Archive | February 2012

Itchy feet

I have not traveled for a month now, and I am getting itchy feet. The thing is, business travel is a drag: get up at stupid in the morning, schlep to the airport, dissemble luggage and get half undressed in a public place, re-assemble luggage, get dressed again in a public place, trying to ignore the feeling of being sneakily watched; find breakfast and try not to get it on your clothes; walk and walk some more, fight for a place to store your compliant little suitcase on the plane, find a taxi that will take credit cards, and finally make it to the office. Everyone there aspires to my life and wants to breeze in just before lunch time like I do. If I am lucky I get to have lunch, with people who have all sorts to discuss because they don’t see me often enough. The rest of the people are waiting for something bad to happen because they hardly ever see me. There must be a very good reason for my visit, and it can’t be good news. Umpteen meetings and conversations later I get to make my way to a hotel halfway across the city and look forward to a dinner by myself. Sometimes I get company, which can truly be that but just as often turns into another work meeting. I am really really tired by then.

And yet here I am, wondering when my next trip is going to be. I love being home, but routine bores me. I crave input from other people than those who surround me every day, and enjoy being in different places. For all my whingeing about the drag of business travel, there often is a brief window when I can appreciate my surroundings. I like to walk to and from my hotels, if at all feasible (mostly in Europe, to be honest). I discovered how nice that was once I was forced to, having waited for 20 minutes for a taxi that just wasn’t getting through traffic in Paris. In the end I assured the hotel reception staff I would be fine, and started walking. I checked the city maps on my way to keep myself on track but any other human would not even have to do that – I just have a formidably lacking sense of direction. And even I got to the office without getting lost. Since Hausmann Paris has a backbone of wide boulevards and follow-on arteries that take you effortlessly through the city. I noticed how recently a lot more people are cycling to work or college there. People also dress differently than they do in the UK.

Smells play a key role in experiencing the environment, I noticed while walking. Paris in the morning smells of the cigarettes of the many pedestrians  smoking, with a dash of croissant and bitter coffee wafting out from coffee bars. One July morning, after a violent thunderstorm, it smelt freshly laundered.

And then there was that time I had a hotel room with a view out to the Atlantic in North Carolina. I watched the sun rise, pouring watercolours over the ocean in ever changing shades. It was so mild I threw the doors open so I could smell the salt on the air. That was terrific.


When is my next trip again?

Dutch lessons

Husband is all out of luck. The BBC news site carried a story about polyglots the other day. It claimed that Dutch is the easiest to learn language for native English speakers. Husband is English, yours truly was raised in Dutch. Husband fits the cliche that English people are linguistically challenged, but now that excuse is too thin to hide behind.

He agreed to learn two new Dutch phrases every day. I never minded that he didn’t speak it, but am finding that I really want to teach him now. While I try not to roll over laughing.

Dear reader, teach your children languages! Lest they embarrass themselves later!






Blasted into space

We have been having potentially morbid conversations about if, and how, we would like to be remembered, starting with the funeral service. This was brought on by my father-in-law sending an updated will. The level of detail he had gone into was quite unsettling, so we started meandering to distract our minds. My father-in-law wants a braai party with all his family and friends and his favourite music instead of a funeral service, and he wants to attend in the form of his ashes on the mantelpiece. If he’d thought about it he would have asked to be the table centrepiece I reckon so that is where I would suggest we put him to make sure he doesn’t miss out. I guess he wants to be remembered as the fabulous host he is.

Personally I hope that my children will cherish some memories and that they will feel they have learnt something from me.  Beyond that I couldn’t care less. If my greatest desire were to leave an imprint in the universe then I’d do it in my lifetime. So I told my husband that if I were to die first  – which is highly unlikely, given his diet and the statistics on life expectancy – he was free to mark my passing as he pleased. Or not at all. To which he promptly answered that he was planning to have my ashes blasted into space. I am left wondering what I am most upset at: the fact that he had an answer ready, or the idea of being flung the furthest possible away. I guess he has made his point: it seems I do care what happens to me after I die.

It’s a man’s job

Three birds pooped on my mini while I was in Ikea today.  Gross. That has to be washed off pronto, I don’t want the paint damaged. But I get home and resolve to ask my husband how to clean it when he gets home several hours later. He actually enjoys washing cars, and he is very particular about the tools he uses. He has special shampoos and spot removers and cloths and sponges of different softness. I wouldn’t know which to pick! He might even be angry with me for using the wrong one! And so it goes that he offers to do it for me. Thank you darling! I revel in my sly little victory. Then I ask myself: How did I get like this? I have always prided myself on my independence: I can connect a washing machine, trim the hedge when necessary and lots more that would probably not feature in womens magazines. It was my dad’s most valuable lesson: being a girl does not absolve you from being able to fix stuff.

I know deep down that I have chalked washing cars up on the man side of the divide. Just like fixing the kitchen cupboard door, which I reminded husband yesterday again is really irritating me. I could just get on with it, but for some reason I have not fully explored I don’t. I told him it was a man’s job. “Oooh, I can’t wait to point out the next chore that is a woman’s job!!” he roared. “Don’t you dare!!”

