Monday, November 30, 2009

Mon 30 Nov

The Grand Place looked great again now the hideous and tacky fair has finally gone. What the hell were they thinking? And this happens every year. The enormous Christmas tree was being put up as I walked past.

Got M (one of the very helpful secretaries) to show me how to use the photocopier and asked her some adminy things. My spoken French is definitely improving, but it’s the understanding that’s the struggle, which I guess is to be expected. At least she speaks slowly and clearly which helps.

My class wasn’t the best I’ve ever taught. Had the over-ambitious plan to teach them 4 different past tenses, but soon realised that none of them really knew the past simple. Virtually all of them used the present tense to talk about what they’d done at the weekend. Still, got them talking for a bit.

And the highlight: spotting a baguette without meat. Yes, they do have other ingredients other than beef, ham, pork, veal, horse, lamb, minced pork with veal…

J taught me some useful French swear words and phrases on the drive back, which I’ve promptly forgotten.

Had a rather wonderful roast for dinner. Up yours Belgian cuisine. Hang on a sec, all the ingredients were from Belgium. One thing I will say though, their food may be extortionate, but the quality of their meat, even from the supermarkets, is top notch.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sun 29 Nov

Spend the day in Brussels. The Grand Place looks magnificent, as always, now with added Christmas decorations. We head to the Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts but are greeted by an enormous queue. It seems everyone is here for the separate Magritte exhibition but you still have to stay in the same queue which seems a bit stupid. After 38mins (yes, I was bored and timed it) we finally had a wander around.

Not the greatest collection of artwork I’ve ever seen I have to say. The early Flemish pre-Renaissance stuff just goes on forever. I’ve never seen so many chubby and old-looking baby Jesuses. It is interesting as an historical artefact, to compare to what came next, but if we’re being honest, most of it is utter tosh (in my humble opinion etc blah blah…). That Hieronymus Bosch must have had a screw loose. Although his paintings are rather entertaining. So much going on, at least it forces you to spend a few minutes working out exactly what. We both reckon he’s an early Dali.

There are a couple of good Van Dycks and Rembrants. I do love a good portrait I do. A couple of years ago I visited the National Portrait Gallery in London and absolutely loved it. I’d been before, several times, but only when I was young. For the first time I really enjoyed the collection. I particularly like fixating on a painting and moving around the room and watching the eyes of the person in the painting watching you wherever it is you move. Hours of fun.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sat 28 Nov

Took a trip to the Grand Pres today. Mons’ own Brent Cross or Cribbs Causeway. But, it’s much much smaller with nothing particular useful in it. We were only after a washer but couldn’t find the Brico (hardware shop) so just went food shopping where we found…tofu!! Yes, miracles do happen. There must be, somewhere in Mons, a veggie, or two.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fri 27 Nov

Arrived 30mins late to our lessons today. That’s late two lessons in a row now. And I pride myself on always being on time. It was mainly because me, M and J were nattering in the car about cultural differences, and missed a turning right at the very beginning of our journey, ending up in France. Yes, that’s right, I spent all of 2 mins in France today. It was ok. Nothing special. Luckily, the border guards didn’t do a spot inspection or ask for passports/id cards. Of course, as usual, I didn’t have my passport on me. This is going to cause me trouble eventually, I know it.

The lesson was great fun though. 6 blokes, who only seemed interested in talking about classic British rock: Deep Purple, Led Zepellin, Black Sabbath. Obviously, they knew far more about it than I do. Their English was rather good as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wed 25 Nov

Today, as a one off, I had a class from 4-6pm. This is usually my Tuesday lunchtime class. And I will always be driven to and from it by the mother of the woman who runs the Language School, who also works as a secretary there. Wasn’t expecting a free lift. Bit of a bonus. Although she does drive like a bit of a lunatic. And she doesn’t speak a word of English. So, it was great French practice and she even understood me. Was actually good fun practicing my French in a relaxed and non-stressful setting.

The stress bit came when arrived at the complex and couldn’t find the damn building that H*** is based in. Of course I’d only seen it on Monday for the first time and hadn’t paid much attention. We ended driving round and round until my powers for remembering colours and particular landmarks paid dividends. I’m utterly useless with directions but am good at remembering a particular building or sign or colour of something I may have passed.

