Tuesday, 31 January 2012

I'm All Right, Jack

Tonight could have been a complete wash-out but in fact was lovely.  I'd arranged to meet new friend S (and yes, that's the fourth friend S so far) at the Karaoke Bar to do a bit of singing.  You see, S and J and I are sort of forming a band.  Yeah.  And if you play your cards right we might be able to get you in for free.

Karaoke was inexplicably shut.  Although one lesson I have learned quite quickly in Brux is:


Anyway, I phoned S and she said find a bar, I'll meet you there.  The bars on the Place du Grand Sablon look like they would hoover up my weekly salary in an instant so I walked down to the rond-point and took a left.  Chez Richard is tiny and has a fat Jack Russell bitch on a stool.  What more could you want.  Oh, the wine is €3 a glass.  S seemed very lost so I scribbled in my filofax and played a game on my phone that I didn't understand but appeared to be winning quite outrageously.  J was allegedly meeting us at the Karaoke too although he was not answering his phone.  And then S was there, in all her charming young Russian-ness. 

So we sat in the warm and I drank cheap wine and the dog was really, really cute.  No Karaoke tonight but a lovely new friend and then a bone-shakingly-cold wait for the tram.  It's like being steeped in ice out there tonight.  It always worries me that you have to challenge moving traffic to board the tram in the middle of the road.  I'm sure I've had dreams like that and they do not end well.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Walking Under Ladders

Only the really superstitious would not say anything in case.  I mean how can saying anything affect the outcome.  It's either going to happen or it isn't, isn't it?

So.  If all goes to plan I should be moving this Saturday.  I suppose I could always do something to fuck things up like greet my new landlord with a headbutt, but that's unlikely.  Or my terminal swearing condition could rear its head.  I've been so good recently around The Girls.  I really don't want Baby C's first English word to be cunt.

And through some good old arse-shifting it looks like I've got another morning job sorted.  Plus some eccentric lady who wants me to help pack up her flat.  Plus some babysitting.  So, all in all, it looks like I won't starve and will have my own front door to slam soon.

But I'm not saying anything, ok.


Sunday, 29 January 2012

Generally Stricken II

Another big old strike tomorrow.  The difference is, I'm actually here this time.  Not sure what it's about but probably pensions or retirement age.  There will be a lot of walking tomorrow, so I am laying down many carbohydrates in preparation.  The Girls' crèche is not closed and their mum is working; therefore so am I.  Have mapped my route back.  It follows the 59 bus route until the Chausée de Louvain and then the usual butt-crunching bit uphill home.  I hope there will be a red-cheeked spirit of good cheer along the way, and lots of singing. 

Due to the loss of impending morning employment, I have been indoors mainly, not spending money, except on next month's rent.  At the weekend this place turns into something like a university hall of residence.  There was partying in the kitchen under my room until about 3am.  And this morning somebody who had clearly come home without keys pressed every buzzer for every floor repeatedly until someone let them in.  I'm too old for this.  I'd like an apartment please.  Now.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Confessions Of An Indoor Climber

The climb from bit of coloured chewing gum to bit of coloured chewing gum continues, with some inelegant slips and dangling in a harness.

I have a Belgian phone number.

I have a work contract.

One of my jobs has gone tits up.  The one I was starting in a couple of weeks.  Radio silence from my prospective employer made me a little worried.  I emailed and she called me - husband's job at risk, so they can't take on any help.  Arsefucks.  On the plus side she is paying for an ad to advertise me to the subscribers of the Belgian Childbirth Trust.  Anglo-mums in Brux.  Come on girls, giss a job.

And I'm tenterhooked waiting to hear about an apartment.  All documents showing that I'm worthy have been sent.  All that remains is to wait for the landlord to decide whether I'm kosher.


As if mentioning his initial and his sullen beany had some magical effect, A has contacted me.  I had comic-book widened shocked eyes at this.  It seems so unlikely.  And he wants to catch up.  Well we know what that means.

I have to say I'm not entirely sure it would be a good idea.  Fuck.   

Thursday, 26 January 2012


I was a kangaroo today at Music Together. 

