Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Worm burden

I really have no time to write a post, but I can't bear that sad, sad, last one to stay at the top of the page any longer, so here is my Yorkshire Vet email conversation with B last night (parts in " " direct quotes from last night's episode).


B: "Worm burden"

E: Worm burden is actually my stage name.

B: I would like to be clear that because my birthday is next Monday and you have already had your birthday you have to let me have Julian.

E: Nope nope nopety nope.

B: Birthday. Penumbra*. *mic drop*


B: DUELLING PENUMBRAS. RuPaul would know what to do.

E: Veterinary themed runway and lip snynch!

E: ps. I would watch the hell out of a "cat rodeo"

B: I am currently of the opinion that separating "cat rodeo" from animal themed lip synch for your life is a mistake.

E: I realised that as soon as I pressed send.

(*Birthday penumbra, B coinage, the days preceding and following your birthday during which everyone is obliged to be super nice to you. Can be extended at will. Obviously.)

Other thoughts:

Current weather (-3°C, beautiful winter sunshine) is my absolute favourite even though I am wearing a woolly hat, origins unknown, possibly left behind by Prog Rock, in the house. I don't think it's his favourite weather though:

I've just been made aware of this delicious salad and it has made me wholly hysterical. Something about the jaunty music + horrified comments + huffy replies.

New Belinda Bauer (The Beautiful Dead) = extremely gripping and also I am hoarding that new Scandi BBC4 number, so I am sorted, crime-wise.

You? Any small salvations in the ongoing garbage fire? I would like some comments for my birthday penumbra, please.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Dear Mum

Dear Mum,

I am having one of those days where I miss you especially. It’s not any special anniversary, not a notable year (13) or a significant day. It’s just a wintry Friday and I wish you were here.

Quite frankly, you are well out of 2016. It is a catalogue of horrors and you would have been so sad and so angry. You would have been marching almost constantly, I think, assembling outside the Minster with the usual suspects, all the university and Quaker stalwarts, older and wonkier but still just as indignant at the lack of compassion in the world. Everything is a grotesque mess, a garbage fire, my friend Benjamin calls it, even dad is depressed by it and you know how ebullient he usually is. But even so, I still wish you were here to commiserate and to galvanise me into action.

There are good things. Of course there are. I wish, God, I wish, you could see my babies. That plump, delightful, drooling creature who was just learning to walk when you died, just starting to put together short sentences featuring dogs and cars, is a giant. He wears Chanel Sport perfume, which makes his dad apoplectic and proud all at once and shaves and can lift me up like Mrs Pepperpot, which I do not enjoy at all. I adore him like Judith Starkadder adores Seth: he’s confident and maddening and funny, a gorgeous reprobate, his presence in a room gladdens my heart. I worry about him, of course. There's always worry, you knew all about that. The ever-lengthening list of bad things that might happen and the ways I might have inadvertently facilitated them. It’s hard to be a parent when they reach this age: this comes as no surprise to anyone who has met a teenager, but I feel the truth of it every day, feel lost, feel my own ineptitude.

And that baby you only knew as a bump, barely even a bump, lord, how I wish you had met him and how I wish you had been able to know him through all these years. He would have made you laugh so much, with his stubborn premature independence and his headstrong naughtiness and his insistence on being a parrot for several months in 2008.  At nearly-thirteen, he’s dryly droll, often sarcastic, always kind. He plays the fiddle, mum, you’d love that and Julia is playing hers again. At last, some musicians in the family! And he decided he wanted to learn Chinese four years ago, so he does and he’s brilliant, I’m in awe. I worry about him sometimes too, of course. He’s hard on himself, a perfectionist, and he holds things tight inside. But he's sound: he has good friends and laughs a lot with them and plays stupid killing games I disapprove of on the computer.

I wish they both had you, too. More, almost, than anything.

