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