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Sugar High

Posted on: Thursday, 28 August 2014

The end is nigh. We're back at work - all be it in the obligatory Training Day uniform of ill-fitting jeans and bad trainers, but it's work nevertheless - and teaching starts next Tuesday. SOB. Where did those glorious weeks go? And, more to the point, where did this belly come from? I left school at 19 weeks preggo and I'm now 27 and WOOOAH there.is.a.difference.

So, pre-empting the Nightmares Of Doom (and I still had one!) on Wednesday night before the official return today, I got up on Monday, got the tram in at normal time (ugh, hello 7am daylight, haven't seen YOU for a while) and did a day 'to get ahead' (hahahahaha oh sweet, naive Laura). I was mightily smug. The next morning, however, I was knackered. That's the thing with this work business - it's every day, five days on the trot. Who came up with this? Not Scandinavians, that's for sure.

Oo, and we've been to see some creches too. I know. HOW. WHAT. My mind is still struggling to compute that this child is NOT YET BORN and yet we're thinking about its childcare in over a year's time. This is the norm, apparently - in fact, we're late - you're supposed to inform creches 15 weeks into pregnancy to get on some kidney transplant-style waiting list, at least if you want a hallowed place at a Francophone commune creche where the fees are cheap (500ish euros full-time, or so goes the rumour) and doctors' notes result in deductions of fees for days legitimately missed due to sickness. I KNOW! My sister was speechless with admiration/envy.  

This was not a commune creche. It was a private creche. It was lovely (although the Romanian-orphanage-style room full of cots was a little bit, well, odd). It was also expensive. It's in the right area for us (I don't mean that in terms of our baby wouldn't be seen dead anywhere else, but rather that the transport links for work are good). Apparently we can claim some of the eye-watering outlay back in tax. In fact, I had the most boring text message exchange of our entire relationship with Adam about this very important fiscal issue. I've never felt more attractive as when typing the words 'we'd qualify for 11 euros tax back for each day of FT childcare' into BBM messenger.

I also went for a scan and the gestational diabetes test at the hospital. AGAIN with the mental private healthcare process: display no symptoms of anything ever but for the LOVE of your unborn CHILD make sure you have every expensive diagnostic test under the sun - and thank your gold-plated-Daddy-Warbucks-health-insurance-stars for it. And actually, while I'm on, in a bizarre twist of coincidence do you know how many times I've come across the term 'socialised healthcare' in newspaper articles - all right, all right, episodes of The West Wing - as if it's something dirty or cheap or dangerous recently? I'll tell ya: LOADS. And to me, and maybe to Brits on the continent generally, that's just mad. My hospital is lovely, don't get me wrong, and my doctor is lovely and I am appreciative that I won't be forced to conjugate unfamiliar French verbs mid-delivery AND I can buy a bloody leather bag in the giftshop should the fancy take me, really I am, but it's just all a bit - excessive. There's a post-modernist sculpture in the hallway. The fella at the sandwich bar today asked me if I wanted balsamic vinegar.

And I think of the NHS vision and their wonderful staff, doing things efficiently and largely in the most cost-effective way possible, and I like that. It's responsible. It's no-nonsense.

ANYHOO. Check me and my first world problems out: my hospital is too nice. My luxury leather handbag bought in the giftshop (not really) is chafing my shoulder. The midwife makes crap tea (not really). Second time around (!) I'll be a lot more informed and a lot braver about sacking some of this guff off, I feel.

So today I had blood taken and then I drank this. It was rank.

Mmm, sweet all-natural naranja. 

Then I sat about for an hour and had more blood taken. My veins started putting up a fight at this point - "Ce n'est pas vrai, ce n'est pas vrai" muttered the nurse, which disturbed me a little - and she had to take it from my wrist.

Then I sat around for another hour and had more blood taken. By this point my veins all seemed to have pretty much collapsed. I thought she was going to have to start hunting in between my toes and I would leave l'hopital looking like Amy Winehouse in those horrific 2007 ballet shoe paparazzi shots.

But hey, test done, and hopefully I don't have diabetes, my bairn will suffer no lasting side-effects other than maybe a predilection for Monster energy drinks and I can just get on with the serious business of getting fatter and fatter. After being bridesmaid for my friend this weekend, obvs. Everyone loves a pregnant bridesmaid! Woop woop! That DJ better have Salt n Peppa Push It, I'm telling you.

