Thursday, February 01, 2007

DSC_0555 - BilingualismWhere am I upto? We've done cruising in Brussels, right?

The following day was a bit slow to start, then we foolishly tried to explore the 'real' Brussels, and so turned off the ring road in the other direction, and thus spent a long time walking endless grey streets in the rain, hoping to find anywhere vaguely inhabited or at least with an unlocked door, rapidly coming to the conclusion that Brussels is a one horse town, and either the Francophones have eaten it, or it gets Sunday off, because there simply is nothing moving on a Sunday, despite walking past street after street of flats stacked atop shops; anywhere in England there'd be a cornershop or a newsagents open, but not even they function on the Sabbath in Brussels.

Eventually we do find somewhere in the northeastern hinterland which is open, buying plain bread rolls and bananas, but by this time it's tipping so hard the collaborators strung from the lintels (ok, so they were Father Christmases supposed climbing the outside of the buildings, but everywhere had turned bleakly murderous or suicidal) were saggy under their sodden weight, neck strained at odd angles above limp limbs only adding to the jolliness. We suddenly find signs of life, with a cafe a full of locals. Well, they do say eat where the locals eat, but I think that assumes the locals have a choice. It's the type of place one would rapidly pass under normal conditions, with laminated and much faded photographs in the windows showing sumptuous meals, all of which feature sweetcorn heavily, rammed onto minuscule plates (that trick only works when it the dishes don't feature scalable objects like half eggs such as in the grossly bastardised Niçoise) or better yet photographed in the polystyrene takeaway containers. With grave misgivings I order a hamburger, working to the assumption that it won't have enough meat in to have gone off (the hamburgers, sausages, meatballs, random odd shaped things and vegetarian hamburgers all appear to be made of the same material, with only the pressed shaped, with proud seams, indicating what it is supposed to be. Calmingly they are all a uniform beige), and this isn't Burger King, so food poisoning won't be guaranteed (never touch a Whooper near me). Not quite surprisingly enough, the burger costs the same as the chips, and a third of the burger price is the bun. Hey-ho.

It's only after we order and find somewhere to sit that we notice someone eating steak in pepper sauce, which was not on the menu, and which I have learnt is invariably the one thing every French (or wannabe French) cafe does cheaply and well. Bugger, but I don't need to eat meat the whole time (um, how can I put that sentence so someone will not deliberately misunderstand it? What you see was edited from the original which unintentionally repeated the M&S food porn idea).

So we eat, pay (I'm sure they got it wrong, in our favour, or it was extremely cheap) and depart, heading back into town (we're off both guidebooks' maps). Rejoining the ring road by the ING building (it was a frequent appearance on our travels), heading south, hugging into the lee of buildings and cursing the town for not having anywhere with a roof open, we head down, past warped trellises and decorative rose arbours, with one half blown out of sight, eventually getting to Bastion Tower, which is cunningly designed to knock the clouds out of the sky and fling the contents at bypassers in warning for the roaring blast in a few metres time which will heft them into the middle of the dual carriageway. It's very cunningly designed with two wings, at about 120 degrees to each other, which one pointing into the prevailing wind and the other perpendicular to a pavement. Helpful.

Having been thus reminded of the gloriousness of winter a la Bruxelles, we descended from that level of hell to something rather different. Hoping on the tu... Metro, we discovered what the entire population of the city does on a Sunday; stand round crammed together, all looking tired, ill, bored and boring and all conspicuously leaving large gaps round anyone who dared to look non-European (I wonder if they'd even get off the platform at Waterloo), but what can one expect from a group who are characterised by a Moominish, middle-aged, overweight, grey cartoon character (you know those 'Love is' posters in London offering guidance on using the Tube? The Belgian version appears to be not young lovers but a very grey version of Whatno?)? And have I done Belgian train doors? They have a pull handle, which recoils when touched and the doors magically open sideways. But they do have better poles (which they need as the Metro trains have far fewer seats) which split into three, meaning someone can't block secure access just by leaning against it.

Sorry, somehow became an examination of the transportation variations between London and Brussels (the latter is distinctly more orange and generally feels like the monorail of some just about surviving themepark, and one designed to look futuristic to 1960's eyes at that. It also doesn't seem as vital to the city).

Emerging at Centra[a]l[e] we wandered before I disappeared in the other direction to Omega. Guess who'd seen some far off bit of old stonework. Of course, it turned out to be as precisely as interesting as chunks of stone are apt to be, but I was a little dismayed by the Brussels experience so far, so anything that could be classed as good was, despite the wall abruptly ending in an office block and being at the kebab salad strewn back of a bowling-alley-cum-petrol station. And would someone please tell me what is a little odd about this image?

DSC_0084 - RestraintA bit more morosely failing optimism (I laughed at scaffolding for God's sake) brought us up a street where I was so busy focussing (or not) on the juxtaposition of neon and leaded windows, that I nearly didn't notice the crowd huddled by a Christmas tree stall. Except at the back, behind the Christmas trees, is a patch of grey, and, hold on I have to get closer, there's something in the middle of it. Why, it's a small boy playing with himself. It was not so much 'thou shall not worship false idols' as 'thou shall not worship idols one can scarcely see and the likeness of which has been used on tourist souvenirs bigger than the original'. And thenceforth it would be known to us as the Manneken Piss-take, which presumably is what the pub opposite used to be called till the Angus Steakhouse down the road nicked the last five letters from the sign.

Then into the centre, past a far more interesting statue, round one shopping arcade with more ghastly leather than the front row of a Versace show, and then into another much nicer arcade, where shopping appeared to be a secondary function (I never worked out what the primary function of it was). Into a café for a café under a café ceiling, bourgeoisly gung-ho in enjoying the accompanying chocolate mousse (the place serves chocolate mousse with everything [ok, every hot drink]; I think I like) while sitting beneath framed originals of Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto, while half-eavesdropping on the French couple beside us (well, he shouldn't have arrogantly assumed we didn't speak French when the waitress asked us if we'd ordered, and anyway, 'commandez' is not terribly different from 'commanded', so we would have got there in the end even if I hadn't understood and already replied before he butted in with his translation).

It was about at this point the manageress came out to tell us that they had run out of pancakes and would we care to order anything else. Cue slightly raised eyebrows while we discuss just what it is pancakes are made of (eggs, milk and flour and, er, that's it, isn't it? You mean to say the city has run out of flour? Told you it was a one horse town. Obviously that's another thing they have to wait for while it is shipped in from China). And in the time it takes her to reappear with menus, they've discovered that apparently the crêpes are back on, presumably having discovered that they're not all that difficult to make from scratch and the country isn't in famine after all (or they found another tin of them).

