09 December 2008
I've had a bout of insomnia recently. This time it's because I spent a rather exhausting day running up and down hills with chickens and goats and hay and apparently a lot of dust and then the whole allergy thing went nuts. I'm OK now (thank you for asking) because I went to the doctor and he gave me all sorts of pills and inhalers and a mini-lecture about not taking that silly over-the-counter American stuff that Belgians haven't used since the 1950s. But during the whole process I spent a few sleepless nights sneezing and coughing and sputtering for air and consequently not sleeping. Here is what I have learned about insomnia: Don't fight it. You'll only end up miserable. Instead, just accept that you're awake and do something fun. The internet is a good place to start. Usually I spend hours googling odd combinations of things and seeing what I can find. This can be a very frightening experience when you see how many hits you get for things like "dinosaur+sighting"; "tattoo+face" or "midget+porn". But last night I found something even more fun: A Russian News Site!!!
I spent the better part of the Wee Hours "surfing" http://english.pravda.ru/ the English language version of Pravda online. What absolute gold! All these pictures pop up with titles for articles for you to read. Here were some of my favorites:
This one I could relate to, of course. I thought I had been through something when I once "lacked sleep" for 8 days and hallucinated a Yellow Cab driving into my hotel room (long story), but apparently some guy in Ukraine has got that well beat. I can't even begin to imagine how much internet surfing he must do. Surely he'll even read this at some point. Hello Vladimir!
What was intriguing about this "article" is that they pull you in with the headline then they never tell you what the message was. Hey, I'm not saying I don't believe them, I just don't like being left out of the loop...
These girls apparently latched onto a Dyslexic Sugardaddy.
My question is: Why do Russian bus drivers carry so much cash? Surely that's like begging some baby to come along and steal it!
And apparently didn't do nearly as well as the baby.
We know this because her next door neighbor was up all night and heard her screams.
Which is why we keep ours in cages.
"But wait! I was just riding it! D'oh! That doesn't sound right either!!!"
Especially when they're being exposed like this in public.
And bears too, apparently.
These road signs have been very effective at getting people to comply with reduced speed zones.
Also known as the Ukranian Black Male Ice Fishing Olympics.
I'll bet he's wishing Turkmenistan hadn't invested so much in DNA testing!
And you thought it was just an Urban Myth!
How is it even possible that they could become more popular???
Wait a minute! I think I dated that guy once!!
Because apparently the whole "vow of chastity" thing never said anything about ostriches.
Think about that the next time you yell at someone in traffic!!
When will the drivers learn not to leave those wagons unattended??
Why are Mexicans always interfering with the Space Program?
And then acts all coy about it later.......
01 December 2008
When I was a kid and lived both in the US and the UK I used to marvel at the fact that even though English was spoken in both places there were completely different words and meanings for words used in each place. In the US if you say you’re “pissed” it means you’re angry, whereas in the UK it means you're drunk; what is called a “cookie” in the US is called a “biscuit” in the UK; in the US the word “cunt” is the worst possible thing you can ever call someone, and in the UK it’s practically a term of endearment. I used to wonder how all these differences occurred in the first place. It seemed to me that these sort of differences would stop happening once worldwide communication became more homogenous. Not So. When I hear Americans speak now I’m aware of differences that seem to have popped up in the American vernacular since my departure and it’s really odd to me. I’m sort of Amish for the year 1999 so these new words sound really foreign and out of place to me. Here are some of the most glaring examples:
When I was taking a train trip across the US in late 2005 (because I'm also Amish in that respect), I struck up a conversation with what seemed like a friendly person in the lounge car. We were looking at bizarre things out the window when suddenly she said, “Dude! Check that out!”........Dude??!!.......Then she said it a few more times: ”Dude! Check out that traffic jam! We’re flying past that, huh?” Being me I started to get a little paranoid and glanced down to make sure I hadn’t accidentally spontaneously reincarnated into a man or something. No, everything was still intact and it was all encased in a pink sweater. Hmmm. I decided to investigate.
“Um – did you just call me “dude”?”
“OK. You do realize that I’m not a dude, though, don’t you?”
