Tuesday, 31 July 2012


When you were little, did your mother used to walk into shops and, if there was no-one behind the counter, holler "SHOP!" ?  I think it was an accepted way of enquiring where the blithering heck the shopkeeper was, as Mrs C needs to buy four ounces of your second-best Cheddar, right now.  That or "Oooh-ooh?" over the counter.  It seems shops were mainly left unattended, in my memory, at least.  Except for Mrs Matthias in the pet shop.  She was always there, serving great slabs of fido meat in grey or pink.

So I went back to Inno.  It felt like my eyes were being bludgeoned by an entire floor of almost-extinct summer prints.  Granted, summer is probably the wrong time of year to be trying to buy a black jacket, but I thought these things were available all year like, I don't know, knickers.  Certainly in Marks and Spencer you can pick up workwear any old goddamn time.  I started to feel dizzy. 

Giving up, I went downstairs and narrowly avoided buying a Hello Kitty notebook.  In the end, a sizeable chunk of my carte cadeau went on a very very nice backpack, into which shall go my lunch, possible salsa shoes, potential swimsuit, and definite French homework. 

After that there was a fruitful detour to HEMA, after which the dizziness became quite bad.  I think it was possibly existential angst mixed with hunger.  There were an awful lot of very unhappy children being pushed around the shops, and I can't help but think there might be some nicer place to take them.  Like home.

Still no jacket.

Power On

So, am I ready?  As ever, no.

What I really need, and which is proving as elusive as the Holy Grail, is a decent jacket for work.  I have a carte cadeau for Inno (which was the wonderfully thougthful leaving gift from my workmates in England) with €75 on it.  Yesterday I braved Rue Neuve to go and check that the card was still functioning - you never know with these things.  Didn't have enough time to really look around so I'm going back today with a single purpose.  Which means I'll probably come home with a blender instead.

Currently I'm slumped in my Manpower apron (whilst nannying I was officially employed by Manpower, although under the Titres Services system not officially as a nanny because it doesn't cover childcare, though is often covertly used for it, so I was employed as a cleaning lady, hence the apron, which has never been worn for actual work), which always makes me laugh.  Easily amused.  And oddly, if I wear the apron, I do slightly more domestic stuff. 

So, important things to do today:

1. Take my final statut de la prestation to Manpower.

2.  GET JACKET.   Not blender.

3.  Select subtle but imposing oufit for tomorrow.  Clean shoes.  Perhaps use permanent marker on scuffs.

4.  Read through employer's website so I don't appear to be an ignoramus.

Friday, 27 July 2012


The last train to Pooh Central has departed.

Today was like an episode of "This Is Your Life" in microcosm.  The Boy treated me to three sloppy and stinking poohs, and cried pitiful, huge tears as I took him up to be changed.  Rushing from the morning job, I missed my tram and walked to Montgomery in heat so oppressive it was like a gravitational force, pulling my VERY SOUL to the ground.  Ahem.  The escalator at Schuman was out.  68 steps on the hottest day of the year; fine, just watch me.  Only mildly puffed.

Sandwich, crisps, ten minutes, Ambiorix, you know the routine.

H refused to talk to me for about half an hour.  I wondered gently aloud if she was feeling sad (and silently wondered if it was due to my leaving) but she just said "Nah."  Playground.  That see-saw in this heat is like a bad dream where you are pushing something huge through treacle.  I got some lovely pics of the girls on the big slide.

Then the usual frenzy of home, yoghurt, biscuits, waffles, cherries, paddling pool.  At around 6, little C, who had been running round naked in the garden, looked very anxious and announced "ca-ca!".  Before anyone could catch it she went on the grass, amid much congratulation for letting us know first.  And picking up pooh from a lawn was how my day ended.  Well not quite.  I have champagne and fancy chocolates.

Here is a picture of A85, to whom I nodded goodbye this morning.  He didn't say much back.  I think he was choked with emotion.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Mum's The Word

32 in the shade this afternoon.  No idea what it was out of the shade - only the very insane would go there.  I managed to devise a route home with The Girls that was almost entirely in the shade - first time I've been really grateful for those hulking Commission buildings and their hulking shadows.  It took a bit longer, but avoided the Schuman Hellmouth completely, which is always a good thing.

Earlier, having a little sit in Ambiorix, contemplating my leaving in the lurch two families at the end of this week, I tried to remember what my mum did with me in the summer.  Mum worked outside the home since I was about 4, first in cleaning jobs (where she could take me, and park me in a corner and where I most certainly did not get told off for doing handstands up a flock-papered wall; spraying Pledge in my eye; or wandering off with a girl I met in the street without telling my Mum).

