cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22Growing older in the midst of a youthful technological era is a curious conundrum.

While one half of your brain has resigned itself  to cynicism and world weariness, the other half  is startled out of all reverie by the daily barrage of images and information spilling from our computers, television screens and mobile devices.

It’s a visual media deluge, which can either confirm your increasingly jaundiced view of life or, every now and then, make you glad that your cells are still functioning in a relatively normal manner.

Confusion has never been this baffling and for me, yesterday in particular, was a day of such conflicting emotions.

In the early half of the day, my faith in human nature took a considerable nosedive when the news sites that I visited were full of images like this,

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with people actually having discussions as to whether this is racism or satire?

Aristophanes, Alexander Pope, Aldous Huxley, Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Matt Groening; these are some of the names that come to mind when satire is mentioned.  Tea Party wingnuts wielding inflammatory, disrespectful posters and spouting dangerous bullshit, is not.

Despite heading out to enjoy a semi-boozy lunch with a good friend, this picture drifted around my head for the rest of the day, causing much sighing and feeling of malaise until, later in the evening, an event occurred which lifted the gloom.

In July this year, I joined the social networking site Twitter.  Well, to tell the truth, I signed on in February, but was so freaked out when the only people following me were spam bots and porn bots (and this is before I even knew what a ‘bot‘ was), that I ran away, back to the comforting familiarity of Facebook.  Over the next few months I read and heard more about Twitter until finally, the events surrounding the Iran elections persuaded me to give it another try.

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I knew nothing about Twitter etiquette, retweeting, direct messaging or who saw whose messages.  I felt vaguely uneasy about just jumping in to talk to total strangers and for a couple of weeks suffered from stalking perception anxiety.  I made silly mistakes and probably tweeted inane drivel but ploughed ahead.  Any networking activity involves a learning curve, right?

Maybe I just got lucky with the people I chose to follow on Twitter.  Any error was gently corrected and despite being a ‘newbie’ (ack, I hate that term), I was made to feel welcome by all.  People join social networking sites for a myriad of reasons. For me, the fact that from my small corner of Belgium, I can connect with writers, journalists, scientists, artists, fashionistas, photographers, comedians, musicians, mothers, fathers, nutcases – “the whole gamut of human emotion” – is a mind boggling wonderment.

As humans we live to connect.  It forms part of our makeup.  Yesterday evening, at 7p.m. GMT, in London, I watched and was part of,  a connection which negated the hate images of earlier in the day and raised my awareness as to “the kindness of strangers”.

The Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, London, is currently home to sculptor Anthony Gormley’s ‘living monument’ art project  One & Other .  It is a daunting 3 meters (10ft) high, open to the elements pedestal, where each participant may showcase their point of view of life; their juggling, dancing, oration or ability to turn into a tomato skills, for one hour.  If a week is a long time in politics, one hour on a plinth must feel like an eternity.

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A quiet buzz had been starting to build in the ‘Twitterverse’ as we all became slowly aware that one of the ‘ladies who tweet’ was preparing to be forklifted up and become one of the ‘living monuments’.  Events may move quickly on Twitter but support shifts like the wind.  Within the space of a few short hours, women living in or around London re-organised their schedules, ignored their partners, donated their children to charity and flocked to Trafalgar Square to stand by their girl (women are superb at this).

Henri Hunter’s hour began at 7pm GMT.  Here in Belgium, it was 8pm, the kids put themselves to bed;  no teeth brushed.  In California it was 11am and the girls were coffee primed.  In New York, it was 2pm, work or no work, they were glued. In Rome, it was aperitivo time – online – (yipee!).  All over the UK, the usual routines stopped as the “Trafalgar Sq. Online Crew” (thanks, Nene), tuned in to tweet support and comments.  In the wilds of beautiful Scotland, one woman was looking, listening and helping to direct the web cameras.  Kiz,  Photographer extraordinaire found the best angles for the onlookers and sweet-talked lovely Felix and Zoom (the ‘One & Other ‘ Camera Operators), into pointing out the best spots for close-ups of:

Henri – (@titianred)

Henri screenshots1

The flame-haired, Autumn Goddess of the Plinth.

The Shoes –

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Sister, I would SWIM to Finland to pick up a pair of those….

The Tweet Support Gang –

Henri screenshots6

Jeez girls, aren’t you supposed to be looking UP..?

See what I mean?  It’s an addiction, I know.

The male support were keeping quiet in the background.  The ‘Silent One’ proferred the champagne  and goodies for the ‘après-plinth’.  Cheers, O Silent One!