And here’s the explanation that I got: “Yeah, totally dude! I was just saying like dude, you know, dude?”
So now you know what I know.
This “Awesome” thing is huge. I don’t know where it originated – my guess is with some form of surf teenagers or something – but now it’s completely spun out of control. I knew it was an epidemic when I heard my 65 year old mother using the word. There’s just something so wrong about that. “Awesome” has become such an American thing that I’ve invented a little drinking game where you take a drink every time you hear the word “Awesome” come from the group of American tourists at the next table. And if they are truly Americans and not just unusually loud Canadians, then you will definitely get your drinks in – that is just how endemic it’s become. This “Awesome” thing irks the hell out of me because I really hate hyperbole. I want to walk up to Americans who are saying “Awesome” every three words and shout, “Oh really? Is it awesome? Does it really fill you with awe???!!” then pass out drunk at their feet. So far no one’s signed up to play this drinking game with me, but trust me, it will be Awesome.
SCHTREET? SCHTRING? SCHTRONG?
Oooooh this one is annoying. There is this affected “cool” lisp that everyone seems to be doing. Any word that has an “str” in it suddenly gets all Teutonic. I first noticed it a few years ago particularly when gangster guys talked about the “schtreets”. I figured they were perhaps part of a Berlin biker gang and I dismissed it at that. Then I began to notice it creeping in everywhere. Here’s another drinking game for you: Watch America’s Next Top Model and take a sip every time you hear Tyra Banks doing the lischp when she talks to the models during the elimination. It usually goes something like this:
TYRA: You need to be fierce, you need to be schtrong.
MODEL: I don’t know. I just don’t think I’ve got the schtrength.
TYRA: Sure you do. Just take schtronger schtrides when you’re walking down the schtreet.
MODEL: Won’t that look schtrange?
TYRA: It’s all in how you conschtruct it.
MODEL: Oooh! Fancy!
Using the spread of the “Awesome” thing as a gauge, I’m predicting this one will get out of hand to the point where everyone in the US sounds like Humphry Bogart by 2012.
Ugh! This is another one! Suddenly it’s all the rage to speak like a 5 year old. People actually whine at each other with the accusation of being a ”Hater”, never feeling the need to qualify it any further. If it actually came from a 5 year old you’d giggle endearingly at it’s childish grasp of the English language, but this is now being used by just about everyone in the US. I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I didn’t realize how widespread it had become until I was watching an American detective show and one detective accused the other detective of being a “hater”. Unbelievable. I nearly had a schtroke.
25 November 2008
So every now and then when we go to the critter supply shop for kitty litter or hay or various other things, we ask if they have any wounded critters in the back. Because here's something you should know about pet shops: when critters are wounded they send them back to the breeders as "damaged goods" and more often then not the critters are killed. And usually this is for nothing more than a cosmetic shortcoming.
So a few nights ago we got one such critter - a dwarf hamster called Ernesto. He had gone home with a family but when he developed a strange growth on his face they brought him back. The photo above is not of the actual Ernesto because we don't currently have a working camera - this is just what Ernesto would look like without something that looks like a piece of bubblegum on his face. But here's the thing: Ernesto is perfectly healthy in every other way! So he's not going to make the cover of GQ Magazine? What the hell? I hear they don't use many dwarf hamsters on their covers anyway.
Ernesto has only been with us a few days but already he's settling in and having a great time climbing around in his cage and the growth on his face actually seems to be reducing. It's amazing what a little love can do.
05 November 2008
1. At 6:30 PM, I went to my Belgian Orientation class which is a pain in my backside, but it's required by law.
2. During class I noticed that there was a huge cluster of cat boogers on the sleeve of my black coat. Yes I said "cat boogers". My cat Peanut has a cold and we find that the cats like to sneeze on things we own to sort of "share" it with us. And apparently she had had a big sneezing session on my coat without my knowledge and I'd been walking around with it. So anyhoo, I had to find a way to conceal it until the break.
