25 November 2008


Image:Quill and ink.svg

For a submission with a strict word count limit, I whittled a 3,000+ word story down to 2,000 words. And you know what I discovered? It felt great! It was like having a big clear-out, or a really good work-out. My story came out of the gym all fresh and toned.

Discovery no. 2: that was the fun part. The hard part was getting out all the words that I then had to trim away. But I had to write them first in order to get to the fun part. Maybe that part will get easier. If it does, I'll let you know.

Guest Post -- John Boyle on John Sergeant

John Boyle, writer, presenter and author of Gallway Street and Laff, is a long-standing member of the writers workshop I attend on Monday evenings. Last night he read out the following as his "literary exercise." I invited him to let me post it here and he kindly agreed.

It's been silly season on BBC Television recently, especially on Strictly Come Dancing. The genial, tubby John Sergeant was being kept alive in the competition only by massive public vote, at the expense of contestants who were much better dancers. Not that that's any claim to fame, for John was a truly awful dancer. Nor should his age - 64 - be any excuse: I'm older than that and even I could have made a better fist of it.

Last week, about 2 weeks overdue in my opinion, he finally did the decent thing and bowed out, having understood that his continued presence was making a nonsense of the contest. To my mind, nothing he did in the show became him like the manner of his leaving it - but I'm in a minority. Ever since, the Great British Public has been baying for the BBC's blood, and for the heads of the hapless judges. I find internet forums a depressing experience at the best of times: like turning over a smooth stone and discovering all the nasty creepy crawlies underneath. On this issue, the comments verge on hysteria. 'Who do these jumped-up judges think they are? How dare they make rude comments about our John? They seem to think this is a dance competition' - well it is, actually, but mention that at your peril - 'when all it is entertainment, a bit of harmless fun. And we like John, in fact we love John, and we want John to win, so we'll keep voting for him if only to stick two fingers up to those bloody judges'. Yes, the public in their wisdom decided this was not a dance competition, but a popularity contest. By that logic, Mr Blobby could have won it, and in my view - sorry, John - he very nearly did.

All this is depressingly instructive about the psyche of the Great British Public. It reveals a deep suspicion, tinged with envy, of elites of any kind: a pathological unease with excellence or indeed any aspiration in that direction. Instinctive support for the underdog is no bad thing in itself, and quite touching in its way. But when it leads on to the glorification of bumbling mediocrity, it makes me question just how British I really am.

24 November 2008

Pyjama day

Yesterday I woke up around 7 am and knew it was going to be a day best spent in pyjamas. At a less un-godly hour I cancelled Girl 2's flute lesson (which was to be exceptionally on a Sunday at 11), making lame excuses in French. (Note to Self: find out good French euphanisms for total mental exhaustion.) It was a cold, windy, wintry day and fortunately we'd arranged in advance for one of Girl 2's friends to come over. I managed to make them croque monsieurs* and allowed them all -- Girl 1, Girl 2 and friend -- to borrow my shoes. It's lucky that I have so many black high-heeled shoes!

Around 4 pm it started snowing -- really storming, and the snow began to stick. There was maybe half an inch of accumulation. The girls were all excited and made snowballs on our (very) small terrace. They wanted to run around in the communal garden, like some other wackos were doing, but it was storming. (And in fact, the airport closed for a while.) Poor things, they don't know the difference between nice snow and nasty snow. This was nasty. But they see so little snow, they think it's all nice.

Friend stayed until 6 pm or so. I worked on a short story, generated some word count, and practiced my cello. G1 and G2 practiced their instruments, played computer games, and eventually went to bed.

I stayed up and watched a scary show on the BBC called "Survivor", where everyone gets the flu and dies except for about 10 people.

Going out, I find, is really overrated.

*= grilled cheese sandwiches

20 November 2008

New rule?

Mark Lawson's piece in the Guardian on Jonh Sergeant contains this titbit...

a new rule for future series was announced yesterday, which will allow judges to vote out any performer who finishes bottom for three weeks running.

Alas, although this is from the Guardian online, there is no link to the rule.


Everybody's on it now.

Watching It Takes Two last night, I found it difficult to concentrate on the trainings for Saturday's show. I see why John did what he did, but it's still regrettable. I don't think the judges were unduly hard on him -- they are dancing judges after all, and he knew that he had the public's support.

