Thursday, 27 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 40 (Out of Office)



I am off. Wheeeeee! Back soon and I promise not to just vanish. Terrifying metal box of death permitting. Does anyone know of any good relics in Venice? Because it's not a holiday for me without a shrivelled finger in a jewelled box. Restaurant or other recommendations most welcome too, but fingers are the priority.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 39 (which should be forty but isn't)

It's my birthday! And you have all been so lovely I cried a little and not just because I woke up at 5am over-excited and couldn't get back to sleep. Though that was probably part of it. Then I cried again and not just because I had had two and a half glasses of wine but because you were still being utterly, touchingly kind and lovely and LARA EVEN WROTE ME A POEM.

It has all been delightful and I am too full of sugar to contemplate my own shortcomings - slash - mortality. My hilarious eldest son made me one of his special breakfast plates:



And a book on how to make my own special breakfast plates. It is quite strict. It's like living with Nicky Haslam sometimes. I reproduce some of it here, in case you also wish to make your own breakfast plate.



"The little book of beautiful plates"


This says "written by me, drawned by me, special thanks to my mum who wanted a book of cool plates. But she got this..."


"You should always favour round/curved shapes"


"A semi-circular shape is sometimes acceptable"


"Biscuits should be partially, not entirely, superposed"


"Add fruit, so the plate seems more 'healfy'" 


"Include a hot and a cold drink for contrast"


"Serve in a large plate, so it does not seem crowded"


Impressive blurbs

Apart from this I did not get a single thing on my fantasy list and it did not matter in the slightest. 

(This gift from Prog Rock was profoundly strange, admittedly:  


it contained an old, empty perfume atomiser that is impossible to refill. Might be good as a pot for keeping pencils in?)

I had a lovely day, ate too much, got mildly tipsy and my lovely family made me an actual homemade lemon drizzle cake and it was TOTALLY EDIBLE. I think I look a bit like the chicks on the top right now: 


Slightly wonky but unbowed. 

I am going to lie down now because all my blood flow must be directed to my stomach and thought is impossible. THANK YOU for sticking with this stupid odyssey and thank for your all your kindness. May your capybara overlords be ever merciful. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Forty Days: Pt 38 (Birthday Penumbra)

Last day of my thirties! My Birthday Penumbra (B's invention, meaning people have to be lovely to you in the days before and after your birthday as well as on the day and any attempt to make you do anything sub-optimal can be halted by holding up an imperious hand and shrieking "BIRTHDAY PENUMBRA") is well underway. I feel quite relaxed about the whole business. Whatever. Some baking definitely went on here this evening (well, secrecy, a smell of cooking and a lot of icing sugar), so I'm already excited about that. Let's see how I feel tomorrow. 

I don't have a big conclusion tonight and I doubt I'll have one tomorrow or indeed on day 40 which is the day after my birthday since I am a fucking idiot. I have enjoyed doing this a great deal, though, even though I did not actually have any big or particularly interesting thoughts about anything. My main conclusion is that I am delighted to hear about people's ponies and twin babies, bad accountants, fictional capybara theme parks and the intolerable domestic habits of their loved ones. This is what I always loved - and still love - about blogging. I will not just vanish for months on end again if I can possibly help it, because I miss you, and it. But the reason I blog less is because I am not bored out of my skull doing law all day every day and desperate for distraction and that in and of itself is surely a huge improvement over the last six years? Progress! Slow, halting progress, frequently obstructed by my own stupidity, but progress nonetheless. 

Kath asked what was on my wish list. As you all know I am an ascetic and a holy hermit and have no material desires and my gaze is turned solely towards spiritual fulfilment and self-sacrifice BUT, if I were obliged to conjure up a few trifles: 


Supersoak, obviously

Some really amazing brogues - Church's or Grenson or similar

Replacement for broken Rob Ryan mug (not the American football player)

Pretty much anything my friend Nathalie makes. 

A box of Sadaharu Aoki petits fours.

A piece of alarming taxidermy. 

I am not even asking for a horse this year. I think that's maturity, right there. Even though this woman has her own SLOTH and she is only 29 and she also has a kangaroo and several sugar gliders. I am so reasonable. 

If your Tuesday is trying and several of my friends have had a very trying Tuesday indeed, this, about Phnom Penh's last working elephant retiring, is really lovely. I presume, because you are all internet types, you have all already seen Arthur the Endurance Race dog, and tears have leaked from your eyes as they leaked from mine.  

I am going to stop now so I have time to wash my "hair" before I turn 40, because standards. Maybe I will even remember to cut this one enormous gnarled Father Jack style fingerclaw that escaped my recent pruning attempts too. Tell me about your birthdays. Do you like or hate them? Get over-excited and then slump, or pre-emptively dread and quite enjoy? Can you remember your worst (thirty was pretty much a fucker for me)?  

Monday, 24 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 37 (end of days)

Alarming times.

- I had to purchase Risk for this article about games I am writing and we played it tonight and it is fair to say that I did not acquit myself with honour, or even basic decency. I must save the sordid details for the piece but I think really, the game must be destroyed. People play this? For entertainment? Even the tiny unstable plastic men filled me with rage and that was before we started playing.

- Doleful text from Prog Rock "Lakeland less fun than before. Things actually useable".

- Email from B consisting solely of the word fuck approximately 350 times.

- Picture of someone's huge bloody lizard bite on Facebook glimpsed once then swallowed into the bewildering morass of the FB homepage is causing me confusion - who do I know with a feral lizard? How? I need more information.

- Found myself with an "ebola, ebola" earworm due to watching this excellent, admirable video

- M and I are both preoccupied The Missing, a BBC gloomfest set in Northern France

M: I find it remarkable how everyone in rural northern France speaks such excellent English.

E: Don't they. The blue collar paedophile is so eloquent, and so colloquial.

M: Yup. Also the garage mechanic.

E: The police. Totally fine conducting interviews in English. Oh, also, I like the gang. "Les Caïds de la Cité". HA.

M: Like they'd call themselves that. It would be like the mob calling themselves "Urban Mobsters"

E: 'We're the Badass Gangster Gang. Yep. That's our name'.

- Clicked on the wrong channel whilst trying to watch Posho doco on Tatler magazine and ended up enthralled watching this guy instead:



 Except in the live version he was accompanied by several accordionists in short shorts (both genders) and watched by 8000 ecstatic Belgian mammies. How have I lived in Belgium for over 8 years and not encountered him and is there some kind of procedure to take me back to that state of happy ignorance?

Thank god for my friend F who sent me these excellent pictures of (i) a menacing mini-pony and (ii) accompanying sign.



