Monday, 5 December 2011

Girls aloud.

Coralie, me and Tatiana, washing up after a lovely roast on the Saturday evening. I still find it strange that my daughters are twins as they are so different - although Richard didn't think so.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Whoops, November just went.

We had a lovely visit from the girls, despite the weather and the short duration of the stay. Both Coralie and Tatiana managed to come over without any Sterling whatsoever, so when we went shopping I had to forward money to them. They were as surprised as I was to see christmas decorations up in shops already as well as hearing the faint jingle of christmas songs, but apparently it's quite normal over here in mid-November. Since their departure back to Brussels, I have noticed some absolutely dreadful decorations going up, and neighbours appear to battle with one another as to who gets more lights on their houses. The kitsch - it's so bad that it's somewhat amusing.

Unlike Crewe's christmas lights. Oh dear. The turning on of the lights in town was at the end of November and, well, there's not much I can say apart from where are they, surely that's not it? The inside of the market centre has been nicely done, but they do like electric blue christmas lights. Electric blue isn't really a colour that I'd associate with this time of year, but hey ho, this is all a learning experience. I'm not sure what I'm learning, but I'm definitely experiencing something.

We've given decorating a temporary break as we can't really start on the dining room until all the rubbish from Richard's house is properly boxed or put up on eBay. As I wait for that to happen, all sorts of things that we thought were fine are now proving the opposite. For example, the day I went to clean the bottom of my wardrobe. I removed a pair of suede shoes to find that they were going moldy. The wardrobe was a made to measure one and is fitted against an exterior wall although there is a hole in the back of the cupboard allowing me to get to the sockets there. The wall was wet. Great. My first thought was condensation which appears to be correct as ever since I have been airing the room more thoroughly on a daily basis, the wall appears to no longer be wet. I need to find large supplies of silica gel now.

The living room has a damp streak from the ceiling to the picture rail. What is causing this is anyone's guess, but at least it hasn't got worse. Since I have started airing the room, the condensation has cleared up on the window sill and patches of mold have appeared around the skirting board. Water has leaked down the side of the bath to the kitchen ceiling causing a pretty, damp patch.

I'm not a fan of new houses, but at least in my last house, I had been the only owner since it was built and so knew of any problems (the bloody shower), but this house is old and needs more air bricks.

I am trying to introduce birds other than just starlings and sparrows into my garden without blowing my budget out of proportion. Bird food and feeders have turned into quite an industry here whereby you can enter shops entirely dedicated to selling such stuff. I was hoping that Richard would bang together a bird table for me as I am not going to splash out on an elaborate bird feeder hanger thing. If anybody has an idea on making a cheap mix of sunflower seeds etc to attract smaller birds, I'd be very grateful. That feeder is empty within two days as it stands. I don't like hanging the feeders off my apple tree either, but there's no where else, really.

And that really is all. I've applied for a couple of jobs, found out that I was entitled to the Belgian chomage for up to 4 months after I moved over here - IF I'd signed up over here straight away. Thanks for telling me, Belgium - I did ask if there was anything I had to do when I moved here and was told "nothing".

I do know that I have to sign up at the Belgian Embassy, something that I've not yet done. I'll get around to it, after all, now that Belgium has a government, it may count.

What for is a good question.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

I'm still here. Just.

Belgium is now high on my shit-list as it fails miserably to give me or tell me anything that I need to know. And that is after I ask for it. Nicely. What will happen to my pension is anybody's guess, what will happen to the few euros left in my bank account over there is bleak and yet my lawyers are still chasing me for money. These requests from them leave me cold as I have told them the situation: no job but desperately looking, no JSA and my house has started to chew generously into my bank account. Fuck off.

Richard and I have finally moved into the house as you have naturally guessed from the dire lack of posts. The bedroom is finished although it could do with some pictures, the bathroom is finished although I still need to clean the tiles and there is an issue involving a shower door to attach to the bath. If anybody specialises in shower doors, I could be an interesting challenge for you. The guest bedroom is finished although pictures are needed in there too, as well as two bedside cabinets. The living room is also close to being finished - we can relax in it, which is good enough. The dining room, hall and landing need to be finished and we haven't even started in the dining room. We eat off a cupboard door on top of a work bench in the kitchen, rammed up against the fridge/freezer which is a bit annoying, but there isn't anywhere else to eat.

Coralie and Tatiana are coming to visit on Friday for a very short stay so I can show them how people climatise in this part of the world. It is absolutely useless to judge what to wear by looking at those already out and about outside as on a hot day they will over-dress to the point of excess, and on a cold day, people tend to walk around in t-shirts and shorts. They're a funny bunch, up here. They will also get to see grown men cycling around town on their child-size BMXs, knees sticking out at right-angles, no lights and basically a threat to all drivers.

I can't wait to see my daughters. I'll treat them to PIES.

Monday, 24 October 2011

I'm going home. Back to Belgium.

This country has started to drive me absolutely mad. The house is almost ready to live in as all rooms bar one have been decorated and just need the final polish and eventual hanging up of pictures etc, etc.