When I was 7 she got a job in the first of many pubs.  Memories of this period are a bit patchy, for good reason.  Things became bad at home and what I can remember feels like a bunch of random photos.  There was the distinct feeling that I was now a bit of a nuisance.  Mum took me to one pub, where I was put upstairs in the landlord's living quarters, to play with their mentally disabled 18 year old daughter, who terrified me.  This didn't seem to work out because subsequent to that I was put in what seemed to be a local foster care home, but just on a daily basis.  All I remember is being very hot, the food being very hot and not nice, and the kids being somewhat rough.

This didn't seem to work out either.  I was a bit of a delicate flower.  There is a memory of a playscheme at my school, presumably the year after.  I remember it was very hot, we were in the playground a lot, and I got my stuff nicked by Paula Tindall.  And was then threatened by her big brother.  So that didn't seem to work out.

I have a feeling that I was left with my sister a fair bit (she was pregnant) and my sister-in-law (who might also have been pregnant).  To me they seemed very grown up and always cross with me but they were, in fact, 16 and 18 respectively.

And then I can only presume I looked after myself from about age 9.   But there is no actual memory of it.

What this all shows is that my Mum was absolutely desperate to be out of the house, doing something for herself.  After five kids who could really blame her?  Also, the difficulties of childcare when there is little childcare available and no budget.

This is a photo of us all in 1962.  Before little Bro came along, obviously.


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Summer (Not) Loving

No, it isn't lovely that it's all hot and sunny.  It really, really fucking isn't.  One tries not to poop the party about this but temperatures around 30 centigrade make me ill.  This afternoon I popped C in the paddling pool with a small parasol over us both creating the only forgiveness in a garden full of bastardy.  Then wrapped a wet pashmina round my arms.  And still I started to feel drugged, headached and sick. 

Pushing the two girls through Schuman this afternoon was as close to purgatory as one might come this side of death.  You think I exaggerate; I do not.  All that concrete and glass is highly reflective. People smiling and being brown in high heels, happy that summer has come, makes it worse because nobody likes being a freak.

If one did not know that August was on its way, there are plenty of helpful hints.  For example, the trams are now on a school holiday timetable, which means they turn up when they like.  And all the shops in Montgomery station are shut for annual jollies.  All.  So I got an overpriced bag of crisps and a warm orange juice (overpriced) from the machine.  Even Gourmet Foods, my last chance before Ambiorix, is shut.  And it was too late for Carrefour because of the tram turning up when it liked.

Sitting partially naked with all (both) the windows open, I feel slightly more human now.  However, full human-ness will not return, and bring with it my usual chortling good humour, until we are back to that lovely grey, cool, wetness which most people truly recognise as Bruxellien.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Under The Rim

You know when people say "never again"?  Well I think I have had the hangover that takes this to new and pristine levels of never again-ness.  It didn't seem like I drank a lot on Saturday.  Perhaps it was the excitement of visiting my friend, a new town, a date and a BIG FAIR.  And then we got locked out.  All this had a background theme of red wine.  A's bathroom is very white.  If you are squeamish, look away now.  When I had ejected two meals, some crisps, chocolate-covered peanuts, and about a bottle and half of red wine it was not quite so white.  It looked like a murder scene.  There is nothing quite as humbling when feeling mortally nauseous, as cleaning your own dark red ricey vomit from under the rim of a toilet.  My body felt very damaged and sicky all day yesterday and today I'm still not too clever.  NEVER. AGAIN.  I think it was the crisps.

The date was ok, but it was lovely to see A.  The locking out was quite comical as I said (jokingly) "Got your keys?" and she said yes and shut the door.  Ah.  Fortunately a spare set live with a very lovely couple on the other side of town and they came over later.

In the meantime there was the Kermis, which sprawled across the centre of town filling any available space with plunging, deathy rides.  Quite spectacular.  One of them seemed to come within about six feet of someone's balcony.  I needed to pee but the loos were shut.  A helpful Dutch lady told me with a smile "You can go in MacDonalds upstairs if you need to pee.  Or shit." .  Local radio played an oompah version of "Sex on Fire", which was brilliant.

Sunday afternoon it was summer for a bit, so we lay in the garden, A in the sun, me in the shade, putting mascara on very, very slowly.

Friday, 20 July 2012

All The Fun

Tonight I went to the Styx cinema again, this time with my friend S.  But first we ate at a little neighbourhood Italian restaurant directly across the street.  It's the kind of tiny place where the food is excellent and you get hauled into conversation with the French/Scottish family on the next table, out celebrating a birthday.  From there it was literally a minute to our seats in the cinema (effectively the upstairs of a house) where we watched When Pigs Have Wings with four other people.

