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.