Friday, 26 February 2016

In haste

Prog Rock has just left, my brain feels like it has done the mental equivalent of the Marathon des Sables. He has read me many extracts from a giant tome called "Inequality" and showed me several of the many graphs therein, quizzed me on French fin de siècle anti-semites, membership of Action Française, the keratin content of wool, the year of construction of the Brussels ringroad, deportation levels in Belgium during the occupation, the rise in debate on transgender issues and Vatican finance. He also brought me Lemsip Max, teabags and fondant fancies and taught me how to darn my jumpers properly, so it was a crammed 36 hours.

This morning, he also explained to me how/why he is now housing a Lativian family as he attempted to locate/download/fill in a 91 page visa application for them (sample question: "Have you ever been accused, or convicted, of crimes against humanity and/or genocide?"), dealt with a Russian language query from one of the Latvian housemate's employers about deodorant and bought himself some light reading for the train home in the form of a small red book called  "Pour en finir avec Mein Kampf". I'm not surprised he's always tired. He looks more and more like the BFG also, which is without a doubt the best way for a man to age.

I have to go now because we're going to Paris this weekend with my father and stepmother to the Salon de l'Agriculture to admire some gigantic cows and the like. I will take lots of pictures so next week will be The Week of the Enormous Farm Animal, you can expect great things. I also have vague, grandiose, book related plans for the blog so you can look forward to me forgetting all about them too in the coming weeks.


40% mild packing resentment
20% lapin du Président anticipation
20% scone
20% still Lemsip


Tuesday, 23 February 2016


1. Things that are hard to do with flu

- Keeping a phone in your hand. It just keeps falling out. One minute you're poking at it like a furiously confused bear just out of hibernation, trying to remember how you access a soothing podcast, the next, there it is, on the floor again. Shit.

- Corporate copywriting. The desk, so cool, so smooth. The words, so wordy. The core values to be communicated, so impenetrably core-y.The forehead begins its inexorable descent.

- Listening to your son's violin practice. Jesus, no. Could we not just both sit and look at the violin together? In silence? I'm just going to put my head on your knee for a second. Sssh, don't speak.

- Fixing the washing machine. Difficult parts: getting down to the basement. Remembering which way you turn the knob to unscrew the … thing. Shouting. Shouting is a vital part of the process but with flu it comes out as a pitiful honk. Remembering why you are in the basement in the first place when you come to in a pool of tepid, mysteriously blue water after what was apparently a ten minute impromptu nap.

- Arguing. So you're telling me you don't need any writing implements whatsoever for this geography field trip? Sure, whatever, that sounds plausible. Go in peace. Close the door quietly.

- Watching Mythbusters. Why is everything so loud? All the fires! The unbearable pathos of the exploded gobstopper, the ginger man's eager face, the other man's noble moustache. Tears course uncontrollably.

- Everything else, including updating your weblog as has been made amply clear, sorry.

2. The kids are (possibly) all right

I was turning off my eldest son's ever-buzzing phone after he went to bed last night and the message on screen was a massive screed of what appeared to be poetry. When I asked him about it this morning he told me that a girl in his class's What's App group (I say What's App, but it is probably something more modern I don't know about, whatever) is writing a sort of epic prose poem featuring them all and circulating episodes. "I was in it for, like, 2 seconds then she killed me off," he said, ruefully. He is angling to come back as a zombie but no dice yet. I find this very impressive. If such a medium of communication had existed back when I was at Quaker school, I know for a fact we would have used it solely for speculating on when the fit man from House and Sons Electricians who looked a bit like Ryan Giggs might be seen again and laughing about Mr Wills's grey slip-on shoes.

3. Hashtag Belgium

Much excitement last night in Brussels when a drunk man in a Range Rover drove through the metro tunnels on the tracks of my usual line, like a boss* (*toddler, knobhead). When he could drive no longer, he just sat on the rails, refusing to get out of his car. This is the mark of a person whose drunken frolic has no thought-out endgame whatsoever and for that, I salute him.


60% Nurofen
10% Strepsils
10% Lemsip
10% Fucking gross and almost certainly useless banana cough syrup
5% Tea
5% Just had a micro-nap while trying to think of the last 5%.


Monday, 15 February 2016


Elephant shrew is fatigued

Let me tell you briefly about my leaving the house adventures, since I write enough boring shit where I haven't left the house and just expend 500 words complaining about saxophone neighbour and the pets (all of these still annoying me, yes).

So I went to London to do a couple of book things. This trip was the first time I had to do anything officially book related, other than be marched around London in 2014 like a not-exactly-prize-winning pony to have my teeth looked at and fetlocks checked and mainly found wanting by publishers. I was nervous. I still feel weird about the whole business, apparently, which is convenient as publication date gallops towards us like an escaped chicken who has heard the back door opening. I workshopped my outfit extensively with M and B, both of whom insisted I wore a dress I couldn't breathe in. YEAH THANKS, GUYS. Oxygen is optional. I tried to eat a scone wearing the dress before the first event and thought I might end up causing a scene in Pain Quotidien. It sort of resolved when I stood up, but only partially.

