Sunday, 30 December 2012

And Breathe

Guess what happens when you work all year without a break?  Yeah, you get sick.  I am, quite literally, sick and tired.  If you will permit me to be uncharacteristically self-pitying:

I have a dreadful cough so bad I cannot lay down.  This makes going to bed very difficult and I was steaming my head at 4am, in order to lay down without coughing, vomiting or choking.  I'm going to find a doctor tomorrow.  What comes up (excuse me) is clear, so I'm fairly sure there's no actual infection.

My sprained thumb is still sprained.  Old people take a while to heal.

My zip-wire back is still hurting, after more than a year.  Yes, I know.  I have someone I can see now.

And I seem to have eczema on my legs and the back of my head.

Apart from that everything is fine.  But yes, don't work all year again without a break.   Not unless you want to fall apart, and not in a Bonnie Tyler way.

Inevitably, with the wet and fulsome new year waiting round the bend, thoughts turn to future things.  Here is a list of what I'd like to happen.  Some might call them "goals".  The less goal-orientated might call it a list.  Some things are more realistic than others.

  1. Get some furniture.
  2. Have some friends to use the furniture.
  3. Actually finish the two books I have started writing, whose characters cycle round my head aimlessly.
  4. Lose a bit of weight and look a bit nicer.
  5. Wear feathers and glitter on stage and nothing else.
  6. Master at least one language and make another into a pet.
  7. But first of all regain health, full mobility, and feel damned excited about where I live.

Enjoy the end and beginning of your years.  I shall be celebrating with a bowl of hot water and Vicks vapour rub.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Unlucky Heather

Well it's going all right.  I'm a shuttle in the loom of industry between Gent and Brux, like many people.  Somehow we all manage it, with our little drooping sleeps on the train.  But moving to Gent is probably the best move I ever made.  The glass and concrete roads around my work have razor wire barriers haphazardly congregating at the corners.  We are very near where it all happens you see.  The sharpened heart of Europe.

In the quiet and dark morning I wait in the lee of the sparkly reindeer and the Castle for my reliable tram.  That's the best part of the journey.  And I'm picking up some Dutch.  It is the Dutch of train station announcements, and of overlooked newspaper headlines.  I can understand basic questions.  It will, no doubt, take years.  Years and years and years. 

It is now the downhill slalom to Christmas which shall be spent, as is usual, in Paris.  That always sounds so glamorous, but Christmas day is basically my daughter and I cooking on two rings, drinking lots of fizzy wine, and then playing Trivial Pursuit.  I look forward to sleeping a lot and not moving for some considerable time.

Oh and by the way, my good fortune in the dating stakes has travelled with me from the capital.  I met a young chap last week off the internet, as one does.  We were going to meet again and he cancelled not once but twice in the same weekend, the second time with ten minutes' notice.  I'd got dressed and everything.  I think I was cursed at birth by a woman selling lucky heather. 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Mixed Bag

Today was the first day I went properly exploring, although I am slightly impaired at the moment by a commuting injury.

At the risk of boring people who might already have read it on Facebook...Friday morning:  walking along a black tiled walkway next to the station, that was wet and possibly oily from the bus station, and that is bordered on the right by fenced-off building work, I looked up at the board to see that my train was on time.  Unknown to me there was a sloping bit of the walkway - a sort of dropped kerb - that tilted away under the fence.  Very difficult to see given that it was dark and the tile was dark and wet.  On this occasion it took me with it.  I fell extremely hard on my hand, and my foot got stuck under the fence.  Wriggling my foot free from my boot, I clawed up the fence to standing, helped by two very nice ladies; one of whom said she had done that exact same thing,  and the other who rescued my boot from the fence monster.

Anyway, I'm in pain and can't do some things.  I have gel, a cold pack and have ordered a support off the Ebay. Thankfully, given the nature of my work, my typing is unaffected.  I've typed a strong letter to the project managers of the building work.   

Despite being impaired, I have been exploring.  Oh, but this is a wonderful place.  Ten minutes away are some of the most exquisite shops, including an excellent vintage shop, and an English second hand bookshop.  (Is it awful that my first thought on seeing that the owner was himself quite vintage was "Don't die, please don't die!"?  Also, he had a marvellous collection of books, but no Philip K Dick, whom I've decided I'd like to read.  One can hardly walk up to a strange man watching football on his laptop and ask if he has any Dick.) 

My walk home is all along the canal, flanked by ancient buildings.  I mean, bloody hell.  Tonight I was to have gone out but did not, so instead there was a night wander, gawping at the beauty of things like a despised and cursed tourist.  This city continues to unwrap itself before me in such loveliness that it's not quite believable.  On my little square is a massive reindeer made entirely of lights.  He is still lit while I wait in the dark morning for the tram.


Thursday, 13 December 2012

On Days Like These

I think it's safe to say today could have gone better.  It's like one crap thing comes along and it stops to pick up its mates on the way.

