Saturday, 31 December 2011


Seeing as everyone else is waxing wise about things they learned this year, I thought I'd pass on what I have learned:

1.  You are never too old.  Well maybe to become an Olympic gymnast but most other things you can wing it.  Stand up straight, tits out, and jump.

2.  If you move furniture you will always find a dead mouse.  And 26p in mixed coinage.

3.  You can always find a good home for a pretty cat.

4.  If you hurt your back, everyone will tell you to roll on a tennis ball.

5.  Take every opportunity to get your clothes off.  One day they'll stop asking so get 'em off while you can.

6.  Everyone, at least once in their life, should walk out on everything. 

Friday, 30 December 2011

Passing Time

Yesterday I got a bus from Richmond to Putney.  Yes, I'm a seasoned traveller.  It wasn't till I was on the bus that I realised it was a sort of This Is Your Life tour of my past.  I worked in Richmond on three separate occasions over the course of ten years.

And there was the Waitrose in East Sheen we used to go to when I was a child, and where we saw Roy Kinnear in the car park.  There was Sheen Lane where my doctor's surgery was, twenty five years ago.  My dad said it was on the site of an old gypsy camp and that Sheen Lane used to be dead rough.  There was the dodgy car dealers who sold me my first car with a broken gearbox - still in business!  There was Priests' Bridge where my parents almost lived before they inherited the Saville Road house.  There was the Lennox Estate, my first flat up on the sixth floor where my daughter and I lived for three years.  During the hurricane of 1987 a large bit of tree smashed my sitting room window and didn't even wake us.

It wasn't sad, it just felt like a quiet ritual.  Today I went to my doctor for migraine medication enough to tide me over till I figure out the Belgian system.  He said "See you in 20 years then."  Oh, I enquired, will you still be here?  "Not fucking likely", he replied and I laughed so hard I had a coughing fit.

I have taped up the cat flap to stop Bobbie disappearing.  He needs to be here when his new family come to pick him up.  For tea I am having instant mashed potato with dairylea and green olives bought in Waitrose.  I might miss Waitrose. 


Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Santander Guide to Customer Service

1.  It is of paramount importance that when Mrs Customer walks in, you have someone on the front desk who is both vastly inexperienced and texting her mates under the desk.  This gives a good first impression.

2.  If Mrs Customer has some quite specific questions, the Vastly Inexperienced person should keep popping back to confer with a colleague, and then return to the desk to repeat the last sentence of what her colleague said.  Ensure that Mrs Customer can actually see the colleague, and overhear most of the conversation, but not talk to that colleague, because he is busy.

3.  Vastly Inexperienced person should ideally have no clue what she is repeating to you, and should receive further questions in the manner of a frightened stuffed toy.

4. At no point should it be suggested that Mrs Customer might make an appointment.  If in doubt, just say "come back tomorrow" or "go and talk to someone at the counter", even if they don't do international transfers at the counter.

5.  Only if Mrs Customer is looking like really digging her fucking heels in, make her an appointment for later in the afternoon.  But don't give in too easily or they will all want an appointment and you know where that will lead.

And that, friends, sums up just about every visit to my bank in the last couple of years for anything more complicated than straight dosh.  Oh Santander, how I will miss you.

Station to Station

I've never been a gypsy, a rover, someone with itchy feet, or any other of those vaguely romantic things.  But this is my last few days in the city in which I was born and in which I have always lived.  And I'm ready - in spirit if not in boxes.

Also tired, post-viral, post-Eurostar.  I thank whatever small gods that have dominion over Paris-Nord that I won't have to exit via that terminal again.  If something works, why not change it?  It used to be possible to drift into check-in, drift through security, drift into the departure lounge.  They have now instituted a queuing system which starts in the main concourse of Paris-Nord, stretching right across the main doors of the station.  Passengers are allowed up the escalator in small bites.  To join another queue in front of locked doors.  I looked somewhat longingly down at the "normal" Thalys train to Brux.

Check-in was like a milling crowd of sheep at an abattoir.  And thence to another queue, and another, and another.  Soon, people were panic-queuing and there was a long line to board the train in the lounge.  So early was the line that boarding was never even announced, we just went.

A strange kind of passenger seemed to be on board - the sort that would move one's suitcase, not just to another shelf, but about 10 feet away.  I wasn't best pleased when I couldn't find it.  The panic-queuing formed again in the train aisle after Ebbsfleet.  I looked out the window at Rainham as if to disassociate myself.  My aloofness was rather spoiled by the racking cough.

I am having a breakfast picnic of olive bread and hummus.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Generally Stricken

Then it all went a bit downhill.  A general strike in Brussels meant that I could not get to Brussels from Paris as planned on 22 December.  I had meetings set up all over the place that needed rapid cancellation/rescheduling.  Fortunately, I was just outside the minimum cancellation period for the hotel so wasn't charged for that.

Never mind.  I made it safely to the Paris train.  And then got ill.  I never get ill.  It is full-blown tubercular coughing disease fever and has lasted over the entire festive period.  A cocktail of nurofen and Cremant de Borgogne or Bailey's has helped me through.  The coughing is of the variety designed to empty one's body of spare organs.  I think my spleen is still attached. 