So, 15mins late (I wasn’t happy, particularly as I expected her to know where she was going) for only my second lesson. And then I couldn’t remember the code to get in the actual building. Because of the nature of the work they do you need swipe cards and codes to get in anywhere. Luckily, a woman walked pass, on her way to the loo, and let me in as I waved and smiled. So much for security.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mon 23 Nov

My first bit of work on foreign land. For my lessons on Mondays and Fridays I will always get a lift to and from the place I’m teaching by another teacher at the Academy, J. I will be teaching 3 different groups of workers 3 days a week between 12-2pm, with about 5 or 6 people per class. The company I teach at is called H***. Even on their website, in English, I could barely understand what they do. They’re a company that conducts clinical trials on new drugs before they’re then sent off to bigger pharmaceutical companies. Although they told me it had nothing to do with drugs so not sure what it is they’re testing.

But, my first class was good fun. A lovely bunch who were enthusiastic and keen to learn, which surprised me somewhat as I’d guessed they had to attend English classes for work, not out of their own enjoyment. The bonus was the free lunch. 3 trays of small baguettes. The struggle was finding one without ham but I managed to have a couple with beef, onions (lots of), mustard, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce and some kind of dressing. Damn delicious baguettes.

Made sure I set them lots of pairwork so I had time to eat them!

In the evening me and C went out for a meal as today is our 8 year anniversary. And I never thought we’d be spending it in Belgium. In Mons. Still, you can’t have everything! We went back to a restaurant (The Copenhagen) on the Grand Place we went to when we here house hunting back in September. That time I felt pretty ill and could barely eat a thing. So, I decided to order exactly what I barely touched last time: lamb chops, salad, and a huge bowl of chips. And this time I appreciated it and ate the damn lot. Their meat really is excellent quality. All finished with some crepes for dessert, which are becoming a bit of a favourite.

Was all rather bizarre though, being sat upstairs in a virtually empty restaurant, overlooking a virtually deserted Grand Place. Still, a nice evening and more red meat and bowel cancer worries to fill the mind.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sat 21 Nov

Popped along to the Language School today for a chat with someone called M about work. It’s one of the language schools in Mons I’d handed my CV in to. Eventually, M (who teaches there) turned up surrounded by half a dozen kids. We chatted about the school and my background and what was available, all whilst standing up in a very noisy room. I couldn’t work out what kind of place it was.

We finally sat down and were joined by J (another teacher) and went over other things such as how much I’d get paid, hours of teaching I could do, where I’d be teaching. It seems the first bit of work would be at a company called H*** outside of Mons to start on Monday. My first thoughts were, ahhh, Monday, I need more than the weekend to prepare. Try and delay it by a few days. But, I then realised that I should just start as soon as possible and see what happens, so I agreed to begin on Monday.

Finally bought a Belgian mobile at the third time of asking. They looked bemused when I told them that the other shop had required a passport before I could buy anything. Managed to do most of the chit chat and transaction in French which was good for the ol’ confidence.

We finished watching the first series of The Wire. I won't say too much because I'm sure there are plenty of people (because of course this is going to be read by literally tens) who haven't seen it yet. All I will say is that it was absolutely bloody brilliant. Absorbing from first to last. The characters are just wonderful, and the insights into everyone's shades of grey made a nice change from your usual cop v criminal storyline. And, I didn't think it was particularly violent considering the subject matter. A lot of it was implied or spoken about but not always seen.

We also had no problems with the lingo. I can't believe some of you had to use the subtitles to start off with. But, I guess we're just more street than most!

Right, that's a very general, non-specific summary. I go mad when people spoil things that I want to watch so I'm keeping it schtum.

I still think The Sopranos is better. For now...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fri 20 Nov

Was good to get back home after a tiring 3 days in Brussels of job hunting, interviews, and generally wandering aimlessly (all alone) around back streets, side streets and main streets.

Brussels is a fantastic city. Well, the centre bit anyway. It certainly has that international, cosmopolitan feel to it that London or Paris has. It's also strange hearing a mixture of French and Dutch being spoken by the locals, sometimes by the same person in the same sentence. These Europeans are a talented bunch aren't they?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thurs 19 Nov

Took an age to find an internet cafe this morning. I was told by the hotel receptionist of 3 nearby, and yet I was unable to find any of them. Just me? It also appears that nothing opens until 10am so I spent some time walking around all the streets just off the Grand Place and thinking what a great city Brussels is.