I'm trying to drink less and not go to bed at 3am.  It sounds wonderfully bohemian but you just feel a bit fucked and don't really get moving till midday.  Working afternoons is such a luxury, though soon I will have to join the rest of the world.  I was not going to buy wine tonight but it's been one of those days. 

Up early to meet one of the Parents at Manpower.  It's a weird system but I'm actually going to be employed by Manpower - it's done to afford the employee more protection and regulation.  Then home to try and sort out a transfer of megashitloads of dosh from the UK.  Well maybe not megashitloads by your standards but by mine.  Then off to collect The Girls.  Who were, as usual, absolutely fine until they saw their mum.  And then they turned into tiny harpies.  There is nothing quite like a three year old who temporarily hates you.  It's done with utter conviction.  And then Baby C screamed for at least half an hour solid.

Pushing down the surrendering arms of the corkscrew, sloshing the Montepulciano into my only glass, ah.  And now I'm listening to Chopin on my headphones because there are some very loud Spaniards outside my door.  Tomorrow I pick up my work contract and maybe get a phone. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

When In Brussels

I have been here three weeks today.  It has rained every day.  Fortunately this is my kind of weather so that's ok.  It makes everything shiny.  Tonight I was wandering across the empty Place du Jeu de Balle, because I was early for a meeting, and every single cobblestone was like patent leather.  Last time I was there was with A, who we don't talk about, walking in the crowds around the Sunday morning brocante while he walked sullenly ahead of me in a beany, but we don't talk about that.

Something I realised pretty quickly is that the Bruxellois do not, on the whole, use umbrellas.  It's almost as if they consider them a bit wet.  Even in proper heavy rain they just walk purposefully and ignore it.  I bound my head in a scarf and hoped for the best but in the end gave in and bought a rainhat.  Not one of those foldy, under-the-chin ones beloved of old dears when they've been for a shampoo and set.  This is a sort of bucket.  And as many of you may know, I do not have a hat face.  But sod it.  When pushing two children in a buggy in varying kinds of precipitation, there is no way to hold an umbrella.  So here we are.   

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Let Us Pray

When I was little they made us pray in assembly for children less fortunate than ourselves.  There were a few problems with this.  Firstly, there was the whole act of prayer, which I pretended.  Being a slightly terrified sort of rebel, I did all the actions of praying but just mouthed the words.

Secondly, it is beyond the imagination of most schoolchildren to imagine what it was like to be a starving child with no shoes, and only one old atlas in the school, which showed most countries pink.  Biafra was just somewhere my mum threatened to send my uneaten dinner to.

Finally, there is the assumption that all Western children live a reassuringly Enid Blyton life.  I could not actually think of anyone less fortunate than myself because life at home was violent and shit.

Anyway.  No longer forced to mouth words with pretend piety, and no longer a child, I sort of do that prayer now.  Well no I don't, but I try the next best thing which is "count my blessings."

I could have ended up like one of the leggy women in the neon windows down the road.  (Unlikely but there might be a niche market).  I could be that woman who cleans the stairs here who won't say hello to me.  I could live in the squat over the road for lack of anywhere else.

I have a job where I don't have to take my knickers off and that is mainly indoors and I get fresh coffee and cuddles.

I have a roof over my head, a bed and internet and cooking and washing facilities.  And the Pouss-Mouss round the corner.

I have my health.  Everything works and although there is some fraying round the edges of my body, it's not in bad nick.

I have a wonderful, loving daughter and a wonderful, loving family.

So next time I started meeping and weeping about what I haven't got and won't have, I should shut the fucking fuck up.


Monday, 23 January 2012


A really gorgeous apartment just slipped through my fingers.  It was advertised on the Facebook Expats group so I got in there pronto.  Arranged a viewing for after work tonight.  It was perfect - good price, good size, nice location, and the tenancy would start just as my current contract ends.  And just as I was about to leave work, I got a text to say it had been taken.

It's ridiculous to be quite so upset about it, but I am.  Coming back to my tiny studio, it seemed quite horribly squalid.  It isn't really.  But it ain't 55 square metres in a lovely old building, with added loveliness and a washing machine.

