Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Checking in, checking out



Perpetuating the cycle of rural cruelty

Happy belated New Year! I hope, despite the "morosité ambiante" as one email correspondent called it this week, that you are well and happy. I also hope you are not doing any silly January deprivation things. I have seen my numerous chins on the Christmas photos and it's a sobering sight, but this is no time to be trying to do anything about it. Fish and chips for dinner tonight, followed by these salted caramel marshmallows which are an obsession that has crept up on me. I don't even like marshmallows.

I have not been here (or on Twitter, Jesus, that is hard) because I am trying to finish the sodding book. It is a chilling journey of self-discovery (concentration span: 4 minutes; ability to maintain positive demeanour in face of adversity: nil, general go-getting creativity: absent) on which I will not bring you because it is super boring as my long-suffering friends can confirm.

But briefly, an uneventful update:

1. We had a lovely Christmas and New Year in my Native Lands, barring two strops from me - relating to salmon and crackers respectively, because not sweating the small stuff regrettably forms no part of my life philosophy - and one from L, much more reasonably, because we made him climb a mountain with a filthy cold.



There's a mountain back there but you can't see it for weather. Look, also, how delighted the dog is to be out in the fresh air. He exudes wellbeing and contentment, even though he is wearing his handsome new 1980s geography teacher roll neck coat.

2. I actually came back bursting with resolve and positivity (no, truly): more of this! Less of that! But we drove back into a howling tempest which has continued unabated for ten days and my good intentions seem to have been gradually dissolving with each inch of rain. By the end of last week I was hunched in a semi-foetal ball with a family sized Dairy Milk crammed in my mouth, and a smartphone in my hand listlessly refreshing Twitter and muttering "I hate everyone".

I am trying to think if there are any resolutions I wanted to make back in those glorious days when such things seemed possible which I can still stick to in the cold light ("light") of mid-January Brussels. I think they are: see more humans to whom I am not related and look less like a tramp. This latter I intend to effect by wearing more of my existing clothes and not just grubby shapeless Gap trousers and a revolving cast of grey jumpers. I am writing this in two layers of grey jumper and the shapeless Gap trousers but I have two - two! - social engagements lined up in the next week. Baby steps, eh. I haven't resolved to stop picking at my dry lips, thankfully, because that appears to be entirely beyond me.

3.  I read many things over Christmas, which I have added to the Reading page and it was delicious. I will make a new Reading page for 2015 soon because the current one is too big. 2014 was a great year for reading for me, of which my two absolute favourites were H is for Hawk, which deserves every one of its many prizes and made my chest hurt it is so vivid and Other People's Countries for conjuring up a forgotten corner of Belgium with precision and humour and beauty.

4. Since we returned, little has happened,  though the boys and I did manage to go on a trip to the relatively new Brussels cat café, which was predictably insane and chaotic, with four cats huddled around a storage heater, five kinds of fruit wine and no juice and all the furniture piled on the tables. A skinny tom cat fixated upon a 2-year-old customer's slice of chocolate cake and kept jumping on the table/her face/the cake. Despite having their wrists lacerated by the smallest and most aggressive cat, the boys were entirely delighted with the whole thing and are keen to go back at the earliest opportunity.


Cat sticking its arse in my face, plus token bottles of hand sanitiser. 

5. My younger son's first foray into consumer affairs (he wrote to Milka complaining about a packet of cow shaped biscuits, including the immortally French phrase "la texture n'était pas superbe") has borne limited fruit in the form of the following wonderfully flowery letter:



and €6 worth of vouchers. We were more hoping for the purple Milka cow in person with a giant purple lorry full of chocolate treats, but it was probably busy sucking the goodness out of Creme Eggs, so I suppose this will have to do.

This made for a brief respite from Rubik's and other cubes which currently take up 85% of his large and secretive brain. Many videos must be watched each day and algorithms tested and specialist shops visited and stranger and stranger things purchased. Earlier this week he made his own miniature cube out of Lego, specially scanned logos and nail varnish, which was extra-perplexing. Our evenings are punctuated with the repetitive clicking noise of a well lubricated Cube (thanks to a lengthy and informative video entitled "how to lube your Cube") being fiddled with endlessly. Where will it all end?

6. My sister has turned THIRTY dear lord. Prog Rock's enviable gifts to her: a second-hand pressure cooker and a pair of waterproof trousers, which must place highly on the list of crap 30th birthday presents. She seemed delighted.

I told you it was boring.

Back to the word gulag. I will try and reappear occasionally.

What of you? Are you surviving January and if so how? What was the best thing you read last year?

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

i have _MISSED_ you.

back to stalking you anonymously.

Xtreme English said...

GLAD you are back! so, tell me. A friend says when she was in France, she felt it was a COMPLIMENT to be called "Belgian." I think she was deluded. What say you??

Helen Brocklebank said...

january totally sucks.... I have achieved nothing in the last fortnight, nothing, though i have established I am very broke. Encouraged by the Milka example, I will exhort Trefusis Minor to write letters to suitable food companies - Danone is around the corner, I wonder if something like La texture de vos yaourts n'etaient pas superbe would have any traction if TM wrote it...

Also January has fried my brain.

Also, The MIniaturist. Liked. but not as much as Miss Fox. The former doesn't fulfil its early promise, unlike Miss Fox xxx

artfullydressed said...

I did miss you. I have gone back to work, grudgingly, resentfully, but back--fortunately tomorrow is payday.

The best book would be between The Elegance of the Hedgehog and The Painter. The Paying Guests was lovely, as well.

The Reluctant Launderer said...

Welcome back, and happy new year! I have to say that I've been, quite self-indulgently, missing English winter weather, but happily your photos have knocked that squarely on the head. Also thanks for giving me fodder for my new, empty, Kindle. My own favourites from last year were The Orphan Master's Son, and Station Eleven. (Mind you, I only read about 6 books last year, so I'm not sure how much of an achievement it is to fall into my Best Book category, but, anyhow). Both crept under my skin and have not really left.

Dale said...

There you are! The sun has appeared twice --- fleetingly --- in Leuven since the new year. The rest of the time it's been a medley of wind, rain and overcast. If January were a book the last ten days would be edited out.

Hmmm, reading. I did enjoy The Paying Guests as well, but at the moment I am making my way very slowly through the letters of Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Bluecher. The term "heavy sledding" was invented for this book.

ganching said...

Thank goodness you're back. The 14th January is the new New Year's Day so really this is only the second day of the year so still not too late for resolutions. These should be about doing things rather than deprivations. My best book last year, which I may have been a bit late reading, was Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Could cry even thinking about it.

Mouselegs said...

I have also missed you! So, so, so pleased to see you back on my screen this morning. January, howling wind, blowing sleet, truculent, bored, under-exercised kids, blah, blah, blah. You help to brighten the gloom. Thank you!

CJ said...

Oh how I love to hear all your news. The cat cafe sounds absolutely insane, I do hope they catch on here. I really enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver's "Flight Behaviour" last year. I finished it in December, I can't really remember much further back than that. We have small people that we periodically force up mountains when they're under the weather too. I'm convinced it is character building. Good luck with the book. CJ xx

Anonymous said...

I have also missed you.
Welcome back! Your writing is amazing. You are very funny and interesting and charming. Not at all boring!
Good luck with your book, I can't wait to buy it!
Happy New Year!!!!

breakfastlady said...

That letter is just great. I imagine all French letters are written with an enormous feather quill and a bottle of ink. I see the writer rubbing his hands in manner of Mr Burns.

WTF is a cat cafe? Are they resident cats? Or is it BYO? Cat snackage provided? And anti-histamines along with hand sanitiser? So many questions.

January here mostly seems to be consisting of weather. Today: wind.

