been hunched like a balefully roosting fowl at the kitchen table, working, having got very behind on, basically, everything. My observations on working:

1. I am a really shit multitasker. When faced with the need to multitask, my preferred option is to fling my hands in the air and consider resigning from at least one and possibly all of the things I am supposed to be doing. I don't go through with it though, because I am also a massive coward.

2. I also really need to shut up about Zola. Shame I have just ordered another book about Zola, then.

3. The worst thing to try and do under time pressure is be funny. When you're desperately googling 'Channel Tunnel jokes' you know you're in the shit. I didn't find any, although I did find a massive seam of awful, somewhat racist jokes about the French.

4. That thing about only truly knowing someone when you've seen them deal with crappy wifi = so true. Obviously, I am an arsehole. Though not a fighty, angry asshole so much as a pathetic, whiny one. I lost two days to the broken internet and Bastardcom, my internet providers and it was about as much fun as it sounds.

5. Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax balm, whilst a good idea, is not nearly as effective as the bath oil, probably because I am not lying in the dark and the warmth at the end of the day whilst using it. I have ended up smearing it all over myself like Vicks Vapo Rub, so I am greased and aromatic, like a leg of lamb, but not notably relaxed.

6. Does that sound gloomy? I am, a bit. Writing and editing again and again about the most horrible parts of you life isn't a mood enhancer. I got really miserable working this weekend (though that could also be attributed to the interminable guitar recital in a dark hut) and then cried this morning at the thought of starting again. Why am I doing this? God knows.

In other news we have had to empty L's bedroom for some building work and it has been a massive nostalgia-fest. I was quite moved to see my old friends "Aaaaargh Spider", 'Diggers are good at dig dig digging', Commotion in the Ocean and, 'Close Your Eyes' in which a weary mother tiger gives her annoying infant some old flannel about the moon and stars and so on (basically a polite 'Go the fuck to sleep'), all of which and more I can still recite by heart.  L exclaimed over a range of deathless classics of his youth including 'Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Find the Pokemon', 'That's Not My Digger', 'Les Pelleteuses' (notice an earth moving theme emerging?) and, implausibly, 'The Christmas Mice', which I was trying to shove into a binbag.

L: Noooo, you can't throw that away!

E: Why not? I don't remember a thing about it.

L: Yes! The mice! The mice of Christmas! Someone says that Father Christmas doesn't exist so the mice do his job.

E (flicking through): That doesn't seem to be the story at all. There isn't any story to speak of. Just ... some patches of soft fabric and shiny things.

L: (snatching it back) I LOVE books with soft bits. Look! This one is made of REAL KILT!

E: ........

(He is twelve)

This was repeated about twenty times with similarly dreary volumes. After two hours we were both dusty, discouraged and hardly advanced at all, but had read a lot of picture books for small children. Also, if any Poké-enthusiasts feel like going through our bins, there are some 100 plus PV Pokemon cards in there now. Just saying.

New Facegoop on orange lipsticks (never)

A photograph, to break up this litany of complaint:

Current scene here. They have the right idea.

Ok, I am just avoiding going back to editing now. Time to gird my loins. That's a peculiar expression, isn't it? Why do loins need girding? Oh. So, 'tuck your dress in', really.

30% awful writing gloom
30% awful writing shame
30% sinus pain
10% Cornetto plans


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Games and no fun

It's taken me about 4 days to get around to writing this. Ridiculous. I can only hope I'm making more progress in other areas of my life (unlikely, other than 'gradual fattening'). Mainly I'm struck deeply stupid by sinusitis which makes me want to bang my head against a wall all the time.

Various updates:

1. Someone asked about the progress of the stupid financial etwas with Prog Rock. Well. We went back to Natwest and there was another lengthy slapstick scene around a form which perhaps did not exist, or perhaps could not be accessed by the customer service operative due to insufficient levels of clearance (like it was MI6 or something) and which was perhaps not even necessary or relevant. Prog Rock filled in the many gaps with a disquisition on Flann O'Brian and a lengthy anecdote about his brother-in-law's farcical dealings with Virgin Media. When it appeared that we would be getting absolutely no etwas at all, he discovered a sliver of steel in his soul and asked the lady to leave us alone so we could discuss things in private. A minute later, the manager was there (as an aside, I have never in my life seen a person who so closely resembled a potato) and we had a - possible, tenuous, could still be contradicted - assurance we could complete proceedings without both travelling back to London. Nothing has happened yet to progress this. We shall see. Or we shan't. I would like to state for the record that all such proceedings have been in pursuit of an additional 0,000001% interest on the relatively modest amount of money of which we are trustees. Prog Rock takes his fiduciary duties very seriously.