Yikes, time to post. And indeed to sleep. Any oddities with you today, or dreary Monday business as usual?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Forty days: pt 36 (Sunday)



Today I was required to go and see Mockingjay. I have been force-fed the whole of the Hunger Games in the last week or so like a foie gras goose but with slaying instead of wheat. It is not cheery, is it (newsflash, there)? There aren't a lot of laughs out in District 12 even before it all kicks off, just the bleak satisfaction of occasionally killing a squirrel. It's even worse in Julianne Moore's pass-agg underground boilersuit camp. It is certainly not heart-warming Sunday evening viewing with mild romance and a lost dog in the manner of eg. Hamish Macbeth or Ballykissangel. Though it is not as bad as Polisse - a bleaker than bleak (though occasionally horribly uneasily funny) film about a Parisian child protection brigade - of which I caught the second half tonight. Coming on top of Latin revision and geography project homework (god, it only seems a few weeks ago that I was cursing oxbow lakes myself), this might all have sent me into a profound decline were it not for the following:

- ice cream at the cinema (side note: this ice cream is one of those knotty pronunciation problems. How on earth should one say "Un Ben and Jerry's Fairly Nuts s'il vous plaît?" Do you go for the full English, or do you try and frenchify for greater comprehensibility for the girl behind the counter? I have tried things like saying "the one with the nuts in", but it turns out loads of them have nuts in. Today I went for a sort of gallic version: "Ferrly Nuttes")

- Antiques Roadshow (STATUS QUO TAPESTRY).

- Beautiful sunshine, which I mainly viewed approvingly through the window whilst drinking tea and reading.

- The knowledge I have half a tiramisu hidden in the fridge for tomorrow when everyone is out.

- Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking. Someone here recommended I read her - her fiction, I presume - but the only thing I could get on Kindle was this and it's soooooo lovely (I read almost everything anyone recommends here and have almost never been disappointed). It encapsulates the exactly why I want to get good at hospitality (though it doesn't give me much hope I will because she was clearly such a delightful and extraordinary person). It is full of warmth and laughter and not taking yourself seriously and lovely things to eat without unnecessary fuss. I am not a reader of cook books at all (ha, as if this needs saying, though I could definitely have written something entitled 'Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir' as one of the essays is here) but this is enchanting, even though her repeated insistence on the deliciousness of potato salad revolts me.

- It is my birthday this week and even though I should be cast down by creeping mortality, some irrational part of me still goes "BIRTHDAY, YAY, PRESENTS, YAY, ME ME ME". By mid-morning Wednesday this will have worn off and I will be sulky and cast down (well, that or delightedly petting my new Shetland pony and trying to find room for him in the back yard) (I think we know which one it will be).

- Winning at Scrabble, yes, against the ten year old, what, shut up, French Scrabble is bloody hard. I am supposed to be writing something about board games soon, for which I think I need to acquire and play Risk. How likely is this to lead to total domestic breakdown? Is it worse than Monopoly? What are the best and worst board games for family discord, in your opinion?

How was your Sunday?

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 35

Only five more days of this poor quality droning to go, hang on in there. We can do this.



The dog was doing that dog thing where he stands motionless a couple of inches from my face just staring when I am eating YET AGAIN tonight even though I was actually eating chicory, so I held out a limp witloof leaf in exasperation to show him I wasn't withholding deliciousness. He grabbed it and ran away then tried to eat it, then made this face, like those cheetahs eating Marmite, ha ha ha.



Today featured:

- Interminable queue for a roast chicken which turned out to be dry as the desert - though tastier than sand, admittedly. cf this recent exchange with L:



- Weird violin teacher antics involving chalk and soap.

- My family insisting on watching Godzilla followed by "The World's Most Incredible Bridges" this evening. The only way this latter programme could be duller and more xy-y (that doesn't really work, does it) would be for the Top Gear chaps to be driving along the bridges in question. I didn't watch Godzilla but from the bedroom it sounded like the giant lizard was repeatedly eating orchestras, holy intrusive incidental music, batman.

- The taming of the printer - though since I did not do this myself, I am fairly certain the printer has lost any respect it ever had for me (none) (printers recognise no authority) (this one is plotting to kill me as I sleep).

- A lot of lying/working in bed as the seven mugs and three computers strewn around me testify, including a vain attempt to write 40 words about Katy Perry.

- A terribly confused conversation with the hairdresser about tennis which involved thinking that the hairdresser's son was in the Davis Cup (apparently there's a Belgian player called Monfils, seriously, how on earth were we supposed to know something like that, also what kind of a name is Monfils anyway)

How was your Saturday?

Friday, 21 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 34 (thirty minutes)

It's half past 11. I have thirty minutes and no ideas.

Good things today:

Went out for breakfast to lovely café for pasteis de nata like a grown up who knows how to leave the house.


None of your five a day

Apple crumble for lunch. Yeah, just apple crumble. What?

Got two good commissions out of nowhere (no, neither of them were to give my moving and perceptive view of turning forty. One of them was this, randomly)

I have started on your most helpful and tempting podcast recommendations with Strangers, which is just great and I also acquired a whole new set of crime recommendations (reading, rather than actual felonies) on Twitter. I will report back if any of them turn out to be good.

It is Friday and I do not need to get up in the morning, no not even if the dog stands at the foot of the stairs and makes a noise like a deflating balloon, that is what (i) earplugs and (ii) children are for.

No one came home with any new disasters/punishments/enormous bills for macabre school equipment to report (or at least they chose not to report them which suits me fine).

There were some really good lists in the comments on the last post.


Bad things today: 

The lovely café sells SPECULOOS PASTEIS DE NATA, which is obviously against the rule of nature and the gods.

I have probably not eaten the healthiest set of foods a person could optimally eat today (dinner was pizza).

I had to share a room with the rebellious printer-bastard today and felt a mixture of shame and rage at its giant mocking useless form blocking out most of the light.

Physical disintegration continues apace/accelerates and I have run out of giant orange horse pills.

Achieved none of the dreary admin tasks on my several to-do lists.

Had to watch several tedious hours of Koh-Lanta (French survivor), L's favourite programme, gangs of dullard French men running around in scrubland trying to use a compass.

Had to spend some time in the company of a website so extravagantly dull I kept drifting off into a fugue state whenever my eyes rested on it. Consequently failed to complete necessary website related tasks and must return to it next week.

I have worked it out and I definitely got the calculation wrong and my birthday falls on the 39th day of the forty day posting thing. Ha ha ha.


One minute left! Good and bad for your Friday? You are so kind to keep commenting, thank you.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 33 (Lists)

I almost forgot to do tonight. That'll be the orange pills (I have crumbled into decrepitude again). I honestly thought this process would be all about me writing thoughtful, perceptive stuff about mid-life so that people would be compelled to commission me to write for them, ha ha ha, the delusion is strong in me.

Windows open on my phone currently:

Picture of a capybara wearing a paper bag round its neck
Horse playing football with care home residents
7 writers reflect on failure
Free astronomy class details
You Tube recipe for lavash I will assuredly never use
Father Jack says sorry
Canadian panda enjoys snow


Things on my bedside table (surface layer only): 

Toothbrush
Right Ho, Jeeves
Dirty mug
Staple gun
30 Rock DVD
Back in the Jug Agane
Colm Toibin - The Testament of Mary
Wire giraffe
Giant orange back pill
String of pearls
Malcom Mackay - The Night the Rich Men Burned
Jeeves in the Offing
Box of MoMA Christmas cards unmoved and unopened since last December
Miller Harris Vetiver Bourbon
3 earplugs
Propeller from something
Anne Enright - Yesterday's Weather (ooh, didn't even know I had this)
2 crap normal pens, one nice silver one from last year's excellent advent box
Supermarket loyalty card
Chanel 'April' nail polish
Zola - La Curée
50 cents


To do list (immediate as opposed to 'lingering, guilty, may never happen'): 

Expenses
Chase Portuguese cafe for pics
Pay school canteen
Buy Nutella
Take tea-soaked jumpers out of washing machine
Pay €88 business tax thingy about 6 months overdue
Unearth something for dinner
(I only did two of these - both the food related ones)


