Sunday, 31 May 2015


I know I have to watch out when the paranoia strikes. That I'm stretched a little and could snap if I don't relax back down to normal soon.

Waking up, I had a sip from the water glass at my bedside. It tasted to me vaguely of the filter jug we took out of use last week because the water from it was getting a weird aftertaste. I didn't trust the filter any more, so we went back to unfiltered tap water. Which now tastes the same as the bad jug to me. Logical conclusion: the taste came from me; the bad bacteria from the back of the fridge that had been colonising the filter jug actually colonised the inside of my mouth, the inside of my esophagus, the inside of my stomach, the deepest middle of the depths of my bones, and so on. I can practically see them causing abnormal cell division. There's the end of me, and I'm picturing it before I even get out of bed.

Coming downstairs to escape the horrors of my waking mind, the children were playing with the plastic crap they accumulated at the school party yesterday. This school is so bloody unevolved, you would not believe. At one point during his dance performance, Charlie (4) was actually miming sex while the song claimed 'I will sex you all day long' or something uplifting like that. Now, I know that it was an accident - Charlie told me he had suggested push-ups as part of their dance routine, and the teachers don't listen to lyrics if they're in English, but still... No awareness. One of the dances was inspired by an Evian advert, and the children were actually all waving an Evian bottle in the air. No other brands of water bottle allowed. Another dance was to a song called 'I love chocolate', and involved several large Smarties tubes, with the word 'Smarties' large on it, and the teachers repeating the name several times. It would have been quite funny as a parody. I'm not even going to the one where all the children were dressed up with feathers on their heads, dancing to a song which proclaimed that 'Indians don't know what arrows are; they shoot bananas'. No, really. This is a yearly problem, so I will try to breathe and rise above it. And go back to this morning's anxiety attack. The school party is a way to beat money out of all the parents, so there are stalls with silly games (they don't fish floating duckies out of water any more, but DVD boxes with ducks printed on them out of a sandpit) and the children get points whenever they complete a game, which they can exchange for toys. In order to turn a profit, all these toys without exception are cheap plastic crap from China. They have plastic guns that shoot tiny plastic balls, and creepy plastic Halloween figures that shoot out of plastic tubes when you screw off the plastic lids, and a plastic croquet set in a dodgy plastic case, and a toxic looking green plastic ball. I can literally see the plastic fumes coming off these plastic toys, and making their way into my precious children's bloodstreams, and - yes, again, abnormal cell division. Especially, for some reason, in their reproductive systems - causing the well-publicized gender confusion. One part of me wants to snatch all of it away from them and chuck it in the outside bin, and then wash my hands for five minutes in slightly too hot water, to cleanse my troubled soul, but then the other part of me says it's probably not going to kill them instantly and let them have fun, don't I remember how much fun I used to have with my plastic crap from the fairground, and I'm only marginally gender confused, and so far abnormal cell division in me has not been medically proved, even though last night the glands all around my chest area felt like they might be thinking of crossing over into abnormal territory, and - obviously - moles.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

You'll want to kick me after all that

  1. Ha! After all that stress, and passing my exam, I decided this morning to stop my piano lessons! It's all part of the I'm done - no more improving myself for a bit - ride. I will play on my own, for fun, and forget about the constant criticism and stress and concerts and exams. Who needs exams when all you want to do is learn to play some Scarlatti? I'm glad I didn't stop before the exam, out of fear, but now it feels right. I have one more year to get my Middle Grade in Music Culture, so I might fill that up with one year of voice training, or perhaps a refresher course on the violin (I played for ten years when I was little) - or perhaps not, because who needs diplomas at this age - but no more stress and no more spoiling the lovely piano for me. I give myself permission to be a good-enough pianist. Yippie!
  2. I was handed an interesting exercise yesterday. I have a subscription to a weekly magazine which has been losing readers. In an attempt to reverse the trend, each subscriber got to pick five friends to receive the magazine for free for two months. It was interesting to see who I picked, and who I didn't pick. You should try it quickly, just hypothetically. I found it very revealing.
  3. I finally got this cute little cart for my study

    I've been wanting it for ages. It has a shelf for writing, a shelf for knitting, and a shelf for reading/sewing. (My study is a small part of the living room, but doesn't it just pull it together?)