I overslept by two hours.  That isn't so much an oversleep, as an anaesthetic.  You know you are in really big trouble when the mournful clang of a tram wakes you and it's daylight outside.  So I got to work, very penitent, just after 11.  The day trundled towards its main event - a webinar I'd organised for people in several different countries.  Who logged on and just weren't showing up on the screen.  When you panic, all reason just goes.  Then the massive plant in the meeting room fell over, which was just about the bloody limit.

Within 20 minutes I'd sorted the webinar problem but it took a while for that giddy panic to stop yabbering so I could work out where it had all gone so horribly wrong.  We'd had a trial run last week, but I'd done something subtly different this time and completely FUCKED IT ALL UP.

And then I had to stand the plant up again and clear up the mess.  It falls over occasionally like a drunk.

Scarlett O'Hara said that thing about tomorrow being another day.  Whilst I think that is a tautology, she had a point.  Can we not have another day like this one though?  Thanks.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Signs of Life

It's small things that signify you live somewhere.  Not just your name on the doorbell.  Things like going to your local (I can see if out the window) frituur on the way home from work, buying the largest cone of friets and then cradling it home across the tramtracks like a baby.  Well I didn't want to lose any.  Just to show you what a serious matter chips are here, there a Belgian frituur index 

Other things that say this is home:  waiting for bloody bloody ages this morning for a train.  It took me two hours to get to work.  I could have been anywhere in Europe in two hours.  And that's a mighty cold station.  We Bruxellois workers stood together like meerkats for warmth, with that patience that comes of having no option.

Another thing:  going to the bar to meet new friends and giggling childishly and repeatedly when they order a Bolleke.  Yes, it is pronounced like that.  The waitress must be fairly used to it as she kindly informed me "it isn't bollocks".  Which unfortunately made me giggle more.

But the thing that means you have finally moved in properly - you miss a parcel delivery.  Going to the parcel collection place is definitely a sign of being here.  If people are sending you stuff you must be.  To see one's name scribbled on a Wij hebben een zending voor U! notice means you are real.   

And on this particular evening, rather full of real chips.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Unstuffed Capon

You'd think there would be a big old firework of joy and excitement, wouldn't you.  Actually I'm really tired, slightly numb, and slightly swearing at tourists who stand in my way.  I live in a beautiful, beautiful place.  It came home to me how fortunate I'd been to get this place (which I signed for just four weeks after the burglary) when I met someone who told me it took a year for them to find a place to live in Gent.  I think just everything has happened so much and so fast.  It's like a montage of highlights when someone gets kicked off a show.  So much in one year, and it's proper knocked the stuffing out of me. 

But I'm sure this will change.  I've already met some nice people and I think that socially it will be a much easier city.  Each time I pass Blokker I buy something - glasses, a saucepan, mugs.  Bag by bag I am gathering essentials.  In the new year I'll go for the big stuff, so that people can sit or sleep.

The commuting is bearable.  I've been trying to read Peter Ackroyd's "Clerkenwell Tales" but get no further than a page or two because I fall into that uncomfortable nodding-dog sleep. 

Once upon a time sleep cures were the fashion.  I'd quite like that now - to be put under for a month or so and wake up to find my apartment furnished, and a little sense of joy waiting, and some pals.  It will come, I'm sure.  This is the place. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Living the Dream

Yes, I'm here.  Or there.  It's difficult to know which now.  The move went relatively smoothly apart from some complaints about getting the mattress up the stairs (I did say...) and the €150 parking fine incurred by the Mans with Van.  In all my shuffling about north-west Europe, it's amazing how little has got broken.  One little table on the way from London and one piece of glassware coming here.  All my mirrors, pictures, and large collection of glass are intact.  Even the tiny Murano glass dish which has now got a job under the soap.  Everything is finally out, catching light and dust on my splendid window sills.

It feels a bit like I'm in a serviced apartment at the moment.  I've never lived anywhere this beautiful.  There is cream stone flooring throughout.  Those of you who know me a bit will guess that either I will become obsessed with keeping it perfect, or it will shortly be a repository mainly for spilled jam and tea.  After an afternoon of freezing strop on Saturday I finally worked out that the heating wasn't working because the boiler was off.  Yes, I know.  Internet was connected yesterday, and today was the first day of being a crazy commuter.

There are loads of us, and yet still we all get a seat, unlike the nose-to-armpit District Line back in London.  Coming home - meh.  I got soaked to my red leggings and then a tram in Gent met a car.  Long walk.  Wet, hungry, very cold.  Charlotte Bronte would have died of it.  If there was any night on which I was going to squander a luncheon voucher at the McDonalds in Korenmarkt, this was bloody it.  I shovelled in that slithery Big Mac and those fries, sitting in my wet coat and blue rainhat.  That hat does get about.

I could do with some furniture.  I've got a bed, a chair and the internet.  One up on Van Gogh I think.  When I was about twenty, I dreamed of having an apartment empty of pretty much everything except books.  I have an apartment empty of pretty much everything except books.  It only took thirty years.  Of course the dream is slightly more grown up now and I'd quite like something put them on.