And then it was once more unto the breeze, and discovering the cathedral, then guessing the big Kom en Zie emblazoned across the front probably means we can go in, though Omega went to recce on pricing (I'm not a fan of paying to enter a church; I'm not a fan of paying generally mind).

Then in to the maze of gospel music, managing my usual mix of pretending I'm not a camera wielding tourist, while just having to edge a bit to the left to get the shot, trying to move quietly and discreetly, wondering what it all means, not be quite sure what one is supposed to do in a church, feeling rather out of place yet casting disapproving glances at the tourists who have yet to turn their flashes off, and inevitably ending up on my knees purely to get the right angle.

There was one slightly odd occurrence, and this is before we got to the pelicans, in which Omega was enjoying the show (or more likely waiting for me to finish), so I snuck up and took a surreptitious photograph of him (came out very, very dark, but then it was), which prompted some random girl to do the same. If I hadn't already noticed her, the flash did rather give it away.

Line of day: "God, it's a bit Catholic" said by me in response to the blood and thunder and fire and brimstone and rape and pillage, with a side order of eternal suffering, pulpit.

But then the rest of the cathedral had odd excessive flourishes. Belgian stained glass is very much of a muchness. And Catholic church layouts are odd; the apse letting people walking behind the main altar seems almost sacrilegious. But the rest of it is fairly normal, and as you can tell from the excess of photographs I liked being bale to see the buttresses as fragmented by the windows (oh, and the overspill of the floodlights beaconing the cathedral sprawled across the vaults).

Then Omega (who had sat through probably slightly too many Belgian carols) realised I wasn't going to stop this photography lark and retired to the hotel, ostensibly to sleep, leaving me the Een Dag Jump travelcard (at the weekends it's 241 if travelling together and it's only €4 for the whole city; let's not think about how much it would if for the equivalent in London).

I wandered down into town, past a revolting pink shop, and the Bourse; the latter was much less sticky than the day before (leaking waffle-age) and featured the confusingly familiar phrase "Every day is a song for a holiday" in neon (if it were turned on). Then into the Grand Place/Grote Markt for yet another Electrabel spectacular, which was just like the one the night before, right down the French tourists clapping dancing reindeer, except for an Indian guy living in Frankfurt, who was waiting for a friend over an hour late, who tried chatting me up, although we setted for my envy of his camera (an Eos with a very short name). And then I ran away because I find strangers approaching me thoroughly disconcerting (though they seem to home in on me regardless of where I am; I obviously look the type to carry maps and speak English), it was cold (which had had a predictable effect on my body and I'm not really a frequent user of public toilets even if I could have found any) and I was due back at seven.

Which is how I came to find myself standing in Central Station lingering for long enough on a platform that I began playing with my camera, just because it was something to do, which after 6 minutes caused a security announcement to rumble through the station, although I ignored it because it was largely unintelligible, being in Flemish, with the only discernible word being something like fotografiert and because the train turned up at that point. It's so much easier when you can be a foreign tourist who won't understand and therefore won't try to engage the staff in reasonable and rational conversation (with TfL staff? Am I mad? Or are they?).

And so back to the hotel, so we could go out to eat, yet be too tired to bother, instead staying in being boring and debating whether Flemish or French language television is worse before retreating to the international language of "sodding hell, that shark's big" courtesy of an Attenboroughed BBC1 (it really was the best thing on).

The next day we headed up the road outside to find brunch and to find out what that big churchy looking thing at the end is and to try to find non-touristy yet actually inhabited parts of Brussels. Unfortunately I didn't take my camera with me, as I'd forgotten to charge it (I'm not used to having to charge it), so you missed the interior shots of Schaarbeek's townhall and much interesting architecture and general winter-sun-on-rained-upon-streets-oh-I-wish-I-had-my-camera-just-look photographs. I suspect I could happily have wandered round that area for hours. It certainly felt the most like an actual functioning place than anywhere else we visited. I suppose it had something to do with grabbing a roll from a cafe as all the school children come out for lunch, and the queues building in the post office while some woman rants about a lost form, the cars left with the hazards going when parked illegally while the owner pops out to get something and the shopowners chatting to the neighbours during a lull. That and the place being nearly entirely populated by immigrants, which is a sure sign you're beyond the tourist bus routes (and all of whom are refreshingly Francophone; it gets quite hard to remember it's somewhere foreign when one hears an unmistakably Glaswegian accent in a shop, an American whine in the Metro station and even people in uniform start in English before one has uttered anything).

Then back to hotel, grab stuff and out again, out towards the Arc de Triomphe once more (it's a monument in the Parc de Cinquantenaire or Jubelpark, built to celebrate fifty years of independent rule - fifty years of freedom from French oppression - and they built something which looks awfully like one of the most famous monuments in France [ok, minor belated fact checking; it's not quite a replica, but the impression when seen from the far end of the avenue is the same]). During the wandering we discover myriad new levels of greyness, not greatly helped by the pavement blocking concrete blocks round the frankly ugly British Embassy [def built in the local style]. Omega skirts arrest by taking a photograph of his own embassy, whereas I strangely do the same for the UK one.

Eventually we tire of playing Guess the Flag, and continue onwards, trying not to miss the European Parliament tour for the second time in one day (the first is at 10 am; we, er, had better things to do at the time). So down Wetstraat, discovering that maps aren't very helpful when they neglect to mention that the road of the right is there, but a hundred feet down or thereabouts, and that might be stairs down on the other side of the road, but when there's continuous traffic going somewhere above 30, the other side of the street is a very long way of, and unless we fancied playing Frogger across the lanes, which I'm not sure works on a one way street, we'd better find some other way. So back to the previous junction, down to the next main road, east along that past the exit from what looks like the car park of the EP, past the roadworks and into the park, back up the hill to the now visible main building.

DSC_0317 - Odd one outWhich we got to, or rather we passed very close to before discovering there was a fence in the way, and so diverting once more round and variety of boundaries, before coming onto the Rue Wiertz and the full splendour of the EP. It is pure parson's egg (or curate's egg; it's just as well I check these things. But it's a "parson's nose", isn't it?).

