Monday, 30 April 2012

Spring Forward

A day of heightened feelings from top to, literally, toe.  I can't really explain why.

A lovely weekend with my daughter and extended family in Paris left me feeling rather more sanguine about things generally; that and that fact that a job application on Friday solicited a phone call an hour later with an invitation to interview that afternoon.  I was not able to go, but the chap asked would I be interested in other vacancies coming up soon, and he emailed me shortly after saying he would contact me again.

It may or may not result in anything, but the realisation that my CV can provoke an almost instantaneous response is heartening.  And somewhat amusing.

All the recent rain has left parts of Brussels scented with lilac, and the horse-chestnut trees move heavily in their new leaf, as if at the bottom of the sea.  Today I saw a family of coots, with implausibly small babies.

I spent my morning walk in ridiculous longing again, but hopefully this will shake off soon.  I have spent too many years of my life in ridiculous longing for someone or other and, frankly,  it's a waste of good flesh. 

My toe hurts quite badly.  I've kept it splinted for a week but maybe I shouldn't walk on it quite so much.  I tend to ignore it and think fuck it, I've got nine others.

And all my children were lovely today.  None of them pooed either.


Friday, 27 April 2012


Just been to the doctor again for a tetanus jab (seemingly obligatory here?) and more migraine tablets.  The terror of preparing for such occasions does not seem to leave.  What if I say the wrong thing, something completely unintelligible, and am sent away in shame, with no drugs?

As I sat in the waiting area, alone but for a large box of single-use vaginal specula and a wall full of filed patient notes, it occurred to me I could hear a chap's voice.  Oh it was the man doctor who speaks English!  Hoorah.  Charming man, with photos of his gap-toothed children on the wall.  He gave me drugs and has referred me to a specialist. 

Just need to prepare language for that now.  Maybe the terror will go, one day.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Orwell And Good

It's got to the point where I've written so much that I'm not sure if I've covered this already, or just thought about it at length on my lengthy morning walks.

When first I read George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London at the age of 19, the baby cynic in me thought it was all a bit pretend.  He was just playing at being poor, wasn't he?  It seemed like a social experiment and, indeed, he was neatly rescued by a friend offering employment as a tutor, at the end.  At least I think that's what happened.  The book is probably under several hundred others in the wardrobe.  According to Wiki, 'Orwell left Paris in December 1929 and returned to England, going straight home to his parents' house in Southwold'.

In fact the seriously poor Parisian period, which seems quite long, greasy, hungry and bug-ridden to anyone who has read it, actually lasted only a few months.  A couple of years later, when he was "tramping" in England, 'he ended up in the Tooley Street kip, which he found so unpleasant that he wrote home for money and moved to more comfortable lodgings'.  My 19 year old instinct may have been right, then.  It was a sort of experimental poverty, relievable by the odd fiver from distant, slightly bewildered parents.

Hemingway was in Paris a few years earlier, living a poorish existence, but there was always money enough for drink, someone to watch over their child, and trips to Pamplona and Schruns.  In fact that's not really poorish at all.  That's relatively bloody well-off.  But they did live over a saw-mill in a slightly sleazy area.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this.  There has long been a tradition for writers to go and live somewhere cheaply, where they can buy good wine, write from the front-line of Expatria, and generally appear a bit romantic.  Look at old Byron, swimming the Grand Canal in Venice, with his club-foot.

I'm not a writer.  Not really, despite the kind comments I've had on here.  I have written all my life and have published the odd thing, but it's been off and on.  Not so much the Grand Canal as the Thames at Runnymede.

And I'm not here in Brux living a sort of faux poverty in order to furnish a book with authenticity.  In fact I'm not really living in poverty.  Granted there are no trips to Pamplona planned but heck, I can go to Paris any damn time I want.

Which brings me to another Orwell book.  In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Inner Party member O'Brien says 'If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.'  Well, my Nineteen Eighty-Four  image of oppression would be a child's arse pooing—forever.

So, yeah.  I think what I'm saying is, I want to live authentically, and well, but not with the intention of this  being for some literary purpose.  It never was, anyway.  The blog is a by-product.  And I want an end to poo.  I think we can all agree that is the way forward. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Venn Is Now

It's a very long time since I have been part of someone's domestic staff.  I think the last time was about 1983 when I was a self-employed babysitter and one of my families also hired a nanny.  She had the misfortune to live in.  (I was a grown up, lived out, and paid my own taxes and NI.)  Misfortune, because the gentleman of the house would contrive to walk in on her while dressing.  Even now it makes me shudder.  He once offered me a shoulder-rub one night, while his wife was in hospital just having given birth. 