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Too much authenticity

So I totally survived it. I played the Bach first, with some mistakes, but kept it going all the way through. Then the Heller I fucked up majorly. Kept stopping, lost my place, forgot all the notes, went back a bit, tried again - my teacher came to the piano and tried to help me - I played a jumble of something, but not Heller, for a while there - eventually, I just skipped a bit and played the end. Complete disaster. But, but, but - I kept going, and the required piece, by Tansman, went great. The rhythm was spot-on (that was the hard part - lots of students messed up the rhythm completely), and the notes came out in pretty much the right order. I nailed that one. Then the Mozart went fine, really, except for a few notes in the repeated section, but nothing huge, and I played to the end of it. Best of all: I'm still alive.
(I'm still high on the adrenaline, but calmly high because of the valerian. - I bet my sentences won't seem right if I re-read them tomorrow.)

What I'm left wondering at the end of it, is not about the piano at all, but about how to square all this with Jack and his exams. I got other people to take Marie and Charlie this afternoon, so I wouldn't have to deal with them during my exam, and I was going to find a place for Jack to go, but he insisted (rather convincingly) on coming along to listen and support me. As soon as I was finished with my exam, and my rational powers of mind returned, I realised I should have left him at home. He could have stayed on his own perfectly well, but I never considered that option because he asked to come so insistently.

He saw me nearly burst into tears in the park when I realised my babysitter for Charlie had fallen through and I was going to have to deal with him as well. Then he saw me practically hyperventilate with relief when I found someone else to take him. He kept trying to reassure me, distract me, be sweet. He teared up a little with me in the park. I told him I'd be fine, I'm an adult, he doesn't need to take care of me, doesn't need to get nervous or upset for me - but he can't help wanting to make everything better. (I did not let him see me take my calm pills.) Then he obviously saw the exam, and the abomination that was me attempting the Heller (a piece I have played at home a million times, so he knows I can play it). Afterwards, he told me 'I wouldn't know what to do if that happened to me'. I told him 'The only thing you can do, is to keep going and hope for the best.' I also told him that it wasn't so bad. I played 75% of my exam just fine. I told him I was going to be friendly to myself: I practised a lot, I turned up on the day, and I gave it my best shot. That's all I could do, and I did it, so I was going to tell myself 'Well done', no matter what the result.

I should have left him at home, because he has his own public exam next week, on the guitar. Now - he will be fine. He's very good, and played a wonderful concert a little while ago. He did not need this messing with his head, though. I see that now. My teacher tells me children don't get stressed out the way adults do, but he's already getting sore tummies when he's stressed, the way I used to. Part of that may be genetics, but I do model him too many of the wrong things. In this case, I obviously made the wrong choice, but in other situations I'm often torn between showing him that, in spite of my anxiety, I function and keep going, or denying that I'm anxious in the first place. He knows me too well to hide much from him anyway.

It's hard to find the line between honest and authentic parenting and just passing on all your bad shit. I was hoping not to fuck them up in their turn.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Careful breakdown of the problem in order to prevent or at least alleviate symptoms tomorrow afternoon

I went into music school this morning to practise tomorrow's programme. I will be playing four pieces on the piano, for an audience and a jury, to hopefully attain my Lower Grade, so I can get into the Middle Grade - which I need, if I want to stay in the (very affordable) public music school system.

I chose the grand piano in the room furthest away from the very few people I'd spotted, and closed the door. I found my music, put it on the stand, sat down. I thought I'd start with my finale, my finest piece (supposedly) - a short and energetic flurry of notes by Mozart. Jack finds great delight in asking me, every time I play it, 'if this is the one he wrote when he was eight'. Yes. Yes, it is.

Now, I know the notes. I do. The notes are fine. They're about as there as they are going to be by tomorrow afternoon. I know how to play all four pieces. Still, I sat there, and the notes came out all vomit-like and scrambled. All mixed up and hopping around. There was no one else in the room. No one else in the corridor. Probably no one else on the whole floor. Yet I started sweating and my hands shook and my breathing was odd.

First, I got cross with myself. For once, though, it didn't take me long to see that that was not a helpful response. Then I texted my sister An, may she find squirrels and deer on her forest paths. Then I grabbed a Bounty and a Sedinal. The latter is a plant extract, with valerian and hops, which I only take for flying and exams. It doesn't bode well that I'm taking it the day before the exam. The Bounty was just a brain fart. I'd been given it last week by Jack, and it was just sitting there in my bag and caught my eye. It was only a small one. Then I texted An again, to confess my sudden attack of gluttony.