Day 1

Presenting book at publisher's.

Behold the bewildering selection of non-fiction releases:

Sports/business mash up, Scarlett from Gogglebox (sadly delayed on a train and not present, though also this was sort of a relief because I would have been even more intimidated to talk in front of her), tales of a 1940s matrimonial agency, Mad Frank and Sons ("the untold story of one of the most feared crime families in Britain"), 101 Bets You Will Always Win and, er, me.

Good: Pancakes. Did not disgrace self entirely, speech-wise, apparently (god, I am bad at it though and was clutching little scraps of highlighted paper to crush any semblance of spontaneity). Everyone I met was kind and funny and encouraging. The man who did magic tricks was brilliant. One of Mad Frank's sons stroked my face and told me I was lovely. Wore my beloved croissant brooch which was much admired.

Bad: MFF's son proposed marriage to another attendee, so apparently I was nothing special. Left loo door open by mistake (wasn't ON loo, doing make up, but still) and someone walked in on me, then later was presented to Managing Director when I had very wet hands having just washed them and had to shake his, like some kind of ... seal? I don't know. A bad thing. Proffering a gross, wet flipper.

Ugly: On reflection probably had one glass (two glasses) of wine too many.

Day 2

Meeting independent book sellers in Cardiff.

Good: Other authors (not the Day 1 team) delightful and funny. Booksellers also delightful, kind and interested in or feigned interest in inarticulate muttering.

- Had to give speech in gap between two tables and revolve like rotisserie chicken to see everyone, somewhat detracting from speech delivery (never my strongest point).
- During speech someone upstairs had apparently decided to teach an elephant CrossFit class.
- Slightly hungover from glass (es) of wine too many previous day and not sparkling conversationalist.
- Started random conversation about how shit bras are when slightly drunk.
- No one understood Corbeau et Renard brooch

Ugly: Nautical bondage themed bar in hotel.

Day 3

Got sick, went home, spent rest of day/week watching Grey's Anatomy and eating religieuses, basically (God, I miss Yang. It's not the same without her).

Now my family are back from half term and I can no longer lie around eating religieuses and watching medical dramas and must do Chinese revision and chivvying and watch stuff where things explode and Tom Cruise runs around self-importantly showing not the slightest trace of humour, whilst my PayPal account is drained by mysterious gaming-related sources. It's a good thing really (well, not the PayPal) - I like being on my own and the house ends up all pristine and lovely, but I swiftly become really quite neurotic and weird and plan out every second of my time and talk myself fussily through my self-imposed timetable, task by task. I certainly do not enter a white hot zone of creativity and write half a novel, which is a shame.


20% Back to usual role as tedious child-nag
20% Hen-rage
10% Unease
10% Itchy chin
10% Listlessness
10% Annoying cough
5% Strepsils
5% Marcolini sugar-free chocolate, I'm not really sure what I thought I was achieving buying that, guess what, the kind with sugar is nicer
5% Stale scone
5% Woolly hat


Monday, 8 February 2016



Ok, this is scarcely credible but I HAVE MY PHONE BACK, PRAISE NATHAN. It's a bit buggered and keeps shutting itself down of its own accord, but basically works. I can't really remember what I used to do with it and have dropped it violently about twelve times, but still, at least I have a functioning alarm clock and can catch up on Our Mutual Friend. Look, as promised here is a picture of the difference between Tabasco eggs and Pepper eggs, which is not as impressive as I thought it would be:

Alone in the house, I spent the weekend in an orgy of Indian vegetarian food, blowsy French cakes and female oriented viewing (ie. films in which nothing blows up and people talk about their feelings). I bought flowers. I kept the house tidy. I had baths. It was amazing.

I am reading the new Elly Griffiths (lovely archeology crime) and all I want to do is go back to bed and read more of it and since I am on my own tonight I can do just that. I might even have a hot water bottle.


Pepper, the new Gwyneth Paltrow hen, is a cold blooded killer. She escapes effortlessly twenty thousand times a day and waits by the back door for me to come out, then flies up into my face to attack me. I both hate and respect her simultaneously.

The hedgehog crawled into the hen house during the night, causing maximum hen indignation and then DIED. I don't think Pepper murdered it, but I wouldn't put it past her. Poor hedgehog. You outlived your natural life span as gleaned from Google approximately fourfold and were a delightful, forceful, entertaining presence about three times a year. I will miss you, our lowest maintenance pet, terribly.

The dog's stomach is making the most ominous noises.

In non-livestock bad news, I have started wearing a woolly hat in the house in the manner of Benny from Crossroads and this is DEFINITELY the slippery slope. Indeed, I think it's about halfway down the slippery slope when combined with wood shavings, scarf, slippers, thus:

I don't know where the hat came from. Might be Prog Rock's. It's not even that cold, it's more that I am finding my "hair" really annoying at the moment. This is not a good look for a person who is not an extra in Last of the Summer Wine. Crone hat, muttering, what's next? Hoarding my own urine in jam jars? Still, I remain pleased with that wallpaper.