And then, continuing the early computer games metaphors, we played Pong between the two main entrances, failing to find anything to indicate where we should go for the tours, or where tourist information desk was, instead seeing only glazed eyed security guards ignoring the beeping chunks of metal scanning incomers, signs requesting all Polish people to gather in a certain corner, and most helpfully of all nothing on the doors except the names of two presumably dead Europeans, both S-p-something, and several printed A4 sheets detailing car rental arrangements with a range of companies. I do wonder whether there is perhaps undue prominence given to Avis et al by ensuring some of the first words any visitor to the seat of democracy for 457 million people sees is a brand name. In fairness, they do seem to provide rental information for every car hire firm in town, thus avoiding bias, but is the front door really the best place for it? And why are there no bus, train, metro and tram timetables, information about the storage of cycling helmets or carpooling rotas Sellotaped to the door?

DSC_0357 - The art of discretionEventually I wander north, intending to turn back and check if there was some big arrow on the side of the bridge between the buildings, which we'd been missing by being underneath it. No such luck, but high on a wall of a great grey tunnel I notice a small sign. Four letters, one symbol. I suppose it needs no more, but it might be nice is it were a little less unobstrusive. The aesthetics of the place are not of such a standard than it needs to be invisible from the main entrances, and even if it were not invisible, it would be illegible unless one happened to be half-man, half-SEM (and that would only work if the sign were doused in heavy metals, which might be agin some of the EP's own legislation).

Entering into the valley of the shadow of death, or possibly the world's dullest wind tunnel (even I know how design buildings so it doesn't do that, so why didn't the designers?), from deep in the gloom light emerges, beckoning us to its beacon. But, like the moth drawn to the flame, it's not the light we want, having nearly walked into the library. Further up we find somewhere with an air of a travel agents in an unadventurous town, navigating through the greatly amended entrance (I'm guessing the steps down got replaced with a wheelchair friendly ramp, and someone else discovered that because the door's halfway up the wall all the hot air escaped every time someone came into the visitor entrance, so they built an entrance hall in the middle of the room to try to stop the workers freezing, so the entire thing feels like an adult ed centre, with endless conversions stumbling over past fittings, all done with not quite enough money. Which wouldn't really be noticeable if it weren't for the sleek glass and granite combo outside and the general pretence of modernity, oh, and the overriding sensation that whoever did it originally didn't have clue what they were doing when they bloody well should have done).

Not being entirely sure who to ask as the people in front of and behind the desk all seem indistinguishable. I try catching anyone's eye, which yields mass paper sorting, burying heads in photographed sands of whichever celebrity on whichever beach in whichever magazine or someone suddenly answering a phone that hadn't rung. While I try to work out who works here, who is just a friend, and who is a visitor, and which of the above might actually know the answer, as well as debate the language to speak in and cue up the necessary words, Omega aims his best spiel at the blonde. I translate into less colonial colloquial English. Slightly disconcertingly she replies in Scandinavian English, handing him a map and pointing things out to him. The turns out to be yet another white of photocopied white A4, this time with some potato prints on which I take to be the blocked in plan of all the buildings in the complex. It has no words, symbols or key. Omega thanks her and departs as I still try to work out which bit I missed, as I'm still no clearer on what happens when and where.

It turns out the visitor entrance is on the northern edge of the parliament building, so down the side of the round building, about where you'd expect a fire escape to come out. And there is a gate to the park, but the path from the main park isn't apparent. I decide to kill time taking pictures of the place, while Omega waits inside. I'm not sure how to describe the architecture style, or styles, and the meshing of those styles, or, largely, not. My guidebook uses the words "a committee of architects" which says more than naming it after an obscure if apt French cheese [Le caprice des Dieux: the whims of the gods] ever will. Astoundingly ill-conceived is probably the most succinct description I can come up with, and even writing about it a considerable time later I still want to rant. Go and browse Flickr, but try to remember that for the most part I made the best I could from it.

I go in, wait indoors with the rest of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of the world's teeming shore and other dregs of a tedious Monday in early December. There's the probably Danish boy who will no doubt become the leader of some ghastly rightwing party in a couple of decades escorted by his proud father, and by a boil the size of Greenland on the tip of his nose. There's the Asian guy writing notes constantly in his journal, scowling at those who dare notice him, while probably etching pithicisms about the staring people. There's the two French women who arrive late, one so paranoid and defensive that she has Omega instantly calling her as a member of some parliament for the Green Party, a suggestion I find very hard to refute, because while I've never noticed it before she has the endless suspiciousness of the ardently leftwing. There's the young Mediterranean couple and the young Nordic couple, both too busy entwining to look up. there's the usual shutterhappy Asian family debating the meaning of the 'no photography' sign. There's a few more weary travellers, nationality eroded by months of doing as the Romans, several of whom seem to have lost track of whether it's Tuesday or not and so whether it must be Ljubljana or not.

To register I have to go up, present my passport (or ID card, or driving licence, or birth certificate, or gas bill, or gym membership card) to the broken-armed security guard behind the desk, who then passes it to his colleague, who then passes it to his colleague, who then passes it to his colleague... until it gets to the youngest one at the end, who gets out his Biro and writes down my name on yet another sheet of white A4, which contains no other marks except the handwritten details of everyone else in the room, and which one strongly suspects will be appropriately filed in the correct recycling box as soon as we are out of sight.

We are then all made to wait, then instructed (in French, then dire English; most of the audience listened to the English) to get up and go quickly through the security checks (at which point anyone who wanted to join the mêlée without registering could easily have done so). Then much palaver while various characters decided they are too important to take their coats off (admittedly they chose to ask mime to people individually rather than announce it to all) or to remember what bits of metal they have upon their bodies; one advantage of overzealous security in London is that one gets very used to knowing exactly what to do, except for knowing which face to pull as I smug march through the barrier (happy = I got away with it, sad = I am about to die, angry = die infidel, blank = stoned or unhinged so I'd get stopped either way). Madame le Vert is making a fuss, presumably worrying the scanner will excite her atoms (I wonder if I should explain how I can see her). I also wonder why we had to wait outside the barrier, then wait to go through it, rather than sending us through as we arrived, thereby cutting out the queue.

Anyway, we head up to collect our audio guides, and being me and thoroughly tired of my failing attempts in French being beaten by Omega's pure Oz, I bound up to a blank bit of desk, avoiding the cluster of people uncertain what they want and how to ask for it while one helper looks helplessly confused, and speaking before the guy has a chance to look away say simply "English please", while noticing his hand was already reaching for the Anglophone box. A brief "thank you", with no hint of the by now habitual following "oh, um, sorry, er, merci", as he hands it over, and I'm away before the gaggle have worked out which language they're speaking. I'm still not sure what it was about me that said 'English' before I did.

