Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bonus content

Oh dear. It would appear I have been away for a week, somehow.

I have not been up to anything glamorous, except of course for cleaning out the chicken house (and hitting myself very hard on the finger with a trowel full of chicken shit, which is the height of chic). Mainly I have been translating and editing piles of stuff (cue some reflection on the status of the word "trendy" - is it due a comeback? Has it made a comeback I just don't know about? Or is it so irredeemably a word only used by your least with-it uncles it can never be rehabilitated?) and shouting at teenagers with the odd break to try and fail to reignite the boiler's pilot light (the instructions I have been given are: "press the red button then run away") or watch the little owl babies. I did get tipsy and buy two t-shirts on Thursday, so there's that.

It is exam season which is a source of infinite domestic woe and Belgium is on perma-strike currently, it is May '68 all over again here (sous les pavés, erm, les gaufres). Today I had to walk all the way to and from Dutch class, which is miles away, gently cursing the STIB whilst also remaining in solidarity with my striking comrades throughout. I would be all lean and fit if it were not for the fact that I have spent the last month - and continue to spend all my time - placing all the foods of Belgium in my mouth. Highly commended during my 'I am a bit glum and must eat my feelings' food orgy:

- pistachio chantilly and fresh raspberry choux from Chouconut
- cheese bread from new Eric Kayser bakery
- fish burritos from Chez Wawa
- fresh cream and Christine Ferber jam sponge cake made due to egg glut
- macaroni cheese
- stale Doritos
- chunks of cooking chocolate from the cupboard
- old cake remnants

etc etc etc you get the picture. My body is the dirty bit at the back of the temple where all the bins and scavenging monkeys live.

Anyway, I didn't come here to tell you about my alimentary shame. I came here to give you BOOK BONUS CONTENT in the form of some photos of various things that I tried to describe with my words in my book. This is probably of more interest if you have already read said book, but maybe if not pictures of austere parts of Paris will whet your appetite? One can but hope. Available at all (some) good retailers including Daunt Marylebone now, the very best of bookshops! I know this thanks to Katyboo. Also, there are very very few tickets left for my London event thing, so (a) thank you very much if you heeded my pleading and bought one and (b) if you still want one hurry.

When I was in Paris last month I went back to the street where we used to live. Here it is:

It is very elegant in that classic Parisian way, I suppose.

It is full, full, full of this kind of thing:

I did not have to lie in wait for this lady. She appeared just as I was working out which house we used to live in. There is an endless tide of well-dressed cross ladies with sturdy footwear and scarves and tweed, ceaseless waves of them, like a well-dressed zombie apocalypse washing up and down the streets of the 17th, on the lookout for babies not wearing socks and the like.

Here is Les Enfants Gâtés, the cake shop at the end of our street where I used to buy my flan pâtissier:

It has had a major facelift though and is all modern now with a shiny glass counter and shop front and salads in plastic containers, where it used to be dark and mysterious. I bought a flan anyway for old time's sake then took a picture of myself looking traumatised (and a bit hungover) outside, next to what used to be a DSK style sex club (I mean, that's how I imagined it from the outside. I didn't go in, I mean, I'm pretty sure I would have been refused entry even if I had tried):

It's all flooding back at this point and I'm waiting for someone to poke me in the shin with a stick and/or disapprove of my jacket.

After that I tried to go to the shop which used to sell me my Délice Café cakes but it had closed down, to my great sadness, so instead I walked through the market which used to terrify me, mainly because of WOMEN LIKE THIS ONE:

So, SO elegant (note the glove/scarf/shoe match and the immaculate "brushing"), yet I am quite sure that like Bertie Wooster's Aunt Agatha, she chews broken glass for breakfast.

This is the fish stall where the fish guys would often hold out a lobster, pincers bound with elastic bands, to amuse/terrify my infant son. They were quite nice as long as you didn't get in the way.

Here is the entrance to the dreaded Parc Monceau, scene of some of my least favourite Parisian times:

I got a bit twitchy when I got this close to the Rotunda of Doom but persisted. It was drizzling in good pathetic fallacy style by the time I got there. Did you see eleven people got bloody struck by lightning in the Parc Monceau last weekend? Typical Parc Monceau fuckery if you ask me.

This is the crêpe stand and manège where I spent all my time and money, watching my children rotate slowly in varying degrees of terror depending on their age/state of mind.

