"You didn't tell me there was a giant crab!"
Fingers looks vague.
"Crabzilla? Did you see CRABZILLA?"
"Hein? Non. .. Oh, yeah. Maybe?"
Surely one should know for sure if one has seen a giant monster crab? Undeterred, I pore over Crabzilla's vital statistics. The English version of the website seems unsure whether Crabzilla is male or female, but eventually plumps for male. He is forty years old, 15 kg and has a "claw span of 3.5 metres". I love that phrase, "claw span". He has come from Birmingham, which pleases me greatly. He is, the picture suggests, fucking huge. The BBC suggest he is "not aggressive", which is disappointing, but I soldier on. "Our aim is to thrill you" says the Sealife Centre website, seductively. "Most of all we want you to have fun". This is what I want most of all too. That, and to shake hands with a giant spidercrab.
"Would you like to go back to the Sealife Centre, Fingers? You could play Nintendo on the train.." I frame my question as seductively as I can.
He seems bemused at my enthusiasm, but does not protest. Lashes is easily brought on board when his query about whether the Sealife Centre has a shop is answered in the affirmative by his brother.
On Saturday I check the trains. Jesus, it will take us an hour and a half to get there, not including Sunday trams, or the ten minute walk from the station. I estimate this will make for a 4.5 hour round trip (I am not wrong). No matter. Paris is worth a mass. A giant spidercrab is worth 4 hours of suburban public transport. Fingers's memory seems to be returning slightly.
"He doesn't move", he says, a note of warning in his voice. "Like a crocodile".
I hope the not moving will add to his general air of menace; I hope he's actually alive. I am already starting to view him as a spiritual soulmate.
Sunday. We are tired and crochety after staying up for Eurovision, but I manage to harry them out of the house by ten. It is pouring. Fingers refuses to wear his coat. Our whole neighbourhood seems to be having some elaborate street festival, with cheap tat to browse through, hamburgers, fairground rides, probably lots of small children of our acquaintance. It would be perfect, amuse the boys for hours for a small number of Euros, but the die is cast. We are going to Blankenberge to see a giant crab, and hang the consequences.
Many hours later, most of them taken up with Pokemon, we arrive in Blankenberge. It looks like this:
We set off on the long march to the Sealife Centre, amusing ourselves by trying to find the most physically unfortunate candidate on the local election posters.
It is a long way, but eventually we spot a small blue flag, whipping around in the gale force winds. By now, we have built it up to be some kind of Aquatic Disneyland in our heads. The posters of Crabzilla in all his B-movie glory in the entrance only serve to fuel our excitement:
Once we are in, however, I am instantly reminded of the aquarium we once visited in, was it Southend? Possibly. Anyway, the high point was the model of Brum you could feed 20ps into outside. The whole thing could fit into our house. Why do I always do this? WHY? I look around wildly trying to calculate how long we can spend on each exhibit to try and prolong our visit beyond 20 minutes. Short of Crabzilla engaging us in some kind of laser Pokemon duel, it's not looking promising. My calculations are shot out of the water anyway, as the children run at high speed straight to "Claw world" (I like this), bypassing the 30cms of 'Amazonian Rainforest Experience' and the obligatory pollution exhibit.
"I suppose so".
We stare at him through the smudgy glass. As Fingers predicted, he is not exactly frisky. He's a - very large, admittedly - crab. He does not tower over us like a spiny, terrifying colossus. His eyes do not shoot lasers. He is slightly shorter than Fingers, but with longer and more numerous limbs. I am anthropomorphising, yes, but I'd say he looks pretty underwhelmed at his new quarters. A small fish is bustling along his limbs, cleaning off some algae. If you watch very intently, you can see his feelers moving slightly.
It kills 30 seconds. The rest of the aquarium another five minutes. We venture outside where some pissed off penguins are pecking desultorily at a Calippo wrapper. It's a bit too cold and wet to stay out there for the magic of the 2 seals in the entirely opaque water, or the small ball of brown organic matter in the middle distance that may conceivably be an otter, but might equally be a sparrow.
"Look, it's Sparrowzilla!" says one of the boys, smirking.
"Oh, come on, I'm cold, let's go to the shop".
On the way out we encounter Eelzilla - uncomfortably confined in an aquarium he can barely straighten out in - and the boys eat Hotdogzilla. I shell out Eurozilla for several tatty plush sea creatures that are already disintegrating as we exit.
We walk back along the beach, which is actually pretty pleasant, though my sinuses are screaming at the gale force winds. I take a photo of Fingers cantering along the deserted sand.
The sun has actually come out, which is nice and so have the kitesurfers, en masse. We sit behind a windbreak and watch them do seemingly suicidal things, then we head back to the station.
"Well, I'm really glad I met Crabzilla", I say unconvincingly, like Joyce Grenfell on Mogadon.
The boys do not bother to answer me. They are trying to beat the Arena Champion on Level 6. Four hundred hours and a great deal of shouting later, we get back home.