Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Only Really Good Thing About Summer

Different Drum

I think I'm acclimatising a little to the heat, but am still at the pink and itchy stage.  This is a good combination with sun-induced highlights.  Also I'm delighted to say that there is something which overwhelms the smell of dog poo in the parks.  Parc du Cinquantenaire is drenched in jasmine.  Last night as I walked through the park it was glorious.

A sound system was being rehearsed for today's Brussels 20K run and One Direction and Duck Sauce blared out.  Tightrope walkers bounced at a height of three feet between massive chestnut trees.  Crowds surrounded the boules pitch, and the park was crossed peacefully by Muslims and Hassidic Jews.  Well, one Hassidic family anyway, that I've seen often, who look as if from another time with four little girls all in matching white dresses with long brown hair.  The very tall trees afforded stippled shade throughout the park and I walked as far as Merode, deeply inhaling the jasmine.

At a zebra crossing just outside the park a lady tripped on a tram rail and fell, with a very loud "AIIIE!" sound.  I've read a lot about how people don't really care in this city, about how you shouldn't expect any help if anything bad happens.  Within seconds, there was a little swarm of people around the fallen lady, cars stopped to see if she was ok, and one car parked diagonally across that side of the road to put a safe barrier between her and the traffic.  I did not see the end of this episode but I found it very heartening.  People are the same everywhere, I think, and some will always care.

This morning I sat up a hill while the Boy slept (yes, working on a Sunday - his parents were running the 20K) and waited for the front-runners to pass on the Avenue de Tervueren.  I nearly cried when the first runners passed, to cheers and applause, between two competing samba bands.  Not sure why, it just seemed such a bloody big achievement on such a fucking hot day to pass the 17K marker only 55 minutes after they started.

Later we waited by the road for the Boy's parents to pass us and I was overwhelmed with respect for the thousands and thousands and thousands of people, wet and red and shiny, struggling uphill towards and past us.  I was also a bit overwhelmed by the heat by this point so went and had a nice cup of tea.

One thing I decided, when I was up that hill sitting between two samba bands...I really want to play with them. 


Friday, 25 May 2012

Telling Myself Off

Right then.  Now then.  First of all, stop being a fucking whinger.  (That's directed at me, not you, lovely reader.)  Yes, we all know you have problems, you and loads of other people.  So you have a funny head, so fucking what.  It's all you have to work with, so work with it.

Today I got a call from an agency that specialises in recruiting staff that have English as a first language.  They do rather like it if you have other languages but are aware that I'm not exactly firing on that cylinder yet.  And so, I go in for a Big Test thing in about ten days.  No guarantee it will lead to work but at least they were encouraging.  (Which another agency was not, sending me a bafflingly-worded, discouraging standard message from a fucking trainee.  A trainee?  I eat trainees for elevenses.)

So, seeing as language seems to be the problem here (and there's me getting 100% in my first French exam in 1973; where did it all go wrong?) I need to take that particular bull by the balls.

1.  Enrol on a language course.  Invest good money in this, it is going to furnish your future.

2.  Stop panicking.  It's taking a while to make sense of what people are saying, but there is a little progress and you are pretty old, so be patient.  The panicking doesn't help.

3.  Go to activities where people actually speak French. 

4.  Study.  Yes, I know.  All I mean is, for thirty minutes each evening do something a bit French.  Kissing doesn't count.  Listen to French news, read the French dictionary (I've always loved reading the dictionary, which I know is slightly odd), do homework for the yet to be enrolled-on French course.

5.  Er...not sure if there is a five.  Just know that you will get there.  It might take a year, but you'll get there.  And then it's in your head forever.

6.  Nothing to do with French but I just wanted to say there was a massive blue and yellow macaw in Square Ambiorix yesterday.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Hot and Bothered

I won't go on about how hot it is.  Those of you who have witnessed my heat-induced malaise at first hand do not need to be reminded, and the rest of you do not need to be bored.  Suffice to say, pushing a heavy poussette with about 25 kilos on board in temperatures edging 30 degrees is enough to make one expire.

I think I'm having a bit of a meltdown, which may or may not be heat-related.  I think it's more likely shit-related.  The Big Girl refuses to use a toilet and I've had some extremely loose stools to clean off her.  It makes me feel actually sick, and desperate, and scared that I will have to do this forever.  When she asks for a nappy I feel like I'm locked in.

