Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Tails of the Unexpected

OK I promise this is the last bird-related post for a while.

This morning they started massing even before I'd got the bread out of the bag.  By the end of the week I expect they will be sitting at little tables with bowls of soup, waiting patiently. 

Crossing a flat stone bridge between two lakes I became aware of a kerfuffle to my right.  A Canada goose was chasing a swan out of the water.  Not just chasing but holding the swan's tail feathers in its beak as they flapped through the water.  Somehow I got caught in the middle of all the water and feathers and was beaten by the panicking swan's wings.  The goose kept hold of the swan's tail until another swan appeared and gave it some.  No doubt Ted Hughes would have made a song and dance about this but I'll just say: swans - not quite as hard as they'd like to think.

Oh, and to the person who thought it would be a splendid idea to let their dog do a huge gloppy poo in the middle of the footpath in the park - hanging is too good for you.  However, I might consider you for an experiment in human leather tanning...

Tonight I had to do the thing that frits me more than most things - make a phone call in French.  My communications to Electrabel seem to have hit a wall and I've got a letter that says "Errrk do something or you might get cut off".  So I had no option but to phone.  I gave it my best shot, creating a language that sounded somewhat like French.  And they kindly offered to get someone to phone me back in English.  So...partial victory.  I think.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Well Bread

I'm going to bore everyone to death with these bloody birds, I know.  But the daily fowl-feeding ritual is not for The Boy, it's definitely for me.  There is a moment of absolute calm and ignorance when they are just being.  And then I cast that first hard crust of bread and something happens.  It's like gravity pulling them all towards us.  The crows and seagulls start it.  I noticed today that someone had put down lettuce and carrots, hopefully.  The crows picked at the salad halfheartedly, almost politely.  No...they want STALE WHOLEMEAL BREAD, yeah.

Last of all the birds to come to us are the swans, who then take charge.  Last year's cygnets, full adult size but still a bit brown, beat the air loudly and run at us.  It's terrifying and exhilirating.  Then the big swan, clearly the boss, plumps himself up like a sort of parade float and just stands in front of me, demanding bread.

Anyway, later on, a pitstop at Gourmet Foods for some Fry's Peppermint Cream.  I walked my feet to pathetic stumps this morning so need chocolate to repair them.  They stock the wonderfully named Cloetta Plopp chocolate bar.  If I am fortunate enough to be reincarnated I would like that to be my name, please.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Unboxing Day II

Insert trite comment about things getting worse before they get better.

Down in the murdery cellar there are about twelve recycling bags so far with dead boxes in them.  Which means the contents of them have sort of exploded up here.  And still many more to go...it feels endless, and hateful, and I never want to move again.  Or if I do I will burn everything first.

This afternoon I took a break and went to a free concert at the Centre Culturel et Scientifique de Russie.  I could not tell you what was played because my programme had nothing on it, and everyone was speaking Russian.  But it was rather lovely.  When you have nothing but the musicians to look at, it is hard not to get distracted by the fact that the violinist is sweating from his hair, all down his face onto his suit.  And it's only February.  I suppose it's warm here if you are Russian. 

Oddly, the Centre Culturel is two minutes from where I was living before.  Although it's not quite three weeks since I moved it feels already like somewhere from long ago.  Somewhere strange but familiar.  I picked up my mail and some stray items in my (still my, for another month) room.  Felt very odd being there.  Said hello on the stairs to the girl who let me in the first night.  Max Fleming is still not picking up his mail.   

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Unboxing Day

Here in computer corner it is relatively calm.  The window is open and a pre-Spring sun is trying admirably.  I am sweating like a drayhorse in July.  Boxes boxes boxes boxes boxes.  So much shit.  And I suppose there really was a need to bring five tins of Heinz Lentil Soup and three bottles of Domestos, was there?

Downstairs David Bowie's "Let's Dance" is playing on the radio.  I left home in 1983 and the first thing I did as soon as I was alone was put on that track and danced wildly round a rather flea-infested living room in my pink dressing-gown.  Sheer joy at having done it.  I promised myself I would do the same when I got here and envisaged a middle-aged and slightly fat but still very joyous moment.  To be honest I'm just a bit too fucked, and there is not enough room, but I danced in my head.  That will do for now. 

Friday, 24 February 2012

Caca Boudin

I did not get the legal sec job.  As two weeks have passed I more or less assumed that anyway, but the feedback was all very positive.  In the end they went with someone who had more appropriate experience, which is quite sensible.  So this means a few more months of poo and tantrums I guess.  There probably is some disappointment but frankly I'm too exhausted to feel it right now.

I think I need to buckle down now and honour my first intention, which was at least six months' nannying, while improving my French.  That's a lot of poo.  Or, beacoup de caca.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Giving You The Bird

In the morning I take The Boy out for as long as possible. Mainly because I cannot tolerate four and a half hours each morning playing with brightly-coloured toddler-toys.  But also because the Parc de Woluwe is absolutely massive and we can explore at will.  After this morning's fowl-feeding with the swans getting a little cheeky and pecking my elbow, we set off over the hill.  In one swept glance I saw tufty red squirrels and bright green parakeets.  While The Boy slept, I walked and walked round the lakes, and was just so happy.  Passed the Tram Museum on the way back and, accompanying child or not, I am definitely going there.

Early for babysitting tonight I sat in Parc Leopold, the hindquarters of the European Parliament just in sight, as more (or maybe the same) parakeets partied in the trees.  I ate a huge bag of Lays crisps as they swooped like coked-up Disney cartoons.  The air started looking milky and the pale lamps round the lake all came on together.  By now my lips were burned by the salt but I kept eating.

Brussels is not an instantly seductive city.  It's more like the mate you hang out with for a while before realising that you really like them.  I really like Brussels.


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Over The Top

I guess it's a two-post sort of day.

My apartment, what I can see of it, resembles a cardboard version of a World War I trench.  If I had a whistle and a revolver I would go over the top - anything to avoid unpacking.  On my bed are at least 14 boxes of books, and a small bookcase.  Needless to say if I don't unpack these tonight, I'll be sleeping on the floor.  Or propped in computer corner.  Although it's only Wednesday, I'm afraid I've got some Montepulciano.

It was pointed out to me tonight that it's difficult being three years old.  It's also difficult being hit and screamed and kicked at by a three year old.  I will not express further my thoughts on this; just to say I will continue to reinforce boundaries, and will then give hugs, and will drink wine when I get home.

And haha yes I have the corkscrew now, haha.

Another Moving Experience

As I write, un pauvre homme is trudging up and down three flights of stairs with my boxes.  I am finally out of storage.  There are a terrifying number of boxes and I suspect I may have to give a lot more stuff away.  I feel quite guilty not helping homme 1 and homme 2 but they will be getting a substantial wodge of cash in hand shortly.  And a glass of water if I feel kind.

A fair bit of today's proceedings have been conducted in French.  A wobbly and slightly rubbish French, but nonetheless French.  But I'm tired now and am just smiling at them and pointing.  And have escaped to my computer corner upstairs.  I am playing the lady of the house for once.

I have no sentimental feelings about most of my stuff, but as homme 1 put on his little trolley the overmantle mirror that was in my parents' house for at least 50 years I watched it carefully, wishing it a safe journey.  It has arrived intact.  I used to stand perilously close to the gas fire in my nylon nightie looking in that mirror, and used to wonder if I could see a murder happening in it from a long time ago like in Dead of Night.

Monday, 20 February 2012

A Bit Parcy

Apart from some explosive diarrhoea (not mine), today has been okay.  A good hour this morning was spent in icy Parc de Woluwe with the Boy.  We took bread.  I wondered would the ducks be interested.  Let's just say it was like a yeast-based version of The Birds.  Some big bastard swans took over and wolfed most of it.  They may be able to break your arm with their wing, but they can't bloody catch things in their beak.  They were close enough to peck, and it was slightly scary.  I may take pictures tomorrow.  If I'm not found with my eyes plucked out on the verandah.

The cleaner at the house where I work in the morning is a Filipino who speaks perfect English.  I wonder if, like me, she sometimes upgrades herself to Housekeeper.  I've only done it once (when trying to get this apartment) but it definitely sounds better.  And why is that?  I'm no different from or less than the person who sat and advised students on their legal status in the UK, just because I'm cleaning bottoms and kitchen counters, and spooning various types of gloop into small people, and pretending to be a troll.  All work is work.  And yet I do feel a bit diminished at times.  I guess the people who clean things, and who care for kids, are always considered to be some way down the food chain.  They are the invisible beings who make life easier for others - the madly-pedalling feet under the swan.    

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sunday Service III

I have a bed.  No more the Kafka-esque inelegance, rolling about on a mattress trying to get up.  I celebrated one final time before the bed arrived by rolling back and forth several times, almost as far as my shoulders, and then letting impetus roll me to my feet.  Lovely new friend M sold me his bed and put it together for me - I think this technically means he no longer has a bed.  Ah well.