I'm not sure if it's the fever or the drink but last night I dreamed that Beyoncé gave birth to an elephant.  Only it wasn't actually her - she had a surrogate elephant birthgiver.  All very suspicious.

We have been playing a lot of games when I haven't been too feverish - and the phrase of the week has been "If you get this right, I'll show my tits to your neighbours".  My daughter has a large window, you see, overlooking many flats.  So far I have not had to do it.  They have witnessed me dancing like Tom Jones though, so nothing will probably surprise them.

Now, is it too early for fizzy booze?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


It is easy to see patterns where patterns do not exist, if one is in that frame of mind.  Having failed to prove my identity this morning, I thought I would go and spend the nicely hoarded £40 I had on my Nectar card, buying goodies to take to Paris.  I checked my balance last night online.

The girl on Sainsbury's checkout said in a pale but decisive voice "Your card is invalid".  No amount of explaining that there was £40 on it penetrated this.  "Your card is invalid.  Talk to Nectar."

At the moment I am permanently on the edge of a wobble.  And I have to remind myself it isn't the fault of the person reading from a screen in front of me that this is beginning to feel like the opening chapters of The Handmaid's Tale.

I'm wondering if a memo has gone out and I have actually been cancelled.

There was almost a very unladylike tantrum, and then some hand-waving and sulking.  "Throw it away, go on, throw it away!  I'm leaving the country and don't have time..."  Ah, where's my BAFTA.

Identity; proof of being you - it's a strange thing.  I have in the past week or two stripped myself of everything that signifies security to me, and defines where and who I am.  So what is left is irrationally precious, I suppose. 

Today has officially been a pile of cunt. 

And you can't really find a worksafe picture of that.

I Am Who I Am

Last night, I finally opened the folder with the title "The Plan".  Amazingly, I've done most of the things in it.  Also, most of the things in my pink-paged filofax and on odd scraps of paper.  I'm not sure how this happened.  A sort of efficiency borne of complete chaos.

And then I tried to redirect my mail, online.  It seemed quite straightforward until it said my payment was unsuccessful.  Twice.  My bank has been known to freeze my card on a whim so I called them.  No, everything was fine and they had authorised payment to Royal Mail.

This morning I speak to what is amusingly called Royal Mail Customer Services and am told that I failed an identity check.  A what, now?  At no point did the online form ask for anything that could be verified - like my passport number, my NI number, my driving licence number.  No.  They used Experian for checking identity.  And clearly I'm not me.

I managed to contain my rage just enough that I did not blister the poor girl with acres of swearing.  Which meant that I just went very English and said "THIS IS RIDICULOUS" a lot and demanded to lodge a complaint.  "Over 50% of online applications are successful", she reassured me.  I advised that this was not much comfort when I was being treated like a criminal.

There is nothing more likely to bring out shrill indignance than having one's identity questioned.  I would not have minded if the process had been a little more sensible and transparent - but the online system told me payment had failed and it had not.  Clearly this is code for "You lying little shit, you're not Jane Capon."

Well I am.  You twatfaced sons of horsemongers.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Carry on Camping

My house smells like a swimming pool.  I still find that smell exciting in a Pavlovian way - it reminds me of pushing through the slow-clanking turnstiles at Chiswick Outdoor Pools.  Those pools were rank - there were always dead wasps and fag-butts floating in them.  They chalked up the temperature of the water near the entrance but it was always bollock-numbingly cold.  Not that I had bollocks, of course, being a girl.  Capons never do, you know.

Oh, yes, it smells of bleach in here because I've been giving the fridge a makeover.  I believe other people just call it "cleaning".  I have made a temporary fridge by hoisting a plastic bag on a nail in the wall outside.  Foxes won't be able to get up there.  Squirrels might, but they are a bit put off by the foxes.

I am making by dinner by steeping rice in boiling water till it's cooked and then mixing it with stuff.  Later I will be whittling sex toys from pieces of abandoned garden furniture.  OK, that bit isn't true.

It's rather like camping, this.  Except indoors.  And I'm going to Paris in two days so the novelty won't have time to wear off before then.  I'm still somewhat confused as to why I had five unopened bags of Aunt Bessie's Bubble and Squeak in the freezer.

Cooker Man Oh Where Can You Be

Cooker Man arrives half an hour before the scheduled "morning call between 9 and 12" and I'm still in bed. 

Hauling on some clothes, I run to open the door and find next-door's mute builders pointing down the street.  So I hallooo and hallooooo until Cooker Man comes back.  He's wearing so much freshly-applied cologne I start coughing.

Still it's done now.  I am without fire.  Picnics all the way from now.  I broke out the Argos Value Range kettle and you know what?  This tea doesn't taste right.  New kettle, bah.  It needs to build up a bit more limescale.  I like my tea with some bite.

A confession:  I cannot yet bring myself to switch off the fridge.  I love a really cold chocolate Hobnob.  I like my milk uncurdled.  Call me old-fashioned but I like cold juice.  I could just leave it all outside the back door I suppose.  Woe betide any fox who nibbles my Hobnobs.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

There Aren't Enough Lifeboats By Half!

Sorry, just having a Titanic moment.