Read a couple of emails sent by one of the language schools in Mons, all in French, of course. So, I spend the next 15mins, with my small French dictionary, trying to work out what it is they're offering me. It seems that there will be some teaching available every Mon, Tues and Friday. At a company outside of Mons, and I'll be getting a left to and from the place. And can I start on Monday?

Er, well, maybe, but can I talk to someone first about the school, how you teach, potential for more work in the future, what exactly you pay??

Had an interview (this one was billed as one so wore the suit again) today at 1 at a language centre in the suburbs of Brussels. I say interview, but I hadn't actually done any preparation, done much research about the place itself, or even felt particularly nervous. And suburbs may be stretching it a little when it only took 15mins to get to on the Metro but it is still the last stop on the line.

Obviously, I couldn't find the place. I took a right turn outside the Metro station and kept on walking and walking down a long street with no idea where I was heading. Stupidly, I hadn't bothered to print a map and no one I asked knew or heard of this place. It was also interesting to note that I think I was in a Flemish part of Brussels. So, my attempts to ask for directions in French were probably not well received, even though they did answer back in French.

I spent 1 and a half hours at the centre, and it was indeed a proper interview. By the way, it was literally 2 mins walk away, turning left outside the metro station. I was interviewed in a small room in a very large language centre, which looked a bit like a sixth form college, by a woman (head of HR I think. Boo!) with excellent English. She explained everything I expected to hear about the place, and told me what work would be available, how much they paid (teaching English it seems will always be paid by the hour when you first begin.

Hopefully, this centre will provide a lot of work for me, but it won't start until the end of January, when the new term begins and new set of students begin their courses. Of course it'll mean commuting into Brussels, but if I can get a good number of hours in per day, it'll be worth it. I should also get my travel costs reimbursed at the end of the year, but I'm not exactly sure how.

Pop in to a well known pizza chain and get served a 4 slice pizza (advertised as medium), with barbeque sauce (see my very first post re. tomato sauce and pizza) and pay 8.90E for the privilege. At least I made someone laugh today in French for the first time. Or maybe that should read: my French made someone laugh today.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wed 18 Nov

I had managed to organise a meeting with a guy who ran a language school in one of the nicer parts of Brussels. So, it was a case of get up, eat the croissants C had brought me back from breakfast (didn't fancy getting up at 7 in order to eat awful clone hotel food), put my suit on (without tie!), and then figure out the Brussels Metro system, complete with large map and Rough Guide for help.

As usual, took me an eternity to find the nearest Metro stop and I can never seem to find street names on my maps. This is a recurring pattern in my life. The metro is actually very easy to use once you know where you're going, what platform you need, and what train to catch. The stations are clean and the trains a mixture of very modern and not so. The great thing is that the stops are very close together so it only took me about 15mins to get to my meeting.

The meeting seemed to be in someone's flat. For the second time in two days I'm following a strange man up some very narrow stairs in almost complete darkness. The place didn't look like a language school. Probably because it wasn't. The company just hires teachers and then sends them out to teach at various companies all around Brussels.

We spoke mainly in English as he gave me an account of the Belgian tax system ("too much of it"), my options as either a 'freelancer/self-employed' or entering the SMART system which is too complicated to explain. Most of the time I sat there like a lemon whilst his phone rang and he chatted for 10mins at a time, whilst spinning around in his chair. He (I'll call him Louis because he looked like a Louis) had a little sign on his desk which read: "Happy Boss." Another charlatan, I was thinking at the time.

He then gets me to provide him with 3 things I should know as a teacher before teaching someone. When I give him what he seems to want to hear, he jumps up, claps his hands and shouts: "Yes. This is it. It's over. This is the interview. All over. C'est fini. I have my answers. Now we chat." So we chat about god knows what. Well, that was the shortest interview I'd ever had. I guess I am always complaining about modern day work interviews which last over an hour, with 5 people on a panel, tests, events, then a 2nd, a 3rd interview etc. until they tell you that you're not qualified enough for their £14,000 a year admin job.

At the end of the meeting/interview he told me that I must get a Belgian mobile as soon as possible so "that way I can have you when I want you." Steady on.