2. The gymnastics spectacle - DEAR BABY GOAT JESUS. It lasted two. whole. hours. Of that time, approximately 80% was dance and a bit of baton twirling by the same small group of girls. F finally appeared ten minutes before the end, climbed the climbing wall once, and span a plate on a stick in his "buffoon" costume, thus:

The musical accompaniment was overwrought and terrifying - the woman next to me obviously enjoyed it because she Shazam-ed several Celine Dion-reminiscent tracks for repeated enjoyment at home - the view obscured, and the hard school benches akin to torture. F had to take part in TWO two-hour performances, and even he admitted it was a little protracted, though he was glad to have taken part, strange small child. This Saturday is the main school fête. I'm not really sure I can cope.

3. Speaking of horrifying school performances, look at this picture someone from Quaker school posted on Facebook!

That is me with a paper plate on my head at the front in Guys and Dolls. I'm still a bit perplexed where the person who was totally cool about, indeed relished, dancing and singing and wearing that has gone. I was quite outgoing and a joiner briefly at this point in my life, though I note my legs were the same peculiar shape back then as they are now, so that is something.

4.  I went to try a co-working place today, because I only ever speak to the hens and the Internet, and the Internet keeps breaking. I had quite a productive time and it was very pretty and stylish, but, slightly defeating the object, these were my only co-workers:

Maybe a different breed of hen is as good as a rest? That's almost certainly a proverb somewhere. The Internet didn't break either and there are no distractions or snacks in the empty white cube. I will try and return.

5. In sportsmanship fail news, today one child (I will not name the culprit) upturned a chess set in fury and yesterday another child cried uncontrollably because I got the trio of cards they wanted in Horrifying Trio Memory (a fiendish game where you have to locate three eg. sections of giraffe from 80 odd cards all featuring confusion sections of animal), whilst at the weekend I was forced to play FOUR successive games of French snorefest 'Mille Bornes' because best of three did not give my adversary his desired result. This is NOT my genetic material at work, my approach to all games is to give up (their paternal great-grandmother, however, would make us play game after game of dominoes, cry inconsolably when she lost, then force us to play again). I don't really know how to cope with such thoroughly un-cricket displays, laughing despairingly was apparently all wrong. Why can't we all just read books and sulk in our bedrooms? It's worked fine for me for the past 40 years and I sincerely hope to continue that run for another 40 (I make an exception for Racing Demon).


70% Sinutab
20% Sudafed, to mix it up a bit
10% enormous spot on nose.


Friday, 9 May 2014

Caca municipal

I am not arrogant enough to think you are missing me, but personally I like my digital distractions to be regular and get antsy when they are not (thank you in particular Ganching and Katyboo for such assiduous blogging). Perhaps you do too, so I am sorry for the recent absence of posting. I am trying to finish something (I'm not being deliberately mysterious, it's yet another iteration of my idiotic book proposal, but this has now been going on so long it's just embarrassing, so I try not to talk about it. Ever. But I'm slightly panicky right now.).  It has taken me three days to write this much. It was also L's birthday, so we spent much of the weekend making cakes (I didn't do a crap, Cakewreck phoenix, laziness won out over child-teasing), or in "City Kart", which is a concrete lined hangar of sweat and testosterone in a far-flung suburb, or driving backwards and forwards, failing to respect priorité à droite and cursing. The youths in the back of the car distracted me by repeatedly using 'fashion' as a slightly ironic compliment, telling each other 'tu es trop fashion'. 'non, Je suis fashionista'. Which was odd for a gang of twelve year old boys, but what do I know about youth, I was born aged about 45.


