Thursday, 8 October 2009

Not Sponsored by the Belgian Tourist Board

I have been lax. I will probably continue to be lax, because the spawn and I are going to a wedding in Scotland tomorrow on one of Michael O'Leary's iron birds of death. There might be more later today though.

I caught the Eurostar last night with about a minute to spare - I had already rung home and said I had missed it, but somehow I squeezed through check in and skittered all the way up the escalators and onto the train.

I am rummaging around in my many bags for my book, single hold ups and packets of Gogos flying in all directions when I notice a man sitting on one of the fold up seats in the corridor, his body hunched in misery, on the phone. He's in his mid-twenties, wearing his interview suit.

"No, but I'm not staying. I can't take the job, I really don't want to. You don't know what it's like out there".

I already have a suspicion he isn't talking about Rwanda.

"I'm telling you, it's like living in North Korea or something. Did you know that just to LIVE there I have to go and register at the police station or something?" his voice rises incredulously.

[Belgofact #1: Yes, absolutely true. You go round once, and then the policeman pays your house a cunning surprise visit to check that you actually live there. Then you have to go back again and if he's anything like our policeman, he writes your name in a giant copperplate ledger and tells you about your own back garden in alarming detail].

"And, right, I asked at work when pay day was, because you know, it's useful to know and do you know what they told me? If I want to get paid I have to set up my own company and INVOICE them".

[Belgofact #2: Yes, members of the professions - lawyers, consultants, accountants - have to do this. They all make use of a small ferrety man called Jean Luc who comes to your house and hypnotises you into allowing him to sell you someone's second hand company.]

His head slumps backwards against the train wall.

"And it's not even as if I want to live there. It's ok for a weekend I suppose.. "

His voice suggests it is decidedly not ok, even for a weekend

"..but it's so boring and grey".

My jaw drops slightly.

[Belgobias: No! It is not grey and boring at all. Callow child thinks it is because he's barely moved from his serviced apartment to the Rue de la Loi, brutalist superhighway of the European institutions. Brussels is full of beautiful untouched art nouveau houses, squares, bars. It has more disturbing cultural events per head of population than anywhere in Europe - go on, I challenge you to disprove that.]

I don't say anything even though I'm tempted. I'm hardly a glittering advert for Belgian living, and anyway, who says Belgium wants yet another ungrateful Brit sneering at the fact that there's a metro station called Kunst-Wet? I go and sit down feeling mildly affronted for my adoptive city.

When we reach the Gare du Midi it is pouring and my taxi driver doesn't have a clue where to go. My brain is refusing to readjust to French, like when you take the first roundabout off the ferry the wrong way round - I can't remember how to say tram depot . The driver stalls twice going up a hill. Eventually we limp home and I wrestle my bags into the house. Home. The dog greets me in a flurry of clattering nails, his tail wagging his body in a way that startles even him, and I am so relieved to be here, but instantly sad. And It's not the dog's fault, not Brussels's fault, not London's fault, not mine, not the CFO's, not anyone's.


Anonymous said...

You stalled going up a hill in Brussels? Pray where!
You are right - there is a lot going on here in Brussels and I think the quality of life is much better than in London - ok, no M&S or Waitrose, stuff like that, but London is only two hours away...

pinolona said...

I agree - I heard terrible things about Brussels but I don't think it's dull and grey at all (I'm a bit worried about the police though).

Jo said...

This post contained three fabulously descriptive words, of which one is my favourite (yes, I have favourite words - doesn't everyone?!)


LOVE it.

Courage...(en français) Jo

PS Glitter is one of my fave words.

Soda and Candy said...

What a great post!

It's so funny to be between two cultures, you feel there are some things that your new country could learn from your old country but you still don't want anyone else writing it off!

carolinefo said...

I'm getting drunk tonight - why not?
I suggest you do, too...

mwah, Sister Waffle xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Julia Ball said...

Is there really a place called Kunst- Wet LOL that, on its own, must be worth a visit! :-)

bevchen said...

I think there must be something wrong with me. It took me 5 minutes to work out why Kunst-Wet is amusing.

Nell said...

Well, you managed to get away from "things", were unencumbered by your kids for a few days, had independence, good shops and proper fun with yr friends.
I suspect that being just pragmatically sad to be home is probably quite cheerful of you.

Wishing you another escape soon.

Laura said...

Oh, I get so annoyed with people who slag off Belgium!

I laugh at Belgium every day but I think that's different - I'm laughing with it, surely?

Hänni said...

Kunst-Wet, really? The name of that platform alone would be reason enough for most red-blooded men I know to make a fast break for Belgium.

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