I went and signed on at Crewe's wonderful Job Centre where it seems to be cool to be seen hanging outside, covered in tattoos, cider in hand, dressed in a tracksuit while trying to keep a Staffie in control as you talk about how long you've spent inside. Obviously, the longer, the more impressive. I didn't quite fit in with that lot so decided to go inside and meet the charming, flame-red haired Wendi. I was pencilled in for the appointment as 'Zowie' which did, admittedly, make a change from the usual 'Zoey' or 'Zoei'. And I thought Belgium had problems spelling my name....

I followed Wendi, burdened with all my papers that I had been told to bring in, as she wobbled slowly to her desk.

"Right," she started, "What is your full name?" and then proceeded to ask me the usual, mundane questions that I get asked each time I go there.

"Have you got a Form 301?"

A blank cloud loomed over me as I wondered what on earth this could be. A fine? A speeding ticket?

"No, but I have brought in everything that they told me to bring in when I called Chester. Some is in French and some in Flemish - but I was told that that wouldn't be a problem as you have translators here."

Wendi studied the papers and slowly looked up at me and gave me a smile that meant, quite evidently that she wanted to say "like fuck we have" but instead chose to say "I'll take copies of these, if that's alright with you?" After about an hour of going through the papers that I had previously filled in, stating my address and wish to receive corresspondence there (errr.....where else?), my marital status, lack of dependent children, bank account, address (again), vital statistics and so on, I signed the papers, was told to sign on the next day and would be told how much JSA (Job Seeker's Allowance) I'd be entitled to within the next 2 weeks.

I signed on again but had still not received this mysterious letter from Chester and so, after having been told at the Job Centre that I wasn't entitled to anything, decided to make a few calls of my own. After having called the third number given by numerous people at numerous other numbers, it appears that I should be in possession of a U1 form proving that I was in the Belgium system when in Belgium.

The following day, I received a letter telling me that I was not eligible for JSA. No reason was given at all, just the fact that I am not, apparently, eligible for JSA. The letter was sent to.....Richard's.

Not the address that I put down on the papers that I filled in.

I decided to call the number given on the letter to ask why I am not eligible for JSA, simply to see what explanation they would give me.

"You need an U2 form."
"U2? What about the U1?"
"You need to provide an U2 form by next Friday."
"Belgian post is very slow, you know."
"You also need a letter giving you authorisation to seek work in this country."
"But I'm an EU National - surely I can WORK in this country?"
"No, I am sorry, but I'm reading by the guidelines and you definitely need this letter."
"And where do I get this letter from?"
"Oh, I'm sorry - I can't help you there."


I have carried on looking for work but have made it clear for my adviser that I really shouldn't be as I don't have this letter of authorisation from....well, your guess is as good as mine.

And then I went and called Belgium today for my U2 form.

Several pounds poorer and after dealing with a country which refuses to speak French - if you are a francophile and they're not - and I may be slightly closer to getting that U2 form.

It will take 4 weeks to arrive. If I qualify.

I'm thinking of moving elsewhere now.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Honey, May 1974 - 6 September, 2011.

Eulogy at Honey's funeral by Patrick Devitt (I have taken the liberty of substituting Honey for her real name.)

My friend Honey lived an extra-ordinary life. She died before her time and we miss her. Trying to sum up such a life is impossible. Honey could be remembered as anyone of the following:
Honey the Artist – who sought to bring beauty to world, who sought to challenge and confront her audience, to ask them to stand back and observe or to move in to see the detail, to challenge their own perceptions.

It was Honey the Artist, I met first in Glasgow in 2000, she invited a bunch of students to watch some performance art in some downtown gallery. I believe she even promised a free glass or two of wine. So being a fan of a free drink, I trooped along. Little did I know that was how I would meet one of my greatest friends ever while being sworn at by a German eating Bratwurst. We shared many laughs and memories over the years, this brings me to the second Honey.

Honey the Friend – my friend Honey was a firm and mighty friend, putting herself out for those around her. Her friend, Marianne, who cannot be with us today, asked me to recall one of her fondest memories of Honey. After a serious operation in Brussels, Marianne needed some assistance getting around, Honey stepped up and organised a rota of friends to come around and take care of her.

She had a habit of producing some unusual gift for her friends, including a jar of Marmite on one occasion. She had an unusual sense of humour and anyone who saw her painted car Malcolm would certainly agree. Our friend had a generous spirit and a way of making things happen for her friends.

It was as a mother that Honey really came into her own. She took great pride in her beautiful children. They are the very expression of Honey, her creativity, her joy and sometimes her sheer devilment. In her children, I see Honey’s poise and grace, her creativity and curiosity, her playfulness and mischievousness. They are the very best of her. She took great solace in you. You gave her great comfort. In each of you I see part of your mother.

In her eldest daughter, I see Honey’s art, the beauty of creation, a beautiful young lady from afar and when you get to know her you see her, like her mother’s art you find complexity and sincerity that warms the soul.