We mill briefly, then are swept into a lift, which becomes a study in nationality personal zones, as I offend half the people by standing Tube close; I can hear the clanging as someone desperately tries to back through the end of the lift. The French guide and current lift operator is not impressed with those trying to keep everyone else at arm's length, as she has to resort grabbing people and forcing them into the lift to get it nearer capacity.

DSC_0320 - Un-ist-ed LobbyEmerging onto a balcony overlooking the main foyer, the audioguide kicks in. So we stand, taking photographs, half listening to the history of the place, occasionally wondering if we need hear quite so much background information on steel trading, and so probably tuning out by the time it gets to the important bit. Apparently the sculpture in the middle, which looks like scaffolding that has met a tornado, represents the dynamism of the place and its commitment to the arts and modernity and... and it's just lumps of steel in the lobby of a steel trading organisation; presumably the coal was too hard to clean. It's about this point that I realise the curvily dull, beige carpeted land beneath me is the lobby of the European Parliament. Somehow it's hard to imagine anyone lobbying for anything down there. At which point I hear Churchill; the guide is playing Europeans making speeches, just to let us know what speeches sound like. There's no attempt to translate them or put them in context, instead they are bedding for the rest of the experience, which unfortunately isn't doing much to the sounds of "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer" (ok, maybe that prominent European leader didn't make the final cut for the guide).

And then onwards once more, this time round to wait outside the Hemicycle (the local name for the debating chamber, yet it sounds like some rare and uncomfortable Victorian version of a bike), standing by one ill-considered room and sneaking looks into others. Eventually the school group ahead of us leaves, and we go in, to listen to a monologue, again intercut with Babelists, discussing the workings of the EP (or europarl as the EP prefer to call themselves, even though it sounds ugly, is worse to actually say and doesn't get round the linguistic knots it attempts to avoid). My concentration lapses as the soundtrack is supremely dull, and being played to us in an overheated, underlit and fundamentally beige room (there is a little window in the corner allowing the suggestion of daylight). You can tell it was designed to minimize conflict and aggravation; one also suspects this helps minimise dissent and debate (the structure of the parliament pretty much bars individual action). Most worryingly of all, I run out of things to take photographs of (and that's after shooting the ventilation plate in the floor with someone's abandoned earphones caught in it).

Wow, that's incredible; I'm falling asleep now and that's just from thinking about the place. The European Parliament is Sopor City. Even Omega, the ultimate political geek, was struggling to concentrate, if not develop a strong list to port and then slump onto the floor. Other members of the group gave up entirely, with both couples curling up to doze while the omnipresent voice discusses the paperwork required for being allowed to ask one question (which is time limited, along with the response, and to which there is no follow up, oh, and the questions are circulated beforehand. It's like booking the village hall for a yoga class; as long as whatever came before clears out on time, be it a child's birthday party or an S&M kit sale, it doesn't matter what comes next).

It's quite depressing really. I wanted to go and learn things about this great institution, with which I could battle with Eurosceptic friends. Instead I became so bored I cannot think of a suitably intensifying adverb, as they all inject too much excitement. I sat for a bloody age in a monumental and monumentally flawed folly, wondering if such descriptions might also be applied to the very thing it houses. I now understand why people tend to avoid questions on whether the Commission ought have so much unelected power; if the Commission is the only part that gets anything done and comes anywhere near vaguely competent, greater democracy is not in the interests of the people (which sounds as Gallicly patriarchal as it comes).

I also found it disconcerting that the moment which created a spontaneous, unifying sensation of European solidarity was when the French Greens woman and friend decided to have a loud conversation while the commentary was still running (must be a politician; thinks her own voice is the most important thing in the room), thus barring the rest of us from hearing of the minutiae of political groupings, rousing the lovers from shared torpor (though the Mediterranean couple had woken for a fleeting kiss earlier), and generating universal concord as we all glared in pointed silence. Did bugger all, but that's not the point of joint European projects.

And then it's over, and the races of the continent stretch in unison. At which point we discover it's over over, and Laddies and Generalmen thar Caen-clues a tewer turdi. That was it? But we did nothing and we learnt nothing (if we'd been taking notes we might have concentrated more, but if I'd dropped my pen in that gloom I'd never find it again). Isn't there anything more you want to show us, want to convince us? But you haven't tried yet (have you?).

So we are hustled out, by our guide who did nothing more than make poorly some poor announcements and press two lift buttons, and who is now standing holding her carkeys. As a fillip we get to keep the earphones (and possibly nick some headphones from the chair backs, were we so inclined), which presumably is the bribe to add a feelgood vibe to the end of the visit, so making sure that we remember something positive about the place (if one doesn't think of how much it costs a year to replenish equipment).

Then down to the visitor centre, with the unmanned shop which sells the usual array of EU branded rubbers, rulers, highlighters, post-it notes, pencilcases and ashtrays (er, should the EU really be selling ashtrays? Isn't that condoning, if not promoting, smoking? Didn't they ban tobacco advertising? So, er...). While Omega tries to guess the countries woven into one guy's accent, I try to find the information packs we were told to collect on our way out. They have shelves, some with stacks of leaflets in. Unfortunately there is nothing but dust in the English section, marks in the dust in the French section, not much more in the German section, and actually very little in any section except for half stocked bit under the heading of some S language. The leaflets in the last section are impenetrable, but because there is so little available it's quite fun watching the assembled nationalities walk up to only visible pile then scan in the incomprehensible, consider taking it anyway, and the drop it back into the pigeonhole in dismay.

In the end I settle for taking stickers advertising the EP's website in 6 languages, despite only being able to recognise 2 of them (German and Dutch; I think I can guess the Polish one, but I'm not sure). It's fairly interesting comparing the messages printed on them. I'd guess the English version says:
457 million Europeans:
one address

Which of course is utterly unlike the EDF sponsored banners put up in London a few years ago, reading:

The German version has a dash:
457 Millionen
Europäer - eine Adresse

The Dutch doesn't:
457 miljoen Europeanen
op één adres

The as yet unknown (which I unthinkingly took to be Austrian) does (Google says Latvian):
457 miljoniem -
viena adrese

My contender for most likely to be Polish doesn't have one, but it also apparently cuts out the European bit:
457 milionów obywateli
pod jednym adresem

God knows 1 doesn't (Google says Saskatchewan):
457 miliónov občanov
má spoločnu adresú

God knows 2 does (I'd guess something from way up there. Google says Estonia):
457 miljonit inimest -
üks aadress

Umpteen million languages
one idea
many interpretations.

Oh, and that one address (to in the darkness bind them)? Vay vay vay punkt... Visit it now, I dare you.