3. I spent the duration of the break in the W.C. scrubbing an alarmingly large cluster of dried-on cat boogers off the sleeve of my coat. I ended up having to soak most of the sleeve in the sink and work everything out with bits of paper towel and soap. When people came in I pretended like it was all perfectly normal and I avoided eye contact.
4. Wim picked me up from the class and we drove straight for my gig in Antwerp. The sleeve of my coat was still wet, but at least it wasn't covered with cat boogers.
5. Arrived at the gig were they were having a whole event dedicated to the American election. There were screens up everywhere with CNN coverage and red, white, and blue balloons (which could easily have been leftover from events celebrating France, Holland or Britain, but one never knows). There was even an "American Hot Dog Stand" where I ordered a vegan hot dog (which was, as it happened, a hot dog bun with sauerkraut but no meat).
6. I watched the show (such as it was) where they clearly hadn't decided wether to talk or show videos or watch TV or all of the above all at once. I had another sauerkraut "dog" which was rather fabulous, I must say.
7. Just when the crowd was at its' loudest and most inattentive, they brought me on stage. I spent the next 20 minutes yelling at the top of my lungs in my Obama '08 T-shirt.
8. My set thankfully over, I gladly accepted a beer from an audience member even though I'm on a diet because I was slightly traumatized (and that was as good an excuse as any).
9. I spent the next hour assuring Obama-supporting Belgians that I was certain he would win. Because I just knew.
10. We drove home listening to lots of election stuff on the radio. Also more than the usual amount of Motown hits.
11. We set up the fold-out couch preparing to stay up until 6:00 AM and see the results. Wim was worried that McCain might win, but I assured him that Obama was going to win. Because, like I said, I just knew. Then we fell asleep.
12. About 6:00-something in the morning, Wim woke me up saying something about Obama winning, but as I think I've pointed out, I knew already. But Wim was awake and saw the actual moment when it happened so he's forever cooler than me now. Either way it was decided (by him) that it was time for me to wake up and we watched lots of stuff about the election he recorded on TV.
13. Having had no sleep, I went for a long walk/run for about an hour and it rained on me and now I've got a cold which I'm certain I caught from Peanut and then was aggravated by the weather.
14. So now I'm sniffling and sneezing but I'm pretty happy about the Obama win, even though it was no surprise to me.
04 November 2008
10 October 2008
OK I PROMISE I'm going to write a blog tomorrow. I promise I promise I promise. I've been busy and blah blah blah.
Meanwhile, please enjoy these genuine ghost photos I took several years ago.
These were taken by me at Hampton Court Palace in the kitchen area. All the photos were taken with one of those disposable camera thingies. Here's the first one:
OK. Don't freak out - the person you can see part of who's wearing Tudor gear is just one of the actors they have there for atmosphere. Here's another one:
Now don't say, "Oh my GOD! I can see a child in that one!!", because that is, in fact, a child. What you should be noticing is the rather pronounced white obstruction that keeps appearing in all the photos:
See? I mean please. How could you possibly miss that? And don't start trying to rationalize everything by saying it was maybe the strap to the camera, because A) there was no strap; and B) any strap would have come out black. It's a ghost. Just admit it. Here's the final one with even more ghosty stuff:
What's that thing on the left? Doesn't it look like part of a person standing there? And still the same white obstruction which by the way didn't appear on any of the other photos from that roll of film.
Nice to see a "white obstruction" that isn't a Republican politician, eh?
.....More tomorrow, like I said.
17 September 2008
I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve been living my para-blog life in a sea of activity having all sorts of adventures including a trip to the UK to do a few shows and being attacked by the insane drunk wife of a (now former) friend. Talk about it? Um, no thanks. But I’m sure the whole event will worm its’ way into some future writing when I’ve turned it all into comedy rather than something that gives me a rash and indigestion when I think about it. Suffice it to say that the afore-mentioned insane drunk resembles a lobster enough (narrow hips, wide shoulders, flailing arms and a ruddy alcoholic’s complexion) that I have been having all these horrible Captain Nemo-esque nightmares ever since. But enough about England.