Well, I should hear from him soon with work offers. No need for references for this chap. I think they do things differently over here!

Spend the rest of the day wandering around Brussels, handing my CV in to various people, and somehow ending up in a street full of prostitutes. See a couple of cars drive by, hooting, with giant Algerian flags being waved out of the window, ahead of tonight's World Cup qualifying decider against Egypt.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tues 17 Nov

After spending yesterday wandering aimlessly and working out where everything was in Mons, I decided it was time to get into work mode and visit the 4 language schools in this city. The first started off promisingly enough. I began by speaking in French until things started to get complicated and I actually needed to know the important stuff. Luckily, the young guy behind the desk spoke English pretty well. Although he claimed his English was 'not quite good.' Oh, to be 'not quite good' at French.

The second school involved a full conversation in French only as neither women working there spoke any English. So, great for practice but no idea if they understood what I was saying. Still, I impressed them with copies of my CV in both English and French.

The third school no longer existed and had been replaced by some rather ugly looking flats. My final language school visit was the highlight, and not in terms of work being offered. After hovering outside, a bloke smoking a cigar finally answered the door, listened to my attempts for the 3rd time today to explain what I wanted, and then asked me in.

For about 40mins we spoke in French, interspersed with bits of English, mainly about English football, which is all he wanted to talk about. I had no idea whether he was one of the teachers, a secretary, or whether this was even a language school. It was just all a bit bizarre as I sat there, trying not to cough as he chain smoked, punctuated with several long pauses when I actually thought he might have frozen, and lots of 'doncs.'

When I told him I supported Bristol City he just laughed. Hmm. He didn't seem in the least bit interested in my CV and when I referred the conversation back to work he just kept nodding and saying 'oui, oui...'

In the evening me, C and P headed off to Brussels where C has work plannned for the next 3 days, and I hope to use the time to find teaching or political work.

Went out for an Italian just off the wonderful Grand Place for dinner. All very confusing ordering in French and the waiters responding in Italian and English. I guess that's what Brussels is like.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sat 14 Nov

Today was your classic 'chores' day. Or in our case, spend your afternoon sitting in the garage, keeping an eye that the washing machine doesn't flood the place.

We have a problem in that UK washing machines use hot and cold taps or pipes (don't ask me to get technical) to do a wash, whereas they only use the cold one here. It meant us moving various pipes about and putting them in places they probably shouldn't be. It also meant it leaked, a lot, whilst we did our wash(es).

Still, it allowed us to make use of the deck chairs which we sat on, watching the washing machine, whilst eating the remains of last night's Chinese. Foreign life, eh?!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fri 13 Nov

We had a Chinese takeaway tonight. The place is a couple of streets away from where we live and it was actually pretty good. As always, good fun trying to work out what the hell everything was on the menu. Even harder with non-Belgian food as so many words aren't really French and therefore not in any dictionary.

We had what we thought was a chow mein, written as "a la sauce ShaCha," and Beef and noodles, and some strange and very large chicken spring rolls, which weren't very nice. I guess too much to expect that they might do vegetarian ones.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thurs 12 Nov

Managed to withdraw and then pay some money into my new Belgian bank account using one of the smallest banks I have ever seen. As you open the front door there is just enough space for you to use the ATM. After standing around for a bit wondering where the actual bank was, my powers of deduction told me that it must be the door (the only one) right in front of me. As you open the (blacked out) door you are immediately facing the cashiers’ desk. My pigeon French worked a treat and with a ‘merci beaucoup’ and a smile I was out of there. Very useful though that branch, seeing as it is about 3mins walk away from our house.

My next mission was to return to the mobile phone shop and this time buy a phone. No more small talk. Damn, a different guy serving. Didn’t like the look of this one. I showed him the deal I wanted and then got him to answer a few of my questions. I understood a lot of what he said but was still perplexed by the fact that even though it was a ‘pay as you go’ (or pay & go as they call it here) phone, I still had to spend a minimum of 10E a month. Didn’t make any sense. We exchanged a few raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders as I just stood there, probably looking confused, and with a very sweaty face, boiling in all my layers.