We are reaching that point where it all starts to look serious now.  I, on the other hand, will continue to point and laugh, because that's what I do.  Tonight I'm going to cook the last of the broccoli and then switch the fridge off.  What I really need for the defrost is some of those big sand-filled tampons you get in leaky tube stations.  I may have to improvise with Lil-lets.  The fridge is going on freecycle but - to be honest - it isn't very attractive.  I accidentally didn't buy a white one and it's sort of boring grey.  I may have to market it as "would be good as a second fridge in the garage for all your loads of booze".  It certainly isn't presentable enough for a kitchen.  Poor ugly fridge.  Its only feature is ice-cube trays.

My room is looking less like a jumble sale now.  More like some very nosy and picky burglars have been in.

I'm actually starting to get a bit excited.  It's peering out from under the mute horror and controlled panic.  Tonight I'm going to roll up the big rug in the front room.  Oh yes.

Five Things I Have Thrown Out Today

1.  My yoga mat.  I mean, yoga - come on.  What was I thinking?  I spent my last class feeling sick and on the verge of tears.  This body was not designed to be upside down.

2. Red silk parasol.  Oh it was a lovely idea.  But -

                      a) I would look a tosser, and
                      b) I don't even go out when it's sunny

3.  All but the least skanky pillow.  Pillows are foul.  I'm sure you can hear things in them.

4. That old blanket with a hole in it.  I'm sure it had some sentimental value but I'm buggered if I can remember what it is.

4. Cuprinol woodstain for the outdoor furniture.  Yeah, that was never going to happen was it?

5. Various half-used tins of paint.  Don't tell the council.  Rubbish collection day may resemble a Jackson Pollock when they sling the bag in the truck.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Pizza My Heart

So, Nelson Mandela's head.  It's where S and K and I always meet.  Unless we are going to Borough Market to spend inflated amounts on fancy bread and cheese and sloe gin.  We linked arms and walked three abreast singing and laughing.  Really annoying, I should imagine, but who cares.  Went to Pizza Express, where I pointed out the pretty Terence Trent D'Arby-on-steroids waiter.  Then K wanted to buy Christmas lights made out of leaf skeletons.

After this she drew S and I to the river's edge, for a moment.  To have a moment.  I said it was fucking cold.  K asked if anyone was going to say something profound.  I said it was a bit Richard Curtis, told them I loved them, and then we all concluded it was fucking cold and went to the bar. 

Unfortunately, our favourite bar was full of goddamn people all over our sofas drinking our drinks.  So we went somewhere S said was a bit musty and we would definitely get a seat.  It had a marvellous view of the 77 bus in repose.

Oh I forgot the bit where they bought me loads of fudge.  And then we did not say goodbye to each other because that just wouldn't be right.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Tempus Fuckit

Although in theory there are still almost three weeks to go, one of those is going to be in Paris.  I have 11 actual days left in the UK, of which five are working days.  I have five days to get everything done.  A part of me is distantly panicking and screaming rather like a Munch painting in another room.  The rest of me has her feet up with a cup of tea. And as the furniture departs, so my methods of living become more improvised. 

My feet are actually up on the pc tower, with the keyboad on my lap.  The monitor is balanced on a chair, and my knee is a rather effective mouse-mat.  The rest of the room looks like a vomited jumble-sale. But in my personal space, order remains.

Except it's anything but ordered.  I am passing from hug to hug.  The small lake of bodily fluid in my head still hasn't broken but it will soon.  Today I nearly wept in the Hard Rock Café.  Mind you, that could have been the booze.  I went to Wimbledon to meet the girls and was given a glass of Hungarian spirits on arrival.  I don't know what it was but I think it doubles as descaler.  This was chased down with a glass of wine, so by 1pm I was what is known as arseholed.  We were not supposed to go to the Hard Rock Café but it's a long story involving a power surge.

Tomorrow it's S and K by Nelson Mandela's head on the South Bank and I fear the seal will be broken. I have 12 handypacks of Kleenex.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Three Weeks

As we approach the day of departure, I have been practising my sobbing.

I seem to be experiencing all manner of emotion.  Concentrated by that departure date,  my laughter is bigger, my tears snottier, my mawkishness mawking like a fucking Saturday afternoon weepy on BBC2.  Christ I'm going.  At the risk of sounding incredibly pretentious, it feels like birth and like death.  Where I'm going I can only go alone, and I leave behind everything I have ever known.  Oh, how fucking twatty that sounds.

Tomorrow I am really having my leaving do at work.  There will be hectares of snot.  And then I'm seeing my good friend L for cocktails and food and probably further snot.

If Europe ever lacked a snot lake I could probably provide one in the next few weeks.

I know it's a beginning.  But right now it feels like the end of everything.  I'll be really pissed off if the world does end in 2012.  All that moving and expense for nothing.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Elephant in the Room

Nothing compares to the Elephant and Castle.  Really, nothing.  My last few days of tenure I am spending in the icy built-canyons of the Elephant, doing very little.  We seemed to be the repository for random phone enquiries today.  No, I don't know when next summer's graduation is.  No, I don't know if the library is open.  No, I don't know when the information office is open.  What, do I look like Google?

Still it's been quite cosy.  If it weren't for the phone occasionally ringing I might have caught a nap behind our twinkly fairy lights.