In her son, her little man, I see the playful side of our Honey. Whenever I would visit Honey, I remember her son using me as a climbing frame. You have such joy in you, and you share it so generously, just like your mother.

Her little Pema, who I am just getting to know, you helped her mother fight, you gave her the energy to fight, you spurred her on to confound everything she was told. One of the things I will remember most about my friend was her spirit, her determination, her sheer will – she was fierce.

Another Honey – Honey the Warrior. After Honey was diagnosed with cancer, she was not given long to live, she fought, she fought hard, she survived. She endured pain. She kept going. She made sure her children would be well cared for.

To those of us charged with their care, help them remember their mother for the strong and complex woman that she was. For the sometimes daft and funny woman she could be. For the artist that she was. Know that we, her friends and loved ones, will be there to support you as you help these wonderful children grow and develop.

To those of us left saddened by Honey’s passing, I say remember! Remember her joy, remember her Spirit, remember her creativity, remember the friendship she gave each one of us. Our Honey was many things to many people: friend, counsel, lover, mother, foil and inspiration. Our lives are richer for having known her. We each have our own memories of Honey, hold them in your hearts, share them with her children, share them with each other and in doing so remember!

I will always love and miss my friend; she was taken from us too early. I know she does not suffer anymore. I know she is in a better place, I know that she is watching over us all, especially her children. May you grow to be like your mother, true of heart, creative and wise, fierce and determined and always thoughtful of others.

Honey was my friend and I will miss her but I feel her strength and love here today, so we do not say goodbye but see you later.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Killing me softly.

I have been lazy and ignored this little corner of the internet while I carry on wishing that I win the lottery week after week - if only I gambled my money away in such a fashion, allowing me to get professionals in to finish off my house and landscape the garden properly. As it stands, the main bordello bedroom has been completed, including lighting. So far there are no pictures on the wall as Richard's taste in art greatly differs from mine. But I have had the fitted wardrobes done and although designed by a female there is no way in hell that I can hang a dress in my wardrobe. I'll have to hang them in the guest bedroom's wardrobe, when we get it.

Slowly, the house is coming together although it is still a bit of a very dusty building site.

We are getting to know our neighbours, although only by sound on one side. Some very friendly Polish people live there, or at least, there is a man who smiles at us a lot whenever he tends to his roses in his front garden. As he and several friends were enjoying a barbecue the other day one of the men decided to have a good, long pee against the hedge separating our gardens just as Richard went out to get the washing in. Even the Belgians, who are well known for having a pee here, there and everywhere, don't tend to pee in front of their friends at a barbecue.

Perhaps it's an English thing.

I am still enjoying my visits to ASDA and its little 'Vulture Corner' where I can buy some fantastic deals when they reduce the prices. I bought a £6 joint of beef yesterday for 44p and 2 trays of chicken goujons worth £4 each for £1 each. I never got such deals in my local Delhaize in Belgium so it's like winning the lotto here. Well, sort of.

Today we went to a Boot Market, and although I have been to one in Liverpool, it was fun. We came back with four books, a bottle opener, a leather bracelet to replace Richard's broken one and three antique glasses. Oh, and Richard bought a stack of ancient copies of the Daily Mail (of all papers) dating from 1952-69. I'll burn them next week.

It's back to prepping the hallway, landing and dining room tomorrow.

My back really hurts.

Go on Richard, correct my apostrophe's. Snigger.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Impossible

Richard: Zoe, I tell you something and 5 minutes later it's gone, hasn't it. It's like fucking Mission Impossible in this house, isn't it. I feel like adding "This message will self destruct in 5 seconds" after everything I say.

I do love you though.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

27 worms for lot 116

27 worms for lot 116
The World Worm Charming Championships were, despite all my own preconceptions, great fun. We were shown to lot 116 and once the 'charming' got going, it felt as if a mini-earthquake was taking place. The entire ground beneath us was vibrating in a manner that we were quite unexpecting, and worms crept out at quite an alarming speed - almost as fast as they disappeared underground again.

But we didn't come last and we shall get better in years to come. If you want to join our team next year, just let either of us know.

We WILL become The Worm Charming Champions.

The bestest EVAH.



Via Flickr:
....

Friday, 12 August 2011

Back from down-under.

I've been away again, atop ladders, under ladders, standing in hallways, bedrooms and stairways brandishing a steamer as if it were a weapon of mass destruction, which of course it is - if you are a piece of wallpaper.  I haven't reported on the worm charming in which a worm entered the Guiness Book of Records, although not physically, I don't think, nor the Wrenbury scarecrows, although I may get around to it all in my memoirs that you all keep begging me to write.  No, it's been 'all go' in the house and I think that I have finally had it for good with this wonderful customer service that all Brits in Belgium rattle on about.  Give me Belgian customer service any day; at least they get the point when I am sick to the back teeth of answering the phone to give praises to Scarlet, a telephone company that I was not using nor ever did.

