Sunday, 7 August 2011


Am I the only one who hates the summer holidays? No work, combined with potentially long periods of confinement indoors due to terrible weather, plus lack of company as everyone else flies off to fairer climes.

I know I should enjoy it, and consequently feel guilty when I don't. There's nothing like that creeping feeling of dread at the start of July when people start disappearing and 'closed for holidays' signs start to pop up on shop windows everywhere. I love hot weather, don't get me wrong. But as a British woman living in Belgium, chance'd be a fine thing.

For years now, the summer holidays have been a long, tedious stretch of socially-barren thumb-twiddling.
They almost always involve separation from someone I don't want to be separated from, often with a significant body of water and a frustratingly slow internet connection standing solidly between us.

Summer holidays also belie their name by being a traditional period of hard labour: for students, stuck behind the checkout at Sainsbury's, and for interpreters, at Polish language schools.

Almost all your friends will go on holiday at the same time and then on language courses, and by the time everybody's back it will be September again and time to go back to work (with a sigh of relief). The consoling charms of retail therapy and comfort eating are rendered virtually inaccessible by the lack of shops and restaurants actually open in Brussels in July and August.

Why not go on holiday? I hear you cry. You must be joking. There are two options here - no, three. One: you holiday with your nearest and dearest, resulting in bickering, tears and cries of 'I'm not a fucking GPS!', not to mention the unknown quantity of the acoustics in the hotel bathroom. Two: go away with friends... actually this isn't such a bad option, except that it's hard to find single friends of a similar age to go away with - plus any kind of girly holiday inevitably leads to excruciating hangovers and embarrassing sunburn. Perhaps best avoided. Three: go away with your parents...

Ideally, I'd like to kidnap several of my favourite people in the world and hole up in a converted farmhouse in Tuscany (so very home counties), spending daylight hours reading by the (tastefully designed) swimming pool and evenings chugging Chianti in the cool of a hilltop terrace.

In reality, I'm in Kraków, mainlining Tok FM podcasts and trying not to get into trouble with the police (long story). At least the sun is shining. For now.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Wow. My browser no longer remembers this URL address.

Recently I read an article* about how addicted we are to mobile internet: to the extent that we're no longer able to bear being on our own and automatically reach for the phone/iPod when left alone. I realised I do the same thing: check facebook on my phone when waiting for the metro, read the news on my iPod when it's not my half hour at work, etc.

So... is it possible to spend time alone without recourse to a phone-full of virtual company? For purely scientific purposes, I've analysed my own weekend, containing a fair amount of loner-time. Here we go (it's likely that the hours will not add up, maths is not my strong point and time is at best a hazy concept):

- Writing/checking an achingly dull Italian legal translation with two Technical Annexes: 9 hours

- Reading The Blessing by Nancy Mitford: 4 hours
- Daydreaming about being picked up by a French duke while weeping on my suitcase in the Gare du Nord (I know that's a different book): about 45 minutes

- Running: 45 mins
- Washing, showering, grooming in general: 2-3 hours

- Cooking (surprise entry because normally I have trouble even finding the kitchen): 45 mins
- Shopping (just for food, Mr ING branch manager): 1 hour
- Compulsively checking bank account for arrival of late payment: total about 20 mins

- Drinking alcoholic beverages in the company of real (as opposed to virtual) people: total about 6 hours, but can't remember exact going-home times. Drunk text messages in my 'Sent' box may give some indication though.
- Rather awkwardly admiring other people's babies/photos of babies: 20-ish mins
- Daydreaming about having sweet cuddly babies of own: maybe about 30 mins
- Wondering whether my mutual fund includes maternity cover: 10 mins
- Thinking wistfully (and not without a touch of envy) of generous fonctionnaire healthcare package: 15 mins

- Sleeping: a blissful 9-ish hours, all at night-time, not a hint of an afternoon snooze on the sofa.
- Watching imported American TV series and Trinny and Susannah (it holds a morbid fascination: you almost can't help watching. The best episode is the one where they go to Flanders) on the Flemish channels: 5-ish hours, probably, but a lot of the time it was just on in the background while I was doing something else.

- Messing about on the piano: about 20 mins
- Messing about on the internet: hours and hours and hours. I'm not sure that this has worked at all...

* In Wysokie Obcasy, so I am at least still trying.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Museum Night Fever

This is a bit like Noc Museów in Kraków, except that the wristband costs nine euros, instead of the token one złoty for a stamp.

Last year we played dressing up at the City of Brussels Museum on the Grand Place, then traipsed around a crowded costume museum before queueing 20 minutes to get into the Musical Instrument Museum for a swing dancing workshop.