You’d love our stupid dog, too, so elegant and vacant.  And we have chickens! I’ve discovered a passion for chickens (I’m watching our fat white hen chase sparrows around the garden indignantly, as I type). I know you would like our scrubby little back yard with the maple tree and the lilac and you would like the excellent frites the Turkish men in the chip shop round the corner make. I’m learning Dutch, too, which would amuse you after that year you spent in Ghent when you didn’t realise that half of Belgium is Dutch speaking and had to live off oranges and liver pâté. There are books I know you would adore (Tana French’s Dublin detective novels and H is for Hawk, how you would have loved that book), television programmes you would have laughed at, restaurants I want to take you to (the one near here which is all smartly dressed pensioners tucking into oysters and vast steaks, especially). Oh, and we got married a couple of years ago and it was tender and right and lovely and we all missed you. I’m angry on your behalf at all the joy you have missed, this family stuff but also the stuff that was entirely your own and which I knew nothing about. You should have had all of it.

But selfishly, I really want you here for me.

My friends are good. I did well on that score, there are people I love in my life and we talk, really talk, about the barest, least prepossessing bones of our characters and our lives; the dark 3am thoughts. Women in mid-life can be wonderful for each other, can’t they? It's the special consolation of this time of life. Les and I are friends now too, which I think would please you. I think we both feel a little bit of you in the other when we speak, a connection, across time and space. When I drink a mug of tea in her house in Appleton, sometimes, I feel closer to you than anywhere else (your grave is beautiful, we did well when we picked that spot and the stone Joe had made is perfect, Love and Be Loved. But you aren’t there for me). My friends all live far away, though, and I’m cautious of boring them, wearing out their kindness.

I want to tell you how lost I feel, sitting here in the selva obscura in the middle of my life, still not quite sure what I am supposed to be doing with it. I’m 42 tomorrow, the answer to life the universe and everything and I have no answers, none at all. I want to talk about courage, and why I seem not to have any and how I wonder if I will ever find a reserve of it. How consumed I am with envy at others’ achievements and loathing of my own shortcomings. How my brain feels useless, insipid and flabby, like a blancmange. You were so impressive, so determined, but I know you had tough patches too. I remember the years after Julia was born, the leggings years, the saggy jumper years, the tiredness. I’m right in the middle of my leggings years now, without even a new baby to excuse it. I wear make up once a month, if that, and all my clothes could, without inconvenience, be worn by a working farmer. I want to understand how you came through the leggings years, maybe get some clues about how I can find a way through my own.

It’s not that I think it would be easy if you were here or that you would just clasp me to your bosom and tell me I am wonderful (I’d like that, though). I don’t actually think you’d be too impressed with me right now. I’m pathetic (I just said that out loud to myself as I wrote it. I do that most days). You’d find a way to tell me I’m selfish and self-absorbed and there are plenty of things I could be doing that are better than sulking in the attic. There might be some stern words, some shaming words. I give myself plenty, but yours would carry more weight. Because I would want to show you I can be an OK person, eventually.

Of course, if you were here, I would be taking you for granted. I wouldn’t be telling you any of this stuff, I expect. I’d probably be being prickly and dismissive,  insisting everything was fine. But eventually you would soften up my defences, because you were good at that. And I might have cried a few angry tears and you would have told me some hard stuff and some kind stuff, then we could have had a nice lunch, because we were always good at that. Afterwards, I would have tucked my arm, gratefully, into yours and we would have huddled together against the cold of this bright, hard winter day and for a few minutes everything would have been right with the world.

Everything is right with my world really. It will be fine. We are fine. But I miss you.



Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Goat of arms

Wot, wot.


The best conversation I have had in recent weeks was about St Hugh of Lincoln. Did you know: St Hugh of Lincoln BIT OFF chunks of St Mary Magdalene's arm in Normandy to bring them back to Lincoln? Impressive. He got his comeuppance, however, because his own head was subsequently stolen. As ye reap (arm bits), so shall (thine head) be reaped.

"The head of St Hugh of Lincoln was stolen in 1364 and later discarded in a field where it was guarded by a raven until it was recognised." (The Corpse, A History, Christine Quigley)

E: So many questions. Like, how LONG was the raven guarding it?

F: "Guarding" my ass. The raven was totally eating his eyes and tongue.

E: "Oh! Hi! Yeah. I was just, like, guarding him? Because some OTHER bird was eating his eyes."

F: "I was totally guarding him FROM that other bird. See how the other bird is gone now? That's because of my guarding."

E: "What, this, on my beak? No, that isn't viscera. It's .. this special plant that LOOKS like human tissue? Yeah, crazy!"

F: Every time I see a raven now I'm going to check if he's guarding some saint's head.

