+ 23/01 Dendermonde 10:00 a.m.


What started out as a quiet day, with a sick munchkin, quickly turned into disaster on a massive scale. My SO's phone bleeped, and as she read out the message and tried to make sense of it, we realised right there and then, as we did a few years back on 30/07/2004 that this day would go to pot.

In 2004, on my birthday, a gas line blew up in a little town off Brussels and several people died, as a result of a series of errors. I spent the whole day behind my laptop and on the phone, 7 months pregnant, trying to assist her with directions, names, information, buying photos, etc.

Today, a 20-year old, his face painted like that of the Joker in the Dark Knight, entered a daycare facility in Dendermonde, near Ghent, and took it upon himself to stab every baby and caregiver in sight. At the time of the stabbing, there were 18 children in the daycare facility. Two children died, both under a year old, and one caregiver as she tried to defend them. The five remaining caregivers, of which two are in a critical condition, all sustained wounds as they tried to protect their charges. Of the 18 children, two tonight lie in a morgue, while four others still fight for their life. Another six have also been operated on but are stable.

Heath Ledger died on 22/01/08.

It was later established that the assailant, who was arrested an hour later, was a psychiatric outpatient, and that he had the addresses of several other daycare facilities on him.

My heart goes out tonight to the parents who have to face an empty cot tonight, who dropped their child off this morning in a safe, relatively quiet little village, in a daycare centre that they trusted. I also think of the family of the caretaker, a grandmother/godmother to a little girl named Tabitha. And tonight I hugged our munchkin, in the knowledge that I would not be able to have a single restful night, until the day that I died, because I realise at this point, in this mad world, that nothing I do or think or say will be able to protect her from acts of insanity such as this one.

I leave you with some of the photos that my SO took today...

The last photo was taken by her colleague. The number on the baby's forehead was put there by the emergency services, who also took photos of all the children, in order to match up children and their parents at the crisis centre and then be able to dispatch them to the hospital where their child was taken.

A little candle burns in my heart tonight for those who are no longer with us...

The assailant has refused all cooperation with the police. He apparently laughs at them...

Piranesi, Cidade de Deus, and a bunch of other stuff


I really find it hard to blog these days. Time is a precious commodity, and I always seem to have too little of it. So let's cut to the chase.

This weekend the munchkin and I traipsed to the Piranesi exhibition in Ghent, as SO had to work. It was an interesting experience, partly because it was our first visit since our last excursion (British Vision, same museum), where she had been admonished by one of the museum guards for tickling the toes of a giant marble Henry Moore sculpture. Add fatigue to this cocktail and you have all the ingredients for a failure.

And yet, it all worked out, strangely. Yes, she was slightly annoying at times but I fully understand why. The engravings were all laid out in glass-covered display cases, and she wasn't tall enough to fully see them. It meant a lot of picking up and putting down. She fell in love with an engraving of an angle and a griffon and had me go back to it three times, much to the amusement of other visitors.

And above all, I got the opportunity to see the Carceri d'Invenzione up close. I love these haunting labyrinthian structures, with the minuscule people in them and because the munchkin was more interested in the seating arrangement which they had created in the room, I was able to take my time.

In other news, on Saturday evening, we sat down to an evening of bad TV, when, around eleven, the film Cidade de Deus came on. Based on the eponymous novel by Paolo Lins, it was a riveting two hours. I'm trying to remember when Guy Richie made his 'Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrels', because I almost feel as if he transposed the storylines and the approach of this film to his own. If you get a chance to rent it, then do, by all means.

The past weekend also saw us driving to the seaside. Thankfully, the sun pointed its shiny nose halfway, so we didn't drown in the rain. It made us realize that we hardly ever go to the coast these days. Work, playdates, friends: so much to distract us.

Finally, today marks our twelfth anniversary. Amazing to think we have come this far, and even have a child. The road has not been without bumps, but I know we are set for life, like a couple of swans, and frankly, I can't think of anyone else I'd rather be with. So here's to twelve more...

Now excuse me, as I have to go manhandle a chicken for tomorrow's dinner.

