Today I handed back the keys to my old place, after having cleaned it. Those who know me will be slightly amused at the idea of me cleaning but it had to be done. I am now a bit wrinkled and lemony. There were dust-bunnies under the bed that surely pre-dated me. I could not have produced that much fluff if I were a Persian cat. Satisfying to walk out for the last time and scribble over my name on the bell, two keys lighter. I'm slightly dreading the bill for breaking the hob-knob but who knows, maybe it will be easy to replace...
My area continues to yield small wonderful things:
I could have done with Big Bertha's help just now.
If your adult child ever leaves several tons of books, magazines, shoes and clothes with you, I suggest - in the nicest possible way - that you burn them. I've had custody of them for the last two and a half years. Nine boxes, and I felt my knee nearly give out taking the first one downstairs tonight. So the following eight boxes were tackled with a scarf tied round under my knee in case it went completely. I haven't dared untie it yet in case my knee cap is round my ankle. We have dodgy knees in this family. (I wonder if Bertha had dodgy knees. We have exactly the same horizontal lines round our neck.)
The final box I could not pick up at all and slid it down the stairs one at a time like a bad murderer. Fortunately a neighbour appeared and helped me down the last bit.
Tonight these sodding boxes will be collected and dispatched to the outskirts of Paris and I can put my (raddled) knees under the table again.
The Capon family has been based in London for at least two hundred years and as far as I can tell they were not ever wealthy. My great-great aunt Louisa Bertha Capon was born in 1871 in Devon, where my great-great-grandparents had moved. From the 1871 census they appeared to have been working in service together. Bertha, as she was known, married a much older man when she was 22, who eventually left her a widow. I'll let Bertha's daughter take over the story. This was written [with my slightly sarky asides] by Sister Marie de Piro in 1997, shortly before she died:
Daddy, as we children always called him, was born in Mdina, Malta in 1879, and Mama, as Daddy called her when he did not use her name, Bertha, was born in Torquay, England in 1871, the eldest of seven children. Daddy had 6 brothers and 2 sisters.
I know little about my Parents' childhood except for references from family members. Before meeting my Father, Mama had married an older man, whose surname was Larard. He died after a short terminal illness, leaving his wealth on temporary agreements. Within three years Mama lost husband, her Father and Mother. A breakdown in health followed these sad losses. The solicitors in charge of her affairs followed the doctors' advice and arranged a sea voyage on the P. & O. to Australia. As children we heard many stories of this three month voyage which restored her health. [hmm, I bet...]
On her return to England she leased a flat in Handel Mansions, Brunswick Square, leaving the family home in Chelsea to her brothers. [This sounds awfully grand. The family lived in the Kings Road, where the fire station now is. I suspect it was rented, as they were solidly working-class.]
Daddy, after his M.D. in Louvain, came to London to continue his medical studies: surgery and tropical medicine. His modest apartment was also in Brunswick Square.
Uncle Carmel, Daddy's eldest brother was, at that time a well known consultant - I think in a large hospital in Birmingham. When possible the two brothers met in London. I do not know the circumstances, but Mama said that both in turn proposed to her. [Foxy Mama]. She said she refused Uncle Carmel, for she and Guido (my father) had already fallen in love.
I was born in Brunswick Square in my Mother's apartment in 1908, when Daddy had finished his studies. My Parents moved from the heart of London, leasing a house in Kew, Surrey where my sister was born in 1909.
The Guido that she mentions is Guido De Piro D'Amico, a Maltese nobleman. When he became ill with TB they moved back to his native island and he died there in 1921. Bertha stayed there until her death in 1942 - one of her daughters became a nun, the other a children's author.
Knowing my family as I do, and that my grandfather worked in the sewers in Barnes and would come home to eat his dinner without washing his hands, this story fascinates me. I know nothing about Bertha other than she chose to vault out of the class into which she was born in the only way possible at that time - by marrying "well". Interestingly in the 1911 census she is nine years younger than she had been previously, although her daughter seems to be aware of her true age.
I have lost count of the number of people who have said I am brave to have chucked everything up and moved countries. Each time I say that I'm not, and truly I do not feel brave.
There is a story I'd almost forgotten until I moved here. In 1842, Charlotte and Emily Brontë left the parsonage at Haworth for Brussels. For two respectable young women to leave the family home, trek across England (in February), to take the packet steamer to Oostende (like a ferry, but with more sick), and then the stagecoach to Brussels, to take up secular work with foreigners in a foreign country, that must have taken some considerable balls. Brussels would not have been like it is today where English is in some places the default language. It was proper foreign.