So many people in Brussels have a firework display of languages to their name, and have degrees and degrees and possibly degrees.  All I've done is work hard and learn a lot.  In the UK this seemed to be enough - I worked for directors in a couple of jobs.  Here, I'm not so sure.  All I can hope is that the people with the sparkly languages and degrees in being fabulous will not be applying for the same jobs as me. 

I don't want something sparkly.  I just want a desk, a mug, some fairly interesting stuff to do and people to talk to, and to make myself quietly indispensable.  I would like a proper lunch break rather than ten minutes in Square Ambiorix shovelling something from Carrefour down my face.  I'd like never to look up someone's bumhole ever again.

I know, I chose this.  Still there are no regrets, and I don't want to go back.  I only want to go forward.  I just need somewhere to go.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012


Summer comes to Brussels, after a fashion.

As I emerged from Schuman metro (a confection of 1970s brown mosaic tiles, concrete, and smears of unidentifiable greasy black stuff) it was properly hot and disgusting yet with a seaside-like wet, cool breeze.  Ambiorix Square was in the middle of a haircut, and had sprouted some lurid beds of flowers overnight.  Overwhelmingly, the park smelled of dog shit.  Wherever there is green space, you will not be able to inhale very deeply.  Sun-warmed dogshit.  An enterprising person would set up a tannery.  Or sell canine nappies.  Did you know that in the days when people collected dog shit to tan leather, the working name for the shit was pure.

Around Rondpoint Schuman the razor-wire barriers are casually stacked again, which leads me to think something is happening this week.  It's quite a trick to manoeuvre an unwieldy pushchair past the razor-wire into the road, especially as large round lumps have recently been cemented to the edges of the pavement.  Good thinking there, chaps.

This evening my bus arrived as due, but then there was inexplicably constipated traffic.  Seatless, I was in danger of dying in the bus, like those dogs left locked in cars outside supermarkets.  I escaped at Blyckaerts and walked, overtaking the number 60 bus in front of the one I was on.  Despite stopping in Cocks Fresh for some wine (only working a half day tomorrow) and walking a good couple of miles, I arrived home at the same time as usual.

Perhaps in future I'll just walk home.  If my hips can take it.  The hips go first on big old dogs, you know.

Monday, 21 May 2012

World Party

I continue to be amazed at how far and how wide my readers are flung.  Sorry, that makes it sound like you've been subject to some internet centrifugal force.  In the last three days (not counting the stumble-upons who happen to have googled "caca boudin" or "Titanic's lifeboats")  I have been visited by readers from:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • British Columbia, Canada
  • Mississippi, USA
  • Ontario, Canada
  • London
  • Sakarya, Turkey
  • Brabant, Belgium
  • Brussels
  • Massachusetts, USA
  • Edinburgh
  • Bourgogne, France
  • Paris
  • Reading
  • Nottingham
  • Hull
  • Andalucia, Spain
  • Rhone-Alpes, France
  • Liverpool
  • Bristol
  • Languedoc-Roussillon, France
  • Falkirk
  • Dunfermline
  • Guernsey
  • Rochford, Essex
  • York
  • San Gabriel, California
  • Limburg, Belgium
  • Virginia, USA
  • Arizona, USA
  • Bolton
  • Kingston upon Thames
  • Washington, USA
  • Haslemere, Surrey
  • Fleet, Hampshire
  • Camberley, Surrey
  • San Jose, Costa Rica
  • Germany
  • Worcester
  • Wicklow, Ireland

and...University of the Arts London, where I used to work.  (Nice to know I'm not forgotten yet!)

A massive and somewhat astonished wave to all of you.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Big Game

When I force myself to go out, I really can have quite a splendid time.  I should remember that.  Home may be where the heart is but the rest of me rather likes being out.  Today, having never knowingly before met anyone from Tel Aviv, I met two people from there, completely separately.

Something occurred to me, over a late Thai dinner tonight.  (So late that the word "rapide" was mentioned before we had sat down.  We duly ate rapidement.)  Life is like a computer game.  Or perhaps the reverse.   My limited understanding of computer games is that you go through picking up "energy" to help you at the next level. 