What really gets me going is people who make comments like "seriousness is so shallow". That's fine if someone else is being halfway serious about something you don't care about. But if it is something you care about, you wouldn't like to hear that.

19 November 2008

P.S. Strictly Cash Flow

Pursuant to John Sergeant's announced departure (see previous post), the BBC Controller is quoted as saying, 'We are very sad to see him go.'

As Strictly/BBC aren't donating phone call proceeds this year to Children in Need, I'll bet the controller's sad. They take your money whether your vote is a jest or not.

Strictly News Flash!

The BF texts me to say that John Sergeant is leaving Strictly. I can't believe it!  I'm at home as it is Wednesday, the half-day of school. I rush to the PC.  John says his reason for leaving is that he might actually win the competition and 'that would be a joke too far.' There were headlines yesterday that 4 out of 10 Strictly voters voted for John to annoy the judges.

While I haven't been supporting John, and don't think he should win the competition, I find it sad that people who don't care about dancing would vote for a bad dancer out of some kind of anti-authority-figure issues, without a care about the effect on the rest of the programme. If John had made the final due to votes like that, it would have been a mockery of the whole show, and takes away the thrill for those of us who really like the dancing. 

Even so his leaving is a shame and casts a shadow over the whole thing. 

I am vintage

Today I am wearing a black knit J Crew dress that is more than 10 years old. It's Merino wool which should really last to the end of time, if treated properly. I thought I was until two years ago discovered that some moths had found it. Fortunately, it was not their favourite, there was only minimal damage. I rescued it and bought about 1,000 cedar balls and distributed them through the clothes storage boxes. Last night I darned the little holes the moth larvae had made. Yes, I have thoroughly washed it and the moths are gone. I am not an experienced darner but it helps that the dress is ribbed knit and black.

This dress if purchased today would probably cost at least $190. Is this not an excellent argument for buying (1) classic or classic-ish items made of (2) quality fabrics in (3) black?

I think it is.

18 November 2008

Strictly controversial

We tuned in with baited breath last night to see what Cherie and James had to say after being knocked out of this weekend's Strictly Come Dancing. Cherie was good but she was struggling with the Latin dances and she probably wouldn't have improved enough to get much farther, even without "the John Sergeant factor". She and James danced well together, though. I had never really taken to James, had found him arrogant, in past competitions. But with Cherie he seemed nicer. It was also great to see an older woman holding her own out on that dance floor!

Re "the John factor": It amazes me that John is still in there given his lack of dance talent. He's a sweet guy and you'd be happy to take a turn with him at a wedding or something but... come on. I'll stick to my position that it isn't fair, no matter how entertaining he is, to keep him in there. What do celebrities get for staying in, any way? Are they paid more? Are the professional dancers paid more? The Boyfriend (who I love more than coffee) pointed out that the rules are "judges fifty percent, public votes fifty percent", but the BBC doesn't publish the statistics. Yes, let's see those statistics! Why can't we see the public vote? We get to see the judges' vote, after all.

17 November 2008


Things are happening over at Chuck Westbrook's blog.... If you're new to blogging or just like blogs and aren't a part of his "find great new blogs" project, you're missing out.

14 November 2008

Tree At My Window - A Project

My sister posted a comment on my tree-at-my-window post:

My tree is full of lemons, they are yellow but it is not the same.

She lives in Texas and is missing the seasons.

But I would love to have a lemon tree.... So I've asked her to send me a photo, and I will post it.

And then I thought, if anyone would like to send me a photo of their window-tree, I will post that too. So please send your photos to me.... And pass this request around, it would be fantastic to get a big collection of window-trees !

photos to jeannette dot cook gmail dot com


I'm 41 years old and here are my goals:

To do the pigeon position (kapotha-asana) in full splits variation

To write a publishable novel and have it published (before age 50?)

To keep writing poems with a view to collecting, over time, the best ones

To remember what the painter told me at the Palace of the Last Kings of Majorca (in Pepignan): Courage.

To one day play something beautifully on the cello

To keep being in love with my wonderful boyfriend, who I love more than coffee

To continue to parent my daughters in the manner that each one most needs

To stay connected to friends and my family

To have Thanksgiving dinner at my house next year

To add to this list as needed: this is not an exhaustive list!