And tomorrow I'm off to the Netherlands for the weekend to visit my friend A.  A date with some bloke has been shoehorned in too - he's driving up from Utrecht so it would be a shame to disappoint him.  A tells me there is a big fair this weekend, about which I'm giddily excited.

In amongst all this there is much French homework, which hopefully will get done on the train.  Hopefully.  Bon weekend, people.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


Things I will not miss:

1.  The endless shitty nappies.  I estimate about 435 in total.  That's a huge pile of poo.

2.  Pushing 35kg of children-plus-buggy over cobblestones and botched pavements in heavy rain, and occasional heavy sun.  With whining.

3.  Being smeared with foodstuffs and nasal emissions on a daily basis.  Being thoughtfully passed bogeys for disposal.

4.  The utter, desolate boredom of playing with cars.  

5.  The hair-trigger, monstrous tantrums.  Theirs, not mine.

6.  The boca del infierno that is Schuman metro, and all its immediate environs.  I loathe the Schuman quarter deeply, from the dark, brown, greasy, foul escalator that brings you up to the surface; to the quasi-warzone it resembles when a summit is on; to the clumps of heeled and tagged EC visitors clotting up the bad pavements with vapid conversation, and not getting out of my fucking way.

7.  Always being in a monumental rush, and eating lunch (often crisps) in a ten minute window between jobs.

Things I will miss:

1.  Baby C.  I don't want to think about how much I'll miss her.  Everyone adores her.  She is a funny, sparky, cuddly little monkey.  Up till now her words have been mainly giggit (biscuit), goggot (yoghurt), cheese (cheese).  Yesterday while I was changing her she said quite clearly "CROCODILE".   She tells off children three times her size with a wagged finger and "Non! Non! Non!".  And she likes to snuggle against me, giggling.

2.  Oddly enough, the exercise.  Pushing children around all day is exhausting but it has been a great workout.  Might have to find a bloody gym.

3.  Sitting in tall, green parks in all weathers watching the birds.  My swan, A85 (or Naomi, as I call him.  He will often turn up really late, just as I've finished feeding all the crows and geese and then get all hissy that there's no bread).  Peaceful times spent sheltering in copses during a downpour.  The Canada Geese and their ambulant crèche, looking like something out of Jurassic Park.

And that's about it.  My families have been good, and kind, and fair.  And I am grateful to them for the secure foothold they have given me in these first few months.  

One more week now. 


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Carbon Dating

Thankfully, gone are the days when meeting someone online was considered something odd.  I know many people who have met their partners through online dating or through websites of shared interest.

When people on the website I currently colonise ask if I've been doing this for long, I lie.  Painful honesty is my default position but it is prudent to say something like "oh I've only met a few people here".  This much is true, as Spandau Ballet might say.  It would be imprudent to list the other dating websites from previous years.  The crap date with a man whose teeth were grey.  The date that seemed to be a raging success until the chap decided he couldn't see me any more, because I was ambivalent about having children and he didn't want to give in to his baser desires, in that case.   The date that seemed to be a raging success but which was closely followed by his pretty much calling me an alcoholic.  "Interesting relationship with alcohol" was how it was couched.  (These words have now passed into the lexicon of certain friends.)  This is only the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

They say (they can fuck off) lucky in cards, unlucky in love.  Quite a few people have said I seem to be incredibly lucky.  Things work for me; things happen easily.   And, who knows, maybe I have to pay for this in some cosmic bloody accounting thing.

But that is clearly bollocks, isn't it.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Waving, Slightly Drowning

During french lessons, I believe I have two expressions:  one is an  impression of a badly-holed fishing net, as I stare at the teacher, trying to contain and comprehend the words pouring through; the other is a bit like John le Mesurier as he raises his eyebrows and vaguely asks "hmm?".  They seem to alternate.

It seems I'm making some progress but it's hard to be sure.  There was a moment tonight when I suddenly thought "oh this is all like completely in French and I almost didn't notice".  Which is good.  Still a long way to go though.  My spoken French is often loud, clear, expressive and charmingly wrong.

I wonder if 38 years of migraines have done something to my neural pathways making it harder to learn a language.  It's possible.  It's also possible that I'm just old and have an old brain and the language-learning bit was switched off many years ago.

