Saturday, December 29, 2007

Expo Da Vinci

Back in Brussels, and with the town empty, what to do of a Saturday? The Expo Da Vinci, that's what, at the infamously ugly sixth largest building in Christendom, the carbuncular Koekelique de Basilberg with its throbbing neon cross on top. (You can visit it interactively, if you must.) A cross between the Battersea Power Station and a London Underground urinal, it lowers on the northern Brussels skyline like a boil. It is a testament to the architectural horrors of the industrial age, Art Deco en masse as its tiled fluted concrete pillars between brick vaulting mimic the fluted columns of its medieval forebears. It's worth a visit in itself. Every Gotham should have one.

However, at the year ends the Basilberg generally hosts an exhibition of quality. On the Millenium, my mother and I went to see a prospective exhibition on what life might be like in a thousand years' time. It tackled biology, society, religion and lots of other aspects that didn't only involve trying to predict what gadgetry might be invented in the next thousand years. But the highlight of this year's exhibition, for me, was gadgetry itself. Several of Leonardo's machines had been built in scale models. We saw an excavator, a multiple cannon array, two or three of the flying machines including the 'aerial screw' or ornithoper, the balista, a bicycle, and two types of tank. Somehow seeing them built was much clearer than reading Leonardo's sketches. An initial biographical timeline, was followed by thematic sections on several of his foci, including anatomy which forcibly recalled the Bodyworlds poses Gunter von Hagen took from illustrations of the time, and a further dissection of the cartoons and studies for some of his best-known paintings.

If you get a chance to see this exhibition, do.

Below; turn it upside down and it won't be able to right itself. You'd think da Vinci would have spotted that flaw, wouldn't you?

Benazir Bhutto

Certainly not an angel, and probably not a saviour. But a very courageous, intelligent, passionate woman, who knew exactly what she was doing and why she was doing it.


Benazir Bhutto

Certainly not an angel, and probably not a saviour. But a very courageous, passionate woman, who knew exactly what she was doing and why she was doing it.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas

In every office, firm and service, finance officers are currently spitting about how much they hate the end of year.

I recovered Arthur (yes, she has survived) from the garage late yesterday. It was touch and go there, as the Italian transport strike kept her new bonnet on the roads for three or four days longer than it should have been. She's lost her black rubber front bumper as the whole of her front end was resprayed, and she's developed a throaty rumble when idling in neutral, but she seems ready for tomorrow's run. I've bought the presents, scored two kilos of Leonidas chocolates, assorted Continental yummies, and a large sausage for my mother. Bridport dresses up at New Year's Eve and apparently she wants to hide the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies in it. Make of that what you will. Me, I'm steeling myself to perhaps take part in the West Bay Wallow, a charity Boxing Day dip off East Beach that I've never yet quite managed to steel myself to undertake. Last one in's .... quite sensible really....

Have a good one. I'll check in again before New Year.

Monday, December 17, 2007


On Friday afternoon, we motored to Heidelberg, where we stayed at the Goldener Hecht just opposite the old bridge. I've wanted to go to Heidelberg since I was 10, when my history teacher, Mrs Langmaid, told me it was the most beautiful town in Germany. It certainly is gorgeous, made of a red stone with a partly ruined schloss lowering above the city like a Moghul fort. It contains the largest barrel I have ever seen of which they seem inordinately proud, but much more interesting was the German Apothecary Museum, housed in one of the habitable sections. It was an excellent exhibition and had a good section for children where they could smell and look at simples and mixes of herbs and spices with medicinal properties. Another feature of a visit to the schloss is that you take the Heidelberger Bergbahn, and if you follow it up to the top of the Königstuhl you will discover that there is actually a Heidelberger Bergbahn Staff Song, the lyrics of which can be seen in a small museum at the top, but which unfortunately we did not hear performed.

What we DID hear performed was a production of La Bohème at the theatre. It seems that Heidelberg is a bit of a permanent Fringe venue, and a young company had put on a technically faultless production of this much-loved opera. What threw me a bit was the staging. In the first act, Colline entered dressed as a giant chicken, and Schaunard stripped to his boxers and began sticking 5€ notes to his chest with his own spit. At this point we knew we were in for something different.

In the second act, the street market was transformed to the madness of Christmas shopping, with extras rushing about the scene dropping Gucci and Prada shopping bags. Parpignol the toy seller, bearing a great resemblance to the child catcher of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, handed out Kalashnikovs and Berettas, and the children pulled on balaclavas and pretended to be terrorists. At the end of the act, instead of approaching soldiers, the shoppers returned, but as zombies. Act three. Mimi looks for Rodolfo at a nightclub filled with giant orange balls. Everyone is in fancy dress and badly hungover. Act four. Schaunard and Colline turn up in the worst outfits I have ever seen, and this is Germany we are talking about. All I can say is that I'll certainly remember this production of La Boheme. And from what we could tell from the pamphlets readily available around the city, fringe arts are available all year round. Go and see, do.


As you know I've been doing a bit of travelling. On Thursday last we drove to Baden-Baden. It's awfully chic, isn't it! We stayed in the utterly luxurious Hotel Belle Epoque, but what I really want to point out to you is the restaurant at which we had dinner, the Stahlbad. Like many German hostelries it is proud of its family-run nature, and Mama, who from what I understand is about 130, is still in the kitchen every day ensuring that guests will have the very best. It was a fabulous dinner but it was outshined by the welcome and character of the Schwank/Monch family who run the restaurant. Go and visit them, they're delightful.

