Monday, 11 July 2011

A Monster prowls the Belgian backwoods...

To understand this post you need to know something of my appearance.  Yes, yes, I know a picture paints a thousand words but you’re not getting one.
My neck and décolletage are a background sickly yellow, overprinted in patterns of black, red and purple.  My eyes are purple, with two lines of neat stitches above them and one line below.  The outer corner of my right eye is bright red.  The outer corner of my left eye is bright yellow.  Below eye is a half-moon of mixed purple and yellow.  My nose is covered with a bloodstained white plaster cast.  My lower lip is distended like half a Big Mac bun.  My cheeks and jowl area is swollen and distended.  I walk slowly and deliberately because (1) I am still missing some feeling in my left foot because of the bruise to the lower base of my spine where I lay on the operating table for 12 hours, and (2) I am very scared of disturbing any of the work so recently done by falling on it.......All-in-all I reckon I could be pretty useful to Local Authorities (do we still have them?) in convincing school truants that they would be safer back with Mrs Smith in class 3B.
Anyway, this picture of loveliness shuffled into the local hairdressers at peak time on Saturday morning to inquire, by a series of gestures, part French and part English (I should say that my mouth is pretty swollen, so I sound like something out on the Munsters, to inquire whether someone might wash and blow dry my hair.
To the eternal credit of Jill’s Hairdressing, Sleepstraat, Ghent, their reaction was to shuffle around their other customers on an already busy day and to fit me in.  Either the 20 Euro fee was very important, or they are just good people.
Emboldened by the above and after an afternoon trip to the local supermarket, I wondered what to do with my Sunday.  Grandfather was awarded a Military Medal for an action in the Belgian Ardennes on Christmas Day 1944, so that has always been a focus and I have wanted to visit the Museum at La Roche-en-Ardennes for a while, so I thought ‘why not’?  By the wonders of the internet I was able to plan the two train connections and final bus connection to get me there, and a 9.27 departure from Ghent would have me there at 1.
It was lovely to be out on a beautiful summer’s day.  The trains were well used but not overly busy and I only made one tactical error which was to go to the WC after Namur.  When I returned, my book remained where I had left it and my seat was still free but surrounded by a sea of scouts.  It seemed to be the rule that scouts had to carry packs at least twice as large as they were, so it made it pretty crowded for the last 20 minutes of the train journey.
The bus to La Roche was a rollercoaster ride over typically narrow and twisting Ardennes roads with surrounding dark pine forests.  La Roche was busy and sunny, full of tourists, many of which were on highly chromed motor cycles.  I was hungry, so I found a riverside cafe and decided to leave the soup menu for a salade Nicoise – my favourite.  With a swollen mouth and a lower lip with no feeling, this was no mean task but well worth it.
I then headed off to see the museum, which, was expected was dreadful.  They had some good stuff, mounted in displays in cases long ago but there was no attempt to bring the drama of the fighting in the Ardennes in 1944 alive.  In a town full of tourists, the museum was deservedly empty.  I just missed the 3.04 bus (next one 5.05, curses) so repaired to a local cafe for a lemon tea and a read of Caitlin Moran’s recent book ‘How to be a woman’ until it was time for the bus.  Then bus, train, train and tram back to my accommodation.  It takes real skill to make a country like Belgium seem large but SNCB, the Belgian national rail carrier, managed it by scheduling the trains at a pitiful 50 mph or so and throwing in some weekend engineering works for good measure.
In all the above the ‘Monster’ (with nicely blow dried hair) received consideration and courtesy from all involved.

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