Monday, 19 December 2011

Drunk, or just stupid?

A friend thankfully survived a horrific car crash two weeks ago with minor injuries. Sitting at a red traffic light near to Zaventum airport, a drunk ploughed into the back of his car at 130kph. His car pretty much disintegrated.

There is no social stigma attached to drink-driving in Belgium, and it is a huge problem. Even as a pedestrian I have had a couple of terrifying moments here. But it is not just drink - Belgian drivers are, generally, ignorant, selfish, and of dubious competence. Coupled with roads that the Congolese would be ashamed of, its a dangerous mix.

Driving back from France a few days ago we encountered seriously heavy rain. Most Belgian motorways are made of concrete, and it would appear that no thought at all was given to surface water drainage when they were 'designed'. Potholes abound, and the motorway lights don't, for the most part, work.

In these conditions I found myself about 10 yards behind a transit van, at about 80kph, a lorry to my right throwing up water, and visibility virtually nil. Its not nice, I can assure you.

And so then I encountered an example of Belgian driving at its most typical. The frantic flashing of lights behind me told me that one of these morons desperately needed to get past me in a hurry. Now there is nothing I enjoy more than having some insignificant little gobshite trying to intimidate me. 'Being intimidated' is not something I do well, and so I treated him with the contempt he deserved and flicked up my mirror. It was neither the time or place for slowing him down further and inviting him to join me on the hard shoulder for a knuckle sandwich.

When the van and I cleared the lorry, needless to say our tailgater promptly overtook us on the inside before disappearing in a cloud of spray.

Belgium has a higher rate of road fatalities per capita than even Portugal - and anybody who has driven on the motorways there will know how special an experience that can be. Eastern European countries also fare badly, but it is interesting to note which are the countries with the lowest rates - the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands. I probably do not need to speculate on why that might be.

The lowest of all fatality rates is in Malta. It is hard to crash a donkey, I guess.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Graham Booth

I was genuinely saddened to learn of the passing of the former South West MEP Graham Booth this week.

I shared offices with Graham in Brussels for about 3 years, I always enjoyed his company, and especially his politically incorrect sense of humour. He was very popular with staff, and I well remember the afternoon when we held a surprise birthday party for him. In those days we were a close-knit team, and there was a real sense of comraderie which I miss.

We didn't always see eye to eye - Graham was an avowed climate change denier, his position being based on a CSE in astronomy. I loved to wind him up on the subject, but his position was unshakable.

When the Royal British Legion in Brussels was struggling with membership and calling for numbers in order to keep the branch open, Graham was one of the first two MEPs to sign up, the other being Tom Wise.

Sadly, things went wrong during his final months in Brussels. I was disappointed to receive a phone call from a UKIP branch official in the South West informing me that Graham was calling around telling everybody that I and two other staffers were MI5 agents. I don't hold it against him, I know exactly from where these bilious lies emanated.

Graham put a lot into UKIP, in financial terms and also in terms of his personal time and energy. He was absolutely committed to the cause of British independence. His retirement was cut short, but knowing Graham, I suspect he enjoyed every minute of it!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

My Own Personal Gulag.

I had an hour to kill before a meeting so I took a stroll along Chausee de Wavre in search of a bit of breakfast. This is not easy to find in Brussels, as these guys have no idea of what a real breakfast is.

I dream of sitting down at the Lion's Den cafe, just around the corner from the Den in Bermondsey. I love the bustle, the light-hearted banter, the endless speculation about David Beckham's left foot - and the bacon and eggs go down a treat too.

In Brussels it is different. Stunted men, dressed in mustard coloured suits and sporting strange facial hair, sit silently staring at the wall. There is no banter here. Breakfast consists of various forms of bread, none of which I like. Croissants are, I have to say, ghastly.

Anyway, needing a bite, I bought a pain saucisse. This slightly resembles a sausage roll. It can be eaten cold, which is awful as these things are very greasy. Having it hot means microwaved so that the pastry goes all soggy. Either way, it is not nice. I had one anyway and threw half of it away and wished I were back in the real world.

So next time you sit down to a good fry-up, think of me.