I think the expression I'm looking for is: massive hairy bollocky bollocks.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Parakeets in Parc Leopold

I worked today.  Both of The Parents have excessive amounts of work on at the moment; and I need the money, so it's fine.  Oddly enough, one of the best days I've had with the kids.  H and I finally seem to be bonding and there was an extremely giggly game with a coat.

Waiting for the bus back directly opposite Parc Leopold, I watched volley after volley of excitable parakeets swooping low and then parking all in the same tree like they were having a party.  The noise was incredible.  And it was oddly comforting because the last time I saw such a thing was in Regent's Park, back in the old country.  It's not homesickness, exactly.  I'm just mawking a bit. 

People are not replaceable.  They really are not.  And the familiar sight of bright green birds flocking lifts that empty bit of my heart a little.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Panning Out

I'm a happy if slightly hungover bunny today.  On three small glasses of rosé!  What would my daughter say. 

The Fraternité 2020 co-ordinator chappy has just given me my brief, and it's perfect really - to start with I'll be checking their website content as a "native English speaker" to ensure it is clear and comprehensible, as it will be read mainly by people with English as a second language. 

By the way, you can make toast in a dry frying pan.  In fact I've yet to find something I can't do in the frying pan.  And turn off a hob with nail clippers. I'm impro queen today.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Opening Night

I think I arrived tonight.  Meeting a bunch of strangers off the internet is nothing unusual for me, so I arranged to do just that, at the Karaoke Bar Sablon.  Tram in Siberian conditions down Rue Royale and then a little stroll (pointy boots really not good on cobblestones) down the Place du Grand Sablon.  Despite the rather upmarket area the bar is...basic.  And cheap.  So that's fine with me.  I gave them my Doris Day and Alison Moyet and met some charming, lovely people.   And then I left.  Always leave them wanting more, as...somebody said.  Probably P. T. Barnum.  Or Tony Blair.

Walking back to the tram, I saw a man on a motorised sitting-down scooter, with a small dog in the front, in the pouring rain.  This gave me the giggles.  And then I couldn't stop.  Open-coated in the January rain, walking in the lee of the huge Nôtre-Dame au Sablon I kept giggling and snorting at what I've done.  At where I am now, at what I'm doing, at the fact I just sang to a bunch of strangers and danced at them. 

And despite all the scary scaremongering, the tram at 11.30pm was warm, well-used, and got me nicely home.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Music and Movement

Today I was a horse in Music Together

If anyone had told me that at very nearly 50 I would be galloping round a little hall in Montgomery, neighing with some gusto...well I probably wouldn't be that surprised, actually.  And I enjoy the maracas just a little too much.  It's wasted on toddlers, although Baby C takes it very seriously and bawls when her instruments are pried away.

I'm delighted to say that I've got myself onto a Citizens' Committee run by Fraternité 2020.   It's a voluntary position, a couple of hours a week, and will basically stop my brain turning to fudge.  It will hopefully make me a bit more employable, and will be very interesting, and there will be grown-ups.

So I won't mind so much about spending the day covered in banana and having a three year old disown me in the Metro.


Things I Really Need From Storage And Have No Idea Where They Are

1. My nit comb.  No I probably don't have headlice.  But my head comes into proximity with some very small children these days.  They probably don't have headlice.  But having had them once via my daughter's school about twenty years ago, The Fear remains.  I challenge you not to start scratching now.

2. Sun-in.  I'm a natural blonde who, in the winter, needs a little peroxide.  Don't we all?  Bit dowdy right now. 

3.  My other boots.  The flat ones.  You know the ones I mean.  Yes, those.

4.  My extraordinarily large French dictionary and French grammar book.  How the hecking hell am I supposed to learn this mess of a language without BIG BOOKS.

5.  That sort of woven leather-ish belt. 

6.  Oh and today an umbrella would be nice.  Brussels is quite wet, you know.  Maybe the non-existent lice will drown.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Gone With the Whine

Well, today can get to fuck if it likes. 

On the plus side, two bras off eBay arrived. (It's beyond me to start looking for them here.  Norks like fucking Zeppelins).  And a thing from Wandsworth council saying I overpaid my rent.  I didn't, but hell if they want to give me back some money.  No doubt they will want some back for removing my bed which, in a strop, I decided not to take to Brux.