Baden-Baden is of course a spa town, and on Friday morning we wandered around the old town, eyeing the excellent shopping and the picturesque streets. The waters were taken at the Trinkhaus, and found to be pleasantly warm, heavily mineral and somewhat salty. I certainly felt it go through me.

I failed to find a piece of Black Forest gateau. It doesn't seem to be available anywhere near the Black Forest. I'm beginning to wonder whether British marketing people haven't made it all up.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Strasbourg taxis

Strasbourg taxis are, in general, excellent. There is always an exception that proves the rule.

I had my hair done yesterday for a party, and ordered a taxi back to the hotel to keep the spiky fluffy effect from falling. No, sadly no photos.

The taxi driver pulled over at the hotel, and said, "Six euros please". The meter read 4.50€.
I said "But the meter reads 4.50€".
"In Strasbourg there is a minimum taxi fee of six euros, and if you don't like it you can walk".
"Where is it written in your cab that there is a minimum fee of six euros?"
"It's there in the back, but never mind that because you owe me six euros and I'd like you to pay and let me get on with the next client". He seemed to be having a very strong reaction to a reasonable request for confirmation, and I couldn't work out why.
I said, "I've no objection to paying the fee if it is indeed the fee. I would just like to know where I stand contractually, so that we can both see that we are having a fair transaction"
I looked around the back of the cab and found a transparent tariff sticker on the window. I started to read it. The cabbie became increasingly agitated. And it wasn't surprising. The minimum fee as per the sticker was stated at five euros and sixty cents.

He had tried to scam me for the paltry sum of forty cents.

I was so amused at this I paid him the six euros, waited while he grumpily and reluctantly made change, gritting his teeth and counting out every coin in as small a denomination as he could possibly find to get back at me. And then, when he'd gathered them all together, I tipped him his own forty cents change back and bade him good day.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Christmas shopping

I'm off to Strasbourg for a spot of Chrimbo shopping. In the replacement car with no radio. In the meantime, Daphne organised a Blogger's Christmas Dinner.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Get this

So Arfur, as we know, is in the garage, and I've had the good news that she WILL be repaired. This means that the Europcar SEAT Ibiza my insurers have so kindly supplied me with as a replacement car can stay with me until the 17th, when I can pick Arfur back up.

As I'd replaced Arfur's back window three weeks ago following a dose of pure vandalism, and I deliberately haven't replaced Arfur's radio since it was nicked outside Zed's house in January, I was thinking that there was nothing that could possibly go wrong again on the automotive front.

This morning, when I climbed into the SEAT Ibiza, I noted that there was no longer a radio.

That's right.

The police confirmed that the front driver lock has been forced.

Cars. Who'd have 'em?

Beneath; a photo of what my replacement car radio could now be up to.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The McChe

New artist of note.


You may be wondering where I am. I'm all three ways of megabusy right now, but what I'd particularly like to proffer is my excuse for not making it to Zed's MBIAT Reading To Wallstrom Exercise.

I was on my way, honest, but then I had a car crash.

Arthur ('cos she's Arf a car) and I were idling at a traffic light on a one-way street, minding our own bloody business, and a large yellow van containing three construction workmen, who proved to be delightfully polite and apologetic, came off the traffic lights opposite and drove straight into us.

I have a slightly sprained thumb.

Arthur has a bust radiator, has lost her windscreen wash tank, and, I suspect, has serious electrical damage which may include her power-assisted steering.

I'm waiting to hear more from the expert, but it's quite possible she may be a write-off.

The photo below is what my car used to look like, except lavender.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Free Rice

Hah! You think you have a decent vocabulary?

Think again and meet the addictive challenge that is Free Rice.

Well done the WFP.

P.S. I've reached 50 but keep getting thrown by the Yiddish words. On most of 'em, I got bubkes.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Rememberance Sunday

Today, I will be singing a brand new Requiem, the Requiem Bruxellensis, which has been written by a retired colleague of mine, Hywel Duck. I've never sung a brand new piece of music before, and it's very strange not to be able to listen to a recording. However, as of today you will be able to hear this beautiful, triumphant Requiem for organ, trumpets, oboe, baritone solo and choir, because we're recording it. More details as and when.

The relative I wish particularly to feature in today's post is Jean-Hughes Oltramare, my great-grandfather. Jean-Hughes was Swiss and had served in the Swiss artillery during WW1, but during the Second World War he and his French wife and two British-born daughters lived in Ruislip, north of London. He did his bit the only way he would have been allowed to, by joining the Air Raid Wardens. Sadly during the darkest part of the war it was felt that foreigners were not to be trusted, and he was interned from 1940 to 1943. It is a mark of the man that his certificate from the Air Raid Wardens shows that upon his release in 1943 he resumed ARW duty immediately and served until the war ended. This is a famous family photo of him in his ARW kit. We love the jut of his jaw.

I would also like to remember my grandfather, Merchant Navy captain torpedoed twice during WW2, and my great-uncle, whose exceptional merits are amply documented elsewhere, with their photos below.

Men of duty, quality and grit. Their greatest legacy to us is their example.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Dinner recommendations

Tonight I will be eating my dinner here. I have not been to the Ateliers de la Grande Ile for a good five years, but the last time I went there was live music from a Russian band, including a piano-type structure whose grouped strings the musician hits with two long-handled small metal hammers. The menu used to feature koulibiaki and suckling pig and various virulent flavoured vodkas such as chilli and pepper.

