Friday, 29 January 2016

On my mind

What's on my mind? I'll tell you what's on my mind.

1. The navet boule d'or
I don't really know what this is other than a small yellow turnip, but I think I have confirmation bias or something (is that what I mean? It isn't, is it. You know what I mean, I just tried to Google the expression I am looking for and it was a total disaster and only threw up a chat forum about threadworms. UPDATED: MrsStupidHead reminds me it is the Bader-Meinhof Phenomenon!) with these things, I am seeing them EVERYWHERE. I started sending M the menus from the virtuous organic hipster take away near here a few days ago and we soon realised that the navet boule d'or appears every day. An ordering glitch? We imagined them standing, staring gloomily into a gigantic sack of turnips every morning, trying to work out how they could hide them in the plat du jour. Anyway, since we spotted them there, they have been cropping up in all sorts of other contexts so I can only surmise there is a world glut of small yellow turnips. Have you encountered a navet boule d'or? Phone the turnip helpline and tell us more.

2. Gérard Depardieu
Thanks to this headline: "Gérard Depardieu, «fume un cerf» dans une nouvelle pub douteuse" (Gérard Depardieu "smokes a deer" in a dodgy new advert). I have not spoilt it by going off to read the actual article, because I prefer the version in my own head.

3. Tunnels
Brussels is having one of its periodic infrastructure related disaster-stroke-embarassments as all the tunnels on the inner ring road have this week been declared unsafe, and one is closed already for "at least a year" and the collective lamenting and reciprocal recrimination in all 18 layers of local government is great. As a public transport user I give no fucks whatsoever about this, but I am always entertained by the utter chaos that ensues when Brussels embarks on some ill-advised programme of public works and anticipate this will continue to provide amusement for years to come.

4. Silence
There have been people in the house for the second half of this week and I am sorry, I have hated every minute of it. I don't want talking, I don't want music, I don't want premature suggestions that it is lunchtime at 11:55. Leave me in my womancave and do not dream of disturbing me before 4pm, there is brooding to be done. I am genuinely considering a trip to Quaker meeting on Sunday just for an hour of uninterrupted (well, perhaps, who knows, I have never been in Brussels, maybe there are loads of chatty types being moved by the spirit here) silence.

5. Winterwatch
I get universal derision in this household for loving the BBC's Winterwatch, a bleaker offshoot of the more crowd-pleasing Springwatch, but I do not care. Where else could you watch a CARCASS-CAM? Recently a fox and a golden eagle had a fight over the carcass on carcass cam, I mean, how can you fail to be charmed by that? I live with soulless fiends. Loud, early-lunching soulless fiends.

6. Doughnuts
It turns out these guys are based about 5 minutes away from here, I can't see how this can possibly go wrong, says she typing with matcha glazed fingers and a salted caramel chin. I would also have a unprecedentedly popular doughnut Instagram post if my phone were not STILL with the uncommunicative dullards at iClinique. I am over it. I no longer care. Well, except for Instagram.

7. Sparking of joy
I had a useful discussion with F earlier today about what really sparks joy, Kondo-style for us. Our agreed joint list:

Cosmetics (including expensive bath oils)

E: Our Kondo-ed house would be a place of joy. Everyone would want to visit us. Except we wouldn't let them in because they don't spark joy.

F: We would have a spark-joy intercom. We'd check who was there and then not buzz anyone in.

E: "Sorry, no. Not feeling the joy."

8. No to this

You? What's on your mind and what really really sparks your joy?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Go on, join in, let's get it all out, a problem shared is a problem... well, I don't know. It's still a problem but I always like reading yours.

1. January has gone on for seven months already and is not over.

2. I am really sick of watching "Mythbusters", which is our compromise household default programme, but which is basically just two overgrown ginger manchildren, one of whom has a walrus moustache, exploding stuff in a highly repetitive fashion for entirely spurious reasons. Tonight: breast implants, CDs, petrol stations. Yesterday: lavatories. Tomorrow: who knows. Racoons. Cereal. Soft furnishings. No one cares as long as there is FIRE. This is not science, people and I have my doubts as to whether it qualifies as entertainment either.