I tried to speak French in a shop and it was not so much pigeon as sparrow.  Sparrow with a squashed beak.  At least I understood what was being said to me, so nil desperandum.  The Brazilian nanny I see at the crèche says she has been in Belgium three years and still cannot speak French.  I am trying not to let that get me down.

And then My Girls had the day from hell with an added bit of shit on top.  Baby C - teething, not well, screamed and screamed and would not be put down unless there was some music playing.  H just said NO! to everything or told me I had "done it wrong" and took away everything the baby was playing with.  Neither would eat anything.

Then I came home and my cooker hob knob fell off while the hob was on full.

So that's my moaning done.  Tomorrow is another day, as that bint in that film said.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Chicken In

I am falling very much in like with the area I live in.  When I first came here I was a bit surprised by its edginess and I thought I'd want to move more into the centre or at least to trendy Ixelles.  But I like it more and more. I like the shops with random stuff in them.  I like the slightly rundown air.  I like that four buses and a tram and a metro run nearby.  I like that when I come home at night families with children are out in the streets; women are out shopping; men are out chatting and smoking. Tonight I passed a girl of about ten years old laden down with bread and food shopping.  It's a community - maybe not my community, but I feel that I'm sort of walking around inside it and that there's enough room that they won't mind.

I've been looking at apartments locally and - perhaps because it is not such a fancy area - it's a bit cheaper.  And what might swing it is that fact that there's an authentic Indian restaurant that does chicken tikka biriyani just down the road.  I'm so easy.

Bin Thinking

Brux is very big on recycling.  I know London is too, but here they come down on your arse like billy-o if you get it wrong.  Basically: white bag = landfill stuff; blue bag = recyclable plastics and cans; yellow bag = paper and card.  Glass you clank off to the bottle bank.

If you put out the wrong thing in the wrong bag, you get fined €149.  This has already happened once since I've been here and the Residence Manager sent out a general warning.  Terrified that I might get it wrong, and being a slightly swotty goody, I have made sure that it won't be me incurring the fine.  Basically if we get another one, it will be split between the residents and taken off our deposit.

Some stupid twat is either very stupidly ignoring this or just doesn't give a shit.  Given that there may be quite a few students and interns living here, it's likely that mummy or daddy paid their deposit and therefore they don't care about the fine.  In the foyer are two blue bags full of landfill rubbish.  I've reported it but they are still there.  So there are two options:

1.  I go down into The Kitchen one night and ask who they belong to.  This will probably be met with feigned ignorance, and will make me a bit killy.

2.  I creep down on rubbish night and put the blue bags into white ones.  Crafty, yes.  Cowardly, indeed.  But hey, it saves us a fine.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Sweet Child of Someone Else

Most of the time it feels like life is in embryo here.  I am living and working, but I crave an apartment that I cannot cover in eight strides, and a kitchen bigger than a gnat's penis.  It's funny, I grouched for years about the size of my kitchen in Southfields but these current facilities are about one third the size.  And I want a job that does not include putting wooden shapes in holes, at least not the same shape repeatedly in the same hole.

Some of my job delights me - watching Baby C start to walk is very exciting.  Some of my job makes me want to scream.  Her older sister currently takes away from the baby every single toy, because she is three, and she can, and she will.  Suffice to say it's easier to bond with a very cuddly baby than a three year old practising her will, but we'll get there.  H is starting to cuddle me too, albeit a bone-crunching sort of dive-bomb of a cuddle.

I think it will be easier too when their mum works longer hours because it's difficult to know who is in charge.  Clearly not me if mum is there, although I do try.

And it seems very disloyal, but I'm going to keep applying for admin and secretarial jobs.  We have a gentleman's agreement that I will stay in this job for at least six months, but I suspect by then I will be pushing what remains of my brain through the shape-sorter.  Clearly I'm no gentleman.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sunday Service II

One of the nice things about living in a Muslim area is that most of the shops are open on a Sunday.  In the parts of the city that are governed by a vaguely Christian sensibility, every bloody thing is shut.  Whilst stomping about trying to find the 351 bus stop on the Chausée de Louvain, I chanced upon a fab shop that sells just about everything.  One whole aisle dedicated to various shapes of pasta.  And I was able to buy a tiny chopping board for my tiny, tiny kitchen; a thing for flipping my readymade Carrefour pancakes; and a sucky hook.  Look I know what I mean.  A hook that adheres by suction.  All things I wanted!  I intend to go back because I'm damn sure if I want something else it will be there.