I shall try hard to follow the recommendations of the Russian food pyramid, as reproduced below. Particularly with regard to lard.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The "Darfuri orphans" scandal

There's a lot of sad fallout from this nasty little story about inappropriate actions by a French NGO, L'Arche de Zoé or Zoe's Ark. L'Arche de Zoé have been running an "Operation Darfour", allegedly to evacuate orphans from the war-torn region of the Sudan, to "host families" in Europe who would then fight their asylum claims for them. This is already borderline - their decision to undertake the activity they did placed them on the very edge of IHL - international humanitarian law. (They quote a bunch of legal bases on their website - it's a pity it doesn't include some of the Geneva Convention provisions).

A swoop last week by the Tchadian authorities found that they were shipping out Tchadian kids instead, without their parents' permission. When this scandal broke, we at work were immediately struck by the UN's failure to protest, by the silence of the Red Crosses and other NGOs, by the tenor of the French government's reaction. It was a clear sign that something had gone badly wrong and we were all very glad that it is not one of the NGOs we fund, although I am sure there will be corresponding political fallout.

But there are other victims of this story than the kids themselves. My heart goes out, for instance, to all the parents. First of all the parents in Tchad who were apparently told their kids would be taken to a boarding school at a town nearby in Tchad and educated. They've been sorely betrayed and are not likely to trust another Western NGO, and that's a crying shame. At the other end of the story, there are couples in Europe, the USA and Canada, possibly childless, hoping to become foster parents, ready to fight for an asylum claim for the child they'd welcome into their home. They've possibly unwittingly funded part of this shameful operation as part of a "fostering" fee, and their hopes of fostering have been, at least temporarily, dashed. I feel horribly sorry for them too.

I also feel very sorry for other NGOs working in the fraught field of rescuing children from conflict. Their work has been made no easier by this event and they'll be eyed with suspicion by third world governments for a long time to come. I feel sorry for all the kids and parents they'll not be able to help because of the mistrust this will have caused.

L'Arche de Zoé were set up during the tsunami. The end of funding of that initial crisis probably led them, like many NGOs that found themselves a bit spare at the end of the Balkans crisis, to look for activities elsewhere. If you are a small NGO, and you've had a period of success with an initial mission, you have to consider whether you want to really put in the policy and legal work you are going to need to be able to do your good work within IHL and in coordination with other agencies, or whether it would be a good idea to wind up your activities and call it a day.

It would have been better for all concerned if L'Arche de Zoé had had the sense to call it a day.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Capitalist Ball 2007

None of the following necessarily represents the views of my employer.

The more eagle-eyed of you will spot that there wasn't a Capitalist Ball review in February this year. This is because it was held in October. And yes, I did go. It was not until the later part of the next morning that I recalled with heart-squelching embarrassment a moment of behaviour which surpasses everything I've done before, and I include the day I didn't recognise Will Carling and told him I knew a rugby player (Simon Hogg) and more particularly the incident with the four Royal Navy officers in the swimming pool at 3am.

I was doubly and finely squired to this year's CNE Capitalist Ball. Held once more in the Concert Noble, it was a glittering affair honouring in first place, Jan Bielecki, who gave a very competent, witty and entertaining speech about why he wasn't in black tie (it turned out the airline had lost his luggage). Further prizes were given, each with their own interesting backstory. Dresses of various levels of appropriateness floated about. Dinner came and went. For the first time, the event was attended by a demonstration outside by a somewhat deluded group, I link only to offer you a glimpse of their website's charming dagger and hammer logo and "Our own folk first" slogan, who had convinced themselves that all Europe's economic decision-makers were inside, swilling champagne like capitalist pigs. We were indeed swilling champagne like capitalist pigs, but as for decision-makers, we only had the one MEP and he left early.

After the demonstrators got too cold and went home to their parents' nice suburban villas in the Flanders commuter belt, us champagne swillers spilled out onto the pavement and that's when I got talking to Tim Evans, who had been President-Director-General of CNE for three years. "So where do you work?" he said, and I said "Nextdoor, would you like to come and see?" and marched the poor fellow 25 meters down the pavement. "You know" I said, slurring slightly from all the capitalist champagne I'd been swilling and waving expansively at the posters of refugees we have up outside the office, "market access isn't just for big industry. It's also for these people. Norberg knows this, it's the basis of his In Defence of Global Capitalism. Amartya Sen would call lack of market access an unfreedom. Palestinian refugees, for instance and they're not alone in this regard, those in quasi-permanent camps in Jordan and Lebanon, are not granted work permits, they can't even start their own businesses within the camps, and this is a, a, a crying shame, and whilst here in this office we spend a lot on advocating their basic human rights and providing them with ways to try and secure a livelihood (giving barbers hairdessing equipment, for example) the wealthier nations among us should be doing something about advocating their rights to work and trade like any other resident in their host countries, or we should sort things out and get them home to allow them those same rights. And not enough is done, and it's not fair, and it's not even economically sensible, because they're just as valid an emerging market as any other".

At this point, my kind escorts broke us up (apparently they'd seen it coming) and I was led away to a warm ballroom and handed more champagne. The memory of lecturing a senior market economist on market access surfaced at about 12pm the next day with the thickening sud of a flooding soap powder factory. I wonder whether I'll be allowed back next year.

OK. I know you're all waiting. Piccie of frock.