Lunchtime I avoided the 99p shop because frankly I have enough shit and I just know I'd buy more.  I got a £2 pair of gloves off the market for which my cold knuckles were very grateful.  Some people find the E&C market a bit scary but I think I must be very common at heart because I like it.  I am not so keen on the shopping centre because it smells of fried chicken and I'm not that common.

When did it become the fashion to have fruit and veg displayed in identical plastic bowls?  This trend seems to have spread across all London - they even do it outside my Post Office.  Maybe there is a special bit in Greengrocer Weekly where you can buy these bowls in bulk.  Do you get the bowl with the fruit?  I've never worked it out. 

I'd quite like a new bowl.  Mine is an orange one from Chrisp Street Market that my Aunt Lil bought my mum about 40 years ago.  I suppose it's an heirloom now.

And all this talk is to distract from the fact that I have two days left.  Thursday will end in tears.  It could get very messy.  And then, like some overblown school-leaver, that's it.  I'm set free on the world - but it's not a world I know.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Bobbie-Big-Bollocks Goes North

Thanks to my lovely niece S (does everyone I know have a name that starts with S?) Bobbie now has a new home in trendy Islington.  I expect this means he will be dining out nightly on Filet de Souris at the hottest new eateries in Upper Street.

He hasn't missed his sister one bit, which makes me feel less guilty about casting them to opposite sides of London.  Cats are quite simple, at heart.  As long as he's got his Felix pouches and a nice bed to sleep on Bobbie is fine. His new mum and dad sound absolutely lovely and I'm sure he will be very happy.

The goodbyes in earnest have begun.  Today I handed in my notice on my flat and on my job.  That's some goodbye.  And I did that thing of standing staring at colleagues I won't see again before giving them an awkward but sincerely-felt hug.  No tears yet; not yet.

Saturday, 10 December 2011


My daughter is here from Paris, so the computer has been commandeered mainly for the purpose of watching DVDs and old stuff on 4OD.  At the moment she is snugly asleep while I wait for the overpriced gas-un-fitter to come and dislocate the gas cooker.

I'm going to have to buy an Argos Value Range electric kettle today so that I can do fake cooking over the next three weeks or have a nice cup of tea at least.

The good news is that after a bottle of wine we got the enormo-sofa out the front room window on Thursday night, with much giggling. 

We are readying Betty the cat for her departure although she does not know this.  It feels like a sad story out of Bunty for Girls.  Last night the two of us held her and tried to worm her.  She did fake swallowing and everything and then gobbed the pill out before running away.  At this rate she'll be delighted to go to Nunhead.  Oh well, she'll have to go with any worms intact.  Not that I think she has worms.  It just seemed polite to eliminate the possibility.

Bobbie doesn't know he's going either and, to be honest, neither do I.  He doesn't have a home yet.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Winter Drawers

Things discovered in my drawers at Wimbledon:
  • a drum of low-salt bouillon that went out of date in 2006
  • several extremely ancient oatcakes that probably don't taste much different despite their antiquity
  • a counterpart driving licence which was handed in to me several years ago, never reclaimed
  • a Czech national ID card, similarly handed in to me several years ago, never reclaimed
  • a rather amazing set of screwdrivers, handed in several years ago, never reclaimed
More goodbyes today.  L brought me flowers and was a bit teary.  I told her "None of that". I've been very good about not getting upset and there is deep seam of Englishness in me that just wants to do a cheery wave and go "Teddah then".  No tears, not yet, eh.

Now does anyone want about three thousand staples?  I could join them all back together if you really insist.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Just Looking Around

Today was my final day at Chelsea, and full of bathos.  There are going to be so many "final" things over these coming weeks that not each can be accompanied by high drama.  Can you imagine the exhaustion.

I went for lunch with my friend S (different friend S) had half a bottle of wine and forgot I had a two o'clock appointment.  Cue that careful slightly over-elegant bit-drunk behaviour when you really don't want to be found out.  I think I got away with it.  Fortunately my brain can still wrestle with the intricacies of UK Border Agency rules even after Pinot Grigio and a fish pie. 

At 6pm I switched things off and ordered the desk with that mild obsessiveness I can just about tolerate.   Every movement and action for the last time.  There was nobody around to mock my melodrama as I threw my gaze round the reception area one last time (like Captain von Trapp fleeing the Nazis), swiped my card and left. 

Friend S, after several years nagging, has finally given me one of her meerkat paintings.  He is beautiful and will not be packed away.   Whenever I need to smile I will just look at this:


Monday, 5 December 2011

Sing When You're Whining

I am sitting in my freezing bedroom, where everything that stands still long enough develops a rash of mildew, wearing a long jumper and a long cardigan.  This is currently the hub of the house because the TV is gone, and my books are packed.  Life is channelled to and from me through this monitor.  I may need gloves.  I lost the Lost Property ones last winter.  I pray to the patron saint of Eurostar that it does not snow over the next month. 

The more I get rid of, the more this looks like a squat that Pete Doherty would scorn.  The more I pack, the more I wonder if I actually need any of it.  Right now I'd be quite happy to leave with my duvet and the computer.  And some spare pants and socks.  That makes me sound like a boy.  Beyoncé certainly didn't mention that in her song.

As it gets exquisitely colder and I get nearer check-in and check-out there are so many feelings.  One day I might be able to talk about it, or I might just forget it.  For now it's a knot and will have to stay a knot.  One day soon I might be too distracted by karaoke with a bunch of new chums to remember.  