Friday, 30 November 2012

All Princess, No Pea

The getting of the mattress deserves its own blog post.  I'm sure it's all very symbolic, but I'm buggered if I know how.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, and what choice had I if I wanted something to sleep on tomorrow, was to get to IKEA at Zaventem.  Not my choice, but Man with Van was doing another job out that way.  So I found myself back at Botanique, where once I lived, where icy mist had descended over a tall hotel; the word SHERATON hovering red in the low sky.  Bus didn't come, and didn't come.  My hands were burning numb.  I asked a similarly numbered bus if it was going to Zaventem IKEA.  No, and the driver said I was waiting for the wrong bus.  Like bollocks.

It is the law that all IKEAs have to be in places you would never otherwise set foot.   Zaventem, so far out on the Chausée de Louvain that it's practically another country, is sort of an extended Croydon.  IKEA has its own little announcement.  But when you get off the bus, you have to hack access via the car park of another store, and then break through a hedge and walk around the back of the building on roads with no pavement.   At least that's what I did.

Man with Van was waiting for me.  It was almost like a date.  So what if I'm paying him and he's only interested in my boxes?  He led me confidently to the bedding department (shut up at the back) where I bought a mattress in English and French.  Do they always ask you to lay down to test them?  I felt a right prawn laying there in my blue rainhat.

I was just anticipating the hellish bus and tram home when Man with Van said he would take me.  And then we did chatting in French.  And he came in to see my boxes.  All very professional, I assure you. 

So now I have a mattress that is about, ooh, five times better than the one I've been slumped on these months.  And tomorrow at nine I go. 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Almost Gentle

Nearly there.  I picked up my keys this morning, all ten of them.  Front front door, my front door, mailbox, cellar door and my cellar.  Times two.

My insurance, apart from covering the normal house stuff, also covers my private life.  How wonderful is that?  If I had know it was possible to ensure one's private life against catastrophe I would have taken out a policy long ago.  I'd be a millionaire.

Then to Gent station for the intercity hurtle to work, where I splashed out on a three month season ticket.  Although the price made me wince a little, it is actually no more than I paid in London just to travel into central London and gives me full access to all Genty buses and trams too.  I get between 70-80% refunded by law.  So it was only a momentary wince.  I apologised to the massive queue.   Well they had to get my picture off my ID card and everything for the railcard.  Took ages.

So we're all but there.  I finally stepped out on the balcony today and realised with a sort of chorus of angels that the hook for the pulley is actually above MY balcony.  So even if it's not needed, at least it's there.  Of course this does mean that I am the Keeper of the Hook.  Am I prepared for this responsibility?

This apartment will provide me, at the age of 50 years and eight months, with my first dishwasher.  I cannot tell you how exciting this is.  I didn't say anything to the owners because they seem quite normal. 

Tomorrow after work I get the new mattress, meet the Man with the Van who will incubate it overnight, and then he returns to fill his van with my goods on Saturday.  I am looking forward to sharing with you my new city.  

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dust to Dust

The inside of my head sounds like the Psycho shower music at the moment.  It's six days till the move and although everything is theoretically on schedule, in practice it's dust, sweat, boxes, tripping over boxes, not being able to find my Stanley knife, and trying to pack for a business trip.  Because I've chosen to move in a week where I'm out of the country for two days.  That was clever.

I'd say the packing is about 85% done now, although downstairs resembles a dustbunny and hairball convention.  With added recycling bags of books I am chucking overboard to prevent sinking.  There is something very satisfying about throwing away India Knight novels.

As I was explaining to lovely S (who bought me lovely brunch today to send me on my way) I feel about my apartment and indeed about Brussels the way you do when you are going out with someone, and you think you are going to love them, and you try to fall in love but it doesn't quite work, and then you start seeing the cracks, and smell the leak in the cellar, and then they run off with your jewellery.

There's a list on a constant loop playing slightly under the shower music.  EE! EE! EE! get the money out for the movers EE! EE! EE! phone Electrabel EE! EE! EE! pay first month's rent EE! EE! EE! boxes boxes boxes bring home empty boxes from work EE! EE! EE! and so on, and so forth.

And that's actually the closest I've come to writing a list.  Perhaps I should actually write a list.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Homing In

All systems are go for 1 December.  Man with a Van who won't do r&p does not think we need r&p.  I bow to his greater experience but have Miracle Friend from Amsterdam on standby.  Not on standby in Amsterdam, but neatly camped out in Brugge on the day, just in case.  This kindness will never be forgotten.  Old whatsername, Blanche Dubois, said that she always depended on the kindness of strangers.  For me it's a new experience and an amazing one.

Slowly, my belongings are finding their way back into boxes, and downstairs is again beginning to resemble a World War I trench, but with less mud.  Sleep is full of anxiety, and I wake certain that I haven't done something.  Well there are lots of things I haven't done, clearly.  I haven't sailed around the Greek islands.  I haven't been married in an unflattering dress and then had a fish and chip dinner (but I'd quite like that).  I haven't climbed every mountain, just a coloured-blob wall in Ladbroke Grove.  I have no idea what stuff it is I'm supposed to have done that the dream tells me I haven't.