Finally got to the storage facility about 4pm.  Remind me to go on a Saturday - there was a lot of Sunday service bus-waiting in the cold.  I quite like the storage place.  All that punching in my secret code and huge gates opening at my command, and then marching around those empty corridors like I'm in a film.  I now have books!  Books!  Eight should keep me going for a bit.  And the clothes airer, and the iron, although I'm not sure how one uses that.

Saturday, 14 January 2012


Following my wander into the bleak and leggy reddish light district the other day, I thought I'd google to see what areas of Brux are widely-regarded as avoidable.

It's always a mistake to google anything really, be it a cough (death) or a weird feeling in your leg (sudden death).  I can only assume the contributors to Virtual Tourist have rarely left the safety of their bedroom before.

For women and girls, even in groups, the situation is entirely different. The best tip I can think of is to come by or rent a car and avoid walking around the streets at night, especially alone. Avoid in any event taking the metro at night: it is NOT safe.

Right.  No, bollocks to that.  Last night I got back around 11pm and my bus drops me off down at Place Houwaert, at the foot of my street.  A walk of about five minutes.  No city is completely safe but I'm not really sure how I can avoid walking around the streets at night alone, as I live alone and on a street and go out at night.

To be safe anywhere you are going you should simply never go out alone, and in the middle of the city simply stay in the pubs and avoid getting out of the mass.

OK so I should always ensure I am in a pub, and not on my own, and never in a street.  Or on public transport.  I walk daily around some quite poor areas but have not felt remotely worried.  There are often small groups of men hanging around but they just live here.  My metro station is cavernous and stinks a bit of piss but it is not a scary place.  Buses are frequent and well-used. 

I'm wise in the city, which comes from half a century of living in London, but I know that despite this things can happen.  However, I'm not going to live a life curtailed by stupid warnings.  I live here too.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Mothering And Mithering

I have to admit I'm struggling today.  The post-viral, post-move, para-new job and new life exhaustion is a bit consuming.  And much as I like the children I'm looking after, and am happy just to be working, my brain seems to have been stashed in a cupboard somewhere.  Yesterday we went to a children's music thing and I was dancing about shaking bells and maracas while the three-year-old watched me cooly.  Baby C loved it though, and danced around like a miniature hippy.  I miss words and thinking and, to some extent, adults.

Tonight I have what could tentatively be referred to as a date.  I say tentative because he is almost 30 years younger than me and I'm not entirely sure about this.  I may pull out a hanky, spit on it and wipe his face.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


As I walked out this morning to find some Destop to unblock my kitchenette sink, I realised I live pretty much in the red light district.  Not quite - this side of the Rue Royale is quite devoutly Muslim and the only meat is kebabs - but going down towards the Gare du Nord I was suddenly aware of pinkish striplights in the windows to my right.  And then I saw some rather fine dark brown legs. 

When you read Orwell or Hemingway or look at Brassaï's photos,  and there is the distance of some seventy or eighty years, it all seems a bit seedily glamorous and daring.  When you are trying to find your local Brico because you can't wash up, and just about everything is closed down except these little knocking-shops (and a Ladbrokes), it just seems a bit sad.  It was surprising they were open so early but there was a Best Western hotel nearby so maybe they get post-breakfast custom.



Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Sticky Situation

I got a text in the afternoon from my employer asking if I could pick the kids up and meet her at home.  No problem I dabbed back, breezily.  Except that I couldn't remember what floors of the crèche the children were on and how to find them.  Some context:  it's a crèche run for European Commission staff and there are about 300 children.  On five different floors.  And there are three colonnes which cannot easily be accessed from each other.  And the two kids are on different floors.  As I thought I wasn't picking them up on my own until next week, I didn't really pay attention to where they were...

I could have been wandering corridors with hand-print paintings forever, so I rang A.  "I'm on the fifth floor..." and it turns out that neither of the children are.  There was also a sneaking worry that I would exit with the wrong children.