Cecilia goes shopping

I've been offline a while, not because of the disappointment of the rugby (to tell you the truth, I didn't think we'd get out of the pool, so I was dead chuffed just to see us reach the final) but because I've been brought low by an 'angine blanche'. This illness has recently had a political outing, because according to the Elysée's press machine, the reason Cecilia Sarkozy, ex-First Lady of France, could not attend a picnic with the Bushes, was because she too had an 'angine blanche'.

Now none of us would want to attend a picnic with the Bushes. There'd be the obligatory ants, there'd be far too much toe-curling small talk, laboriously relayed through interpreters (although I have it on good authority that Sarkozy is merely feigning incompetence in English) but most of all it would be teetotal. One shudders at the white-gloved, forced-pleasantries social awkwardness of the thing. I would probably be forced to commandeer a tray of sandwiches from a passing waiter just to allow me to get away from the hosts.

What is just plain stupid, if you're going to use 'angine blanche' as an excuse, is to be caught out shopping the next day. I can tell you that when you have an 'angine blanche' the bug in question eats away through the back of your throat and launches itself down into your glands in a bid for general mastery and domination of the lymphatic system. It takes three days for the antibiotics to kick in. You can't swallow, you are exhausted, you can't sleep for snuffling snot that is maddeningly lurking just between the sniff and hawk ranges and you can't get up even to feed yourself. Between that (although Scouse Doris tried her best, bless her) and the fever, in three days I lost three kilos, (there's always a silver lining). You are in any case in no condition to slip on your high heels and have a quick blast around the shopping centre with the girls.

There must be plenty of plausible excuses for not having to attend a picnic with the Bushes. Having a 'family' prior appointment (i.e. to rearrange your sock drawer), for instance, or being virulently allergic to Chicago School economics. What amazes me is that no-one ever seems to have the courage to tell the Bushes straight that they've got better, more useful, more fun things to do than waste an entire afternoon on diplomatic niceties over ant-filled obesity-inducing American stodge. Like governing another country, for instance. No wonder Cecilia went shopping.

So what would your excuse be?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

England 14 and France 9, and going, ahem, home.

Would someone who can reach please give Chabal a hug? I would, but I don't think having his knees hugged would help.

Also I'm English, which might not be favourite right now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Christmas shopping recommendation

Zoe's book is out. It's a very cute little hardback with an alarmingly accurate, as far as I can tell, Lucy Pepper cartoon of Q and Z on the front. Buy it here.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


The French have sent the Kiwis packing. Now THAT was unexpected.
Obviously standing up to the haka properly, and not going into a girlie huddle like the Italians, is what a team needs to do.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

We're through

How I don't know, but I suspect the Australians are beginning to hate Jonny Wilkinson's left boot.
Well done guys.

Friday, October 5, 2007

"Big girl's blouse"

A British general election is looming, and the cut and thrust of political debate in the mother of all democracies (Except, as they would have it, Greece. And Iceland. And....) is beginning to heat up again. It's within this context that the Conservative party seems to think its recent Conference opinion spike will cause it to gain from an earlier snap election. Traditionally the bastion of highly educated wordsmithery, it has unleashed a veritable barrage of Pythonesque French taunting at the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in order to try and sting him into calling a general election as soon as possible. Boris Johnson has called him "a great quivering jelly of indecision" and that if he didn't call a snap election this weekend he'd be "a big girl's blouse". George Osborne suggested he'd "bottle it".

Firstly, what sort of language is this for the Party of Tradition? No wonder they're leaving themselves open to accusations of hug-a-hoodieism. They might as well saunter up and say, "Yo, Gordon. Yo' Mama" in an upper-class accent. Risible.

Secondly, what sort of a glove in the face is this to a dour, religious, uptight Scot? An absolutely ineffective one, that's what. Brown's blood runs much colder than that. If the Tories really want a fight, they should stop sitting on the policy fence and produce a manifesto. None of this "Are you thinking what we're thinking" business. Let's see the colour of their flag. THEN we'll be squaring up for a decent scrap.

I LOVE British general elections.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

LOVED Provence

I'm back. It was fabulous, and of course exhausting. No, we did not dance on Le Pont D'Avignon, nor did we record ourselves singing the song on a DVD to take home with us. But we saw Salins du Midi's salt pans at Aigues-Mortes, the Roman theatre at Orange, the Roman arena at Nimes, a very well-appointed museum of modern art at Bagnols-sur-Cèze, and a mad mad Provençal print cloth shop in Aix-en-Provence which I had vowed to bring my mother to when I saw it in 2005. I bought so much cloth for tablecloths that I had to mail it to myself. I'm hoping Scouse Doris will help me sew them all.

Good times: listening to the England vs. Tonga match with my father on his tiny transistor radio 1930s stylee, eating fabulous prawns with aioli sauce, rich stew made from a fighting bull calf with saffron rice, fabulous.

I'd tell you more, but I'm sorry, the rugby's on, Ireland versus Argentina, and it promises to be a humdinger. And may I say, the best of Irish luck to a fellow home nation. Wager, anyone? I thought not.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tomorrow I will be taking a train to....

I am going to meet my parents and spend a week chauffering them around Provence. Parents are for spoiling, while you can.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Human mice

I went to a course today on something very boring and financial. At the beginning of the day's labour, the teacher asked us all whether we were sure we were all in the right course. "Yes, yes, Financial whotsit whotsit, room 3.6, that's us".

Then he made us sign the register. One gentleman noticed he wasn't on the list. Was he still sure, the teacher asked, that he was in the right course?

"Yes, yes" he said, "room 3.6".

