Friday, 28 January 2011

Minor epiphany

Friday already? Not sure how that happened. I think I'm still stuck somewhere around Wednesday. I think I might need to tell you about Wednesday.

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'?"

"Yes! That!"

"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.

12 comments:

JJ said...

I am the same in a completely opposite way: I feel like I would be tempting fate by not noticing how lucky I am. Like Fate will come and take everything good away if I don't then laugh at me "Ha ha sucker, there's something to cry about".

Also I worry that when I need the loo, I will get attacked or hit by a car and wet myself. Because that would be the worst thing, obviously.

Hope your shoes have survived.

Lisa-Marie said...

Hurrah! I am glad that amid all the anxiety and worry, you get to do something fun. I mean, it's not the kind of job where your likely to say 'much the same as yesterday' is it? Also you got bonus waffles!

P.s. that building sight film is fucking horrific.

Anonymous said...

Magnificent post. So inspiring! I absolutely love your writing.
Glad there are chinks of happiness in between the bouts of anxiety. Things are bound to get better.
anon.one

Nicky said...

This made me laugh my little cotton socks off - I too have spent time wandering in unsuitable clothing through industrial wastelands in search of random offices, laden with litepros, laptops and a bursting bladder: you just have to roll with it ...

Miss Underscore said...

I know exactly what you're saying, in amidst my crippling social anxiety and cursed swarthy-rogue-riddled love-life, I try to remind myself that I actually love my teaching job. I find my moments of joy when I am surrounded by my class, terrifying them with gothic tales of Tudor beheadings or ghost stories. I truly think it's what keeps me sane.

WrathofDawn said...

I cannot thank Fate, for it sees it as hubris and then smacks me down hard. HARD.

Picture it. December 23, 1994. I have gotten into my car in the work parking lot, about to drive home for my Christmas break. As I turned the ignition key, I thought, "I rather like my life right now. My boss is ace. My marriage seems to be tipping along nicely. The children are healthy (had had a few scares previous), Dad is doing well (Mom had passed away 4 years previous and we were somewhat adjusted to life post-Mom), we had lovely neighbours with kids the same ages as ours... Yeah, things are pretty sweet right now."

Christmas Day, my lovely boss was in a fatal car accident. March, my lovely neighbour across the street left her husband and took my two children's best friends home to Scotland. June, my husband left me. September, my other lovely neighbour re-married and moved with my children's other closest friends to Norway. July of the next year, Dad passed away.

Hubris. It'll bite ya on the toushie, every time.

Now the best I'll admit to is, "Yeah. Things are okay. I suppose. Maybe."

I wonder if I thought, "I REALLY LIKE being chubby!" would Fate take that away. Probably, but I fear the method.

Excellent adventure on your part, though!

Betty M said...

Great fun stuff is good and I am glad that you are having some of that.

Do you remember the video about the dangers of railway lines involving a sports day on the tracks? grisly and terrifying. Still the stuff of nightmares.

Word is punto in keeping with car theme.

Bryony said...

Great post. I have a job that affords me extraordainary moments which are way out of the experience of many. And I love it. Life affirming indeed. Keep writing. You are the best. Bx

Alienne said...

I am really impressed with that illuminated power station chimney. Only in Belgium,

WV is ardse. What more can I say?

Laurel said...

That tower is quite something. But not as "something" as the national library of Belarus on the same page. It makes me a little dizzy just to look at that building.

Anyway. I am glad that you are having fun! Three cheers for that. And do I gather that you'll be driving cars on a regular basis??

Laurel said...

P.s. more on Minsk library: "Its main architectural component has the shape of a rhombicuboctahedron."

VW corrwar--captures my response perfectly.

Johnners said...

Lovely!
Have you seen the power station in Vienna? It's designed by an artist called Hundertwasser - I met him once when I was living there years ago, he was bonkers but had a brilliant view of the world, which pretty much boiled down to "why not?"

See - http://cdn.wn.com/pd/ba/59/66a01725407fc7aac0c1d0742050_grande.jpg