When I left London, there was a sense that my spirit had gone ahead, and it was just my body knocking around for those last few weeks, waiting to catch it up by Eurostar.  It's like that now.  I've gone ahead, and my body remains, picking its way around turrets of dogshit, and lethal slithery leaves.

And then when I get there I can stop.  No more running.  This has been a year of constant change: three moves; three jobs; one burglary; and several dates with frankly undateable men.  It's time to be still now, and just live a nice life.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A Bit More Rope

It probably wasn't that wise to travel to Gent this evening, given that it's been a day of industrial action.  But I forgot and bought my ticket, and then remembered.  So, what the fuck, eh.  I was, and I do not exaggerate, the only person walking towards Gare Centrale, at a time when there is normally a shoal.  The station was open but nothing was on any indicator board.  A few other dogged lunatics hung around hopefully.  I was just trying to work out if protesters on the line at Schaerbeek would affect my train when, hurrah, it arrived.

The alternative title of this blog should be Lost in Gent at Night, because that's what I seem to specialise in.  Trams that don't go their normal route, me getting on the wrong one, you name it.  Anyway, I went to the restaurant on the corner of my road so that I could see their back alley.  It may seem like an odd request but they allowed it with a smile.  I stood in an alley about a metre and a half wide looking up at my balcony and a shadowy distant wheel, way up.

Next thing, find a neighbour.  Parking my shyness, I rung the doorbell of a flat with lights on, in my building.  I was buzzed in without a word. Not strange at the second floor the door is wide open.  It was like my flat but with clothes on.  Perhaps she's expecting someone.  No, it turns out she saw me.  I'm not sure where.  Or when.  She was very friendly and gave me rosé wine with ice cubes.  We talked about all sorts of things and then I left, shoving a note for the chef on the fourth floor into his mailbox.  As far as I can see, he is the keeper of the pulley wheel.

The journey home was rather hellish.  As if the industrial action had finally caught up like lack of sleep, trains were being cancelled left and right.  A train to the airport disgorged all its passengers back onto the platform.  I wanted a wee and the toilets were shut.  It got to the point where I was considering a hotel.  And then a train for Brussels came.  To make amends, it appeared to stop at every no-horse town on the way.  There was nothing for it at Gare du Midi but to take a taxi.  The alternative was shaking all my organs loose with bitter cold, at the tram stop.

That's it really.  Don't go to Gent during a strike, unless you really have to.  But my goodness it's beautiful at night.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Enough Rope

To say I'm tense at the moment would be a slight understatement.  Clifton Suspension Bridge has got nothing on me.

So, we have the chap who said rope & pulley work is highly dangerous and flounced off.  We have a chap who hadn't really heard of this system but gamely said he'd got some ropes.  I declined, on the grounds that it would help to have someone who had at least done it before.  Other chaps or companies have sent just a standard tariff, with no reference to the r&p work at all.  The more I say r&p work, the more niche and sleazy it sounds, and I wonder if I'm looking on the wrong websites.

Another guy wants photos of both ends.  That is, the locations at Brussels and Gent.  Difficult, what with me living 50k from Gent and having no camera.  He is based in Amsterdam and is the only person yet who I've found who actually advertises r&p work.

Another guy has taken himself off to look at the place today.  I haven't heard anything further.

And yet there may be a small miracle at work.  Last night I was posting on a website I frequent.  It is, nominally, a place for intelligent discussion, but is more like a large school playground/dating agency/grammar lesson/lunatic asylum.  I was in a head-ripping-off sort of mood, not good, when someone I'd never spoken to suddenly popped up.

She has a rope and pulley.  Her friend is expert in the use thereof.  He may be willing to do it for free, as long as I can get all my stuff to Gent.  She, again, is in Amsterdam, which seems to be the spiritual home of r&p work.  (Stop giggling.)  It really is a miracle, for which I will remember to give thanks, to someone or something.

Tomorrow I'm going to Gent to ambush the other residents of my building and pin them down until they tell me what company they used to get their stuff in.  It's good to know there is a back-up plan though, in case they refuse to tell me.

18 days.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Heave Ho

The place I'm moving into was built around 1500 and it's in books and that.  People take photos and put them on Flickr.  I see I'm going to have be careful not to dance around naked too much.  Although maybe they could pass me off as a quite substantial ghost.

At some point in the last 500 years, someone must have got some furniture into the building.  Not via the pretty front windows: too small.  Not via the stairs: too narrow.  Not via the lift:  they didn't have one then and it's tiny anyway.  No, someone must have got things like large oak settles and huge tables and heavily pregnant vrouwen in through the big back windows, using the rope and pulley, accessed via the yard of next door's brasserie.  The apartment owners were very relaxed about the matter and said that movers would know what to do.  When I asked how you get the rope up there they said like in a Western.   I think it was a joke. 

The mover (more accurately a man with a van) whom I had selected for the honour of moving me said he would not do this rope and pulley thing as it is highly dangerous.  He concluded by saying he would not now be passing by on Monday to give me a quote.  Dumped by a man with a van.