"OK" said the teacher, "there must have been a mixup, add your name on the list, the more the merrier". And he started the course.

After about 15 minutes of being led by the nose around the financial car crash of CapGemini's 2003 accounts, the unlisted gentleman lifted his hand. "Excuse me, but I think I'm in the wrong course."

"What course are you supposed to be in?" we all asked.


It took a while to restore order.

We subsequently discovered that several people had been turned away before any of us had turned up. We think the assertiveness course people deliberately give students the wrong room number as a test of just how much work is needed.

I'm assertive, I'm assertive!

Sunday, September 16, 2007


1) I've just sat down to blog after a weekend away, and there are traces of chocolate on the white paper we run the mouse on.

Scouse Doris, you are officially busted.

2) It is only when you take your two-year-old relative to a sandpit, and then bring him home, feed him, put him to bed, and then undress for a shower, that you fully learn just how much sand you can carry in your bra without noticing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Rugby, God Bless Its Cotton Shorts

Least said about last night's blogmeet, soonest mended, I think.

On another much more interesting note, the rugger world cup has started, and I am in heaven. Big, burly blokes scrumming about all over the place, it all looks horridly violent and then you look at the action replays and you see the ballet of 110-kilo men being lifted into the air for the line-out, the care taken in a tackle to bring the opponent down without hurting him, the way that, in a well-honed team, as he is tackled a player will pass the ball to a team-mate he cannot see but whom he knows is there. You start watching for the eye candy, you keep watching for the beauty of the game.

Last night, in the Stade de France, the French hosts opened the tournament against the Argentines. For reasons probably linked to Laporte seriously underestimating the opposition, they left the terrifying Chabal, whose aspect alone could floor you if you were feeling a tad vulnerable, on the bench until it was WAY too late. La Honte Nationale. As a result, Argentina gave France a wrist-slapping, which will provide me with plenty of ribbing material at work on Monday. As will New Zealand's trouncing of Italy, an up-and-coming rugby country that should have been able to put up slightly more of a challenge. Although I have to say the All Blacks are VERY fit.

That is, if my own country manage to avoid pulling defeat from the jaws of victory again, and survive the unpredictable onslaught of the USA. If not, I shall be taking down the Jonny Wilkinson picture I have put up on my office door and keeping very quiet. Yes I know he's injured and so not playing until later. I just think he's pretty.

Monday, September 3, 2007

BLOGMEET 7/9/2007

Kitty O'Shea's, Brussels. See link for directions.

My favourite cover band, Take This, are playing.

Be there or be somewhere else.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

New dress

I may be going to a barbecue this afternoon if the weather holds.

If so I will be wearing this very reasonably priced Marks and Spencers giraffe print dress.

It looks like absolute rubbish on the hanger, it looks OK on this model but, because we fill it out better and in all the right places, it looks AMAZING on curvy ladies. Especially if they've judiciously taken Daphne Wayne-Bough's advice and purchased a serious pair of foundation garment knickers. I tell you, when it comes to self-confidence and taking control of her life, a woman can do a lot worse than get her underwear sorted out.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Albert's Dilemma

King Albert of the Belgians called me up last night. He wanted to ask me whether I'd be his new formateur.

"Haven't you got any Belgians left to ask?" I said.

"No." he said. "I've asked everyone in politics, and none of them think they can do it. So then I asked Tintin, who was too busy clubbing, and Poirot, who pointed out he was fictional, and Magritte said he was too busy being dead, so then I went and knocked on Jacques Brel's grave but he wasn't in. And then the wife said she'd met you in the Berlaymont and was impressed by your nervous grin. Please please please, I'm DESPERATE."

I considered the task. From the little I understand of Belgian politics, it seems to involve herding cats into a shower cabinet while the shower is on.

"Sorry, your Maj" I said. "I haven't got time. I've got to recatalogue my sock drawer."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm an environmental villain

I was driving through Colyton, "the most rebellious town in Devon", on Saturday when along the narrowest part of the road, just where that little hexagonal turret is, I came upon a large piece of agricultural machinery coming the other way. It was a terrifying piece of equipment. Circular scythes and scarifyers bristled all over it. It was exactly the sort of thing I'd want to be driving if I'd ever have to join an angry mob rushing to sack a castle or kill an ogre. Anyway, I didn't like the look of it nor how close it was going to get to my little car, and so that's why, as I swerved out of the way of its blades, I ran over the large, crunchy hedgehog that was right in front of me.

I felt awful. I'm very fond of hedgehogs, and besides, it hadn't popped in crisp-packet fashion like the pheasant I took out as a learner driver with my parents' Volvo estate. No, old Tiggywinkle, being a large adult, was quite sturdy, and had taken quite a lot of the car's weight before it collapsed with an audible kerrr-unch. I could still hear that crunch all night.

I have spent the best part of the last three days trying to shake the guilt of running over the hedgehog. And now I find I've killed a protected species.

So I'm asking you, what form of mental self-flagellation do you suggest that might scourge this environmental guilt from my mind?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Melplash Show 2007

Today was spent trudging about the Melplash Show. Due to the current livestock movement restrictions, well done Pirbright, there were no cattle, pigs or sheep, except for one stand which in contravention to the abovementioned restrictions claimed to have brought the Lamb of God. The restriction enforcement inspectors couldn't see it either, despite the stallholders' arguments that it's not because it's invisible that it's not there. Meanwhile the organisers were making do with what else they could get hold of. We thrilled to falconry, lumberjackery and dog displays, and otters and rabbits gambolled in carefully fenced-off areas. There were helicopter rides, two people wingwalking on biplanes and you could buy a new tractor, seeds and implements, farming clothing, Shirley Bassey Wellingtons, beef and stilton pasties, and farming insurance. My trip through the "rural crafts" tent saw me richer by one Thai silk kimono top and poorer by £25. Does Thailand count as rural? I suppose so.