I practised for a couple of hours. It was okay. Not great, but okay. Sometimes, when I managed to stay with the notes, and not think of anyone in the building, or my exam, or what I was going to buy in the shops, or what I needed to do for Jack who has a music school exam tonight as well - when I managed to play and only play, it went okay.

I read somewhere last week that one way to deal with performance anxiety is to prepare for the event with two mental rehearsals. One in which you do a worst case scenario - you go through everything that could possibly go wrong and you decide how to respond - and then one in which everything goes perfectly. I have been going through the worst case. A few times this week, I thought about what exactly I'm scared of, and what I would do.

  1. Forget my notes - start again. 
  2. Get bad stomach cramps - excuse myself and go to the toilet. 
  3. Start crying - pause, stop crying, start playing again. 
  4. Start shaking and hyperventilating so badly I can't possibly play on - excuse myself, walk out, fail my course; it wouldn't be the end of the world. 
  5. Die - that's okay, then I won't worry any more. 

This morning, I went through the concert a few times after practice. I put my papers down as I would, played the first piece by heart (it's a requirement), then paused to put the second piece on the music stand and prepare myself for the different rhythm, the different key. The same for the next two pieces. If I got something wrong, I tried to keep going, or otherwise I picked it up at a good place. I didn't get that much wrong. I should be okay. I know how to play these pieces. I even got up to 'greet the audience' (A bow? A half bow?) because my teacher insists I practise that, too. Fair enough - she doesn't want us to forget.

What ridiculousness. I'm thirty-eight years old. I gave birth to three children. I used to love doing exams at school and university. They were genuinely happy days for me. There is no reason why I should feel like this about a stupid piano exam that will have no consequences for me or anyone else anywhere in the world. I just have to turn up and attempt the bloody thing. They don't like to fail adults, not at lower grade. I will be fine.

If you read this far, something tells me that you recognise this feeling. Please tell me I'm not the only one with an irrational fear. What scares the shit out of you? What makes you break out in a sweat if you just think about it? Make me feel less pathetic, please. I can't be the only one.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

MAIN EVENT of the YEAR coming up!

I'm meant to be practising for my piano exam on Wednesday. I have given up. Babes has gone off for the weekend with Jack, and he has left me my two littlest ones. Even when they are a whole floor and several closed doors removed from me, they cannot be quiet and leave me for a minute. Instead of asking them every five minutes to go away and let me concentrate on the music, I thought I would just let them have a good Saturday. They are not going to leave me alone anyway. This way we are all happier.

And we are. Charlie is doing a jigsaw and making up songs right next to the piano, and Marie has just taken off her rollerblades to come and tell me she is hungry... That huge Caesar salad I made for our late lunch was obviously not enough to last her all the way to whatever meal I will improvise next. (The Caesar salad, my favourite, was amazingly tasty - really, best meal I ever made: the eggs were the perfect one second away from still runny.) I'm going to get my knitting out soon.

I must think of a brilliant plan for tonight, so I can get Charlie in bed and asleep, and Marie comfortable with her pillow and duvet in the sofa, but with not too many foodstuffs so that I don't undo the healthy effects of that salad, before the MAIN EVENT of the YEAR which is EUROVISION! I may need a beer. Or a glass of that Chenin Blanc Babes left me. I looked in the TV guide, and all the European channels are showing THE AWESOMENESS. What none of the politicians can manage - European togetherness - a bunch of singers in sparkly clothes do every year. How hard can it be then? It's Marie's first time to stay up for it (I think she watched it taped last year), so proper mother-daughter bonding coming up! Who's excited? That would be me.

We have a long weekend in Belgium - another Catholic reason to have Monday off - and it's promising to be lovely. Tomorrow, we have breakfast and a walk in the park to see the rhododendrons bloom with one of my dearest friends. Monday we are planning a trip to a local-ish abbey to walk, and then to stick the children in the abbey playground while Babes and I celebrate his return with abbey cheese and abbey beer.

Have a good weekend yourselves, and enjoy Eurovision! (GO-O-O Belgium! GO-O-O Loïc!)