Strangely, I seemed to have managed to go there on one of the three days a year when the lawns are not "resting" and there were small children running amok across them in a manner than usually got us the whistle and the ticking off from the park guard. I ate my flan defiantly sitting on the damp grass.

It was a decent enough flan but it was not my old Enfants Gâtés favourite. Not wobbly enough or dark enough brown.

This is the mairie du 17ème, where the tortoise man in the turtleneck disdained my nursery dossier:

And this is the bakery where I ate a consolatory chocolate and pistatchio twist afterwards (and on many occasions before and after, indeed). It has also had a serious facelift and lost some of its faded charm and I was so full of cake at this point I couldn't bring myself to go in and test the viennoiserie. Another trip is required.

This is the (much nicer) Batignolles park, full of chaffinches and exotic ducks, where my son would watch the trains for hours:

I loved this park even though it is small and dusty, mainly because no one ever shouted at us there and I could hide in the bushes and eat chocolate and pistachio twists unobserved. God, I was terrible at living in Paris.


20% Stale fondant fancy
20% Dutch exam panic
20% Bad skin, can't imagine why
20% Obsessed with golf course alligator and of course the Toronto capybaras


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Limited capacity


I escaped from my own kitchen table for a brief, thrilling foray to London, which was filled with people I like and foods to eat and some kind of BASTARD tree making my whole face dissolve into a late period Picasso of tears, eyeliner and snot.

I ate a piece of CAKE made by Frances from the Bake Off, which is my new claim to fame (delicious, contained walnuts). Then, emboldened by wine, showed her a picture of my brownie owls, Jesus, that poor woman, I bet people are always thrusting cake pictures at her, if not actual cakes. She was beyond charming and I now love her even more than I did when she was on Bake Off (when I was fully rooting for her and her mad matchbox breadsticks).

I also managed to take a picture of the back of Nick Hornby's head.

Nina Stibbe signed my copy of her wonderful wonderful book (you will die of laughing, I did). She is my actual heroine. I loved this piece about her experience with the TV adaptation of Love, Nina. The bit in this Guardian piece about 'blueberries and line-caught coley' also really made me snort.

In exchange I brought her a small Manneken Pis and some speculoos, proudly, in a dog eared paper bag, like your cat depositing a pile of vole entrails at your feet. Oh dear.

I ate a black forest gateau this morning in the Wolseley whilst enjoying the catharsis of shared copywoe with my friend Grace and lo, it was wonderful.


Afterwards she emailed me she had spotted "JimNighy" and we had a fun few minutes trying to decide which mash-up of Jim Naughtie and Bill Nighy we would like best.

Mrs Trefusis and I had dinner in Fischers (I'm sure I remember a really dull vegetarian café of some variety on that site previously, this is much better, with beautiful dark wood and gilt and fine pictures and a boar's head) which was delightful - so much so that I even recommended it to my severe and bearded father, whose criteria for an acceptable restaurant narrow yearly - and plotted for our UPCOMING EVENT (come, please come, renewed begging. It will include Simone de Beauvoir and PG Wodehouse and chocolate).

My father told me an excellent story involving a disgraced politician, some ferrets and a branded hoodie. I am making that sound juicer than it actually is, but it was still funny. My stepmother had won a corncrake release in an auction on the same occasion, which sounds both wonderful and entirely insane.

There have been some truly excellent entries for the competition, which is ongoing and which you may still enter. Priesthood, poshness, Pilates Woman and many more.

It is only a month until my, sorry, I mean my son's owl experience evening. Not that I am counting off the days, sweatily on my calendar whilst fantasising about which owl I might get to nuzzle, nope*.

*Legal notice: owl experience insurance does not cover injuries incurred during unauthorised nuzzling. All nuzzling is outlawed.


I have a mountain of (unglamorous) work and very little brain capacity (back in my legal days we used to have to submit a report about how busy we were to the Powers in weird, firm-specific language. The categories were something like "some capacity" (= I fear imminent sacking), "limited capacity" (= please do not give me any work), "no capacity" (= I am having a breakdown and have worn the same shirt for a week) and "frantic" (= MY HEAD IS ON FIRE), I think. By law standards/working practices I am basically at "more capacity than you could believe/likely to be sacked imminently for poor work ethic", but for the purposes of my flaccid, atrophied pea brain, I am definitely at "no capacity, apart from for staring into space and thinking about owls").