They returned to Yorkshire in October of that year because their aunt was dying, and then Charlotte returned alone to Brussels. There followed a passionate but sad attachment to the married Principal of the school where she worked, and then Charlotte returned home.
Her time in Brussels was in all just two years, but given that Charlotte was born in 1816, it was an adventure of audaciousness and incredible bravery. I just got on a Eurostar.
'Whenever a child says "I don't believe in fairies" there's a little fairy somewhere that falls right down dead.'
Moving to another city, or in this case another country and city, there are a lot of things you leave behind. Equally, there are a lot of things that come with you - some of which I've covered. What you leave behind is your myth. You leave behind the lovely friends and family who reflect back a good and legendary version of you. You leave behind their belief in you. In a new place, nobody believes in you because they don't yet know you. In a sense we are conjured from what people believe about us.
Of course, it was my choice to come here and there are no regrets. But it's quite a lot harder than I thought it would be.
Anyway, good things about today:
1. I picked up my 38 hour a week contract from Manpower. I am now very officially employed.
2. I picked up my national ID card. I am now very official.
3. I got asked out in the street. Which hasn't happened for about thirty years. I said thank you, but no.
I started the evening last night by pouring red wine into a pint glass, and thought "this will end in tears" and do you know what? It did. When will I learn. When will I learn. When will I learn. If you are someone prone to depression and you imbibe a depressant, what happens? Well I can tell you this, it isn't like when two werewolves have a baby and their genes cancel out the werewolvishness. Oh no. Full moon or not, I'm going to howl. I like a drink. But you know, there are times when it probably isn't a good idea. At my advanced age, crying at night makes you look offal in the morning.
The Boy has said his first recognisable words this week. Prior to this he made do with "ugh" which serves quite a few purposes. His first words were "Oh dear!". Those of you who know me in real life can breathe a sigh of relief. It could so easily have been "You useless pile of cunt!".
When I walk home down my road, I see the sun glinting off the dome of the Palais de Justice. That's something you wouldn't see in Southfields.
Today was one of those days when you have a rub-down with a baby wipe and hope for the best. There is a reason for this. Last night I did something so spack-tastic I set the cause back for women several centuries.
The washing machine in the murdery cellar seems to be permanently engaged so I chucked a few things in the shower and ran it full on. Put my headphones on, watched a bit of pirate telly. Being Human. You can probably guess the rest. Some pantage got caught in the plughole and when I took off my headphones all I could hear was cascading water. I don't think I've been that frightened in years.
The shower room was completely flooded and it was going all through the floor to downstairs. Two twin and battling thoughts: if it gets in the electrics I'm fucked; if it goes down another floor I've fucked the neighbours. In a non-literal sense. Grabbing everything absorbant I swabbed and blotted till the cascade stopped. All that damp towelling and shit is now in the shower. So I couldn't really have a shower. What a complete blonde spack.
The neighbours haven't knocked, so it looks like I got away with it.
The forest this morning was full of trees (Really? Really?) blurting bits of green. Tiny green handkerchiefs. I walked and walked while The Boy slept and thought, as I do most days, about someone. A man who touched me only once, and that was to say goodbye. It is as if my body retains the diluted memory of the touch, like a homeopathic tablet. And like homeopathy, this thought is probably complete, utter bollocks. It certainly will not effect a cure. I think of him. And one cannot help these things. It will just have to find its way out my head in its own good time.
Brussels gave me a delightful spring weekend for my birthday and I'm rather pink. There has been much eating, drinking, walking and, today, we frited. The queue at Place Jourdan was pretty long so F amused himself buying cheese in the market. J and I took most of the queue changing our minds about what to have. I had THIS
It has been utterly delightful to share my big birthday with my lovely girl and her lovely boy. There was a little stress this evening when the tram went spaz on us and I had to call a taxi (three times), but they are safely on their way back to Paris now. One of the really civilised things about Brussels is that you can go right to the train to say goodbye. Actually you could feasibly get on and hide in the toilets.
Tram was still spazzing on the way back so I got the metro to Louise and walked. That's when it really hits me that I live in a spectacular place. Avenue Louise is like the Champs Elysée crossed with Bond Street. Except they don't have a Funny Horse Bar Table Dancing Club, I bet.
I'm going to be fifty in approximately ten minutes. OK strictly speaking not until 4.30pm on the 22nd but I think we can take it from midnight. Who is going to complain, really? So to all of you who have been with me part or some or all of the journey, do stay for the rest.