I then went over to choose which phone I wanted. This kind of thing really doesn’t interest me. I just want a phone that makes and receives calls and can send texts. I don’t care about video stuff, or recording crap, or cameras, or the internet. I’ve got a computer and a camera for all that. Philistine. Settled on the 49 E Nokia one. Partly because it was one of the cheapest and partly because it looked quite nice. I then hesitated about going back to the front desk as a queue was starting to form. In an ideal world, the shop would be empty bar me and him so I could happily practice my beginner’s French without fear of sounding like a tool in front of a crowd. I’ll settle for sounding like a tool in front of only one other person. But, mobile phone shops are pretty popular places and people kept coming in.

Finally I got served and we had another discussion about the merits of the different types of deals I wanted. Basically, I was still none the wiser and really didn’t understand this 10 E a month lark. This quickly became a three way discussion with the young guy behind me who very kindly offered me some advice (yeah, piss off mate. I’ve been waiting 10mins while you keep banging on about the same thing, over and over again. And by the way, your French is atrocious).

This was, however, a wonderful opportunity for me to practice my French and this probably went on for about 20mins, irrespective of the long queue behind us. Even the young guy’s attempts to practice out his English on me (he had lived in London many years ago and spent 6 months working in a restaurant) didn’t wash. I insisted on only speaking French and he was more than happy to oblige, despite me using English words whenever my vocabulary ran out.

Finally, we were all ready to proceed with me buying the phone and signing up for a deal that I still didn’t fully understand, but hey, I probably would have been none the wiser in a phone shop in England. And then the shop assistant said something in French, which I thought was: “do you have your bank card?” But, no he didn’t want my cash card but some form of ID. Merde. I told him that I didn’t yet have a Belgian ID card (god, if that was the criteria it’d be Christmas 2010 before I could buy a phone). A passport would have been fine he said. Did I have it on me? No.

And with that I left the shop without a phone. Now if this scenario had taken place in England I would probably have been pretty annoyed, calling the shop assistant a wanker under my breath, but only once I was walking away, and within safe distance of the shop. But as I was rather proud of my French speaking exploits, I left with a huge smile on my face. I also, as I was grinning and blaming “Belgian Bureaucracy,” remembered something that was proposed by the EU a few years ago which meant that all phone shops had to let the authorities know the name and details of every person who bought a phone from them (in the name of counter-terrorism, naturally). No idea if this has become an actual policy. I guess it probably has.

And with this newly found confidence I popped into the tourist information centre and asked them (en Français, of course) whether there were any websites dedicated to language exchanges for people in Mons wanting to improve their English in return for people like me wanting to work on their French. All the time being ever so paranoid that he’d be thinking that what I was really after was a list of internet dating sites. It seems that the universities (of which there are 3 I believe) will be the best places to start. Hopefully, there’ll be people advertising for such a thing on various noticeboards. I’m sure some of the students will know whether there’s a Mons equivalent to ‘gumtree’ or something similar.

Right, that was a long account of what probably seems like a very non-eventful day. But, trust me, any opportunity to speak French with a native is not to be sniffed at.
And of course I popped into my favourite supermarket (called Match, by the way) on the way home. I am also pleased to say that I have counted 4 chocolate shops so far in Mons.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wed 11 Nov

Armistice Day, which is a bank holiday for the Belgians, and I’m guessing a few of the other allied countries, but not for the UK. Oh no. Fewer bank holidays than most. We’re always promised an extra day off here and there (St George’s Day is often mentioned) but it never materialises. The long wait for our next official break starts from the August bank holiday and ends on Christmas day. I think another 5 should be added, at least. The reason it’ll never happen is because almost as soon as something like this is announced, the CBI will quickly appear on every news channel to tell us how this is going to cost the British economy X billion pounds. They always seem to know exactly how much money X number of sick days, public holidays, costs us. How? How do they work this out? And why do we care?!

Had my first ‘stroll’ around the centre of Mons. Almost every shop was shut, which makes a nice change for a public holiday. As I was walking round the Grand Place the church bells bizarrely gave off a rendition of the American national anthem. It was actually rather good. I’m assuming in recognition of Armistice Day. Walked past a few Canadians wearing poppies with Canadian flags attached to their jackets. Felt a bit guilty that once again I never bought a poppy. Will start to from next year.