Friday, 22 May 2015

Marketing adultery

A Dutch Christian political party has decided to advertise on behalf of faithfulness in relationships. They are doing this in response to long-running adverts on radio and tv that promote infidelity. We get them in Belgium as well: a husky woman's voice asks 'Are you happily married? So am I...", and then follows the name of a website to find other married people to copulate with. I don't want to give them more airtime, but the name is too clever to keep from you: secondlove - clever, and devious.

You, my dear readers, know that I'd be the last to come at you with fundamentalist Christian teachings, but secretly I'm quite happy that they want to put some balance out there. To show that loyalty is at least an option. I would never say anyone should stay in an unhappy marriage. I would never blame anyone for splitting up. I would, however, like it if someone was fighting my corner if I want to keep my marriage going without either of us shagging anyone else.

They should choose different images for their moralistic campaign. One of them, a sad child with the text 'The price of adultery'? Not cool. There's no need to make anyone feel guilty. That's just below the belt. The best one they've come up with says 'Love... Your family.' I can just about handle that. I'd be happier if they made the family in the photo less obviously white and heterosexual.

I'm not sure if I want balance and free speech, or if I want the law to forbid anyone from putting silly ideas in my pure and innocent husband's mind. - Okay, okay, I want freedom, bla bla bla - you know I do - but I also want my man's thoughts unsullied. Luckily, I'm certain that he's too lovely and loyal to even consider the offer. Phew!

Tell me, because I don't know how this goes around the world: where you are, do you get adultery adverts on tv and radio, in the middle of the day? What do you think about this?

Thursday, 21 May 2015


The economic model underpinning this family is fundamentally detrimental to its social cohesion.

Or: it's not fair that I only get to see him when he's exhausted. It's not fair that he doesn't get to be here for swimming lessons, birthday parties, and shoe shopping. It's not fair that I don't know the colleagues he spends his days with. It's not fair that we used to have everything in common, and now we struggle to find words to meet in the middle.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015


Out on my run today, I discovered I was making plans for where I want to be by the time I turn forty. I wanted to be able to run 10k comfortably, have something published, play the piano to a higher standard, maybe polish up my Spanish a bit. It wasn't even planning consciously - it was what was going on in the back of my wandering mind. I could have been looking at the gorgeous flowers, the squirrel running up a tree, or the older runner coming towards me at a most impressive speed. Instead, my mind was making a list of all the ways I fall short, and should improve.

When I finally noticed what I was doing, I saw the ridiculousness of it all. There I was, running 4.5k happily and comfortably, in a beautiful park. I have three amazing children I get to take care of every day. I'm the fittest I've ever been, and the happiest, if you don't count the times when I had a baby in my belly, or one on my boob. I play music daily, sing with my choir every week, and I write when I feel the need to express myself.

This is it. This is what I have been improving myself for. I should allow myself a breather, a little pat on the back, or at least a pause on the 'faults scan' constantly running in the background of my brain. Life won't get much better than this, and, as a human in progress, I'm probably about done. From here on, I can change what I do, but it's a bit late to change what I am. It's time to accept what I've become, warts and all. (Hurray! I don't even have any literal warts! Plenty of metaphorical ones, but hey who doesn't?)

It's like this: I think I've studied easily 14 languages in my lifetime, if not more - always chasing the next one. I only have any useful knowledge left of, say, seven of them. Maybe six. Self-improvement only works up to a point. After that, the container is full. My container is full. I know all the languages I'm going to know. I've improved myself as much as I'm going to. I'm done.

I'm not saying I won't be curious any more, won't learn any more, won't want to find out, won't keep running further - only no longer with the aim of 'bettering' myself. I can learn for entertainment. For happiness. For keeping my brain going. Out of interest. I can run to be happy and fit. I have to let go of the idea that I'm not good enough; that after taking one more course, reading one more book, learning one more thing, running one more kilometer, I will measure up. There's nothing to measure. I quit my self-invented competition. I'm done.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Meandering thoughts on weight loss

I am finally, finally, finally losing some weight. It turns out the secret was: eating less. Fancy that. I never would have believed it. Now I'm in the right frame of mind, I can see that I used to eat unnecessary things every day. I used to eat the pieces I cut off the sides of the children's sandwiches when I made them fit to their lunch boxes. I used to have a chocolate with my tea. I used to eat the cakes my (darling) feeder of a husband left when he went to work. I used to have a bit of a snack with the children in the afternoon, and I used to have a glass of wine with my evening meal. All of these things I've cut out. I've stopped having seconds. I've cut breakfast and lunch in half. When we go out, I offer to drive home so I won't drink the calories either. I'm hungry only half the time. (Sigh.)

