Flying the Flag or Wotsit: Eurovision liveblog, 2016


A key tool for my travel planning is the annual continental love-fest/substitute for World War that is the Eurovision Song Contest. Does it look like people are having fun in Latvia? Are the Spaniards natty dressers at present? How likely are we to get attacked by unicycling gnomes or percussive grandmothers in Macedonia this year? This year we are following the tiny dancing cartoon balloon to Sweden, and I look forward to choosing my next destination based on our findings. Since I’m already booked for New Zealand, I feel reasonably secure this time. Let us explore together in the spirit of Eurovision. I’ve got my fingers crossed for glitter.

I’ll be live-blogging – I usually do this on Facebook but this year my Eurovision buddies are far-flung and I have decided to inflict it upon the rest of you. Let’s do points out of ten and compare notes. I’m not a cynic – last year’s CD kept my spirits up through a bedridden couple of months. Yes, I was on painkillers; why do you ask?

Drinking/themed-snack-food-eating game as is traditional – drink/shovel mini-pretzels every time you spot one of the following:

  • Wind machine
  • Unnecessary key change (put the mini-pretzel back if it’s actually interesting)
  • Pyrotechnics
  • Awkward chat during the ad breaks across Europe
  • Fluorescent outfits that bring back memories of the early nineties
  • Swaying
  • Overtly saccharine messages of peace (two mini-pretzels if it’s a country embroiled in a high-profile conflict)
  • Saving the world through the power of singing a capella
  • Mention of Brexit
  • Contemporary “dance” that’s actually just wafting (I like contemporary dance so I’m a purist)
  • Overdramatic belt-fest
  • Performer rips off costume to reveal even more ridiculous/spectacular outfit
  • Glitter flies everywhere
  • Irish or Swedish writers writing songs for anywhere else
  • Results from jury fail to turn up due to technical difficulties
  • Presenters are desperate to get the results as jury reps mug for their national tourist board
  • Shameless political voting
  • My mother slips into existential despair

Below is the running order; comments appended as things develop. Watch this space.

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Lost. Not in France.


I am currently completely turned around. I have no idea where I am. I know I am in the Netherlands, next to a canal. Beyond that, I am stumped. I feel so alone.

Okay, I’m actually on Google Streetview, in the comfort of my own home, but that doesn’t mean I will feel satisfied just closing the window and getting on with my life. My plan is to follow the canal for a while and see what happens.

Someone just told me how to find out where I am. Unfortunately I only have an address, which does not quite complete the picture for me. Apparently I’m on Raamvest. Which sounds like a metal group. Or a sheep wearing underwear.
How did I get myself into this ridiculous situation? My parents announced that we are all going to Haarlem for the weekend in a couple of months, so I decided to do some exploring. I have seen many adorable houses and found some market stalls, but in the process I lost track of myself. Oh well. Back to the trial-and-error manner of navigation. I think this canal business is a good idea.
Anyone else ever feel they get themselves into problems that normal people would not have?
Goodness, I hope I’m still in Haarlem.

4 (Rejected) Strategies for Petty Vengeance


Since my estate agent announced that I am expected to be available for viewings at the bare minimum notice, or look forward to repeated entry by prospective owners guided (I hope) by a representative at any hours when I am not actually unconscious, I have tried to be pure of spirit and take it all in my stride. Occasionally, however, one is only human and may find one’s mind wandering to less lofty pastures.

My goal over the next few weeks is to extricate myself from this situation as smoothly as possible. I know (and part of my irritation stems from the fact) that my agency is being rather free with their interpretation of the law and are appealing to terms that contravene my overriding rights, so I have the moral high ground, but when it comes down to it, I am happy to have lived here for so long and want to get out with minimal fuss and stress. I mean, I have lambing season ahead of me with a field of sheep right outside my new front door. Priorities, people.

I may not advocate vengeful behaviour, and I would certainly never adopt any of the following strategies (and you do not need to explain all the reasons why these would be a bad idea), but to say “I would never dream of it” would not be quite true. My brain can be creative when it turns to such topics. If I had half this vision working on good stuff I would have solved some international crises by now*

*May not be actually factually true.

Nevertheless, here are some ideas my brain has birthed (while drifting off to sleep) about potential ways to sabotage viewings outside agreed hours:

  •  Order singing telegram to greet viewers with a personalised song.

Pros: Come on, it’s a SINGING TELEGRAM!; potential for dance routines, YouTube fame.

Cons: Not actually all that off-putting; Hard to do at short notice, which is kind of the issue here; Where does one get a singing telegram, anyway? Interflora?