And so it is in life; people achieve qualifications, learn languages, do internships, etc, to pop them up a level.  Which makes me wonder what the fuck I've been doing all my life.  This weekend my apparently lost O level certificates have turned up in Paris, as these things do.  Nobody has ever asked to see them but you never know.  I was actually on the brink of getting duplicates.

And they - plus my RSA Typewriting Stage One in 1979 - are pretty much the last "energy" things I got.  If life were a computer game I'd be a bit fucked.  Fortunately it's not.

Incidentally, being a bit of a computer game ignoramus, I thought I should google to make sure the premise of this post was correct.  And I came across this:

Can you get pregnant on Sims social and if you can how many times do you have to 'wahoo'?  

Like me, I think some people need to get out more.  



Friday, 18 May 2012

Time Of My Life

When the previous tenants left this flat they sold me a futuristic-looking table-top oven, one of those halogen jobs.  Except the timer dial was broken (I discovered afterwards).  I've been meaning to stick it back together for some time.  Digging around in the murdery cellar one night I discovered what I thought was a microwave but what turns out to be another little table-top oven.  Also with a broken timer dial.  I've now fixed them both so in theory I have all the oven a girl could wish for. 

I wonder what the universe is telling me, with all these broken timer dials?  That workmanship is universally shoddy?  That I should never be let loose with superglue?  (A piece of plastic I thought lost is stuck to my little finger).  That time cannot be measured so just cook, damn it? 

Who the fuck knows.

I am midway through my four day weekend and loving it.  Being a bit of an introvert, nothing pleases me more than faddling about at home sorting things out.  In my weird hermit head, people are something I can save for another day.  In a concession to extroversion, I have arranged a date for tomorrow.  Well I say date - it's coffee.  We'll see if it's a date.  I'd better remove the piece of plastic I suppose.


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Going Up

Today is Ascension Thursday.  This means that most of Europe seems to get the day off to celebrate Jesus going up to Heaven.  I have celebrated by getting up late, reading Strait is the Gate by André Gide, and eating oranges.  It is what Jesus would have wanted, I think.

I haven't read Strait is the Gate for some years.  It was a book that was on the curriculum for my French A level and there is something very teenage about it - so much embarrassment, analysis, and excess of feeling.    Unfortunately now I just see Alissa as a somewhat manipulative cow.  Ah, age and wisdom.

It's odd though how in unexpected places you can find little mirrors that reflect your own thoughts.  In the Introduction by Dorothy Bussy, Gide is quoted as saying: 'Even if it leads to honour and glory, I detest following a road already laid out.  I like chance, adventure, the unknown; I like not to be where I am expected to be - for it allows me to be where I please and to be left in peace there.  What I prize above all other things is to be able to think in freedom'. 

The adventure bit has only really happened recently for me, but the rest has always been true.     

Now I'm going to celebrate Ascension further by going to Carrefour.  Not exactly Heaven, but the next best thing.



Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Five Essential Bits of Advice

1.  Always carry a spoon.  The number of times I could have done with a spoon is ridiculous.  In a pinch you can improvise one using the lid of a yoghurt pot, but this is presuming you have an open yoghurt to hand.

2.  Take every possible opportunity to go to the toilet or have sex, provided that neither of these activities offends or upsets anyone. 

3.  Carry a rainproof hat.  Small children will laugh in your face but your mascara will not run.

4.  Carry nailclippers.  I can strip electrical wire with mine and open tubs of hummus with the pointy bit.

5.  Rehearse ninja moves in your head in case you get mugged.  This may prove fruitless but it gives you such a bad-arse attitude that casual criminals will pale as you pass.   Oh and keep your bag zipped and in your lap.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Being Joan Collins

Popular literature has it that in times of strife, some women invoke Madonna rather like an oracle.  Of course, the question "What would Madonna do?" has only one answer, which is very likely "Flash her gristly flange."

I don't think I've ever asked myself at moments of great moment what Madonna would do.  However, I have referred to a small icon of Joan Collins pinned up in my head, on occasion.  Joan Collins has a past that started before I was born.  She is just shy of 79 years old, and still espouses a glamour at which I can only raise a tired eyebrow.  When asked how she has coped with life so successfully she said something like "I never look back".  I used to think this was the mark of someone shallow.  An unexamined life, and all that.  But as my past starts to get bigger than my future, I can see it's more of a survival mechanism. 

