Sunday, 25 July 2010

A truly Belgian experience!

Belgium has its own chain of fast food restaurants, rather oddly named "Quick".

"Slow" might be more appropriate. "Incompetant and gungy" might be even better, although perhaps simply "Belgian" might give the customer an indication of what to expect.

I visited, for the third (and certainly last) time today their store at 329 Route de Phillippevile, Couillet. Its just outside Charleroi, where the airport is.

It opens at 10am. The first time I visited (at 10:05) a couple of years ago, the staff where all having a smoke in the kitchen, and would not speak to me. After 5 minutes I gave up and left. The second time I visited, I got served but  my fries were cold, and the box contained the wrong burger. Today, The fries were, as expected, cold, and I was told to wait 5 minutes for my burger. After 10 minutes, and after barging past a queue, I eventually got my burger. I didn't enjoy it very much. This is absolutely normal, and the biggest queue of people in any Belgian burger bar is the one of people holding a tray of fries and soft drink, waiting for their burgers

I was stranded in Thionville in France once, because of snow. Leaving my "motel" I tried to find food. I found a Quick. The sign on the door advised me of the opening time,  but 10 minutes later the doors were still locked. They opened 15 minutes after my arrival - 25 minutes after the stated opening time. They were not, however, selling any food at all, and in fact the girl who was taking my order was unable to explain what they did actually have to offer.

Another Belgian burger anecdote: A teenager of my aquaintance ordered some food at a McDonalds outlet, and of course the burger was not ready. "It will be 5 minutes", he was told.

After 10 minutes, and in the Belge tradition, he went in search of his burger, and the following conversation took place...

Teenager "Can I have my burger now, please?"

Staff  "Its not my problem, I didn't take your order. Who did?" 

Teenager "I can't see her"

Staff  "What was her name?"

Teenager "I don't know..." 

Staff  "Then you are stupid, aren't you?"

Teenager "You call me stupid, but its you that ended up working in a burger bar!"

I will end with another Quick story. It was a Sunday afternoon another Quick store in Brussels. Someone had spilled a trail of soft drink across the width of the restaurant. A staff member spent about 10 minutes folding tissues and laying them in a long line along the length of the spill. I wondered why she didn't use the mop standing in a bucket behind the till...

Burger King deserve a mention too, of course!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Lunchtime with Andrea Bocelli

Today was special.

This lunchtime, in the European Parliament, we had a presentation by the office of the Mayor of Rome. It was no ordinary presentation.... after a screening of a short film by Franco Zaferreli, we were honoured with a recital by Andrea Bocelli. Really - Bocelli, in the flesh, and as brilliant as you could ever imagine.

I even forgot about my anger at having my pocket picked by scumbags (4th time - same scumbags) yesterday.

I saw some impressive performances in my time - I was personally honoured to be able to arrange a concert in the Parliament myself last year, by the superb Ukrainian pianist Dmytro Sukhovienko (  ) - but this was the first time I saw Bocelli. Absolutely superb!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

WW1 project - a worthy endeavour from VRT

I had dinner with a Belgian policeman a little while ago - he is a nice guy, and it was very interesting. The Belgian plod are generally very good, and they do concentrate on dealing with crime, unlike the British police who seem to exist for the sole purposes of policing bus lanes, and harrassing drivers on motorways. (Having said that, I was actually threatened with arrest for jaywalking in Brussels a couple of months ago. The fact that I could not stop laughing at being chastised by a policeman clutching 2 bags of groceries, and the stupidity of having to wait for a green man at a time when there was no traffic on the road, probably did not weigh in my favour. But I got away with a warning.)

My policeman chum was bit cynical about my knowledge of Flanders, and was trying to wind me up, albeit in a friendly way. "I bet you never heard of Flanders until you came here.." he suggested. I assured him that I had, but he didn't really believe me. "I know about England, but what do you know about Flanders?" he asked with a sneer.

The British resolve slipped a tad at this point...

"My Great-Grandfather is buried in Flanders" I told him. "Unlike some I could mention, he fought and died for Belgium, and it wasn't even his country"

It was the ultimate  shut the f*ck up moment.

Although they didn't really take part in it themselves, the Belgians are very respectful about the victims of the Great War - probably more so than younger generations of Brits are. The Belgian broadcaster VRT is running an interesting project, and I think it might be worth bookmarking and following, as it provides the opportunity for folk with first-hand experiences to post thier thoughts. There will be sadly few of those, but I suspect they will be fascinating, and worth preserving.

Find it here....

Hail to Global Warming!

It hit 37 degrees in Brussels yesterday. Then in the evening we were treated to a truly spectacular event.... rain so heavy that it looked like fog - visibility was about 6 feet, and that is no exaggeration. Then the hail storm began, accompanied by thunder and lightning - it was marvellous!

My work brings me into contact with about half the world's climate change deniers. These are largely poorly informed people who collectively regurgitate the same few dodgy interpretations of "evidence" over and over again. "Global warming must be a lie - this chart I found on the internet shows clearly that Chipping Norton had its coldest afternoon ever on April 5th 2008" is the sort of nonsense we get to hear. Again, and again, and again...

I never once met a denier who had any kind of academic background in the subject. Funny that...

Environmentalism is not my main subject, although I did go back to Uni not so long ago to study international environmental policy. I found that every committee in the European Parliament has to factor environmental concerns into its policy-making processes, and I needed to gain a greater understanding of the subject. I also discovered very quickly that it is a fascinating and rewarding subject to study. One of the basics of environmental science is that rising temperatures lead to increased precipitation. Its a fact that is almost as absolute as the existence of gravity, and it explains why we are experiencing so many extreme weather events at the moment.

It also explains last night's mid-July hailstorm. Armageddon, it seems, will be spectacular!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Belgium: you have to love it (or the police will be round).

For almost 2 weeks there has been some construction work taking place outside the European Parliament. A stage is being constructed for a concert tonight, which will celebrate the start of the Belgian Presidency of the EU.

!.2 million euros is being spent on this. About 3 miles away, Boulevard General Jaques, a main arterial route, is closed off. The road, you see, has collapsed into the sewers. This is not uncommon in Brussels. The roads are pot-holed and inadequate, but Belgium is teetering on the verge of national bankruptcy with its defecit now approaching 100% of GDP. But there is always money available for the state to tell the people how good everything is, and so that is why we have a concert.

The local businesses are not best pleased about this.

Place de Luxembourg, outside the Parliament, is the centre of social life in the district. It is particularly busy at this time because of the World Cup, which draws customers to the bars.

On Wednesday, the 10 bar owners in "The Square", as it is known, received instructions to clear their terraces of tables and chairs for the day. This is a mammoth task, as most tables are outside. They are also under orders not to have any television screens visible from the street, lest they distract the revellers at this expensive "Isn't Belgium Great" spectacle.

One owner told me that he will have to lay off 6 waiting staff tonight - all students who probably need the money. Non-compliance with this order will result in "police action".

There will be trapeze artists, a light show, dancers, and fireworks.

Amusingly, it is pouring in Brussels as I write, and the forecast is for more of the same.

Such a pity!