3. I have a spot on my chin and tomorrow I am going to get my picture taken for my book flap-slash-publicity (my choice, in a fit of a kind of reverse vanity. I could have just reused some old one from a million years ago, when I was young and fresh faced, but the contrast with real Hag Me would have been too hideous and I would rather the truth were out there, unpalatable as it is).

4. I keep overeating, but not the jolly, indulgent kind of overeating. I am doing the worst kind of overeating where you start with an orange, virtuously. Then a plain yoghurt. Then you add a semi-virtuous square of dark chocolate. Then another. And another. Then you are still hungry so you have a couple of nuts and so on and so on until you have ingested twelve billion calories and could have far more satisfactorily eaten a whole coffee and walnut cake.

5. I am using a ridiculous ancient phone as a replacement for mine which is still with the applenerds, who are apparently committed to sustainable, artisanal, Slow Repair, probably with wooden whittling sticks. Things you cannot do on the ancient phone:
- answer calls
- pick up voicemail
- listen to podcasts with less than an hour's preparation
- count your steps
- take pictures
- obsessively refresh Instagram even though it is only pictures of the Chanel show and some sky and all those chicken feeds my younger son has forced me to follow. God, why do I love Instagram so much? It's just pictures of chickens and food.

Actually that doesn't sound too bad when you put it like that and it is certainly teaching me patience, but I wonder whether there is any point in it at all. I might as well adopt a crow and carry that around with me, it would be far nicer and just as useful. The only thing I can actually do is contact my eldest son's friends of three years ago (I can choose from eg. "les emerdeurs" (sic), "huglandlefayot" (sic) or myself, for some reason listed as "Future Goat") using an app called "Vibr" (sp?) and look at PewDiePie. I have not done any of these things BUT I MIGHT. Also, the ringtone, when the phone that I cannot answer rings, is some soft rock number on histrionic crescendo, which at least matches my mood/expression as I bash furiously at the 'accept call' button to no avail.

6. Having tanned fractionally from blue to off-white in Thailand (yes, here comes a true tiny violin complaint), my legs are now so amazingly dessicated that flakes of skin drift off them in an attractive fashion every time I dress or undress (not that I do this much in winter, I just occasionally swap one layer for another as hygiene demands).

7. My eldest son has just announced to me that he has Thursday and Friday off this week for teacher training, wotthehell, how can I sit in restoratively morose silence eating my meagre lunches of punishment soup followed by orange/chocolate/yoghurt/nuts/guilt whilst watching First Dates when I have to police his Playstation killing and prevent him from eating every biscuit in the house? Mehitabel and her kittens comes to mind ("the life of a female artist is continually hampered what in hell have I done to deserve all these kittens", for "kittens" read "teacher training days").

8. I got cornered by a fireman who came to the door and made me give him €10 and I have no idea what I paid for and also I got cold called about changing my electricity supplier and the woman was so skilful that I think I have agreed to a man coming round at some point to try and sell me electricity and clearly the only way ahead is to neither answer the phone nor come to the door ever again.

9. As evidenced by the above my life is very boring at the moment and I have nothing whatsoever to write about.

Please proceed with your complaints, the bureau des réclamations is now open.

Friday, 22 January 2016


There was an Incident on Wednesday night the nature of which remains unclear to me but the upshot was that some damage was inflicted on my phone involving water and one of my children, the intermediate consequences involved some shouting and stomping and a broken mug and the ultimate result is that I have no phone for some, as yet undefined, length of time. I have tried many times to call the shaggy haired, eye-contact-avoiding youths who are holding it hostage, but they do not answer the phone - I mean, who under 30 does that - their voicemail box is full and they do not respond to email either. Clearly I either need to join their WhatsApp group (no I have no idea what that is) or go round in person like a vengeful pensioner and glare at them and nag until they languidly give in (I am very familiar with this tedious discipline technique). I am not up to either of those things. It took me about 90 minutes of psyching myself up to get as far as the post office this morning (Eireann, your book is now on its way, sorry it took so long).

As a result I am phoneless and it is making me agitated-slash-paralysed. Why go for my usual lengthy morning walks when my virtuous step count will not be recorded and when I cannot distract myself by listening to Our Mutual Friend (Mr Boffin was just becoming unhealthily obsessed by lives of misers)? How can I take artfully arranged pictures of the old hen's large eggs next to the new hen's tiny brown ones for as many as three or perhaps four people to pity-like on Instagram? Perhaps most importantly, why the fuck did the alarm clock app I downloaded onto my laptop not wake me up this morning, leading to the most almighty 8am panic? I do not know. I need to readjust to analogue life and engage with beauty and peace and prolonged periods of uninterrupted abstract thought but instead I am mainly thinking Dark Highly Specific Thoughts about the responsible individual. I have become as shallow as a saucer and as easily distracted as a toddler by a packet of raisins. I have no inner life.

Assuming they do not relinquish the phone for some time, I need to plan my life better (first step: purchase a basic alarm clock). I need to take my book and drink expensive tea at Comptoir Florian where phones are banned and use my Beaux Arts membership to go and stare at Breughels. I need to cook nourishing soups (ha, I am SOUP KRYPTONITE, every soup I try and make is disgusting) whilst listening to informative radio programmes. Sit in cafés with notebooks and pencils writing short stories. Learn to play a new Chopin Etude. Of course I will do none of these things, but will sulk around the house more tied to my laptop than ever, perhaps reaching some tipping point of acceptance just as the phone is finally relinquished by its infant captors.

What would you do if you suddenly had a week free from the tyranny of your smartphone? Or are you perhaps already one of those ahead of the curve refuseniks? My sister is trying to become one but she is far more disciplined than me.


10% Rediscovered Uniqlo cashmere mix sweatshirt joy
10% New trainer discomfort
10% Chapped hands
10% Unable to believe I will ever write anything again
10% Coffee and walnut cake
10% Puny Dutch exam triumph (I came top! 90%! I must be honest, it was not very difficult and the marking must have been pretty generous)
10% Invoice rage
10% TMI about the neighbour's UTI
10% No more salty breadcrumb chocolate panic
10% Cold Comfort Farm


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Contentedly furious

It is still freezing -  minus 6! - and I know almost everyone hates this part of the year and I am sorry for your suffering, but I actually quite love it. What I like is that simple survival becomes an end in itself and I can derive purpose from simply remaining alive, rather than berating myself for achieving nothing. Also: bowls of hyacinths, cashmere socks, a million birds in the garden (mainly crows trying to drag whole fat balls away to their crow lairs), the remains of the Christmas cake which I have secreted at the back of the cupboard to prevent anyone else eating it and cooking with even more butter than usual.

Do not think this generally tone of positivity extends too far - it does not. A well of unfocused anger swirls within me, mainly emerging when inanimate objects cross me. I am furious with:

- the neighbour (yes, I know he is not an inanimate object. If only he were. He's playing along to Hotel California this morning, because what Hotel California has been missing all these years is a fucking sax solo)

- the washing machine, which blocks approx. once a week now and which I must then empty via the stupid outflow thing, using trays and ending up with water all over the floor and dark spots in front of my eyes from fury. "I HAVE A FIRST CLASS DEGREE FROM OXFORD AND STILL I HAVE TO TOLERATE YOUR BULLSHIT" I shrieked at it yesterday as gallons of warm, mysteriously dark blue water gushed forth, with no effect whatsoever.

- Tights. Why must your feet or crotch always be the wrong way around? What the hell is that, you are tubes of fabric, how fucking hard is it simply to do your job? JUST ENCASE MY LEGS AND LEAVE THE FLOW OF BLOOD TO MY LIMBS WELL ALONE.

- The dishwasher. Yes, sure, just slightly warm up the dirty bits, causing them to become more encrusted. And yes, take three and a half hours to do so, that seems perfectly reasonable.