12 November 2008

The familiar familial

Rebecca Traister touches a nerve as she writes about Michelle Obama in today's Salon:

[S]he is in the unenviable yet deeply happy position of being a history-maker whose own balancing act allowed her husband the space to make his political career zip forward, his books sing, his daughters healthy and beautiful, and his campaign succeed. In having done all this, Michelle Obama wrought for herself a life (temporarily, at least) of playing second fiddle.

I think Michelle Obama may be more of role model than people are willing to admit. Traister touches on this when she mentions Linda Hirshman's book "Get to Work," (arguing that that the weighting of domestic responsibilities toward the woman in a family handicaps her chances for professional and economic success). Traister writes, "Obama has already said that one of the issues she plans to put front and center while in the White House is the impossible bind faced by working mothers." This was news to me, but I am all for it. Traister quotes at length from "The Audacity of Hope," where Barack Obama describes the sadly familiar phenomenon :

"No matter how liberated I liked to see myself as -- no matter how much I told myself that Michelle and I were equal partners, and that her dreams and ambitions were as important as my own -- the fact was that when children showed up, it was Michelle and not I who was expected to make the necessary adjustments. Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold."

"In her own mind, two visions of herself were at war with each other. The desire to be the woman her mother had been, solid, dependable, making a home and always there for her kids, and the desire to excel in her profession, to make her mark on the world ...."

I understand that Barack needed votes and that it was dangerous politically for Michelle to come acress as anything more than a mother, wife, etc. I understand that and yet it is shameful that it should be that way. I can think of no greater single frustration in my own life, than the wretching inability to succeed in both the mothering world and the professional world. I made my decision a long time ago and thought, at the time, it was easy. I assure you now that it is not. Personally, I'd like to see Michelle Obama continue, a la Cherie Blair, to pick up her professional life once again, now the election's over, assuming that's what she'd like to do. Certainly if the Brits can handle it, we can. Can't we?

10 November 2008

A man with a plan

A little old, but I like spreading the word no matter how out of date some may consider it.

Chuck Westbrook has hatched a plan to help under-read blogs get the audiences they deserve.

Via San Diego Momma.

Wish list

Wondering what to get me for my birthday? I've been wondering the same thing! Aside from a new basket for my bicycle, and the obvious Sabine Herman and Tiffany's (just something little)*, there are treasures to be found in the rue du Bailli, notably at

Zao -- scented candles, I like them for when I do yoga,


Lune apres lune: felt handbags -- there are 3 in the window at the moment -- coloured felt with flowers/patterns. Either the biggest one, maroon with long handles and flowers across the top, or the smaller version (the one with swirly turquoise and long purple handles). In fact I think I prefer the swirly one.

If none of these suit, across the street, the home deco shop sells sets of ramekins in all different colours. I think I would like red, perhaps. Or green.

I hope this helps!

* oh I am shameless

Enough about the election,

it's time to talk Strictly Come Dancing. What in the world is going on over there, Strictly lovers? It is time to put John Sergeant out of his misery! I'm sure he's a nice guy, and it's sweet to save him for a couple of weeks, but enough is enough. The man cannot dance and what's more, he isn't even trying. To keep him in makes a mockery of the others, all of whom are giving 110%. Craig called it a travesty and he's absolutely right. This sort of thing happens every year, it seems, but this year is officially beyond the pale. Whoever is voting for John -- and there must be tons of you -- will you please stop. You're ruining Strictly for all of us who love dancing!

07 November 2008

05 November 2008

See... I'm not the only one who's thinking about the puppy!

The question on everyone's lips: what will the Obama family call the new White House puppy?

from the BBC Live Feed at 13.01 today


It's just occured to me that my girls will grow up with Malia and Sasha in the White House.... Much like I grew up with Amy Carter!

(They were already very impressed with the puppy promise.)


And, I think, with his win, we all win.

I'm 40 years old and for the first time in my life I've felt drawn into, and inspired by, a politician. I don't think I'm the only one. Obama has pulled off what neither Gore nor Kerry could do: bring large parts of the US together again.

I remember when I first started doubting that Hilary Clinton could win the White House (let alone the nomination as presidential candidate). I simply didn't think she was really any different from what came before. I felt -- and still feel -- charged by Obama and there's a great sense of optimism and possibility where there wasn't before. One commentator (can't remember who) was talking this morning about voting out of fear vs out of hope. The politics of hope have triumphed! There's work to be done as everyone knows but there's also this fantastic sense of


04 November 2008

Up All Night

 from the BBC live feed

The earliest either candidate can realistically reach the magic 270 electoral college votes is about 0200 GMT (2100 EST), according to the boffins in the BBC's political research department.