Movie review: Skin by Hanro Smitsman


1979. The Netherlands. A young boy lives in a working-class neighbourhood. His father is a concentration camp survivor, who is heavily traumatized by the events during the second World War. Tensions run high between father and son, but the mother manages to keep things going, together with her brother, a taxi driver. But the fragile balance is disrupted as the mother is hospitalized with cancer. Frankie starts attending punk concerts with his Surinamese friend, Jeffrey, but then becomes emmeshed with Robbert and his skinhead friends as he looks for a diversion away from home. Then his mother dies, and things go from bad to worse. One evening, Robbert and he are attacked by a gang of Suriname boys and in the scuffle Frankie stabs a boy. In a later scene, as the thugs run off, we see how Frankie's uncle refuses to take them to the hospital in his taxi.

In prison, Frankie has a difficult time of it. His shaved head and swastika tattoos do not make him very popular with the guards and the other prisoners. His father finally manages to visit him in the prison, and they settle their differences, once and for all. That same evening, Frankie is stabbed by another, black prisoner.

The one scene that stays with me is the father who stretches out his hand, to caress his son's shaved head in prison. The sleeve on his arm rises up due to the movement and you can make out the tattood digits of his concentration camp number.

Interestingly enough, the lead character does try to make up for his behaviour but his apologies always escalate, progressively taking him on the road to violence and murder. All he wants is a group to belong to, a community (like his father seeks consolation among the Jewish community).

The saddest scene has to be the one where Frankie, his dad and uncle sit around the kitchen table, each in their corner, weeping for Anna, who has just died.

The movie was based on true facts: in 1983 Nico Bodemeijer killed a 15-year old Surinamese boy. His father was Jewish, Bodemeijer had the words 100% white tattooed on his arm. He is still in prison today, but recently spoke for the first time about his life.

Advertising rises to new levels...

Well done, Durex for another brilliant ad!

Lost Monday


On the first Monday after Twelfth Night Antwerpers hurry over to their pubs and bakeries for the annual delicacy known as 'worstenbrood en appelbollen' (sausage rolls and apple pastries).

The munchkin and I thus had our task cut out for us after school. Make our way over to Bakkerij Goossens (est. 1884 or thereabouts), stand in line outside in the cold, burrow through the door, wait politely behind the rope with the other 5 people who fit in the store at one time and contain excitement.

The daily/hourly queue at Goossens

Because this place is the bane of my existence. I am incapable of thinking properly in the presence of coconut rochers, sukade breads (white bread, powdered with sugar and containing confit fruit), buttery pains au chocolat, beautifully rolled butter croissants, etc. The list, as you imagine, goes on.

The munchkin gnawed happily on the milk sandwich she was handed by the owner (this woman is able to spot a future customer/child a mile away in the sea of adult legs) and I fainted as the same woman then proceeded to walk in with a tray of warm sausage rolls, which she patted lovingly and then called out for all to hear: "freshly baked, who needs sausage rolls?".

We patiently waited our turn and then proceeded home with our precious cargo, which was promptly inserted into a 220° C oven, which should be immediately turned down to 180°, and delivered hot and crusty to the table after a good ten minutes.

At the town hall, the councillors are also traditionally served a meal of worstenbrood and appelbollen on this day, and in my old haunt (the jenever café in the centre of Antwerp) regulars are also treated to this snack.

Don't you just love traditions?

The Big Freeze (c'ntd)


And yes, we are still in big, fat freeze mode. The snow has not melted away yet, and this morning, Mother Nature added some fog to the cocktail. This is starting to feel like a real winter, and it's about time too. Yesterday, we took the munchie and her friend to the park for a good walk in the snow. Much fun was had by all amongst all this bucolic loveliness. It was a welcome break from work, although simply reading a good book by the radiator with a nice cup of hot chocolate in the other hand would have been equally enjoyable.

