take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Friday, July 27, 2007

I blame Facebook.

Not only does it provide yet another computer-based distraction from whatever it is I should be doing at any given time (currently: preparing for our house move which is happening next week) but also it allows the user to indulge in all sorts of nostalgia, as you start to receive emails notifying you that [blast from the past] has added you as a friend or [old colleague you haven't spoken to in years] has "poked" you.

You start to wonder what happened to [so and so] and [what's his name] and so you search for them on Facebook. If this doesn't yield any results, now overcome with curiosity, you may try to Google them.

This, I did. On my old friend and partner in crime, G.

I first met G probably around March 1996. I had rushed back to work after viewing a couple of flats in my lunch hour in Central Brussels (my workplace being out of town, near the NATO headquarters) and was ravenous, so stopped by the snack bar in the basement. The organisation had extremely good facilities, including an on-site bank, restaurant, shop and snack bar - they even sold cigarettes on the premises.

I grabbed a panini and quickly wolfed it down at one of the little tables. G was also down there and we got chatting. I told him I was looking for a flat so that when my (French) boyfriend returned from military service on the other side of the world, we'd have somewhere to live. Up until then, I'd been sharing, but wanted us to have a place of our own once he was back in Europe.

G was a tortured soul - a brilliant musician who, for reasons I never really understood, ended up working as a glorified secretary at a European Institution in Brussels (which is exactly what I was doing at the time). He knew Brussels and the surrounding area well, having lived there for a while, and so he took me under his wing - taking me to bars and restaurants and on day trips to local beauty spots and other towns in Belgium.

He witnessed how my plans were shattered when my Frenchman decided that a life in Brussels with me was not what he wanted. He stood by patiently as I raged against the unfairness of it all. Together, we referred to him as F***wit - in fact, we referred to most things we didn't like as f***wits. For example, the organisation we worked for was "F***witcontrol" and a bar in town, one of our late night haunts "Rendez-vous des Artistes" was renamed "Rendez-vous des f***wits". At the time, of course, we found this hilarious.

We shared a love of words and languages, a healthy cynicism for work and a liking for good food and conversation. He noticed with surprise that I hardly drank. I noticed that he drank rather a lot, but at first I didn't think it unusual - he was British, after all and thus, by default, alcohol dependent. It soon became clear, though, that he did have problems. He told me himself - manic depressive, he'd said, although back then I didn't really have much understanding of what that really meant.

Though our relationship was never anything other than platonic, he was sometimes incredibly intense, uncomfortably so. He would seem pathetically grateful just to be in my company. A simple dish prepared for him would be described, with a sigh, as "nectar from the Gods". He would consider every detail of what was said and analyse it to the nth degree. When with him, I felt under intense scrutiny.

When my year in Brussels was up, I returned to the UK with my new found plans to become an air traffic controller and we kept in touch, though this tailed off over time. We met up a couple of times - once in London, once in Southampton. Then he started calling me. In the middle of the night. He was not in a good place, psychologically. I listened. For a long time, I just listened, but it became clear that he was desperately in love with me, that he hoped I might fix him: a responsibility I couldn't be expected to take on.

When he learned that I'd been attempting to rekindle the flames with F***wit (several years later), he was incandescent with rage and we argued bitterly on the phone. He continued to call me, in the middle of the night, to rant and rave. I programmed his number into my phone and named it "nutjob", so that I would be alerted to his trying to contact me. I told him this, and he was delighted, relishing in his own madness. His phone rants became more and more obscene and finally, I had to tell him not to ever call me again.

He didn't.

I worried about his state of mind. He needed help, but not from me - from a professional. I often wondered what had become of him.

Some seven years later and I'm googling him.

I find one article - a notification of an inquest into the death of G, aged 45, who died last year in his parental home. The age, the address - all match up. No more details, just one, cold hard line of text. One life.

With no more detail, I cannot be sure, but it's hard not to wonder whether life just got too much, whether, in the end, he just couldn't find his place in this world.

for week ending 29 July 2007

Monday, July 23, 2007

non sono tedesca 

"I am not German" does not, on first glance, seem likely to be a much-needed phrase on a trip to Lake Garda in Italy for a couple of Brits. However, the sheer number of Teutonic tourists abounding in the area means that the default nationality of visitors to the region is naturally assumed, by the native population, to be German.

On a number of occasions, my heart sank ever so slightly as I'd prepared a beautifully pronounced (if I do say so myself) Italian phrase, only to be answered by the Italian functionary in German. German - a language in which I am even less proficient than Italian. I am willing to concede that my beautifully pronounced Italian phrase probably still revealed my foreign-ness, but wouldn't it be advisable to verify the exact nature of that foreign-ness before answering in a language which may conceivably be equally alien to both parties?

After all, I had taken care to start the conversation in Italian; at least they could have humoured me (and tested me a little) by answering first in that same language. If met with the startled and gormless look of someone who clearly hasn't a clue what has just been said, then and only then should you make the next move: establish the nationality of the interlocutor, before finding a mutually suitable means of communication - even if that turns out to be hand signals and badly scribbled pictures on scraps of paper. My badly scribbled pictures are still far superior to the couple of phrases I know in German, "Ich bin zwölf jahre alt, ich habe zwei schwestern und einen bruder" not being particularly useful when purchasing ferry tickets from, say, Torri del Benaco to Maderno for two foot passengers.

Despite these linguistic disappointments, Lake Garda was stunning - surrounded by numerous lovely towns and villages, each with their own different charm and character. The pizzas were thin and loaded, the coffee was strong and black, the hotel was clean and comfortable and the air conditioning thankfully worked a treat.

The weather was far, far too hot for this particular Northern European - overweight from lack of exercise, steroids and serious illness, with a penchant for wearing black and an inability to sit still for any length of time - but that's my problem and one which saw us staggering from one shady spot to another, constantly glistening with a delightful film of sweat. Note to self: next time, go out of season.

There were some interesting dishes on offer in one particular restaurant in our resort: "Laughed to the fruits of the sea" ("risotto ai frutti di mare"), and "I shear of salmon to the grate" ("trancio di salmone alla griglia").

Evidence, if ever it was needed, that there can be no substitute for human translators. Which is handy, given my future career choice...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Picture news update 

This appeared in our front garden:

I was finally allowed to do this:

And next week we'll be here:

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


I feel like a large pile of dung.

Life, at the moment, for me, seems like a procession of dung beetles.
Grabbing bits of me and rolling them into tight little balls.
Laying their eggs in the tight little balls of me.
Eggs which are now bursting into thousands of tiny grubs.
Grubs which are feeding on my fragmented self, pulling on my limited resources.

This blog, my illness, the house sale, the upcoming move and all its associated hassles, financial concerns, work: all of these are grubs, gnawing away at me, sucking the moisture out of me and leaving me brittle, ready to shatter at any moment.

I am snappy and snarky and bitter and bitchy and crabby and crotchety and flabby and flaky and I don't like myself right now.

There are certain grubs which I cannot shake off - I must deal with them. But others can be cast aside.

So I'll be staying away from here for a while, if you don't mind.