0200 GMT is.... gulp... 0300 Brussels time.

Results map link

Google is doing a real-time elections results map. Check it out.


Just about to cook the election nite dinner. Hearing reports of some long lines, some no lines, at polling places around the country. Girl2 reported that kids in her class were chanting "Votez Obama" on the playground at recess today. Everyone in for a long night of waiting. Girl1 says she'll get up at 6 to see the results (because the bulk of it is just a wee bit past her bedtime). He Who I Love More Than Coffee is coming over with  his laptop so we can keep abreast of it all because otherwise there's only CNN. Every time I hear good news about Obama, I get a lump in my throat. 

If anyone is reading this who has not voted, get out there now!

A wider field

This off the BBC live feed:

Cowboy Frankie in Jacksonville says: I'm amazed and humbled at the level of interest in this election outside the US. The American "brand" has suffered greatly in the last 8 years around the world, and I want that to change....

I wish more of my compatriots understood what this election means to the rest of the world.

A classmate of my daughter's, in other words an 8 year-old French-speaking Belgian schoolgirl, came up to me yesterday afternoon when I collected the girls. Her greeting? "Go Obama!"

With her accent the vowels ran together so it came out more like "Gobama".

I am suspiciously close to being proud of my country.

Still at the office

Excitement levels in the office: HIGH. I'm the only American but everyone is in on it -- rather parallel to the big world, eh? For what other country do citizens of so many other countries take opinion polls to say which way they would vote?

Wow. Pride

A funny feeling came over me as I went outside to go get some lunch. It's a gorgeous, sunny autumn day in Brussels, and suddenly, I wished I had an American flag or a button with one or something. This is first time I've felt this way in a long time ... Up until now, for the past several years, if you'd asked me I would have said that I did not want to draw attention to myself as an American. But today, just now.... We have a chance to redeem ourselves. I think we might even do it. I almost don't dare to think so. But I do.

I really cannot concentrate on anything else

The BBC this morning shows 5 electoral college map predictions all favouring Obama.

The top states to watch this year: Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana and Virginia, Montana and Alaska.

Michigan has been a swing state in the past several elections so I'll be watching her too, even though the pollsters have given Obama a win there and McCain has not spent time campaigning there for at least a month.

The Indiana and Virginia polls close aroun 7 pm EST -- that's 1 am in Brussels. Both of these states went Republican last time but are too close to call according to the pollster-predictors.

Polls don't close in Ohio until 2 am my time.... I don't know how I'll make it up that late, but likewise I don't know how I'll be able to sleep!

First in

Vincent reports: Barack Obama beats John McCain in tiny Dixville Notch, N.H., the first time a Democrat has won the hamlet since 1968

Election Day - rise and shine

10.30 am. What will the day bring?

Salon's run a good feature about how to read the early returns and exit polls, which is of course what we're going to be looking at throughout today.

03 November 2008

Btw... Eelction Night... Etc

My ballot did not get returned again. Hip hip hooray.

Michigan is no longer being slated as a swing state, and US election coverage on the BBC doesn't start until midnight, but I'm still going to "blog live" with election coverage tomorrow. Belgium is 6 hours ahead of US EST, so the polls will open when it is 3pm here. The BF* says he will come over in the evening to watch with me so we may have some good "he said/she said" and maybe even some "the Brit said/the Yank said" commentary. I can't remember the last time I was so excited about an election.

*Yes, I know I must think of something to call him besides the BF. But what???

Never too early

If there's one thing I learned when I turned 40, it's that it is never too early to plan one's birthday. Especially not when I caught up with my smitten kitchen posts this morning and saw pink lady cake. Normally I would choose to have Nigella Lawson's buttermilk birthday cake (from How to be a Domestic Goddess) because it is soooo good but that pink lady cake looks pretty yummy. In either of those cases, of course, I'm looking at baking my own cake. Which I don't really mind because then I know I'll like it. On the other hand, Martin once brought, to a party I had, a chocolate cake in the shape of a house. It was the best chocolate cake, maybe even the best cake period, that I've ever had from a bakery. Unfortunately Everaerts, at 120 Place Colonel Bremer, 1030 Brussels, does not have a "web presence" so I can't link you to it. I promise that if I should be so lucky as to be the birthday recipient of a house-shaped chocolate cake, I will post a photo.