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Room Somewhere

Exactly one month today, round about now, I'll be on my way.  So rather than lay in bed rehearsing slightly tearful and implausible station farewells, I need to get my arse in gear.

Arse is a wonderful word; far better than the half-arsed ass of our US chums.  I can remember it being said of my sister "She took her arse in her 'ands and went".  A wonderful expression of umbrage and disdain.

The English arse is somehow much more emphatic.  Audrey Hepburn yelling "Move your bloomin' arse" in My Fair Lady was quite a moment.  Lovely Audrey, all done up in Cecil Beaton, shouting rude words.   Coincidentally, Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels.  Audrey would have got her arse in gear, I'm sure, even though it was tiny.   

So, enough of this.  There will be no emotional farewells; just a large Americano and an overpriced ham and cheese baguette.  Onwards.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Clambering slowly back to normal service after a rather unwell day yesterday.  I'm not terribly good at drinking.  Quite good at being sick, though.  Hangover brought with it some ghosts of mawkish nature so I am exorcising them with practical tasks such as arranging the disconnection of the cooker.  £99 plus VAT?  I'm sure I could do it myself, damn it...

By next weekend, I'll have no sofa, no TV, no cooker.  Thank god for the internet.  And picnic-style food.

The mawkishness may take a while to lift.  Ghosts of things that never were, if that makes sense.  I shall go and do something sensible and worthy with pieces of paper while waiting for the courier to collect Christ, who is now a confection of bubble wrap, large split-open envelopes, and packing tape. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

First Catch Your Hare

I had what I think was my leaving do tonight.  My boss kept saying it wasn't, although I'm not quite sure how he knows, seeing as he doesn't have access to my achingly full diary.

It was simple, and it was wonderful.  We met in the Royal Festival Hall and, like the perfect ingredients of a recipe, there was no need for fanfare.  It was simply good.  It tasted well.  These are people I will miss and whom I love.  These are people it pains me to leave.  It pains me.

Hive Mind

December.  Month of...baubles and credit maxing.

In my head this has been the month allocated to getting things done.  The luxurious dawdle of November has gone.  I have lists.  Several lists.  I have a folder.  I do not open it.  The folder has "The Plan" written importantly on the front, and I do not even look inside it.  My head is full of bees bumping into each other and giving conflicting instructions.  The bees have left their lists at home.

I just know I'll be on the train to Brux and I'll suddenly remember that I didn't take a meter reading.  Or board up the cat flap.  Or get my mail forwarded.  Or return the keys to my flat.  Or hand my notice in at work.    

But what's the worst that can happen?  As long as I get myself and my old cock linnet across the sea, I'm laughing.  Maybe a little too loud.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Old Lady Blues

Yes that's right, I'm feeling my age.  Or somebody else's, I'm not sure.  I might be feeling the age of someone called Doris, who lives in sheltered accommodation in Selsey.  She likes Murray Mints and watching the Polish gardener with his top off.  Goodness me, I think I've just slandered someone I made up.

My back still hurts.  It could be the after-effects of Saturday's massage. 

I just caught myself shouting at the wall "How many more fucking things have you got left to drill?  There can't be any, surely!".  

And looking in the mirror I find I look like a rather badly dressed person from the 1940s.

We all have our days when everything seems at odds.  This might be one of them.  And to go with my old-lady mood, I have bought this.  I really rather love it.  I can keep my Murray Mints in it.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

One Thing I Will Not Miss About London Underground

Strictly speaking it isn't London Underground's fault that Chelsea are playing Liverpool at home tonight.  I do wonder who schedules these things though, knowing that those travelling to the match will be bursting the seams of the trains that SHOULD BE TAKING ME HOME.  I could not get on five consecutive Wimbledon trains.  At the quieter end of the platform people were six deep.  At the other end, the platform was densely full and seething.

Eventually I gave up and left the station.  Across the road, police were holding back a terrifying mass of chanting and pissed supporters.  I ran for the bus not caring how stupid I looked. (I look stupid running).  Picked up the tube again beyond Fulham Broadway where it had deposited its volatile cargo.

Six mile journey.  One and a half hours.  And I missed a great pair of boots on Ebay by eleven minutes.  Bloody buggery arse.

Brussels Sprouting

Normally I dislike this time of year.  Not because of the dark and cold.  I'm a proper blonde Nordic type who goes out with her coat undone in January and I've always liked the way night curls in around three o'clock in winter.  No, it's the unavoidable slalom towards Christmas.  I will not bore you with bah-humbuggery bollocks.  I just don't much like it all.  This year everything is simplified: Paris for Christmas; back for a week; and then I leave.

Of course this does mean I arrive in Brux in possibly the bleakest week of the year, when most of the Western world looks a bit white and puky.  Full of Baileys and dead birds, sitting at their desk trying to remember what their job is.

But I'm gradually nurturing a little excitement in my belly.  Working out where trams and buses go from my neighbourhood.  Working out what fun things I can do.  Who I can meet first.  When I can first drag some unsuspecting new friend to the karaoke bar.  Oh Brussels, what have you let yourself in for?