The other male had to run off to Somerset House for work, but as he said to me once in my earlier days:

“It was a good thing”.

Yes. Yes, it was a marvelous thing.

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All thanks for the screenshots in this post go to Kiz (@deililly).  Check out her superb photography by clicking on the link above – if it works – God, when am I going to GET this stuff…?

Even more thanks to Henri (@titianred) for allowing me to use her magnificence for this post.  Will you finally adopt me now?

To the ‘Twitter Girls & Boys’: too many to name, but you are all there, in my heart & laptop, until some virus wipes you all out. Thanks.

To my paren….all right, already….

cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22There are times when you simply cannot avoid overhearing other people’s embarrassing conversations.

No matter how much you desperately shuffle around in your handbag, pretend to frantically text or hum nonsensically to yourself while avoiding eye contact at all costs, the very air you are sharing seems fraught with humiliation.

Banks, post offices, hairdressers, supermarket check-out lines, public transport; we are assaulted daily by a constant barrage of misfortunes.  Most are instantly forgettable or serve as amusing anecdotes over the dinner table, but if you are lucky, you may find yourself rooted to the spot

Such a conversation was overheard this week.

LOCATION:

Visa & Immigration Dept., U.S. Embassy, Brussels.

THE SCENE:

A large room with eight or nine individual, bullet-proof glass booths.  The interviewer communicates with the applicant via a microphone, thus causing the interviewees to bellow out their replies.  Excellent.

THE APPLICANT:

Frumpish, elderly lady (early 70’s or so); blue rinse needing a touch-up, Aldi eco grocery bag, undetermined European accent ( maybe Swiss).  Possibly like this, but minus the pearls.

smallgranny

THE INTERVIEWER:

Passably handsome, mid-thirties, American male; gelled hair, small shaving nick on chin, pen twiddler.  Obvious boredom with Civil Service job hugely alleviated by the encounter.

THE CONVERSATION:

INT:  Good morning, Ma’am, (ruffles through sheaf of papers).  You are applying for an Immigrant Visa to move to the United States?

APP:  Yes sir, yes I am.

INT:  And you are retired; no longer working?

APP:  For five years now, yes.

INT:  Ma’am, (leans forward to glass, twiddling pen, staring intently). I see you have checked the ‘yes‘ box of the ‘Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense or crime‘ question.  Is this correct?

APP:  (Slight glance around, nervous shuffle).  Well, that would be correct, sir.

Everybody in room concentrating HARD on cracks in floor tiles.

INT:  How long ago was this?

APP:  Umm, about…oh, about seven years ago. *cough* (Nervous fiddling with hair).

INT:  And you were convicted for how long, Ma’am?

APP:   Five years.

INT:  Of which you served?

APP:  Two and a half. (Brightening), I was released on good behaviour, you know.

INT:  And what, exactly, was the nature of your crime?

APP:  Um…embezzlement, sir.

INT:  I see, (visibly excited but trying to remain stern).  How much did you embezzle, Ma’am?

APP:  Oh, let me see, um….about 91,000 Euro, I think…

INT:  *Pause*  (increasingly rapid pen twirling and seat shifting)

Even the flies are agog:

tinyfly

INT:  *Ahem*  Ma’am, the Government of the United States of America generally do not take kindly to convicted embezzlers looking to move there.  Do you have relatives in the country?

APP:  No.

INT:  Anyone who can vouch for you at all?

APP:  Em, no.

INT:  *Perplexed sigh*  Why do you want to move to the U.S., Ma’am?

APP:  Sir, I feel that Europe no longer has anything to offer me….

INT:  (Large stamp in hand) – APPLICATION DENIED.

Overcome with incredulity and mirth, my trusty eavesdropper made her way directly to the nearest Brasserie to knock back several kir vin blancs and reflect on the amount of ‘crazy’ in the world.

Me, I like degrees of crazy in all their variance.  We are, each of us, well equipped with it; only the way in which we choose to display our crazy differs.

And, between you and me, I think embezzling lady had balls.

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cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22…The Twelve Year Anniversary Edition

“A husband is what is left of a lover, after the nerve has been extracted.”

Helen Rowland: A Guide to Men (1922)

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It’s Sunday morning, 6.00am, Belgian time.  Twelve years ago it was Saturday morning, 6.00am, Irish time, with a low Atlantic mist comfortably settled on the grounds of our chosen castle.  There, six hours later, The Drummer and I would glide ceremoniously into the next phase of our lives together.  Suckers truly are born every minute.