I feel as if I've been set a puzzle with three weeks to work it out.  Someone knows the answer, but not me, not yet.  I'm buggered if it's going to beat me.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Leaded Light

You would think that signing a tenancy agreement would be a simple thing.  Reader, it took all day.

The agency was obviously chosen by the owners for their own proximity.  Oostkamp is a genteel town some way outside of Brugge and not the easiest place in the world to reach.  One bus an hour on Saturdays from Brugge station, and that bus was showing dangerous signs of not turning up. Unfortunately the only option was an €18 taxi.  Most of the morning seemed to be taken up with a drily heaved panic.  Would I get to Gare Centrale on time? (Yes.)  Would I find the ticket machine?  (Only just.)  Would I even catch the train?  (Again, only just, due to platform change and mass galloping exodus.)  Would I catch the bus to Oostkamp?  (Apparently not.  Thank goodness for cheerful expensive taxis, eh.) Would Mr and Mrs Gent Apartment like me or would they change their mind at the last minute and throw me derisively onto the busless streets of Oostkamp?  (It was fine.)

Two hours at the agency though.  Well the contract was in Dutch innit, so the agency had to explain everything to unpolyglot me. 

And then THREE FUCKING HOURS to get back.  I'd quite like to sleep and think about my leaded windows and the logistics of getting furniture up a rope to the back window.   But I'm babysitting.  Leaded window dreams will wait.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Gentlewoman II

It's that kind of day.  Delayed responses.  Sweeping the big rug before rolling it up.  How can I shed that much hair and still have hair?  I've got boxes and bubble wrap and a headache and a big fear.

Unpicking that a bit, it's all sorts of things.

Gent really is pretty foreign.  Oh yes, they all speak English.  But the official language is one I can hardly understand, and attempting to read it feels like eating pins with my eyes.  So Flemish for Dummies on Youtube is very handy.  French, although far from being fluent on the tongue, is a language which I can read quite easily.  Gent is really a foreign place.

The rental contract is for a minimum of three years (breakable with all sorts of penalties - limbs, eyes, firstborn son, that sort of thing).  Which means I appear to have made a very definite decision to put roots down in Gent.

And then there is all the stuff around commuting and whether it's insane.  It isn't really - it's one hour door to door.  For Londoners, an hour commute is normal.  Some people commute from Brighton.  Not to Gent, that would be insane.

And just a general, sucky fear about whether this is all right.  Well, I don't know if it is.  I have a good job that I like, and now I have found a beautiful place to live in a beautiful place to live.

So that should be all right.  Yes.




Yesterday I phoned the agency and they had said that because my salary wasn't three times the monthly rent, I might not be considered without a guarantor.  So in my head I thought fuck that and started looking at other places.  Fuck them and their beautiful, spacious, gorgeously-situated flat.  Fuck fuck fuck. When they called this morning to say the landlord was offering me the tenancy, my brain was on a sort of delay and didn't react.  I wasn't going to get this flat. It took a few hours to go OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD.  OH MY FUCKING GODDING GOD.

I'm still quite scared about the whole thing, but it's happening.  I am moving to Gent in slightly less than four weeks.

These are my windows.  They are lovely windows.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Gently Does It

I'm wondering how many times I can get away with punning on "Gent".  Several, maybe.

It didn't start so well, with engineering work adding minutes and minutes and minutes to the expected train time until if seemed to be permanently moving out of reach like a ball on a boating lake.  We mopped up the passengers who were waiting for the next train, therefore it was a packed, rather whiny, rather suitcasey and standing up journey.  You know when you are in a hurry and everyone walks really slowly in front of you?  All right they were two blind people, but even so.  Reader, I almost ran to the taxi rank at Gent.  We did this weird thing of the driver speaking to me in Flemish and me answering in English.  Oddly I think we understood one another.  However I had to commandeer the satnav as he seemed not to have heard of this particular street.  And then he still got lost even after I'd punched in the address. 

So, the apartment.  It was not quite love at first sight.  Even in November, there was a desultory ambling of tourists getting in my way, and the local shops are full of what my dad would call expensive tut.  Oh apparently it's spelled toot.  The apartment itself was lush, though.  The dining/living area is about the size of my entire apartment here.  Nice bedroom, all modern fittings everywhere, loads of storage, dishwasher, cellar.  All essential shops nearby.  Afterwards I went and explored and the area is just gorgeous.  Google Patershol.

The tourists are the only problem - I cannot imagine what it would be like in summer.  I would have to devise ways of not killing them.  They are like zombies in cagoules with cameras.  (So maybe killing them is not strictly necessary).

After much thought, I'm going to go for it.  If I don't get this one, that is definitely the area I want.  It would be nicer slightly off-er the beaten track, but this place is so near the tram stop I wouldn't even need to wake up till the station. 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Mooving On

Autumn has slipped in like a knife and now it's very bloody cold.  I got extremely wet walking home but nevertheless stopped at the most unfriendly Indian (possibly) deli in the world for samosas and dahl.  Actually they may not be so much unfriendly, just scared.  Last time I was in there I asked what was in the samosas.  They said beef and I mooed.  When in doubt, moo at shopkeepers.   