All was well in the end, but remind me to pay attention next time.  Oh, and take wet wipes.  Mandarins and yoghurt go everywhere.

Laundry Notes

1. Get clothes airer from storage.  <Regards damp clothing hanging everywhere with dismay>

2. Save all 50 cent pieces for dryer.  One is not enough.

3. In the event you are unable to find more than one 50 cent piece ask someone for change, you stupid woman.  What is the worst that can happen, really.

4. When looking for an apartment, do not even consider somewhere without a washer/dryer.  You are too old to fart about all morning in a launderette.  Even if it is called Pouss-Mouss.

My room now smells of clean clothes and slightly bad shower.  Mmm.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Bad Language

It's interesting what scares people.  I'll happily orate about nothing in particular to a packed theatre.  I'll wander round foreign cities on my own at night.  I'll potter round isolated storage facilities on my own (I have a Stanley knife in my pocket; fancy your chances?).  And apparently I can walk out on a life of security without a backward glance.  Yet I won't go down to the communal kitchen to chat to the other residents (who are mainly English speaking from the sound of it).  And I'm terrified of going to the Commune to try and register my presence here.  I'm scared of people talking to me at bus stops because I get that stupid look as I try to unlock what they said.  It will pass, I know.  But just as when you are irrevocably awake you cannot imagine crossing into sleep, I cannot imagine crossing from confusion into linguistic competence. 

It seems I need to stop being a lazy fuck in the mornings and use the time for language study instead.  There remain about six weeks before I start my morning job so an hour a day each morning would be confidence-enhancing, surely. 

I suppose that scares me: what if I can't actually learn the language.  Ultimately it would be very limiting and a bit really fucking English.


Monday, 9 January 2012

Métro Boulot Dodo

I read till about 4am.  This is not to be recommended before one's first day at work - thankfully I wasn't starting until the afternoon.  I am now officially working, which does make me pretty real, I believe.  Sitting on the floor with one of my gorgeous children putting wooden rings on a wooden stick, it struck me that my brain could atrophy very quickly.  But work is work and having a very small child giggling into your cheek isn't bad for a Monday.

Then, a shortish walk in the rain to the osteopath, a bluff, charming Englishman who barked "Yeah, yeah" before I got to the end of answering any question.  He showed me into a sort of cellar which had beautiful floor tiles and then gave me a good working over with Nivea.  I'm hoping this will sort out my injury.  Amusingly I came home to an email from Go Ape headed "Miss that Woodchip in your Pants Feeling?"‏  No.  Actually.

The only book left is Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" and I'm really not sure I can stomach all that wanton bloodshed.  It may have to be Radio 4 instead on my computator.  


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Sunday Service

Lazy day today, as if my body knows what's ahead this week.

I met my delightful new friend S (contrary to popular belief, I do not only have friends called S) and she treated me to lunch in the Merode quartier.  Then home via my Carrefour which seems to be the only shop in this town open on a Sunday.  I'm disconcerted by this widespread Sunday closure - it reminds me of London in 1986 and I'll have to get them to change it.

Tomorrow I start actual work, and then off to the osteopath.  You know you've arrived when you get yourself an osteopath.  Unfortunately the Go Ape injury is showing no signs of going anywhere so I need someone who can crack my back back in place.

Afternoon was spent reading.  When I went to the storage place yesterday I stanley-knifed open a box above my head and reached in to get the first available reading matter.  Incidentally, am I the only person to read One Day and not be remotely moved?  Dexter is a tit and Emma's tragedy was signposted like the M1.  So I've got Don't You Want Me by India Knight and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  And yes, darling daughter, it was one of your boxes I opened.  Sorry about that. 

I have finally worked out the Brussels trash system, much to my relief.  If you get it wrong they fine you, which is a right bastard.  There is now a diagram taped on the wall telling me exactly what I can put in various bags.  Bottles you have to clank down to the bottle bank like an old alky.  By the way, Carrefour you are spoiling me with this €3 Minervois.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Almost Home

Some people can pull off the tea-dress and work-boots look.  They are usually about 19 and fairly ethereal looking.  I look like a gentle builder who goes by the name of Sandra at the weekends.  But it's a comfortable combination, especially as I'm doing a lot of walking at the moment (for which read getting hideously lost with badly drafted instructions in my hand).  The cobblestones around Ixelles are a bit treacherous in pointy boots. 