My parents should have entered their runner beans in the vegetable class. The ones we ate last night for dinner were far finer than the winners. Ah well, you can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think.

It was very hot. Candy floss is still available and yes, it still does cause sugar rushes, overexcitement and vomiting in small children. Flake 99s are not as yummy as they once were but pasties are even better. We had a swim off East Beach to cool us down. I am now enjoying, to my great surprise, a bottle of J.C. and R.H. Palmer's Light Pale Ale.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Archiving the ancestors

Since we lost Grandpa in June, the family's become somewhat more interested in genealogy, and I have spent large portions of my holiday at home scanning and archiving my ancestors. We've turned up a few characters. For example:

My Swiss great-grandfather visiting his new French in-laws in rural Haute-Savoie, around 1911. We thought his choice of socks was to prevent them feeling bumpkinnish, but later photographs reveal he just had an alarming taste in socks and, the better to exhibit them, wore plus-fours whenever he could get away with them, well into his eighties.

The same great-grandfather, proving that the Swiss did once play rugby, in his "La Servette" Geneva rugby team photo in 1906. It was the last year before La Servette switched to football.

My great-grandmother and her sister, French milliners imported to the UK around 1909 to work at Selfridges. My great-great-aunt later millinered for Madame Lanvin. It certainly explains the outrageous hats.

My Mexican great-great-great-grandmother. How she ended up marrying a Swiss is still unclear.

It so happens I have a USB key in my handbag (I like to Be Prepared...) so you'll be seeing a bit more of this lot over the coming months...

Thursday, August 2, 2007

While I'm away...

Let's have a game of Mornington Crescent!

I'll start you off with Ruislip Gardens. Doubleclicky to embiggen.

Unless I meet you in Bridport, squeezing Fearnley-Whittingstall's huge tomatoes at the Farmer's Market, I'll see you all again on August 28th.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

About bloody time

The UN should have sent a UN, not AU, peacekeeper force in YEARS AGO, 2003 would have not been too soon. There may not be enough of them, either.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Currently listening to....

Angels and Airwaves. For those of you who enjoyed "All the small things", and the more matured direction they took with the 2003 album, such as "I miss you", Tom DeLonge's post-Blink-182 venture features anthemic mantras of teenage angst and love and occasional actual enthusiasm ("The Adventure") over very competent pleasant soft rock, reminiscent of the Cure, U2 and, according to Scouse Doris, a 1970S prog rock band called Yes that I should probably check out.

Those of you who recommended Sigur Ros, you know who you are John B., may find A&A pleasant, in a more structured, teenagey way. Plus they're not singing in Icelandic. Although I quite like the Icelandic. I don't have a snowball's chance in Algeria of understanding it, so for once I don't try, and the vocals float about like another instrument. Quite restful, really.

I have a stinking cold but I've made chicken and leek soup out of some very fatty chicken wings, so if the rumours about the curative properties of schmaltz are true as the Jewish grandmothers always said, I should be right as rain in no time.

Friday, July 27, 2007

OK - review without spoilers

Well, it gets very much worse for Harry before it gets any better. You're going to need some hankies. The battle scenes are going to require some cutting-edge CGI work when the film is made. And a lot of mysteries are revealed, such as who dies, who ends up with who, and what's really up with Snape*.

But you all knew that.

However I was caught out by one element. All I can say is, Randall Sherman is going to find a particular scene of HP n° 7 extremely familiar indeed.

*IMHO the man needs a hot bath, some cocoa, and a few of my homecooked dinners, he'd perk right up.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I have purchased the new Harry Potter. See you in a couple of days.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Alea iacta est again

From the finance point of view I could not have asked for a better interview. They asked me questions I could answer from my daily work. After my particularly thrilling exposé of the procedure for recovering funds from people who owe us money, which seemed to be received with every evidence of interest by the panel, if it had been appropriate to get up and run a little lap of honour around the interview room, whilst carrying a European flag and humming the Ode to Joy, and then slam dunk my coffee cup into the dustbin, I would have done so.

However I have muffed the Spanish a little. I was very nervous. I managed to blurt out that I can read it perfectly and I am attending the appropriate courses. I think they were satisfied that by next year I'll be able to work in it. I hope so anyway.

They said they thought they could confirm to me that I will get one of the countries I have asked for (yay!) but that they are running late with the interviews and so don't expect to be able to tell me which one until December (poot.)

I'm hoping I'll lose weight from nerves caused by the suspense, but it's probably more likely I shall take to chocolate to palliate the insecurity. This means I will blow outwards like a hot air balloon being inflated for air baptism rides at a provincial agricultural show. Teenage mothers will point me out in the street to their air-raid-siren offspring as a dreadful example of what happens to People With Ambition.

I can't influence it any further, but it ain't over until the fat lady sings.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I have taken two days off to study for this interview.

The Goth's Mariposa is kindly coming to lunch with me in Spanish twice this week. This in repayment for a favour I have done for the Goth that I'm not allowed to tell you about.
I have the manual of financial procedures for overseas funding.
I have the manual of financial procedures for the European Development Fund, in Spanish, and I have a handbag-sized paperback containing the 2005 revised version of Cotonou.
I have the general procurement manual for overseas funding.
I have a helpful little pamphlet on EU-South Pacific relations.