Mr Fixit, the man who put a new lock on my door, has fixed my tap and got all three of my radiators working, so this small imperfect space feels tolerably warm at last.  I have given notice, and it no longer feels like mine.  There will be packing in the near future.  Tomorrow I go to look at the dream apartment on the canal near the castle in Gent.  There is quite a lot of fuzzy anxiety at the moment, which takes turns with mental list-making, and quiet feral excitement. 

Like Doris Day's mother, I can tell you the future's not ours to see.  Well we can see parts of it, between our fingers.  The rest, thankfully, is unknown.  Que sera, sera.



Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tap 'n' Unwrap

Today I finally got on with months of accreted admin.  The grown-up has crawled back out from under the bed.  From silly little things like writing to the UK Blood Service to tell them I don't live there any more to far, far bigger things like writing to my landlord to give notice.  That is going registered post tomorrow, and is very sobering.

It may seem like a small thing after moving countries but no.  When I gave notice on my flat in the UK I had somewhere lined up to move to, temporarily.  I was also blessed with naivety about the whole thing and it lay ahead like a yet unopened chocolate orange.  Tomorrow I give notice and have nowhere to go; and three months to change that.  It certainly sharpens one's focus.

The other sobering thing today was finally reading my home insurance policy and realising it doesn't cover theft.  Even if it did, the claim would not be valid because the outside and inside doors have no safety locks.  I think this is technically known as a bummer.  My landlord is not the most favourite person right now.

This has been quite a year so far.  It would be nice if I could be in Gent by my anniversary, 4 January.  Let's aim for that.  And then at the end of January is the Festival of Lights.  I'd like to show that to you.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Going Gently

I've been to Gent/Ghent/Gand to look at a house.  OK, let's settle on the spelling "Gent". 

I was prepared: train times, bus times, walky mappy things.  As tends to happen though, on arrival in Gent I found half the bus station had disappeared.  The first thing one discovers about Gent is that it's a bit like a 1960s jet-setting film set in some undefined but faintly glamorous location.  Everyone speaks perfect and charming English and is helpful.  Having been directed to the displaced parts of the erased bus station, I decided to get a taxi. 

The house was, in short, gorgeous.  It stands at the end of a little paved alley, and has three floors.  All exposed brick and loveliness.  Good secure front door (although the lady who lived there said Gent wasn't like Brussels), little back yard, lovely.  Lovely lovely.  Three floors for €615 a month.  However.  The toilet is on the ground floor and the bedroom is up two very steep flights of stairs.  Now, like most women, I like my toilet quite nearby.  The idea of abseiling down two floors in the middle of the night would be enough to make one buy a potty.  Also the idea of those stairs first thing in the morning is a little off-putting.  You really would need a harness.

The house felt a bit far away from stuff, too.  I don't know how I can substantiate that claim, seeing as it was my first hour in Gent, but there you go.  So, as is traditional, I then wandered off and got lost for an hour.

Well not lost as such.  I knew I was in Gent.  I knew the number 4 tram went to the station.  Only it didn't.  I was starting to get a bit upset, so I couldn't ask anyone (stupid I know but it was dark, I was tired, and hungry and needing a wee).  In the end I did what any sensible scout would do and followed the tram tracks.  Then discovered what the issue was.  A huge chunk of route had been ripped out to renew some tracks or something.  Picking my way over the man-size Brio set, I finally disovered with a little whoop the tram going to the station.  Which then quietly left without me.

First impressions:  I like Gent a lot.  It is classy, beautiful, slightly funky.  Nice and flat for the bike types.  I'm seeing another house on Monday, nearer the centre.  Everything crossed.  I shall try not to get lost this time.


Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Raveled Sleave

This sort of paralysis continues.  At work I'm Madame C, excellent PA.  At home I'm just sort of sitting, smelling like soup.  Before 6 November I have to decide if I'm moving because three months' notice is required.  I cannot decide.  I can't think or do anything personally administrative at the moment either.    Perhaps it's an attempt to recreate some safety.  If I do nothing and be very quiet no-one can hurt me.  Old messages.

I've never wanted to be rescued.  Chances are the rescuer would just want a shag, or I would get impatient with the rubbish rescuing and grab the horse.  Right now though I'd like it if someone could say this is what you are going to do, and this is how you are going to do it, and I'm going to help you.  Realistically that person is going to be me, but there is just no fuel in the tank.

The idea of moving yet again (the third move in a year) is exhausting.  Last time I moved this much (three times between becoming pregnant and my daughter being seven months old) was half a life ago, and I was driven by the fierce urge to find a nest for us.  Now, I'd quite like to go and lie under the bed with the plastic boxes of sheets and towels.  I just want to sleep, and sleep, and sleep and then wake up in a nice apartment.  I bet in Hollywood you can actually do that.  I bet they Propofol you out and shift you to another house, unpack all your stuff and then prop you up at the table with a coffee and your laptop.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Wooden It Be Nice

I don't really have a lot of words in my head at the moment.  I suppose I'm trying to process what has happened in my flat, which is essentially the rupture of a safe bubble of existence (without being melodramatic).  Outwardly everything is fine; inwardly there is a deep bruise and deep deep disappointment.  I don't want to believe there are people like that, who would take away so much without the slightest concern. 

