Monday, 27 May 2013

Step By Step

When I woke this morning it was like swimming to the surface of water.   Funny how that can happen after four hours' sleep and yet I can feel crap on ten hours'. 

Every work day I scale and, trust me, at 8.30am with no coffee and pastry yet, it is a mountain, over 100 steps between the platform at Gare Centrale, and the Rue Royale where the Parc de Bruxelles is laid.  I had sort of wondered if this was Bronte territory, and all the time did not notice Charlotte Bronte shyly waving. 

The steps down from the statue of Général Belliard on Rue Royale are the same bloody steps the Bronte girls would have walked countless times.  OK, their steps are more of a homeopathic memory of the current ones but still.  The original Belliard steps were steeper, narrower and went deeper - possibly to the level of Galerie Ravenstein, a Festival of Britain-ish arcade of offices and shops that one passes through to the station.

The pensionnat where the Brontes lived and taught would have been on the site of Bozar, at the bottom of the steps, on what is now the Rue Ravenstein.  For six months I have passed every day and not realised.

Even the park that I plunge through daily appears in Villette, so must have been well known to Charlotte.  It is the strangest sensation to feel her company across almost two centuries.   She might recognise the park still - the bandstand is still there and the basic layout is much the same.  She might be perplexed by the emphatically English signs "NO JOGGING", affixed to sticks in the grass. 

Not for the first time I wonder at how brave were Emily and Charlotte.  Unaccompanied young women rarely lit out for exotic territory in the 1840s.  Especially those who had hitherto been closeted in Yorkshire.  The young women returned to Yorkshire after some months because their aunt was dying.  Charlotte then travelled back alone to Brussels.  Unhappiness returned her home again the following year, 1844.

No doubt she felt a few things that I've felt since I've been here.  Considering its proximity to England, Belgium is really quite foreign and this can make one feel quite foreign.  If she had had the internet (this is becoming a common refrain) perhaps she would have stuck it out, and spent her evenings arguing politics on some online forum, or posted pictures of kittens. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Things I Would Do If I Had A Table

It is almost six months since I moved in here.  There are two things I really need and they argue in my head about which is more important and so, after six months, I still have neither.  One thing is a washing machine.  This would obviate the need to resurrect the least creased and soiled clothes from the dirty washing and pass them off as fresh.

The other thing is a table.  In my head, life would fall into place if I had a table and, say, some chairs.  As if my apartment is an empty receptor and the table is a chemical signal which would enter it.  What?  Sorry, I haven't even been drinking.

So here are ten things I would do if I had a table:

1. Put that glass dish on it that I have to move every time I open the cupboards.  The blue frilly glass one holding keys and parcel tape and safety pins.

2. Eat meals from it.  A novel idea, but it is catching on in some places.

3. Encourage other people to eat meals from it.  I hear this is called a "dinner party".

4. Put all my papers into three piles, namely:  File, Think About, and Bloody Do Something.

5. Put out many index cards and organise the plots of the two novels that wander around in my head like fucking tourists.

6.  Actually write something of those two novels for an hour every evening.

7.  Sew stuff, when I should actually be writing.

8.  Have some surface space to prepare food.  My kitchen area is beautiful but has less than a square metre of space for messing about.

9.  Fold it away when not in use so that in theory I can dance.  I have seen one in the IKEA that does this.  No, the table doesn't dance.  That would be silly, and probably very expensive.

10. Not spend every moment in front of this computer peering out into lives I cannot quite see.


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Woman In A Suitcase

Healthwise, things are sort of chugging along.  All the medications seem to be doing their respective thing.  In just under three weeks we (work) all fly to Sunny Climes for a conference.  I have been organising it long distance.  There have been months of The Hosts just sending ragged emails full of ellipses saying things like yes...we are doing all that you would wish...yes, without any indication of what, exactly; and phone calls with one person on the phone not knowing much and somebody shouting across the room at him.  I'm sure it's all going to be fine.  Come payday I am buying a big suitcase.  If everything goes wrong I will hide in it.

In other news I continue to further the cause of international lack of relations.  Put it this way, next time a young man asks me to go for a walk, I'll suddenly develop a pressing need to do anything else at all.

There has been decided recourse to chocolate over the last few days.  In Carrefour I bought profiteroles, a massive bag of crisps, some Dairy Crunch and a large courgette.  I can only guess what people thought.

Home with my balanced provender and there's a letter from the bosom clinic.  Something a bit terrifying about holding your future and it's all in Dutch.  Not looking at the screen, I put the first paragraph through Google translate.  The word geen appeared twice which I took as a good omen (it means no).  Although it could have been part of a sentence which said "no point you thinking about Christmas".  Thankfully, my prodigious bosom has the all clear.

Saturday, 18 May 2013


So now I have an industrial-strength inhaler that helps me breathe and not to wake myself up with broken accordion noises.  And the amitryptiline that keeps the wings in my head relatively level.  And the sumatriptan for when it threatens to implode in spectacular pain.  Once I was a person in blithe good health; now it seems I am mainly pit-props.