All of which is about as interesting as anything related to the EP gets and about as coherent as it gets too. Even the flags come from different manufacturers, with helpful notes like "SLOVENIE" written on the hoist of the more obscure ones, all of which are displayed with a typical Belgium attentiveness to details and fondness for straight lines.

The walk into town shows us not every approach to the EP is the long way round, but the townwards doors carry the same noticeboard air as the rest; the general impression is "Not today, thank you". I think I might actually have been impressed with how much grey one town can fit into itself; it's enough to make you want to slit you wrists, but worry that in so doing you'll be adding colour to the streets and so drive the inhabitants to a black box freaking frenzy a la 2001.

DSC_0376 - Party Wall AgreementI'm also impressed with Belgian health and safety. Can you spot why I took the picture on the right? It would help if I hadn't Eschered it, but you see that stripy bit? Well, that bit is just a freestanding wall. Only it's a free standing wall six storeys up, which wasn't built as a free-standing wall* and has an unweatherproofed face exposed to the weather. Bagsy not walking underneath when it's windy. Oh wait, I did.

*Hmm, I think I'll leave that unintentional example of incredible inconsistency. As for the Get Carter carpark thing behind; it's offices and flats and looks largely abandoned, but the even better news is that there are two of them; there's a pair flanking the road.

Then along the ringroad, down to the Avenue Louise, up that (yep, I know there are shorter ways of doing that, but we didn't know that area existed), turn round in the face of police escorting various cars in and out of the hotel at the far end, where I had to rely on Omega to connect country to flag. And I'm sure the commuters of Brussels must love paths for diplomats being swept in front of them, blocking cars, halting buses and stopping trams. Annoyingly I didn't take a picture I wanted to because it was lights reflected in the blacked out windows of one of the cars half onto the forecourt of the hotel and either it contained the representative of some dictatorship, his entourage or local policemen, and so it didn't seem very wise.

Back down the other side of the road, trying to work out if it's the Belgian Oxford or Bond Street or perhaps Piccadilly, while Omega stops to buy a tart which he converted into Australian dollars after he'd started eating it, offered me a bite and we both agreed that it was very nice, which was just as well as really considering his bewilderment as he assumes he got the calculation wrong.

DSC_0396 - Padded PalaisThen back into town, towards the Palais de Justice, which is a hefty great chunk of stone surmounted by a gilded crown, the latter to remind people that while all men are equal under the law, the king is more equal than others. The entire edifice was buried in scaffolding with prayer flag strips of tarpaulin flapping frantically off it, which probably made it look better than normal.

We somehow managed to start a craze for photography with people queueing up to take shots from the same angle we'd tried. It's always disconcerting to find people looking at what the camera's pointed at and then getting out their cameras and phones.

Thus encircled we fled before we got arrested for unlawful demonstration, being tempted to run diagonally across the square in front of the palace, but realising that we'd pushed our luck crossing the tram-ridden flyover roundabout on the ringroad (I still can't get used to Belgian crossings were one has to walk as if driving and so ignoring everyone else and leaning on the horn, only without having a horn to hand. Basically step out onto a Belisha-less zebra crossing or a green pelican crossing and get ready to jump) and so we might be able to get on the huge barren island in the middle, but getting off might not be an option till the traffic-tide goes out. Instead we stood outside, admiring the iron rule of the Belgians, which obviously warps in the heat.

DSC_0395 - PatienceI did my traditional cameraing while Omega... I have no idea what he was doing, probably getting very bored, yet never complaining. Odd boy. This is where I discovered the wonders of long exposures, as the wonder on the right demonstrates; it does rather sum me up.

Then down into the old town and across to Saint Catherine's, which purports to be the Camden of Brussels, and so logically enough appeared to be sponsored by Tallinn. The merry-go-round there made me very glad my childhood was not in France as it was equal parts Tim Burton, Jean Paul Gaultier and Heath Robinson. In England the fairground rides play merry tunes; in France fairground rides play creaking, groaning, squeaking and screeching noises as they slow with increasing judders and an eventual hiss. In England the joy is movement; in France the joy is surviving.

DSC_0414 - Things that make you go 'Ooh'By this stage Omega and I have become detached, occasionally passing and greeting and begging a few minutes more. I head into the church to follow him, through the doorway that's either the ramshackle remains of the sandblasting hoarding or is meant to recreate the stable but with Jesus replaced by a begging drunk asking for gold, francs or a McDonald's. Inside to marvel at the powerful, glorifying, all pervading spirit, manifest in the floodlights streaming through every orifice, alighting on ribs and vaults, rebounding from the graven images of Russian icons. I loose track of time and Omega through playing with long shots.

Rejoining him we wend through yet another Christmas market, with Omega buying food along the way. I'm insisting I'm fine, while meaning I'm ravenous and can we please go somewhere that serves more than snack food. Omega seems to be sufficing himself and I settle for nicking half his mayonnaised chips. And while standing round indecisively we managed to decide to not bother with the Ferris Wheel (ok, we just about decided to be silly and go on it by the time it started raining), that ice skating with rucksack was not a good idea and that leaving them on a bench instead was an even worse one, and that proper cutleried food at some point might be good idea as breakfast was a roll at lunch time, we'd scarcely eaten the day before and we were both cold and tired. Not bad for standing around not getting anything done.

So we headed off into some side street, finding old tracks in the road. Omega thinks one way tram loop, I shrug Gallicly, before belatedly remembering where else I've seen tracks like that. Research confirms it. The square with market used to be a dock and the tracks run from warehouses to the wharf.

At the end of the street Omega opines on Flemish architecture, before I point out that the unduly baroque church could just as easily, if not more easily, fit into some Spanish or Italian town. I'll concede the curlicued gables next door are unrelentingly Dutch (and thereby Flemish) but the church was an import.

We stumble under a sonorous monster icy cold, slain beneath the walls of the town, itself ensnared by a hotel whose residents are kept awake by the death rattled beast. No, really, we did.

At which point we thought that the world was odd enough without hallucinations and so we sought out some decent food, indecision shuttling us through the many priced warp. With a ban on Italian (it's not just the churches they import wholesale), dubiousness about the laminated photographs of the kebabages, and lack of anything else, we drift into somewhere Thai. Omega seems surprised that I would have encounter Thai food and would know if I liked it. I ignore the implications of this and shush him by pointing out the set menu, which is reasonable value even if replaced with an unlisted purely vegetarian version (he's such an odd boy; it's not like any of it is going to have much meat in anyway).