  • Hold daily teddy bear yoga class and insist it continue under new ownership.

Pros: Obvious health benefits; straighten out the stuffing; general cuteness.

Cons: My teddy bear is already pretty flexible. Clearly insane.


  • Get seven of my closest friends to join me in the large hall closet, wait for viewing of said closet, invite viewers to join us in game of Sardines.

Pros: Fun for the whole family; make new friends; bond with existing friends.

Cons: Lack of notice for viewings might be an issue as cannot stay cramped in closet all day; would have to sniff friends for potential odour problems beforehand and might discourage said friends from joining one in confined space.


  • Wear robe, hold scythe, stand in garden outside window looking like Grim Reaper.

Pros: Already have scythe (don’t ask); already have garden; ditto window; good practice for promising career as human statue in straitened times for academia.

Cons: Half of scythe on top of kitchen cabinet; estate agent might still have garden key; viewers might want to see garden and would then have to hide behind shrub; possible cramp in scythe hand.


When it comes down to it, it is just possible that vengeance is more energy-consuming than a quiet but speedy drive towards moving. And isn’t that just a perfect illustration of how vengeance works? Although my scythe hand does feel a Reaper moment coming on. Just as well 1 April is not so far away. In completely unconnected news, I would like to invite my parents to join me on their deck for breakfast next Tuesday…

Gerbil Essences


‘Twas the night before my viva (the final oral exam defending my PhD thesis). I was sitting minding my own business, chewing a chilli chimichanga that was merrily burning its way through my tongue, when my parents dropped the Gerbil Bombshell.

“I think we should tell her. I mean, I’m sure she’s old enough to handle it. We think Dusty ate Lemon.”

Let’s backtrack. My family has a somewhat chequered history with rodents, and we are probably on an RSPCA watch list. Any day now Secret Squirrel Shoppers will start turning up at our houses with hidden cameras in their fur.

It all began when I was five, and it was my turn to look after the class gerbil for the weekend. Squeak was his name, being as he was part of an estranged double-act called Bubble and Squeak (though now I wonder if Bubble met his end in a more cannibalistic fashion). My mother went to empty out the old sawdust from his enclosure and left Squeak in an ice cream tub with my father and I to play, issuing strict instructions that whatever happened we were not to let the gerbil get out and run away. Instead of listening to the voice of rodenty experience, my father thought, “Pfft, how fast can a glorified hamster be?”

Much of the following two hours was spent trying to coax an anxious gerbil down from the interior of an upright piano.

For reasons best explored by professionals, the next year my parents nevertheless took an intuitive leap and decided that getting two gerbils would be a good move. I was enraptured by the whirling ball of fluff that arrived in my house and loved watching the gerbils, playing with the gerbils and making Olympic-standard obstacle courses for the gerbils. The gerbils – names Dusty and Lemon with imaginative reference to their respective hues – were reasonably tolerant of this enforced exercise and rarely took to nibbling the Tiny Human Overlord. Until Dusty snapped and apparently ATE Lemon.

After Lemon’s cruel end, Dusty continued to enjoy the single life in his gerbil duplex bachelor pad, though he eventually grew bored and worked out how to escape. He could use his little paws to unscrew the uppermost level of his house and made it to the floor through what I can only assume was a heroic but minuscule abseiling sequence. Perhaps accompanied by the Mission Impossible theme on a glockenspiel.

One night my mother awoke and heard chaos downstairs. Our fairly new puppy, Ribbons (yes, I named the pets), was going bonkers. She went down and was calming the dog when what she thought was a rat ran across her feet and she shrieked. Of course, it was just Dusty having second thoughts about taking that night job inside the upholstery and making for home base. But it serves as a valuable lesson in both gerbil security and the strength of Yorkie ratting instincts.

Dusty began to look a bit worse for wear after a couple of years. Accepting that he was an elderly gerbil and death comes to us all, I nevertheless felt a deep sadness that he would not be with us to celebrate his birthday the following month. My conviction was that Dusty should get to celebrate early and go out on a high. We may have had a houseguest to traumatise, but I would not be dissuaded. We baked the gerbil a cake and wrapped up some toilet roll tubes as gifts, then I made everyone kneel around him and sing happy birthday.

Miraculously, Dusty recovered. I was convinced the special attention had done him good until I was twenty-five and my parents confessed that, having decided on a kill-or-cure approach, they had given him whisky and he perked right up.

Dusty, the escapology-studying, dog-tormenting alcoholic gerbil. A bit like a rodent James Bond with less misogyny and more sunflower seeds. Why my parents felt that the night before a nervewracking major life-event was the best time to introduce gerbil cannibalism to our family history, I can’t say.

