1. I go to the drycleaners. They return me my jacket like so:
They are entirely unrepentant. "On a essayé, Madame" they say, we tried, their eyes challenging me to argue otherwise. They are on safe ground. I am a) British and b) PATHETIC. I pay. I enquire tentatively about a lost ticket, knowing that this will not end well for me.
"There's nothing we can do about that" says the girl.
"What, nothing at all? I've just lost hundreds of euros worth of sheets, you have no way at all of tracing them?"
2. After an inordinately long wait for my feckless friends at Taxi Bleu, we set off for Lashes's appointment with the knuckle-rapping handwriting gorgon. "Ah, Madame", says the taxi driver with ill-disguised satisfaction "Mais le bois est fermé!". OF COURSE IT IS. The fucking wood is always shut. They open it very occasionally in an arbitrary and mystifying fashion, perhaps something to do with phases of the moon, or messages from other galaxies. So we are late to the gorgon, who then takes it upon herself to tell me that I am insufficiently firm with Lashes. Oh, how I love unsolicited childrearing advice.
3. With misplaced optimism, I decide we will get a tram from the gorgon's into town. I realise the dubious wisdom of heading for Brussels's largest shopping centre on a rainy Saturday, but decide to go ahead, because by this point, going back home would be just as bad. We find a tram that purports to go there.
Forty minutes later we are in our fifth grey suburb.
"Where are we?" I mutter to myself, scanning the nine hundredth street full of grimy nineteenth century housing stock and kebab shops for any recognisable landmark.
"Petaouchnok" (a French nonsense word meaning 'in the arse end of nowhere') says Fingers, deadpan, not even looking up from Mario Carnage 8. He repeats this quietly to himself several times in the next hour.
4. We eventually disengorge into the sweaty underpass of "City 2" and spend a bewildering hour wandering around looking for various bits and pieces. Although all the bits and pieces are for them, the spawn are puzzled and overwhelmed by the seething mass of Belgiana, so everything takes five times longer than it should. Helpfully, Lashes leaves a plush panther in the furthest corner of the FNAC and we have to fight all the way back up the escalator of doom to get it. I top off the afternoon by queueing for ages in a shop behind a woman who is fulminating endlessly and with no apparent sense of discomfort about 'les noirs' and 'les turques'. Only exhaustion stops me kicking her in the shins.
5. We get another meandering, crowded, subterranean tram home. When it finally hits the surface it's raining, of course, and dark.
I remind myself several times how much I like Belgium.
And that my self-imposed January ban on travel is nearing an end.