- The dog (not quite inanimate but nearly), for choosing to spend most of any walk insistently licking patches of frozen urine while all feeling leaves my hands and feet.

- Amazon Prime for not telling me it had Grey's Anatomy Season 11 until the very day it was removing it from Prime, causing me to watch six episodes in one day crying in fury. I will never know what happens about Derek fixing brains for the President now.

Snack issues: 

M: I feel like I could eat a house. If it were made of toast. I would eat that.

E: Or a horse, also made of toast?

M: I don't know about the horse. Maybe I would just keep the horse as is, but walk it into the toast house and eat that. Like a sort of horse sandwich.

E: What, you'd keep the toast horse? I'm confused.

M: No, I don't want the horse to be toast. I want it to be meat. Then I'd put the meat horse into the toast house. And eat the whole thing.

E: I'm glad we straightened this out. 1. Toast house. 2. Meat horse. 3. Place 2 in 1. 4. Consume.

M: This is going to end up as a blog post isn't it.


30% Weirdly despairing and sad for no reason this morning despite all the above flannel about my love of cold winter days, crow squabbles and cashmere.

20% Skirt uncertainty. I haven't worn one for months and am wearing one now, due to "spontaneity". Is it too cold? What shoes? Will I get food on the white border like I did last time I wore it?

20% Sick of these ground up linseeds I keep putting in everything because it's January and one is supposed to do that kind of thing.

20% Completely delighted by this book:

which I am using to counter my son's 'can women be pilots' question.

10% On a tidying jag that will not last. The problem with tidying jags for me is that while they continue I am delighted with the state of the house but perpetually angry and resentful at its other inhabitants for putting things in non-mandated putting spots and generally continuing to exist obliviously in a world of unfolded blankets and unpaired shoes. Given I am incapable of simply taking on the extra workload without furious resentment, it is better for the global utility of the household for me simply to allow everything to sink back into our usual state of mild, but convivial squalor. I anticipate this happening by the weekend.

You? What are you furious with and what would you eat as a snack, ideally, today (me = a whole M and S coffee and walnut cake I think, thanks)?

Monday, 18 January 2016


Someone, I think it is Ganching, has her own "New Year" date in mid-January sometime, which always seems to me to be a very sensible idea. Given that last Friday, 15th January, I slept a grand total of two hours (I think due, rather shamefully, to eating too many choux buns, muffins and biscuits at book club and spending the night in a gross, feverish sugar sweat), then woke up to the house flooding with melted snow bullshit and had to retire to my bed for the whole afternoon to mournfully gum most of a coffee and walnut cake (once the cake hunger is awoken it cannot easily be quelled) whilst watching the second series of Transparent, I think today is the earliest I can possibly allow the new year to start in this household.

So: happy new year! Here are my resolutions, they are minimal:

1. Stop reading Times Online articles about how I am parenting wrong. The Times has a lot to say on this topic, barely a week goes by without them telling me something about the rich and varied ways in which I am fucking my children's future up. The things are often contradictory, but this does not stop me believing every word. However, this cannot happen if I do not read them, so it stops now. Actually, more generally The Times is very keen to tell me how to live my life (every week Shane Watson seems to be telling me something I am doing wrong or am too old to do), and I am far too receptive to this kind of thing. I don't want to cancel my subscription because The Times has so many good writers and some completely brilliant journalism, but I need to be more discriminating in what I allow myself to read.

2. Not allow more than one mug on my bedside table at a time as that is the top of the slippery slope to utter squalor.

3. Write more. I did not write enough last year. I would take on pretty much any job that stopped me from writing and I need to not do that any more. I'm old. If I want to write something decent before I die, I need to get on with it.

4. To continue to try and reign in my most arsehole-ish tendencies, as far as possible.

5. To keep going to Dutch classes because they allow me effortlessly to speak to people to whom I am not related twice a week, which would otherwise have to be a resolution.

These are a bit earnest, aren't they. I think I am in a bit of a sackcloth phase. If anyone has anything utterly stupid and frivolous to suggest, I am all ears (eyes).