Yorkshire Vet

I am horribly behind on Yorkshire Vet recounting, so in advance of tonight's, here, verbatim, are my notes from the previous episode which was basically "Carry On Up the Alpaca" (aw, man, someone at my Dutch class asked for my blog address today and they'll be greeted with Gross Saint Stuff then Full Yorkshire Filth):

More alpaca sex

Nike "he couldn't get in"

"Really long but very thin... like wiggly worms" alpaca penis, I mean, you probably guessed

"Persistent membrane"

"I can get my little finger in now, that should do it." (Julian breaching alpaca hymen)


Charlie The Pygmy

Mike the goat man

Castration guilt

Goat incest

"All vets love a good abscess"

And here is the week before, which was mainly about Julian violating a ram with the electro-ejaculator (deeply disturbing), but which nevertheless produced the following lines worthy of some kind of veterinary Alan Bennett play:

Oscar the ram electro ejaculator facial expression deep woe

"Put a bit of Mr Sheen on there it'll be like one of them air hockey things."  I have NO idea what this related to and putting the quote into Google has not helped, surprisingly.

"Bored and mildly disgusted" - I think this might have been my son's commentary on the episode.

"Quite a deep cow"

"That goes in the bucket"

"No! That goes in your HORSE!"

This last dialogue fragment relating to a new horse stomach emptying, erm, tube thing.

Other business

1. Buns

I made cinnamon buns yesterday and they were bloody lovely and not that hard so you can anticipate having to get me removed from the house by a crane sometime next year (not you personally. I imagine that task will fall to my family who do not like cinnamon. I made chocolate chip buns for them instead which were utterly inferior).

2. Birds

In Dutch class today we watched a short film about SLECHTVALKS! Slechtvalks eating duiven (pigeons)! They can only eat drie per week!  Imagine my excitement. I tried to explain my sophisticated and esoteric Dutch bird vocabulary to the bloke next to me but he just looked at me as if I were slightly weird and pathetic which is obviously not at ALL the case.

3. Goats

I had to write a listing this week about a play in which Damian Lewis has a sexual relationship with a goat.

4. Birthday

It is mine on Saturday, I am particularly underwhelmed about it, due to my general uselessness/unfitness for purpose. I asked L to draw me a picture of "either an owl or a pangolin" for my present, but he has just come over to offer me "an owl EATING a pangolin". Maybe this should be added to my coat of arms (capybara rampant, fat pony passant, Yorkshire Gold banner, Owl in a box crest, scroll text "dans ton cul")?


30% Perpetually fucking ill
30% Perpetually fucking useless
30% Removing Hillary repeatedly from the table
10% Other people's revision trauma

You? Percentages? What would feature on your goat of arms (that was accidental, but I'm going with it)?

Monday, 14 November 2016

Continued denial through the medium of poultry


WE BOUGHT A NEW CHICKEN. Her name is Hillary, of course (F does not agree her name is Hillary, but it was my €12, so I am calling her Hillary even if he decides to call her Sriracha or Jalapeno or something). The poultry purchasing outing was somewhat fraught as the chicken farm was far further than my initial perusal of Google maps indicated causing some spousal friction, compounded when during my reluctant driving stint, I got stuck behind a bewildered pensioner in a transit van full of wood going at 14km/h and was too chicken (ho ho) to overtake. The fowl wonderland was in the heart of Belgian Sugarbeet Country, which is apparently a massive highway hazard, according to the endless signage suggesting we should not go above 50km/h due to CAUTION: BETTERAVES. What are the betteraves going to do, exactly? Roll around and create a hazard? Distract us with their coy heaped beauty? The old man in the Transit was taking no chances and neither was I.

Anyway, all (most) irritation evaporated on arrival, because the chicken farm was truly, truly superior, with tiny ornamental hens with Trumphair roaming all over the road, an escaped Liegeoise fighting hen and chicks in the barn, a mad dog with a tennis ball, geese, goats, sheep, the most splendid array of fowl and a lovely young enthusiastic chicken wrangler who showed us ALL THE HENS. Although I really wanted some speckled bantams, we selected Hillary mainly on the basis of her vast size, so Pepper would not bully her. I did not, however, realise until she emerged from the cardboard box at the other end just how big she in fact was. She is VAST, a giant, dense, silky-soft mass of feathery magnificence. All hail Hillary.

