Bruxelles

It’s interesting and harrowing walking through the streets of a place like Brussels.

How does one quantify that feeling of unease? Is it an underlying racism? Am I more uncomfortable in ethnically diverse places? Do I have a crippling fear of concrete?

I hope not, yet something made me feel very uneasy as I arrived there compared to home, compared to Prague. Is it simply unfamiliarity? Is it the woman begging at the tram stop? It was certainly the possibly prostitutes who cheerfully said ‘Ca va?’ to me not far from my hotel (and outside designer shops no less).

I hope and pray I met some friendly Belgians and that I am being judgmental but I’m not sure.

Brussels is a real breathing, begging, sinning place, not simply the heart of a utopian new Europe/the demon beloved of UKIP (delete as appropriate). There are people there who have never, and will never, leave. People who call it home. People who wish they didn’t.

It is a challenge for me to remember that so often the places we visit as tourists have a life that we don’t see, sufferings and heartaches that are hidden out of the sight of fleeting visitors. This is something I have begun to realise about Prague as I have spent more time here. This rawness seemed much closer than I expected in Brussels. May my eyes stay open, may I pray and do what I can for this city, may I not put on my tourist blinkers once more.

On a lighter note, Brussels also has a most frustrating metro with many tram stops seemingly fiendishly hidden. But maybe that’s just me. The fact that I accidentally stroked a guy’s head on the metro probably didn’t help.

Admittedly, not Belgium’s fault.

Ahem.

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Nice towers.

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Fantastic waffles (yes, it’s under there somewhere).

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The Atomium.

The (Late) Breakfast Club

Were you a horrid teenager? You know the drill – grunting, drinking, mono-syllabic moaning, messing up your room, generally being a stereotype. Well, I think I missed most of these things in my teenage years (maybe my parents disagree?) but I have had a growing appreciation of the delights of being a teenager recently. Maybe this is further evidence of my refusal to actually grow up and I’m sure it’s rather rose-tinted as well, yet I have been enjoying nostalgically dipping my toes into being a ‘teenager’ again.

I hope you have had the joy of watching classic ‘teen movies.’ Not sparkly-vampire infested ones, but classic, quotable, bad-hair featuring ones. Movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Juno and Clueless. There’s something about the boundless opportunity and optimism of the characters, even when they are forced to spend a whole Saturday in detention, that seems to me to be the thing I miss about teenager-hood. The feeling that the world really is your oyster and that any kind of creative, random, unexpected thing could happen. Too often, this feeling is drowned out in me by jaded, perfunctory, grown-up-ness.

My renewed youth has also been fed by teen-fiction. Yes, that’s right. Sounds terrible doesn’t it. But when I think that I was eagerly awaiting the last Harry Potter book or two well into my twenties it’s not all that surprising. I was totally gripped by The Hunger Games trilogy, loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower and, damn it, was holding back tears reading The Fault in our Stars. There’s something about the intensity of feeling, the ‘universe is centred around me and how I feel right now’ perspective of these characters, as well as the ‘this friendship will never be the same again’ sadness, that makes these books so appealing in many ways. Or maybe just easier to read.

As I think about the future and the possibilities before me, are they really less vast than those I imagined (or not) when I was an actual teenager? Is it not a positive thing to seek to enjoy every moment, eager to await each surprise, rather than dreading the next hiccup? If nothing else, this teenage flashback has reminded me that God has been faithful to me up to now, so much more than I could have expected. Whatever is to come, I look forward to enjoying his goodness and the gifts, whether as big as a new job or a child, or as small as a sunny day and an ice lolly, that he generously gives. And when it’s hard, it will be OK, because time goes on and he is faithful.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller

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Potty for Sochi

Things I’ve learned this week –

– What a ‘draw’ is in curling.

– What a McTwist looks like (amazing btw).

– How in the world of luge, being a second in front is considered ‘a massive lead’

– That Clare Balding is obsessed with a shopping trolly…

Yes, I love the Winter Olympics. I love the crazy sports I would never consider watching at another time, the often hilarious BBC coverage, the boring parade of flags, the cheesy mascots (particularly when they are freakishly huge and winking) and even, yes damn it, the shopping trolly. Oh, and I love the amazing sporty stuff.

I think the greatest bit is how all these amazing sportspeople manage to cheer us all up, suffering as we are with February blues. Their dedication reminds us that we don’t really work that hard, their cheerfulness in victory or defeat is inspirational, and let’s face it, some of the sports mean they look pretty funny when they do it (step forward doubles luge).

So I salute you Winter Olympics. I wish you came around every year.

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Welcome to Moomin Valley

I was lucky enough to see the brilliantly wacky Moominland Midwinter with my family at the theatre this Christmas. Having not thought twice about the Moomins since childhood, I was struck once again by their utter randomness, complete nonsensicalness, and gentle cheerfulness (lots of nesses…).