Best stuff I have put in my mouth today: 

2 giant orange back pills
Apple crumble
Mouthful of Picard chocolate and salted caramel fondant (not at all shabby, will buy again)
Another giant orange back pill


Currently saved in my folder of lust:

Warehouse cashmere onesie
Large Burleigh breakfast cup
Rob Ryan mug to replace the one I broke a week after buying it
A large selection of eBay antique quilts
Icelandic horses for sale
(So short, my list of wants. I am practically a holy hermit)


Parts of me that are broken:

Left thumb (cut with evil knife)
Lips (ravaged)
Lower back (god knows, probably horse related)
Brain (clearly)
Right elbow (search me)


Things that have made me cry/nearly cry today:

The dishwasher
My back
The Boots advert
Something I listened to - but what? What could it be? Oh, the bit in Serial with Hae's mother's statement.
Noblesse the horse, who wilfully inflated her stomach like a puffer fish so I couldn't do anything with her. Laughed instead, finally.
My phone, with rage


Weirdest bill received today:

"Squelette chat, €125" (it's a long story)


Would you like to give me a list, please?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 32 (BATE)

I spent ages today reading my archives to try and remember various things and it was really excruciating, like reading your teenage diaries. Occasionally I would think 'oh, that's quite funny', but mainly I was cringing inwardly and sweating and feeling a bit sick. It's so unguarded, I don't think anyone could keep writing like that for very long. Also, I think I used to be crueller (to myself and others)  and I'm quite glad things are a bit gentler now, even if I accept they are almost certainly a lot less fun to read.

This made me laugh a bit however about a work trip to Amsterdam:

"Excitingly on the return journey, I thought the taxi driver was trying to chat me up when he said "my shift ends now, shall I take you out to the airport", but then I thought perhaps he was just asking me if I wanted him to drive me all the way to there because he knew I was on expenses and wouldn't care. Either way, the moment of quite possibly imagined erotic potential was lost when he hit a large seagull. We tried to decide whether it was dead, stupid, broken, or drunk but inadequate language skills on my side cut the debate short. I still feel we shared a moment. Like Before Sunrise but with a seagull instead of Julie Delpy"

I remember that seagull. I know there were loads of funnier bits, but I can't face going back and looking.

Apart from that, I had vivid dreams about doing the make up of a woman who I have never met but follow on Twitter really ineptly in a rural Travelodge, then getting angry at a school fête and tearing a bread roll into tiny pieces and throwing it on the floor to make my point. When I woke up, I started the day by making a badly timed flailing gesture with a cup of tea and soaking my duvet and pillows and myself right down to my knickers with - thankfully lukewarm - tea.

Later, I had a tense run-in with my son of the type I would have recounted in full five years ago, then we did some Dutch and some Chinese and some .. I dunno. Maths of some abstruse variety? Some kind of compass-y thing. Then the new printer arrived and everything really went to shit.

The new printer is the size and weight - and has the temperament - of a Shetland pony. We tried to install its cartridges and it literally spat one out at us, then the cartridge tray ran away to hide in its black plastic burrow and refused to emerge. I watched several unhelpful amateur HP hack videos on YouTube then gave up.

F (my friend F, not my long-fingered son) and I discussed the printer. We have both recently read (and adored) the amazing H is for Hawk and the following will only be vaguely amusing if you have too, sorry. You should read it if you haven't, it's completely extraordinary.

F: BATE BATE BATE.

E: THAT's what the printer was doing! It's bating!

F: It totally is. You have to be patient, Emma. Carry it on your fist for several days.

E: It's the size of horse, this could be tricky.

F: It's not in yarak. You have to wait until it is.

E: I think the problem is that it is in yarak. That's why it's so highly-strung.

F: You need to wait for it to calm down.

E: I need to go and sit very still next to it for the next three days or so. Not look at it.

F: Yes. Tear up some rabbit thigh and feed it to the printer. Maybe you need to change its printing weight?

E: Yes! Someone has been feeding it too many chicks, perhaps. I'm leaving it for tonight, anyway. I'm just going to put its hood on and let it settle.


While I was hooding the printer, the children, who have behaved like Haribo crazed toddlers all afternoon took it upon themselves, respectively, to (i) move into the printer's box with a Toblerone and a set of cushions (ii) stab the box repeatedly with giant Mikado sticks and write "BOX OF SHAME" on the side. So if we do need to return it, that will be interesting.




After that, a plate fell out of the kitchen cupboard onto my head and then broke into a million pieces.

Oh god, I have just remembered my jumper is still soaking in the bathroom sink and the bedroom floor is covered in tea-stained pillowcases.

Was your Wednesday in any way better than this? I can only hope so.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 31 (um, nothing)

I have to tell you, I have nothing for you today. This is not because I am an empty husk after a day of composing transcendent, luminous prose. I am a full, guilty husk. Today's programme: staring, a couple of biscuits, faffing, light despair, lining up balsawood penguins and some truly atrocious "Religious education" homework:





What? What? I am not French enough for this. I hope never to be French enough for this.

I loved your comforting tales of similarly half-arsed days (except for the ones who have horses because I was blinded by jealousy), thank you. And thank you for commenting generally, it is hugely appreciated as I stagger half-arsedly through this pointless exercise. In fact, it's the only thing keeping me going.

(pause while I console eldest child over collapsed Design Tech bridge and search drafts folder for inspiration. There are no drafts.)

I am sorry, I am going to have to resort to some links.

This is an extraordinarily clear-sighted piece of writing - Meghan Daum on her mother's death. I read it first thing this morning and it made me late because I was sitting on the bathroom floor holding my breath as I read.

B's contribution: a fairly jaw-dropping piece of salacious American legal gossip.

F uncovered this incredible holiday for book perverts.

M: "this is what it's like inside your chickens' heads'.

Want to waste half your day like me? Help is at hand with this fiendishly infuriating quiz.

Loved this about The Knowledge.

Go home, Elle Belgique, you are drunk.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 30 (the habits of successful fuckwits)

The freelance lifestyle requires icy discipline and boundless energy and enthusiasm. These are not qualities I possess in abundance. This was my 'working' day:

8:00 Walk dog. There is nothing wrong with this part of the day. Leaves, trees, light drizzle, endless whippetty squatting and insistent licking of patches of old wee. Bracing.

8:30 Finish a Brussels Guide (= add all the addresses forgotten when 'finished' on Friday). Enjoy brief sense of achievement.

9:10 Instagram my new advent calendar.

9:15 Try and upload some pictures to a client’s website from shared drive. Totally fail. Repeat, fail. Hate shared drive. Fantasise about painful death by melting of shared drive. Try again. Fail again.

9:45 Enlist M to try and help me resize the misshapen dialogue boxes on my Mac. We fail. Do some light chat/complaining.

10:10 Look at Saturday’s work. Feel queasy. Shift 5 words around. Email a restaurant asking for pictures. Do not anticipate reply, ever. Look at Solange wedding pics.

10:20 Feed chickens to stop them shrieking. Delete 5 words.

10:30 Look at work again. Delete 5 more words. Go and click on a couple of links. Genuinely find self starting to open a gallery entitled "The History of Kim Kardashian’s bum" then stop in shame. Decide to keep this diary of the day to chronicle My Full Monday Shame.