So I tried not fall asleep on a structurally unsound, pointily gold dragon, Omega eavesdropped on the proto-couple next door (he a Eurocrat, he a newly arrived translator), we discussed the blanched efficiency of the soup, and I failed in two languages to convey the concept of tap water (what is it in Vietnamese? Yep, I think it was part of the same process that sees fish and chip shops owned by Chinese or Polish people and Greek tapas bars, which is usually a good, if confusing, thing). I've no idea what the name of the place was, but they have very nice prawn crackers (carefully served to be snacked upon while perusing the menu and thus guilt tripping people into buying something) and huge candle outside which would have put both of us off had it been there when we arrived.

And then we headed back through the wet streets to hotel, with occasional photography breaks, which once again consisted of Omega trying not to look irritated and impatient, eventually dragging me to somewhere warm and dry.

On Tuesday came the trip to Brugge that we'd failed to organise so far (at some point the day before we went to find out details of train times and costs, where I was scuppered by the complete absence of any timetables anywhere in what is effectively Belgium's Waterloo, or Victoria, or Paddington or any of the northern stations. the only thing I could find was something were one looked up the day and time of travel and then read where one could get to at that time. I also found a machine to buy tickets in advance to work out the price, but I couldn't find anything defining peak times, surcharges and advance and group booking discounts. Omega of course went to the travel lounge advice section and discovered the trains run every hour [or perhaps half hour; like clockwork anyway], you can get it from any of the main stations, and the price is about twenty euros return whenever you buy it and whenever you travel. Sometimes not having to turn thrice widdershins in the hope of getting a Supa-Network-Bronze-Advance-Discount-Sava which allows you catch one train, change to platform nine and three-quarters and catch another only when the moon is fat can be quite nice, especially when a guard emerges to tell you that under the Defra Satellite rules your ticket is valid only for the static parts of the journey; why does rail travel in Britain often make one feel like a token in some game of the Gods, which applies the bankruptcy rate of Monopoly with the rules of Mornington Crescent).

So after grabbing sandwich in the station from a complete misery guts who refused to understand my French (look, I know how to order a sandwich; it's one thing we practice for years), choosing to correct me to tell me the unappetising, slightly too pink rectangles were called "harm-bone" rather than that j meets z meets sh word which I have no hope of typing phonetically (next time I'll call pronounce it as in jelly). He then proceeded to up his prices because he was annoyed, justifying this with a tirade that simply didn't add up (three twenties do not make seventy five). Unfortunately we had a train to catch and I was to tired to tell him to stick the baguette back where its contents came from.

I have no idea why, but my French, which sounds like it does on their television channels, invariably ran aground whenever I tried using it, yet Omega breezed through with accented English. But the guy in the station spoke like a Marseillais undergoing dental surgery.

Hmm, can you tell I was planning on getting lunch once we got to Brugge and so was disappointed to find myself railroaded into making doing at a station, where the offerings are no better than those in stations back home (I didn't see if the place was called L'Arbre Limon)?

DSC_0446 - Pattern LookAnyway, we scurried off catch the train, finding ourselves waiting in the nineteen thirties, only with ailing paint and the infectious grey that spreads over Belgian buildings, which contrasted with the new glass boxes beyond the far platform. Belgian trains are also quite odd. The platforms are comparatively low, so the trains come with steps which hiss down beneath the doors as the train halts. But then I find overhead wires an ugly novelty, which only reflects which side of London one was born. Basically, as in much else, the Belgians do things differently.

Onto the disturbing neat and oddly spacious train. Omega settled down with the Guardian and the Economist, whereas I took the highbrow option of staring out the window for most of the way, which works really well when one heads south from Brussels North (or BRU. NO<O>RD as everything calls it) and so enters a tunnel within minutes, trundling through dim, forgotten and abandoned stations which occasionally shock with people.

Of course, not even I can take the Belgian landscape solidly for an hour (the land is so flat it even overrides the curvature of the Earth), instead dipping into whatever Omega is not reading, trying to ignore the swaying cause by the wind, and eventually making a break for the loo only to discover the light must be broken because it's locked, so I try the other one, but that's engaged too, so I loiter trying to here movement, wondering if I should check the indicator again, at which point I look up and Omega is advancing down the aisle to relay the information from the elderly French gentleman opposite that one has to give the door "a jolly good yank". I try and it works, as it's another of those doors where the pull-style handle flexes to release the catch rather than the more normal giving slightly before coming away in your hands. By this stage the train is swaying so much that I half expect to have to pump out the bowl halfway through to prevent it overflowing (whoever designs loos on yachts does not take into account the degree of heel or bladder size).

DSC_0454 - VelomerSo after an hour we arrive (and we'd been through Ghent at the midpoint), alighting to look out over a sea of bikes which we later discovered was the overflow parking. Heading into town, with much photography along the way, we manage to walk in circles, repeatedly. The enduringly grey but flexibly wet rain combined with a landscape scrubbed and sandblasted free of all age and context aren't quite exciting enough. It may be magnifique, but it's also bloody boring if it means nothing and the person you are with is stopping to take photographs of everything and then complaining that none of them are good (yes, I do mean me, sorry Omega), at which point a noticeably less sanguine Omega suggests hiring bikes, I'm not exactly keen but beginning to realise that there's only so much small masonry I can unthinkingly absorb before I start asking questions to which I have no answer. As someone who grew up in Tweeton, I am acutely aware of the sustaining ability of twee: nil.

After begging a few more photographs where I find the only epiphytes in town, and yet another bloody bridge, I admit defeat, packing the camera on the way to the bike shop. Filling in forms with driving licence details, I debate whether we'll last an hour when Omega opts for four. Oh, right, ok then.

Out into the street and it's apparent Omega cycles to work and I failed my cycling proficiency (there was a dustcart backing into the street which they were halfway through resurfacing. Yes, I know this makes me unique as the only person in the country to have failed, but I didn't fall off; but I should apparently have maintained my signal while making use of my right of way). And I am following him, and so have to overcompensate for everything because I've no idea what he was about to do. So when he brakes, I have to brake harder to avoid hitting him, then accelerate faster to keep up, I have to steer a different course in case he sees something and stops once again which means when he swings round a corner I can't take the same line so either swing blindly into the outside the bend, skid to near enough the same place or come to a standstill waiting for the traffic to clear enough for me to pull out. I can't ride in front of him because he just disappears, wordlessly.