I am back in Uccle and will speak to no one but my own family and livestock for weeks. A woman has just shouted at me about dog shit (which I was in the process of picking up, I think she was just mad) and the children are utterly indifferent to my return except for the purpose of extracting money and British crisps from me. I have told them several times about my Frances from Bake Off - cake encounter and they aren't even pretending to care.

Dishwasher is making a noise like a wounded walrus.

M has been incommunicado in Lithuania for a week and I am losing my mind without her.

Boiler is definitely on the brink of death. Its preferred going gentle into the good night routine is to turn itself off discreetly overnight, so that when you get in the shower in the morning it is freezing, then when you go to turn it back on, it sort of WHOOMP semi-explodes in your face. No good can come of this.

I tried to get everyone to watch The Yorkshire Vet again but it was THE WORST EVER for grossness: no castrations but the most repulsive alpaca abscess and a cow afterbirth, erm, incident so grim even I had to turn away and I am cast iron in such matters. They will never trust me again.


30% antihistamine

30% whipped cream and kirsch laden cherries

30% Once more on the search for Audible recommendations. I actually went to see Audible yesterday to record some free "bonus content" to promote the audio version of my book. They were terrifyingly professional, whereas I was a sweaty inarticulate mess (also, no one told me there was a video element, thank fuck I wore some eyeliner). When there is a link to me trying and failing to answer the question "why is storytelling so important to us" using a series of batsqueaks and irrelevant anecdotes, I will post it here, of course, for your delectation. But what should I listen to now? I want something huge, a collection of letters or a vast novel or history book.

10% Genuinely concerned I may have contracted heavy legs (wore my fancy new shoes for a whole hour last night, it's their fault).


Friday, 20 May 2016


I'm not even going to dilute this post with loads of complaints (even though GOD KNOWS, I have plenty I could be diluting it with). I am going to get right to the heart of the matter.


I am offering, to three lucky ("lucky") winners:

1. A copy of my book - hardback! Not fucked around with by BastardPost! - with the dedication of your choice or no dedication.

Book. Yours will be clean out of the box, not grimy from our floor. 


2. A (large) bar of Côte d'Or's legendary Chocolate Lait Amandes Caramélisées avec Une Pointe de Sel, which (a) features in the book and (b) is amazingly delicious. If you are dairy free, I will endeavour to find an appropriate substitute whilst also feeling very sorry that you cannot eat this wonderful stuff.



3. A drawing of the animal or internet meme of your choice by my son who is good at that kind of thing, cf here and here. I will have to pay him for this service, he does nothing for free unless he is in lots of trouble he hasn't told me about.

Child art (optional)

All prizes will be despatched using BastardPost's least unreliable delivery method (heron? drone? sheepdog on a horse?) anywhere in the world. All elements of the prize are optional. You can just have the chocolate if you like.

All you have to do is tell me about a time where you tried and failed to be something you aren't. This is a big theme in the book: the daft pursuit of an identity that doesn't actually fit, but which takes on a weird importance for a time. It might be a lie you got caught out in, or a ludicrous temporary identity you tried on for size, that time you thought you should become a nun or the time you tried to convince everyone that you were actually the national junior dog grooming champion. We've all done it. Haven't we? Surely?

You can enter with a comment on the blog, with an email to me (address in the right hand column over there) or an entry on your own blog (let me know if you do this though, so I can find it). Closing date for entries is Friday June 3. I will pick my favourite entry as one winner, then draw two at random for the other prizes. I will publish a selection of the entries in a blog post, an act which I hope will in some tenuous way serve to promote the book. God knows.

It will be super humiliating if no one enters this, so don't feel you have to spend too much time and energy on it. Just enter! What do you have to lose? Less than me, probably.

(Speaking of super humiliating, can I please persuade you to come along to this on 21 June if you happen to be in London and can spare the ££? Poor lovely Helen has taken a leap of faith and friendship putting me forward for it and I don't want her to be embarrassed because no one comes. I will be eternally grateful and will also endeavour to be amusing. THANK YOU)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Purse first


Playing "hayfever or summer cold" full time now. Tonight's variant: hayfever, summer cold, or far too many chilies? (update: it's a cold, a bastard cold, a cold of all evil)

Accountancy snarl ups (sample note to accountant - translated from mardy French "this balancing transfer relates to a random part payment of an apparently random sum by a client made - for reasons that are entirely opaque - into the wrong account"). Eff my elle.