But England?  Oh why, oh why oh why oh why didn't anybody tell me how much this country loves, no, adores and craves sending out surveys.  Since I arrived here at the end of April this year I appear to have spent at least 28 days filling out absolutely pointless surveys that do not improve the service that you may have received - or in some cases, not even received.

Let's see where it all started.....

Scottish Power.  Well, they were so good in not replying to my emails and phone calls that I simply went ahead and switched to British Gas.  Scottish Power finally contacted me, most likely after British Gas notified them that I was switching meters and before they could even start asking me questions I told them that I wanted nothing to do with them whatsoever and would they please leave me alone.  For good.

Result: A+

British Gas came next and aren't they just charming?  They called me up, sent me follow-up letters to all the emails that they sent me and then confirmed again via text message.  Mmmm.  And then, before - yes, before, I am even using their services, they sent me a survey.  My first.  Of many surveys, it appears.  How was I to reply to the question: On a scale of 1-10, what do you think of British Gas? or even: Would you recommend British Gas to friends or family?

Result:  Pissed Off+++

BT.  Now BT really, really pissed me off in a major way.  Once I finally got a date for the technician to install my phones (the poor dear ended up having to call a cherry-picker to get up the telephone pole opposite as it appears that this house has been cabled with alarm wire, or something.  I wasn't here so ask Richard).  Once the mega-slow wifi and phones were installed I ended up being bombarded by emails - and a survey.  This being only my second survey, I thought that I would point out something that really angered me, such as the fact that the day after, yes, the day after I signed up for the world's slowest internet connection as that was all I could get in this third world country, BT started promoting this slow internet connection for free for the first four months.  Surely they would read this and think "Oh no!  Poor Zoe, who had to leave her home country to live here really has had a bit of bad luck - let's forward her order by one day so that she can take advantage of the great offer that we are offering and then she will tell ALL her friends too." 

Fat chance.

It does get better though.  For some reason, probably because my ancient laptop is foreign to these climes, I couldn't get onto the interwebs.  With some great help from someone at BT who knew how to operate a laptop, I was connected.  Many thanks, mate - but hold on, an email already - from BT?  Ah, a 'quick' survey to report back on how great the technician had been.  While I was doing it, BT called asking how the technician was, so Richard just told them that his partner was filling in the survey as they spoke.

Result:  D (even if I do have a landline and wifi.)

Hairdressers.  A 19 year-old who called herself a Creative Stylist, got the colouring more or less right but cut off so little hair and was even more minimalistic when it came to conversation, leaving me on the search for a different salon to go to - and a survey.  I didn't even bother filling this one in.

Result:  D-

Currys.  Lovely people who sold me the World's Tallest Fridge at half the price and a washing machine with £80 knocked off decided to deliver the items at 6.39am this morning.  I was not happy and it's best not to say anything to Richard today as the poor sod only got 4 hours sleep last night.

Result:  Too tired to judge.

AXA.  I was with them in the Heart of Europe and their prices over here were by far the cheapest so I have stuck with them.  They sent me a survey.  How could I fill that out when I hadn't had to make any claims or anything yet?

Result:  Z

BettaLiving:  Great cupboards, excellent and very professional, but the two lads who delivered the cupboards had the cheek to ask us if we could take the 3 two metre boards off them as "if they went back with them, the boards would be knocked off their salaries."  So we have 3 huge boards to saw up and take to the tip, along with the leftovers in bedroom.

Result:  Annoyed.

So apart from 10 days in hot and sunny France at a family reunion where the wine was plentiful and the food was excellent, I appear to be getting on slowly.

Filling out surveys.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Am still here, despite the arsenic.

Sorry to have neglected you all, chickadees, but things are moving quite well here and we're both rather busy.  I finally have all my belongings out of storage and have only managed to empty the boxes with kitchen utensils etc in.  I was delighted to be reunited with my Hello Kitty mug - the last thing that the Twat gave me, so it holds a lot of sentimental value - although Richard isn't so fond of it.  Or any of my other Hello Kitty items.  He's no fun.

I had wood flooring put down throughout the house last weekend after Richard and I had ripped up the ghastly carpetting and Richard had removed the skirting boards.  Some of the skirting boards in the dining room were rotten so will have to be replaced which is a bit of a bummer, but the house looks improved already, simply by the new flooring.  Days are spent listening to Radio 2 as we attack the walls and ceilings, ripping them bare of thick wallpaper covered in even thicker layers of paint.  Even the ceilings are covered in wallpaper, so it is a slow process and we have only finished taking the paper off in the dining room - we have now moved on to the main bedroom, which is easier, but larger.  The green colour underneath the wallpaper suggests that there is arsenic on the walls, but I don't think that is a serious issue now.  It's not as if I have taken to licking the bare walls.

So there we are.  I haven't even had time to observe much of Crewe lately apart from some shocking fashion faux-pas.  A fairly large woman in her 30s crossed the road in front of us yesterday wearing leggings that looked as if she was wearing a pair of ladders.  The oozing cellulite wasn't pleasant to see and actually managed to shut both Richard and I up as we watched her cross in sheer horror.  We gave her kudos for having the guts to be dressed like that, but really - she should put them away - or give them to a charity in need of a duster.