Anyway.  At my morning job there is a cleaner.  I cannot remember where she is from but she speaks perfect English and it is likely she is capable of more than cleaning.  I feel really uncomfortable when she is there because I seem to be slightly up the domestic scale.  I am permitted to help myself to Nespresso, and food from the fridge.  If the Boy is sleeping when we come back from our walk, I entertain myself by reading shiny magazines.  The Cleaner hoovers aggressively.  She does seem quite nice, although she pointedly said "So he's still not talking, then?", as though it might be my fault.  Actually he says five recognisable words now, none of which count as swearing.  It is still mainly a one-sided conversation, but I can talk for hours about nothing.  As is probably fairly obvious...

It feels like we are a Venn diagram.  She does her domestic thing; I do mine.  I try and keep us out of her tornado path.  And then there is the intersection where we kind of do the same thing.  We both clean in the kitchen, we both tidy a bit (though I tidy better).  And she sometimes tells me when the Boy has woken up, as she hoovers aggressively and I read the shiny magazines.  I feel guilty then. 

You would think that both being domestics there would be a certain camaraderie, but perhaps this is what it was like in service - a kind of suspicion of each other, an odd feeling of being resented for having Nespresso privileges.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Sur Le Pont

Something that has occurred to me in recent weeks is - I'm not done yet.  I suppose in my head "Move to Brussels" was such an enormous and ridiculous thing (like "Move the Pyramids" or " Move Kilimanjaro") that I had not looked much beyond that.  Move to Brussels, learn French, get a reasonably good job; that was the self-briefed brief.  

When you go anywhere, the horizon changes.  The world being round, it offers new things to lure as you travel.   I'm nowhere near learning French - although there was a semi-convincing conversation with a postman this morning.  Oh and one at the crèche.  I'm not that near getting a job.  But the horizon has changed a little.

In my head there has for several years been this lightly-jangling idea of retiring to the South.  I don't know why.  Hot weather and me don't really go.  But my joints don't like the cold and believe me, it's still cold even though May is hanging about backstage.

The brief is changing to:  learn French, get a reasonably good job, and buy a small property in the South of France.  I think within a couple of years I could then move there and work and, ultimately, retire.  Avignon is the name that keeps popping up.  Avignon.

You read it here first. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

No Fear

You'll pardon me if I'm not my normal, polite self, but I got very wet coming home, have a broken toe, and stepped in dog shit.

I subscribe to an expats group on Facebook and it has come to my attention that there have been several incidences of mugging on my local tram.  One incident was where I board the tram.  In most instances the tram drivers and the police have more or less shrugged.  In some they have been insulting and rude.  The most surprising thing is that the security cameras on the trams only record the driver.

I'm a city girl born and bred.  The countryside makes me nervous and I'm sure it's full of murderers and sex-criminals.  I lived in London for nearly 50 years and would like to think I'm careful and streetwise.  Only once in all that time did I have my purse nicked from my bag.

Moving here, I found a neighbourhood I love, which delights me to walk in, and trams that (when running)  still enchant me.  I know there is crime here, of course.   But the edgiest part of my day is the Roma kids on the Metro with an accordion doing a mash-up of The Anniversary Song and Sous Le Ciel De Paris, and then collecting paltry sums in a plastic cup.

I want to feel safe in my home, in my street, on my cute and annoying tram.  I do not want to live in a state of fear.  It makes me angry that I might have to.  It makes me angry that in my head I am preparing for the event as if it were inevitable.  I do not want to live in a state of fear.  

Also, if I may, consider the recent fatal attack on a bus supervisor here.  It resulted in a six day walk-out while the transport unions mourned their colleague and negotiated for more security on the buses, the trams, the metro.

For them.  Not for us.  As I mentioned above, the security cameras only record the driver.  So far I have not seen an increased police presence on any trams. 

This makes me incandescently angry.  Someone on Facebook suggested the public go on strike and not use transport until it's safe.  If only we could.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Toeing the Line

I appear to have broken a toe during the high-risk activity of walking down the stairs.  Actually I went to kick an item of dirty washing down and caught my toe on the step.  There was a rather unpleasant crack and then me limping a lot.  The only bones I have ever broken have been toes.  Once I did it kicking a potty, another time on an armchair.  Clearly I should not be allowed to walk anywhere, as the world in general has it in for my toes.