10:40 Eat a chocolate digestive. Think about using Freedom but remember it is on the other computer. Check Twitter. Check Instagram. Look at words again.

10:50 Write a sentence. Decide I would work better from bedroom.

11:00 Get into bed. For the next hour try, really try to write. It is horrible. ‘I will give back the advance,’ I think several times. “Quickly, before  I spend it”. I dwell on all the problems the text poses me and all the embarrassment and the outstanding bits I really don’t want to write. Lacking anything else really to do, I just sit with my discomfort for a while. I chuck a sentence down now and then, whilst staring into space. Add a couple of words here and there, have a tiny germ of an idea. Brief shafts of light appear, occasionally and are then smothered.

12:39 Too hungry to continue. Break off in middle of laboriously trying to relate super important life epiphany in Lafayette Gourmet. Bet this is going to be easy to recapture. Make and eat pasta and watch a blast of The Missing, because abducted child drama is jolly Monday viewing. Let chickens out, watch them systematically massacre the herbs then put them back in again.

1:50 Go back to a whole other section, accidentally. Write a bit of it.

2:14 M interrupts to tell me a saucepan lid has fallen on her head.

2:16 Remember which bit I was supposed to be trying to write. Go back to it.

2:35 Saxophone starts. Feels like neighbour is playing inside my actual fucking head. Rage. Remember earplugs. Put in earplugs. Go back to paragraph.

2:50 B emails a picture of a cat wine bottle holder and an all caps diatribe against Monday. I reply in kind.

3:00 Stare into space with mouth open for 5 minutes. Imagine lying down and closing eyes. Try to dispel this vision. Only an hour left until it all goes to shit. Must. Concentrate. Look at Twitter. Look at Instagram. Hate self. Go back to work.

3:11 Decide paragraph is lame. Stare at it. Conclude it is still lame. Plough on, grimly.

3:27 Look at a Grazia slideshow of advent calendars.

3:45 Finish section. It is highly unsatisfactory and lacking in jokes, but it is done.

3:50 Do another five minutes. Count words. 1200. Could be worse. Look at Isabel Marant €350 leopard skin trainers.

16:00 Look at website of hotel I might review. Listen to neighbour's improvised saxophone accompaniment to The Cure and Dido whilst thinking dark thoughts.

16:03 Give up and await imminent arrival of children.

Please tell me yours? But not if you saved an orphan from a runaway train or fearlessly confronted a drug kingpin or landed anything on a comet. No one needs to hear that.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Forty Days: Pt 29 (Heroines)

I have run out of time today, this is going to be short (busy day doing almost nothing, watching Ze 'Unger Gemms, losing at chess and eating pho).

So I finished the lovely heroines book and it was moving and astute and fascinating, going from Catherine Earnshaw to Scheherazade via Judy in Lace and all points in-between. It's interesting, this idea of constructing yourself, or bolstering the self you want to become, through books and through their heroines. Clearly the process of absorbing and being influenced by a heroine isn't a conscious one and this book is a looking back and unpicking of all those unconscious influences, but the idea is that they did leave a lasting imprint of some kind; a suggested roadmap how to be a woman, right or wrong, appropriate or disastrous.

But it made me think that I'm not sure I have literary heroines and I can't even remember any from when I was little. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps because I am such an enlightened and evolved being that I require no external inspiration to self-actualise and assume my ultimate form, hem hem. I read so much growing up, but no one seems to have stuck in my mind as a formative influence. Real life heroines, sure. French actresses, absolutely. Authors, emphatically (Colette, Muriel Spark, Miles Franklin, Jean Rhys, Carson McCullers, Donna Tart..). Literary heroes? Loads. Just William, Jeeves, Sherlock Holmes, Rumpole of the Bailey, Lord Peter Wimsey... But literary heroines? Hmm.

This is a cheat and utterly obscure, but there was Christine McKenna. I read her memoir about learning to ride side-saddle to be in Flambards and for several years it was my Ultimate Book - horses and acting (I wanted to be an actress when I was little, somewhere after 'boxer' (7-8) and  'three day eventer' (9-11) and before 'French' (16-30)). She was funny too. Does this even count? I don't think it does, she's not fictional.

I mentioned Gwendolen Harleth last week but she's absolutely not the kind of heroine you aspire to be: she's proud and bad and wrong-headed and things turn out badly for her. Who else? Miss Jean Brodie? Becky Sharp? Maddie and Verity in Code Name Verity are pretty fabulous.. I feel like I'm missing someone, or lots of people. I would want steely courage and humour in a worthy heroine, no drippiness or sanctimony or getting in a flap about plays, zzzzzz Fanny Price. Who haven't I read, or who have I forgotten? Who are your literary heroines?

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 28 (Cake)




A sensible woman would write her self-imposed daily blog post in the several hours she had to kill before collecting her younger son from his weekly owl pellet dissection workshop (well, that's what they did last week anyway, god knows what this week involved, I got a rather vague "magnets") rather than waiting until 11pm when she has taken one of the Giant Orange Back Pills (my shoulder is furious at the moment. My shoulder hates the forty days) and oblivion beckons. Hang on, did I take it? Perhaps not knowing is a sign it is taking effect.

However, I think we have amply established that I am not a sensible woman, so instead, I spent that time buying a GIANT BOX OF CAKES (flan, religieuse, giant St Honoré) from the lovely, flirtatious French men in La Fleur du Pain, who should be available on prescription for cast-down middle aged women, both them and their very superior flan pâtissier.  Then I went and had tea and another cake in utterly lovely tearoom La Mercerie (that is La Mercerie's ceiling, above). Everyone in La Mercerie is beautiful and cultured and has a vast disposable income and speaks seven languages.

Cake:


Sort of un-sticky toffee, with caramel sauce. Dennis the Menace and friends in the background sat for an hour without speaking to each other, just frantically Instagramming. I make no comment on this, I am no better. 

Tea:



Walking to collect F, this won my what the fuck window of the day:


No idea

Then I came home and had to unblock the lavatory (thinking dark thoughts about the domestic crimes post all the while), won once (by accident) and lost once (by stupidity) at chess to T, allowed F to take several photographs of me using an app which turned me into, variously, a golden retriever, the Sphinx and a tennis ball, then finally we had a bag of chips in front of a programme called 'World's Craziest Fools'. It was nothing if not varied, I suppose.

Other:

I have reached What Katy Did in How To Be A Heroine. I remember adoring What Katy Did and have several times thought of going back to it, but this quite neatly and devastatingly shows me how ghastly it was in many many ways. I read on, disturbed.

I think my knuckle is infected where I burnt it on the roof of the oven and it makes me look like a raging bulimic.

We had a taxi driver earlier who was plainly furious with the whole business of driving (possibly existing) and drove straight at a 38 bus on the wrong side of the road in the driving rain, so I should probably be quite grateful simply to still be alive.

Things I had cause to say today:

"Why is there kitchen roll on the dog"

"Stop playing space invaders with my head"

"DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THESE SHIT BAGS COST?"

Etc. All the glamour, all the time.

How was your Saturday? More lavatory unblocking or exquisite cake or somewhere inbetween?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 27 (slump)

Well. This is the first time in these 40 days I have felt really shit about myself and sat weeping for an hour, so I suppose that's not bad, is it? Let's spin this positively, rather than focussing on me being a pathetic defeatist inert sluglike coward loser idiot, etc etc etc.