Well, whatever.  I'll just keep conjugating, waving my hands about and saying "hmmmm?" until it sticks.  Which could be some time.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


The magnolia tree thinks that it is spring, and has forced out some new, slightly confused, blossoms.  It's understandable, given the lack of summer.  I slept with the window open all night to take full advantage of the rain, and had nightmares about Steve Coogan, so perhaps the window should remain closed.

There was the possibility of a date this weekend, in Ghent, with a fairly young (only 20 years my junior) tattooed chap.  He had kind eyes.  However, when he said "let's see what the weather is like" I raised my eyebrows.  Anyone who is put off by a little torrential downpouring is really not worth the train fare.  I heard nothing further from him - perhaps his tattoos dissolve if they get wet.

This is the first weekend since I've been here that I've actually felt a little bit lonely.  It is probably because most weekends have been a consumption of exhaustion, recovery and a desultory or desperate searching for work.  That bit is almost over, and a next stage is coming.  There needs to be a new way to spend weekends, hopefully something that involves Nigella recipes, or groups of laughing friends like in old Dubonnet ads. 

In the final weeks of my domestic service, I am again struck by the complexity of relation to one's employers.  Both families have actually been lovely, and have treated me very well.  The other night I was babysitting for one of the families as they were going out to a concert.  Beforehand a light supper was served to which I was invited along with the family's guests.  It felt like the scene in Jane Eyre where she is invited into the drawing room with Rochester's sparkling acquaintance - it is hard to know one's role.  Suffice to say I did not sit quietly with my embroidery.

Friday, 13 July 2012


There has been much Ebay: the trousseau for my new job.  I am still quietly and resiliently bloody happy.  Moving to a new country brought so much uncertainty it was like looking out a car window and seeing only deep fog.  I do not think I could have spent much longer wrangling toddlers and holding up their ankles to scrape shit off.  It would have severely affected my life expectancy.

Downstairs is a contract, signed, that anchors me to a new future.  I do not remember being this excited ever about a job - perhaps because achieving decent employment in your own city is one thing; to do it in another country is something else.  Something else indeed.  

After six months, I'm still infatuated with my city.  The ice cream vans play tinkly off-key greetings just like the UK ones, but they also sell waffles.  I have not yet, but will avail myself of one before very long.  And today I have discovered that not five minutes from here is a two-screen cinema in a row of houses, that has served the local community for more than forty years.  I love Brussels.


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Clean Sweep

Just been to sign my new work contract.  In true Disney style, a bright and blustery sun came out to accompany me home.  A chap said "Bonjour" me.  I bought a new broom.  I'm surprised there weren't little birds flying cutely round cleaning up the dog poo in the streets.  I smiled all the way home and the way home smiled back.

And yes, this is home.  I am home.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Falling On My Head Like A Memory

I think next time someone asks "Why Brussels?" I will tell them this: 

When I was little I used to look forward to the rain.  I would put on my dad's raincoat and his wellington boots, and take an umbrella up the end of the garden.  Both parents would scream and froth from the back door but I would not come in.  Rain has always afforded me a hypnotic peace, and as this appears to be the wettest city on the planet, I should be in a state of permanent calm.  There are so many kinds of rain.  There is the "God just flushed the toilet" type which we often get in Brux, and which looks and feels apocalyptic.  There is the gentle but thorough type that feels like tiny electric charges on your hands and face.  There's the rumbling flashing rain that cleans muggy air for an hour or so.  It says something about Brux that my best investment has been a waterproof hat.

As I said to P, as she struggled to find the armholes of her cagoule, it always feels like the start of an Annie Lennox song here.

So, why Brussels?  Well in the absence of any particularly good reason, because of the rain.  The soft grey darkness of a summer day is essential to my well-being.  I do realise this makes me sound quite odd.  So I might say something else instead.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Bonfire of the Banalities

Marvellous, rather drunken weekend with friends P and F from London town.  There was much walking, eating and, of course, boozing.  I managed to win at Trivial Pursuit at 3am despite having drunk most of a bottle of Merlot by myself.  Saturday was the karaoke and I think P would now like to move in there.  She has a great voice and got quite a fanbase going, and then I did Copacabana.  She has footage of this but I will kill her if it ever surfaces.  It was good fun though as people were dancing to my singing right in front of me.  This is what I like about karaoke.  Never in the real world is that going to happen.

Today I officially ended my work contract; the new one gets signed on Wednesday.  My current jobs continue to the end of July.  Reality hasn't yet caught up with my urge to hunt, and still I'm looking at offices thinking...oooh maybe...and then joyous relief comes because I don't have to look for work any more.  It must be what being engaged feels like. 