Hermie is enjoying this warmer weather and has spent nights out for a while now.  I was getting  slightly worried about Hermie's diet as he doesn't seem to think much of English chicory and I never know how much he actually eats when outside so bought him some protein pellets which he loves.  I had to hand-feed him at first as he didn't eat them - but christ, the little bugger has such a sharp beak and has nipped me by mistake on several occasions.

I shall have to report on the worm charming event at some stage, as well as the Wrenbury scarecrows, photos of which will go up as soon as I get wifi later this month.

I think that's all for now.  Richard remains as caring as ever when only yesterday, because of the arsenic on the walls, he warned me not to pick my nose that evening.

He's all charm, that Richard.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

I'm still alive

Just.

When you get thrown into a playpen with a steam stripper and a scraper time just flies until you find the end of the day approaching and the layers of paper that were once on the walls are now stuck to your legs, as far up as your thighs.  Not quite the look that I was going for, but this is Crewe.

Must rush to the house for a delivery and prepare the floorboards to be re-floored this weekend.

And go to the storage place to get more of my boxes.

And call for more quotes.

And play with more paper.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A Celebratory Beer.

A celebratory beer


Thanks to thecatofstripes for helping me with my Flickr issues. The beer was actually in celebration of the receipt of the keys to my house last Friday - so it's thanks all round.

I have rather a lot of spare underlay going free if anyone's interested.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Keys!

Keys! by zoeinbrussels
Keys!, a photo by zoeinbrussels on Flickr.

I'm going to be slightly busy these coming weeks as the floors are to be done, the wallpaper has to be taken off, my stuff will come out of storage as walls are painted and so on.

There is a lot to be done to make it my home so the exciting results of the Worm Charming Championships will have to wait a bit.

In the meantime, if anybody knows how to get your pictures up to your Blogger account from Flickr, like ye olde days, do let me know.

It's making me cranky as it don't work no more.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Charming with chop-sticks....

Some people will try anything.....

Via Flickr:
Richard is taking on these Championships very seriously. Here he is trying a method using chop-sticks. (It didn't work.)

Monday, 20 June 2011

Worms and Pies.

Earlier this month we visited Wybunbury to watch the rather strange, annual Pie Rolling, or Wybunbury Fig Pie Wakes which was taken very seriously, including one little boy chasing after his pie after he had let it go to roll rather sadly not one metre from where he was standing.  After a while the judge let him take it back as he obviously thought it was meant to be eaten, while other participants rolled their pies made from water, flour, figs and apple with quite some force to see how far down the road they would roll.  Or in many cases, wouldn't.  Fortunately, the rain held off and I was given my first taste of the madness that goes on in this country which admittedly, turned out to be rather a fun afternoon.

This Saturday is another annual bit of bonkers, none other than The World Worm Charming Championships, the rules of which have been translated into 30 other different languages which just goes to show how seriously this is taken.  Richard decided that he would take part this year and succeeded in obtaining a plot.

The next move was to buy a garden fork, something that I will need in the future anyway and so we went to Wilko's, chose one and I then nearly speared a rather young baby with it, much to the horror of the baby's mum.  Richard is presently practising sending vibrations down the garden fork using a wooden stick on which he has sawn several notches.  As he sits out in the garden trying to entice worms out of the lawn I can't help but wonder.

Would you put red sauce on a baby, brown sauce - or no sauce at all.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Motor coordination challenge of the day

Z (cleaning teeth): Ow...
R (in shower): What have you done now?
Z: Almost poked my toothbrush in my eye.
R: How on Earth did you miss that mouth?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Curious Opening Hours of Shops.

After almost 2 months in this country and several 'Bank Holidays' I am still confused by the fact that supermarkets stay open until really quite late, are open on Sundays and even 'Bank Holidays'.  Gone are the days when I'd realise that the weekend was to be preceded or followed by one or two 'Bank holidays', thus having to remember to buy enough food to cover the days when the shops would be shut.  Life has been simplified as supermarkets just don't seem to shut here and food can be bought on any day of the week, and I have even heard of supermarkets that are open 24/7.  When I moved to Belgium, shops here still shut on Wednesday afternoons and Sundays - it takes a bit of getting used to.

The other thing that I simply don't understand are 'Bank Holidays'.  All public holidays, apart from the odd exception, fall on a Monday - even if that isn't the day of the holiday - and invariably get called a 'Bank Holiday'.  I had to look up the reason for this as it's a bit of a bugger when you've been spoilt in a country which, should a holiday fall on a Thursday, for example, bridges the gap to the weekend by taking the Friday off too.  This only happens if you have an employer who enjoys this relaxed attitude to the workplace, ie: most employers in Belgium - or at least, in the offices where I worked.

But simplifying my life is good, however confusing.  Now, I'd better go shopping.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Gourmet food.