And oh, would you look at that new Captcha thing - that is the best thing that has happened to me this year so far, and has entirely restored my faith in the otherwise brutal march of technological innovation. Hurrah.

cruella said...

Hahahahaaaaa, the presents! Very glad to see you back!

January... hm. Up to last Sunday I ate absolutely everything in sight (and out of, I just sort of fished around in the pantry, fridge and freezer and gobbled up whatever came out. Christmas, indeed December, does that to me.

Now I'm quite resolved to finish a 30 day yoga challenge (just me and Adriene on screen, very peaceful though HARD) and have stopped eating (so much) carbs. For a while. We'll see.

I do agree that January on the whole is no time to change for the better.

Patience_Crabstick said...

I always appreciate your book recommendations and I've added H is for Hawk and Other People's Countries to my list.
Last week--the dreariest week of the year--was made tolerable to me because I scheduled a large trash pickup with the city and I was able to haul our horrible old dog couch to the curb, along with two years worth of grape vines and assorted brush and the city hauled it all away. Lovely. I think I will make this my yearly ritual.

Anonymous said...

I would like to second the first Anonymous, both regarding missing you and the joy of returning to my regular anonymous blog-stalking. You are the most excellent source out there for identifying semi-effective methods of Persevering Despite It All.

Gwan said...

I once lived the dream when Cadbury sent me an actual parcel full of chocolate for having the effrontery to imply that I made up finding a stone in a Moro bar (do they have Moros in the UK? Crap version of Mars) They decided it was a lump of calcified sugar in the end.

Lara Kratz said...

So lovely to have you back! Definitely a bright note in what is otherwise proving to be a sopping, grey, miserable sort of January.

H is for Hawk and Other People's Countries continue to be unavailable in the United States, at least as far as I can tell. I blame Jeff Bezos personally. In the meantime I read The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin, which I thought was beautifully written. It was also blessedly short, which meant I could finish it all in one go. Hurrah for the illusory feeling of accomplishment!

Alison said...

The only resolution I made this year was to 'buy no grey clothes' and that is surely achievable?

January is not for giving things up. It is for cake: https://www.facebook.com/pages/CakeJanuary/122899507775263

BDM said...

Dear Waffle: Take heart, this is for you: http://junkee.com/japan-has-owl-cafes-where-you-can-totally-sit-and-have-a-drink-with-some-owls/48082
- Brenda

kath said...

Yay you are back. The Goldfinch for me. Clothes Music Boys a close second. The cat cafe in Shoreditch is always totally booked up apaz so it must a lucrative business.

nappy valley girl said...

Happy new year! A few weeks ago I found my husband chortling over an article in the Guardian. I took a look, and lo and behold! it was by you. Congratulations on a hilarious piece.

I was a big fan of The Goldfinch. But then I am a fast reader....

cruella said...

BDM, I've been to the owl café in Tokyo! Very odd, very unsatisfactory coffee and cake. But the owls. Sigh. Even though of course one can't help to feel sorry for them. Living in a cage is clearly nothing compared to whooshing around the woods diving for prey.

Kimberly said...

Happy 2015! I really enjoyed The Goldfinch last year. Once I muddled through the first third it became magic.

I'm muddling through this cold cold month by focusing on the fact that it's lighter later each day.

Welcome back! I missed you in a non-creepy way. :)

Lisa-Marie said...

Happy New Year!

As I'm sure you are aware, Scotland has been pelted by about 40 different storms and every for of precipitation, so my second week of the new year has mostly been me being stuck somewhere in deepest Glasgow on public transport. I am dead against the January diet nonsense. January is a month for thick, delicious soup (no watery nonsense) and stew. And biscuits. So, I have mostly been reading (I just finished The Miniaturist, it is very good) making vast pots of food, and wearing lots of layers.

I did get to take Oscar (My wee dog) out in the snow for the first time, which was quite idyllic.

Betty M said...

Yes to grey Gap hell.