The New Year has started well:

- Beautiful cold, so cold, sunny day.

- I passed my Dutch exam this afternoon (even though the oral exam covered literally NOTHING we had been told to revise and instead of purchasing ham or phoning people up to ask what their table looks like, we were supposed to talk about whether we followed fashion, what the hell, look at me, I am wearing a stained jumper and dusty pensioner jeans);

- Then I got love-bombed by a silky soft brown labrador puppy on the way home;

- Then when I arrived there was a letter saying the stubborn administrative knot I have been trying to untangle for about six months has been untangled (no thanks to anything I or anyone else did, it is an act of god, or an act of Belgium);

- Then I ate celebratory cold crumble from the dish in my quiet warm house;

- Also, the new Gwyneth Paltrow hen has started laying unfeasibly cute tiny eggs.

This is as good as January gets, I feel.


20% Poor posture

20% Legal procrastination

10% General time wasting

10% Continued tiresome book insecurity/angst

10% Annoyed with dog moaning at me to light the fire

10% Probably too much of that face powder from the last post

10% Fish oil

10% Thrilled at the cover of this Brussels noise abatement information brochure for obvious reasons:

Look at the saxophonist's face. Totally unrepentant. Terrible terrible people.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

January hump

Shit, I have got into that state of mind where I haven't posted for ages so feel as if what I do post must be perfectly judged and hilarious, but my brain is as lively as cold gruel, so let's just get over that right now with some mundane thoughts in no particular order and hopefully move on to better things (ha). NB, I have updated my reading up to end December, so there are some muttered haiku length book reviews over there. I will start a new 2016 page soon.

January is doing its thing. The streets are thick with pine needles and the back yard looks like Passchendaele. It is raining so heavily the dog is refusing to go out for its constitutional. Following the demise of one of our hens while we were away we have a new hen who looks rightly horrified at her new quarters and spends most of her time huddling behind the lilac radiating disapproval. F has called her "Pepper" (joining Tabasco and replacing the deceased Chili) which has the unfortunate side effect of me assuming she must have a Gwyneth Paltrow type personality and I can assure you her living quarters are not remotely Goop approved. I feel like I should bring her a bruised kale salad and offer her some vaginal steaming. Cloacal steaming? THIS IS GOING DOWNHILL RAPIDLY.

I had some sleep, finally and I feel more like a person, albeit not with the smug, 2 weeks of sunshine and all the papaya and passion fruit you can swallow glow I was aiming for. It has been a great relief to sleep through the night occasionally, even if I do seem prone to florid dreams of bad sex and sacks of woodchips, not least because I no longer need to go through my various sleep routines at 4am, eg:

- walk in my mind round all the pubs in York I can remember (moderately successful)

- drive in my mind from York to Coverdale (get lost after the M1 and before Masham and become enraged at the motorway planners removing my junction)

- think of every meal we ate in Thailand (monstrously counter-productive, due to NIGHT STARVATION)

- count down from 10 000 in 7s (terrible, who the fuck thought this worked)

- detail every bad thing I have done in the past 30 years (that old fave)

- develop intricate scenarios for how a range of catastrophes, humiliations and failures will befall me over the next 30 (ditto)

- contemplate death (of course)

Do you have a good thought-calming exercise for sleepless nights? Are they just a vain and ineffective distraction from what always ends up in sweaty contemplation of mortality? I fear I know the answer.

I have now reverted to my usual routine of lackadaisical prone toothbrushing, reading/dozing until my Kindle falls heavily onto my face causing me to wake with a start, then sleeping the dream-infested sleep of the not-exactly-just until 7. Amen, let me never leave Europe again (at least not without the promise of water buffalo).

Terrible (Minor) Things Which Have Happened:

1. Oldest son turning to me on aeroplane and saying "are women allowed to be pilots?" NO SON, OUR TINY HANDS AND UTERUSES GET IN THE WAY AND WE ARE DISTRACTED BY THE SHINY LIGHTS.