Just to follow on from last night's melodramatic and slightly "I'm going out to eat worms" posting:
A lot of people have a sense of their being fundamentally OK most of the time. Likeable, loveable, comfortable in the world, that sort of OK. This is either because they were well-loved from childhood or managed to patch a good repair job in adulthood. I would say I fall into the latter group. My sense of being OK is sort of like several layers of woodchip over some dodgy plaster. I've learned slowly that I'm liked, and loved, and my bones feel comfortable in this old and rather upholstered body, and the body feels comfortable out in the world.
Unfortunately for some there is a deeper sense of being fundamentally not OK. It's a very deep place where rather ugly messages run on a loop (If you're not a good girl I won't love you any more. If you don't stop crying I'll have you put in a home). Several years of therapy have not dissolved the ill-being created by this and more.
Last night I was at PUB QUIZ, which was becoming the highlight of my week. A woman was there who I hadn't seen before, though clearly she was a team regular. During the latter part of the evening I was getting enthusiastic, as one does, whenever we got a question right. I'm loud and excitable, and tend to throw myself at things. Clearly I banged the table once too often because the woman turned to me and hissed "That is really fucking irritating". The team member to her right murmured something which sounded like agreement. I sort of sunk a bit. When the drinks bill came, we settled it and then I told her that I was sorry if I was irritating her, that I was going home now, and that I thought she was very rude. And then in my jitters accidentally knocked over the remains of my drink on her phone.
When you know people a long time it's likely at some point you will be a dreadful twat in their company. However, over time it balances out and the love and friendship between you creates another bit of wallpaper over the dodgy plaster. When someone you met two hours ago tells you that your behaviour is fucking irritating, it is not good. Not in any way good. It's like they have really seen you.
So that was it. It's going to take a while to feel ok again, fundamentally.
It's the small things that connect you to a place, I think, and make you realise with a giddy jolt - I live here.
Collecting an Ebay parcel from a sort of sub-post office where the lady did not look up from her phone conversation while serving me. I could hear a baby crying down the phone as if strained through something.
Making my first hair appointment in French. Slightly terrifying but my feet were in the salon before I realised what was happening.
Small exchanges and mishaps - letting a lady know she's left a bag on the pharmacy counter; dropping a €2 piece under the counter in the wholefood shop and explaining it to the cashier. There's always a slight time delay in my language, as the brain engages its (almost) second tongue.
These tiny increments of existence bed me further into life here. That and the PUB QUIZ of course. I live here. My magnolia tree is nearly out.
I don't expect this post will make a lot of sense as I've worked 15 hours today, but I wanted to write something. It was a national day of mourning in Belgium. There is very little one can say about such tragedy without sounding trite or facile. As I currently spend the whole day looking after small people who are not mine, it makes me realise what an enormous responsibility it is, and how precious they are, and how fragile.
As I walked through the forest this morning with The Boy gently drowsing, a local church bell tolled slowly 28 times. In the park this afternoon I hugged The Girls and sang to them while, covered in yoghurt, they climbed all over me, giggling.
It was properly actually hot today. Even the smallest bars suddenly had tables and chairs outside, like early blossoms. My afternoon park (Cinquantenaire) was full of frisbee-ers, tightrope-walkers, and lots of normal people too.
Place Flagey, an almost featureless square, was alive with children cycling, knots of pals sitting on the ground, and people just hanging out before going somewhere. The evening had that kind of feel - a sense of something nice going to happen. Dusk has a really milky quality here that is very pretty.
Fortunately my something nice was going home after a cancelled babysitting job. I hurt in lots of jointed areas today and really miss having a bath. Showers get you awake but are not soothing.
I have bought Montepulciano, but will be careful. I wonder how much it would cost to bathe in Montepulciano.
After several warnings of a dire variety I was expecting registering at the Commune to be a Kafka-esque day-mare, and that I would be sent away in hot sulky tears. By 8.20am I was back on the street holding a stamped and signed document with my Belgian ID number on it. The nice lady even wished me a very good day in English. It seems that I have an administrative fairy godmother, because everyone I have spoken to has reported problems with registration.
Whatever is lubing the bureaucracy for me, long may it last. As someone pointed out, the rest of my life involves bums. Perhaps this is karmic balance in action.
On the surface of it I'm a fairly sensible person. Barely a sixteenth of an inch (Imperial if you will) under the surface I become really bloody stupid. Example: I know that drinking even moderate amounts brings on migraines. And yet I sit here, halfway down the only glass of wine in the apartment plotting a walk to the Night Shop. On Monday (following Sunday's Pinot Grigio discovery) and Tuesday (following PUB QUIZ, which is always typed in upper case) I have woken up feeling really quite shit. To waste my expensive medication ameliorating a self-induced crapness seems very stupid indeed. And yet the Night Shop calls me.