The asthma testing involved more TARDIS-looking equipment.  It turns out I have asthma and an allergy to "some trees".  This was something of a relief as I have googlitis from looking up the various deaths that start with not breathing very well. 

How do you know when you are ok?  Good health is not just the absence of illness.  But keeping everything at bay gives you the breathing space (ha!) to ponder that life might sort of feel all right.  Listening to Allegri's Miserere with that high, high C that sweeps the top of your head like a searchlight, it feels all right.  I don't even mind that Winter is sitting like a cuckoo in the middle of May.

So that's a start.  It may take a lifetime of pharmaceutical propping for this lifetime to be ok.  But that's all right.  That high C, by the way, was improvised.  Much like life.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

How Doris Day Affected The Cold War

This sounds like a particularly thorny GCSE history question but, in fact, it is a search through Google that brought a (needless to say disappointed) person to my blog.

I can't say for sure what role Doris Day played in the Cold War.  Neither can I direct you to lifeboats for sale, women in East Sheen to fuck, penis plumbing or, indeed, an Ebbsfleet car dealer cunt.  I really hope those searchers found what they wanted eventually.  To the person who was looking for dogging in Brussels - try one of the forests.  I can't say for sure but there's bound to be something like that going on.

A more sobering thought is that this blog is the first thing that comes up when I type my name.  That's almost fame.  Sort of.  Although I suppose if you blab on long enough you sort of become part of the internet furniture. 

I am not ashamed to say that I got many of my friends off the internet.  My last boyfriend was off the internet, as are all my shoes.  And actually this computer.  Quite how anyone survived before internets were born, I do not know.  I suppose we had to go outside and talk to strangers, as opposed to lolling at strangers online.  Although if you ever catch me lolling non-ironically,  you have my permission to wheel me out, shoot me, and then hang and quarter me.  Twice. 

And of course, without the internet, I'd just be scribbling in exercise books.  If Anne Frank had had the internet she would have been blogging her arse off, as well as being in charge of the Justin Bieber fan club.  Sadly it would also have meant that the Germans would have found her quicker.

So here's to the internet.  And if you find any lifeboats for sale, do let me know.


Friday, 10 May 2013


When there is a public holiday on a Thursday, Friday is effectively cancelled.  I should have remembered this but last time it happened I was within walking distance of work.  I got to the train station this morning and the usual train I take, and the one after, simply weren't there.  Not even afgeschaft, just non-existent.  Friday is the new Sunday.  I looked at the departure board, guppy-faced, then went to Starbucks.  One big cookie and a tall Americano later I got the 8:03 and was only ten minutes late for work.

Pretty much the same story going home.  Big unexplained gaps in the schedule as if everyone just knew and you'd be stupid for asking.  You may have heard that there was a massive chemical spillage near Wetteren (No I'm FINE really, thanks for ASKING.  Actually it was a good few kilometres away) so fortunately the stopping train avoided several stations.  However not being on the fast train meant I got to see an awful lot of chickens.  And painfully neat vegetable patches.  I suppose there's nothing else to do out there.  They don't even seem to have pubs.  To continue with the bird theme a pigeon was happily pecking at some chip sick at the tram stop.  You see all of life here.  Someone must have been celebrating the Ascension pretty damn hard.


Thursday, 9 May 2013

It's Only Words

Sometimes it is exhausting, being surrounded by other languages.  Ideally, if this were a film, I'd be somewhat more lingual by now.  Like when Julia Roberts goes to Italy in Eat Shit Pray (or whatever it's called) and almost immediately is able to hold conversations in Italian. 

I tend to give myself a hard time about it, reasoning that if languages are so difficult to learn, how come babies do it?  The girls I looked after last year were learning three languages simultaneously.  It was not unusual for H to combine all three languages in the same sentence.  Fortunately I knew enough of the three to unpick the meaning.  C would say no in French, shout several words of German, and then clearly enunciate the word "alligator" while I changed her nappy.

I think also some people are more linguistically bent.  My own daughter before the age of two was speaking in full sentences.  I have a clear memory of her laying in her cot, shaking one dummy which rattled and one that did not.  "This one doesn't work", she said. 

Children learn languages differently.  They learn the words they need for survival or, failing that, the noises they need.  And they get very pissed off if you don't understand them, because they seem to have no concept that they cannot speak the language.  My way into a language is through the eyes.  It pleases me that I can now understand ads in Dutch at tram stops.  But I cannot have a conversation.  My "survival" method in Flanders is asking people if they speak English.  In Brussels I use French, of a sort.

In time, hopefully I will be more or less trilingual, or bilingual with Dutch bolted on.  It feels that in moving to another country I have deliberately disabled an essential function - the ability to communicate freely.  I could never be like Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote some of his greatest books in either his second or third language.  Maybe I should aim to be a "baby", stringing together bits of English, French and Dutch and having a tantrum if no-one understands me.  