I still have the odd piece of cake when it's fresh out of the oven. (That darling feeder of a husband deserves that much.) I still have a few (lower fat) crisps and a beer sometimes, when my lunch was at twelve, and I have to wait for my dinner until after seven. It's torture to cook for an hour, being around the food, without a little something for me. I tried raw vegetables and sparkling water, but then I remembered that I don't want to squander this life on not living it.

I use a gem I was taught in mindfulness: The Second Plate is Never as Good. I eat everything I like, and I try to mindfully enjoy the first bites, so I won't be tempted to mindlessly eat more. It works a lot of the time. Not always for beer or wine. The second really is as good. On my (increasingly less frequent) weaker-willed days, I tell myself the third is never as good as the second.

(I make it sound like I was obese and I've halved my weight - we're talking about eight pounds or thereabouts. (Isn't that cunning: I always gain weight in kilos, but I lose it in pounds. It's the benefit of having two cultures: I can pick and choose my measures to suit my vanity.))

All this has made me wonder - how much food do I really need to survive? I've noticed my stomach has been shrinking - I can't physically eat as much as I used to. I feel full quicker. I suspect I should eat a little more during the day than I am doing right now. Lunch some days ends up being an apple and an orange. I don't know - is that okay? I went to a nutritionist once, when I was having trouble with infections in my guts, and she said I should eat avocados. When I saw her the next time, she was in despair because I had eaten a bowl of guacamole and a whole bag of tortillas each day. I stopped going to see her when she told me not to have the tortillas. Who eats only guacamole?

I suppose it makes a difference how much you move. I eat a little more when I'm about to go for a run, or when I'm on my feet with the children all day. I do too many things that require me to sit down: write, play the piano, knit. If I was still teaching, I'm sure I'd burn off a bag of tortillas each day. I'm trying a bodyweight training app I got for my iPad to move more and strengthen my core, but each time I have a session, I am sore with what I'm sure is impending stomach cancer for a week. It keeps me up at night: is this the beginning of my end, or have I just overdone it on the stomach crunches and planks?

(I can hear my inner housewife muttering into my ear: 'If you ever did any housework, you'd be fine. Do some laundry. Get the duster out. Get off your lazy butt. Writing about it won't help. You have a cleaner do all the dirty work for you, and then you complain about your lardy arse.' My inner housewife is a charmer.)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Happy day

The prime minister of our neighbouring country, Luxemburg, has just married his male partner, who is a Belgian, just like me. Today I love the way our world is changing for the better.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Where I run

After encouragement from Ms. Moon, here's some photos of where I run. I love this place very dearly, not in the least because of this:

See that? No dogs or bikes allowed. Because that is how antisocial I am. I prefer my run without two-wheelers or dog poo to tread in. I have never been jumped by a rottweiler or had my leg ridden by a chihuahua there. Bliss! (I think I just lost half my readers there. Tough potatoes.) (Also no snakes, alligators, vultures, or giant spiders. Very unlike Ms. Moon's walks.)

The start of my run has these to distract me:

and I need distraction, until I finally get to my one kilometer bench. Before that, I'm wondering why the fuck am I out here, about to have a heart attack, and surely there are easier ways to kill myself. After the 1k bench, I'm happily coasting along, listening to music, loving being out and in my park, breathing in deeply - just now I'm breathing mostly yellow rhododendron, as they are in bloom all over (see further down). Next week, I will be breathing purple rhododendron.

1k bench on the right,
left and right windy bits
This is my favourite part of the run. Partly because I will finally find my 'groove' and feel happy, and partly because the path winds through the trees here in the most delightful way.

Ha! Flowers, just because I can:

2k roundabout:

The first time I ran the 2k roundabout 'the far way around' marked the day I first saw myself as 'a runner'.

The yellow rhododendron in bloom:

Forest road. They like to plant trees in neat rows around here:

Amazing red tree, 3k bench in the distance:

Rabbits basking in the sun:

Cow with five crows on its back:

Purple rhododendrons will be everywhere soon. Right now, most of them are still pure potential:

 Rabbit running away from scary camera woman:

End of run:

It was funny. I quite liked being out, taking 530(!) photos. (You thought that was a lot of photos? Just think how bad that could have been.) However, I could not switch my brain off, and felt like I was where I should be exercising, but instead I'm sitting on my knees in front of a patch of pretty flowers. I kept being disappointed that I saw no deer or squirrels to take a photo of. It didn't take me long to realise that I should have been running - then my mind can't stray too far, and I feel like I'm making the most of my time outside the house. Still, interesting experiment, and I may repeat it, on non running days, until I learn to keep my mind stiller and with the images.

