Sunday, 13 September 2009

I live in Belgium

Sometimes I forget I live in Belgium. I spend a lot of time in the house (yes, I AM aware how sad that sounds, thank you) and the Corridor of Ennui is peopled with a bizarre mix of Germans, Australians and Swedes. I realised recently that Lashes thinks Belgium is a region of France. I've prevailed on him to keep that one quiet if he possibly can.

But then I go somewhere like this, and the Belgitude is inescapable. I live in Belgium, of my own volition, and some of the time I even like it.

I give you Le Petit Train Vapeur de Forest. I have been here more times than you can imagine, but still I love it in all its Dardenne Brothers-esque gloomy glory.

Look! Survey the scene. See, how the Belgian and European flags wave bravely in the glowering drizzle. See how very miniature the railway is, a mere loop of track, and how the parents, backs hunched in resignation and discomfort, accompany their infants on the teeny tiny train.

Ever since we moved to Belgium and discovered the Petit Train Vapeur de Forest, I have nourished a secret desire to do a photo reportage piece on this place. The kind of photo essay they used to have in the Guardian magazine on a Saturday. But I am too lazy and talentless to actually do anything about it, so instead I have laid it out here for your delectation.

Behold! See how very little fun the children are having as they wait for the the Man With The Timetable to blow his whistle and let them go round the tiny loop of track at a breathtaking 8km an hour.

Miniature Steam enthusiasts here fall into two categories. The first, awkward, physically unfortunate youths who like the POWER (paging Dr Freud). They should be out taking narcotics and dancing and drinking and so on. But what are they doing?

They are changing oil, and checking pressure and polishing, always with the polishing of the tiny, shiny trains.

The second, impressively grizzled elderly gentlemen in uniforms.

I was taking considerable personal risks trying to take pictures of them. They are most emphatically not there to have fun. Miniature steam trains are serious business; their child passengers a necessary evil.

Look! It's the real life Fat Controller!

See his shiny whistle! See the long list of regulations prominently displayed!

I got Lashes to take this next one, in the hope that the punishment would be less severe for a seven year old, and also because he is better at running than I am.

I know he looks like he might be smiling but I think that's a trick of the light. Or rather, a trick of the drizzle. You should have seen him reprimand the CFO when he got the weepette to run alongside a miniature replica tram.

I swear, the atmosphere is as sombre and contemplative (and, indeed, male) as a monastery. The few women present are confined to the ticket shack, or serving refreshments. I love the grave way that things are run. There is a signal box and a timetable and woe betide anyone who tries to CHOOSE what train they want to go on. The Fat Controller will tell you where to sit. He has a railway to run, dammit!

Here you can see where the tracks come to an end in the engine shed / bar.

Yes, bar. Not tea room or café. Because you could get a miniature railway in lots of places and some of them would offer refreshments.

But only in Belgium would you have eighteen types of beer to choose from.

Yes. I must face incontravertible facts. I live in Belgium.


Grit said...

jaywalker! i positively seek out people with specialist interests in fields. now i may have to invade your wonderful country!

Veronica Wald said...

HAHAHAHA! AAhhhaahahaa. Aha.
You could always go to Mini-Europe or the Atomium instead, as we did last time (more than 10 years ago) we were in Belgium. But that was only because all the trains to Bruges were on strike...

Hunter said...

"Behold! See how very little fun the children are having...." Not at all the case here. I'm very much enjoying your blog.

I'm here by way of Mr. London Street. I think you're supposed to hand over some kind of briefcase or something after I say that.

Soda and Candy said...

Eighteen types of beer? No wonder there are Aussies there ; )

I really liked this post, the serious business of mini-trains and the necessary evil of small passengers.

How funny that I should stumble upon your blog the day after watching "In Bruges" which is a very good film (but not particularly complimentary of Belgium).

Is the chocolate even better when you're there?

Iheartfashion said...

I have spent many a despairing hour sitting in a tiny plastic chair in the basement of the model railroad museum near us, and I will agree that model railroad enthusiasts are a unique breed.

omchelsea said...

Argh. I'm suddenly VERY grateful that my husband's mother's partner did NOT hand on his enthusiasm for model trains.

Margaret said...

Sweet Jesus. What do the offspring think of this whole thing? It's the anti-amusement park. Do they sell rice cakes instead of cotton candy?

Jaywalker said...

Grit - I wish you would. You can take me back to England as your captive. Please?

Veronica - I have BEEN to Mini Europe. It was one of the most searingly dull places I have ever been. Fingers loved every second, even the ten minutes we sat and waited for the Ariane rocket to take off. It didn't take off. It was broken.

Hunter - Hello. I have a bag of conkers, or some yellowing unpaid bills. You may choose.

Soda & Candy - it's a bit sad really. You end up all blasé and over chocolate. Except the cheap shitty British kind you can't get over here.

Iheart - they truly are. My sister took all the autistic kids she teaches to the railway museum in York one year. It was almost impossible to get them to leave, they loved it so much. Eventually the Museum authorities had to turn off all the power to get rid of them.

omchelsea - a lucky escape, indeed..

Margaret - there is NOTHING for the children, tsk! The bar is to quench the beer thirst of the hard working enthusiasts. Curiously, the children love it. Which is probably an indictment of their home life.

Amy@Bitchin'WivesClub said...

This made me giggle endlessly. And crave a beer.

Jon in France said...

There are worse places to live than Belgium. Avonmouth and Canvey Island come to mind. Neither of those have minature steam engines either.

mothership said...

we have a tiny train near us like this and it is similarly staffed by grumpy old men who consider their infant passengers an irritating distraction from their real work of running a giant Hornby railway set. No beer here in SoCal, but you can buy giant calorific snacks so as to grow aspirational fat-controller bellies.

Welsh Girl said...

I'm impressed with Lashes' photo journalism skills. A career as a photographer in war torn countries will be a doddle after this. Just a thought. ps - like the fact that my wv is 'nomen'

Elsie said...

This looks like our nearby “dutch wonderland” theme park – my children developed chronic coughs from the little steam engine and learned their anatomy by looking up the skirts of ladies on the monorail. Good times. I am working on a Waffle Bingo today – wearing old Kilt with moth holes and registering children for Quaker school field day where they will carry eggs on spoons, throw back packs full of stones, and race on one leg. High five plus.

Sinda said...

"I realised recently that Lashes thinks Belgium is a region of France. I've prevailed on him to keep that one quiet if he possibly can."

My children think that the entire mall is actually Nordstom' in, "Can we go to the Gap part of Nordstrom's today, Mommy?"

Thank you for identifying what our local park train, the Zilker Zephyr, is missing: BEER.

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