Belgium – a long weekend (Finale-part three) Brussels.

During the last 24 hours or so there has been mass killing in Paris, suicide bombs in Beirut killing many and Al Shabab kill 147 in Kenya, Africa. Mass insanity, all of which, the people committing these atrocities would pass the Psychopath test, a book I am reading by Jon Ronson. But I have to say that the knee jerk reaction that is to follow by the western governments and their ideological bombing raids would equally pass (according to the book) this test too.

My dreams are vivid during the night. I am with my family, brother and sister they are snobbish and off with me. Nothing new there! I am traveling around in a battered up old transit van giving private drumming lessons. One of my clients has flash cars in the drive one of which is a Maserati. I decide I am selling myself short and demand he comes to my home in it and give my kids a spin as a bonus. The transit van has it’s engine stolen by people i know for a hippy laugh and i’m pushing it around trying to find them asking people where they have got to to get it back. I bump into Mike Joyce and feel proud in telling him I’m still drumming when he is not. I buy a crate of beer and a bottle of brandy and am drinking while fitting my engine after retrieving it. I am half way through a glass of brandy which is tasteless and I wake up.

 

We get up leisurely from our king size bed at our Shiplaken residence with cups of tea slowly packing and making lunch with the reams of cheese we have left over the previous day for the journey to Brussels. I make a repair to my suitcase with a piece of plastic bag to tie one of the wheels back on from the inside that has gone sideways. We say our farewells to our Dutch hosts and make our way to the bus stop to head for Brussels north airport where the train station runs underneath. We annoy the bus driver by constantly asking him does the bus stop at the airport, he gets cross answering with the only line of English he seems to know “THE BUS IS STOPPING AT THE AIRPORT”. We are on schedule and get down an escalator to the platform for the train with a few minutes to spare and plonk ourselves on a bench to wait for the train to come in on an empty platform. A train ables by us picking up speed and we look at one another in realisation and Sara says “that was our train”. We stand to look down the platform that looks about a quarter of a mile long. We are at the wrong end for catching trains! We saunter on down to the other end of the platform scanning the screens for the next trains to Brussels. We don’t have too long to wait and we board the next train. Trains here are much nicer than our British counterparts. They have a wider track gauge that makes for roomier carriages, there is always somewhere to sit, trains are on time and about ten times cheaper than train travel in the UK. State owned, bring back British rail!!!!! I visit the communal male toilets at Brussels that costs 50c to enter where there is a middle aged, thin female attendant in a short skirt and bare legs cleaning around us while we relieve ourselves. You wouldn’t see that in England with all it’s political correctness. I flick all my loose change into her cup as I exit where she is stationed on a chair and small table. “Merci” she says in French. Brussels is south of Flanders so we have switched from Dutch/Flemish to French.

We take off and look for our next Air BnB accommodation which should only be a few minutes walk according to Sara’s sat nav iPhone which isn’t playing ball. We pass a police station at the back of Palace square and decide to ask for directions.. There are four police all stood together outside the entrance two in dark blue uniform and two in some more serious looking red outfits that glare at us like we have crossed some unspoken line. We are completely unaware that there have been raids throughout Brussels in the night having had no access to any news other than some stuff on Sara’s facebook feed. They reluctantly give us directions and point to a street Rue des Pierres, directly behind us with a look of disgust. We are literally two minutes away from our apartment.

We are staying in apartments above the fashion shop Meemee’s both of which are owned by the Lovely Anne Marie who greets us in the shop. We are bang on time at the 2pm Sara in her travel itinerary had arranged earlier.

Anne Marie is a love and has a bijoux fashion shop underneath her Airbnb apartments on the Rue des Pierres. We are on the top floor and are settled in to our sweet room before you can say “bijoux boudoir box”. We get showered and changed and head off the famous music museum to catch the last couple of hours before it closes. For 8 Euros we get our head phone set and traipse off to see instruments we have never seen before aging from the middle ages to the present. The headphones give you audio of the instrument you are viewing when you are stood in front of the exhibit. It’s a famous 110 year old building that used to be a fashion outlet called “the Old English” in the early part of the 20th century. Well worth a visit but we were late and were eventually ushered out by a couple of lady staff one of which looked similar to the toilet lady. We headed off back to our apartment for a chill before going out for the evening.