Since being once again savagely diagnosed with a cat and dust mite allergy a few weeks ago, a lot of changes have taken place in our house. We replaced our velvet curtains (which were to be fair only about 20% velvet and 80% cat hair) with shower curtains, which may sound a little freaky, but actually looks really cool; and also we’ve reduced the cat visitation quota in our bedroom to only two a night, which might not sound like much of a sacrifice to most people, but having 10 cats it means having to go through a Sophie’s Choice style selection every night. There is a lot of crying gnashing of teeth. It isn’t pretty. The only person not allowed to vie for a coveted spot in our room is of course Walter who is still serving time for having shat on Wim.
And on top of all of this, I am having to change our bedding every two days. I wouldn’t mind this ritual at all; in fact I would quite like it, if not for the fact that I live smack dab in the heart of Duvet Country.
The whole concept behind a duvet is that you no longer need a top sheet! You just change the duvet cover and voila! It’s a sheet and a duvet cover!
Here is what Wikipedia says:
Duvets reduce the complexity of making a bed, as it is a single covering instead of the combination of sheets, blankets, and quilts or other bed covers, which is traditional in many parts of the world. The cover is called a "duvet cover" or a "quilt cover".
Something they don’t tell you is that if you are someone who, like me, tosses and turns a lot in the night, sometimes you will wake up and the whole thing will be a tangled mess. Many is the time that Wim has awakened in the middle of the night to me screaming under a quilt that had twisted itself into a giant ball, crushing my lungs while my arms and legs are freezing to death. It always turns into a big scene while I scream disparaging things about Europe while Wim sorts the contraption out. He’s used to it, being Belgian and all. I remember one time when I first moved to England and was working answering phones for this London hotel booker, this American tourist staying in one of the accommodations called me and said, “There are no sheets on the bed”. When I explained to her that the cover on the quilt thing was the sheet, she sounded like she was going to cry and said, “I can’t do this. I’m an American”. It was a hilarious thing to say, but I’ve got to say, I see her point. They are weird things and it’s rather jolting to be suddenly confronted with them out of nowhere.
But sleeping under the duvet is nothing next to trying to change the damned things. Getting the duvet in and out of the cover is like constructing a four-man camping tent when you’re drunk.
And the bigger the duvet, the harder it is to get it all properly situated inside the cover. When changing the duvet cover I have found myself trapped inside the thing, fallen backwards off the bed, and even once fallen down a flight of stairs all inside an innocuous looking cloth sack.
And the cats, some of whom like to sleep under the covers, are often traumatized by inadvertently slipping into the wrong fold and disappearing into a labyrinth of sheeting. After you rescue them out they stand for long hours staring at you from a corner of the room while you both think disparaging thoughts about Europe.
It’s all such an ordeal. I used to avoid changing the duvet covers for weeks and weeks because I absolutely hate it. That’s where I probably got attacked with all the dust mites in the first place! My health has been compromised! I should sue the European Union!
01 September 2008
I’ve been sick a lot lately. I’ve had bronchitis and colds and sinusitis and every other kind of upper respiratory thing you can think of. So the other day Wim took me to the doctor and they did all these tests and took a bunch of blood and did head scans and everything – all of which it seemed needed to take place at THE CRACK OF DAWN, and today, as I braced myself, the doctor delivered the verdict: I’m allergic to cats. I had been preparing myself to hear him say the name of some sort of cancer or Bubonic Plague or organ failure, so I had no idea that it would be something Much Worse.
I can’t be allergic to cats! I have 10 of them! But according to the doctor, this apparently is why I’ve been breaking into fevers and lying immobile on the floor gasping for breath. Cats and dust mites. So basically anything in the house that I’m not married to, I’m allergic to.
As I sat there in his office I went through the whole gamut of human emotions. First there was Extreme Disappointment, because I had already planned out a One Woman Show for next year’s Edinburgh Festival called, “Cancer Lady!”: I imagined all the fun I’d have with costume changes and different wigs and how much gratuitous press I’d get. So in a strange way, that was all a bit of a let down. Then I went through Anger as I reacted to this evil doctor having the audacity to suggest that I should get rid of my cats. Get rid of them? The last evil Allergist who suggested that has been the subject of ridicule in my act for the last decade! And finally there was Guilt as I came to the awful realization that not only was I going to have to start using the vacuum cleaner every day, but also that because of my physical impairment both Wim and I were probably going to have to cut back on having 4 or 5 cats sleep the whole night through draped across our faces. I might not ever be able to sleep with a cat blocking my air passage again!! It’s really horrible.