Brain atrophied to size and texture of dried pea. Only accessible emotion now: irrational fury. Unable to write anything longer than a two sentence complaint. I don't know what's wrong with me, some kind of post-book syndrome? Cold symptom? Ugh.

Made the worst soup in the world:

To be clear: I had no expectations that it would be anything other than horrible. I made it to stop myself going wildly off piste at lunchtime, which keeps happening since stupid Picard decided soup was only for winter and replaced all my favourite punishment variants with .. who the hell knows actually. I saw a cucumber gazpacho in there, nope. Anyway, it is worse even than I expected since the kale adds a particularly unpleasant note of stringiness, giving an overall flavour of "angry swamp". Can a note be textural? I believe it can. Come and fight me and my furious dried pea brain if you disagree.

The soup has not slowed me down even slightly in my quest to put every food in Belgium in my mouth this month.

Frustrated by my continued inability to access any seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race after 6 on Belgian Netflix. Drag Race hunger acerbated by current round of Season 8 final commentary and B sending me this most excellent video.

The TV has taken to turning itself on during the night. I lie there thinking "WHO THE FUCK IS WATCHING TV AT THIS TIME OF NIGHT" and cursing the neighbours, then realise it is coming from our house.


2 near simultaneous messages from 2 different people about 2 different capybaras.

No more random wildcat school holidays until The Big Ones.

I am in bed.

Garden is looking good (by "good" I mean "less chicken scarred"). This is not something I take any pride or sense of ownership in. The garden does what it likes, I do not intervene. It's better than way.

I have found a t-shirt I really love. It was moderately expensive but I feel like it is worth it because I hardly ever buy clothes and it is GREAT, loose and soft and flattering. It only comes in grey, oh no, what a shame, right out of my comfort zone. Its name is 'Pulasky' which means that I have a permanent Pulasky at Night earworm.

I have booked tickets for this Denis Meyer's installation thingy which looks amazing. He has taken over the huge abandoned Solvay building and covered every inch of it in graffiti.

Downloaded new Maggie O'Farrell which has had rave reviews and v much looking forward to it.

A lot of my ups tonight seem to involve me spending money. Ah well.


40% Rhinofebryl, which is a crap substitute for a proper cold and flu remedy whose only redeeming feature is having a name that makes it sound like a Pokémon (speaking of Pokémon, this via M made me laugh)
40% Self-loathing
20% Flan pâtissier


Friday, 13 May 2016

London report

Annual Report

I see the lady who does my eyebrows, S, once a year and have done since 2000. What I really like about this is that you get to condense a year's worth of news (or the absence thereof) into an hour.  There's something quite interesting about having to squeeze what is happening in your life into a ten or fifteen minute lowdown - I find it gives me a perspective on stuff that  I do the same thing with my hair(wig)dresser, who I see even less frequently and who is extremely quidsworth in the matter of celebrity anecdotes, dramas both professional and personal, etc.

There is less of this high drama with S, but we have both had years when we have spent the hour relating a shitstorm of upsetting and stressful life events  - partners, children (her daughter and L were born within days of each other), work, health - sometimes to the point where we both become hysterical with laughter at the awfulness.

This wasn't one of those years. No triumphs, no tragedies. Some health issues for her, existential work uncertainty for me, groaning at fourteen-year-olds for both of us. Then she turned to very insistently instructing me I HAD to watch Game of Thrones. At the end of the appointment after I had said that it was fine and hadn't hurt and she had called me a liar (correctly, it stings like a bastard), S looked at me very sternly and said "What do you have do to Emma?" and I was a bit puzzled and said "Not go in water? I never do, I hate swimming."


"Put the special cream on?"


"Oh! Watch Game of Thrones"

"That's right."

I wonder what will be happening this time next year.


I only had two spritzes early evening (actually, more like late afternoon, I was meeting Alyson and I railroaded her into joining me in booze) and a glass of wine later and I feel like shit. I attribute this to dehydration due to great and fulsome WEEPING at a screening of Me Before You.