It appears from this morning's outing that I live in the centre of the kebab district.  It seems to be a heavily Turkish area and I really quite like it.  Just used my new debit card in Carrefour for the first time, with quite some trepidation.  You will be pleased to hear that I exist, and that my card works.  Not bad considering the account was opened yesterday.

Quite a long bus journey spent listening to conversations, or trying.   I catch beginnings and endings of sentences and am waiting patiently for the language to unknit itself.  I was delighted to understand a whole sentence the passenger next to me garbled into her phone.

Having some tinned tortellini now (hey I never said I was sophisticated) and then off to see "We Need to Talk About Kevin".  It's almost as if I live here.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Musical Interlude

Almost A Real Person

I now have two jobs, a roof over my head (albeit temporary) and a bank account.  I am nearly real.  All that remains is to register my realness with the local commune.

It feels like climbing.  Now my only experience of climbing is a two hour taster session up those indoor walls with large bits of chewing gum stuck to them, but bear with me.  Climbing had always been something I could not do.  The embarrassment of being the only person who couldn't climb stays with me.  Oh I remember the summer of 1972, trying to climb up on those garages, with someone pushing my arse from underneath and a couple of people hauling at my arms. 

However, all harnessed-up and with a complete but comfortingly heavy stranger attached to the other end of my rope, I did climbing last year.  Colourful blob to blob, like a dangling mountain goat.  I would not say I scrambled up the wall, but I did it.  And each foothold felt both precarious and progressive, and then there was the top of the wall and me looking down grinning. 

Someone who isn't me:

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Bedding In

It all started with that trip to Venice.  Never let a woman of a certain age out of the country on her own.  It can only lead to trouble.  In 2004 I decided to take my first holiday alone.  I stayed here - it seemed predestined and slightly amusing.  According to later reviews bedbugs have taken up residence but I am sure this was nothing to do with me.  It was more of a hostel than a hotel and I shared a room with a couple of young girls.  We ate cold food from the supermarket because the cooker flex was too short to plug in.  In the morning we were woken by fishmongers singing arias in the Campo Santa Margherita.  Yes, I know that sounds made up.

That was the beginning.  I went all over Europe on my own and then to Boston, which I found a bit too huge and on my last night a raccoon under the floor kept me awake.

The last two paragraphs seem to centre around bed.  I'm very tired.  I also got very hungover on two thirds of a bottle of champagne, probably because of the very tiredness.

Brussels today is comically windy.  All the parks are shut and there are random things in the road - I saw two rolls of carpet on Rue Royale.  I'd quite like to go back to bed but have meetings later today.  So I'd better start looking vaguely human.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A Moving Experience

At every turn, one tends to think, well that's the hard part out of the way.  And then you get lost in Brussels with no credit left on your phone and a bunch of people in two places waiting for you.

But I'm jumping ahead of myself! 

Always allow yourself twice as long to do anything as you think you will need.  Of course, I didn't.  I happily trolled off down the Council thinking I could just drop my keys and scarper.  They made me take a fucking number.  They kept telling me I couldn't just leave the keys and go, and that someone would be down in a minute.  No they really will be down in a minute. 

I should have just walked out.  What could they do?  The rent was paid, notice was given and the keys returned.  Now if you'll just fill in these two forms.  Someone will be down in a minute.   At one point the lady started telling me my address as I filled in the forms.  I replied politely through gripped teeth that I knew my address.

Anyway, later.  As the Eurostar did its weird surging humming departure, I had a sudden surge myself of excitement, loss, fear, and probably extreme disbelief.  That was it - I was gone.  I have left the building.

Now what was it I said?  Always allow yourself twice as long...oh yeah.

I got lost looking for the storage place where I was meeting the moving company.  Helpfully I wrote instructions to myself  "get off the bus and walk south".  Because on a map you can see which way is south.  In real life you can't, you stupid great wazzock.  Forty minutes of wandering around apparently nameless streets, asking people who didn't have a clue, phoning the storage place until I ran out of credit...and the moving company had been waiting for me over one and a half hours when I got there.  (They were lovely.  I tipped them heavily.)