I respond with unconditional rage to the phrase “That is a woman’s job”. How can I allow myself to utter its twin?


Decisions: the verdict

I tried the coin toss to find out which I really wanted: take a pillow day or go to work today. The verdict? It works, tossing the coin crystallized my thinking into a decision. I felt a strong emotional desire to dodge adversity, and an even stronger one not to let the boss get to me. So I made a pact with myself: go to work but take it easy. Appear composed and there, but give my mind time to wander. I planned to close my door, put my headphones on, and point to them whenever anyone appeared at the strip of glass in the door, wanting my attention. “Can’t right now, on the phone.” Ha.

The taking it easy bit didn’t quite work out. It turns out I am pretty lousy at absenting myself. But here’s the thing: big boss showed up out of the blue! Man did I put on a great show of confidence. He cannot get to me, I am a rock! My throat hurts like mad but I am so chuffed.

The coin toss does work. Try it.

I wish I’d been ice skating

Everyone in Flanders was out ice skating this weekend. I am so envious. Seeing the pictures is such a throwback to my childhood and teenage years. When I was a little girl my parents would take us to the local castle pond and teach us to skate. As I grew older we met up there with our friends and spent whole afternoons on the ice racing each other, playing amateur ice hockey and just fooling around. I remember the thrill of sneaking off with a certain boy round the back, where the ice formed a loop between the reeds and the trees, a brief moment of perfect seclusion. I remember how the pale, low sunlight drew long shadows of trees on the ice, and how the frozen reeds rustled as we skated past. I wish I could have taken my skates there this weekend.

The pictures below are just there to indulge me. They are, unfortunately, not actual memories. Those exist only in my mind.

The first photo was taken by Lieven Van Assche and published on De Standaard. The second is from Panoramio.

Decisions, decisions

I read somewhere that if you found yourself unable to make a decision because there are many unknowns or equally valid points on both sides, you should toss up a coin. Wait for it – this is not a call to dodge the issue! You will find that as the coin starts its descent you instinctively hope for a certain outcome. Catch the coin before it lands, you have your answer. Don’t let the coin confuse you now.

You knew instinctively what you had to do, but we are so conditioned to weigh all the risks and upsides that we reason ourselves into a deadlock. Many decisions warrant careful analysis of data. But even then you may have to take a leap of faith. You can find statistics to suit every future scenario, but you have to take a view on which scenario is the most likely to unfold.

Isn’t it sad that we should have to toss a coin to tap into our instinct? Perhaps adrenaline helps unlock it, harking back to the times when we had to make snap judgements to secure our catch and survive.

I thought i’d try tossing a coin to shortcut the endless reasoning that is going on in my head. It feels too much like a student debating society: lots of clever arguments that shine brightly but don’t necessarily lead anywhere.  Should I take a pillow day on Monday or not? I don’t do pillow days, I am a highly conscientious, reliable professional. But, I have worked way too much lately and I have a bit of a cold. And: the boss is not terribly pleased with me right now, so I should aim to please / might as well conform to the image. Shall I bow out for a day or show what I am made of? What am I made of? Ok, the coin it is…

You are hurt. Get to cover…

…is the advice that is popping up on the TV as my husband is playing some war game. Blood splatters onto the screen as his warrior runs towards a shack. How apt, I think, just what I need. I am stretched out in the sofa staring at the moon, trying to think of nothing. The moon is particularly alluring tonight, huge and with a tinge of orange. And yet it does not manage to take my mind off today’s disappointments. I crave shelter from the world and the demands it makes on me. I too need a place to stay out of sight and compose myself. I have to emerge again tomorrow, looking strong and ready to battle. I resolve to ignore the blackberry, roll my mind into a ball, pour myself a glass of wine, and curl up with the snoring dog. I tell the kids we will talk about their stuff tomorrow, and let my thoughts bounce within my mental ball. Hopefully by tomorrow something nicely polished will emerge.


“Ooh, which sauce to have with the cottage pie – mint sauce or HP?” He sighs. “Both”, I suggest selflessly, knowing full well both are vile but husband loves them anyway. He opens the cupboard and retrieves the HP sauce, then walks over to the fridge and finds the mint sauce. Stares at them both in his hands, lost. “What did you say? Mint! HP!” I roll my eyes. He stalls and rewinds. “Both!” He grins. “You said both!”

What I would not give to play that spool in his mind. It is all there, in case he ever wishes to use any of it.


I live in a hilly area in England, which is never prettier than when covered in snow. The snow muffles the usual sounds of daily life, making the air strangely still. I find myself in a pristine landscape, where I am the first one to leave tracks.


And then I get on a path that leads to a supreme sledging hill. The hushed quiet is broken with the swelling noise of all the people and dogs come out to play.



Later, I bring my feet back to life on the floor heating and pour myself a Tripel Karmeliet beer.