Does it really benefit anyone to pick the scab of unhappy childhood, repeatedly?  Does it help to amass all the things you've done, and not done, and things you've fucked up, like some temporal car boot sale and think this is the sum of who I am?  It may be better just to put on some lipstick and brush everything under the carpet.

My school's motto was Respice, Circumspice, Prospice.  Look back, look around, look forward.  (I think.  I never did Latin).  All very laudable advice.  However, I drove without a rear view mirror once for six months, and I don't think I missed much.

You have to admire someone who has optimistically launched herself into marriage five times.  The last time Joan married, she was nearly 70, and her husband 32 years younger.  ('If he dies, he dies', she remarked...)  It shows a wonderful reluctance to learn from experience, and an insane belief that this time it will work.  Ten years on they are still together.

I don't agree with Joanie's politics, or many of her views, but I love that she chats to her daughter on Twitter and posts photos and retweets.  She is one of the last Rank starlets, yet there is nothing old-fashioned about her.  She's a sort of sequinned heat-seeking missile.  Steely, camp, and ridiculously preserved.  When I grow up I'd like to be Joan Collins, but I hope there won't be a vacancy for a while.  In the meantime I will practise not looking back.


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Charlotte's Ebb

One of the few benefits of hundreds of books being tossed arse over tit in the wardrobe is that some come to light I don't remember buying, let alone reading.  One such little treasure is The Brontës by I. Cooper Willis, first published in 1932.  The copy I have is almost fifty years old.  I started reading it recently because I was interested to find out more about the Brussels period, but the rest of the book is fascinating too.  It's full of intimate detail about their life in Haworth.  Portraits of Emily, Anne and, particularly, Charlotte are strong and feel very immediate.  Letters and reminiscences inform most of the book, although the author does witter on a bit with psychological theory.

Rather uncomfortably, I can see myself in Charlotte.  She refers often to a lowness of her "animal spirits", which I recognise.  'She says somewhere in Villette, speaking as Lucy, that she could never resist the impulse to like anyone who was kind to her.'  This was in reference to Charlotte's unrequited love for M. Heger, who ran the pensionnat in Brussels.  Oh, you and me both, girl.  It's like the sun suddenly coming out, just for you.  It's like a safe haven somewhere dangerous.  And it's really really not good if you mistake kindness for something else.

Charlotte married her father's curate, got pregnant soon after and then died, probably from extreme morning-sickness, following all her siblings to a very early grave.  She did appear to be very happy though, in the few months of her marriage.  So a happy ending of sorts.

I'm also reading about British serial killers, a much more healthy subject. 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Married to the MOBIB

It is, almost literally, as if I have married Brussels and have had a little honeymoon and am now settling down to work out how I live with this strange, moody creature.  This is known as: the end of the honeymoon period.  Although to be fair, it's not exactly been very honeymoony, unless you find administration and transport strikes and poo of various varieties romantic.  If you do, please get help.

What worries me a little is that I haven't really been excited yet.  I get the odd vertiginous surge that culminates in a tiny whoop, but mainly I'm doing a sort of plodding slalom around the doggy caca, and forgetting to buy toilet paper.   Not for the dogs - they are long gone. 

My work hours have been all over the place this week, and the upside of this was that I found myself in the Place du Chatelain on a Wednesday afternoon, where a small but glorious market happens.  And although it was lovely, and I promised myself that that was where I would live next, there was no feeling, no excitement, no pleasure.

Have I, in fact, married the wrong city?  I have been looking at jobs in Paris, Luxembourg, even Florence, for fucksake.  Now that I have to really start making a life, I plead boredom and look for escape routes.  And this tetchy old cow will be there, wherever I go.  Perhaps this is a normal part of settling in.

There are probably quite a few things I can do.

1.  Stop being such a mardy introvert and go out.  There are nice people out there.

2.  Similarly, go on a few dates, if possible.

3.  Treat the weekends as if they were a holiday.  Be a tourist in my own city.  Have lovely dinners.  Bugger about a bit.

4.  Ignore, as best I can, the well-meant but depressing comments about crime and taxes and the dreadfulness of everything here.  This is very important.   