It's not been a bad day. At my morning job she leaves me lovely food to eat and today it was a rather tender and magical cottage pie; most welcome after two hours hoofing. So what is making me want to go down the Night Shop?
I hesitate to give too much identifying detail, but suffice to say one of my charges who should be using a toilet will not. And I get to deal with the consequences of that. Foul and horrible and nauseating. I feel a rash of job applications coming on. Or a lot of wine.
I was off for a rousing evening of Uno in a bar tonight, and thought it would be a nice walk. It would have been had I not got really, really lost. A combination of pride and fear prevented my asking directions so I wandered about the eastern reaches of Ixelles till I found a bus that went home.
Popping into a Night Shop I found the only bottle of Pinot Grigio in Brussels; possibly in Belgium. You simply don't see it here. It is now snuggling in my freezer compartment. Mindful of tomorrow being Monday, a conservative amount only will be drunk. The delight in finding it must still have been on my face when I crossed the road, as a gentleman wished me Bonsoir in the middle of the crossing. I've been invisible for years but here it seems not.
Just recently I've been re-reading Henry Miller's "Quiet Days in Clichy". I don't know why as it annoys the holy fuck out of me. It's a constant stream of women/whores (they seem to be fairly interchangeable for Miller) falling open like Easter eggs, and then glowing satedly after a hectic penis-ing. I'm tempted to think Miller never actually left his bedroom and just made it all up. If my life were written by Henry Miller, that chap who said Bonsoir would have turned and accompanied me home, where I'd fall open like a chocolate orange.
But life isn't actually like that. Well I don't think it is, anyway.
It doesn't matter what the mirror says, or how young you can "get away with", the true indicator of age is how hard it is to cut one's toenails. The combination of slightly arthritic thumbs and legs that won't quite contort into the optimum position mean I put it off as long as possible. I suspect that Madonna doesn't have this problem. She is still famously contortable and flashes her gristly flange all over the shop. Plus she has a very young man who probably cuts her toenails for her. Perhaps I should change my dating website profile to say "must be prepared to cut my toenails" but then it sounds like I'm recruiting a carer.
The dating website hasn't been terribly successful since I arrived here, but I maintain a sort of apathetic optimism. Today I have been messaged by a 23 year old in Las Vegas who insists he is visiting my town soon and would I be down to hook up. I think that means sex. And a naked Italian in Rome. That was my second message. My own fault I suppose for looking at his profile, but I wanted to see what that thing was.
I'm not sure either of them would be up to toenail duties, but you never know.
The lady I work for in the mornings has been in Brux roughly the same length of time as me. This morning she told me something I did not know - that it's quite usual to feel depressed two months after moving somewhere new. She's been feeling it and wondered if I had. Aha! So I'm not just a bit mental then, there is a reason why I'm feeling like Eeyore. I guess the initial shine wears off about now, and you've sorted out most of the technical stuff, and you are left with...well not very much. The foundations of a new life with bits sticking out, and a sort of aftertaste of your old one. I'm afraid I've taken to chocolate.
Daim do a big slab of chunkiness that has turned me into a junky, rushing into the kitchen at work to shovel it into my face before various small people can see. It's not clever but it is nice. For various reasons my sense of being a quality person is a bit lacking at the moment. Chocolate is never the answer but it momentarily stops the question.
Tonight I am apparently going to a Disco for Malawi, though as I'm sitting here in only a t-shirt, cardigan and socks some clothes might have to happen before I leave the house. I'm not sure how Malawi feels about our disco-dancing for them, or even if they have been informed.
Walking home from Place Flagey just now I got rather emphatically wolf-whistled. I have not been wolf-whistled in decades. It was a bit confusing, so I waited till he'd passed and looked behind me. No leggy twenty year olds. No-one, in fact. What with the "Bonjour Princesse" on Avenue de Tervueren the other day as well, I'm beginning to think there is a market in Brux for banana-smeared tired women of an advanced age.
So I did the only thing one could do under the circumstances, and went into Cock's Fresh for my shopping.
It's strange what things can be cheering. Since I've been here it has occurred to me that at some point I would need to find a doctor and explain my migraines and get my medication. This filled me with fear and something approaching horror. What if they did not have my medication here? What if they insisted on stacks of tests before they would just bloody give it to me? What if they just said no, or could not understand me?
