Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Brussels Tale.....

Brussels is the only capital city I have ever come across where at rush hour people commute out of the centre. I never saw that before. I share this experience daily, as I take my son to school on the metro, and his school is on the outskirts. Its never enjoyable, but the trip back into the centre is more peaceful, and I can always get a seat.

This morning we piled onto the metro, which was absolutely packed. Getting on board was made even more difficult as some stupid cow had her pushbike in the aisle. Bikes are actually banned on public transport during rush hour, but in Belgium, rules only apply to other people. If somebody else had tried to get a bike on the train, I am sure she would have been seething with indignation at this breech of the rules.

There is no air conditioning on board, and the trains are prone to making emergency stops in the tunnel. This happens often, sometimes 2 or 3 times on our journey, which involves passing through just 5 stations.

I noticed a sign today, as we sweltered in a tunnel for a few minutes, telling us that the carriage could carry 183 people. That is 98 standing, and 40 seated.

I am no Einstein, but even I know that 98 + 40 = 138. Not 183. No way could that carriage take 183 people (and a bike).

A simple transposition of numbers, obviously, but how could someone make such a mistake unless theywere stupid?

I tried to do a head count based on the number of people in each section of the carriage, I reckon there were about 160 people +, and it was clearly way above capacity. It is very uncomfortable for the smaller children, of whom there are always many on the metro at that time of the morning.


On Tuesday, children went back to school. As we arrived on the platform in the morning, it was clear that something was wrong. A train was half in the station and half out, and the lights went out in the carriages. Everybody was sitting there in the dark looking bewildered. I should say here that this is Brussels, and so nobody bats an eyelid. Everything is done in a strange way here, seemingly with no reason at all.

An announcement told us that service was suspended due to an incident on the track. Again, this is not unusual, and so as the platform filled, George and I sat chatting for maybe 5 minutes. Little did we know that just feet from us some poor soul was under the train.

Eventually, a chap with a yellow jacket turned up and asked us to leave the station. This became a farce, as he appeared to speak only Flemish, a language spoken only by the Flemish, and so he had little impact on the hundred or so would-be passengers on the platform. Ours is a mainly English speaking district, with Arabic and French vying for 2nd place.

Eventually we got it and left, still oblivious to what had taken place.

I later learned that we missed the incident by just some moments. Apparently the chap had thrown himself in front of the train. It is very selfish of me, but my first thought was, thank God my son didn't have to see that.

I have no idea what desperation or madness would lead a person to commit such an act, and of course it is tragic that a person could be driven to such a thing. Until that moment it was a lovely summer morning, full of optimism and excitement about the coming school year.

But there is an old saying in the forces 'You can never know how tight the other man's boots are!' 

I have every sympathy for the poor chap, but I wish he hadn't done that on a platform crowded with schoolchildren.

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