After a rest we headed out and  made our way to a Thai restaurant we had spotted earlier. I was paying with my windfall from the bureau de change. Sara ordered veggie curry, I ordered green mixed seafood curry.  I bedazzled and charmed the sweet Thai waitress with the few phrases I had leant from my stay in Thailand some 24 years ago. My peng lai = take it easy. Sawadi cap = hello. I was helped by the waitress with thank you which is “Cap coon caa”. However, my charm and bedazzlement offensive backfired this time as I ended up with tofu curry. Fuck it, it was still delicious and cost nothing and deserved nothing less for my show of idiocy!

The music village, a live venue our first bar to hit that night was just across the street. The time was still only 8.45 pm but the place was almost full. We grabbed the last seats available with a clear view of the band who had just started a serving of old school rock ”n’ roll. They were dreadful to my ears in that they didn’t rock that much or roll for that matter but were received well by the mostly Belgian audience. They were the antithesis of everything I hate about music, too quiet, crowd pleasing, covers band that thought they were great. They probably are in Belgium! We stay politely till the interval of the nameless band,  a very English thing to do then leave to head for the next bar Bonnefooi Bar Bonnefooi that is advertising a live jam starting at 8.30 pm.

It’s on the same street all on Rue des Pierres a bit further down, when we arrive around 9.30 there is no sign of any band. We enquire and make a friend of the barman who informs us the place is open till 6 am and they’ll be here soon. If you ever visit this bar and wonder what the random clang of a bell is it’s when the bar man has just been tipped so we duly tip him with our next drink and he gives us two bells. Fifteen minutes later people amble in with musical equipment and sound gear starts getting set up. In the meantime I have met a young dude by the name of Pierre who introduces himself quite forthrightly at the bar ordering what he tells us is his equivalent of his eighth pint (in British money) of Hoegaarden very strong blonde beer. He’s leathered but quite sweet and charming and invites me into the back room which is where we can sit, talk at me and smoke indoors. He hands me some melancholy poem he has written during his stay in the bar that night whilst getting pissed about his girlfriend whom he loves very much that gets more and more scribbled as the page goes down. I find it very funny, quaint and sad as i see how the alcohol has had a degenerative effect and the influence alcohol has had on his writing. We talk of his anarchy beliefs, his polyamorous relationship, the new weed laws, about how his parents would disapprove of taking a different girl home other than his girlfriend but he was going to chat the girls up on the next table to us anyway. I  make my excuses, say I should be rejoining my wife Sara back at the bar, tell him it was a pleasure meeting him and leave him to it.

Pierre leaves shortly after totally pissed but walking saying farewell, I wish for him safe travels.  It was at was at this point Sara and I suss the free wifi and are punching in the password to our phones when my mine switches off and then reads over a black screen “unable to find bootable option, press any button to switch off”. It’s been in the menders under warranty ever since I got back.  The band in the meantime strike up and consist of an Indian Tabla player, bass player and trumpet both Europeans and a west African dude on Balafon. They are very proficient and play together none stop in the same key with very little musical movement just jamming for about 45 minutes before i’ve had enough. What a musical snob I am sometimes! I notice on our exit past the bandthere was a drum kit setup I couldn’t see from the back but nobody playing it. Too late im knackered now and it’s after midnight “a missed opportunity” I remark to Sara as we leave and we head off home via a late night store and grab some snacks for our room.