In what other world could Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden go on a walk through the snow to see Too-Ticky and the invisible shrews? Or Little My and Snufkin run into Mrs Fillyjonk or a Hemulen?

I have to say, the names make me giggle, but in a very affectionate way. There’s little better than a silly name to bring a smile to my face. Simple things, eh.

Having sought out some of the wonderful Tove Jansson comic strips, I have enjoyed reading the gentle adventures of the residents of Moomin Valley. Perfect bedtime reading. The tone is like a Scandinavian Winnie the Pooh; colder, but no less warm somehow. Imagine the Hundred Acre Wood transplanted to Finland, with a bit of extra whimsy.

Anyhow, I’d recommend you take a look and ponder with me that age old question, ‘What is a Moonmintroll really?’

Albino hippopotamus? Giant-headed dwarf polar bear? Your guess is as good as mine….!

But it doesn’t really matter. And that’s the point I guess. Which makes me smile. Again. 🙂

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Halfway down the stairs

Do you have one? A place where you occasionally slump when you just want a bit of peace and quiet?

Ever since I was small I have found a strange peace in sitting on the stairs. Not the top step or the bottom step but somewhere on the flight (that is the plural right?). Generally in my house, but sometimes elsewhere.

I think this may be due to my early exposure to the simple joy of A. A. Milne.

Halfway down the stairs 

Is a stair

Where I sit.

There isn’t any 

Other stair

Quite like

It.

I’m not at the bottom,

I’m not at the top;

So this is the stair 

Where

I always

Stop.

On these long and somewhat depressing January evenings I enjoy a good think on the stairs. Maybe with a cup of tea. Lovely.

Why don’t you try it?

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but pomegranates are here to confuse us

What can you do with a pomegranate?

Having come across three pomegranates this week, I feel like I need to come to a decision about them. Friend or foe? Fruit or vegetable? Corey or peely?

It doesn’t fit into any of my ‘fruit categories.’ There’s the eat the fruit and throw away the core/stone type (apple, pear, peach, plum etc.), the peel and eat type (banana, pineapple, orange, kiwi etc.) and the pop the whole thing in type (berries, grapes etc.).

I guess you do peel a pomegranate, but then what? Crazy little mini-grape-like seeds and an explosion of red juice. The seeds are almost berries and they do have a pip in the middle which you could chuck away. It confounds categorization!

It seems that while vegetables are here to cheer me up in my pre-Christmas stress, pomegranates are here to infuriate and confuse me.

I’ve been collecting some opinions about this perplexing ‘fruit’. My mum said that you’re supposed to ‘roll it on a table, collect the juice and eat the seeds’. My colleague recollected eating the seeds with a pin?! 

I presented one to my class and gathered their ideas. Apparently it smelt like a ‘gone off apple’ and tasted like a grape/cherry. There was much ooing and aahing at the pretty star pattern inside. I can’t deny it is a rather handsome fruit (inside at least).

In short, pomegranates are perhaps the most bizarre fruit in existence. I sure can’t get my head around them.

Pomegranate

Just thought. Rhubarb – where the heck does that fit? Good for sword-fighting though. Pomegranates can’t do that. Ha!

the vegetables are here to cheer us up

Everyone I’ve spoken to recently has seemed stressed out and tired. I guess it’s that whole christmas marathon/dark evenings/dark mornings/I’ve got to direct the Nativity play/what will the neighbours think if I haven’t hand made my christmas cake by now (delete as appropriate) feeling. Or it could just be the old chestnut that is overwork + lack of sleep.

Anyway, I’d like to share one strategy I have developed to deal with the stresses and strains of 21st Century living. When I’m feeling run down, I simply let the vegetables cheer me up. Now bear with, this will make sense with a little explanation!

Are you stressed at the end of a hard day at work?

Admire a magnificent fennel and giggle at the way it looks like a rather ill man with a fluffy hairdo. Then you can marvel at how a vegetable can taste like liquorice!

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Are you overburdened and under-appreciated?

Reach for the nearest bunch of cavolo nero (it’s a large, dark green cabbagey thing) and turn two of its crunchy leaves into rabbit ears, bounce around the kitchen and feel your stress fall away (probably best to do that at home).

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Feeling like Christmas can’t be over soon enough?

Turn a parsnip into a comedy nose and surprise someone with a grotesque new face!

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To be honest, just the challenge of buying a new type of vegetable and cooking with it (once you’ve stopped hopping round the kitchen) helps me to relax. It has certainly given me a whole new excitement when visiting my local green grocers/Tesco’s fruit and veg isle.

So why not take up the de-stress veg challenge? Just think of all the fun that’s in store…

PS. Vegetables are also good for you apparently.

PPS. How can you not love vegetables after looking at the following picture?

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