Belgium – A long weekend.
The journey was quite long seeing as the flight is only an hour. 6 am – 2pm or 1pm English time. We caught a taxi, to the plane to catch a bus to get a train to catch another bus to our final destination Shiplaken where we got off a stop too soon. This was the only slip in an otherwise impeccable travel itinerary
all planned by Sara. We were air BnB-ing the trip and our 1st host had to walk to our bus stop to take us to his house. All in all the trip was fairly uneventful and on time apart from a couple of funny things. When we arrived at Brussels south airport via Ryanair I went to the Bureau de change to get some Euros. There before me the most beautiful tiller I have seen handling money. I was dressed up and looking quite dashing myself. It was 10 am there time and I think I may have been her first customer as a bloke was just leaving the kiosk behind her as she was sitting down. Anyway love story aside I gave her £140 and asked for Euros please. I tried a smile but my dentures broke the day before and have a big gap on the right side of my smile which probably put her off, either that or I bedazzled her with my good looks and dapper attire. She gave me change for £240. I spotted it straight away and said my thankyous and made for a sharp exit to go and have a fag and wait outside for Sara who had gone off to find out about buses or something. Now I am normally a very honest man but this being a bank and the way we have been screwed by them lately i just thought, ‘screw them, this is an omen for a good holiday’. I felt for the beautiful teller and how she might get in trouble but then I’ll never see her again to ever feel any guilt so it didn’t last long. I was pacing about and smoked two fags outside waiting for Sara for what seemed like an age thinking the tiller would come out any second asking for the money back but then realised she was on her own in that kiosk and there was no way she would be able to leave her station. Shit, she might have even done it on purpose on her last day or something but I still like to think I bedazzled her.
Sara eventually shows up and I give her the good news that I will be paying for all the travel and we’ll be having a slap up meal at some point. We set off happily on our internal Belgium trip all the while I’m thinking about all the traditional Belgian ale and how am I going to avoid it. We get a bus and a train to Mechelen. Fortuitously a man got on the train and sat next to me stinking of booze, it was only 11 am which put me off thinking about the Belgian ale and how I might avoid it. At Mechellen we have a wait for the final bus so we head to a bar for some well earned coffee. Sara is walking a yard in front and at a bar this toothless old Belgian man spots Sara and blows her a kiss then I walk into view and blow an equally toothless kiss back. All his mates and he laugh and shout apologies in Flemish and we sit down near them in the bar all in good humour understanding not a word they are trying to say to us but it is all very smiley. It is the local pissheads old timers bar and everyone is already half cut but the place has tons of character and the patrons to match and serves lovely coffee. Have you ever noticed where ever you go on the continent all the bars know how to make and serve coffee. None of this latte, capachino bullshit, blah blah, it’s just coffee in a china cup not paper. We eventually waste enough time to go and get our last bus and I go over and shake the hand of the guy who blew Sara a kiss he kisses my hand and we all say farewell and laughs all round.
We are in Flanders which is just north of Brussels and in our spacious double room in a typically detached Flemish house. Most of the houses round here are detached and devoid of any human life which I’ll get to later. Our hosts are a gay Dutch couple who have just celebrated being together 25 years. If you don’t know, Belgium is split pretty much in half at Brussels. The north being of Dutch origin and the south French so it comes as no surprise this lovely Dutch couple are living here.
Sara and i go to bed around 3pm.. We sleep. we wake, we sleep to the sound of traffic driving by in the rain sounding like the ocean and crashing waves, I imagine this which helps me sleep. I wake first and go for a fag on our very own roof terrace then make us tea with a kettle and accoutrements that are in our room.
We are in Shiplaken to be part of a two day meditaion with an Indian Swarmi that we met at One world festival who is followed by a friend of ours Helen that is now also a Swarmi in her own right. At this point I am still following Sara around and have no agenda of my own yet other than to shadow. I google Swarmi while we are waiting for a lift to the place we are to meet the Swarmi’s and other disciples. I am not a religious man in any way other than to meditate. I see all religions as fantasy and bow to no man. I mention this to Sara who replies “But he is a yogi passed down from lineage” I feel bad for passing judgment “you don’t have to come”!? I’m in the middle of rural Flanders what else am i going to do round here. I reply with ” I want to come and observe and will write and meditate in silence”.