And so I shall leave you with a few things that are floating my boat this week despite the impending tolling of the Back To Work bell:

* James Booth's new biography of Philip Larkin is Book of the Week on Radio 4. YOLO! You can listen again for seven days only here. It sounds wicked and is giving me endless quotable nuggets of twitter joy. Don't thank me all at once.

* The idea of getting a tattoo done by this woman. In another braver, edgier life.

* Donna Wilson has launched a range of baby and children's clothes for John Lewis. LOOK. Can I justify buying this now? Do you think a boy could wear this? I totally do, so don't tell me otherwise, yeah?

* This is my favourite twitter account ever. Everything she says makes me die. There's an English Language A level coursework project in it somewhere.

And you? What's rocking your boat? I could do with some good social media accounts if anyone has any recommendations (I want more real people, yerr narr?), book recommendations to keep my reading strength up as term begins or, you know, places where I can look at pretty baby stuff is always welcome. And if anyone has any creche advice for an actual Creche Idiot (that's me), please do tell. What should I be looking for? What questions should I be asking? Although you should know I have all the tax questions covered. I'm cool like that.

Brother Got Wed

Posted on: Friday, 22 August 2014

So I was saying that we were back in Northumberland for my brother's wedding. 

And, oh my gawd, it was wonderful. 

Hence the post-holiday comedown. Sob. I find myself in a situation not unlike that bit in Trainspotting where Renton goes cold turkey except with fewer dead babies and more ironing. 

And, you know, it was wonderful for all of the obvious reasons. The Irish contingent were over and fully committed to doing what they do best (i.e. having an almighty session) and so 'the craic was mighty' (direct quote from me fatha) on the Friday...and the Saturday...and again on the Sunday when they sojourned to Newcastle to await their flight back to Dublin on the Monday morning (which was then delayed for 6 hours thanks to an oil leak - then the vast majority of them had to wait for a bus to Sligo and eventually ended up getting back something like 12 hours after they were supposed to - but hey let's focus on the positive, eh? It was a great day!)

And, obviously, on the Saturday I watched my little brother (13 months, these things matter) get wed to the lovely Solila. And that isn't just an empty epithet - she really is so very lovely, which makes me feel full of kittens and rainbows and butterflies; I mean, they work so well as a couple i.e. by making each other the very best version of themselves and they're going to have the most beautiful babies imaginable (Irish/Swedish/Vietnamese/Chinese superbabies no less) in the hopefully not too distant future (no pressure) - oh, it's just too much. Gush. Forgive me: I'm a pregnant woman, for heaven's sake, I'm constantly crying at the drop of a hat - or, if you'd prefer a more specific example, a picture of an orphaned baby wombat in the newspaper. The wedding was an emotional marathon and I took GOLD, man. 

Anyway, here is a very scientific calculation which explains why last Saturday was indeed a Very Good Day:


It isn't rocket science. 

But in reality, a big part of it being a Very Good Day was because it was actually a great event. A real occasion. You see, I've come to a profound realisation about weddings: once the novelty wears off (I would say at the age of 24, before which point you're just delighted that someone's having a big party and inviting you to it - I mean, what's not to like? There's booze! Dancing! Painstakingly hand-crafted name cards you'll find sticky with Prosecco at the bottom of your clutch bag the following day!) you come to learn that Not All Weddings Are Created Equal; some are just better than others. And this one was top of the pops. 

Behold me evidence:

Exhibit A: James looking like a total hot rod. 

Exhibit B: Solila looking like a total babe. 

Exhibit C: The nephew charming the ovaries of every woman in the place.

Exhibit D: Mark's best man's speech (you might remember him from TV programmes such as Coach Trip series 7), which opened with with the words, 'Welcome to the wedding of James and Chairman WOW!' 

It could have gone two ways. It went the good way. Bit of a bum-clencher, though.  

Exhibit E: Mark's filthy dancing with my mum's cousin Sheila during which he made absolutely no concession for the fact that she is indeed a more, ahem, mature lady and mimed a flamboyant arse-slap motion behind her as she shimmied. No photographic evidence available, sadly - I was probably crying.