This year, we stayed in Ixelles: the Ixelles Museum, which is currently hosting the works of Olivier Debré

... alongside its permanent collection. I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to show pictures of individual works or not but these tiny Rodin cherubs touched a chord. This is called 'Idylle d'Ixelles'. From this angle you can see how softly the little girl cherub is kissing the boy. Why is her arm in the air? Is she about to fly away on those tiny wings? Is he trying to catch her and pull her back down to earth?

 And then there's tons of classic art nouveau posters (I am crap and can never remember which is art deco and which is art nouveau).

After a burger stop at Le Comptoir on Place St Boniface, we went to the dinosaur museum. Oh all right, the Natural History Museum, but it's basically all about the dinosaurs, right?

And then we trekked into town to finish the evening off with a beer on the top floor of MIM and to steal a few minutes on the dancefloor before chucking-out time...

Monday, 21 February 2011

late snow

... et la neige fait son apparition...
said the taxi driver, wryly, as the car swooped in and out of the undulating tunnels of Brussels' inner ring road last night.
Later, I stood at the window (on the step stool, on tiptoe, with one foot balancing on the radiator - my windows are lunatic-asylum high) and watched the white flakes calmly falling through the dark of the deserted square. There's something soothing and healing about watching a gently incessant fall of snow: something magically reassuring, a sort of continuity in the universe.

I've made a bad start to the week with some spectacularly inept attempts at schmoozing (I tried to come up with something a bit more convincing than 'can I please have some cash to go and spend a few months mainlining tatankas with my mates in Pauza') and am trying to comfort myself by feeding my running-away fantasy on In my dreams, this would involve escaping to Venice incognito and getting a Saturday job in a flower shop, à la Pane e Tulipani (a Silvio Soldini film which goes by the catchy English title of 'Bread and Tulips'). In reality, it may well involve several afternoons watching films in a three-quarters empty Kino Pod Baranami and talking to strangers at bus stops in a desperate attempt to acquire vocabulary.

In the meantime, I am watching Homes under the Hammer and trying to work up the energy to go downstairs and buy some chocolate. I am plucking up the courage to check my bank account after a fairly typically irresponsible weekend with extra shopping (I need a new winter/spring jacket and a pair of black boots but invariably end up buying dresses and posh lipstick).
After last week's efforts with the washing machine hose, I'm now feeling confident enough to replace the broken loo seat upstairs. Soon Brico will be my second home.

And finally: here's a video that will appeal to anyone who has ever spent their afternoon off on hold to Mobistar.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Back then


I am sitting on the carpet, leaning up against a very tatty sofa, in a two-up, two-down semi in a student town, on a tiny estate five minutes from the main street (there are only three streets in the whole place), ten minutes from the sea. When you go outside the air is sharp and salty and takes your breath away. There is a gas fire in the hearth. We are watching 'Real Genius' (an 80s film about geeky physics students). There is wall-to-wall carpet, in some garish brown-and-beige pattern. Four boys live here, two New-Englanders and two Glaswegians. The flat is littered with mouldering sports kit and there is a strange shrine in one corner built out of used pizza boxes and beer cans. I am twenty-one, and utterly - unthinkingly - in love with the long-haired American boy that I have been going out with for a couple of months. Three girls - one of whom is me - also live here, unofficially. There is something festering in the kitchen sink which may once have been porridge. I have enough money in my savings account for the whole year. I feel stable, and content, and - possibly - happy, and am aware that at some point this will end and something else will begin, but not yet...

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Memories. And grammar.

So I'm one of three. Belgian Waffle (right-click to open in a new tab) talked about having an odd number of kids to make things easier. I say this is wrong, wrong, wrong. The reason my parents only had three kids was because in 1986, the only option for large families was the Mitsubishi space wagon. And my Dad vetoed it almost from the start. Some parents think that having an odd number of children saves you from being the adjudicator. I say start from five. Especially if you regularly make twelve-hour journeys to Inverness in an Austin Montego. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on BBC audiobooks was the only thing that saved Britain from World War Three circa 1990.

I promised grammar. I know you love it. But not Polish this time.

Today, I went to the bakery down the road to order a demi-baguette to go with my smelly francophonic cheese. 'Demi' in French is masculine. I swear. I went to the bakery and mumbled something about 'un demi-baguette'.

- Une baguette.
insisted the baker. Une baguette!

I repeated that I wanted a demi goddammit. She offered me cheese and ham to go with.

Bad French days. They happen. However long you study the damn language, I guarantee it...

Monday, 24 January 2011

Best thing since

Sliced bread in Belgium comes without the crust slice on the end. This is a huge disappointment, because everyone knows that the crust is the best bit.