There is this weird sleep thing which I've had for some time which expresses anxiety neatly.  It manifests in different ways.  Last night I kept dreaming that colleagues were waking me up to tell me things I had to remember when I woke up but I was too tired to remember them, and they kept waking me up to tell me other things.  That's one way.  The more common way is that I fall asleep and wake up in the wrong way.  Don't ask me what the hell that means, my brain tells me this.  Waking up in the wrong way or at the wrong time can be fatal.  Don't ask me why, my brain tells me this.  I will either go blind or die or something very bad will happen.

So a decent refreshing sleep would be great.  I have a sophisticated security measure installed downstairs - one flat piece of wood on the floor between the door and the sofabed, and another jammed under the lock and against the sofabed.  The sofabed has the qualities of the stone that sealed Jesus's tomb and I would be very surprised if anyone could move it.  If they do get past this sophisticated measure, I have the sophisticated carving knife nearby.

Monday, 15 October 2012

In Out In Out

The burglary, and then a lovely but exhausting weekend in Yorkshire (for a lovely family wedding in the middle of nowhere) has left me with few words to string together.  Mind you I always say that don't I, and then go on to write screeds.

At the moment I'm about 80% certain I want to move, and am starting to make noises in that direction.  I keep expecting to come home and find they've been in again, although there is nothing much to take.  There are other things bothering me - the washing machine, with its attendant fetid lake in the cellar, has now stopped working completely, and nearly ate my clothes.  I had to use my keys to get the washing machine door open.  And four large things that I am expecting in the post have all not turned up.  This, along with my front door which apparently is made of FAIL, goes to make up a feeling of real malaise and general shitness.

Still, Yorkshire was absolutely gorgeous and if I ever get the urge to return to England, Yorkshire it will be.  The scenery, the people, it was all lovely.  I did nearly kill a dog, but it was all right.  The dog was lying in a bar of sunshine, which was also shining in my eyes, and I was concentrating on the tray of coffee I was carrying.  The rest is comedy platinum. 

Having your stuff and your peace of mind nicked is never a good thing, but it's worked like sort of adrenalin on a stopped heart.  The shock of it has made me want to be out there, not in here.  In here is not my sanctuary any more.  We'll see how that pans out. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


I received a call from my landlord this afternoon which was 95% incomprehensible.  I understood that someone was coming to my flat at 7pm.  On returning home I found the lock on my apartment door had been prised off and entry effected, effectively.  I went in, in shock.  You've seen it on the telly but in your own flat it's just horrible.  They took all my jewellery that my daughter had bought me and that I had bought me, over the last ten or so years, and my dad's watch, and my camera.  Fortunately my computer is a fat fuck and they left it. 

They have been in my knickers, on my bed, in all my private things. 

Whoever got in managed it without forcing the street door, which is worrying.  It means they could come back and do it again.  It also means that my little nest, halfway up a building, which felt so safe, is nothing like it.  My only refuge has been broken into and pawed over by ugly, vile people.  I will have to move, to somewhere safer, wherever that might be.  If indeed there is anywhere.  (Ironically, London was safe compared to this.)  Somewhere with codes, big keys, ferocious salivating hounds of hell.  How I'm going to sleep until that time, I don't know.  I'm going down the cellar to find something to jam against the door at night.  I have a new door lock, that was what was coming at 7pm.

I'm taking a big fucking knife to bed.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Making Good

When you have a broken head, you tend to think only something big can fix it, if at all.  (There is also simultaneously a claustrophobic sense that nobody has ever experienced this thing and it's unfixable).   Big things like daily medication, therapy; things that cut into your life and refuse to leave until there is a change.  Small things seem silly.  Like throwing tiny stones at an Easter Island statue.

But it's the accumulation of the small things that have made a broken head in the first place.  So surely an accumulation of small things can, if not reverse that, then fill it with spackle.  Sorry for the Americanism, but I love the word spackle.

Those small things cannot be reassuringly prescribed, or reassuringly expensive.  They will be different for everyone.  So in the spirit of collecting small things to spackle my head, I mean to do the following:

  • Eat decent food.  I just had porridge with chopped apple, sugar and raspberry coulis.  Nice.  Woman cannot exist on bread and cheese alone, although I've given it a good try.

  • Get a decent amount of sleep.  Going off at 2 and an alarm at 6 is not doing anyone any favours.

  • Gradually create an environment that looks loved.  This is the hardest one for me, as I tend to let my place become the portrait in the attic; all the shit inside projected.

  • Let go.  Forgive.  Oooh.  That's not small, is it.  That one slipped in unnoticed.

  • Be patient and kind to myself if the first four things on this list sometimes seem impossible.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Got Faith?

Losing my Religion

One night in the nineteen seventies,
I invited Jesus into my frost-brown heart,
but I think the invitation still stands
stiffly on his heavenly mantelpiece.

It seems he just wasn’t that into me,
even though I’d given everything up;
all the atheism and the not believing
in resurrection and his body and blood.