I met Jojo due to the great and wonderful democratisation of the Internet that was 2009 Twitter. I imagine 2009 Twitter will be someone's cultural and social history thesis one day - it was a fascinating moment, a mad effervescence, chatting with people you would never have imagined would give you the time of day. Jojo was one of mine and when we actually met in person for the first time, she was working on the book that would become Me Before You. She wasn't really sure that quadriplegia was going to enthuse her publisher/agent, I remember, but of course it was absolutely stratospherically successful, quite rightly because it is beautifully written, incredibly moving and warm without ever becoming marshmallow-y. I think Jojo is now the second most famous person in Germany after Angela Merkel, not that she lives in Germany, just the Germans are particularly wild about it. When we were in Thailand about 1/3 of sunloungers had people reading either Me Before You or its sequel After You in a variety of languages and I kept annoying everyone by nudging them and going "MY FRIEND WROTE THAT!"

Digression over, now the stratospheric book is about to become a stratospheric film and having seen it, all I can say is JESUS THERE WILL BE WEEPING. They should probably hand out packets of tissues in the manner of those 3D glasses when you buy your ticket. It was quite funny at the end of the screening because everyone was totally verklempt whilst also remaining British and a bit pink and embarrassed about their own emotional incontinence. I look forward to walking past the cinema in Brussels and annoying my family by going "MY FRIEND WROTE THAT" once more.

Parental guidance

Back at the W8 ranch, my dad presented me with a neatly clipped cutting of my review in Saga magazine sent to him by my auntie and my stepmother nagged me lovingly and insistently about what I needed to do to ensure more book promotion and sales. It is very wonderful to see that they have my back like this. I mean, I know they love me and they have always supported me above and beyond, but I am weirdly conditioned to assume my book is in some way shameful (you can see why I am so great at promoting it) and brings dishonour to the family, so when they say things like "X emailed me to say you could really write" or "Y went into Hatchards and harangued them about stocking it", it is extremely heartwarming.


Grace, who cleans my dad's house (and used to clean our flat and who basically saved me from rank insanity a million times), is one of my favourite people in the world:


30% Gchat nonsense
30% Warhorses of Letters hilarity (you can get it on audible now!)
20% Sneezing
20% Imminent futher Spritz action


Thursday, 12 May 2016


I listened to your kind and helpful advice and have started by making a BOOK PAGE on here, which I have crafted with my monkey paws and many hyperlinks. Next step... I don't know. Competition perhaps? I will plot.


E: Please can we watch the Yorkshire Vet tonight? I promise it isn't just castration.

Voiceover on telly: Julian has a busy morning ahead of him. First he must castrate...

Children: .... NO.

Instead we watched Very British Problems which they came to regret mightily since it was all about adolescence and we endured discussions of pubic hair and losing virginity in the traditional silent mortification, being indeed, despite them being half French and me being failed French, entirely British in such matters. I won't talk even about sex to the person I'm having sex with. One of the major advantages of raising my children in Belgium was supposed to be the top notch sex ed they get at school from an age early enough to have Britons clutching their pearls, dispensing me of any responsibility in this domain, but sadly this does not seem to have happened, I feel cheated. On a slightly related topic - not really, but sort of - have you listened to the first story on this week's This American Life? It's extraordinary.


I am in London today, currently in my usual London haunt, the (Belgian, natuurlijk) Pain Quotidien on Notting Hill Gate. The special of the day is 'Roasted asparagus with cashew "cheese"'. If you tried to pull a stunt like that in France you'd be eviscerated by a mob of angry dairy farmers, not to mention Meilleurs Ouvriers de France and your remains would be dipped in molten Comté. It is the usual mix of very elderly cut glass persons eating eggs, hedge fund widow philanthropists and bone broth delivery start up entrepreneurs all of whom are female and very thin. I am trying to eat a beetroot hummus tartine whilst wearing a white shirt, which is high-risk behaviour when you are this physically inept. Even the simple act of putting a piece of bread in my mouth seems to be eluding me, I am flailing at it like a caveman who has never encountered bread before.