That said, Hillary has been in residence for 2 days now and she is proving, er, somewhat challenging. Within hours of arrival she had made short work of the coop fence and was stalking around on the coop ROOF. The first night we lost her entirely and scoured the garden only to find her perched on the seven foot high garden wall, from which we had to dislodge her with a broom. Tonight, unavoidably detained after dark by STIBfuckery (one part of which seemed, mysteriously, to involve a rubbish truck which had ended up on the tram tracks, how how how how did this happen) on the wrong side of Brussels, I called L nervously to ask him to check whether Hillary had made it to the coop. She had not.

"She's sitting on the table outside," he told me. "And... hang on... Did you leave something out there?"

"Yes, a plate of cooked chicken. I wanted to cool it down. Why?"

"Well, she's sitting there, staring at your plate of chicken."


Hillary and not especially accessible table. These obstacles did not discourage her in the slightest.

Hmm, what else? 


Rien. I don't remember. Bought some choux. Ate some choux. Read. Watched Parks & Rec. Suffered under the yoke of many many homeworks.


Brunch, STIBfuckery, pho making, cookie baking, suffering under the yoke of many many homeworks, Planet Earth II ibex astonishment, chivvying, overeating, wood carrying, compulsive tidying. Updating my reading list for October!

Dog bed updates: 


51% Pervasive doom-despair
20% Dry lips
20% Sore eyes
6% Other general physical and emotional disintegration
3% Autumn is very beautiful, despite it all


Friday, 11 November 2016

To the furry envelopes

Well. WELL.

How's your productivity going, in the end times? I confess I have spent much of today digital window-shopping for chickens. Man, there are some great chickens out there, ones with crazy facial ornaments, ones with Trump-hair, ones that look like small thunderstorms on legs and ones described, ominously, as "vive"... Our elderly hen feu Tabasco died on End Times Day (I went out in the pouring pathetic fallacy rain, haggard with disbelief and horror and found her dead, thereby adding to Tuesday's general shitweaselry) and I know it seems callous to already be browsing for her replacement, but poor Pepper our resident avian tyrant looks very forlorn out there on her own with no one to bully all day then cosy up to at night.

Each to their own. Me: chickens, B: Welsh gin, F: posting Auden poems on Facebook, M: buying leopard print boots.

Here is the dearly departed, posing uneasily with a pumpkin recently. You were a good hen, Tabasco, if very loud in the mornings.

In other la-la-la-pretend-it-isn't-happening news, we went to Luxembourg for three days last week on The Most Middle Aged Holiday Ever, hiking. Luxembourg was (a) ludicrously beautiful and (b) waaaaay more German speaking than I had realised. Except the cemetery:

Aujourd'hui nous, demain vous, it says, cheerily. 

Such rocks, much tree, so waterfall:

I'm finding looking at these pictures of rocks and trees very calming. I mean, they've been around for kajillions of years. They've probably seen worse, right?

Our hotel was quite eccentric, with 7 different saunas, many with naked German people in (plus one IN OUR ROOM, why, a sauna not a naked German). The relaxation room, however, was entirely out of bounds for everyone but wasps.

There was also an 18th century hermit hole, if things get really bad:

I mean, I'm not saying I'm totally qualified to live in a hole in a rock on seeds and roots pieusement dans la crainte de Dieu, but if it becomes essential, I can give it a shot.

I have two Yorkshire Vet episodes to relate to you, including one which went full Carry On with Julian having to break an alpaca's hymen, but I'll save those for later (it's another bastarding public holiday today). Instead, let me show you the dog's new bed, because I am pretty sure a human-sized one is what we all need right now. I am fully obsessed with this bed.

Truly, it is a bed for the age. Join me in the fake fur lined envelope of comfort and denial.

If none of these things does it for you, can I humbly recommend this, one of my most cherished extracts from Ru Paul's Drag Race season 7? I have it filed away for the darkest days:

 "hashtag #thebestIcandorightnowinthissituation" (words to live by)

"this is the Hunger Games of Drag"

And also, commentary by Katya, my most-loved queen EVAH.