Symb07It wasn’t the most conventional of weddings. Our cake was flat and black, in the form of the Celtic Triskele.  The Celts believed that the essence of life was tripartite; earth, water, sky; past, present, future; birth, death, rebirth; sun, energy, motion.  Looking back now, I think we were both just raving, hippy fruitcakes who preferred sponge.

The Drummer had recently returned from touring in Japan where he had been presented with the ‘traditional’ Japanese bride and groom wedding cake figures, representing the whole “until death do us part” thing.  The perplexed guests snapped more photos of our ‘Death Cake’ than us and Great-Aunt Maud was so visibly shaken, that we had the Red Cross ambulance service on stand-by for the rest of the night.

weddingcake

It was a crazy day of love and laughter, music, dancing, camaraderie and excessive alcohol consumption.  The omens looked good for the future.

So came the Anniversaries.  The closest we ever got to exchanging the customary ‘by year’ gifts was on our 1st Anniversary when I taught the Drummer how to change a toilet-paper roll in the bathroom.  It was a seminal moment in our relationship and probably the last time we have actually been together to celebrate this day.

Even as I write, I is here and he is rehearsing in Dublin, (back tomorrow). But that’s OK.  After twenty-one years of being in love with the same person, it’s not about the fake ‘Hallmark’ phrasing in a hastily chosen card or the tension that comes with a wrongly chosen gift.  It’s all about waking up again tomorrow, in the same bed, with the same person, grafting out the daily, repetitive routines and trying to make it work for both of you.  It’s about finding the ‘common ground’ in which to live, so that you don’t impale him with a skewer in the ear when he mixes his coloureds with the whites and he won’t plunge your head down the toilet when you transform into ‘Were-Mama’ with every full moon.  It’s about being able to argue ferociously and love ferociously in turn.

So, I’m keeping my gifts simple for tomorrow:

  • Have sewn on two missing buttons from that white shirt which he loves; (not the same buttons, but chances of him noticing are slim).
  • His gift to me of the fascinating “Puppetry of the Penis” book two years ago will be reciprocated by my surprise find of  “The Ancient Art of Labia Pleating”. Now we can both find solace during those long weeks of absence.
  • A T-Shirt printed with “My Dad Is A Rock Star!” from the kids, because he is.  To them.
  • For one night only, I will refrain from bitching about…anything.

As an extra bonus, I am including this image of us in all our insanity, taken on this day 12 years ago.  For some bizarre reason, it formed part of a series of portraits taken about the city in which we lived, the whole of which later became a book.  Probably well out of print by now.  My Mother hates this picture.

IMG

And although I do kind of feel as though I looked like something out of a 1980’s John Landis horror flick, this one somehow sums up that day for me. Plus, both of us had more hair. Lots.

Happy Anniversary, dear Drummer.

Happy Birthday too, babe.  xx

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cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22Just a quickie as we are in the process of preparing for what could be loosely termed as a Vacance en Famille.

It is mid-August, which means that ‘The Monsters’ have successfully completed their transition from semi-wild to totally feral.  The aged and decrepit mutt has become even more senile (do dogs get Alzheimers?).

The Drummer has taken to sleeping ‘al fresco’ under the cherry tree to reap the benefit of the “bracing night air”, and I can now no longer distinguish between a simple ‘night sweat’ and a ‘fear-of-what-I’ve-forgotten-to-do sweat’ which renders me wide awake and gibbering at 3.36am EVERY night.

The roof box has yet to be put on the car.  There are piles of clothes on tables, chairs, beds and dog basket.  The only bag fully packed is that containing the medicaments. This will cater for every possible injury or virus which could be encountered; immodium, motillium, savlon, dettol wipes, mosquito spray, neurofen for kids, neurofen for adults (3 boxes), five bottles of sun-cream (factors 15 to 50), St. John’s Wort, lithium and kid repellent.  I’m taking no chances, people.

Now, The Drummer being available to holiday with his nearest and dearest during the month of August is about as rare as a sighting of Halley’s Comet.   He is either holed up in some airless studio composing offbeat music for quaint television shows or sweating it out on a tour circuit of South East Asia.  When deciding on where to relocate the brood for the vacation, the fact that he would actually be here was much cause for celebration and what better way to whoop it up than with and to be in, ‘La Champagne’!