(OH MY GOD, the barista has just started doing a complex series of squats. The apocalypse is coming and none of us shall be saved)

I am getting my eyebrows done shortly which is apparently long overdue, given that F - A TWELVE YEAR OLD MALE, FFS - asked me last week when I was getting them done. There is no dignity in parenting, or indeed in baldness. After that I will stagger around with greased up Groucho Marx brows at several social engagements, because that is how I roll. Perhaps I will have interesting things to tell you tomorrow as a result of this, perhaps not. I may just get drunk and forget everything. Now I am off to pretend to look at my book in shops whilst making convincing noises of delight and amusement.


45% 5 am wake up symptoms (30% uncontrollable hunger, 15% constant pratfalls)
25% Trying to remember what I still need to buy in England now we have an M&S in Brussels: cheese and onion crisps, Migraleve, chocolate buttons, what else?
15% Piriton
15% Facial hummus, almost certainly


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Grosse Fatigue

I can't write any of the intelligent thoughtful posts I meant to write because I've been awake since half 4 and cannot function in any meaningful way, or indeed in anyway except to shovel food into my mouth whilst crying. This will not stop me posting something however. Onwards! With wholly non book promotional complaining! Because that is Brand Waffle.


4:30 wake up, again.

I think there are spiders nesting in my spine following long, insect-ridden walk on Sunday.

Multi-faceted teenage bullshit.

Lumpy like a toad all over, thanks pollen.

General emotional wreck and ended up crying next to the washing machine yesterday and it wasn't even because the washing machine filter was blocked with Twix wrappers and small change and foul smelling skeins of blue mystery fibre like it usually is. Totes emosh. Maybe current audiobook of choice, When Breath Becomes Air, was also unwise.


It's LILAC WEEK (p314 of my book) and the whole of Brussels smells amazing. Mine (p338 of my book, I do love lilac) is in full, heady flower. You can just see it in the background of this seemingly idyllic scene of chicken sunbathing, which was in fact a precursor to a vicious bout of feather pecking.

I cracked open my Christine Ferber jam (raspberry and violet, cf here, p303) at a low point this afternoon and man, is it good. Say what you like about France, Christine Ferber makes the best jam in the world. Would Britain get it post-Brexit? PONDER THAT, Leave campaigners. NB Jam is definitely a gel for airline reg purposes, M and I checked on our Paris trip.

I haven't cried next to the washing machine today.

I have two properly fun things lined up over the next couple of weeks involving leaving the house (indeed, the country).

Dutch class cheered me RIGHT up (temporarily, but at least reminded me why I go), especially our halting discussion of family feuds.

B sent me some top quality owls.

I didn't get caught (accidentally) fare dodging this afternoon.

The desk for whose delivery I have been waiting in for some three weeks has been located. In Germany. Is this an up? I don't even know any more.

My father just sent me a blurry picture of a new baby giraffe.

I absolutely love these shortish World Service programmes called Where Are You Going?


I have some spare books I could give away. Should I have a competition? I could, I dunno, add in some Côte d'Or Lait Aux Amandes Caramélisées avec Une Pointe de Sel as featured on p301 and get my son to draw Dr Capybara (p.269). Does anyone have any idea what form the competition should take that might in some way assist with selling some sodding books? Anyone? Book promotional #winning right here.


65% Thirst
35% Bedtime


Monday, 9 May 2016


It's been ages, I know. Blame Belgium. Blame Catholicism, I don't know. We had a FIVE DAY FUCKING WEEKEND, I went through all the Kubler Ross Bank Holiday Weekend stages by midday Saturday.

The stages of Bank Holiday Weekend:

Gin Fuelled Denial

Box Set Blindness

Collective Activity Bargaining

Catering Ennui

Hiding in Lavatory with Phone Anger

Procrastinated Homework Depression

Gin Based Acceptance

Everyone Go Back To Work Now Please

Yesterday was Mother's Day in Belgium. F was forced by school to write me a poem (excellent, included references to early morning chicken wake ups and Oscar's "regard noir") and made his own bath foam, which was very impressive. L, now free from the yoke of school-imposed gifting, had to be cattle prodded by his father and only came up with the goods late afternoon, but when he did they were impressive:

