Sunday, 20 December 2009

Driving in Belgian snow....

One of the joys of living in Belgium (yes - there are some) is the ease with which one can reach other countries. Coming from an Island, its something that has really changed my life. I've driven all over the place - if you never drove through the Alps, its a must, believe me!

One of my favourite pastimes is camping, and I am particularly fond of the Ardennes. In fact, I just got back from there. This trip was always going to be a challenge - it is bloody cold. I wasn't quite ready to find my tent half buried in snow when I woke up a few days ago, but it was a pleasant surprise. Taking the tent down at -7 degrees was also a bit of a challenge, but I managed it without losing fingers.

The drive back was "interesting..."

The French had managed to get even the side roads realtively clear before lunchtime, but crossing the border in Belgium, the story was, predictably, different. OK, I was ready for it. What I wasn't ready for was what I found on the E19 motorway.

The road was cleared and salted, and traffic was moving at about 100kph. Suddenly I could see ahead of me where the snowplough had turned off into a side-road.... Suddenly I went from a clean road to black ice and 3 foot snow drifts. The Belgian drivers around me seemed not to notice, and carried on chatting into their mobiles, lighting cigars, and swigging beer. My heart actually stopped for a few moments, until the Belgian driving 3 inches behind me, as is the custom here, started flashing his lights and waving at me.

Forget Italians, Egyptians, and Russians - when it comes to driving, Belgians are the world's biggest twats.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Belgian postal service...

I’m not very enthusiastic about tax. I personally think it morally questionable that I should have my hard earned income taken away from me and used in ways I strongly disapprove of. In my part of London, only 20% of households pay council tax, the rest are dependent on benefits - my bloody taxes, in other words.
I was delighted to receive a tax demand from the Belgian authorities, however: It is for the princely sum of zero. I approve of this, and so I won’t be challenging it. I did have another reason to contact them, however, and that is where the problem begins…

I had to send a registered letter. Nothing heavy, one sheet of paper inside an envelope. This cost me €5,19 - that’s almost five quid to post a letter! I shouldn’t have needed to post the letter, which is what makes me really mad - I tried to e-mail them, but neither of the two e-mail addresses given on their letter to me actually works. A bit like Belgium itself, in fact. Duff. Dud. Defective. Unavailable on Monday mornings, Friday afternoons, public holidays, bridging days, or for three hours either side of lunchtime.
Five quid for a bloody letter…

Another day - another scandal.

Peter Mandleson is in the news again…. There is some speculation as to how he has funded the £2.5 million purchase of a villa in London’s Regents Park. Calculations suggest a shortfall of up to £400,000 in the peer’s worth, and the price paid. This is not the first time such a mystery has arisen, of course!

We can only speculate on this, of course, but just for your interest £400k works out at 18,299,119.72 Russian rubles.

How not to run a country - Part 2

I’m hoping that somebody might explain something to me.

If it has snowed, and folks are slipping all over the pavements, why is it necessary for the one Belgian who actually made it into work before lunchtime to chip sheepishly away at snow covering grass 18 inches away from the pavement? Do they have grit and salt? Maybe they are waiting for the paperwork to be processed, allowing for snow clearance, in which case we can expect work to begin in early July.

This morning, two headlines grabbed my attention: the first concerned a woman who murdered her husband by setting fire to his penis, the second stated that “Belgian MPs back their new government”. I’m not sure which is the least believable. The BBC website refers to the new Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy, as “an old style Belgian politician”. This can mean either one of two things: either he is stupid, or he is permanantly drunk. Either way, we can safely assume that this means he won’t show up for work on Mondays, Fridays, or any day that sits adjacent to a public holiday.

I once had an appointment with a Belgian police officer. I turned up only to be told “He is not here today, he had to go to a funeral yesterday”. After no less than 6 attempts to meet with this muppet, I learned that he had returned all my paperwork to the town hall as I “had not turned up”. Perhaps, when we made the initial appointment, I should have double checked with him that he actually wanted me to go to his office, and not some local bar.

Belgium: if it didn’t exist, you wouldn’t want to make it up.

How not to run a country - part 1

I find myself in a bit of a pickle with the Belgian Federal Tax Authorities. They are chasing me for my tax returns for 2007, and threatening me with a large fine if I don’t obey orders. I am not impressed with this, as I was an employee, paying the Belgian equivelant of PAYE - to the Federal Tax Authorities - at the time. So, obviously unable to cross reference (the Germans forgot to show them how to do that) they want me to provide a certificate to prove I was employed, and thus paid them tax. This is where it gets really good.
I was, at that time, an employee of an EU institution. They could give me a certificate, in theory, but there is a problem. The office that gives such certificates to employees cannot help me, as I am not now an employee. The offices that deal with people in my predicament cannot help, as they do not deal with employees, and the problem relates to the time when I was, indeed, an employee.

I tried to call Luxembourg, where all bucks eventually seem to stop. I got a voicemail message that said “We are sorry we cannot answer your call. All our employees are cruising the Pacific Islands with the Socialist Anti-Poverty Action Group. On our return we are scheduled to take 6 weeks sick leave. We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a merry Christmas, and a prosperous 2005″
Tax in Belgium is high. One would like to think the money will be spent on a better filing system, but I suspect that might not be the case. Some investment is also required in the roads and pavements of Brussels. It has been so long since Place de Luxembourg (in front of the European Parliament) has been ploughed, that some paving stones have been trodden down, and are actually level and flush. No doubt this will be rectified as soon as the paperwork is stamped in triplicate.

I did visit the office for paving slabs, which occupies 18 floors at the Ministry of Unecessary Paperwork, on the corner of Boulevard de héros de Waloonian SS and Rue de la Merde, to complain. Being a Monday, it was closed.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest!