The rip in the time-space continuum that is a Belgian Bank Holiday weekend is fast approaching. 1 May falls on a Saturday, which means that for two days - two days that will feel like ALL ETERNITY - Belgium will just shut.
Yes. I realise that it is probably very admirable not to exploit your workforce and to take two days out from mindless consumption and so on. It's not the shops not being shut I mind so much (spot the giant, ridiculous lie in that statement) it's the ghostly, empty streets, creating the feeling that you are all alone in this town with a pair of snarling zombie children whose daily alloted half hour of Nintendo is up.
I am being unfair, I do all the snarling. Lashes, if left to his own devices for long enough, will devise some ghastly project involving several of the giant pee scented boxes in the cellar, a range of vital kitchen utensils that I will be unable to find for months thereafter, and enough sellotape to immobilise a whole troupe of Girl Scounts (a prospect I consider most Sundays when they come on their regular extortion visits). Fingers less so. He is unenchanted by tv, rejects the cinema out of hand, and is constantly frustrated by his brother's stream of smart-arse chat and subtle teasing. There are exceptional, golden moments when they are both amused, but generally those involve some act of wholesale naughtiness that will end in parental fury (see: painting new carpet with the brightly coloured maize chips of SATAN dipped in shampoo, pouring away €€€€€ of expensive unguent to make potions) or someone getting hurt (see tonight: stabbing a giant cardboard box repeatedly with a sharpened Mikado stick "to make a starry sky" is likely to end in maiming).
What to do? What to do, indeed. I do not have a car, a fact the children keen about in Greek chorus at every opportunity. "When are you getting a car?" "Why can't we have a car?" "Papa has a car" "C'est trop loiiiiiiin" "my feet hurt". Since they would like a car to go as far as the corner shop, they have limited credibility, but when it comes to a Belgian long weekend, they really do have a point.
Previous May bank holiday weekends were expediently dealt with by a parent-imposed trip to my favourite wildlife park to bait the free roaming capybaras and see if we could make off with a penguin. But my favourite wildlife park is about as accessible by public transport as Jupiter. The same goes for a range of other activities. I'm generally in favour of getting out, despite the complaints, but a Sunday tram is as frequently sighted as a five legged unicorn. The weather, which has been unseasonally beautiful (I am writing this sitting outside in a garden full of bird song, lilac and barbecue fumes, with an ill-advised ant wandering across the top of my keyboard), is going to take a sharp turn for the grey and cold. Of course it is! I suppose I could go wild and fall back on my incompetent friends at Taxis Bleus, but where would we go, anyway? Whatever I suggest gets one of two responses.
E: Shall we go to the X (where x is a putatively child-friendly activity of some sort)?
Child 1/2 (not looking up from Nintendo/tormenting dog/eating 800000 biscuits straight from tin) ..........
E: I SAID shall we go to the X?
Child 1/2: (totally oblivous to my presence) ........
E: FOR GOD'S SAKE. I SAID SHALL WE GO TO THE X, GODAMMIT.
Child 1: No.
Child 2: No
E wanders away muttering. Several hours later when it is too late to do anything, both children appear, their little faces filled with expectant hope.
Child 1: Can we go to X now?
E: But you said you didn't want to go!
Child 2: Nooooo, we said we DID want to go! We want to go. NOW.
E: But it's too late now! It shuts in half an hour!
Child 1: BUT YOU SAID WE COULD GOOOOOOOO!
Child 2: (inchoate disappointed wailing)
Weeping and gnashing of teeth ensues from all parties.
E: Shall we go the Y (where Y is another putatively child friendly type activity)?
Child 1: OUAIS! Chouette! Yes, can we go now?
Child 2: Uuuuuuuugh naoooon j'ai pas envie no I won't go you can't make me NO.
E: (stabbing self repeatedly in eye with a giant Mikado) Are you sure you don't want to go darling?
Child 2 (emphatic) NO.
E: But you know there are rivers of chocolate and free Bakugans and I will buy you a pony?
Child 2: NO.
Child 1: Can I have a pony too?
E: We'll see, it doesn't look like YOUR BROTHER (accusing stare) will let us go.
Civil society breaks down altogether in a cycle of bribery, recriminations and logistical chaos. E locks herself in the bathroom with a bottle of gin, boys revert happily to teasing the dog and stealing biscuits.
Helpful readers will suggest I find friends in a similar quandary and arrange some kind of joint sufferance thing. I don't have any friends like that, really. The Belgian ones will all be off having some interminable family meal. The others were all ceded as part of our infinitely civilised separation. I need to find more, enticing them into my slovenly dwelling with the promise of, erm, an improved immune system.
In the meantime, the three of us will probably end up here:
the only bar in the vicinity that will be open. I am developing a sick fascination with it, but you need a moustache to drink there. I suppose that could be arranged. Moustache workshop! Weekend quandary solved!