I splinted it to the toe next door (to it - not to my neighbour's toe.  That would be taking neighbourliness a bit far) with cotton wool and sellotape.  This morning it is an attractive shade of purple.  I have not yet attempted shoes or really any walking as such.  However I will not be troubling the hospital with it. 

The first time I broke a toe was about 1989.  I drove my daughter and myself to hospital and then limped slowly to the A&E department.  Interestingly, not one of the hurrying members of hospital staff passing me stopped to ask if I required help.  Anyway, in the end they just splinted it to the toe next door...

Friday, 20 April 2012

Songs In The Key of Life

'Yo, it's been a long week
How I've got this much energy is beyond me...'

So sang Rizzle Kicks on Mama Do the Hump.  It has indeed been a long week.  As far as the energy goes, it seems to have gone - I woke at 8.36am this morning, approximately 20 minutes after I should have left the house.  A real OH SHIIIIIIIT moment.  Cutting corners and corners of corners, I was out the house by nine.  Needless to say, I smell a bit.

I have spent the last two days doing what any sensible person does when confronted by exhaustion, boredom, brain atrophy, conflict and an excess of poo:  eat.  Eat and eat and fucking eat.  Mainly crisps and chocolate and Laughing Cow sandwiches.  I cannot eat in front of the children because they always want my stuff and I hate sharing my food.  So each day I go between my jobs to the same bench in the same little park and eat to just this side of vomit.  It's not big or clever, but it feels like ballast against the oncoming storm.  If one's stomach is full, it's hard to feel anything much.  I know it's not the answer, but it stops the questions, for the time being.

'Something better change', as the Stranglers snarled.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Naming of Farm Vehicles

It's Thursday, the longest day of the week as I normally do three jobs.  Perhaps it's exhaustion or something hormonal but today stunk.  It's job three right now, which should be fairly easy as long as the cough doesn't wake her.  I have eaten cold tinned ravioli (shut up, it's a delicacy) and am enjoying the occasionally punctuated silence.

I nearly fell asleep at work twice today.  The first time was in the after-lunch hour with The Boy, when he asked me to name repeatedly several farm vehicles in a book.  A milk-tanker is still a milk-tanker, even the sixteenth time.  It seems wrong to be so utterly bored, because he's a sweet boy. 

And then with The Girls this afternoon.  I think I covered it well and made it look like I was thinking.  It was, however, the last moment of peace, as they were both on demonic form today. 

I asked before - is it ok, if this is all?  I think the answer is no.  The bored arrid despair that makes you feel like slitting a wrist with the edge of an Usborne book.  The Caligula-like behaviour (not mine; I'm more of a Claudius).  The pooh, the pooh, oh god the pooh.  I need some adult words in my head.  And not like that.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Doing Bird

We haven't had a birdy post for a while, so indulge me.

Often these days when I feed the birds with The Boy, we just get crows.  And I can understand why the collective noun is a murder of crows because they go full Mitchell brothers on each other just for a stale crust of bread.  Louts. 

We have one regular swan who is obviously not very good at shopping because he is always waiting for his mid-morning stale bread.  I'm guessing his underwater larder contains only beer.  Swan, or A85 as his friends call him, gets about as close as you would wish a beaked arm-breaker to get.  I am so far still intact.  N4, an Egyptian goose, is also getting quite pally.  We had four swans surrounding us this morning, so word is obviously getting out that we have the good shit.  Or maybe the pens were all on the nest and just sent the guy swans out for a bit of peace and quiet.  As you do.

Highlight of the morning was the first babies of the season.  Very small Egyptian geese.  These are not they.  I have used a stock photo to protect their privacy.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

Would it be ok, if this was it?  I mean, if I do not get a "better" job, if I grow older on my own in a foreign country on quite a low (though so far sufficient) income?  If I spend the rest of my working life at the bottom end (literally) of the service industry?

Most of the people I meet here in Brussels speak a minimum of two languages; some speak four, five or six.  Most of the people I meet are highly-qualified professionals, or have a skill-set that fits a particular industry niche.  It does occur to me, at times, that the odds might not be in my favour.  So is it all right, where I am?  Well, I saw four bunnies all together this morning, and that rather made my day.  But for every bunny-sighting there can be hours of tedium.

I have never been ambitious.  Not through laziness, although I do a very good lazy.  As a migraineur of 38 years' standing - successfully medicated only for the last three of those years - and a spasmodic mental, my main aim in life has been to stay employed and employable.  I am glad to say that I've succeeded in this and have never been out of work, or off sick for any considerable time.