Exhibit F: The appearance of several hundred glowsticks at approximately 10pm. Everyone got into the glowstick mood, from my 76 year old Aunty Kathy who waved two in each hand as she sat with her feet up on a chair during a dancing Time Out to my cousin Dermot who fashioned some kind of disco crucifixion crown of glowstick thorns which he then wore to bed. Again, no photographic evidence available, alas.

Exhibit G: The reappearance of The Troubleshooters, the rockabilly band from our wedding. They're so retro they still have a MySpace page. My Heart Will Go On! Dueling Banjos! Jokes about Sunderland AFC! Umaze. 

Now all I need is for some more people to get married (or some people to get divorced, and then get remarried). Anyone?

Solila: 'Do I have a double chin?'

Holiday Comedown

Posted on: Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Soooo we're back in Belgy after a bit o'time in the UK. And, of course, the heavens have opened in anticipation of my return to work in a week's time. Hello, pathetic fallacy. The rain is of biblical proportions; the pigeons are sodden and everything is the colour of lead - the sky, the clouds, people's faces, the pavements, the dog excrement. The apartment is filled to the rafters with damp post-holiday washing (is there a more miserable task in all of one's allotted span on earth? I doubt it) and I could do with a bit of exercise somewhere where there is sky and grass and fresh air. Alas, it is not to be. There's nowt for it but to steer my lumpish form about on a yoga mat in front of YouTube. 

Maybe tomorrow. 

I think it was probably because the UK was on such sparkling form that I feel a bit meh. Even when it pissed it down in Cumbria (see above) it was still all spectacular skies and lush greenness. 

It might have helped that all we did was 1) buy copious amounts of newspapers 2) read copious amounts of newspapers and 3) eat party food from the poshest service station in the UK (I'm deadly serious, behold its freakin' Trip Advisor review) in an attempt to reecreate the Northumberland honeymoon of 2011.

And then after all of the above, Brother Got Wed. It was a magical day of love, family, a rockabilly version of My Heart Will Go On and 200+ glowsticks. To follow. 

I got my hair did, in the words of Missy Elliott

Posted on: Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Hiya. It's been hot, hmm? Stinking hot. Oh-my-gawwwd-get-those-patio-doors-open-hot. No-duvet-on-the-bed-hot. I-cannot-physically-bear-to-do-the-ironing-hot. Various appellations, one particular breed of muggy Belgian airlessness. Pregnancy may have assaulted my skin (I'm a red-chinned hormonal mess at the minute), robbed me of some fairly major independent memories (Adam: "You used to live with a girl called Jenny. She was a nurse. She lived in your house for four months." Me: "I have no idea what you're talking about." I am GENUINELY FRIGHTENED that my brain is about to DISAPPEAR) and I have a furious hunger that CANNOT be sated no matter how many ricecakes with peanut butter I gorge upon, but by far the most noticeable side effect is that before I was always cold. Now, I'm always hot. I have my own personal central heating system and it's the size of a canteloupe, apparently. 

Anyhoo. I'm researching creches since I was openly laughed at for not having found one yet. I cannot believe that this child is still in utero and I'm browsing websites depicting arty 50mm shots of fully-grown toddler cherubs with golden curls and gap-toothed smiles having a wonderful time shaking tambourines at their weekly 'La Boite a Musique' class and scoffing organic mid-morning snacks. Yerr whaaaat? And it's all taken on a new urgency since it turns out that the childcare option I sort of had my eye on charges 100 euros per day. PER DAY. Or, in alternative fiscal terms, two grand a month. Hahahahahahaha. Hahahaha. Ha. 

Ahem. And so we will be pursuing other avenues. 

OK, that's my scintillating pregnancy update rant over with. You're welcome. 

So today I had my hair copperfied/de-greyed in Belgium for the very first time. Yes, I have lived here for over two years. No, it is not at ALL preposterous to go back to the UK every time one needs a haircut/colour. My big fear was the language gap: that I would explain in halting French that I wanted a shaggy fringe and my layers tidied up and that somehow that would translate into, 'SHAVE IT ALL OFF, BIG BOY!" Anyway, turns out the owner of the salon is from Manchester and everyone in there is trilingual (of course they are) and the girl who did my hair was actually so chatty I could hardly finish my slutty hairdresser novel. Although she was Spanish (I think), she'd definitely picked up a trace of trademark Belgian directness: "No, we must use permanent colour, the semi-permanent will not cover the grey." Thank you. "And I will not use a toner or an ammonia colour because your hair is dry and in bad condition at the ends." And again, I thank you.