(There is nothing really wrong. I have just come back from a jolly time in glittery central London with lovely friends to my quiet, rainy Belgian suburb and spent the day trying to find a convincing way to write about a period in my life when I was being a monumental shithead. And failing. Then I got a minor work knock-back at the end of the day. THERE IS NO MYSTERY HERE ALL IS CLEAR)

Good things (hmm, we have been here before 8000 times in 40 days, haven't we. Never mind. They remain true):

- Traditional Friday pizza, not dodgy delivery one we tried last week;

- A glass of wine (just one. Very abstemious. Though really I fancy a champagne cocktail, one of the ones with a boozed up sugar lump served in a saucer shaped glass);

- The comments on the last post. There were some terrible household crimes. AWFUL. I laughed.

- Loved ones not merely tolerant of my wobble but actively kind when 'STFU now' would have been a legitimate response.

Another baby otter video via Karen (he's getting so big! They grow up so fast, don't they, etc etc). This is immensely worth watching for (i) wind-up lobster (ii) post bathe fluffiness.

- Bath (no wind up lobster, fluffiness or, mercifully, YouTube footage) with Dead Sea Salt and last remaining dregs of Aromatherapy Associates oil ("morning revive" beggars can't be choosers, and I don't feel violently revived) whilst finishing book (excellent).

- Friends:

F:

F: The first day is always the hardest. It's the price you pay for a hiatus. The next day will be a mite easier.

E: THIS WAS THE SECOND DAY.

F: FINE, DAY THREE WILL BE BETTER. Shit, now I'm depressed and weepy. Damn you Emma.

E: Sorry.

B: Sent me this link about a naked man on the subway.

M: suggested exercise, which got her nul points but then got thousands back by using the expression "shove them up your blowhole"

(It is just a shame none of these people live within 500 miles of me. )


- A nice verveine in bed because I am 900 years old.

Tomorrow will be better if for no other reason than I have the settled intention of buying a large tiramisu. Planning for success, see.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 26 (32% battery and can't find the charger)

Today is brought to you mainly by relief: relief I didn't miss my train (it was a close squeak, though mainly due to my insistence on buying breakfast: food options at my father's house were some brussels sprouts, chilies, "rye wafers" and a bunch of thyme); relief L remembered to leave me the key at the corner shop so I didn't have to access the house through the basement crawl space tunnel/spider playground; relief that the dog didn't use my absence as an excuse to do anything horrific (as far as I have discovered, yet).


Crimes as yet undiscovered

Oh, latterly it has also been brought to you by rage and self-pity because SOMEONE ATE MY DINNER. I am roosting on one end of the sofa balefully, sulking. It was not a very thrilling supper (a breaded cod fillet, what, they are delicious) but IT WAS MINE.

I class this highly among domestic crimes. The worst domestic transgressions in our house, many of which I commit regularly (listen, we've only got 23% left, I slept about 4 hours and I've been doing this for 26 days, I know we're scraping the barrel here, and I promise better things soon, with the empty, silver-tongued promise of a furious harridan half watching Liberty of London as she types):

- only taking one mug/plate out of clean dishwasher, especially when your dishwasher is a useless bastard like ours that only warms the dirt on the plates up slightly;

- eating another family member's food (GODALMIGHTY MY CABILLAUD A LA CHAPELURE CROUSTILLANTE ET LEGERE, WHY, WHY);

- tucking single socks down the sofa cushions in manner of deranged hoarder;

- noisy licking of breakfast plates before 9am watershed (actually any licking of plates or any crockery before the 9am watershed. No. Just no.);

- unplugging/turning off/hiding the Roomba because it is annoying (it is annoying, useful but so annoying);

- FIDGETING while I am watching my programmes, especially eg. flicking nails against remote control or other repetitive noisy thing likely to bring deserved death upon you;

- Fecking with our temperamental tellyboxes which are almost as defective as the dishwasher;

- charger theft;

- Cavalier channel changing during commercial breaks in important programmes;

- Bin crimes (various, numerous, too numerous to list);

- Crap tea-making (poor milk control, leaving teabag in).


I will probably add to this list tomorrow as further outrages are perpetrated.

What domestic crimes are unforgivable in your household?


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 25 (I leave the house and buy some bad trousers)

RED ALERT RED ALERT I AM NO LONGER IN MY HOUSE.

I am in Pain Quotidien, which is practically my house, though. It's like a tiny outpost of Belgium in the middle of London, with less gratuitous daytime beer (why am I in Pain Quotidien? Who knows. I am always in Pain Quotidien and I was in the middle of a psychotic break in Cos trying on worse and worse shapeless garments so I thought I needed to break the cycle, I had already acquired a pair of trousers of very dubious merit in some kind of modern 'stretch' fabric. Brrrrr).

***

I am no longer in Pain Quotidien, having paid £4.73 for a green juice which made my mouth smell of sprouts. I am at my father's after going to Mrs Trefusis's magnificent literary salon with India Knight, poor picture follows:



... which was exceptionally cheery, with champagne and brilliant book chat and good advice for The Withering (this was India's provisional title for the book which became In Your Prime). The premise of the salon, which is called The Books That Built Me is six books that have influenced the invitee and shaped their writing life: India's were Dante's Inferno, Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love, Simenon L'Homme Qui Regardait Passer les Trains, Albert Cohen's Belle de Seigneur, Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Barbara Pym (just all Barbara Pym, basically). Of course you can't help but try and think of your own, it's like a literary Desert Island Discs, but thankfully with a different remit and no sandy, desert island hardship. Ugh, how I hate sand. This is my thinking tonight, but it would be different tomorrow:

The Compleet Molesworth
Some representative PG Wodehouse, ideally involving a small but serviceable rubber bludgeon and/or Roderick Spode.
The Pursuit of Love
Daniel Deronda, purely for Gwendolen who, with her snake-like neck, is one of my favourite (anti?) heroines (I too have a snake-like neck and an iffy moral compass). Incidentally the author of this fantastic looking book on literary heroines was also there tonight (she nearly proposed to me, long story) and I am downloading it the instant I get home.
A Fred Vargas, I don't know which, they're all so good, maybe Pars Vite et Reviens Tard.
David Sedaris Me Talk Pretty One Day


So hard. I've already changed seven things and I want to put H is for Hawk in.

I have to finish this now as it is nearly midnight and it would be a shame to fail at this totally arbitrary and wrongly calculated forty days thing now. What six books have shaped and influenced you? Can you even bear to limit yourself to six, mutiply caveated?

23:59! MUST POST.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 24

I'm reaching the point in this four day weekend when 'lovely, cosy, peaceful' shades into 'demented, eye-popping cabin fever'. Even the pumpkins have gone feral.


Also, there is no nagging left in the world because it has all come out of my mouth today (to little avail). Achievements today were minimal: no one wanted to see Interstellar (fine by me) so we had steak and chips and played a shamefully bad game of Scrabble (I lost) and I experimented with a new cookie recipe (dear Felicity Cloake, no one plans to make cookies SEVENTY TWO HOURS in advance. At the very best, they make double dough and leave half of it, but even that is frankly improbable). There was also some light squabbling and a surfeit of telly.