All books I read last year escape me. I did love The Last 100 Days by Patrick McGuiness from a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you didn't like the book by Michael Harding. He writes a weekly column in the Irish Times and some of them are very good. His style might be more suited to a short read rather than a novel. Had been thinking about buying the book, probably won't now.

Waffle said...

Anon - Oh god, maybe you'll love it - it was recommended by a friend with excellent taste. It enraged me.

Anonymous said...

Dear Waffle, you make me laugh out loud. Poor Michael Harding, I'm sure he would be perplexed about enraging anyone, he seems very inoffensive and mild-mannered on paper. Was it the Zen bits that were annoying or in general was it too self-indulgent of a read?

Waffle said...

Anon - Hmm. I'm probably just being sour. I liked the bits about him being a priest and he's a nice prose stylist and it's certainly an honest account of being very miserable.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for replying, Waffle. I must say I'm intrigued now, I'll have to read it myself after all ;)

Anonymous said...


Ah I'm glad to see you are back. I am shit. It's freezing and having argued with my nearest and dearest all day I am holed up in bed sulking. But this has cheered me up.

Izzy said...

So glad you posted again!

You should see this video, I think
you'll like it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqbYVr5jBVk

And the best book I read last year was The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. It was really great!

B said...

It is like a Waffle celebration! I somehow completely missed this post, so expect further detailed queries re cat cafe, but as you know, the best book I read last year (and possibly this year, as I read it over the new year's break) was "The Book of Strange New Things" by Michel Faber. I read somewhere that he has stopped writing because his wife passed while he was writing this book, and I hope to everything that is kind and good that it is not, because it is lyrical and subtle and beautiful and left me breathless, over and over again. Off to buy "H is for Hawk" tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152810244373462.1073741916.273172638461&type=1

January here in Wellington, NZ is proving extremely hot! You probably don't need to hear that, as you languish in snow, so have a look at these owl photos from Wellington Zoo's hospital as distraction.
The native owl, ruru also known as morepork, is just lovely! I have one in my garden that starts calling every evening, but it is so elusive I've never seen it.
Heather (NZ)

Waffle said...

Newsflash: EVERYONE should watch the video posted by Izzy in the comments here. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqbYVr5jBVk)

Nick Brown said...

I just wanted to say thank you for the H is for Hawk recommendation. In normal circumstances, a book about training a goshawk would have been nowhere near my list of preferred reading matter, but you were so glowing about it I gave it a go, and my word, how heart-stoppingly glorious it was. So thank you for making my life a little bit better.

Waffle said...

Nick - Hooray! I read it on a similarly insistent recommendation from someone here..

Anonymous said...

Dear Waffle,
You are sorely missed! I hope your writing is going well, can't wait until I can buy your book.
I'm told January is over now. Much of it was spent in a crouched position over the keyboard working like a fiend, muttering curses under my breath as I fine-combed my home for crumpled receipts to prepare various tax returns and just generally living and feeling the season in all its pathos. Many an early night, head-under-duvet-reading-the-Internet, probably wreaking havoc with my circadian rhythm (if I have one any more, that is!).
I ordered H is for Hawk the other day and it arrived today so I have that to look forward to at some point soon. It looks amazing and I can't wait to start it.
Pouring rain today, the good honest-to-God rain that is so rare here. I just cleaned my microwave by boiling a chopped up lemon so now my kitchen smells of lemons. Time for a cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

Please post again soon. Please. February, while the shortest month, feels so long sometimes.

All the best from the States,
Anonymous Loyal Reader

P.S. Updates on Euronweather andnBelgian governmental crises welcome. Seriously, please.

Flora Fauna Dinner said...

Desperate to read 'H is for Hawk'...scared it will result in falconry though. When are you in Scotland?? x x x

Minuman Bernergi said...

Caffeinated beverages have filled in this current human need successfully. They issue you the moment burst of vitality that you generally needed. Vitality when you require it - like flicking a switch