Anyway, it turned out nicely. Gratuitous selfie:

Voila, no grey! And ze hair is in much better condition. Merci, Desiree. 

And this is the slutty hairdresser novel:

There is an apple sticker in the groove on the floor - I am a slattern. 

Everyone reads shite at the hairdressers: it's international law. Plus, in my defence, the choice was this or Cosmo which actually had a two-page spread on 'Decode his Emojis!' BUUUH. Anyway, you've probably heard the premise: mid-20s newspaper hack is paid to have a sexy social life by The Telegraph; it all goes a bit Pete Tong in a sex-and-drugs-and-misery kinda way; but then JUST as she gets herself a prescription for some anti-depressants she meets a fella and has a baby and life becomes all rainbows and kittens and bucolic idylls. As frustrating as it sounds. Yes, I am a prude and a bore. Whatevs.

Cheese, bread, cheese and more cheese.

Posted on: Friday, 1 August 2014

Capri, Capri, with your eyes so blue
Capri, Capri, I've got a crush on you
Capri, Capri, I'm so in love with you-ou-oooou **repeat to tuneless fade**

I've been singing that for nigh-on a month. If you change 'eyes' to 'sea' it's 100% accurate. 

So we're back from Capri (well, Anacapri - the cheaper, non-Guccified side of the island) and it was goodly - glorious - nay, sublime! Look at it man. LOOK AT IT. It's like joke scenery. 

My dad, who has an unwittingly beautiful turn of phrase, would probably call it 'the finest holiday in all the world that I have ever been on in my life' if indeed he had been on said holiday (he wasn't. It was just me and Bedders and forty-seven books between us). I'm just guessing, but I imagine he would say something like that.  

So yes, Anacapri, decidedly less showy little sister of Capri, but no less stunning. We stayed in a little B&B with only three rooms run by the delightful Carla ('It is nothing!'  and a little dismissive hand wave was her response to our effusive thank yous for the lifts she provided everywhere/the surprise birthday cake she produced for mon anniversaire/the general bending-over-backwards she did all day every day) and her wonderfully true-to-stereotype Italian family (by that I mean supremely generous, kind, friendliest people in all the world who grow all their own tomatoes and basil. Of course they do). 


And here it is looking RIDIC in the evening:

And here it is looking UTTERLY RIDIC later on:


Basically, every day followed this delicious pattern:

9:15am: Wake up

9:30am: Sumptuous and decadent breakfast which looked a little bit like THIS:

10:30am-6:30pm: Lounge in hammock/by pool/do a bit of yoga/play with aperture on the camera/read the paper/read a book/listen to the gentle thrumming of cicadas and distant scooters as they combine in melodious harmony. 

On a couple of occasions we really pushed ourselves and went for a WALK:

Although to be honest the walks were usually a penance for eating something like this:

Gooey ricotta and spinach and soft baked bread JOYFULNESS. 

6:30pm: Shower, out for tea and more cheesey-bread-goodness. 

We had a wonderful time, with only minimal time and effort expended worrying over my lack of a stylish maternity capsule wardrobe (I mainly looked like an All Saints reject in my sister's Premaman cut-off combat pants and sunbleached gingery top-knot) which is pretty good going for me. And then this happened and I was reminded that we are all, indeed, the same and no matter how effortlessly sun-kissed you may appear or how many Rolexes you own you will still occasionally get caught out by the rain and be forced to wear a placca bag on your head like the rest of the serfs:

And I had a birthday! 31. No longer the age at which Sylvia Plath killed herself (30) but catching up with Jesus (33). And to celebrate we decided to take a spontaneous trip to Rome on the basis that 1) I've never been and the Catholicness would probably blow my mind and 2) come November spontaneity is going to be a bit of an issue. 

So we went to Rome (only an hour from Naples on the train) and did the Vatican museums of which my lingering memory will be CEILINGS:

The sheer enormity of St Peter's:

A brilliant night out courtesy of Katy:

 And the amazing mummified body of Blessed John XXIII:

Like a tiny waxy Santa Claus. 

One more picture of Sculpturemania:

And a comment overheard from an American tourist:

"Jeez, if they sold just one of these things they could air-condition the whole place!"


Don't go anywhere, Italy, we're coming back for ya. 

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