This cheesecake eclair was good though and I am enjoying current book (this) and the sun was beautiful, low in the sky and soft and nothing like November.




Speaking of books, tomorrow I can procrastinate no longer and must get back to writing mine after a financially necessary hiatus. This prospect is making me sweat lightly and queasily. Whenever I leave it for a while and come back, I must spend three days in bleak despair and embarrassment contemplating my own shortcomings, so that is the plan for the rest of the week, interspersed with some light corporate editing tasks.

The bleak despair looks like this, usually:


.. but with less taupe matchiness and instead of being in a cosy faux-sheepskin bed, I am curled up in the hole under my desk trying to work out if I can convincingly edit five years out of my life.

I am going to London for this cheery event tomorrow, thankfully, leaving a trail of logistical chaos behind me. The last time I created a similar logistical rat's nest, I compounded it all by leaving my phone in a taxi. I will try my very hardest not to do that this time.

I am mainly, I find, waiting for the next episode of Serial. What other podcasts should I listen to in the meantime to keep my impatience to a low simmer?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 23 (nothing happens) (again)




This gentleman has the right idea about Mondays.



He's waiting for the monkey butler with his Sobranies and his vodka martini.

As reported yesterday, both children had the day off school. They have not moved, really and I have done some light invoicing and about a third of a Brussels guide. Apart from a vast amount of Clash of Clans and Top Gear, L spent a considerable amount of time fiddling with his new guitar tuner and F played the violin, dutifully (he has a new, stricter teacher this year). I foster the flowering of their cultural appreciation gladly, joyfully, but sometimes I wish they would keep it down a bit.

Conversation with B

E: F is playing me the violin, scree, scree, delicious torture.

B: Every time he violins, you should sing along, like I do with my cat when she miaows (which shuts her up).  Or send him next door to start Belgium's next saxophone/violin phenomenon.  You know this is exactly the kind of thing Belgians would like.

E: I could stick both of them on a tram. €€€€€€€€ also PEACE.

B: I think you first have to buy him one of those trumpet things to affix to the violin. Buskers' requirement.

E: I thought we could just tie the saxophone to the violin, giving a similar, yet novel, effect?

B: I like your thinking. This sounds like it will be well positioned for success in a cramped pre-metro space while trapped underground waiting for unintelligible problems to be solved to resume service.

Other things of interest:

The lovely Flora, Fauna Dinner has drawn my attention to this creature:


A super heavyweight gondwanatherian. The knowledge that what is basically a VAST CAPYBARA was roaming the earth at the same time as the dinosaurs surely gives us a new insight into their demise. They were SCORNED into extinction.


I also forgot to show you this yesterday, a poster in the corridor of the museum, with a somewhat troubling vision of civic administration in Brussels:


Seriously, this could explain a lot. I mean, they don't even have any hands free to use those computers. And what of health and safety, hmmm?

What of your Mondays?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 22 (a light smattering of culture)

I have no overwrought revelations tonight. It has been a thoroughly uneventful day. I lost most of the morning to this, for which I basically forsook all interaction. It did mean I gave the dog a long walk, emptied the dishwasher and sorted the laundry very thoroughly in order to have enough peace and quiet to keep listening, so I consider it entirely positive. I also finished Lissa Evans' gorgeous new book, regretfully.

When I reluctantly resumed interaction with my loved ones, we had a minor set-to about L's lost tram card, failed to find our museum entrance cards, had an underwhelming lunch, then went on a tourist trip to the Maison du Roi museum, where they keep the Manneken Pis's wardrobe (as well as a selection of rather overwrought ceramics). The Manneken has some truly dubious outfits, both in terms of unsavoury cultural appropriation and pure aesthetics. Most of the African outfits, I hope, will remain in a drawer never to be seen again.



This ghastly Gilles de Binche outfit (sinister Belgian carnival involving suits stuffed with straw and the hurling of oranges, reminiscent of Bingo Little's disastrous production of "What Ho, Twing", the citizens of Binche being the toughest of Tough Eggs) was among the creepiest for me, though competition is tough. We each chose our "favourite" and the ones where the Manneken had a false arm (see above grotesquely outsized fake hand) so he didn't look like he was peeing were particularly popular.

We also learned that the Manneken has his own full time salaried dresser (a sombre gentleman in his sixties in a green blouse), like a tiny Liberace. Most of all, we were transfixed by some very dated films about the Manneken, one of which featured a committee meeting of the Manneken Outfit Committee (I'm sure it has a far more overblown name), where ten grown men sat around a table debating the relative merits of three tiny outfits representing Aalst (small Belgian town): "this one is beautiful, but there's just an onion! How does an onion represent Aalst?" How indeed. Our other favourite bit was the extended sequence featuring a pigeon drinking from the Manneken's tiny member. L made us sit and watch the whole 1980s vox pop film again just to catch another glimpse of the pigeon.

I also liked this rather camp and not remotely martial pair of chaps in armour:





And the wide selection of weary masonry lions, this guy especially, carved by someone who had never seen a cat, let alone a lion:


The children have a sodding 'pont' tomorrow (= gratuitous day off) before the Armistice public holiday, so we must entertain ourselves for another two days. I cannot imagine how we can top the Manneken's outfits, but I am open to your suggestions. I believe there is a museum of 18th century anatomical wax models somewhere in Brussels..

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 21 (somewhat repetitive)

I read this grim piece about body image today and thought how wretchedly sad and wasteful it was, whilst at the same time thinking that, I realised that when I was the author's age (27) I could have written something almost identical. Except, of course, when I was 27 I had just had a baby too, so I was violently focussed on my gigantic breastfeeding tits and pendulously sagging post-partum stomach, whilst also consuming every piece of cake within a 2 mile radius of Goodge Street daily, then regretting it bitterly. But the basic state, the basic malaise, was the same: permanent dissatisfaction with my body. I am not dissatisfied with my body any more. There it is, at last; something truly great about being nearly forty. I know my body isn't the enemy. I mean, sure, I knew that intellectually decades ago, but now I actually live like I mean it.

Clearly - self-evidently - that doesn't mean that I live a life of perfect, irreproachable balance and moderation or treat my body with the tender solicitude I might give an adorable baby otter. I peel the skin off my itchy left foot until it weeps and pick at my dry lips until they bleed. I have been wearing the same minimiser bra for two weeks (what, it's the only one that fits). Some evenings I sit hunched on the sofa picking at my cuticles in a tortured pretzel shape trying to fulfil my self-imposed blogging requirements. Some evenings I eat only small puff pastry things and baguette and pâté and drink cheap, rather strange fortified red wine from the butcher's that the butcher actually tried to discourage me from buying. I think, perhaps, I sometimes lose sight of where the appropriate boundary between happy non-neurosis and giving up entirely lies. I suspect that this is the challenge for the next ten years for me - not going entirely feral, living on gin and biscuits and brushing my teeth twice a week with twigs.