A post-script to my rodent saga came in 2008, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I was staying in Denver for a week with a friend. Taking an overnight bag, we took her parents up on their kind invitation to join them at their cabin that weekend. I realised at one point that my pear-scented deodorant had leaked and saturated my only change of shirt. My friend’s parents offered to let me air it overnight on the deck so I would not smell so much like food in the morning.

At sunrise I was already awake, popped outside to admire the mountain vista with pink rays glinting off a distant bison, then went back to sleep contentedly. A couple of hours later I emerged to find three slightly guilty looking hosts who rushed to apologise for an event that was certainly not their fault but has provided much amusement since: chipmunks ate my shirt. People think I am making this up, but they had chewed an impressive number of holes in the material so that parts of it were barely clinging together. I giggled about it for a while then packed the remnants carefully so that I could demonstrate the power of chipmunk teeth.

The chipmunks, however, did not eat my gerbil, so cannot be implicated in my parents’ poor judgement.

I’ve Got a Lengthy List

My best friend and I once had a lengthy chat about our Myers-Briggs types. I read him mine (which has a section on how I like to organise things and, while I’m mostly a big-picture type, can get bogged down in my own fascinating detail). I plan Christmas in a big notebook with a giant penguin pen – card lists, shopping lists, catalogues of decorations, lists of things for other people to do according to my exacting schedule – and once tried to run a tight ship entitled, appropriately, “Camp Christmas”, I have folders of travel plans, keep a running list of current flight schedules from nearby airports, have every possible helpline programmed into my phone and generally try to be ready for anything, so I probably deserve the resultant laughter. He said if I were in the Mikado the song would be called “I’ve Got A Massive List”. He has clearly forgotten what happens if you put such ideas in my head.  This is what happens.

I’ve Got a Lengthy List (to the tune of I’ve Got a Little List  from The Mikado)

If ever it should happen that a party must be planned
I’ve got a lengthy list, I’ve got a lengthy list,
If a foolish project manager should ask me for a hand?
No detail will be missed, no detail will be missed
Upon many great occasions where a list may be required
I’m known to whip a clipboard out, my penmanship admired
You’re going to need a guest list (you don’t want to get that wrong)
A strategy for that guy who keeps bursting into song
And when it comes to napkin rings I’m sure I could assist
I will put them on the list. See? Right here, they’re on the list.

So you’re fleeing to Antarctica, but please, before you run
I’ve got a lengthy list, I’ve got a lengthy list,
We – before things go in boxes – need a pen and staple gun
So that nothing will be missed, so nothing will be missed
Though so weakly you protest, it’s so much better, you will find
No cat or towel or toastie-maker will be left behind
When drifting off this evening you’ll be organising sheep
Reflecting that my listing is rewarding, and it’s cheap
On pillows labelled clearly (no, I really must insist)
For I’ve got them on the list, I have got them on the list.

At Christmas, such a special time for family and friends,
I’ve got a lengthy list, a twice-checked Santa list
From October through to January the planning never ends
The tinsel must persist! (I tied it to my wrist)
There are Christmas cards and posting dates that must be written out
Who’s visiting with allergies to cheese and sauerkraut
The present list and budgeting massaged to work the best,
And colourscheme transgressors to be scolded and redressed
For certain tasks the amateurs I’m willing to enlist;
I have put them on my list, on my very festive list.

Of course, I see potential widely for a plan or chart
I’ve got a list of lists, a very meta list
Of the varied situations, problems, matters of the heart
Where listing could assist, where listing could assist
There’s the labelling of envelopes, your basic pros and cons,
The colour-coded carnival of naming kids (or swans)
And then the lists and systems there’s equipment to enhance
I’ve box files full of cutlery and binders full of pants,
So if you request the options (though I’m sure you get the gist)
I will email you the list, I will email you the list.

Relaxation Tape vs. My Overactive Brain on Caffeine

Koh Samui by Burti

Right. Sleepytime.

Am I lying on my headphones? And where is my iPod? Oh, got it. Under the pillow. If we could just make the sound come through the pillow that would be much comfier. But wait, they already make those and I can’t have one because I’m convinced I would forget about it and give it to a guest who would accidentally press play during the night and think that demons were talking to them. I don’t really want to wake up headless. Earbuds it is.

Snuggle snuggle. And…begin.

WHOOOOSH… WHOOOOOSH… [babbling brook sounds]…

Great. I need the loo.