Not having had fish 'n chips since 2008, a delicacy that is hard to find in the Heart of Europe, I was delighted to have this fine meal served to me a few weeks back, even if we did have to go and get it ourselves.  The fish 'n chip place where we collected our dinner had been awarded prizes for being so good and just the smell of chips being fried up next to the battered fish soon had me drooling as I watched the rather pale chips being served up.

A girl in front of us had an easy order so was served up first.  She had ordered chips and cheese.

Chips and cheese.

I thought I had misheard until I saw the woman behind the counter get out a large container of grated Cheddar cheese and pour a generous quantity into a polystyrene pot, put the lid on and tucked it in with the chips before wrapping the bundle up.  I looked on incredulously as no one - no one - eats chips with grated cheese on as a meal.  It simply isn't right.

We got home to enjoy our own meal of fish 'n chips, with malt vinegar, as you should, only to find that the chips had only been fried once and were pretty awful for some innocent victim who is used to a decent sized chip, fried twice and only after she has made her order so that they are piping hot and crisp.  Moving to England is proving difficult after having lived 25 years in the Land of Beer, Frites and Chocolate. The fish, however, melted in our mouths and was well worth the money, but in all seriousness, the chips should have been binned.

Richard, however, informed me that chips and cheese is totally normal around here, "not that disgusting mayonaise that 'you' lot smear all over your chips."  He further went on to tell me that chips and curry ia also a delicacy here, as is chips and gravy.

Chips and gravy?  Tell me it's not true.

Monday, 6 June 2011

A legal Alien.

Before moving over here, somone gave me a helpful list of all the things to get done before you leave Belgium, and when.  One of them was contacting the Commune to let them know that you will no longer be living in the country as of the date you leave and the other involved calling the Belgian (or British - I forget now) Embassy to let them know that you will be moving to England.  It was then that I found out that I was moving to England as an 'Expat' seeing as I have Belgian ID and as far as the Belgians are concerned - am Belgian.  Through and through.

Admittedly, people have never really understood which nationality I am (half English, half Belgian - by marriage) as I wasn't born in England and have spent very little time here previously - apart from 9 horrible years in boarding school and holidays dotted around the world.  Some people enjoy that nomadic way of life, but I certainly didn't so was happy when I finally found my roots, albeit not in England.  So after 25 years living in a country that I was - and still am - happy to call "home", I had to move and then decided living in England to be a good idea.  But I hadn't realised that I would be moving as an 'Expat'.  It all seems so wrong.

When I am eventually installed in my new house and have paid off a few bills the woman at the end of the phone has instructed me to contact the Belgian Consulate in Manchester (I think - all this seems to have happened months ago) to let them know that I'm here, shove some bills under their noses as proof so that they can issue a new ID card with my new address.

In Crewe.

Well, if I can travel around as before, using my ID card, then it's much cheaper than having to buy a passport.

The day I need a passport to travel to further shores outside the EU will be the day I can afford to buy one, so in that respect, it's not such a bad idea.  No doubt I shall still be sent Belgian election forms every two years, but it's a fair price to pay to avoid the horrendous expense of a passport.

So hi England.  I'm a furriner.

Monday, 30 May 2011

A Man of Wealth and Taste.

Hello, please allow me to introduce myself. I am Richard. Some of you already know me at first hand through my own blog. Others may have seen the odd comment by me in another place but to many I'll be a complete and utter stranger even though I've been around for a long, long year. I would imagine though that all of you, every single man jack bar none of you, will have been surprised to see me cropping up in the life of the woman currently dozing (somewhat noisily, it has to be said. That's my rations gone) but nevertheless still looking delectable on my sofa.

I will admit that I too am among your number. I haven't a sodding clue how she got here either other than that I asked her if she'd like to and she said yes. Yes, sometimes it's that bloody easy. A bit of a boon after you've only ever experienced long-term relationships and hadn't actually asked anyone out on a date in the conventionally accepted manner since 1979. Her particular circumstances rendered the distance between us immediately redundant as well. And it looks like she's here to stay, too. Which is nice. Well, not stay here, she has way too much stuff as she's a woman and this house is very small but she's getting a place down the road. That's nice, too. She chose it specifically because of its inherent shedability, too. She's so caring and considerate.

Maybe it's been in the fates for decades. Several years ago I revealed to Zoe on her previous blog that for the same seven years during the 1970s we had gone to school in the same town. And not just the same town, during school hours for those seven years we were no more than about 600 yards apart, more or less along the same road. We witnessed the same events and I even walked past her school every day on my way home to the bus station. Of course, I was a grammar/comprehensive school tit and she was at the posh school with the heliotrope blazers and the felt cloche hats (I really am living on my wits now) so we never mingled; although I'd like to think that our paths may have crossed from time to time and that hers may have been among the pairs of fit young legs trotting back from the hockey fields across Mace Lane to have occasionally stolen my gaze away from my copy of Sounds magazine.