Eventually he stops to wait for me and I get through to him that signals might be considered polite. And then it's easier but I'm still acting like a trailer hooked up with a spring, flailing along behind him, messing up the gears, struggling to find the right amount of zip to allow me to cool but not get drenched nor converted into a kite and where to position my rucksack to stop it ignoring any change of speed of direction (and how did I end up being the one with the rucksack?).

Of course by the time I get used to it we've run out of town and are watching a barge with car on the roof come up into a lock beneath a raised bridge, the rain's become thicker now that we're out of the lee of buildings and Omega wants to take the bikes back. I find us shelter while the worst passes and then veto the giving up idea by riding off down the towpath.

DSC_0489 - Henrietta's BridgeWe give up all pretence of looking at the place beyond just as a passing blur, so we bat round town, dropping down a gear for the cobbles, ignoring signs because they all give exceptions for bikes (even if I did think the Flemish word for 'except' meant 'bikes' thanks to bilingualism) and generally behaving like lunatic tourists on hired bikes because that's what everyone expects and so in Brugge one ends up with everyone else giving way. Cycling when the local interpretation of a hill is Henrietta's bridge and there are no bendy buses to worry about and everyone slows and there are no designated cycle lanes in the gap of the double-yellows is actually nice. It's like being a child again, running over the tar that melts in the sun, flitting round the new road that wasn't a road and wasn't new, spinning round new and empty office car parks, pelting along long flat old roads when far fewer people lived on them and few had cars or anywhere to go on a Sunday. It was cycling when you don't have anywhere to be in three minutes and the traffic isn't forcing you onto tracks beyond the range of all sane gears. It's cycling fast because one can and slowly because one wants to, not because the lorry behind is trying to leave a Volvo imprint in your elbow or the women with pushchairs haven't learnt what those little symbols painted on the separated tracks mean.

Eventually when we've discovered that even dual carriageway ring roads are a joy to ride round over there and we've found the mammoth tourist office selling maps by the treacherous paving (it's all right, I'm sure it doesn't rain that much in Brugge, so it won't be wet the whole time) and then realised that we've down nearly every street in the old town, Omega the urban planning geek heads out to find what Belgian suburbs look like and so we pass off the edge of the new bought map.

That little jaunt taught us that though the styles may be different, towns don't vary all that much and end in the same slight confusion across all continents. But it was not touristy which was good. On the way back we cut across a field and down a muddy track, or rather I suggest going back that way and Omega wavers because it's muddy and the bikes don't have mudguards, at which point I realised it's the second time I've got him muddy (the first was Wetporth) and he really doesn't like it. I try pointing out that we're sodden already so in effect we're already soaking the marks out, but it doesn't seem to sway him, so I tell him to avoid the puddles and cycle on, coaxing him on behind me, past the private property sign and down into a road which showed that parents collecting school children in 4x4s are a liability across the globe.

By the swimming pool Omega turns the wrong way, but I assume his innate sense of direction has found a new shortcut. Instead we run out of houses and come out onto a huge junction without much idea of where any of the signs point to. But taking a dual carriageway with separate bike path back to the left, nearly parallel to the road we where just on feels right, taking us ceaselessly towards and unseen destination. Or it would if the Merc pulling out the carpet warehouse and sitting in the space between the path and the road had used its handbrake and not rolled back between Omega and me, causing me to think I can hop onto the pavement and survive this rather than plough into the polished black boot.

It didn't quite work like that. The front wheel was too oblique to the kerb and scrapped down it while the back wheel tried to go up it, which it sort of did till my weight which had been aimed at an angle dragged the top of the bike over the pavement while the front wheel hovered in the cycle lane and the back wheel popped down to rejoin it, meaning there is now a me shaped hole in some anti-everything shrubs beside what looked like the boulevard of broken dreams. I got up, cursed myself, the bike, the rain and the Merc which had now driven off (the car behind which gave me no choice but the pavement at least didn't move until I moved on, though they didn't get out to help either - but it was raining) and wondered what was most damaged, although I was more concerned about my trousers (which survived only slightly stretched) than the leg underneath.

But other than the Merc, I like bike lanes, especially when everyone else remembers I have right of way, even if I kept expecting them to pull out and thanking them for not.

DSC_0496 - A night on the tilesEventually Omega noticed I was missing and as I approach the distant figure he rode back to greet me. And so back a bit more sedately into town, with me somehow leading the way because his sense of direction had closed for night (follow the bus), and then back to the cycle shop about three quarters of an hour early, where I got the impression we were the last people back. Then a wander in the Christmas market to find food, settling on the local version of panhagglety and then onwards to buy chocolates to test then chocolates to give and to keep realising too late that we only tested the dark chocolates in the shop and forgot to ask for a selection free from white and pink monstrosities (I've only just finished them even though the flavours had long leached into the neighbours resulting in a uniform if faint nutmeg, coffee, cherry, hazelnut and miscellaneous liqueur taste except for the very last one; the nice dark one I'd been saving turned out to banana. But when they were fresh they were nice, but I've forgotten the name of the shop; female-apostrophe-ess on the road between squares).

Omega sought out the only loo in town while I played with my camera, feeling tired and endlessly wet. Then once I realised that not only had his sense of direction shut down but he was getting too far gone to read a map and his hands were too cold to fold it, I let him guide me to a pub, where I discovered that either beer's suddenly become palatable or the Belgians make it differently and we decided that there's only so much of a weird vibe one bar can put out before the tourists in it leave it empty again on the heels of the insulted locals (we were going to eat there, but it didn't entice). Instead we headed into town for find a more welcoming establishment, except he couldn't decide on one, instead distracting himself with food menus, which is how we came to be having lasagne vegetariene and lasange just normal (where the not normal one looked nicer and bigger) while continuing to sample the local beers. It's very odd when beers don't come in pints or unspeakable halves and there appears to be no fixed standard volume for what makes a beer.

Thus replenished and refortified we enter the night, wandering the abandoned streets, past unusual furniture lifts to play with cameras in the darkness, before the rain once more got harder and we thought 'sod this' and got the train back.

I've still got his map, slightly eroded, taken from his hands once he'd lost the use of them and was mashing the folds helplessly, even though I've no idea where most of it was. I get as far as looking at the pictures and knowing it was beside a canal somewhere, which doesn't narrow it down much.

DSC_0554 - Ray of LightArriving back in Brussels North (I like this pick-a-station-any-station model) I play in the sleek night amongst the blue blaze of buildings, camera ever busy, Omega drunk enough to be doing the same. Up towards the hotel, the world blurring under the influence of drink and rain and 30 second exposures, while Omega keeps popping off to shop.