That will do for now.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Deep and Crisp; Uneven

I had a fleeting visit to Fleet to see family, came back and promptly got sick.  It is my sincere hope that I did not pass this on to anyone else.  Last night, radiator full-on, clothes on, in bed, shivering like winter.  The only way to stop was to put my socked feet directly on the radiator.  This morning the polar opposite.  Thankfully I was not working this morning, so I slept till about 10, at which point I woke in gallons of my own sweat, feeling that the fever had left.  It hasn't quite though.  I just ravished three oranges as if my life depended on it.  Hot cup of tea to scare the sore throat into submission and I'm done for the night.

Nothing much else to report.  I'm afraid life here is being a bit dull.  When I'm fully better (which might entail ravishing several dozen more oranges) this needs to change.  Tired and sick; not sick and tired, but it's much the same thing.  I didn't move all this bloody way to be bored.

That old bastard Friedrich Nietzsche (or possibly Kanye West) said 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger'.  This is, of course, complete bollocks.  That which does not kill you can wear you down by degrees until you don't really feel anything at all, and you are just sort of an automaton that eats crisps.  The eating of crisps is all well and good but the automaton part, not so much.

What I'm thinking is that I have to keep working the same routine steps as if I'm learning a dance, and once I am confident that I have that bit down, I'll move onto the next combination.  Or something profound like that.  


Friday, 4 May 2012

Doing More Bird

It is, apparently, possible to wake up at 8.11am and still make it to work by just after 9.  Out the house in precisely fifteen minutes, I'm afraid some important morning rituals may have been overlooked.  Never mind, I'm sure there were worse-smelling people than me on the tram.  This sudden-jolt start to the day (known as the OH SHIT method) is not to be recommended.  But until I can make myself go to bed at a reasonable time, it's bound to happen at least once more. 

It's been a week of some frustration.  I'm mindful of the fact that the internet has eyes and ears, so there is little I can safely say.  I'll leave it at this: family members who are not an everyday part of the household, while meaning well, can tighten my jaw, somewhat.  If you'll just pass me that jack, I'll get it open again.

No other job, with the exception perhaps of that programme Bill Oddie used to do, would allow me magical experiences like those of this morning.

The Boy fell asleep very quickly so it was down to me to cater for the assembled birdage.  Crows are incredibly good at catching.  I can lob a crust towards A85 only to have it intercepted mid-air by a numberless crow, who hardly even changes flight course.  They do fight like buggery though.  It's a bit like Top Gun.

Three swans came today (the fourth was lazy and late, and all the bread was gone).  I love having them standing around me, even if A85 does snort and look at me a bit sideways.  I think he knows I could take him one-handed, so he doesn't try anything.  Besides, I'm the Bread Lady.

Later, by the litter-rich lake in the Parc des Sources, we came upon a family of coots.  Quite possibly the cutest (or indeed, cootest) thing I've seen for ages.  The four babies all have orange fluffy heads and weird little stumpy orange fluffy wings.  I sat very quietly for about fifteen minutes just watching them being all cootish and adorable.  I did consider stuffing one in my pocket, but I haven't got a pond.

Sorry, I'm going on about birds again.  Just think of it as bringing my work home with me.

Somebody else's photo - must remember my camera!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Raining Pouring

I appear to have moved to the wettest place in North Western Europe.  It is as if all those years of my saying that I really like rain have come home to roost.  I still do like it, although would prefer not to be pushing two children in a soggy buggy through it, in a stupid but effective hat, pulling my wet cardy sleeves down over my wet knuckles.  It comes to something when you think "oh well at least it's vertical rain and not that bastard diagonal stuff!".  It would not surprise me if Belgians had 50 words for rain.

Occasionally it still very much surprises me that I am here.  Because I don't do things like this.  I stay within a five mile radius of where I was born.  I cling to security.  And then I didn't.  Unsurprisingly, or perhaps surprisingly, life feels pretty much the same here as it did in London, despite the shifting of tectonic plates. 

There is a feeling that I'm waiting for something.  Whether this be an event, a person, a change within myself, I am not sure.  What is certain is that the only sensible thing is to ignore that feeling.  If one waits for an event, or a person, or a change within oneself before engaging with life, life will trot on anyway.

Don't wait for the rain to stop.