Monday, 28 November 2011

Mapping and Crapping

Last night was spent looking at my new neighbourhood on Google maps.  You know, when you put the little yellow man in the map and it miraculously turns to reality.  I think I like where I'm going to live.  It's a bit rundown, a bit common, but with a certain edgy elegance.  There is a graffito down my road saying Vive les Squats.  I've got a bus stop right across the road from my place.  The local laundrette is about three minutes away, and the joy of Google maps is that I've been able to see how much a wash is because the price is stuck on the window.  I've found my boulangerie too.  Sorted.  I like to know where the small parts of my life will be anchored.

And then I was woken at about 5am by an inexplicable case of the trots.  I seem to have poisoned myself with excessive Dairylea consumption.  I skipped breakfast (this was easy enough; no food in the house) and have just self-medicated with a large white Americano and a jam doughnut.  It's what the doctor would suggest, I'm sure.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Dog Tired

My friend S is also leaving the country.  Rather more dramatically she is going to Hungary to be with a man.  This puts my "moving to Brussels because it seemed like a good idea at the time" rather in the shade.  Yesterday she had the second of probably several goodbye drinks and I am somewhat tired today.  Because we are both leaving, I thought half-price Heidsieck champagne would be a great idea.  Then there was more champagne.  Then something pink and fizzy.  Then something white and not fizzy.  Then something else white and not fizzy.  By the end of the evening I was drinking Buck's Fizz and had shoved a chihuahua inside my top where it curled up quietly. 

My Christ figure has sold for the prince(of peace)ly  sum of £16.56. Unfortunately the winner is someone who wants to organise a courier and I wish I'd said no.  Perhaps the holy spirit can whisk the item to Yorkshire, instead.

And now I'm waiting for someone to collect a dalek compost bin.  So far none of the three have gone - they seem to be very popular in theory but excuses have ranged from "my girlfriend said I couldn't" to a flat battery.  Or, indeed, just not bloody turning up.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Five Things I Will Not Miss About Living In This Flat

  1. Next door's dog barking constantly between 1am and 3am.
  2. Next door drilling the wall at 1am and ooh then at 8.30am.
  3. The fact that every winter I get an indoor cough that lasts till spring.
  4. The 95ft "garden" full of brambles and fox shit.
  5. The fact that in winter my bedroom does not get above 10 degrees centigrade.

Sorry, had bad night, due to 1 and 2.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Do the Strand

Very occasionally, the London Transport Museum opens the disused Aldwych/Strand station for slightly geeky types to wander around, not all of them men with pony-tails.

Today was one such day and as I stood in the queue waiting, there was a great danger I would be disappointed.  If a station is kept locked from view in a busy street, it is easy to populate this place with all the remembered furniture and smells of old tube stations, in one's head.

As is usual for me, the really interesting things were incidental, like this beautiful sink in the ladies' toilets:

I could not see in the abandoned lift shafts at all, so I just stuck my camera in hopefully:

We were informed by more than one LT Museum volunteer that the platform on which we stood had not been used by trains since 1917, so this geekette pipes up - "How come these posters are from the Seventies then?"  Ah, it turns out they used to use the station to experiment with adhesives and tiling to be used elswhere.  Some excellent posters.



Apparently the tube tunnel on the other platform was used in the Prodigy's "Firestarter" video but they switched the electricity off because, as the LT Museum chap said, we didn't want to incinerate Keith Flint.

If you want a more sensible idea of the station's history, I suggest looking here

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Smell of Charred Bridges

I ought to be really happy but I seem to have a safety valve firmly in place.

Last night I got a firm offer of work - twenty hours a week, looking after two children.  I'll start as soon as I've caught my breath in January.  And I have pending a possible morning job looking after a newborn - after the newborn is - er- born.  I'm meeting both families in December, but the first one is assured.

I went through all my other prospectives, like a newly-engaged woman, politely thanking them for their interest but saying I was now committed.  I am off the market.  I have semtexed my bridges.

And I know it will all be fine.  I'm just too cautious to do a Snoopy dance yet.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

French Knitting

Last night I had my final French lesson.  I've been going to a lady in Raynes Park for about six months for conversation practice, general telling-off, glasses of Ricard and a dish of Pringles.  I don't feel like I've improved that much in six months.  It's probably my own fault for doing no study at all between lessons.  I'm hoping that when I step off the train in Brussels a switch will flick and my brain will instantly be in French.  I realise this is not going to happen.  I will probably just speak my usual Franglais and point a lot.

Unfortunately I'm still at the stage where listening to someone speak French is like listening to knitting.  Not the act of knitting but actual knitting.  I know that doesn't make sense but it does really.  And when I speak French I feel like I am knitting, complete with slipped stitches, holes, and the wrong tension. 

The only time I speak really authentic French appears to be when I'm talking to my daughter and her boyfriend and I'm drunk.  The answer seems to be that I should stay drunk, all the time.  I'm not sure if this is a long term solution.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


One of those weird days today, when the day itself appears to be marking time.  I have seen one student, for about a minute.  I bought a sandwich that tasted of nothing.  To make sure I hadn't lost my sense of taste, I ate a Grab Bag of Walkers Cheese and Onion Crisps and I am happy to confirm my mouth is working.  I have had very few emails today.  One phone call.  Everything seems to be in abeyance.