My most recent job was something I really quite enjoyed and which my brain used like an imperfectly-equipped gym.  At times I swear I could actually feel my neurons getting more muscular.  Now I rely on this blog to keep my head fit, and reading through the contents of the wardrobe.

This might be as good as it gets, and is that good enough?  What does "good enough" mean?  I am not qualified to do anything at all, although I nearly achieved a life-saving award in 1980.  At the end of the day, does it matter what you did before the day ended?  There are currently three small children who are going to grow up with a dim, evanescent memory of my ready kisses and cuddles, and my singing loudly to them in the street, and my wittering endlessly about parakeets and diggers.  Although outside a very small domestic sphere this is not considered important work, it is important work. 

Is it enough?  I'll get back to you.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Contains Mild Peril

I've just been reading for the second time "This Book Will Save Your Life" by A. M. Homes (pub. 2006).  It isn't some sort of self-help-by-numbers though, trust me, I have enough of those in the wardrobe.  The link above will give you a brief outline of the plot. 

What I like about the book is that, although the protagonist and the sub-protagonists are not terribly sympathetic characters, you like them.  You care about them.  Without wishing to give away the ending, you are left literally at sea on the final page.  Nothing is resolved - this is the other thing I like.  The book is suffused with mild and acute discomforts and perils and yet nothing at all is resolved.  Despite this, it's a satisfying book.  Perhaps because that is what life is like, and Homes is acknowledging that.

When you think about it, not much gets resolved.  Things gently rankle, or go un-answered, or are never quite achieved.  And that's ok really.  The non-resolution sort of is the resolution.  (Sorry, I think rather too much on my morning walks).  Life in process is simply life.  And it's fine that way.  Most of the time. 

By the way, we had transport today, after six days with none.  That seems like a resolution, but the matter of increased security for transport staff is still sort of on the table and not entirely answered.

Panning Ahead

Just back from a very late babysit, and another taxi driver who asked me the way.  You know that thing stuck to the window with like a map on it, yeah?  It tells you where to go.  And I'm tired.  So tired I couldn't actually remember my address for a minute.

Something that is excellent about working in the houses of the relatively affluent is they have great saucepans.  It occurred to me tonight that I have never had a really great set of saucepans.  Partly this is down to not getting married.  People tend to score good saucepans through marrying - in fact this may be one of the main reasons people get married.  I have had a couple of sets from Argos which, let's face it, were never really going to last.  Ooh that could be metaphorical and stuff, but I think it was just lack of money.

Having got used to some really solid heavy-bottomed pans in recent months, I now have saucepan-envy.  There's little point buying anything yet as my flat comes equipped with sub-Argos cookware (plus I have my own limping, dented Argos cookware) which I shall happily leave behind one day.  But in that middle-distant future, when I have a bigger flat in this area, with shelves so I don't have to keep my books in a wardrobe, I will buy pans.  Really fucking ace saucepans.  I might even get married to celebrate this achievement.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Get Up, Stand Up

We have now been without any meaningful transport system since Saturday.  Today a few routes started up again, but nothing round here (hence it not being meaningful...).  I think that people - whilst being very sympathetic and shocked about the murder of a man who was just doing his job - are starting to feel that this has gone on long enough

Tomorrow again there will be a skeleton service - sorry, that seems tasteless under the circumstances.  Tomorrow again, many of us will face a long walk to work and back.  The transport unions want 'un calendrier précis soit défini pour le renforcement des mesures de sécurité dans les transports en commun'.  Fair enough, but can we have our transport system back in the meantime?

Despite all this I still love Brussels.  Although it's annoying the fuck out of me, I love that this man's colleagues care so much they are making a stand.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Walk-On Part

And so I went forth boldly, with no more than some printed directions from Google, and my silly rain-hat.  Spare socks might have been a good idea.  Next time I shall remember.  With the getting lost (every time I took out the directions, they got rained on and splodged a bit), it took one-and-a-half hours to walk to work but, my goodness, I enjoyed it.  Before my socks had a chance to dry on the radiator, I was out again with The Boy for our usual walk.  The forest smelled like jasmine today, but I could not work out why.

It's been an extraordinarily wet day.  If this were a Thomas Hardy novel I'd be fighting for my life by now, with some unspecified fever.  As it is, I just have slightly muddy trousers.  Having walked at least five miles before lunch, I was very glad that my Lady gave me a lift home, although a part of me was quite looking forward to another martyred, wet trudge.