But oh how glorious, how life-altering it is that I no longer waste time hating the way I look. My body is not better than it was when I fretted about calories and fat and vitamins, that would be too much to hope for. It is fatter, older, saggier and greyer. I have burst veins in my nose and pink irritated eyelids and my stomach is a strange, undulating, papery textured thing full of cheap fortified butcher's wine and puff pastry. My back is constantly threatening me with mutiny. But my brain is so much better with all this space in it, all this time to think! More even than that, I recognise my body for what it is: a magnificent delivery system for all sorts of happiness, big and small. The happiness of cup of tea in bed, a Sadaharu Aoki Bamboo, a gin and tonic, a heart pumping, calf aching stomp over a bleakly beautiful Yorkshire moor or a stretch out in front of the fire with a book and a sleepy dog. Sun and frost and mist and fat snowflakes starting to whirl in earnest for the first time in the year as you look out of the window of a warm house. Elemis Aching Muscle Supersoak. Sex. The breathless, goosebump delight of listening to an incredible musician. Walkers Cheese and Onion crisps. All of it, all the good stuff. All the things. Letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves. I think, too, that by this age you have seen enough of the ways in which bodies are fragile that the indecent waste of not appreciating a functional one becomes very plain to you. It's plain to me, finally.

I've said all this before, I think, and it's soppy and ridiculous and obvious. Also,  I'm deeply wary of giving the impression that I have anything sorted in my head or think I have any wisdom to impart, because (i) ha ha, what do I know, I am an idiot (ii) things change (and I could easily loathe my body again when they do) and (iii) why temp fate. But it's Saturday night of my forty day penance and I was thinking about it today and it is amazing all the pleasure that this idiosyncratic, lumpy, wonderful sausage skin I live in gives me, repeated eye infections and bad teeth and baldness and all. I wish I had recognised it twenty years ago, but I appreciate it all the more now. I confess I am hoping for other similarly life simplifying revelations in the next decade. Ideally, I would like definitively to stop comparing myself unfavourably to other people. That would save me a shitload of brain space. I would also very much like to shut that unmanageable bastard, anxiety, in a box and only take it out when there is a rational reason to. There are other things, plenty of them. But this one small epiphany has been wonderful, and it makes me optimistic there could be others.

Unrelated photograph of the hairdresser's window display since someone was asking after the Crap Uccle Pumpkins:



Friday, 7 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 20 (Happy birthday M)

It's' M's birthday today. Whenever I am feeling down on the Internet I remind myself that I MET M ON TWITTER. There she was, pretending to be a dinosaur and now she is my best friend and I feel improbably lucky  that she eventually emailed me to tell me she was the mother of dinosaurs (I had assumed she was a man, because I am a massive dinosaur sexist, apparently) and that we met.

She makes me laugh every single day and she's kind and courageous and brilliant and she has made me think about things differently, more creatively, less angrily. Where the fuck would I be without her? Mad and furious like the shouting lady who stalks down our street, probably. Imagine that! One day a green cartoon dinosaur starts chatting to you and five years later you're - digitally - inseparable, dicking around with moisturiser and stamping rude words on biscuits. What an incredible bloody gift from the world. 

As well as M, I met most of my other friends through the internet. B (sent me a video of an owl on a skateboard), Mrs Trefusis (emailed me about Molesworth, among other things) and F (I emailed her, I think about a really beautiful thing she wrote): these are people I talk to almost every day. I have been repeatedly interrupted trying to write this tonight by F making me laugh pretending to be a hawk on gchat (you had to be there, I think). And all these, and so many more, connections - friends and acquaintances and people you have great chats with or who send you book recommendations or teabags or regular updates on cephalopods or photographs of interesting pieces of taxidermy or videos of otters they have spotted - were made through a circuitous, complicated tangle of other blogs and people, the tiny sparks of interest that make you click and click again. 

I have nothing clever to say about it all at this time on a Friday night but it just feels a bit miraculous, like some incredible natural phenomenon I don't quite understand, but wonder at. Well done, modernity. And happy birthday, M, who, let us recall made me MY VERY OWN OWL IN A BOX some years ago. 




Thursday, 6 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 19

Yesterday's wintry euphoria has vanished in a cloud of school crapness and homework trauma and the neighbour's insistence that the Communards and free jazz saxophone do work together if you spend enough hours trying to blend them (say five? Possibly six? Every day?). I am cross and slightly ashamed about the homework thing, because I was a bit of an arsehole. I mean, faults on both sides but I am the adult. I also crossly threw something (unobserved, I strop alone) and have broken a compass. Maturity, it eludes me. After all that, I went out and walked the dog and looked at the giant beautiful full moon and had a bath and chilled the fuck out slightly.

Apart from that I had my weekly tussle with Cartolino, the horse who is almost as nervous as me. The Door of Terror was shut today, so we didn't have any door related freak outs, but then he saw a man in a striped rugby shirt (admittedly very ugly (the shirt not the man)) and lost his shit again.

He doesn't look nervy, gurning here, but do not trust his sweet, hairy face. Also, apparently another horse head-butted him recently and he needed stitches in his forehead (forehead? Is that a horse term? Sub-forelock? Poll? This diagram suggests 'forehead' is ok)! I'd be twitchy too if that happened to me.


Whenever I get on him, the stirrup leathers are super short, so there is obviously a fearless seven year old riding him before I do. I am beyond even feeling mortified about this, I just want to stay alive (why do I keep doing this? I don't really know: because it used to be easy and delightful and a pleasure and I don't want to just give up on it, I suppose. Also, all my retirement fantasies involve decrepit horses).

Looking forward to:

- the hot water bottle I will be placing under my croup shortly (I might use horse terms for all body parts henceforth, people should definitely have withers and fetlocks and gaskins);

- my Friday night pizza;

- the return of Liberty of London;

- Going to Mrs Trefusis's literary salon, The Books That Built Me, next week;

- Downloading the new Lissa Evans, because I loved her previous;

- MY BIRTHDAY


What are you looking forward to?


PS You should probably watch this baby otter learning to swim, via lovely Karen. It is relevant to all our interests.

PPS I have totally miscalculated this forty day thing because my birthday is the 26th and that just doesn't work, does it? Shit. This is SO TYPICAL.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 18 (Elder Salmon)

I became quite euphoric today at the cold, slightly misty weather. At last! My season. My favourite times of year are coming, high days, holidays and bleak, Scandinavian stay-in-bed days. The hatches are battened and the maple is starting to turn and the fire is lit and I am losing happy hours weighing up the merits of various puritanical advent calendars on line.

The park was looking dank, yet appealing, this morning:


I love staring at these allotments. I am an allotment voyeur.


Phwoargh, chard.


My good mood continued right up until I became unreasonably irritated at both the price of and the wait for a packet of Strepsils (€7,50! WHATTHEFUCK. HOW? What are they made of? KRAKEN TOOTH?).

(I also loved these pictures of Lucian Freud's house, which looks quite, quite beautiful. He lived very near my father and I used to see him quite often looking wintry and imperious in Clarke's café in the mornings. Obviously, I am also charmed by his great love of whippets).

We had dinner with my father who had been out smiting his enemies all day and regaled the children with stories of his misspent youth of goat ownership and his battles with William the mountain goat to be King Goat.

This was a sort of handbag hook under the table. It looks appalled.


Lovely as it is to see him, it is a good thing he is going home, because my diet in the last two days has been 33% gin, 33% wine and 33% meat. Luckily for my cholesterol and liver, he is leaving in the morning.