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Moments of true inspiration are rare with me, but this has to rank up there with the other one.  Having inveigled our very dear, old friends to accompany us with their less feral, better dressed offspring, we found our perfect holiday rental smack dab on the ‘Cote des Bar’ Champagne route.  We will be a ten minute drive to Les Lacs D’Aube, three enormous lakes with plenty of water sports, swimming and exotic French ‘bird’ watching (the men are oddly eager to engage in the latter.  There has even been talk of buying binoculars).  A large children’s amusement park called ‘Nigloland’ (pronounced Nee-glow-land) is situated but a few kilometers from our cottage.  Le Pippin and La Pipette are spewing with excitement about this and despite constant correction, keep gleefully informing everyone they meet that they are going to ‘Negroland‘ “pour les vacances”.

I will not even begin to describe to you what scenarios this conjures up in my unhealthy imagination.

But the best part of all, the icing on the ‘gateau’ if you will, is that yours truly and ‘The Wise One’ will be able to indulge in our most favourite activity: Cellar Hopping.  Thirty-eight glorious kilometers of vineyards and Champagne houses offering copious quantities of ‘degustation’ (tasting). We shall nourish ourselves along the way by sampling super-stinky cheeses in tiny hamlets and keeping a crusty baguette to hand at all times.  Come evening, cock-eyed and helpless, we shall stagger home to our loved ones and be, to quote ‘Charlie & Lola’, “completely ready to do sleeping”.

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All that remains to be seen is whether our aging livers will cope with the excess.

All that remains to be said is:

“A Bientot”!

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cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22

There are two things in life of which I can be completely certain:

– Death.

– Another pointless Dairy Product.

Because I am a caring kind of harridan and if I can prevent even ONE other person from experiencing this abhorrence, I will share with you now the letter I felt compelled to post this morning. It was written in French but I will do the best I can with the translation.

Some parts just do not translate.

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August, 4th, 2009.

Cher Bonne Maman,

For many years now you have provided the warmth and security for my family.

Scarcely a day passes without your loving presence on our table. Whether it be your teeth-coating ‘Gelee de Framboises‘ (much beloved by ‘les enfants’ for the breakfast) or your truly remarkable ‘Confiture de Cerise Griotte‘ which, I must confess, is used more than the Ketchup a la Heinz in this house – do you know how well that is the match sublime with the Steak au Cheval?!

You can imagine therefore, Messieurs, our delight totale when today we saw, while walking through the ‘Produits Laitiers’ aisle of our supermarket, the sign –

“NOUVEAU!”,   Petit Pot Nature

– accompanied by the red/white tablecloth ‘ancienne’ design which can only be ‘Bonne Maman‘.

“Youpi!”, cried my progeny, beside each other with the joy. “Maman, may we, pleeeese…?”.

Because mes enfants are more sticking to me than La Bruni to your Nicolas, I agreed with sagacity and having completed the courses, we returned to our home.

Ensuing was the happy scene in our foyer:

"Miam, miam!"

"Miam, miam!"

With the eagerness of the weasels who chase the rodents, they tore open the ‘Petits Pots’;  Messieurs, such moments of harmonie are rare with us.

Helas, what was to follow was the disaster totale:

Le collapse

Le collapse

“My small fleas!”, I screamed as they hit the terrasse.  With the horror I peered within one of your ‘Petits Pots’, entered my spoon and took the taste.

Nom de Dieu, Messieurs!  This mess of lumpy coddles, this pale melange of addled eggs, milk and sugar, this insult to even the most bland of produits culinaires.   Let me assure you ‘Bonne Maman‘, there can be nothing “natural” about your ‘nature’ .  Do you make to presume that your consumers are possessed with the palates of the goats?

Upon the revival of my dazed and choking enfants, they made the decision to send to you this message:

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I fear to have to tell you, ‘Bonne Maman‘ that we shall now be returning to the products dairy provided by the ‘Aldi‘.  At the least, with their addition of 25 enhancers of flavour and the gum in every pot, they have the understanding of the pleasures of the young.

Enfin, we place your odourless preparation to rest:

"Adieu"

"Adieu"

Please agree with me Messieurs, my fullest sentiments of distress,

etc, etc.

P.S. We shall be happy to accept a large carton of your assorted jams and fruit merchandise to aid in our recovery. Merci.

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cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22

So, The Drummer flies off again for some Studio Recording, or DVD Shoot, or Hi-Hat Convention, or Stick Get-Together…whatever. As is customary, he telephones the next day to assure me that he and his skins are not shark food in some ocean somewhere.

He is unaware that I have PMT.

The conversation goes something like this…..