I have rewarded my aching arse muscles with buttery pasta, and chocolate truffles.


Monday, 9 April 2012

A City On Its Feet

It's been a quiet and restorative weekend.  Absolute silence is like medicine and perhaps I should have been a nun.  But then there is all that God stuff.  And getting up really early.  And seriously bad clothes. 

At 3am I lay wrapped in quilt with the window wide open listening to heavy rain.  Nothing quite as blissful really.  But then I closed it in case I  fell out - seems unlikely, but I have opened the window in my sleep before.  The magnolia tree is big but this isn't a Disney film and I suspect it doesn't have arms.

It's also been a weekend of mourning and suspension for the city.  A bus supervisor was murdered at the site of a collision between a bus and car, early on Saturday morning.  We've had no transport since, and this morning there was a silent march to honour the dead man.  Opinion seems to be divided as to whether suspending all transport without warning was the correct thing to do.  I'm not entirely sure, but I can understand why MIVB have done it.  At the moment it is unclear whether there will be transport tomorrow.    

Saturday, 7 April 2012

I've Got A Bogey

What I've been thinking of recently is the people who have managed to lead successful lives despite being depressive.  If you haven't ever really suffered depression, it's difficult to explain how it circumscribes your life.  I know that I have to be careful not to over-commit myself to activities when "well" because when the low points come, I cannot do more than just function.  And then I let people down.  I do.

I'm amazed that someone like Alastair Campbell managed to hold a very responsible and high-profile job because the thing is, you never know when it's going to come back and get you.  The ultimate bogeyperson.  It makes life feel very risky.  I'm not a great fan of Tony Blair but when Campbell told him about his mental health issues prior to working with him, Blair said "I'm not bothered".  That sounds a bit callous but I think it was a blokish way of saying "it's all right".

Of course for every Alastair Campbell there's a Virginia Woolf playing Pooh-sticks with herself in a river.  But talking about it, being open, accepting the condition and having it accepted is vital.  We are not defined by our illnesses.  We are not victims of them either.

Friday, 6 April 2012

On The Road Again

If you were an Oxfam chugger, why would you try to stop someone struggling home (obviously, where else) with three unwieldy under-bed boxes?  Ask yourself that, Mr Oxfam Chugger. 

I've noticed today the smallest linguistic leap forward.  There were three occasions where I said something without the tortured process of thinking it out first.  This is a small but significant step.  In French I mean.  I can manage quite well in English.

Last night I thought I'd enter this poetry competition, only to write the poem ($2000 prize!) and then find I was ineligible due the slight oversight of my not living in the USA.  So bollocks, you lot can have it instead.  Forgive me if this isn't really your thing.  You had to write a poem with a theme of "The Road".  I did something a bit clever-cloggsy with a sonnet.  Probably wouldn't have won anyway as it's not very American. 

Road to Somewhere

We’ve been this way before.  Didn’t we meet
ourselves, sweating stones in the rough,
breaking rocks to cast before our feet,
as if the road were not already sharp enough?

You were wearing never quite enough
and the edges of your jacket didn’t meet.
We’ve been here, surely.  Feeling rough,
with last night’s rolling vodka at our feet.

The rocks are waiting for your naked feet
and when will we decide enough’s enough?
Perhaps I’ll learn to talk to those I meet
and sketch or throw a life, however rough.

And one rough road will not perturb these feet.
Maybe I will be enough for what they meet.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Root and Branch

Something I can tell you - there are more than 17,000 trees in the Parc de Woluwé.  I haven't counted them but someone has, and every tree has a number on it.  I'm afraid that's all I can tell you today.  Brussels is a city of roadworks and construction - everywhere there are cranes, holes, hi-viz chaps.  This weekend is mainly about some quiet reconstruction for me.  This will not beat me. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Checking In

Forgive the slight silence.  Depression is not a fun or entertaining subject to write about and that is where I am at the moment.  I suppose the correct label would be functional depressive. 

Since I started this blog I have gained many regular readers.  Part of me is worried about letting them down, or about alarming people, so I'd rather write the blog when I'm more positive.

Please do not be alarmed, I'll be ok.

One thing that apparently never fails to lift my spirits is the walk home from Louise at night (that's a quartier, not a person).  It is just so very lovely round here.

And I've just discovered an elegant laundrette five minutes up my road.  So that's useful to know next time someone is hogging the machine here.  There is also a grand piano shop but I don't have space.