Monday, 11 May 2015


The micromort is a measure used to express the risk of death. One micromort equals a one-in-a-million chance you will die of something. Add up a million micromorts, and you get to one mort - the lifetime probability of dying (i.e. certainty). I love that there is such a measure, first of all, and also that there are people sitting around in labs around the world, deciding micromort values for everything one might do in a day.

If you look around on the internet, you can learn the micromort values of various activities.

Where am I losing my main micromorts?
Worst one, hands down: living each day - 33 micromorts.
Living within 20 miles of a nuclear power plant for about 30 years - 2 micromorts.
Skiing - 0.7 micromorts a day.
Travelling 1000 miles by jet (chance of accident) - 1 micromort.
Travelling 230 miles by car (chance of accident) - 1 micromort.

When I first heard of this measure a few years ago, the journalist on the BBC mentioned how even the safest behaviours have micromorts attached to them. As an example, he gave the risk of deadly cancer from eating bananas - 1 micromort per 1000 bananas, because of the radioactive potassium-40 in them after they are brought in by plane. Ever since, I have worried a little (3 microworries) each time I have handed a banana to one of my children, but I still give them bananas, because I know rationally that they are not dangerous foods. I don't want to know the micromorts in apples or oranges, tomatoes or cucumber. The microworries would add up and make me microcombust in microtime.

If you want to be more precise (and there is not much I love more), it is possible to distinguish between micromorts and microlives. Then you can leave the chance of acute death to the micromorts, and express everything else in microlives: a one-millionth of your life. A microlife should be about thirty minutes, or a millionth of a reasonable life span. Each time you smoke a cigarette or drink too much, you can estimate how many microlives are deducted from your life. When you hit a million, you croak. This makes sense, because, while the risk of accidental death by skiing is 0.7 micromorts, as soon as you stop skiing, the risk is gone, and your life hasn't got any shorter. Living life each day, at the end of the day, your 33 micromorts get 'banked', as it were, and you are down 33 microlives.

How do our lost microlives add up?
Two cigarettes - lose one microlife. (Phew. I don't smoke.)
First alcoholic drink in a day - you GAIN a microlife. (I like this statistic. Long live Wikipedia!)
Next 6 alcoholic drinks - you LOSE one microlife each. (Fuck! Surely not??? They can't be worse than cigarettes! I have to check the numbers.)
Being overweight - lose one microlife per day per five kilos overweight.
Eating 5 fruit and veg a day - you gain 3.5 microlives.
Coffee, 2-3 cups - gain of 1 microlife a day.
Being female - gain 4 microlives a day.
20 minutes of moderate exercise - gain 2 microlives. (After that, it tails off.)

(For Igor: running a marathon - 7 micromorts per run.)
(For the completely anally retentive out there, I know my numbers don't quite perfectly add up. I'm too lazy to work them out exactly. Estimates, people!)

Saturday, 9 May 2015


We have this great programme on TV here. Artists, writers, scientists, and other randomly interesting people, get interviewed for an hour and a half, and they get to choose fragments of films and TV programmes to show what they stand for, care about, are inspired by. Last night, they had Joris Luyendijk, a journalist and anthropologist who used to report from the Middle East, and who is now famous for writing a book describing the ways and mores in the City of London and its banking establishment.

One of his film fragments hit me right in the gut, as it was meant to. It was a piece of a film made by the artist Renzo Martens. In it, Martens is in The Democratic Republic of Congo, talking to plantation workers. He gets out this neon sign saying, 'Enjoy Poverty Please' and starts arguing that these people should stop waiting for Western aid, and just accept and enjoy their lives of poverty. You see the people ask him, 'But surely you will send help', and, 'You will show this movie to people who can make our lives better', but he keeps dashing their hopes. At the same time, he tells them that he feels like a better person for having seen their poverty and living standards. It is excruciating to watch. It cuts right to the heart of the hypocrisy of the West towards poverty, and towards anonymous workers in far away countries.