I've been down to the murdery cellar tonight looking for something to put my computer on.  It's a steam-driven clunky affair with a separate tower, which strikes me as a bit unnecessary these days.  There are several large unlocked cupboards down there, full of what my dad would call old tut.  I kind of wanted a desk I saw but there isn't really room up here and I would have done myself a proper mischief getting it up the four flights of stairs.  As if in league with the murderers, the lights went off every time I was halfway between switches, or was in the middle of lifting something.  Have settled for a sub-IKEA smallish shelf unit, which should do the trick.  And I only did myself a partial mischief.

Tomorrow I have to present myself to the police.  This is all part of the treacly process of registering with one's Commune.  I will be retired by the time it's all done.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Adding Insult to Injera

I went to an unexpectedly smashing Ethiopian restaurant last night.  Yes, I know what you're thinking.  We did all those jokes.  One of the ladies I work for said there might be goat.  Thankfully there was not; just lots of very yummy dishes which we ate with little rolled pancake things that looked like bandages for sprains.  So a big thank you to D for inviting me and swinging us a table in the fully booked restaurant.  Met two other lovely people, one of whom may be able to source some Yorkshire Tea for Hard Water.  So win-win.

Rather bizarrely a young lady in the corner played Alicia Keys-type music throughout, finishing on a Whitney.  The restaurant erupted in - we think - slightly ironic applause.  Would definitely recommend Toukoul if you are in Brux.

We were unable to finish up the whole Injera and I'm afraid I did actually say "Come on, there are starving children in Africa...".  I will crawl under the table now, in retrospective horror.

Anyway, a lovely end to a rather tough week.  More please.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Plan A

Today,  I think, was the first time I've had actual doubts.  Not regrets.  Not misgivings.  But doubts.  But it's not as if giving up is an option - there is nothing to return to in the UK.  That, in a way, is quite liberating.  Once you've given up everything, anything else is the only option.

It wasn't a particularly good day on at least two fronts.  At my morning job, Internet Men arrived unexpectedly.  The one who did the talking spoke like pebble-dash and with such an impenetrable accent that I could not make any sense of it.  The situation was managed by my ringing the lady of the house and her putting her bilingual hairdresser on.  Thank god for bilingual hairdressers.

At my afternoon job, H had a total meltdown.  Pushing, kicking, shouting that she hated me, crying, shouting, hating me, etc.  Because I'd asked her to put her boots on.  We have graduated from "You're not my friend" to "I hate you."  Even though one knows it's a three year old and in five minutes she'll forget it, I am finding this daily enmity difficult.

Back at the house there was a Pinteresque silence while she listened to stories and I stared out the window with my coffee.  I didn't ask her to plunge the cafetière today.  And then I decided I wasn't going to be beaten, literally or figuratively, by a child.  So I balanced some stacking cups on my head and sang.  This made her giggle.  We continued thus for a good half hour, real pee-making giggles.

The thing is, I have no room for failure.  I need to make this situation work.  There is not, and never was, a Plan B.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Wining Down

Strange as it might seem, I never though that trams could be delayed by traffic.  In London we had just the one little tram route - almost a fairground ride really. It starts off like a train and then goes up a bit, down a bit, then onto the road at (recently charred) Reeves' Corner.  At the other end of the tram line there are fields.  I know because I bought a hoover off Ebay once from someone who lived out there.  Anyway, here in Brux they run on the road, so you can ignore the schedules stuck to the tram stop.  They become the meat in a particularly tasty traffic sandwich.  So next time I leave a damn sight earlier.  In fact it might be quicker to walk. 

I'm working on language at the moment.  No, not swearing.  I'm already very advanced in swearing.  When I come home the TV goes on, so I can hear French all evening in the background.  It's a very slow process but I'm gradually understanding more - and not going into a staring panic if someone talks to me.  There was even a minute conversation in Carrefour tonight.  If you can imagine the sort of amateur volley you see on local authority tennis courts, that was about it.  But I hit the damn ball back.  Mastering a language at my advanced age is going to take a while.  But hell, I'm not going anywhere so take all the time you want.

My life often resembles one of those old Hamlet ads, for those of you old enough to remember.  Tonight for example:

I'm not working tomorrow morning so I treated myself to a bottle of Montepulciano.  On getting home it became evident that the corkscrew is among the still-to-be transported items in my room at Saint Josse.  And there isn't one here.   I suppose I could have gone to my neighbours for one, but that would be far too sensible.  In my head the "Hamlet" music played.  And then I thought of scissors.  And it worked.  I poured my glass through a tea-strainer with the scissors fully engaged, holding the cork inside.