One night in the nineteen nineties,
I started chanting like Tina Turner,
scrubbing toilets to transform my life,
making causes to change effects

of causes made in other lives or this.
And now I just have relics. A museum
of faith. I stand guard now, wistfully
handling the exhibits sometimes.

yup it's a very young Michael Stipe.

Friday, 5 October 2012

How It Happens

Well, since you ask (no I know, actually you didn't), what happens is this. It's a bit like having a fever or wanting a poo. Images come at you and hang around like flies until you do something with them and they just won't bloody go away. And then it's all a bit like childbirth on a small scale; or pooing. This thing has to come out one way or another, flies and all. And that, for me, is what writing a poem is like.  I'm sure Philip Larkin would say exactly this.


Listening to Tracey Thorn,
with that fruitless yearning
for a fruit to fill this maw,

looking for a thing unborn,
unfertilised, the burning
of a sun neither here nor

there, ever. Ever love-lorn
for new actors learning
one role, evermore,

like Eastenders. Worn
tracks always returning
me to you, or him. Or him. Or.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Squaring the Circle

I don't normally get scared in taxis, but when the driver goes so fast over bumps you nearly choke on your own spit, and then drives up on the pavement shouting COUILLON at the person who had stopped in front of us, well, I may have got slightly anxious. 

Anyway.  I don't have a lot to say at the moment.  On a paint chart life would be a sort of indeterminate porridge colour.  I'm working on being a nicer shade.  I'm working on being who I can be, and not this bloody reject.  But it's not very interesting work and the hours are shit.  Let me tell you instead about Flagey.

It's not often I do the frite thing, but with an hour to spare I went down the best fritkot in town (allegedly) and shouted my order like a local.  With a cornet of chips and a cold Fanta, I straddled one of the long benches that surround Place Flagey.  On the surface, it's just like they had a lot of spare paving stones and went a bit mad.  But this grey place is truly the local heart.  Watching one courageous child running in and out of the fountains coming from blow-holes in the paving; youths playing some sort of football; people crossing the square rapidly, aiming at buses; the Flagey centre rearing like an ocean liner over Café Belga, I remembered it was nearly a year ago that I was first there, and it seemed improbable that this was now home.

On a speculative weekend jaunt to look at flats, I had wandered downhill into Flagey having no idea about it but getting the sense it was somewhere.  Now, sitting there greasy with beef fat, I realised that the trajectory of each bus and tram in view was known to me.  I've had three dates in the immediate area.  I use all the supermarkets.  However, the market still remains a bit of a mystery.  It appears each morning and evaporates in the afternoon, the only sign of it being stacked barriers. 

Aside from IKEA, and football, it occurred to me what a unifying experience the fritkot was.  Nobody is too grand for a frite.  Nobody looks great eating them and yet there we sit, grazing blithely from paper cones.  I am part of Flagey, and Ixelles, and Brussels, because I am here, doing unobtrusively what other people do, and living the slightly fritey life. 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Suburban Dreams


To IKEA via Jacques Brel; Bizet,
out on the Ring,
a place that never thought of feet.

Trolleys scrumming by the Metro;
shoals of cars
feed on lone pedestrians.

couples have Pinteresque rows
in tousled bedroom sets.

I sweat at the nape,
stuck in meubles de rangement,
trying to remember the word for shelf.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Could Be Verse

Struggling a bit with everything really, at the moment. So forgive lack of anything. It feels likely I will have to return to some sort of medication for my stupid head, which appears to be broken. Anyway, I owe you a poem. This concludes the Comfort trilogy. I will try to avoid writing a Discomfort trilogy.

The Comfort of Strangers III

Bubble-wrapped in half a yard of space,
passing souls in anonymity.
The city saraband without a face;
we dance untouched in equanimity.

And into windows I will gently stare,
to learn the secrets of normality;
a matchgirl almost happy with a share
of someone else’s warm reality.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Digging It

You lucky, lucky people might get two poems tonight because, while you are all out being the very life and soul and blood and bones of your particular town or city,  I am keeping an eye on things back here.  Somebody has to.

One day, hopefully soon, I'll feel well enough in myself to go out and flash the natives and perhaps vomit in a convenient doorway.  Until then, you get to read all my stuff.

Every morning I walk the same way to work and the very inappropriately-named Rue de la Paix is a little piece of hell that has to be negotiated.  I'm sure it will be nice when they stop fucking digging it up all the time.

Rue de la Paix

There is a shrug about the travaux,
a big-arsed digger swinging its rump,
distant memories of pavement, zombies
intent on espresso salsa out the way.

In the evening do not disturb.  The beast
rests, knuckle down on a pile of mortar,
little shanty bridges over earthworks,
to shops that carry on with bravado.

Every day the streetscape changes. 
I do not think there is a plan.  Boys
on the beach digging against the sea.
Sanctified in tape of red and white.

(I took this picture.  I started taking a picture each day and then got really bored.  When you walk the same way you kind of run out things to photograph unless you have an exceptionally good camera.  Mine doesn't do focus, in any meaningful way).