So now we have a new plan. I’m off to work in England next week, and the day of my return, Wim is going to hire a team of professional cleaners to do a big sanitization of our house, and then I will have to dust, vacuum and mop twice a day with a face mask on and Wim will have to groom the cats. And if all of this fails, I shall have to call N.A.S.A. and have some sort of suit constructed for me to be able to live in my own house. If I have to become The Boy In The Plastic Bubble, so be it.
Meanwhile I’ve got a big box of drugs the doctor gave me to try out. We’ll see how that works out.
19 August 2008
So last week I got the Cat Vibe again. I had a few dreams about a tabby cat and then actually saw her in the neighborhood and then suddenly she was right there standing on top of a car when I walked by, so I picked her up and brought her home. How did I know she didn’t belong to anyone? I don’t know how I know these things; I just know that I know. And apparently cats know that I know because they react to me like I’m a taxi with my light on. Turns out the Cat Vibe was confirmed once again when we took Anya to the doctor: he confirmed that she had been living on the streets for a while and had also been in some sort of an accident and had a head injury and missing teeth.
So now Anya is officially a member of our family! And yes, for anyone paying attention she is named after a certain grumpy-but-loveable Russian of the same name who has featured in this blog (and has a bit of a fan base!).
So now we have 10 cats! That’s 5 cats past the Crazy Cat Lady mark, in case you’re keeping track. There are 5 males and 5 females. As they are all rescue cats we certainly didn’t plan it, but it’s nice that it worked out like that anyway.
But I don’t want this blog to be all about just one cat, because the other cats are likely to feel left out. So here is a brief profile of all our cats, in order of when we met them:
Edna was a “hard to place” rescue cat that I heard about when I was volunteering at a swan sanctuary in England. One of the swan ladies also worked for a cat rescue place and said they had a cat who had had three different owners who always returned her. Right then and there I decided to go get her. She was being kept in the rather smelly house of a kindly cat-fosterer who told me that her name was “Jinx”, because she’d had such bad luck, and that I must keep that name. As I left with her, I mumbled under my breath, “The first thing I’m changing is that awful name!!” and called her Edna which she responded to right away. Eventually she moved with me to Belgium and now she spends her days happily on the loft bed cuddling with a stuffed ferret (not a real ferret) toy called Felipe. She’s never really been fond of the other cats, although she has been showing an uncharacteristic fondness for Anya – perhaps she finds her brain damage sort of endearing.
Walter is the official boss of all the cats. He runs everything downstairs. He would run things upstairs, too, but he’s no longer allowed upstairs after he rather vindictively pooped on Wim while he was sleeping. Not once, but twice. We know it was a territory thing and he was just trying to show everyone that he was the man of the house, but Wim wasn’t very receptive to the message as A) He likes to think of himself as the man of the house; and B) No one likes being pooped on. I first met Walter at a cat rescue place where he acted all cute and stood on my shoulder and put on quite a show. As soon as I brought him home he dropped the cute act and set up his dictatorship. It was too late. We’d been had.
I met little Angelo at a cat rescue place when he was no bigger than a mouse and quite ill and covered in his own poop because he needed someone to look after him. I brought him home and Walter immediately took him in, gave him regular baths and taught him all the important cat stuff he needed to know. Now Angelo is a big strapping lad who enjoys playing with the other cats on the stairs. He also likes oatmeal with organic raw sugar.
Martha was being kept alone in a room at the cat rescue boat where I was working because everyone thought she was really old and too frail to be exposed to germs that other cats might have. She was blind and walked slowly like a very old lady, but without a cane. We adopted her and took her to the vet and found out that she wasn’t old, she just had a terrible infection. We got her fixed up and now she’s very healthy and happy. She is one of the most playful cats we have and she runs and plays with balls and has a great time. She is blind but has such good hearing that she can find a ball that all the cats are chasing before they can get anywhere near it. Her one fault is that because she’s blind she doesn’t realize that we aren’t also cats and she uses the full force of her claws when she plays with us. So we keep an oven mitt handy.