(Since I wrote this: Leonard Cohen AND an outbreak of avian flu meaning I may not even be able to go chicken shopping today. Oh, and another wave of spam from witch doctors on the blog, which is now basically a forum for bots to talk about Drs Unity and Osemu Okpamen, both of whom, based on the botcomments, may in fact be better qualified to be Commander in Chief than the next incumbent, even though they are fictitious. BRING ON THE FURRY ENVELOPES)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Nice eye nice wattle nice shape

It is another bastarding public holiday. My children are killing people with strangers on the internet, slumped in the dark, their spines abnormally curved, their pasty faces illuminated by the occasional plume of pixellated blood. My spouse is dozing in front of something which appears to be an American reality TV programme about dude loggers, dubbed into French.

"Brad a une solution pour ce soir. Depuis 2 ans il est boxeur d'MMA amateur"

"Vous êtes que des cons dans cette équipe, c'est vrai?!"

The tortoises are refusing to hibernate because global warming.

The dog has eaten something unspeakable off the street and is gurgling ominously.

I am chasing up an overdue payment from 19th June for the 7th time, wrapped in a blanket like a giant, morose futomaki.

Yorkshire Vet roundup

Email convos during:

(no, B cannot spell Thirsk, but he is American, and thus it is forgivable, though it is also why Julian will be MY second husband and not his, despite his threats to rip my wig off)

My own notes:

Alpacas called Jay-Z and Mr Darcy. The alpaca wrangler had a special technique for distracting alpacas from castration, by manually revolving their tails, something Julian described with characteristic understatement as "a reasonably involved procedure."

Peter the old vet went to visit Mr Bird the pigeon fancier to collect pigeon stool samples. Mr Bird described the ideal pigeon as follows:

"Nice eye, nice wattle, nice shape."


In the teaser for this week's ep, Julian was testing what he described as "the electro-ejaculator" with his tongue. They are toying with us.

Other things that have happened

1. I have obtained a Belgian driving licence! It was - barring the two trips to the town hall and trip to the police - bizarrely simple and I obtained it without shouting at the sky, or resorting to an SVA ('screaming vagina attack', I can't really explain this satisfactorily). I keep staring at it in wonder. I seem to be allowed to drive a bus, plus trailer. I still do not want to drive.

2. Belgian pumpkin update. Belgian commerce appears to have given up on my favourite practice of placing a plain, uncarved pumpkin in the shop doorway or window. Its demise is much lamented, at least in this house. I purchased two Belgian pumpkins yesterday and attempted to carve them, but they appeared to be made out of the hardest Belgian rock and I ended up in a fury covered in pumpkin slime and chunks of adamantine orange flesh. The children came when I had done 90% of the work and desultorily carved some basic faces into them with very little enthusiasm. Truly, the age of childhood wonder is over. We had a few sets of small trick or treaters (poor bastards, slim pickings indeed, one mate of my son's got THREE sweets in his night out), whose slogan seemed to be "un bonbon ou la mort", which I personally felt was a little extreme.

3. Troubling research while listing writing:


Seriously, chicory professor? Mr Demeulemeester, emeritus professor of chicory. Where is my professorship in Flan?

4. I had a terrible yen for classic champagne cocktail this weekend, so we went all around town looking for maraschino cherries and the like, then I drank three in quick succession on Saturday night and now it is Tuesday and I am STILL waiting for easeful death, because, oh god, the hangover. It seems to have gone beyond a hangover to a point where I now expect to feel this shit for the rest of my life. GOD, they were utterly bloody delicious though, so I suppose it was worth it. (it wasn't) (let me curl up and die).

5. It's just conceivable that my state of near perishing may also be related to my new and revolting habit of extreme sell-by date roulette. I don't really know where this has come from, possibly just more apocalypse prep. It's not really working out for me.

6. Life without Twitter remains calm and quite dull. I wish I could say I was achieving more creatively, but clearly that is untrue. I have committed to an hour of "proper" writing, but most of the hour is spent checking on the Freedom timer and staring at the birdshit on my window. I assume this is part of the creative process. If it isn't, don't feel you have to disabuse me of my illusions.


30% Probiotics
30% Tracking my new parka (Toast) as it meanders in the general direction of Belgium at an excruciatingly slow pace
20% Is it time for cashmere pyjama bottoms yet, please say it is
20% Ugh