Tuesday, 31 August 2010


This month, I have two houses (and so far no plague on either of them - the intervention anti-cafards seems to be holding plagues at bay for the moment).
I'm moving endless boxes and cases between them via a combination of borrowed parental cars and a half-walk, half-scurry through Parc Leopold. From tomorrow onwards, I will be able to use car-sharing (technical term 'Cambio'). This means I will be officially able to drive in Belgium, whenever I like*. I suggest staying off the roads tomorrow.
The new place has the advantage of space, a bigger bathroom and (as of yesterday) my own duvet. On the other hand, the old flat has a sofa, hot and cold running Telenet and a washing machine (I have one coming in the new flat but not for another two weeks). There's also rather a lot of useless clutter silting up the old place: I've been contemplating it in despair and wondering just how much I can get away with simply throwing in the bin**.

Moving, proszę państwa, is apparently a learning experience, helping you to develop many useful skillz which can transferred to other areas of your life. In terms of numerical reasoning, I've learnt - for example - that it takes more than two people to lift an electric piano up six flights of stairs where the console of said piano weighs more than one of those two people. Regarding cultural diversity, I have discovered that buying frites in Brussels after nightfall during Ramadan is a task that requires a great deal of patience, good local knowledge and a fast car.

Teambuilding is another valuable competence often learnt in house-moving. Especially where this involves the lifting of heavy objects.
We all know about teamwork: we all use our skills to communicate effectively whilst at the same time taking time to listen to others; we are all highly motivated and welcome the opportunity to pass on our enthusiasm to others; we are all able to cooperate but not afraid to take a leading role and convince others of the plausibility of our ideas. On paper anyway.
I recently discovered what role I really take on when trying to solve a complex problem - such as extracting a 160 x 200 cm sprung mattress from its position wedged in a tiny attic stairwell. I play a very important part: in fact I'm the one collapsed in the corner, giggling helplessly, liable to say things like: 'ok never mind, let's try Ben's idea now', 'yep, that sounds good to me' or 'does anyone want another beer?' I see it as a motivating, cheering role. In other words, largely useless...

*Subject to availability, terms and conditions apply.
** note to self, file glossaries before going away for the summer, while I can still remember the name of the meeting.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Home again

I am back in Brussels now - swimming against the tide as usual, since everyone else has just finally downed headsets and skipped off to warmer climes.
Ah Poland: once again the meat counter defeated me and I ended up ordering three hundred grammes of szynka wiejska when actually I wanted 3 decas. Or indeed 13. 130 grams, dammit. About half as much as I eventually got anyway.

Pino: proszę 3 deka szynki wiejskiej
Pani sprzedawczyni: Co?!
Pino: proszę 3 deka szynki
Pani: ...?
Pino: ok proszę trzysta gramów szynki...
(Pino's friend: who on earth buys 13 dekas of ham?! That's just weird)

In any case, now I'm back in Brussels. Trouble started on the Eurostar when my seat was occupied by a teenage French brat:
- but weee wanteed to seet togezzer...
I tried to calmly blag an upgrade from the train manager, but she was having none of it. I suspect that had I been a forty-something businessman in a grey suit she would have granted my request.
Every time I get the Eurostar I can feel the tension rising as I anticipate having to fight to keep the seat I've already paid to reserve. Possession is nine tenths of the law, and once someone else's bum is firmly planted on your seat, you're in a lose-lose situation: give in and you have to find yourself another space, which you then risk losing at the next French Deluge getting on at Lille. Insist on having your original seat, and you expose yourself to awkward, resentful silence from your neighbour after having ousted her indignant friend. I never have this problem on any other route so the only logical conclusion is to blame it on the French. Disclaimer: the author of this blog has nothing against francophonic persons and insists that Some of her Best Friends Are French. Honestly.
Fellow Eurostar travellers! If you really must sit together then jolly well book your tickets together and sit in the seat you've been assigned to. And that way you will help prevent frustration and high blood pressure disorders in otherwise mild-mannered conflict-averse persons like me.

Miraculously, no-one broke into the flat while I was away, the internet still works, my taxi got from Midi to My Place in a record ten euros and I found a whole can of beer in the fridge. There were a few other items in the fridge as well. One of them may have been a tomato, but resembled a very tiny, mouldy round of goat's cheese. My unwashed coffee cup in the sink sported an interesting fungal structure that steamed when I ran the tap into it.

Tomorrow will be a day for opening bills and paying bills and checking bank accounts and getting keys to new flats.

Better get a good night's sleep then.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Wszystko gra

I went to meet New Boy off the night train at Warsaw Central. We decided to spend the day in Warsaw and leave his bags at the station.
The przechowalnia was run by a rotund, middle-aged Polish man, who persisted in staring into the middle distance somewhere past my right shoulder so that I couldn't tell whether he was talking to me or to the guy behind me.

Pino: Dzień dobry proszę Pana, czy możemy zostawić bagaż tu?
Man (speaking to somewhere vaguely beyond P's shoulder): Ile sztuk?
Pino: dwa
Man (realising P is not Polish): Ah. Two!
Pino: tak, dwa.  
Man: yes! Two!
Pino: (takes out purse) Ile to będzie?
Man: No! Pay after. After!
Pino: ok, dziękuję bardzo
Man: Please! Thank you.

New Boy (casually): Wszystko gra?
Man: (with broad smile of manly recognition): Taaak, wszystko gra!

Pino: Fine. From now on you can do the talking.