The next day we do the tourist thing visit a real old school flea market twenty minutes walk away where Sara scores a couple of things for her house. A celtic plaque and a brass pair of cats. We hit a famous chocolate shop for handmade goodies for parents, then shops for T-shirts for my boys Marley and Pip. We also buy ourselves some gifts from the lovely Anne Marie’s shop Meemee’s, silk scarves for Sara and a T-shirt for me. We pack our gear, bid goodbye to Anne Marie and head off for our journey to the airport.

We take the 5 minute walk to the train station for our connecting transport to the airport. We sit on a bench type chair very close to an exit facing the window opposite another bench. Sitting on it a giddy couple of 8th form college girls I keep thinking are laughing at me for some reason but they are not and I humor it away.. Then a guy gets on and sits next to the girls dressed casual, in jeans and smart Adidas trainers with a couple of jackets on and has a back pack. He takes his jackets off to get comfy and throws them down over his bag when I notice a gun on his side attached to his belt. It’s not that noticeable but i spot the hard, grey steel barrels as he bends over to put his coats down. I’m trying really hard to tell myself it’s something else like a leatherman tool but they are silver and this is  grey steel barrel. I check him out look him up and down slightly concerned as I’ve never seen anyone walking around dressed as casual as this guy, other than cops in uniform, carrying a gun . I’m sat with my headphones on listening to music trying not to be intrusive with my stares but enough to let him know I have a right to be inquisitive. He is about 30-ish 6 foot tall, looks very lean and fit, white European is texting with his phone being as casual as day when a couple of people pass by and a young woman falls right into my lap as the train makes a jolt as it’s stops at a station.  I help her up as she apologizes rushing to get off the train. I make a joke out loud in English that “I got more than i bargained for there” with the warmest of smiles, the girls laugh but I was looking straight at the guy as I said it who looked me straight back and laughed with me. I was beginning to relax then even more  so when I saw into the guy’s bag as he pulled out a portable sony playstation, some high tech walkie-talky and deduced he must be secret service on his way off duty from a busy high alert weekend operation (some of which we had got wind of by now) all European cities must have been on immediately after the Paris attacks. So I mellowed into my journey keeping a sly eye on my guy opposite. The girls get off the train the next stop so i decide to sit where they are away from anymore possible unwanted lap divers on their way off the train but i also want to get my journal out and write up some notes in peace and about this guy I am now sitting next to. I’ve never been so close to death, well I have but that’s another story for another time. I’ve certainly never sat next to death which is what this guy is carrying and he has more than very likely been trained in death and the act of killing! I’m more than a little curious now and start to think of his life and ways that I might strike up a conversation. I think of humorous things to say like asking him for his autograph as being the real James Bond but then think he’ll just shoot me for being a humorless English twat! Shall I ask what football team he follows, where is he from, I’m from Manchester, England follow Manchester City and I come in peace. Shut the fuck up you stupid English twat, BLAMMO. Everything i concoct in my wittless brain I also realise it will reveal his cover and i risk being wiped out so say nothing. He get’s up the stop before we alight and walks off down the carriage to get off the other end from us.

I sit next to Sara again and tell her all about him and my fantasy to strike up a conversation with the real James Bond but lost my bottle because I thought he might just shoot me etc. etc. We get up the next stop and head for the doors and there in front of us is the guy. He’s obviously pre-emptied his stop and got back on. My jaw drops, he must have heard everything I had said to Sara. And then for some unknown reason as he gets off the train we follow him and the rest of the passengers through the station into a carpark without looking at any signs for where we should be going and into the pouring rain before I realise we are completely in the wrong place for getting our connecting bus. We double back continuing our conversation wondering why the fuck we had gone in the wrong direction with our curiosity to maybe almost certain death..

We hit the airport after a short bus ride in good time and I can’t stop thinking if that was England with our gung-ho shoot first ask questions later police I could very easily have been a regrettable and unfortunate incident like the poor Brazilian (Jean Charles de Menezes) lad on the tube a few years ago not long after the  7/7 bombings in London. wiki link to Jean Charles de Menezes

We get home in Manchester for midnight Monday night. I told you it was a long weekend!

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