It was ice cold I the middle of winter. I was in Leuven running towards the train station to catch the midnight train (the last train of the night) back to Gent. As I was crossing a square, I heard this strange howling and this creature made out of grey mangled fluff came running toward me. I picked it up. It seemed to be a cat, but inside the fluff it was skinny and weighed almost nothing. I made an instantaneous executive decision that if this cat belonged to someone they certainly weren’t taking very good care of him and I carried on running for the train with him in my arms. I was worried that I might get kicked off the train for having a cat, but I decided that if that happened I would just have to find a way to survive the night because I wasn’t leaving this particular bag of fluff for anything. A train conductor walked toward me and I was thinking, “this is it. I’m busted. I’m going to have to spend the night in the snow with a raggedy stray”, when the conductor asked, “Jongen of meisje?” (boy or girl?)………Whew!! Later we took Papa Steve to the vet and it turned out he had a severe throat infection and hadn't been able to eat for a while, so it was a good thing he found me! He’s all better now, and now he’s this chubby guy who sleeps all the time. Trivia note: When I first brought him home, Wim uttered the now legendary words, “We’re not going to have 5 cats!!!” Ha!
Down the street from us there was a messy construction site and I soon started seeing a grey kitten living in the bushes there. He was probably about 4-6 months old and very very skinny. I brought him food a few times, but he would always run away and come back and eat it after I was gone. Then every time I made eye contact with him I would send him a psychic picture of our house and “tell” him to come there. We always kept a dish of cat food out front for the strays and I was hoping he’d find it. One night I dreamt that the grey kitten was in front of our house on top of one of our chairs with some adult cats eating the food, and the next night it actually happened. Then he started hanging around in front of our house and I was feeding him but I still couldn’t get near him. Then one day he was playing with some of our cats and they had chased each other through the window and into our house, so I quickly closed the window and trapped him inside. He was so scared that he wouldn’t come out from under our couch for about three weeks, so we put a sandbox and food there for him. He made steady progress and now he is one of the cuddliest kitties in the house. When we had another little kitten, Elfke (who sadly died earlier this year) he became her surrogate father and took care of her. That’s her in the photo with him. Pretty cool for a wild street guy!!
One day when I was working at the cat sanctuary, this guy came in with Vienna. She was an award-winning pedigree Persian and her owners had moved to Brazil and left her with him. He didn’t know what to do with her, but he wanted someone to give her a good home rather than using her as a pedigree breeding cat which she had always been. Sounds like a job for us! So now Vienna is very happy; she’s had her operation, and she’s one of the gang – just a regular cat instead of a pedigree celebrity. We still have her awards and pedigree papers in a closet somewhere, but they don’t matter so much. We love her for who she is.
On day Wim came to pick me up at the cat sanctuary and I was showing him a particular cage full of kittens (dangerous!) and this one rather scruffy little guy kept shyly coming up and leaning against Wim’s arm. He had some horrible fungus so he had lost fur in patches, but he had clearly chosen Wim to be his dad, so we took him home. The vet said he had to be quarantined for a few months while we were treating the fungus, so we had him in our room with us but he would cry and cry when we went away because he couldn’t stand being alone. So a few days later at the cat sanctuary we met another little kitten who had the same medical issues……
We brought Peanut home because we figured we can’t keep Francis quarantined on his own, and we might as well rescue another kitty in the process. Francis and Peanut soon became the best of friends and still are to this day. Peanut is quite the princess and has all the male cats in the house do her bidding. But Francis is very possessive of her, so anyone else trying to give her a bath only gets a few licks in before he pounces on them. Peanut is quite self-possessed and the only cat who Walter allows to sleep in His Spot in the window. Peanut is also officially in charge of waking Wim up for work, which she does every morning.
I shall close this blog entry with some rather fabulous group photos. See if you can recognize who’s who!