At home, things are gradually starting to look like a raided tomb. How quickly a family home of 18 years becomes walls and cat fur and spaces.  The desire to get rid of things is becoming quite compulsive.  I want it to be done now.  I am waiting to feel sentimental and it isn't happening.  Something of me has gone ahead, brightly organising and smiling, and the rest of me will roll down a tunnel to follow.

I'm not going to say goodbye when I go, because I think I've gone already.  And you'll all come and see me, won't you?

Monday, 21 November 2011

Oh! Oh! Oh!

What is that sound? 

Why, that's the sound of me failing Maths O' Level three times!  When I entered the sixth form (yes, even in the seventies when everything was brown, orange and yellow, women were allowed to enter the sixth form) a condition of entry was that you had passed Maths and English O' Levels.  English I could have done with both hands tied behind someone else's back, and probably in a coma.  I walked it.  I aced it. 

Maths...well let's just say our relationship is complicated.  Once upon a time I was always top in English; second in Maths.  And then it all went...funny.  I blame that year when we had three different teachers and I lost the numerical plot.  This, coupled with the deep sulk of teenage years meant that me and numbers just didn't talk any more.

And that was it.  All through sixth form they kept making me take the damned exam again and I failed again and again.  I began to believe over the years that I was innumerate.  Even better, dyscalculiac.  I was a bit special.  I almost had a disability.  Actually I suspect there are just massive holes in my knowledge which I have patched over with guesswork and my own homespun methods.

Today I did a sample numeracy test for the European Commission selection test. 

The biggest surprise was that I could actually do most of it.  But the problems were so mentally chewy that my brain feels like it has been to a really big gym for a really long time.  And I realised there are still some gaps that need filling with proper Maths.  So I'm going to get myself a GCSE Maths revision book.  I will not be foxed by bloody numbers.  I will walk it.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Baby's Got Back

Since my jolly jape at Go Ape, I've had a pain in my back.  This isn't entirely surprising since I did four zip-wires and hit the ground in all manner of ungainly positions.  It could have been that, or any of the other twisty, balancy, stretchy, bendy things I did.  But my money is on the woooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh-thunk of the zip-wires.  I fear I've dislodged something.  Or maybe have some woodchip stuck in my spine.

The ad I put on Freecycle for my Chesterfield sofa said very very clearly "This will require two people to collect".  And this mere stripling arrives on his own.  For fucksake.  So my back is hurting more now.  I should have sent him away to get a big person. 

This really isn't a great time for my back to start spazzing out.  Somewhere there is a tennis ball, literally with my name on it.  And I may have to roll about on that.  While I do I will calcluate just how much money I'm going to have to throw at the osteopath.

A picture of someone who could be me, if I had a better arse.

On Being Too Hasty

I've put my three dalek-shaped compost bins on Freecycle.  It would have been easy to forget about them, halfway up my "Sleeping Beauty style" garden, gently drowning in brambles.  Almost immediately the ad was posted I got a response.

Excellent!  So while it was still light I emptied the first compost bin, leaving a large grassy Dalek poo, and started to manoeuvre it indoors.  The only place where it wouldn't be a hazard is upside down by the front door.  And now the lady hasn't got back to me.  So I have a Dalek with its skirts in the air blocking the front door.


Losing Someone Else's Religion

Four years ago I drove to Chatham to pick up a cast-iron figure of Christ.  Don't ask me why.  I have a thing for religious collectibles.  Somewhere packed in my boxes is a glass Virgin Mary that lights up.

I'm sad to say that Christ has been leaning against various walls and pieces of furniture ever since and more than once I have shouted his name after smacking my toe on him.  So now he is going back on Ebay.  I feel a bit sorry about this, but he's terribly heavy and I'm trying to travel light.

I would not say I have leanings but, growing up in a strongly atheist household, God and all his trimmings have always seemed fascinating.  Particularly the Catholic trimmings which are always wonderfully opulent.  

As a child I flirted with church - not Catholicism, just normal old C of E.  I remember waking my parents to say I was off to church on Sunday.  They thought I sang in the choir because we were paid 1/6d for weddings.  Actually it was because of the blue cassock and huge white collar and singing to an audience.

I still like to sit in churches.  In fact I spent a (truly) divine half hour in St. Salvator's Cathedral in Bruges last year.  My head just seemed to fill with peace.

Rightfully my Christ belongs in a place where he won't get tripped over and someone might look up to him.  Here is a photo of him on my bed, which reminds me of a Madonna song.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Life and Times

I am neither here nor there.  I am closing down life here in small ways: the incremental ridding of household items and the boxing of the rest; the quietness as I go into "crisis" mode; the final times of doing things in a city I've known for half a century.

I was going to say I've never done anything this big before, but of course I have.  Half my life ago I set out alone on a journey with a tiny baby.  That was huge.  Becoming a single parent at 24 was probably as crazy as what I'm doing now.  But I never regretted that, and I don't think I'll regret this.

Life here is gently going.  Life there is yet to begin.  In a way it feels like when I was pregnant with Jess and our life together had not yet begun, but she was in there, kicking at me, turning, hiccuping.  The same quiet waiting and planning - only this time there won't be cutting and forceps.

I will have my fiftieth birthday in March, in my temporary studio accommodation, with my life tucked away down the road, in storage.  And Jess will be there to celebrate with me. 