The current frosty conditions have also meant that I have had to dust off my Timberlands (the shoes at the bottom of the cupboard). Some of you might even be amazed to known that I own a pair of these clodhoppers. Since I am adverse to falling flat on my face on the icy pavements and streets of my fair city, I, unfortunately, have no choice but to trade in my fancier footwear for this.
I also realized that I never did post a photo of the New Year's ham, so here is a photo of the object steeping away. The finished product was eaten so fast that I was unable to get a pic.
I will now align my nose with the grindstone and get back to it. Work beckons, alas.

The big freeze


Winter is finally here, peeps, and us lesser mortals, who are not used to fending off the cold are suffering. Hair has gone static, rosebud salves have been purchased and the bucket of cold cream opened. The pavements look like ice sheets, and Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer is generally getting a run for his money.

Time for some comfort food, methinks. Yesterday, I broke out the cheese fondue recipe for one, by taking a nice ripe Vacherin Mont D'Or cheese, gently slicing it open, inserting some black truffle shavings and placing the little wooden box in the oven to bake. The outcome: unctuous, oozing warmth, which I lapped up with some excellent brown bread.

Exactly what the doctor ordered as I try to get over the shock of resuming work.

What will this new year bring? Much of the same old, same old, I fear. So far my intention of going to the pool has already been put on the backburner as the work flows in. I try to keep up but the hopelessness of this mission is already becoming abundantly clear to me. So: short posts, more food, more photos this next week as I try valiantly to reach the speed of sound...

In other news, here is the last of the Christmas ham that we had for New Year. It lasted all of four days, which is quite good, all things considered. Covered it in my own home-made cranberry sauce for the glaze and it was better than last year's.

Today I hit the sales in an attempt to find new sneakers (or trainers, as Milo correctly points out. What do you expect after having lived with an Ammie for 12 years?) as the old ones had all but croaked. I *really* did try to look at the Adidas ones, in hopes of finding a cool stripe. But at the end of the day they just didn't do it for me and I settled for these instead. Laugh all you want but the diamanté just hit my inner Marilyn Monroe and so I forked out the requisite 65 euros.

The year in review: sorta


1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?

I spatchcocked a chook!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Don't make 'em, don't break 'em.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


4. Did anyone close to you die?


5. What countries did you visit?

United States, United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, France. I think that's it. Frankly, I can't remember. How pathetic is that.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?

A healthy partner. A life.

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Since I'm so wickedly bad at keeping an agenda, you will understand that I can't name a single one.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Admitting that something's gotta give.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not giving.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Painful ankle. Painful shoulder. Excruciating nose pain.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

My iPhone! Most definitely.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

The munchkin's. She is really a good kid.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

My niece's.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Sprucing up the casa. Travel. Restaurants. Clothes for the munchie.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Getting out of the house. And the gym. For a while.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?

Snow Patrol's Shut your Eyes

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? happier, I think.
b) thinner or fatter? A little heavier.
c) richer or poorer? The same.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Gone out!

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?


20. How did you spend Christmas?

At my family's house in London. Great atmosphere, and I thoroughly enjoyed.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?


22. What was your favorite TV program?

Hmmm. House MD, possibly. Nigella anything, definitely.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Not aware of any such rabid feelings.

24. What was the best book you read?

Jonathan Coe's The Rain before it falls.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Gundula Janowitz. Pure voice.

26. What did you want and get?

?. I don't really think in those kinds of terms.

27. What did you want and not get?


28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Das Leben der Anderen. The best movie I have seen in a long, long time.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Family, in my mum's garden, pool party with a cake. 38.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Having another child, I think.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?

Black or jeans. Toward the end of the year: dressy, more feminine.

32. What kept you sane?

Hot chocolate.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Marcia Cross? Nigella Lawson? Hillary Rodham Clinton?

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The US election. In hindsight though, I would have been more satisfied if Hillary Clinton had won the Dem nomination. I think Barack Obama may have hoodwinked us all.

35. Who did you miss?

My dad. Six feet under.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I am thinking of a certain blogger, whose dry humour has given me many a belly laugh.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.

Same old, same old.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"E per un istante, ritorna la voglia di vivere a un' altra velocità..."

39. What do you crave in 2009?

A nose job. A social life. A waistline? Time to read more books, visit museums, travel to see good art exhibitions.

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