Martens is now living in the Congo to make a difference. He is starting an art centre there, and is trying to 'gentrify' the plantations. He is getting people to make art, which he then casts in chocolate over in Belgium, instantly making the chocolate worth more. It seems he has had trouble with large corporations and plantation owners who would much prefer him to not disturb the status quo. He has even been evicted from his original site. His dream is to have a thriving arts scene in the jungle. He already established arts work shops for children and plantation workers have exhibited their own self-portraits. Instead of working to add a couple of extra dollars to their pay packets, he is shaking up the whole narrative, the whole potential for every life.

For Dutch speakers, here's last night's fragment, of Luyendijk on Martens.

Another thing that came up was the strange and, according to Luyendijk, sick relationship of war correspondents to their subject. This was another subject for Martens as well. His first film showed him going into the Chechen war, asking displaced and desperate people, 'What do you think of me?' He's not one for the easy watching projects. Luyendijk has been a war correspondent himself, and admits that it can be an exhilarating experience, a quest for adventure, even more than an attempt to better the lives of the victims. I was struck by the nostalgia with which he recounted a time he had to walk a stretch of land with his hands in the air, snipers targeting him every step. One wrong step, one stumble, or even one bad move by anyone around him, and he might be shot. But, he said, he was totally in the moment. There was no sadness about the past, no worry about the future, only that one moment in which he was fully alive.

TV at its best. I will be chewing on all this and also his views on war, the banking sector, and humanity in general, for a while to come.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Morality and the postmodern mother

My children are now all old enough to go and get me a beer and the bottle opener. Whether it's a morally righteous thing to do to ask your seven year old girl to take your empty bottle to the kitchen and get you another is debatable. Especially if their daddy isn't home yet.

Ah fuck it: the excuse of 'Friday!' surely covers this one?

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Waiting, waiting until

I wait.

I need to drink some more. I can't get dehydrated when I'm out there.

I wait.

I'm not sure if I've eaten enough. How much fuel will I need?

I wait, make another cup of tea.

I should go and poo. I don't want to be caught out.

I wait.

My food hasn't gone down enough. It needs to be in my stomach before I can go. Wouldn't want it to come back up. Maybe just one quick blog post.

I wait.

The temperature might go up one more degree if I stay put twenty more minutes.

I wait.

It starts to feel like I'm about to rip off a plaster. I hold my breath because I know it will hurt for the first while. I know I need to. I know I will feel better after.

I can't keep waiting. If I want to shower after, do something productive today, I have to get out there.


I stretch. I loosen my muscles. I find my music, get it going. I jump up and down inside the door. I check my clothes are in place, no flesh is shown. No one will see me jiggle. I run back inside for a tissue. I change the song to one that will rev me up more. I remember to put the key in my pocket. I take a deep breath and open the door.

Then I run.

Monday, 4 May 2015

If you don't think about it, it doesn't exist

Jack is practising the guitar, meters away in the kitchen. I don't know a happier thing than to have my own child make beautiful music, with me as his adoring audience. He has his public exam coming up in less than a month. As do I, for piano. A thought which makes me literally stop breathing and run to the toilet. Up to today, I have been opting for the ostrich approach, but with about twenty days to go, I realised I had to start practising.

I love practising the piano. Genuinely. As long as it's for my own private enjoyment and learning process. As soon as I know there is a jury or an audience at the end of the process, I run for the hills. Metaphorically. I knit a lot. I watch TV. I have the odd beer. I do not ever sit down at the piano. I'm now trying to ignore the whole exam business and play like no one will be watching. I'm sort of maybe fooling myself occasionally. I wish I could afford private lessons without those bloody exams, I tell you. (Our brilliant and subsidised state system has mandatory exams.)

I'm reading a brilliant book on Anxiety - My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel. I haven't got all that far yet, but I love it. It's both a scientific description of what anxiety does in our bodies and minds, and a personal account of his own history with severe anxiety. I was powering through it like a train, until I got to the section on performance anxiety. Since I left it on that section, I've constantly had more pressing things to do than keep reading. It reminds me of this book I bought last year, on the necessary roles germs play in our lives. I simply cannot get through more than a couple of pages of it before I think of five vitally important tasks that I simply must accomplish right now. I've even put it next to the toilet, and still I'm not even half way through it. Thinking about performance anxiety has the same effect on me.

In fact, I think I really must start on dinner right now.