I do not like engaging with the outdoors.

Walking is all right, as long as it leads to a pub.  But things like gardening are just hideous.  Whatever happened to pouring concrete on everything and having a small herbaceous border?  I have just dismantled a shed.  Let me tell you the instructions don't work in reverse.  And since I put the shed up, various kinds of wildlife have claimed it.  I thank God in his wisdom for my electric screwdriver but what was he thinking of with snails?

As I'm giving the shed to my brother I thought it best to pick the snails off first.  It seems polite.  Snails just make the most awful sound.  Whether you are picking them off something (a sort of snotty sucking) or inadvertently killing them (snotty crunch), they can't seem to make any noise that isn't like snot.  And once you've stepped on them (I could not help it, they were having a sort of meeting right where I was standing), you have to avoid them because you end with dead thing all over you.

In order to get the shed into packable pieces I had to employ:
  • a hammer
  • a blunt carving knife
  • a cardigan
I would like to say that no snails were harmed in the making of this post.  But that would be patently untrue so, in memory of all those snails who gave their lives:

    Seven Times Seven

    Rudolf Steiner said that human development is based upon seven year cycles.  There is even a myth which says that each cell in your body renews every seven years.  Whilst these are clearly the fuddlings of unscience,  I am seven times seven at the moment - 49.  And it sounds so much more fun to say that my life change is the result of mystical cycles than to say it's a mid-life crisis.

    I've always thought I'm quite good in a crisis anyway.  Rather than panic, I become still.  When my brother got his finger shut in a door in 1975, it was me who phoned an ambulance and held his finger-tip on, while others were in hysteria.

    I reserve my panic attacks for things like being stuck in Hamleys behind a herd of ambling Spanish tourists. Anyway, if it all goes wrong, I shall just sit quietly and wait until I turn 50.  And then go on a SAGA holiday.

    Friday, 18 November 2011

    Giving It All Away

    My father had a lovely expression when talking about my mother's pathological generosity.  She'd give away her arse and shit through her ribs, he would say.  You could not admire anything she had but she would try and press it into your hands.  I would go home with unwelcome £20 notes weighing heavily in my purse. 

    I feel very much my mother's daughter now, as I try to give bits of my life away in preparation for the move.  I have lost count of the number of people I have tried to foist a cat on.  And the roll of black plastic in the hall.  If you looked twice at the toilet I'd probably give you that.

    More successfully, I have offloaded various bits of furniture that I rescued from the street some 25 years ago.  What I can't get shot of is this.

    I have twice put it on freecycle where usually you can offload the contents of a heavy cold on a good day.  Not a sausage.  Nobody wants my display cabinet.  I agree that it doesn't have much "renovation" potential.  It is mid-eighties department store non-chic.  Isn't the eighties in fashion again now?  I thought I'd put it on Ebay but I can't even upload the photo. 

    They say, famously, that you can't take it with you when you go.  Well I can't.  The van is too small.  Anyone want a forlorn display cabinet?  Anyone's mum?


    In addition to my excellent tightrope-walking skills, I seem also to be juggling with invisible balls.  Some might say that invisible balls are better than none.  I could not possibly comment on that.

    I've been looking for work in Brussels since the summer.  I came within licking-distance of a job with some Tories but I think that under my sober black frock they could probably see my socialist leanings and, wisely, they did not give me the job.  

    I am still casting a longing eye at NATO and EC jobs and scoffing gently at the filing jobs (yes, filing jobs) which require one to speak three languages.  The reality is, my boxes and I will be moving on 4 January and I need work. 

    There have always been things that, traditionally, women have fallen back on for an income.   Taking in laundry, sewing funeral clothes, humping in alleys.  I don't think I'll go down those routes.  My childcare skills have not left me and I like children very much.  So it is in this area I am looking.  Several families have expressed an interest but as yet nothing has actually been offered.

    I will be popping to Brussels in December to meet with certain families and hopefully then things will firm up a little.  Of course, it's hard for them to offer their progeny into my hands unless they've met me and seen that I'm quite nice and not like Billie Whitelaw in the Omen.  But it means that until late December I will still not know if I'm going to be working, and where, and for whom.


    About a year ago, I passed through Brussels on the way back from a weekend in Bruges.  I did not realise at the time but that weekend sort of changed my life.  It did not seem like a life-changing weekend: I ate a lot of fudge; got very wet and windswept; and washed my hair in the dark. (Power cut). I ate hot salty frites in 't Zand next to a sleeping funfair.  

    And then I went home.  But some process had started in my head.  A year prior to this my daughter had moved to Paris, where she still happily resides.  Something about this inspired me and I knew that if I was going to do something, I wanted to do it soon.  But "soon" when you are in your late forties takes a lot of planning.

    In just under seven weeks I am moving to Brussels.  I don't yet have a job.  Several people have called this brave (and I suspect they have gone off and given meaningful looks to each other, and pressed their lips together).  I'm not brave.  Brave is Shelley Winters in the Poseidon Adventure.

    A few weeks ago I went to Go Ape on the Surrey/Hampshire border.  This is a picture of someone who is not me, but I did this.

    And when I was walking across that wire, about forty feet up, I just kept telling myself to put one foot in front of the other.  So that's what I'm doing.