Okay. That’s helped. Here we go.

WHOOOOOOSH… Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down…

Which? This may have an effect on the narrative. Or are we just going to be lying on a beach again? I bet we’re going to be lying on a beach. Which reminds me of a painful relaxation tape episode when I was 12 and my father gave me the tape to distract me from my terrible sunburn then wondered why I was groaning as I listened to, “You can feel the sun beating down…”

Also I couldn’t relax that much on a beach. What if I fall asleep and the tide comes in? Or there’s a tidal wave? I was always scared of tidal waves. On some beaches people are always trying to sell you stuff and it’s not very relaxing. And if I fall asleep on a beach people might steal my stuff. Even on an imaginary beach I need my stuff.

I’m going to mention parts of your body…

Oi, my eyes are up here. On my eyeballs.

…and you will feel those parts begin to relax. Remove any item of clothings that might hinder your total relaxation…

“item of clothings“? Are you winging this?

Picture yourself in a magical forest…

Okay, that’s new. But are we talking about Disneyland-safe, sanitised fairytale magic or dodgy street magician stealing my wallet while showering me with playing cards magic? Am I lying down in the forest? If I’m standing up it wouldn’t be very relaxing but if I’m lying down it might be uncomfortable. I suppose I could make a bed out of some moss or something but it’s night and it will be cold. Also there could be bugs. Is something crawling on me?

… and the moon is lighting up the rich…forest…trees.

Yeah, you’re winging this.

The crickets are gently lulling you to sleep…

And here come the bugs.

Above you you see a white light.

Do I go into it?

It is the most relaxing light you could ever imagine.

That’s not setting the bar very high. I mean, I don’t routinely sit around fantasising about the day I win the lottery and can afford really soothing lightbulbs. If light is so relaxing why did you start off telling me to turn down the lights, hmm?

The light lowers onto your head…

This is where it would be helpful to know whether I’m standing or lying. If I’m standing I feel this will proceed smoothly, but if I’m lying down and this weird light starts lowering itself towards my face, then I’m going to feel less relaxed and more like a glow worm is trying to smother me. Hey, remember that glow worm matching game we used to play? I always really liked the square pyramid pieces. It was satisfying the way they fit exactly into the holes in the board. Where were we? Ah, the smothering glow worm. You know, this reminds me of exactly two things: a particularly vengeful Tinkerbell, and the light that kidnapped people and took them to the future in The 4400. I can’t believe I stuck with that show for so long hoping there would be resolution. I hate when things just get cancelled, even when I’m not that committed. Don’t even start me on Flash Forward. Netflix is a harsh mistress. Oh! The light.

You feel all the little frowns in your forehead just smooth out…

Yes, my forehead is where I like to keep my frowns. Are you calling me wrinkly?

Your eyelids feel so heavy you don’t even want to open them…

I should have known it was a mistake drawing your attention to my eyeballs.

Eyeballs, blah blah, facial muscles, jaw relax, blah blah…

Sorry, forgot to listen for a minute there. Please continue.

You feel all the little nerve endings begin to relax…

Nerve endings relax? I suppose mine could do with calming down about now. I shouldn’t have had that extra Coke Zero so close to bedtime. Am I rattling?

The light travels down your spine. As it goes you feel the warmth move out across your back and around your bottom as it travels on to the hollow of your knees…

Hold up. The back thing started out relaxing and was just beginning to work when suddenly we were at my knees (and can we leave my bottom out of this?) – can I have enough time to actually relax when you’re telling me to relax? I’m now tense because I feel I’m falling behind. Will there be a quiz?

…down your calves to the bottom of your feet. And each and every toe…

Eleven. Check.

…begins to relax. Now picture yourself on a beautiful tropical beach…


The sun is getting ready to set…

What, like it’s putting its rollers in? Okay, now I’m just being picky. I need to commit. What time of year is it? Is it hot? I don’t find being sweaty very relaxing. It’s like all the worst parts of P.E. without the satisfaction of thrashing an opposing team at something. But if it’s cool now and then the sun sets, it could get pretty chilly out here.  Maybe I could just make myself a nest of pillows or something. Mmm, pillows… Ooh! Maybe this is me relaxing!

I’m going to count backwards from ten…

This is not a good time to stimulate my synaesthesia., but let’s give it a try.


Nine green bottles hanging on the purple cheesecake fairy monkey monkey monkey…

When did morning happen?


Koh Samui by Burti

This is a realistic impression of my nightly routine. I’m usually convinced it’s not going to work until I realise I have been in a deep sleep for several hours. Winner: the relaxation tape.