I am horrendously happy and feel insanely lucky and privileged that this lovely woman has decided sharing our lives is a good idea. It certainly feels fine to me and I can't thank her enough. Oh yeah.    




    

Thursday, 26 May 2011

I want my teddy.

I've been here for about 1 1/2 months now and I'm still not in my new home yet as the vendor appears to be doing up the house, including cleaning all the carpets which, while a sweet gesture, is ultimately pointless as I aim to pull them all up and take them all to the skip.  He has, however, made the garden look beautiful and I can't wait to move in.  This isn't going to happen for a bit though, as my solicitor has only just received the other party's papers. 

Richard has been extremely patient putting up with me here but admittedly, I really didn't realise how much I'd get to miss my own possessions.  I am living out of a suitcase and every now and then pay a visit to the storage place to get another much needed belonging, but it really is amazing how much you get to miss your personal belongings, however material they may be.  Basically, all that is here that is mine are important documents, medication and clothes.

I want to look at my pictures, sleep in my bed, use my towels, listen to my CDs, use my dressing gown - I want my teddy, my comfort zone.  Much as I am very grateful to Richard, I feel homesick for my usual surroundings, even if I have forgotten my spice rack, toaster, microwave, mirror, lamps, soap dish, foot stools and much more.

In the meantime, I have paint to think about, wooden floors to choose, curtains to look at, find roofers, buy furniture and so much more 'fun'.

Oh, and a thick anorak and umbrella.

And a shed.

Yes, a shed.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Mistaken Identity of the Day

Z: When did I last have duck?
R: Was it when you first came over?
Z: Oh no, I was thinking of ostrich.

Insult of the Day

R: What was that, darling?
Z: I was just talking to myself
R: That constitutes an intelligent conversation for you, doesn't it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Lists.

When moving, do make a list of items that you really can't do without as it may come as a huge shock when you realise that you can't use your laptop as the battery needs recharging and the recharger is in another country and the house that you have just left is rapidly being emptied by your son.  The same applies when your GSM finally lets out its last signal before going completely blank and dies in the palm of your hand.  You may think that you packed your GSM recharger, but, after emptying your suitcase and throwing clothes all around someone else's bedroom only to find that the lifeline to your GSM is also in another country, it soon becomes apparent that the only useful bit of your phone is the SIM card.

Other bits and bobs that you may leave behind are extremely useful and long extension cables, ideal for lawn mowers, tweezers, wellies (found them - in storage), headphones, office chair, laptop rest, mouse (two - TWO), various kitchen utensils, kettle, full box of tea bags, wine racks....

I know that this list will get longer, much to my chagrin.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Weeds.

Hermie has been enjoying the mild weather in his pen outside in Richard's garden, especially due to the fact that there are so many weeds in the garden.  He doesn't like weeds in general, at least, not Belgian ones, but Hermie appears to love the weeds here.  This may have something to do with the fact that I cannot find chicory, his favourite vegetable, anywhere.  True, I have yet to look in Sainsburys and Waitrose, but how on earth can the Brits live without one of Belgium's national dishes, chicon au gratin or chicon caramilis√©?

Not being able to buy chicory here is a bit of a shock, especially as you can buy strange, Chinese mushrooms, yams and many other exotic vegetables.  Chicory is a simple, root vegetable, lovely in salads or cooked slowly with a little brown sugar.  It is also Hermie's favourite snack and the man in Tescos is getting a little fed up each time we go there as without fail, I'll ask him if they stock any chicory.  Torts in England have no idea what they are missing out on in this rather backward country.

Waitrose and Sainsburys are next on the list.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Going to the doctor's.

The last time that I paid a visit to a doctor in this country must have been about 30 years ago.  I've registered with a surgery here and have already had to pay a visit to the rather simple building that appears to be older than it actually is.  I was to be seen by a doctor who, whenever he called out for his next patient, could never remember which room he was in, much to the patients' in the waiting room amusement.

By the time he had called me in to his room I was in front of his door when he finally added ".......room 6" over the intercom.  I was greeted by Dr Kapoor, a short man with an incredibly shiny, bald head, from somewhere in south Asia.  After a few questions, I was asked if I minded if Dr Kapoor touched my stomach.  Well, if a doctor needs to poke my stomach to give me a diagnosis, then I'm used to them going ahead and doing it.  So I jumped up on the bed and waited to be prodded.

"Would you mind lifting up your shirt, please?"

Ah, yes, this doctor has lovely manners.

"Would you mind undoing your belt, please?"

This is just weird.  Just poke and prod me, will you - they all do in Belgium.

I was then asked if I would mind peeing into the tiniest pee-pot that I had ever seen, yet managed perfectly without peeing all over my fingers.  Dr Kapoor tested the sample and prescribed me some pills and I feel reassured to tell you that I am not pregnant.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Stranded.

So everything was going well and it was just a matter of counting the days until I moved.  I didn't tell many people that I was leaving and spent the majority of my laptop time trying to find out my National Insurance number that was probably given to me when at school at the age of 16 and not thought about since.  I notified the necessary authorities and sat back, wondering about what I had let myself in for.  I was leaving a country that had been my home for the past 25 years - could I cope with a country that doesn't even use euros, drives on the wrong side of the road and is totally surrounded by water?