Got back into bed for half an hour after children went to school to finish my grim Icelandic murder and do not regret it for a second. More and more often, I find myself sneakily retiring to bed. I'm there right now, as it happens in a self-imposed lull between rat cage cleaning, making the dinner, Dutch homework and guitar practice. We have form for this in my family: my mother spent most of the early 1990s in bed and I don't blame her. The more time you can spend hiding from your family in bed, the more likely you are to preserve good relations with them, I feel.

M has just sent an email entitled "turd in a tree and a large pumpkin". There were pictures associated. She knows me so well.

Yesterday I rode a horse and then had cheese on toast for lunch which is pretty much the dictionary definition of living the dream if you are Emma. For full Nirvana you would only have to add: hmm. An eclair and a cashmere nest in the shape of Totoro? Failing that, I have a Cadbury's Caramel and my bed, so the creature comforts are pretty much covered (I basically haven't stopped eating rubbish since that hideous juice fast - link here - we're greatly looking forward to the angry comment loons weighing in on this one).

A cat running into a door during a French patisserie programme.

I have watched some excellent (ie. appallingly lowbrow) television recently, particularly 'Animal Hoarders' which featured a woman in Hull with fifty rescued ex-battery hens living IN HER HOUSE. Her HOUSE mind, not her garden. One of them was called "Twisty" and it had had a stroke which meant it could no longer support the weight of its head, which dangled around the level of its chest at a rakish angle. The woman carried Twisty around all the time and when she had to put her down, she would put her in her desk drawer. I thought they were both great.


Freezing rain, weather fit only for huddling in a cashmere Totoro nest. Apparently it is set to ran forever, so that's lovely.

The Latvian Eurovision entry "Cake to Bake" was not selected for the final and I for one am furious.

I was actually henpecked today by an actual hen (whilst trying to let it out) and it drew blood. Thanks, hen, you pea-brained asshole.

I wrote three big sections of text in the present tense in a pretentious fit of artistic fuckery and now I'm trying to restore them to the past tense to match the rest of the MS and it's horrifying.

Just sliced through my nail with a blunt knife trying to chop bacon. Not whilst in bed, that would have been stupid, I got out of bed to slice bacon. I think that was my first mistake. If I had stayed in bed this would never have happened, so that is the moral of the story.

Ongoing rat decline is ongoing. We are back to the vet on Saturday. L is prepared - again - for the worst, poor soul.

L is "doing" the Second World War (for the first of presumably 8 hundred times in the next 8 years, much like "the water cycle" and "the Egyptians"). Concretely this means that in the midsts of a conversation about eg. chocolate biscuits or why I need to give him €10 or rat care, he will suddenly say something like "why did Hitler kill lots of Polish people?" leaving me scrabbling for age-appropriate and accurate answers. Challenging. Apparently they are going on a school trip to a fort from where Belgians were deported to concentration camps soon.

Somewhere in-between

It is the Gulag gymnastics "spectacle" this evening. F is taking part. Apparently there will be over an hour of vigorous calisthenics and he has to dress as "a buffoon". So that sounds.. interesting. And perfect Friday night entertainment, obviously. One of those events for which the hipflask was created. I have to go because F is refusing to take part in the normal school end of year show, because his class is doing a Disney princess medley. Fair enough, frankly. I am also, soon, expected to go to L's "Fête Laïque" which is an curious beast: basically, they (no idea who 'they' are) have devised a sort of secular first communion for the heathens, which takes place in the 1970s concrete splendour of the Forest National stadium and which involves... I have absolutely no idea. L told me yesterday that apparently they are getting their hair and make up "done" by professionals. The whole thing is shrouded in depper and deeper mystery the more I hear about it. Will it be like the brownie's Festival of Queens at Central Hall in York? This is my only point of reference, except of course the brownies were into God (the Woodcraft Folk had no equivalent that I recall).

A picture

This plucky little soul keeps venturing out in the daytime which I know is a bad sign. She's about 700 hedgehog years old anyway, so I'm not really sure what to do about it, except keep the cat food going and not allow crows to eat her. STOP DYING, PETS.

This is really boring, sorry, I will try to do better. Or at least report back on the gymnastics 'spectacle'.

50% anxiety
20% back in black opaques
20% unable to concentrate due to dog whining at my feet
10% Twisty the hen