And on that resourceful note, I will wish you between mildly clenched teeth a happy Valentine's Day.  Or "Fuck Off Day" as I tenderly call it.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Bed Bug

Oh Whitney, Whitney, Whitney.  I suppose we'll find out shortly what the cause of death was but I would imagine there was misadventure of some sort.  Forget the loss of a star; she leaves a nineteen year old daughter.  That's the real sadness.  That, and the fact that they will probably re-release "I Will Always Love You".

I have rather been fastened to my bed this weekend, trying to shake off this virus, whatever it is.  And half-waiting for this visit from the police, which is routine for new settlers but nevertheless a little unsettling.  They don't say when they will come, so you could have half an eyebrow on or something.

What becomes more obvious the longer I spend in it is that a proper bed is needed.  I have a perfectly nice IKEA mattress here but it's on the damn floor.  At my advanced age, it is impossible to get off a mattress on the floor elegantly.  If you imagine Gregor Samsa after his Metamorphosis trying to roll over in bed, that's fairly close.  I have mastered a sort of two-part movement which can only really be accomplished if no-one is watching.  Fortunately at the moment, no-one is.  Therefore a trip to IKEA for a bed base is vital in the next few weeks.  Or I could just stay here wiggling my legs in the air, waiting for the police.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

A Bit Poorly

Friday was one of those days.  I had been up several times in the night vomiting Exorcist-style.  After one final hurl for good measure I left the house to go and register at the Commune (Town Hall, sort of).  Delighted that they had their own photo booth, but undelighted that it would not accept my €5 note, I shoved all my change in it, only to find I was 50c short.  And it refused to give me back the money.  My poor French, plus the fact I still felt like vomming on everyone, made it impossible to go and speak to staff about it.  Fortunately a shop next door did photos and the result wasn't bad considering my advanced age, the desire to vom, and the sub-zero temperatures.

It turns out you can't register until the police have been round to check you out, but anyway.  A couple of other things needed to be done across town and then it became obvious this was a gastric flu thing.  Phoned in sick to work and went home to my bed, literally feeling like my body was shutting down, one organ at a time.  I slept, and sweated, and slept, and sweated.  Everything hurt. 

What could have been an utterly rubbish day was perked enormously in the afternoon by a phone call saying I have an interview for the legal sec job with the partners of the law firm on Monday.  You could have have knocked me over, had I not already been in bed.

Today the fever is gone but no appetite as such, and I'm still hurting in various places.  I think I will mainly rest this weekend.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Phoning It In

The typing test for the legal secretary job must have gone ok as I just completed a telephone interview for the job.  Again, no idea how I did.  But before the phone rang I sat looking out my window and said that regardless of the outcome, I still have a view on the biggest magnolia tree in the world, and two childcare jobs: my current one and one starting next Monday. 

It still feels like I'm in the banana-smeared foothills of life here in Brussels, but things are happening and things will happen.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

And We're Back

The first thing I did last night in my new place was try to make a cup of tea.  Of course.  And tripped the circuit with my English kettle.  Weird, seeing as I've used it here for the last month.  So there goes the Argos Value Range Kettle.  Looks like my Inno voucher will be used on some non-frivolous things after all.  Next thing, of course, was setting up th'Internets.

Or not setting up th'Internets.  I went to bed in quite a strop because I thought I would just be able to plug in and off we go.  This morning has been mainly a mammoth texting session with the very kind previous tenant as he tried to talk me through things I had already attempted.  And then, by some internet miracle, it all just started working about five minutes ago.  Which makes me think the problem was with the ISP and not me.

Have checked out the cellar/communal laundry.  It really was a very good idea taking my wind-up torch down there.  Fortunately I'm not scared of dark murdery places.


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Keyed Up


Please excuse the capital letters but my terminal Eeyore nature made me think that at the last minute something would go horribly wrong.  And it did not.  I am the anti-Eeyore.  I have keys.  It's all mine.

Before going to meet the landord today I had a look round my neighbourhood.  I had to try very hard not to cry.  It's so bloody nice.  And there's even a little Tunisian restaurant that does merguez and couscous, which will delight my daughter as much as it does me.

Type Oooh

Just before I left my old job, somebody told me I must have nerves of steel.  I don't know, I couldn't really feel them anyway, they could have been made of rhubarb.  And all the things I've done so far, nothing has made me feel steely.  Until just now.  I applied for a legal secretary job and had to do an online typing test.  No second chances, no rehearsal.  No idea how I did, either.  But that was definitely the scariest thing I've done so far and - yes - nerves of steel.  Or at this time of the morning, nerves of very strong tea.