I have the Delegations' web pages for each of the countries in question.

And am I reading them? NO.

I'm tidying the kitchen, doing the washing, wondering what to put out for Mariposa's almuerzo, and, as you can see, procastiblogging.

I'll never get to meet this gentleman at this rate.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


My interview for Delegation has been set for 20th July.

I now have 10 days to learn how to talk intelligently about financing procedures in countries being encouraged towards regional integration processes, the reduction of vulnerability to natural disasters, the reduction in economic inequalities, through several budgetary mechanisms ranging from budgetary support to development projects, in Spanish as well as ye olde English and French, for at least half an hour.

I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

Excuse me, I have to go and swot.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bouncy Castles

Yes, I know I'm supposed to be studying, but...

Quarsan, who has hijacked MBIAT while Zoe is off you-know-whatting, is thinking of installing a bouncy castle in the garden. I'm not impressed with the choices he has found. He could get a much more risible feature, more pneumatic than even Kylie, second hand, and probably quite cheaply.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Dip Dop Crabtree, Sherman and Arthur Miller

Je ne sais pas quelle longue heure au blogroll m'est prise tellement Monsieur Crabtree. Il est particulièrement délicieux à le bilingue, comme nous pouvons passer les heures qui essayent d'établir ce que vraiment essayé pour dire avant Babelfish a obtenu à lui. Parfois il fait le cri à moi. Avec le rire.

Arthur Miller seems to have moved in with Sherman. A domestic tragedy has taken place, a father brought low, a spouse uninvolved, a secretary at fault. A reader ROFLing.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

How angels get wings

Tippler's boyish fantasy about a particularly unorthodox good deed that allows an angel, though somewhat fallen, to earn her wings, has triggered me to reveal to you a conversation I had a couple of Sundays ago.

A small child had been entrusted to us for the morning by her sporty and elegant mother, which explains the following exchange:

Small Child: "What are those flappy, wobbly bits under your arms?
Me (somewhat flabbergasted, and therefore operating entirely on reflex): Well, I'm trying to grow wings.
Me: Well, yes, you see you can't grow them overnight, it takes a bit of time, so this is just the beginning.
S.C. (horrified, but somewhat fascinated): How do you do it?
Me: Well, you go to the doctor, and she tells you what you need to do, and after a while you wake up one morning and there are these here wobbly bits (wobble them for effect) and then a bit later bones start to grow inside, and then eventually feather ducts grow in the skin, and then the feathers come out, and you can start learning to fly.
S.C.(turning to Scouse Doris for confirmation): Really? Is it true?
Scouse Doris (who has never, to my knowledge, actually lied) nods with a very serious look on her face.
S.C. thinks for a good 45 seconds, and then: That's NOT TRUE!

Well I can't think of any other explanation why I've got these (frankly rather modest) wobbly bits under my arms. So clearly it must be due to my impending ascension to a higher plane.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

New animals

Scouse Doris and I went out for lunch in Leuven and had a couple of glasses of wine. As a result a mother and child piéta of giraffes are now living in our sitting room. Unlike the pair in the photo, ours have leopardskin print cloth covers. The mother is about 1 meter 50 in height.

They look very surprised indeed.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Aaaaargh. Honey tagged me.

1. Each player must post these rules first.
2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

eight random facts/habits about me:

1. I was once, for a couple of years, the second best female archer in Belgium after a woman called Gerlinde Klingels. I own a Hoyt Spectra Lite. It lives with my cousins because they have a garden, and also because if they see it, it scares men off even faster than I do already.
2. I wish I was able to say "no" more when people ask me for favours. Sometimes I think I get invited AS the entertainment.
3. I can make soufflés. They're actually not at all difficult to do.
4. I had to have rabies jabs as a child of eight after a nasty dog bite. I didn't get the full course. Apparently it shows.
5. I don't want children of my own, I'm terrified of psychologically crippling them. I enjoy being an auntie. Hence the name.
6. I'm a cyborg. 25% of my pelvis is made of cement (see gory stuff).
7. I never date other women's men. Not even if they've just expressed slight interest. A man I was living with came home to tell me his secretary was pregnant*. Aside from his betrayal, I thought it was the most tacky thing I've ever seen any woman do to get a man. Of course I sent him to live with her and his child. I've got class, me. It didn't last, of course.
8. I'm off for a bubblebath.

TAGGED: Scouse Doris, A.A. Ayscoughe-Hussey, Mutley the Dog, the very kind Andy Ramblings, the exotic Edina Monsoon, the erudite pundit Prufrock, the activist Lucy Arin, and the Lippy Lawyer, not that I know any that aren't. Let's see what they make of it.

*yes, by him. Apparently he fell down the stairs on top of her with his flies open, or something.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Things I have learned recently.

- There are no actual words to Bee Gees songs. One goes "nanana na na na, You Win Again, na na na" or "Tragedy! Nanana nanana nanana nana it's Tragedy!".
- My grandfather was born in 1916, not 1917.
- My sister K thinks it is appropriate to take a salmon and cucumber on wholewheat sandwich to her grandfather's funeral. In her handbag.
- I do not want Danny Boy played at my funeral. I shall haunt you, I shall.
- Why is it that during the post-funeral bunfight old UKIP-voting codgers of the sort who arr-arrr their way through a conversation ("Arrr arrr grandfather what, Arnhem, jolly good show, arrr arrr arrr fuzzy-wuzzies arrr arrr Kitchener arr arrr arrr absolutely ripping!") always assume that your defunct family members were of their political opinion just because they admire them? Sometimes, just sometimes, I'm tempted to say "well, I'm glad you enjoyed his company, given that he was a communist." Not that he was, but just to wind'em up.
- The Swan in Lympstone is a dam' fine hostelry.