Angry Murder Owl

Angry Owligami

I am a bit bewildered by being a mother currently, which I think must be standard for parents of 12 and 14 year olds, or at least so I tell myself. I mean, I'd still take it over babydom any day and they are funny and delightful and make me laugh and I am sure they are on the way to becoming basically sound human beings, but the constant nagging inchoate sense of Doing It Wrong oppresses me. Too much of this, not enough of that? Leave them to it, get involved? Am I too involved with one, not enough with the other? Or is it the other way around? How do you deal with their worries (never openly expressed, they are their mother's children), their orthodontics, their Internet search history? Who the fuck knows. On these occasions I like to turn to The Times, which has weekly pieces explaining to me exactly how I am going wrong (the reasons vary from week to week, ideally positing diametrically opposed theories of parenting for extra middle class meltdown potential). I don't really. I like doing practical things like washing pants and buying replacement compasses and making scones, because they feel useful, or necessary, or something. If I muster enough small stuff, I can avoid thinking too much about the big stuff. In any case, I'm not sure if you ever feel like you've done a good job on the bigger parenting stuff. It's probably just like everything else in adult life - a worrying, chaotic muddle, brightened with shafts of joy as blinding and unexpected as Belgian May sunshine and the odd patch of quiet satisfaction you never appreciate as much as you should.

I do like reading good writing about the weirdness and ambivalence of being a parent though, and there were a couple of good ones this weekend, none of them about having the larger variety of children in particular, but excellent reads.

This is beautifully written and interesting. It didn't particularly chime with my experiences (probably due to having no professional ambition or desires at the time I had my sons, indeed one of the things I remember thinking when I was pregnant the first time was that it would allow me to "get out" of work for a while, Jesus) but if I only read things that did, I would mainly read about Shetland ponies, eclairs and despair.

This was a super interesting (if not always very cheery) read about the varying degrees of pleasure, reward, purpose, happiness in parenting.

This is so beautiful on the ordinary, admirable business of being human, what we leave behind, what having a mother or being a mother is about. Made me think of my own.

There are lots of things I want to write about now that everyone has gone back to work (though next Bank Holiday is a WEEK TODAY, JESUSSS), so I will do so. But now I need to review my Dutch irregular imperfects again.


30% Histamine, or whatever the fuck happens when every insect in Wallonia decides to eat you simultaneously
30% Lost receipt gloom
20% Bank Holiday Belly
10% Still waiting for undelivered desk
10% Unable to identify a suitable summer equivalent to my winter punishment soup lunches. Salad - at least the way I do it - doesn't quite do the trick. Any suggestions?


Tuesday, 3 May 2016


Mardy Cashmere

I am worried about the moddles in the Brora catalogue which I received yesterday. For people wearing cosy, delightful Scottish cashmere they look really pained:

These are the kind of facial expressions I adopt when cornered by mad people or waiting for the dentist but trying to conceal my true emotions. I can only surmise they are worried about overheating. CHEER UP, CHAPS. You can always take the jumper off and wear it tied around your neck like a posh French teenager!

(It has been pointed out to me that mardy models are a universal phenomenon and of course this is true, but it seems at odds with Brora's jolly, cosy, Boden-esque branding. Also, they look as if they are trying to smile but some deep personal sadness is preventing them)


I continue to live for Belgian fashion personality and generally fabulous human being Didier Vervaeren's Instagram feed. DV has an extremely strong personal brand/look and a way with a long hashtag. In his most recent picture he is apparently barbecuing a pig in a field in Berlin, which activity is in no way detracting from his inherent fabulousness. I commend him to you in the strongest of terms. He was once on my tram and asked me the way somewhere and I was totally starstruck.


I think Audible was hiding my audiobook from me due to being in Belgium. If you want it, it's here. I didn't read it. This was not due to them telling me I couldn't due to clicking my tongue like an enervated dolphin, but due to time constraints. Linking to this has showed me the incredibly lovely Amazon reviews some of you have left, for which the most abject, grovelling, weepy thanks. THANK YOU.

Redundant parenting

I am now in possession of a fourteen year old. Preparing his birthday has been considerably easier than giving birth to him, particularly since he now wants me neither to make him an adorably wonky homemade cake or even a nice homemade meal, deduce what you wish about my domestic talents from this. I have a Phénix - blackcurrant and pistachio moussey thing - from the posh bakery and have ordered burritos. If you have any advice about parenting fourteen year olds, I am all ears (I initially typed "all years", which is how I feel today), given I continue to feel as if I am perpetually failing in every respect. I mean, he's lovely, but we watched "Unbearable Billionaires Fight Each Other In Hideously Unbecoming Ways" yesterday (I don't know what its real name is, but it was on Channel 4 and featured that woman who painted her Kensington mansion stripy to piss her neighbour off) and L was entirely in favour of the hideously disruptive, loud and blingy many-storied basement developments. Maybe he'll store me in one when I get old.