Off to the bank shortly to arrange the deposit agreement thingy which they do in Belgium, then I take possession of my new flat.  As Beth Gibbons once sang, this is the beginning of forever and ever.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Giving It All Away II

I thought the Wandsworth Freecycle group was fierce, but my goodness, the Brussels one is voracious.  About 20 requests just for my bicycle.  Taking the least fair option, I picked the first person who asked, and I'm really glad I did.  She was so utterly delighted by the bike and her little whoop of joy as she pushed it away quite made my day.  This was somewhat spoiled by my falling arse over tit when I was walking past some cars to get back in the storage place.  Snow and oil, I'm guessing.  I'm a bit cut but otherwise fine.

I had my own little whoops of joy moment as I foraged in boxes and found:

1. Acetone.  Not for my nails but to loosen the superglue that has completely jammed the cooker hob knob.  So much for my repair job.

2. Bicarbonate of soda.  That manky grouting in my new place won't clean itself.

3. My Sun-in.  Hello blonde!  Hello glamour!

4. Two tins of tuna.  Yeah, no idea what they were doing in there.

5. Printer cartridge!  Yay!

6. And last but not least, my beloved nit comb.

The table is also gone.  It is possible that I looked really quite sad shouting "Bye table!" and waving at it.  I don't care.  It was like family, that table.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


One thing  missed off the "glad to leave" list is the toilet.  Firstly going down the corridor to the toilet with a roll of loo paper.  It all feels very Butlins.  Secondly the repeatedly faulty cistern.  I've found out how to set it right again but it would have been slightly helpful if the residence manager had mentioned it.  Or, indeed, got it fixed when I reported it.

Never mind.  Max Fleming can do it after I'm gone.  Max Fleming can do everything after I'm gone.  He can party all night.  He can leave his rubbish in the wrong bags.  Knock yourself out, Max Fleming.

It is deeply cold here today but I've managed to get the feeling back in my feet by leaving the cooker hob on.  I'm sure this is highly unauthorised behaviour but what the hell.  

Tomorrow I'm meeting random strangers at the storage facility (Stanley knife in pocket) to offload some things I won't have room for in my flat.  Sadly one of these is my ancient oak table.  But it's only a table and there will be other tables.  It is a weird feeling knowing that come Tuesday, all I will own is some books and some household stuff.  This really is starting again from zero.  Or zero point five.  Ish.  

Friday, 3 February 2012

Miss Châtelaine

I move on Tuesday 7 February.  And this is where I'm moving to.

Yes, I have a three month contract where I am.  But seriously.  Seriously.  I have been really very fucking lucky to get this.  It was only after all my paperwork was accepted that the tenants told me they had had loads of people interested.  So I'll keep paying the rent on this place for one further month and just slip away to Châtelain.

Things I will be glad to leave:

1.  Max Fleming.  I have no idea who he is but allegedly he lives on the top floor.  He never picks up his mail so every time I sort through the mail to get mine, there are sixteen things for him.

2. The mysterious sink blockage that seems to happen every couple of weeks.  Yesterday it took half a bottle of Destop and a sink plunger.  I only put water down my sink.  Is there someone boiling up human remains and putting gristle down the plughole?

3.  The Spaniard next door.  He leaves his rubbish outside his door.  Cunt.

4.  The weekend parties.  Not because I was never invited.  More because I would like to turn up when they are still partying at 3am under my room, like Carrie in the film Carrie, and do telekinetic shit on them.

5.  My room that smells of bleach and bad shower.

I'm sure the new place won't be perfect.  But it will be home.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Small Wonder

When I was a little girl there was this book at school called Mr Mini Man.  Now I can't find any trace of this on the internet but you'll have to trust that I'm not making it up.  The girl in the story found a man about six inches tall living in her room and she used to carry him around with her.  It is possible that this is one of those dodgy false memories, but I'm pretty sure that Mr Mini Man actually fell in her knickers at some point.  This was, after all, the 1960s and paedophilia had not yet been invented.

I loved this book and wanted a Mr Mini Man to carry round with me inside my clothes.  It's just as well I never told anyone or I might have been adopted.  This slightly weird reminiscence is going somewhere, honest.

The desire I had for a Mr Mini Man is pretty much how I'm feeling towards my almost apartment:  it's tiny, kind of hidden away, and it's mine.  Almost.  I want to look after it and have it fall in my knickers.  If you see what I mean.  I sign the contract tomorrow.

Both my windows overlook the biggest magnolia tree I have seen in captivity.  And it's full of thousands of large, tight buds.  Symbolic-bollocky-bollocks, yada-yada.  That aside, I grew up with a magnolia tree (literally) and to me they signify home.  I will almost be able to touch the top blossoms from my window.