Getting back to the hotel, shedding damp clothing as soon as the door shuts, the odd shapes slumped over chairs, door handles and the shower rail all lacquered in Belgian grey. Omega is still hunting and now hungry again, so dulls up to head back out to complete his quest, while I lay idly watching whatever happens to be on, while trying not to revert to the BBC (Sunday night in Brussels: watched Planet Earth. Monday night in Brussels: watched University Challenge and the awful choir thing with the LSO's delightfully cute Gareth Malone. Would probably have put Radio 4 on if the radio worked). Which means I see half an dire French film set on a cruise ship, a bit of documentary on the la plus grande A380 and after that it's all blur because I get the thing stuck on some Flemish channel and keep falling asleep while trying very hard not to.

Omega returns with beer and crisps and nothing more because certain things cannot be bought in one horse countries, while I pretend I wasn't really asleep. And so we drink beer or rather Omega announces the first to be vile and so quaffs it while I struggle not to spit it across the room, making little headway with my own bottle as Omega plough through his bottle of the good stuff and then mine, all the while eating flakes of flint stained with rust and flecked with verdigris. The beer has revived him and so Omega settles into vast loquaciousness on grand truths while I falteringly retain conciousness, eventually succumbing to warm nothingness in the smell of wet hair and the beguiling deep rumbles.

DSC_0563 - Deep-seated urban decayAnd lo, there was light, and a great void beside me and the consternation of waking up in the wrong bed. Eventually Omega rose and eventually we packed and eventually we checked backs of drawers and under the beds and eventually took our luggage downstairs, into the cacophony in smoke and mirrors where Omega sorted out the bill (we'd caused chaos by staying an extra night in Brussels rather than Brugge or Ghent), and eventually were allowed to stow into in their scabby little room and eventually left the building, heading into a missed enclave between the two main routes into town, where we found desolation, despair, decay and dog's muck on Le Place des Martyrs which from the plaques seems to the local Whitehall.

DSC_0570 - Nice lightOnwards, into a town transformed by sun, lunching on mispronounced quiche in our return to the Galleries St Hubert's Vaudeville, complete with darkly Buttoned DIY hot chocolate, the arcade lit by cream, milling Omega shops for a souvenir (which my dictionary has just informed me is Australian slang for 'to purloin'). A final wander round the last-huzzahing town, before returning to the hotel, bagging up, onwards to BRU. NO<O>RD, thence Zuid-Midi where the ever-postcarding Omega (never encourage one's friends to compare numbers of postcards gained) tries to find a post-box while I worry about time because the station's so damned long and I'm not sure we're on the right floor (judging by the his attempts to make Waterloo on the way over when he thought the train left forty minutes before I thought it did, I'd guess he has higher tolerances and greater faith than me). Omega is swept aside unseen in customs leaving me with a vision of his feet beneath a screen, in a move reminiscent of a friend discovering too late the low credit on their Oyster, where he is kept an age, but it turns that was only because he writes slowly, his wrong coloured passport requiring a form.

And then we're on the train, trying not laugh at the fools who bought chocolates from the most expensive shop in town and are now parading the bag, while I am mongoosing to fetch and stow various items and Omega attempts to make me shriek, laugh or just blush. I comment on a solitary paragraph in the Economist which turns out to have been the biggest Government-rocking news story of the year in Australia and thus distracted we loose continental Europe. Somewhere under the Channel Omega tries to teach me to use an iPod which I just about get sorted by Brixton, only to discover he has very little music on it, and most of what I recognise is stuff I've sent him.

Suddenly it's "oh, look at the time" before realising I recognise that big stupid clock. And we emerge into a rushhoured Waterloo, where the rapturous crowds and soaring fanfare appear to fallen victim to engineering works. Into the night, to Westminster, to Victoria (I'd forgotten how far it was), beyond to one hostelry with no room at the inn, and then another, Omega trying to convince the Polish proprietress that passports not names make nationality, while I loiter with intent not to fall over on the over side of the road. His re-emergence signals my rehefting, back to Victoria, Tube northwards*, ready for an Orange Wednesday of cheap food and a cheap film, except we arrive late and stick with just dinner, having my standards at the usual restaurant while wondering if the product of Mao's China has put its prices up or if never usually paying means I never notice. Or perhaps it's noticing that everything is the same price as it was in euros** in Brussels, only with a different symbol.

* Belatedly changed. Mentioning a standing if lapsed engagement (other factors permitting) at a certain restaurant in a certain place on a certain day at a vaguely certain time probably isn't the best thing to broadcast. Though regular readers probably have gleaned enough elsewhere to figure it out, and if you're fool enough to have read the whole blog then you probably have a right to stalk.
** MQ, I know, but did remove the capitalisation and I just can't say it without the ess, but look, I've left all-European looking with that -os not -oes spelling, isn't that enough for you?

DSC_0726 - S. FoyA nostalgic bus took us back south, where... sorry, once again I can't remember the order things happened. There was a not-really-me bar where they searched our bags on the way in (which given mine was full of dirty washing, boxes of chocolates and souvenired shower gel, must have proved interesting for the doorman). There was trying to show Omega the wonder that is Foyles, but it was shut as were all the others except Borders, where I found myself sitting on the floor while Omega decided to flick through books with bad titles and worse covers drunkenly deciding I need educational presents. By this time I'd lost the strength to argue or realise I'd grossly misinterpreted the words "Graphic Fiction".

Then back down towards the river, a becalmed parting at the base of the upriver Hungerford and an explanation of the difference between Charing Cross and Embankment. And that was it. I hurried flaggingly to get a train I then missed, too tired to tell tourists to turn their flashes off, standing morosely in Waterloo till the next one, the last one. Then the phone call, the lift, the chat, the sleep and back to the oblivion of life.


The earlier travels with Omega:
Phew, you're lucky I caught that footnote aimed at me, since after about 15 paragraphs I'd decided I probably would never manage to wade through all of it, but at least it looked like you'd had a nice time, so I'd flick(r) through your photos and move on. But I did scroll down to the bottom in the process (mainly to establish just how awesomely long it was and not feel bad about aborting), and my eyes never miss an MQ!

Anyway, so yes, it'll do. Informally, "euros" is acceptable. But only for people who aren't pedantic or perfectionists. Fortunately you are neither.

...I mean, both. Hmmm.
How much time do you think I have?! I'll try to read this one later.
Why shouldn't the EU sell ashtrays? They promote the extinguishing of cigarettes.
Good grief, this is the longest post I have EVER read. Well done.
And it was only two months late.

Hmm, if you've resorted to reading this the birthday thing has not been going well I take it?
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