This is very boring, sorry. I am going to London tomorrow then Cardiff the day after for book related activities (yikes), so perhaps later in the week I can regale you with tales of interactions with other humans or more probably tales of my interaction with a wall if my social skills remain at their usual level.

How was your day?

Saturday, 6 February 2016


I wrote a tiny thing for the Guardian today about the advice I wish I'd had when I had children. I couldn't quite decide what to write, so this is the other version I wrote, which is also true, and an attempt to put into words what I felt, and feel, most intensely about parenting, but came out a bit incoherent:

Pregnant at 26, I was certain I would not become “one of those obsessive, weird mothers who stare at their children all the time.” I was, I believed, young enough to be selfish about my own needs and that selfishness would save my sanity. After my son was born and I was wondering, shell-shocked, how the hell childbirth had stretched my nostrils, for God’s sake, I wish someone had told me the following: 

“You’re already one of those obsessive mother weirdoes, numbskull. You will spend the next year bound to this incontinent, snurkling piglet creature physically and psychically to such a degree you will lose any notion of who you used to be. Let us be clear - this is not because you enjoy it; rather it seems to be some kind of biological imperative you are powerless to countermand. Even leaving a room with your son in it will seem wrong and unnatural and as you sit and stare at him as he sleeps, because apparently you are now incapable of doing anything else, your helpless co-dependency will terrify and oppress you. But keep the faith. You are still yourself. 

That weirdly intense physical connection never goes away, but it slackens gradually, like one of those retractable dog leads and eventually your brain will be - partly - your own again. You will read books, have friends, take an interest in the world, go out for the evening without feeling sick with rootless anxiety, eventually. 

Sometimes, even when your kid is a surly, exasperating giant who steals your headphones, the lead will snap taught again and you’ll need to hold him tight and listen to his heart beat until he shakes you off in disgust, but that’s ok too. That retractable lead is love and sometimes love feels like a sudden tightening round the throat, not a fuzzy glow. Embrace it, find an accommodation with it. It's not like you have any choice in the matter. Sorry about the nostrils, they’ll never look normal again. Try a bright lipstick, MAC do good ones.”

After that, I also thought of a third piece of advice which is "learn some really basic baking, but hold it in reserve until your children are old enough to regard it as an act of miraculous witchcraft, then bring it out." I have had more kudos from my kids for whipping up scones in 5 minutes or doing those terrible Pokemon cakes I used to make than for anything else I have ever done. I make scones about twice a week now and everyone looks at me like I'm Derren fucking Brown or something. Satisfying.

Fellow parent-drones, what advice do you wish you'd had?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016


Still no phone = no pictures = this capybara disdains my puny bourgeois anguish

Argh, I think yesterday was my own personal Blue Monday even though it was actually Tuesday. I spent the day eyeballing 60 incomprehensible Powerpoint slides and an impenetrable law mountain to a soundtrack of relentless rain. STILL no phone. My younger son is sick, which is not keeping him from his exhausting self-imposed programme of improving activities but is making him crosser about them and my elder son is 13 which is a sort of illness in and of itself. Someone sat on the dog and it is limping, exaggeratedly. I discovered all my planned summer activities for the boys were already booked up so my anxiety dream about having to enrol them in a seminar on the female orgasm may come true. I also got so enraged trying to shake bits of washed paper hankie out of a jumper earlier that I banged my hand on top of the washing machine and now it is all swollen and bruised. It's like January has reached out its slimy tentacles into February to mess with us.

However! Barrel scraping for positives:

It did stop raining for half an hour at a useful juncture when I needed to leave the house.

The Channel 4 programme about Chester Zoo had an excellent baby elephant, which I commend to you.

PANCAKE DAY (Chandeleur) here. I managed to make crêpes which are not my forte - I can do a fluffy American style pancake very well, but crêpes not so much. Used Delia's recipe which makes a thoroughly paltry amount, but otherwise worked. Do you have a better one?

Got what is apparently a really really good book (What Belongs To You) in the post.

I have bought some of this bath stuff and spent the latter part of the evening soaking myself into a stupor. It's no Elemis Supersoak, but it's a quarter the price, so it'll do nicely and also scents the whole house with lemongrass, which is pleasing.

I have managed to update my Reading page, sort of. The urls are all messed up, I can't remember how I did it last time, but you can now consult 2016 over in the sidebar (with hyperlinks at the bottom to last year and the year before's reading). January was a pretty good month.

(This is just a holding post, I am writing something else, but it's been a while and I thought I would at least draw your attention to New Books.).

Let us hope for better things today, or at least no Powerpoint.

How was your Tuesday? And are the prospects for Wednesday any better?

(*Doodmoe means dead tired and is one of my favourite Dutch words)