I'm sad again because my stats tell me this blog attracts people who have typed 'I hate Belgium' into their search engines. I have to admit that I complain a fair bit about the rather surreal little country that forms my adoptive home, but it's usually just frustration at something unflexible and service-related. Brussels is actually quite nice, sometimes. Here are some pictures:

Place St Boniface, the Ultime Atome on the right and one of two father-and-son-owned camera shops on the left

More Place St Boniface

Place de Londres

Eglise St Boniface. I'm not sure what the statues are

Christmas lights and sunshine. These pictures are from late November: the lights have been taken down now.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Over the hill

Bouncer tapping P on shoulder: Excuse me...

Pino turning round: Yes...?

Bouncer: Oh. Never mind. I was going to ask for ID, but...

2011 sucks already. Pass the gin.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


I have been at my parents' house for almost two weeks already. In that time, I have completely abandoned the sensible Polish and French literature that I brought with me and made serious inroads into my Dad's Robert Harris collection instead. I have not studied all that much for my exam next week (it's like deja vu all over again), but I have downloaded an RTBF 1ère app onto my new iPod touch, so that counts as practice, right?

I have been up to London and back several times on the train and am thinking of buying shares in Connex South Eastern, not to mention Caffè Nero. 

I have done far more shopping than my tremulous bank balance allows (which isn't all that much).

I am more than ready to go back to Brussels and was already itching to get back to work by Sunday afternoon: there are only so many re-runs of Midsomer Murders* one can take in a week.

My sister is coping by baking. There has been copious brownie consumption in the Pinocorp household over the past 48 hours. Incidentally, six of us (excluding dogs) managed to get through a tin of Cadbury's Roses by Boxing Day evening (opened on Christmas Day, in case anyone was still feeling peckish after lunch). That's nearly a kilo. Is that bad? Is anyone else's family that gluttonous?

To continue my ever-deeper slide down the literary slope, I ransacked the bookcase in my old bedroom and came up with a copy of Bridget Jones' Diary, bought when I was sixteen and had absolutely no idea what any of it was about. It now seems scarily, prophetically accurate and I hardly dare to turn the pages for fear of reading my life in minute detail on the next leaf. Sadly, my parents have yet to introduce me to any top human rights lawyers, but one can always live in hope. In future, when reading, I resolve to stay firmly away from romantic comedies and safely in the action/crime thriller zone, to prevent maudlin before bedtime (what is the verb form of 'maudlin'? Maudlin-in'?).

Ugh. Resolutions.

I Will Not:

- even pretend to give up drinking as this will only result in a terrible binge some time like next weekend and a lot of guilt. 
- buy a pair of scales. My jeans still fit (even after washing), so it can't be that bad.
- go near a boy ever again because they are all emotionally immature and a big waste of precious time, energy and emotional investment.
- go out with friends who coerce teenagers (well, more or less) into taking my phone number by lying about my real age to the tune of about seven years and get us all into trouble for not leaving the pub when it's clearly closing time already
- beat myself up over any of the following: 
  • drinking too much; 
  • eating too much; 
  • not eating enough; 
  • being single and alone and over the hill and unloved and unattractive and generally an utterly unappealing old hag;
  • not acting my age
  • f*cking up at work
  • not beating myself up enough for f*cking up at work, thus demonstrating lack of gravitas in professional context
I Will:

- cook regularly, like at least twice a week, with real vegetables and everything.
- stop wasting time on Facebook
- learn all the jazz scales, chord progressions and other technical piano thingies, since I now have all this free time as a single unattractive old hag, and become brilliant - albeit single and unattractive - jazz pianist (this has been my resolution for about the past ten years)
- start a turkey-baster fund, in case of emergency to be used by 2017 at the latest
- travel and do stuff outdoors and try to enjoy life in general
- buy some furniture already
- talk to people more and stop looking at the ground
- go to Italy more often because I love it but always forget how much
- speak Polish to strangers (who actually are Polish, obviously)
- write more on the blog (and possibly also off the blog)
- sort out my accounts, since I am a highly streamlined and professional twenty-first century businesswoman
- lie about my age: the teenager looked (almost) convinced
- fall in love. Probably with a puppy.

*That's Inspecteur Barnaby to all you francophonic types.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Things I did last year

Basically I haven't written anything for almost a month because I'm alternately too sad or too drunk. Here are some pictures, to cheer us all up.

 Cafe 'Chez Tintin'

The banks of the Congo river 

 The hotel pool and bar - many hours spent here preparing hard for meetings, ahem.

Street food: barbecued kid (as in 'cabri', not child). Comes with yummy fresh offal sausages, mmm.

View from the hotel. With palm trees. In December. 

Painted adverts 

Street scene on the way to the airport