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

According to the Gospels

It comes round so quickly.  Tomorrow is again one of those days when religion collides with the state and we get a day off work to watch Jesus ascend into Heaven.  I'm hoping it's televised.

Given that Easter and the resurrection were a while ago, I wondered what Jesus has been doing with himself.  According to the canonical Gospels (of course I haven't read them, I googled), he did a fair bit of appearing to people, which no doubt scared the shit out of them.  Earlier I was googling "Michael Jackson Sightings" and I imagine it was much the same.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to his disciples randomly in a closed room and he offers the disciple Thomas the opportunity to verify his identity by touching his wounds, it says here.  "Go on touch it, touch it!"  I don't believe you're Jesus at all, says Thomas, thereby getting his nickname.  Jesus grabbed his hand and stuck it in his guts.

Our last scene with Jesus is on the shores of Galilee where he appears, tells the disciples how to catch fish, eats a meal with them, and has a long chat with the Apostle Peter about his future.  "So where do you see yourself in five years, Peter?".  Dunno.  Might open a fish and chip shop.  Jesus tries to get Peter to touch his wounds but Peter says no, he's having his tea right now.

So after forty days of hanging about and fishing and chatting, Jesus realises he's outstayed his welcome and ascends.  And we get a day off.  Thanks Jesus.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Tits and Taxes

Warning.  This post contains tit.  You have been warned.

There is nothing more likely to make you feel ingested in the local system than receiving an income tax return, some local tax demand (forgive the vagueness, I haven't translated it yet), and an invitation to a mammograph.  My own - it's not yet a spectator sport.

Had I still been in the UK I would have been summoned for my first mamming once I passed 50.  It feels as if there has been a seamless passing of the baton, as I have been picked up automatically here for testing.  I was slightly concerned, as I'd heard dreadful things about the test.  The words "vice" and "pain" were used often. 

So I trundled on a fine and really bloody hot morning ten minutes up the road to my local hospital.  It's a quiet, spacious, rather lovely place.  Where thankfully people speak some English.  These days I could probably cobble together something in French, combined with basic mime, but English is always easier. 

I shed my upper clothes and stood before something that might have come out of the TARDIS.  The nice lady lifted my left breast in both hands, as if it were a newborn puppy, positioned it gently, and then proceeded to squeeze it flat in the TARDIS thing.  "Don't move!" she shouted.

And then she lifted my right breast, as if it were a newborn puppy, and squished the fuck out of that one too, once again telling me not to move.   I wasn't going anywhere without my puppies.

'In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes', said Benjamin Franklin.  I would alter that slightly to include biennial tit-squashing.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Eagle Flies With The Dove

When I was a young girl, there was a Crosby Stills Nash song which used to upset me.  Not being particularly of the hippy persuasion, I took as an affront the lyrics which basically advised that if you are away from your Baby and feeling a bit cross about it, you should shag the person next to you.  Sorry, 'love the one you're with', doo doo doo doo doo doo doo-doo.  It still has the power to make me feel quite unaccountably wronged, although I admit it's a great tune.

What I'm wondering is why this love the one you're with keeps riffing in my medicated, patched head.  Along with one of those Facebook homilies about not chasing after love that isn't freely given.  I've done a lot of that.  Olympic gold.

Perhaps it's this:  in the absence of a person to love, who loves you back, the only logical alternative is to love the one you're with.  Yourself.  I'm Olympic standard at not doing that.

In practical terms I think this means caring for yourself in the way you would a much-loved child.  Which does not mean you have to sit through several showings of Madagascar, unless you really want to.

I'll let you know how this goes.  Don't hold your breath though - blue is not your best colour.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Drugs Might Work

Now that Spring has made a definite move, and the parks have grown people, and cautious frills of green, it seems churlish not to go along with it.  Some might say sulky, even.  Although one can, with some effort, flip a sulk over on its back.

I'm on this rather old-fashioned anti-depressant which, in the old-fashioned way, takes some weeks and some tweaks to start working.  I can't take the new shiny SSRIs because they don't go with my migraine medication.  A rather unexpected side effect is that this older style medication also seems to inhibit the migraines a bit.  Which can't be bad.

This week, I think, has seen the first signs of light.  Like headlice, depression is indiscriminate.  And like headlice, it is hard to shift and may return at intervals because you are such a great host.  This week was also the first time this year I could fill my lungs properly.  That's unrelated to the head stuff.  It's lung stuff, and will be checked out shortly at the hospital.  There have been four solid months of coughing and not breathing terribly well.  The doctor listened long and silently to my lungs before giving me a phone number.

So that sort of explains my silence: no air and no light.  Nothing can grow like that.

I am not thinking in terms of corners turned, in case the next turn is simply back to base.  I am thinking in terms of cautious greening.  And exuberant fountains at the far end of park vistas.