2. Saxophone neighbour returned from wherever it is he has been "jamming" (ugh) with a renewed zest for life, Jupiler and noodling riffs on Dido.

3. Newspaper headlines declare lack of a social life as bad for health as smoking, so I might as well just buy a nice cheap pine coffin now and lie down in it and wait.

Things I Have Bought That Make It All Better:

1. This chocolate is amazing. I have nearly finished it and am getting twitchy about sourcing replacements.

2. The face powder is of course a St India of Knight recommendation. As previously stated I would buy anything that woman recommends. It does appear to give me the appearance of being a human woman rather than a walking column of porridge and thus I now add my entirely meaningless endorsement to hers.

3. I saw a woman wearing these shoes on the street and hunted them down. I have not been able to wear them because it has rained solidly since they arrived, but I look at them and they please me. They are OF COURSE now half-price.

4. Not pictured, but I have also bought myself this most wonderful book about Velasquez (extract here)

5. Actually the Lucia Berlin was a gift not a purchase but it is definitely making things better. Even more so, actually.

6. An M and S apple turnover which I will be eating shortly in greedy silence, pastry flakes falling down my front and nestling in my grubby cashmere. This will doubtless prove to be the high point of the day.


80% Wishing I was at the breakfast buffet at our hotel in Bangkok where you could get the most delicious chili studded rotis and dahl for breakfast (as well as a gazillion other delights) and where the buffet was watched over by A MAN WITH A FALCON, to scare pigeons away. A falcon. For my breakfast pleasure. A Falcon At the Breakfast Buffet sounds like the title of a memoir by someone far more glamorous than me. #lifegoals

20% Irregular verbs (it is my Dutch exam today, our teacher does not seem to hold out much hope for us, our brains are gebroken).


Wednesday, 6 January 2016


Happy new year.

I am coming back, honestly, I am. Soon. It's just, the jetlag, fuck, the jetlag

(Daily programme:

4am-7am Wide awake with palpitations/tooth grinding/failed breathing exercises

8am - 12pm Basically functional for rudimentary tasks but tetchy and ravenous


4pm - 11pm Zombie stumble round nightmarish netherworld where nothing makes any sense

11pm Fall asleep half-clothed, teeth unbrushed, drooling, Kindle across face

No, I don't know what happens in those missing hours, shut up).

Also the VAT (that doesn't get a detailed parenthesis, oh hang on, it sort of does, oh god make it all stop).

Various other things that should have been done some time ago and have not been done.


I will be back.

In the meantime, a brief survey of my Thai wildlife highlights.

1. Here is an elephant at the elephant refuge:

(I could do you about 700 more pictures of elephants, including the amazing clumsy toddler elephant, but am refraining. Oh go on, just one


2. Here is a komodo dragon, ok, fine it's not a komodo dragon, but it is NEARLY AS BIG, seriously it was fucking huge and we kept expecting it to select a child from the breakfast buffet, select some condiments and take the whole lot away in its powerful jaws.


i'm at ur breakfast buffet eatin ur offsrping

3. Here are the ASBO monkeys drinking my tea:

(the most evil of the ASBO monkeys let itself into our room while I was reading on the bed, opened the minibar, selected a packet of roasted cashews, let itself out again then sat on the balcony eating them. Here he is, dickhead:

We wrote "stolen by monkey" on the little minibar slip, but we still had to pay.

4. Here is my new thing TUEK THE WATER BUFFALO.

I'm not saying he's entirely supplanted goats in my affections but what the hell he has entirely supplanted goats in my affections.

M: You look so happy. We need to get you a water buffalo.

B: I don't think I have ever seen a more unironic smile on your face than when you are RIDING A WATER BUFFALO*.

(*not really riding. Sitting on. I was urged to. Not very comfy for riding due to seriously rolling hip action)

5. There was also a lot of snake action, including a detailed lecture on necrosis at the Bangkok snake farm, but I do not have pictures of that, which is probably a mercy.


50% confused
50% fucking exhausted
50% Christmas cake

You? What have you been up to?