So, down to my last tablet, I went. I've found a neat (in the English sense but possibly also in the American sense) way of tackling scary tasks is to imagine I'm doing them on behalf of someone else. Being a congenital helper, this seems to work.
The doctor was a very young, calm and sweet lady. In my hastily-knitted and rather dodgy French I managed to give her my medical history. And she gave me my prescription. Oh joy. I cannot say strongly enough what this means - basically without Sumatriptan my life is unmanageable due to the migraines. And I need that like I need a hole in the head.
I admit I'm struggling a bit at the moment. Not with work; that trundles along just fine. The giggle to abuse ratio is good at the moment. Today there was a joyous, riotous moment when both the girls were laughing on top of me with Baby C bouncing up and down on my head.
It's other stuff. Those of you who have known me in reality are aware that there has been the odd difficult episode. Those have recurred all my adult life and I fight them off as best I can. Or rather I fight from being sucked in. It's a bit like being a poo in a toilet. Anyway, to go back to the first post I made in November, if you are on a tightrope, falling off simply isn't an option. For my own benefit, I repeat - falling off simply isn't an option. I just continue to put one foot in front of another, literally and metaphorically, every day.
It's my two month Bruxellois anniversary today although it feels much longer.
Now my legs are used to daily hard use, it feels weird if I don't walk. I can see how people get addicted to running (though that will never happen, not with my knees; not with my knockers). So I set off across town to Saint Josse to get the last of my stuff. It took just under an hour, and I did it without a map, so the town is becoming really familiar now. The room in Saint Josse still needs a clean and the drains are irredeemable. I'll put something down the sink before giving back the keys. Though I think there are trolls and beasts down there.
I'm having a bit of a maudlin day if truth be told. History does not dictate one's future, I know this. We are not the things that happen to us, even though patterns seem to arise and define you. I'm talking about my long tendency to fall for men who are either unavailable or uninterested, or both. I won't say too much because it embarrasses me a bit. But I don't want that to be who I am: to grow old vacant because I wanted the wrong people. That is shit, really. And I won't say any more.
I never run into people. Possibly because I have a pavement-regarding manner, constantly checking for dogshit and lost Euros. Today I was swinging my Morrisons bag-for-life when I noticed someone had stopped in front of me. Oh no, I thought, not someone else asking for bloody directions. But it was lovely A, the chaplain from where I used to work. He was in Brux with his partner just for the afternoon. The city has a population of 1.8 million so the chances of bumping into him were fairly slim.
We stared at each other in that way you do when something is in the wrong place. (Many years ago, friends of mine on completely separate and divergent trips through India saw each other in a market and were so shocked they didn't even say hello). It was delightful to see him and my life that was, and my life that is, joined momentarily like wobbly soap bubbles.
Interestingly, the one person I keep expecting to run into (who lives here) I do not. Although every taxi I get after a babysitting job goes by his apartment and I force myself not to look up in passing.
So this is kind of how life is right now. I spend at least one and a half hours each morning in the park, walking myself ravenous. Tiny birds thread through the edges of my vision. I still can't get over the red squirrels and suspect they are grey ones in drag. The paths take me through isolated woods, and I'm kind of licensed by having a pushchair. A woman wandering in the woods by herself might look a bit mental; a woman with a pushchair just looks desperate to get out of the house.
And then I turn into a digger-groupy. They are laying new sewers outside the house and The Boy is obsessed. The diggers are like mechanised dinosaurs and are both clumsy and elegant. Again, thank goodness for the child with me, or I probably would have received a restraining order by now.
Afternoons I head towards Schuman, this week dodging the razor-wire barriers stacked on the street in readiness for a summit. The EC building resembles a cruciform refrigerator. I am glad I never bothered applying to work there. It would make me mental working in a fridge. The first task at the crèche is to extract the pushchair from a nest of interlocked pushchairs left by scarpering parents. It is like separating Bonobo monkeys.
Afternoons are a sort of medley of giggling and abuse and one can never tell how it will go, or in what proportions these will be dispensed. She's met her match though, I can tell you that.
And then I eat an entire jar of apple compote, because I'm just wild.
Thursdays are very long. Well I suppose they are as long as any other day but I do three jobs on a Thursday. Just home now and having dinner. I did my sums this week. Sums is about as advanced as I got in maths. That's a lie actually - I can do take-aways too. And I'm doing ok financially. Discovering that I am earning enough to cover all my expenses and even save some money is very rewarding. It turns this adventure from a folly into a going concern. I am earning a living in another European city. I did it.
The next year or years may hold all sorts of surprises and opportunities - but I'm doing ok, right now.