That's all for now.

"Arrr arrr dontcherknow, arr arr arr Mafeking, surrounded arr arr arr only cucumber and salmon sandwiches left arr arr".

Saturday, June 23, 2007


I'm off to Bridport for the funeral. Back next Wednesday.

Whilst I'm over, I shall also go and pay my respects at the enormous, smoking, tragic crater that once was Beavershott. Gosling must have been killed in the explosion, for he is gone too. I am blaming Hector Munroe. He has also disappeared from the radar, and I suspect him of suicide bombing the pub.

The Webley-Bullocks seem to have survived. Perhaps they can reveal what happened.



Elaib has been blogging through the summit. There are several delightful posts, not least the one where the hacks ran out of beer, but the best one is about this superb public relations gift the Brussels police were stupid enough to give the UKIP group. I don't agree with UKIP, but because I cling (doggedly and in the face of all evidence) to a belief that the electorate is able to vote intelligently, I will defend to the hilt UKIP's right to say what they think. Let them have their inflatable bulldozer.

In any case, I bet UKIP are delighted. To be able to deploy the "we're being gagged" argument at any summit, and particularly this summit, is fantastic news capital for them.

What stumps me is why the police felt they had to take it down. I'm sure it was on their own initiative, as no-one politically savvy would have been daft enough to hand such a PR coup to the Eurosceptics. I suspect one of Brussels's finest will be being sent to political sensitivity classes on Monday.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

William Kamkwamba

Via Worstall, a young lad making his own homemade windmills in Malawi. V. Cool if you ask me.

Secret fantasies revealed n° 2.

Tippler is recommending we all go and see The Prestige. I wasn't that bothered until I realised Christian Bale is in it. BTW if Tippler can get away with lusting after Harry Potter characters I can get away with the following:

He's a funny chameleon of an actor, is Bale. Allegedly he's Welsh, but he's so good at accents no-one would ever be able to tell. I understand he did a fabulous job of the kid in Empire of the Sun, which, sadly, I've never seen. Scary as hell even with no clothes on in American Psycho, completely unidentifiable due to the very authentic-sounding accent in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, coldly efficient with a heart of pain in Equilibrium, burgeoning superhero in Batman Begins (sequel coming, yippee!). He also voiced over Howl for Howl's Moving Castle, who is much the same sort of powerful, aching character. It all sounds so hedgehoggy and chilled, rather as if snuggling up to him would be rather like pressing one's undressed body against a freezer door covered in tears of condensation, brrrr, now I have to go and have a hot bath.

And then you get this sort of a quote:
"At first, I was somewhat hesitant to do the role. I mean, after all, Batman is an icon. But I remember, as clear as day, being at the grocery store the day the movie opened, and this little boy saw me. He couldn't have been more than five years old. He just walked right up to me and hugged me. He hugged me, and I was so moved by it that I hugged him back. Then he looked up at me and said "You're my hero." And in that moment, I knew that not only as an actor that I had done my job, but that I had made the right decision to play Batman. And I've never looked back on my the decision to play Batman since. "



Sherman's on fine form. He's been trying to buy a drink in Utah.

"Most gas stations and supermarkets have a cooler containing cans and bottles upon which is stenciled the word, "beer." Don't be fooled. It is 3.2% by volume. As we all know, these are merely bottles and cans of colored water, at which several elderly ladies from Bratislava with gigantic moles sporting prehensile hairs on their chins have screamed the word, "beer" repeatedly."

I looked for a hairy mole photo for this post, but they all made me feel sick, so you'll have to do without one.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Post alert

It's a time of arrangements. Travel, funeral, work. Very focused.

In the meantime, Scouse Doris has been posting on matters that command deep reflection. I have yet, frankly, to see a decent chocolate review, and am beginning to suspect she is merely masquerading as a chocolate expert in order to gain your confidence and use you as a confidante for her far more nefarious and exciting activities.

Anyway, you'll see what I mean. Go see.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

More photos of Grandpa

Granny and Grandpa at their 60th wedding anniversary in 2003

Granny and Grandpa and two generations of descendants in 2003. There were also the two great-granddaughters of whom I am The Aunt, who've been since joined by two great-grandsons, with another two great-grandchildren on the way.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Grandpa 1917-2007

Grandpa died quietly this morning, at 91, after a very short bout of pneumonia. He was a Merchant Navy captain, a bailiff at a Crown Court, a church warden, a tour guide for Exeter Cathedral, a fantastic father, a devoted husband, and the very best grandfather ever. In 1943 he turned up on my grandmother's doorstep in his captain's uniform with his hair brylcreamed back like Cary Grant and asked his future mother-in-law if he could take my grandmother to the cinema. They were married in three weeks ("there WAS a war on!") and celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 2003. He had a baritone as rich as Christmas pudding and as strong as brandy butter, and a sense of duty so ingrained it was passed on to us in our genes.

May we all have lives as long, fruitful, and noble as his.

Grandpa at 2 years old in 1919.

Grandpa at 16, just going off to sea.

Grandpa in 2005 at 88.