And like an affianced lady, I'm planning my trousseau.  There is going to be definite shopping this month and I may just burn ceremonially all the clothes that have been routinely smeared with yoghurt, banana, porridge and snot.

In my head is this image of a super-groomed woman with discreet but perfect nails, tasteful jewellery and slightly pointy shoes, her hair just escaping from a neatish pleat.   Yeah, we all know I'm just going to carry on falling out of my tops and walking round with pen on my face, but a girl can dream.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Triumph Not Disaster

I got the job.  The one I really wanted.  Today I have said thank you, a lot.  I'm not really sure who to; it does not seem to matter.  Gratitude is important.

The call came while I was lobbing some crusts out into the back garden.  The Boy was upstairs sitting on his sister's head.  The Agency Lady did a real X Factor thing on me, relaying in a neutral tone shading towards regret, that although they thought we were both excellent candidates, they had to take this into account, and that into account, and in the end they decided to offer the job to you.

Now I'd been swinging like a hanged man between consummate disappointment and planning my office wardrobe, and had even been quoting Kipling to myself, which is unforgivable.  So when she said you, I lost all semblance of cool. 

And that moment I want to suspend in amber, because there are very few days like this in one's life.  I've done it, and I am shocked, proud, and very excited.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Ducking and Diving

Yesterday I saw a cormorant in the Parc du Woluwe.  This marvellous black and gold bird was standing on top of a tree with its wings at full span.  I think I am becoming obsessed with things avian because it made me smile and smile back over my shoulder as I walked, pushing the sleeping Boy. 

It is a quite glorious park, full of dressing-table size bunnies and trees that look like dust clouds risen to their full puff.  But I'm sick of it.  Sick of the toytown eleven o'clock chime from the Maison Communale.  I want a desk and some humans.  The birds are the only things that never pall.  I love the way the crows welcome us and then bounce alongside us like beggars hoping for a handout.  Then they brawl over bits of bread.

Walking, I repeat loudly to the empty park what my goals are, trying not to sound passive aggressive about it.  "That's not too much to ask, is it.  Is it?"

Tomorrow, I have the second interview for the job I went for last week.  There are now just two candidates, of whom I am one.  Immediately after that I have another interview for a different job.

I am not sleeping well.  Last night I did the proper gasping-sit-up-waking from nightmare thing that they do in films.  To quote Eminem, 'Everything looks like it's 8 Mile now.'  Although to be fair, Woluwe-St-Pierre isn't exactly a trailer park.  But so much depends on tomorrow.  Fuck a fucking duck.


Monday, 2 July 2012

Manners Maketh Mad

If you are of a certain vintage and nationality, the words "I want doesn't get" are probably hardwired into your brain, along with the theme tune to the Avengers.  It was the standard response of working-class parents when their children said for the seventeenth time that day "I want..." whatever.

In fairness, I think it was a tilt at poor manners rather than a reluctance to grant our many, many wishes.  It was an attempt to nudge us into "Please may I have...", in which case the answer might still be no, if it was a Horse-riding Sindy Doll.

I wonder if "I want doesn't get" still holds when you are an adult.  I joked about Cosmic Ordering but many people are of the belief that if you want something badly enough you can get it.  Most of them queue up to be on the X Factor.  Tuneless, deluded folk aside, the idea of visualising an idea or a goal is commonly believed to be the start of its actually happening.  Whether this is because it's a spiritual Post-it to the Universe or because it reminds you to keep taking action towards realising the goal, who knows.  Noel Edmonds, probably.

I know what I want.  I know it so well that I can lick the edges of it.  Yet it's not mine, and I wonder if I'm asking in the wrong way.  Perhaps the Universe likes polite children and I should be saying "Please may I have a nice job with nice people a walkable distance from home; and while you're at it please may I have a kind man with nice biceps who thinks I'm wonderful, please thank you. P.S., loving your work so far."

Of course there is always the possibility that getting what you want is not a good thing at all, although we have been led to believe it is.  The Queen of England has spent most of her life dedicated to duty, and probably will until she goes tits up.  She probably didn't want that.  She probably wanted to breed corgis and collect headscarves.  But she seems to have done all right.

When The Universe (and by this I mean whatever higher power you may or may not refer to in your life) doesn't deliver, various faiths and religions interpret this as a test of your faith, or your not being ready, or your need for this particular circumstance to challenge some aspect of your life.  Which could just be a sop to deal with the disappointment.  Oh God, I'm going to become one of those people on the train intoning with horrible sincerity to her friend "Things happen for a reason..."

In the meantime I'm going to carry on wanting, and hope that the sheer strength of the want will permeate the Universe and trigger some weird spiritual internet delivery.