Taxi to my residence - I arrived about an hour later than anticipated.  Of course I couldn't phone them because I'd run out of credit and was busy rushing round the scene of a low-budget horror movie (endless identical empty corridors with lights that just about come on as you walk).  The nice lady who I'd been dealing with up till now had gone home.  Fuck.  Arse.  Fortunately the front door was opened by a very helpful girl from the fifth floor who phoned Nice Lady for me.  I got a bit of a bollocking, fair enough, and then she told me my keys were in the wardrobe.

And here I am.  Champagne, internet access, had some crisps, and got the radiator on.  Honey, I'm home.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

One More Sleep

I intended on my last night to post some really moving music because I'm leaving you all.  But then I decided that was a bit sickmaking and you are all coming to see me anyway, aren't you.

Most stuff is done.  Mostly.  Santander continue to tickle me in an exasperating sort of way.  Today instead of the Vastly Inexperienced Girl I got someone who had clearly been in a fight.  It's very hard not to stare at a black eye.  As I handed over my "Change of Details" form and my passport he asked if I had let Santander know I was moving.  Isn't that what I'm doing now?  Apparently not, although you might think so.  In addition to the form I should phone them so that they do not think a mad person has run off to Belgium with my card.

I need to dismantle my bed, and put out all the shite that is being collected by the council.  For this I am rewarding myself with a big delivered curry.  And there is an apple tart for the morning.  And water!  I have water.  Only not in the kitchen because the cunting arse of a plumber has caused a leak.

Anyway, see you on the other side.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Tooled Up

Tonight my washing machine was disconnected.  I really am living like a hobo now.  Except for being indoors.  I was reminded, somewhat unsurprisingly, of having a washing machine connected twenty-five years ago.  Then, I was young.  I was mainly scared.  My faultlessly clean and smoky neighbour Doreen said that I should always wear a wedding ring when workman came in, to stop them getting ideas.  Or acting upon them at least.

I hadn't thought about this but it was one more thing to be scared of.  So when the man came to plumb me in (stop it) I wore a gold ring on my left hand.  It made me feel very awkward.  Clearly it worked though as I remained unmolested through the whole procedure.

I'm a little less scared these days.  While the indeterminately East European plumber grunted about under my worksurface (oh stop it) I unscrewed a mirror from the wall.  It did cross my mind that he might get ideas, even though I am wearing track suit bottoms, but then I thought "Would you really try it on with a woman who was wielding one of her big splendid stolen screwdrivers?"

Fuck wedding rings, you just need superior tools.  (OK you can raise your eyebrows now).

Things That Will Be In My Suitcase

  • Ethernet cable
  • Every other cable and charger I own
  • 2 Multi Travel Adapter Plug things each with four sockets
  • 3 memory sticks
  • Corkscrew
  • Champagne (no corkscrew required)
  • 1 plate
  • 1 glass
  • A fork, spoon and a sharp knife
  • Tin opener
  • Tea bags
  • Kettle
  • Small supply of Walker's crisps
  • Painting of a meerkat

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Living In A Box

Apologies for lack of cheery new year wishes.  My Doris Day impression is at the cleaners.

If I look up from whatever task is in hand, I get snow blind.  And it's not even snowing.  Panic descends like a really good avalanche.  So; concentrate.  I never knew I had so much stuff in my kitchen.  Ten pairs of chopsticks.  Enough knives to run away and join a knife-throwing act.  I've thrown out the big carving knife, very carefully.  It's the one my mum used to threaten my dad with; the one he used to sharpen on the back step.  I can't even touch it, let alone use it.

All the time I'm thinking "what can I leave unpacked?". What this means - and I'm sure you who have moved will know this - is that there will be one last box that you chuck everything in.  The miscellaneous one that will hold some dirty knickers, a cup, a plate, tea bags, and kettle.  Dustpan and brush, probably.

My outdoor fridge has worked splendidly well.  London wildlife has scorned my feta, my rocket and my milk.  I have been playing fast and loose and not even hanging it in a bag.

I have now been coughing like an absolute bastard for eleven days.  You would think that this, and the lack of cooking facilities, would have meant a tragic weight loss.  No.