DR: “Hi hon’, arrived fine, all set-up here. Everything looks good. Busy day ahead but should be smooth enough.  How’s the new Blog coming along?

ME: (What Drummer actually hears)

“….kids wrecking head….blah….bloody grass not cut……why didn’t                            you…moan…ironing pile….blahdy, blah, blah…..dog pee….bitch…I swear I              will….groan….underpants under bed AGAIN, couldn’t you                                                have…..whine…never get around to…blah, blah…..just in middle when                       goddamn Jehovah’s Witness…..wail….cannot listen to f***ing ‘Granny                       Murray’….grumble…WILL kill that tomcat….grouse…gripe…

DR: *Silence*

ME: “….hello…”?

DR: “Yup, still here”

ME: *Whiny Tone* “My blog page doesn’t look like everybody else’s”

DR: “Uh-huh..”

ME: “Well, how the f***k am I supposed to know about bloody Pingbacks and                    Trackbacks?.  What the hell does HTML mean anyway?  The last I heard,                   Tags and Toggles were things belonging to clothes.  Aren’t these people                       supposed to DO all that stuff for you?  WTF is a Widget? Oh yeah, and                         WHERE is the stupid hash symbol thingy on this keyboard…”?

DR: “Babe, shouldn’t you have kinda’ looked into all that before you started?”

ME:    *CLICK*


A few things here:

I’m posting this because I woke up this morning feeling ansty.

Yes….I AM in the middle of the next blog, (see above rant for explanation of delay).

I am totally working on getting the site to resemble a normal Blogspot.

This morning at 6.30am (Belgian time), I learned how to “insert an image”!

....and how to "insert caption".

....and how to "insert caption"

Yes, thank you, I am aware that this “image” has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

Most importantly:

No Drummers were injured during the course of this conversation.

cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22People have asked us many times over the past few years why we chose to move to the unchartered meadows of South Belgium.  Why, in God’s holy, unstigmatized name, would we possibly want to leave the glorious land of Saints and Scholars, with it’s verdant greenery, poetic scenery, quaint pot-holed roads and voracious developers?

Patiently, we would sigh and trot out our carefully rehearsed replies:

 – Can’t afford any more Cillit Bang to remove the ‘verdant greenery’ inching its way down the wall towards the Monster’s beds.

– Can’t afford the high-resolution zoom binoculars needed to view the ‘poetic scenery’ through the gaps in the  housing blocks and cranes.

– Tired of dinner party conversations where the sole topics of conversation are: 

    “Well, how many buy-to-rent properties do you think ARE still available?”  

    “Just invested in my third set of Michelin all-weathers..this YEAR!!”

– A few things mumbled about SAD disorder (in EVERY season), archaic       languages, price rip-offs, celtic tiger my arse, and the high meat content of Belgian saucisses.

Now, when one makes up ones mind to cart one’s nearest & dearest to a foreign shore (incurring an immediate 453 hairs on head to turn white overnight), how can one ever be sure that this decision is right?

 How can one be sure that ones Monsters won’t develop worms from an over abundance of produits de porc?

How can one be sure that The Drummer will be able to navigate through the double entendres of an unfamiliar tongue?

How can one be sure of how much time it will take to wean oneself off the food department of M & S?

Then, finally…..finally… after 3 long years of wrenched, twisted hands and the agonised plucking out of 283 of the aforementioned white hairs….a message from GOD….yes, He!  Yesterday the validity of my decision was presented like a seraphic bolt of  blinding light upon my slightly patchy scalp.  I could smell the intervention of Divinity here; surely, this was no random act of my own self-evolution?  

Ireland’s signing into law of  The Defamation Bill which “renews the offence of BLASPHEMY provided for under 1960’s legislation”….(ahh…40 odd years of de-christianisation down the swanny and we won’t even whisper a word about that nasty church/state separation thingy), could only mean one thing for me personally.

I am FREE to cuss, swear, blaspheme and be profane, wherever and whenever I choose (usually sur les autoroutes).  In addition…..I can thunder and blast and scream unsavoury, religious epithets….IN A FEW DIFFERENT LANGUAGES…!

Why, from where I sit typing out this blasphemous tome, I can reach four different countries within 1 hour happily roaring out my “Holy Mother of un-godly sudden brakers” to the idiot in the car ahead.  What’s more, it’s not just on the motorways….thanks be to the Celestial Choirs, there is as much to curse about here as there is at home….

Please feel free to leave as many religious profanity comments here as you like, especially if you are in Ireland and feel the need to…you know…let it all out.