Our lift arrives and we get to our meditation destination. (good name for an album) I can barely breath with the dense smoke of incense over-kill burning,. Everyone sits on the floor on their cushions, i sit on a sofa a safe distance at the back where i’m looking down the bicycle rack of some blokes builders crack. I count 7 female, 7 male a 50/50 split. The old Swarmi sauters in followed by a few more disciples, everyone stands and clasps hands prayer like then sit and jostle for better positions. Sara sits near the front, someone puts out the joss sticks and opens a window at the Swarmi’s request thankfully as my head is swimming by now. There are some whispered affirmations i can barely hear, people offer up contributions of fruit, a rose, bunches of flowers and receive in return a personal blessing from Swarmi. Sara gave a banana, the room is still thick with smoke,, a girl waites water to Swarmi who wraps up in a blanket cold. People are deep breathing, there are some Omm’s “omm, omm” Swarmi yawns. The lights are dimmed to almost darkness, I have a slither of light from which to write these notes from the crack of light from a table lamp near the back. Everyone tries hard to make their deep breathing as audible as possible to show Swarmi, I imagine, their devotion. There is a young guy on the sofa next to me (turns out to be one of the hosts) who is ranting really fast maybe some mantra and is jerking like he’s having a wank. It’s dark and he is crouched over so maybe he was, either way I’m not feeling the vibe or getting relaxed. Late comers, the door is open long enough to catch a breath of fresh air and a respite from the incense smoke. The old man sits in silence while there are some more people making noises the guy next to me continues his jerks. I long for some fresh air and can see the trees swaying outside which teases me. Our friend Helen is making noises like the sounds of a child in a horror film I am thinking of. I’m told later it isn’t her speaking but she is channelling an old guru. We call it being possessed and for all intent and purpose is sounding like the little from the exorcist film. The guy next to me is really going for it now like a pent up boxer before a fight, noisy with it. I have some tea from a flask in the kitchen, the taste reminds me of magic mushroom brew. I get paranoid for a second thinking i may have been drugged and I’m going to be initiated into some mad cult without my consent. I quickly dispel my fears and have no choice but to focus on the guy next to me who is being really noisy now and I decide there is nothing for it but to join in. I sing African songs i know which are in Mandinke, a West African dialect and hope nobody notices. I am now willing and wishing for the guy next to me to wear himself out or just shut the fuck up. A woman sings in high pitched octaves ascending. La la la la la laaaaaaa. I long to be outside! Octaves now descending like church bells, La la la la la lla laaaaaaaa. The old man starts a mantra the guy next to me isn’t listening which pips my wick a little but i’m not here to judge “just observing” I’m telling myself as I write my notes. I’m sat looking and waiting for the enlightenment but am getting “omm omm”- ed out of it. I enjoy the old man’s mantra which i vaguely recognise, it has been the only comprehensible thing all night. The lights go on, I think I made it! We go into Swarmi question time. People ask the most stupid shit sometimes. We are told enlightenment may take twenty four lives so not to expect it any time soon or even in this life time but to just keep practicing devotionally.
The questions seem easy for the old man who answers impeccably while everyone listens intently. Swarmi ends with “Kundalini, Shakti whatever it’s all the same you just have to show the correct devotion, it doesn’t matter”. It was all the same to me and if people need the path laying out for them I have nothing against that. The old man’s analogies seemed to appease the throng before him. He mentions Marijuana at which point I cheer and everybody turns round and laughs and stare at me. I don’t know if they laugh at me, with me or nervously. The old man goes into another analogy about a boat being rowed but going nowhere because it is still tied up. Yea yea, we get it now!! Sara asked a question about how best to help in some way to heal the world but felt upset, frustrated and tired with it a lot. Swarmi replied ” you are no good to anyone tired and upset, just do what you know you can without getting to the point of exhaustion”. Wise words I will take away with me. The night ends we have soup and go home after a little mingle. Very pleasant night with.
During this night unbeknown to us the Paris attacks took place. We wouldn’t know anything about it until the next day. We all slept soundly.