Due to a combination of confusion and greed I accidentally ate my lunch at 10:30 am today and then tried to power through (ha, "power") until dinner. This was a hideous error of judgment which has led to several hours of me muttering "I hate everyone" with quiet venom, and culminated in me punching a bush on my walk home from Dutch class. Do not eat your lunch at 10:30 kids, lunchtime exists for a reason and that reason is to PREVENT MURDER, horticultural or otherwise.

Goat sharing

You know how a while ago I offered to send you a hilarious article about Bear Grylls style survival from The Times if you did not have a sub and wanted to read it? I extend the same offer if you would like to read an insane, amusing, kind of terrible article about that man who decided to become a goat. Just email me if this is up your strasse.


30% Passage of time amazement
30% Hang-spair (my patented portfolio emotion)
25% Anti-murder leftover beetroot ravioli (still no)
25% Gin temptation

You? What would be your patented portfolio emotion?

Monday, 2 May 2016


This post is basically an excuse to say that I have put up my reading list for April. I feel sure there is something missing, but maybe I spent ages on A Place of Greater Safety (I did, it was worth it)?


We went on a long old persons' hike yesterday to Furfooz. Furfooz! FURFOOZ! You cannot imagine how many times I said "Furfooz" over the three hours we were there. It is my new favourite place name. I strongly recommend Furfooz to Belgium dwellers and indeed others lured into Belgium by its other many and various delights. Furfooz offers prehistoric caves, a Roman fortress, a peregrine's nest and the maddest bar imaginable, in a shack on the very muddy waterfront. The bar is called "La Flobette" which sounds like a puppet on a children's TV show and features an outdoor lavatory on a raised plinth. I should have taken a picture of it, because I can't really explain satisfactorily with words.

Despite liking walking a great deal, we do not really have the temperament for long hikes, since our default attitude to most things in life is "LET US DO THIS AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE" which does not make for a savouring, appreciative kind of walk. There is no time to smell the flowers/eat the mini Twixes, because we must continue this relentless slog until it is over. This was aggravated yesterday by having forgotten any form of performance fabric waterproofs, meaning we had one eye on the menacing Belgian skies the whole time and forgetting any kind of snack meaning we were racing to get back to Furfooz's only food outlet (we did and were rewarded by the landlady showing us lots of pictures of her Chinese Crested dog).

We did stop very briefly on the way, once for me to stare at a small brown bird that was actually diving right under the water in the river and coming up with .. something (fish? worm?), then diving down again. What could this be, bird people (and by "bird people", obviously I mean "Wanstead Birder")? It wasn't a kingfisher and it didn't seem to have any obvious white on it, so I don't think a dipper either. For all I know this may be common bird behaviour, but it seemed weird to me.

We also stopped to marvel at this crazy ass castle, the Château de Walzin, in private ownership and not accessible to the public:

What the hell goes on in there? I'm fascinated.

The ouipette was underwhelmed by the whole business:

Le Sérum du Futur

When I went to purchase my wildly expensive body cream at the funereally dark and luxurious perfumery, I got given a voucher for its sister shop next door, the bright white new age beauty shop, to get a free sample of something describing itself as "le sérum du futur". In order to obtain your sample you had to go and let an enthusiastic man tell you all about the serum of the future, which I did but it was extremely confusing. He definitely mentioned both human growth hormone and volcanos, though how the two are related was unclear. I have lost my ability to suspend disbelief where beauty products are concerned, which is a great sadness to me, but I am nevertheless faithfully applying my three drops of future serum in the hope of one of the following: time travel, flight, a unicorn or radiance. I will let you know how it goes.

20% Other people's bank holidays resentment
10% On my second day waiting in for a desk to be delivered, total radio silence from deliverers, rage
10% Beetroot ravioli (no, on balance)
10% Luridly unpleasant dreams
10% Law
10% Freezing due to total inactivity
10% Wondering whether to release the chickens for a while on the juuuust recovering grass, purely for my amusement.
10% Enjoying the silence