Menin Gate and Tyne Cot

Continental weekend for the bank holiday


Saturday May 29th. Despite the excitement of going abroad – which I always love – I am sorry to leave the garden which is beginning to look exciting to me. I realise this means I’m turning into one of those unbelievably old people who would rather stay at home and supervise the watering, instead of taking the opportunity to “club” in a Euro hotspot. But to a certain extent I’ve always been one of those. It’s just more focussed now. How will the new lawn cope without me? Will my seedlings survive? How can I stop the cat from laying on top of them if I’m not there? But I am strong. I grit my teeth, force myself to be sociable, pack and go.

And it is worth it. F’s friend is holding a party a short drive away from Calais. When we get there, the vast quantities of flowers and white linen proclaim this to be a wedding and it proves so. We sit and eat nice food at a variety of tables. At the first there is a mixture of french and english people so the question du jour has to be “Demain; Oui, ou Non?” “Oui” is the answer from all around our table. The party must be very unrepresentative as the answer on Monday’s Bruges news proves to be “Non”. Even though I can’t understand the Flemish language at all, it is is very easy to read the relief on Jack Straw’s face, and later on Tony Blair’s. If that is the will of the people, we will listen to it, they intone with suitable humility. But they seem strangely pleased. I know I am. Because, sad to say, I haven’t read the 500 page proposed constitution. Or even one page of it. In fact, I wouldn’t know where to get my hands on it. it is impossible to say yes to something I haven’t read and where I can’t trust the summaries – not that there have been any much in evidence.

Maybe there are some online


Yes, there are, but I still can’t be bothered to read it.
Anyway, I leap ahead of myself. The Constitution is part of the evening debate, also covered are the usual topics of the educated British middle classes – how early can we retire, give up our fabulous jobs and dedicate ourselves to self improvement and gratification? How much do our children’s babysitters cost? How shocked are we when people cross picket lines? Will ID cards be a bad thing or a good thing?

The evening is progressively colder and colder, although the generous flow of wine means I am too drunk to care.

The next day, on a fine, sunny morning, and after a quick trip round Azincourt, we set off for Bruges, where the weather rapidly turns rainy. We stay in the Montana Hotel. Bruges is unremittingly pretty. Not at all multicultural. I think I may be the only ethnic minority there. But everyone is very pleasant. We explore a couple of churches which are incredibly stuffed and overstuffed with paintings, huge golden organ pipes and fabulous pulpits, borne aloft by cherubs. We eat in an OK restaurant.

Monday is wet, wet, wet. We take directions for Ypres, or Ieper, as it’s called here. This is much, much more moving than I expected. The Menin gate is astonishing. More so with its long list of asian names. I find myself standing in surprising tears at the sacrifice of it all, and the oneness of humanity. Until a Belgian guns his car straight at me and I escape death only by an Olympic leap for the kerb. But the feeling stays with me. We drive to Tyne Cot, where the simple white block headstones contrast with the white crosses of the second world war, which we saw in Normandy last year. A startling pink swathe of poppies cuts across a head stone in the grey downpour.

It is bitterly cold and wet. If it’s like this in June, god alone can imagine what it was like in November after a few months of trench warfare. We try out the Passchendale Musueum, with its reconstructed trench system, which is also very impressive.

We have a late lunch in “The Poppy” on the main street of Ypres, and set off to return to Bruges., As we approach Bruges, the sky becomes bluer and it dries out, allowing us to take a boat trip around the canals. Skippered by a tall, skinny middle class native with a heavy hand for joky remarks and a shameless tout for tips, it is nevertheless a beautiful and impressive trip.

We eat in “Cafedraal” . Possibly the worst restaurant I have eaten in for a lot of money. I propose the chateaubriand, but when it comes it is a sorry travesty. pre hacked, cooked medium, despite my request for rare, with some waterlogged and unidentifiable vegetable, and apparently culled from some sort of stewing steak, instead of the excellent meat it should be.


but the wine is good. Dispirited, we hand over the £80 and I resolve that is the last time I will eat in Bruges. But it is such a pretty place, I expect I’ll manage to find it in myself to backtrack…

Back home on Tuesday, today, and the good news is that the garden has survived.


A scorching day – up to Soho with B to attend a recording of a new radio programme. Beautiful.

A typical day


Awoken at 7.05, feed child, make lunchbox, breakfast in bath. Dress, face, pack bag, unlock bike shed, gate, answer small child questions re injustice of doing homework, sympathise, stop sympathising, see child off, get in car, drive to tube, get on tube, read Sunday papers money section, worry about pension, go into office straight into meeting, good, lasts for two hours, answer emails rapidly and with feeling that brain is draining away faster than usual. work piled on desk, call absent member of staff to hear she is still off sick with “underlying viral infection” = stress, more work, post office for E111 and posting of pokemon cards to small guest who inadvertantly left them, buy soup and take it back to desk, more mails, cup of tea with leaving colleague, back to desk, meet new member of staff, brief her on major tasks, take her to meet research manager, get hauled into another meeting, large amount of work handed to me, should be in third meeting but desk now so piled high with vital things which have to be done before the end of the day I can’t move and so am still trapped there when boss passes by and asks me to have cup of tea with other colleague facing work crisis, agree but now numb so can only manage to write it on gaudy orange post-it before realising how many other orange post-its are still awaiting my attention, more mails, time to go to govs meeting, panic, must read papers before go, but there is even more pressing email, do that but don’t complete it as brain too frozen to fully release necessary information – must send it on FOI course , must go, panic, when will papers be read, maybe before I go to govs, no time, get to govs with 3 mins to spare, meeting good but goes on and on and on, Home at 9pm, loved one cooks lovely food, but before that child is still deep in trauma of shouting teacher. Warm hugs and tears before short lecture on need to grow thicker skin. child crawls under leopard skin blanket to cry. Crying relieved by Blackadder 111. child up too late, tuck him into bed, refuse to read story, back down stairs, it is 10.30 “How was your day dear?” Read papers finally, return via email with comments. It is 01.13. It is bed time.

My lovely life, part one


Enough playing about. I must find something more valuable to say. Time to start the diary of a lifetime. No more flaking out by February 2nd. This time, I will stay the course and create a weblog of such staggering power and thoughtfulness that my family will beg me to carry on, rather than their more traditional practice of simply elbowing me aside from the computer. But I think I may have to gear up to that slowly. It’s a scary business, public writing. I’il have to maintain a flippant demeanour for some days or even weeks before this begins to feel like a sensible activity

I’ll start small. I suppose I could offer some insight into my lovely life. Just like they do in Hello. There’s my son, Bilbo, and my beloved, Frodo, both of whom spend far more time online than can possibly be healthy. Obviously, if this is really like Hello, they won’t be with me for much longer, as our relationship will crash and burn like the short lived meteor that is the celebrity marriage. Wait for me Brad, I’ll be along any minute now.

From a livestock point of view, there’s the mad cat. And we’re also about to become the proud owners of an African Land Snail. I’m not sure how I’ll cope with this as I gather they require industrial quantities of cucumber and cuttle fish. How do you cuttle fish? And how can I persuade the neighbours that not only do they have to feed the cat every few weeks as we ponce off on yet another exotic holiday, but now they also have to create crudites for increasingly bulky crustaceans. [Do snails count as crustaceans? I can see this is blog has the potential to be an educational and mind expanding experience for me.] Somehow, it seems a bit trivial, asking someone to feed your snail. Especially when they’re a new mother, up to their ears in Napisan and lactating freely. The neighbour, not the snail, of course. I think the snail is a boy snail.


When I haven’t had too much of this


This is me on a good day