So, Wednesday morning, my lovely Belgo-mag editor asked if I would go and test drive a car. This is now part of my job, which is an absurdity that will never get old for me. Me! A driver so catastrophically bad that several of my friends refuse to get into a car with me. The woman who has driven in to MORE THAN ONE stationary skip. Amazing. Actually, Lovely Editor and I were discussing my first column this week over mushrooms, here (excellent, incidentally, though we were too chicken for the porcini ice cream).
"You actually sounded quite professional! You said something, I can't remember what, but it sounded all technical".
"Was it the thing about 'short wheel base'?"
"Ha, yeah. I researched! I started by looking up 'why is the Fiat 500 really bumpy' on Google and took it from there.."
So after a meeting in the DG Agriculture canteen (you can but dream of such meetings, non-Belgians! There was semolina for pudding and everything!) I went off to try and find this car. The thing about much of Brussels is that it's not made for pedestrians, and the bit I was heading to is particularly not. I looked it up on a map. It's in a sort of light industrial hinterland, between Ikea and Brussels's specially illuminated power station chimney (this, I imagine, is what Electrabel is spending my €1900 on. Buying new LED bulbs). There was a metro station fairly close by, though, so I thought I'd give it a shot. The metro station looked like something out of a Crimewatch reconstruction, the kind of thing you might see in fuzzy CCTV footage, and it took me about five goes backwards and forwards to find my way from there down to the canal that my map suggested I needed to follow in order to track down the elusive test drive showroom.
I spent the next hour and a half, wandering the pathways of a windswept canalside industrial development, looking for the road I needed. My map suggested I could follow the canal, then cut up to the left. The only thing up to the left was an 8 lane motorway and a few rolls of barbed wire I followed the canal for about 1000 years in both directions, looking for a way to get to where I needed to be, thinking how very much the landscape looked like somewhere you would dump a body. A cross between that and Series 2 of The Wire, but less glamorous. There was almost no-one around, occasionally a jogger with facial tattoos would whoosh past me, staring as they went. I was walking around an industrial estate straight out of Crimewatch in red patent shoes, coral nail varnish and shorts. Yes, shorts. What? I was wearing tights. Actually, I wasn't, I was wearing hold-ups and I could feel that one of them was starting its inevitable slither down my leg. I prayed it would hold up until I found the car, or was brutally murdered. I did not want to be brutally murdered with a hold-up bunched round my ankle. Also, I really needed to pee. There were too many facial tattooed joggers, and my outfit was too impractical, to consider peeing. I might just have to be brutally murdered with a full bladder.
I was using my phone to navigate, and of course, it ran out of battery, just as I was crossing a sort of rusting footbridge over a mudflat, between two warehouses onto what appeared to be a building site. My red patent shoes were sinking deeper into the mud, and my whole forearm had gone raw red with the cold. It was starting to remind me less of Crimewatch, and more of the instructional video we were forced to watch at primary school about the dangers of building sites, which featured bloodstained shoes in mudddy puddles next to piles of bricks, and charred, smoking clothes by high tension power lines. It was HORRIBLE, I can remember every scene. Now I was about to relive them. Thankfully I was distracted from my imminent death by spotting a rat. Nature walk!
I finally found the garage. It had a zen garden and three slightly bored but very kind and welcoming marketing people eating miniature waffles. It also had a lavatory, thankfully, because the noise of the water feature in the zen garden was like the worst kind of torture.
They made me sit in the car and tried to tell me how it worked. It is an electric car and you push a twiddly thing backwards to go forward, and forward to go backward, which is an, uh, interesting choice. I could not work it, of course, and it took all three kindly, slightly bored marketing people to get it moving and I got the giggles. Then they sent me out onto the ringroad, which gives me palpitations at the best of times, with only a stern GPS lady between me and ending up in Slovakia, and the terror of breaking their special car. The whole thing was bloody hilarious, apart from the TERROR and the PALPITATIONS. It was much more hilarious once I had managed to bring the bloody thing back in one piece and eaten 27 miniature waffles. I trekked back off across the mudflats and the building site and the location for The Wire Series 2 and the Crimewatch video, clutching my gift of a scale model of the car in a cardboard box.
On my metro on the way back, my neighbour, who did not smell at all nice, fell asleep, so his beer can tipped up and poured cheap lager over my red patent shoes (washing the mud off! Swings, roundabouts). Across the aisle, a teenage boy was carefully preparing a small quantity of cannabis resin on a copy of the free Metro newspaper. With my phone long dead, and only a single sheet of technical specifications and a model car to distract me, I had plenty of time to think. And I thought, truly, 'I bloody love this'. I love doing completely absurd, nonsensical things and writing about them. It's ace. It might not make me enough money to survive, but god, it's fun. My friend The Teapot wrote a very lovely post a while ago about sometimes not noticing that you've got somewhere you wanted to be, not appreciating what's extraordinary about your life (she put it better than that), and I'm definitely guilty of that. I get caught up in anxiety and fear and a superstitious aversion to tempting fate by saying things are good. I've been insanely anxious recently, even though nothing terrible is happening, god knows why. Of course, partly the fear is useful and appropriate; life without a salary can be pretty bloody frightening. But there should also be space to say, yes, this is great. This is really a lot of fun. So there you go, I'm saying it.