Richard sent me a text message letting me know that he had been admitted into hospital with acute appendicitis.

My thoughts were two-fold: a)What the hell do I do now and b) oh dear, I hope he's OK.

And then I started to worry.  The ferry was booked, the electricity and water were going off as of 18 April and all my possessions were packed.  Thanks to my Dad's help towards the cost of the move and Richard's family pulling together, I was picked up by Richard's brother-in-law who kindly packed the van he brought over with the help of Coralie's boyfriend and friends, ignored the sudden buzzing noise in one of the boxes which refused to die a sudden death for an impressive length of time and put up with my inane babble all the way to Ashford where I spent the night chez Richard's charming parents.

I had expected the departure to be a rather painful and sad affair, but everything seemed to happen so quickly that once the electricity etc had been turned off and I gave my keys to Coralie we had time for a tearful hug before I jumped into the van hugging a shoe box containing Hermie and left the road for the last time without even looking back.

Somehow, via the good fortune of knowing someone with such a wonderfully kind and helpful family, I got here.  I miss my children immensely and have the odd moment when the tears roll, but in all, I'm very happy although it is going to take a while to get used to the culture.

The people here may need a while to get used to me, too.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Selling your home.

I had lived in the house for eighteen years; it was the only home that Todd knew of and the only one that my daughters remembered.  I had watched it being built, the Ex had installed a lovely pond that attracted many newts who I loved watching as they played around in the water - we both thought that we had a home for life together until we decided to get divorced.  The divorce allowed me to stay on in the house and pay off the mortgage until 2011, when I had to either buy my Ex's share of the house - or move out.

I had to move.

And so the plaster came off my foot and I had to sell the house.  The Ex advertised the house online and I soon started receiving calls.  This was not a smart move as I was still hobbling around badly and each visit involved a trip down to the cellar, back up, then upstairs and then again to Tatiana's room in the attic and back down again, only to greet the next visitors.  Some people just seemed to like looking at the house, asked no questions and needed a life.  Others slagged the house off saying it was over-priced, needed a new this, that and the other before mentioning that they were, in fact, estate agents.  Nobody seemed to understand that they were talking about my home.

One evening, a couple came around with their young daughter and put in a higher offer than the first one received, the following day. 

I told the Ex to accept it.

They were anxious to move in before July and so the pressure was on me to pack up and move out.  Todd helped me move the heavy things and soon my living room had a wall of boxes that Coralie helped me pack, contained two double beds that had been taken apart and anything else that I needed on a daily basis - such as my TV which, like my laptop and Hermie only got packed away on the day I moved.  I left most of my furniture behind and Richard  was organising to come over with a van to pick up my few belongings, Hermie and I up.  I booked the ferry, Richard arranged for my stuff to go into storage while I organised extra muscle in Belgium to help pack the van.

Only things never are that simple, are they?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Starting all over again.

I was feeling more and more miserable as the end of 2010 approached - the job market was pants and the hope of my getting a job proved futile as the interviews dwindled to a virtual stop.  I realised that my house was going to have to be sold in 2011, so the job-hunt switched to a home-hunt which proved that renting anything in Belgium is ridiculously expensive and that nothing required the needs of a single woman and a tortoise.  After a fight with the staircase, I was left with an extremely swollen right foot which showed, after a week of hobbling around alone in the house, to have a broken toe.

Arse.

Coralie drove me to and from the hospital, got me some crutches and a vast supply of various painkillers, made me comfortable on the sofa before shoving two rolls under my nose and dashing off to pick up her boyfriend.  It then dawned on me that cooking with crutches was barely possible and so spent the next six weeks sitting on the sofa looking for somewhere to live.  After a while, it appeared to me that property is much cheaper to buy in England, and though I have never really lived in England before, the thought started to appeal to me more and more.  Richard sent me links to property sites - as well as job sites in the area - and I soon settled for one particular house that was well within my budget once I had sold the house in Belgium.  I visited for a week, saw The House and set my heart on living in it.  There was plenty of space for Hermie to run around in it too.

As I ate less and less, the skinnier I got, which was a worry, but Coralie would often come around and help, especially after Tatiana left for Madrid at the end of January to do her internship.  It was only then that I realised that I had to cut down on my belongings as I was all alone, living in a four-bedroom house.  But I worried terribly about the culture-shock, having never really lived in England, and the adjustments to be made after having lived in Belgium for 25 years.  I would worry at night and would often cry myself to sleep, but Richard was very understanding and we would chat over Skype every evening and I tried to feel reassured about the whole move.

Once the plaster came off my foot, things changed.

Drastically.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Test post

Like getting here, this is a work in progress, but I had to make a first post about something.  Seeing as Eastenders is about to start, I'll stick to one of the cultural changes that I have had to adjust to: English keyboards.

Hi chickadees - I'm back.