On the way back our tram tonight contained a wholesome, fresh-faced pair of Mormon missionaries who were having a full on debate with an impassioned man about polygamy ("I come from a really big family, yes, but we have only one mother"). One of them was wearing a name badge that read "Elder Salmon" which caused us enormous childish hilarity. We also met a busking trumpet player who was excellent - a rarity among Brussels buskers who are almost uniformly terrible accordion abusers -  and whose Somewhere Over the Rainbow allowed me to trot out my sister's best ever twisted lyric ("Somewhere over the rainbow/Wear your pie". Or possibly 'weigh your pie".). L revealed that until recently he though the "clap along" bit of Pharrell's 'Happy' was actually 'pepperoni'. I love a good twisted lyric.

Negative self-improvement thoughts of the day:

- I need to stop wearing my beloved Prozac trousers because comfy as they are, they make me look like a bag lady.
- I need to stop chewing my lips until they bleed.
- I need to stop taking three days to write 800 words.
- I need to stop treating a slight fiscal easing as an excuse to buy artisanal advent calendars and Pierre Marcolini eclairs and expensive books for children (AND THE REST).
- I need to stop writing these posts sitting on the sofa because my neck has completely seized up.


What do you need to stop? 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 17 (Surfeit of fathers)

(No one is reading this, are they. I am just mumbling into the void)

Prog Rock, recumbent, reading, on the sofa again yesterday: Did you know Werner Herzog described the Amazon as 'an overwhelming fornication'?


Me: No.


Prog Rock: This is good on the Earl of Rochester, Em. 'During another bout of insanity he threw himself on a phallic shaped sundial, shouting 'what, doest though stand here to fuck time?'


Me: ....


Prog Rock:  Would you like another cup of tea?


Me: Yes please.


This continues for several hours.

Later, he answered nearly every question on University Challenge correctly, to the complete awe of the boys. I can usually manage three or four questions and am used to getting unearthly respect for it, now I have been unmasked as a shoddy third rate loser (though I was the only one who got the whole round on German chart hits in 1989).

Tonight my actual father who is in town most of this week summoned me to his far-flung hotel for a bucket of gin to debrief me on his plans to crush his enemies.

After that I went to see Coup Fatal, which was absolutely stunning. It is a mix of baroque counter-tenor arias, Congolese guitars and dance and I know that sounds weird but it was just spell-binding. There was a degree of audience participation and I was very glad to be safely on the balcony as the beautiful, sinuous, sexy dancers picked out the dorkiest individuals (plenty to choose from, we were quite a WOMAD audience) to dance with. At one point a gorgeous semi-naked man in a kilt was dancing with his feet on the arms of a very sensible-looking middle aged lady's chair. The hem of his kilt kept brushing her nose as he gyrated and she sat very very still and very composed, possibly willing herself to wake up and find out it was all a dream.

Here is a short extract. It is about a million times better than this in real life. I am now officially obsessed with Serge Kakudji.



That is all. Oh, and I have a suppurating head wound. Always good to finish on a high.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Forty days Pt 16 (How to tell if you are at a Northern French celebration)

(With apologies to The Toast)

1. Saying hello takes half an hour and is a minefield due to the differing, seemingly arbitrary numbers of cheek kisses imposed by the various groups of attendees. "You're three? Four?!" You have neck strain. You are contemplating faking your own death to avoid the goodbye bise round.

2. Someone bristly gets you in an endless bise cycle as implacably relentless as a crocodile's death roll and you have never been so effectively exfoliated.

3. Someone has just tried to convince you that a double shot of Calvados is an appropriate palate cleanser.

4. Yes, even for children. Especially for children. And babies.

5. You have been sitting in the same place for five hours without moving. The elderly relative next to you may have died. If not, they may be expressing a wish for their own death. You deal with this - quite effectively - by offering them a double shot of Calvados.

6. Variously, over several hours, people have told you that the following foods are "vegetarian": ham, chicken, salmon, lardons, mince.

7. You have now accepted that rice is a vegetable. Possibly also salmon. Hell, ham too. Why not.

8. You have been talking to an animated older gentleman for twenty minutes without understanding a word except something something something "walnuts" something something something "vengeance".

9. When you innocently ask someone else about the walnuts, a chill falls over the room.

10. All the cold food comes in aspic.

11. All the hot food comes in cream.

12. Did you arrive with some children? You might have done, you can't remember. You lost sight of them hours ago. They have had time to reach puberty by now and are probably smoking and drinking calva in a field.

13. Speaking of which, it is time for more Calvados.

14.  The whole thing starts again 4 hours later.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Forty days: Pt 15 (Big Goose*)




Prog Rock is here, lying on the sofa with the LRB, telling me about how A J Ayers had an affair with e e cummings' wife. He has brought us a Christmas cake, tightly wrapped, in a tupperware box (before we broke the news to him that we were actually descending on him for Christmas, poor bugger). We have also played Scrabble - even though he hates it - and discussed the pantomime.

"Towards the end of each pantomime... Berwick Kaler throws Wagon Wheels, as one might a frisbee, to the audience, as well as handing out a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale to a father in the stalls."

I have booked tickets for the whole family to go and see Berwick Kaler in a wool wig, huge dress and bovver boots in Mother Goose at York Theatre Royal on Boxing Day and am thrilled. The very first pantomime I ever took L to see was Berwick Kaler in a wool wig in Mother Goose, at York Theatre Royal, eleven years ago. It was in the darkest, unhappiest time imaginable, a couple of months after mum had died and my sister and I took him even though really she should have been there to take her first and only grandchild to the panto. It was a bit daft, because he was only 18 months old, but it was one of those defiant, ceremonial things we did, because it seemed like the thing to do, and actually, it was very funny as well as heartbreaking. L was by turn troubled and enraptured by the experience, grasping a sweaty Matchmaker in one hand and clutching compulsively at us during the scary bits, with smoke and the baddie and his flashing devil horns and strobe lighting. It definitely marked him, particularly Mother Goose herself, a giant, waddling, stripy legged enchantment from whom a vast golden egg would occasionally emerge, to a showy cymbal clash from the orchestra pit. For weeks thereafter when I put him down at night he would grasp my wrist and look me deeply, searchingly in the eyes, then ask "big goose?"

He was such a highly-strung, intense little thing back then, full of terrors and improbable ideas of imminent peril (the boulder!) and whimsy. I think for a year or so his life was desperately hard to fathom: there was so much upheaval and sadness, death and adults behaving strangely, a sibling and a move to another country. A giant goose laying golden eggs was just another layer of weirdness. Good? Bad? He didn't really know what to make of it, but he knew it was important. It was funny and sad and lovely all at once and every night I would pat his plump hand in what I hoped was a reassuring fashion.

"Yes," I would say, unsure if this was the right response. I often didn't know what to say to him back then, what would make things better or worse. "Big goose." This ritual seemed to satisfy him and he would nod, and turn over, and I could turn the light out. After a few weeks the big goose faded from his imagination, to return only occasionally over the next year or so, relegated to a bit player in the steam engine dramas that followed us for months along the streets and railings and through the gravel of Paris parks. But my sister remembers it, and I remember it. Big goose.

It's quite hard to reconcile that febrile creature with my huge, calm, gentle, sarcastic boy. "Big goose!" I say, delightedly, as I book the tickets and of course, he doesn't remember, looks at me as if I am slightly deranged. But I will definitely buy a box of Matchmakers and make him sit next to me on Boxing Day.

(*this was not what I meant when I said I had an idea for a post yesterday. I am still plotting that and it is silly)