Spent a couple of hours trying to translate my CV into French. Not an easy job. Not an easy job writing a CV full stop. No doubt it’ll give someone a good laugh when they read it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tues 10 Nov

Today I went to a Commune and registered as an ‘alien.’ I think the walking boots and brolly showed that I was definitely not Belgian. At some point in the future a police officer or two will pop round and check that I am who I say I am. All part of the process of getting a Belgian ID card which is meant to take several months. C has had all this done for her at work yesterday. No waiting for her then.

Bought my third baguette in as many days. Integration, innit.

Had a very pleasurable lunch of cheese and tomato (their tomatoes from both supermarket and street market are far tastier and less bitter than ours) on a baguette with some paprika flavoured crisps. Yup, they don’t do salt ‘n’ vinegar or cheese and onion round these parts. Nearly all their crisps are paprika flavoured. Already making a mental note of things to stock up on when I go back home. And this was all accompanied by listening to ‘You and Yours’ on Radio 4. Yes, we can get Radio 4 on longwave which is fantastic and the World Service is on there somewhere too. I am pining for 5 Live though. We hope to have the internet set up on Friday and all my friends tell me I should be able to listen to most BBC stations online. We’ll see.

Thank god I still have my stereo which can pick up LW and MW. This was given to me when I was about 11 I think by my uncle. Still works perfectly well. And unlike a digital radio, you don’t need to position it on a flat surface or move it about until you actually get the crystal clear sound you’re supposed to. And that’s meant to be progress eh?

Spent a good few minutes in the supermarket (my second home) trying to work out the differences in their types of flour. Firstly, I forgot to bring my French dictionary out with me so it was only by picking up and squeezing several bags of the stuff that I could be certain it was actually flour. Luckily, a couple had a split which made the job of finding plain white flour all that much easier.

15.16 (Belgian time) and we have blue sky and sunshine. I repeat, we have blue sky. The incessant heavy cloud and drizzle has abated for now.
C has an incredible 26 Mosquito bites. She’s starting to look like she’s got chicken pox.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mon 9 Nov

I am Scarlet Johannson. Venturing out alone, in a strange land, with people who talk funny, like. Or just going to the same area I’ve already been to several times surrounded by people who look exactly the same as they do in Britain. And it did take me several years to finally understand Bristolian, so I should get French eventually too.

The thing about being in a country where you don’t speak the language is that you become ever so slightly paranoid. Paranoid that whenever you walk into a shop and you hear someone speak you think they’re talking to you. Paranoid when you see someone laugh that they’re laughing at or about you. My French is at a very basic stage which means that I can say quite a few things, but can rarely understand what is said to me in response, unless it’s said really slowly, and with exaggerated lip movements.

Spent 10 mins in a mobile phone shop. Managed to get out my stock sentences which I’d been preparing the night before. And the guy actually understood me. He then spent several minutes showing me various phone packages and circling a few things in a catalogue. By nodding and saying ‘d’accord’ every 10 seconds or so, I think I convinced him that I had understood what he was saying. He then paused and said: “Vous Comprenez?” Maybe not. Still, a damn fine effort on my part. I reward myself with 50 minutes in an internet café reading and absorbing all the weekend’s footy results, followed by the local weather, then the news, and then spend 5mins trying to find the ‘@’ button, and never do. Thank god for copy and paste. All concluded with a bout of sneezing and recycling the same tissue for the 3rd time.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sat 7 Nov

Amazingly, in November, in Belgium, where it’s just about double-figures outside, C was bitten over a dozen times by a mosquito in the night. Nasty little parasites. I got woken up twice by it buzzing in my ear. What’s even more incredible is that I seem to have escaped without a single bite. That’s obviously a very stupid thing to write, but as I eventually expect to get bitten to buggery, possibly not.

Our first trip out of Mons to…Tournai. No, never heard of it either. But, it was a lovely little town. They have their own Grand Place, naturally. Cobbled streets are everywhere, making it that much harder to spot the dog shit. Dozens of restaurants and cafes. It’s funny how whenever we’re looking to live in a place we always want it to have an endless array of pubs, bars, restaurants, when most of us will probably end up going to the same one, (or two at a stretch) over and over because we’re such creatures of habit (idiom. Sorry, private joke between my ex-colleagues on a recent CELTA course and our students. And I expect none of them will ever read this).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fri 6 Nov

The house we’re living in is enormous. Far too big for us, considering we don’t actually own very much. It’s in immaculate condition, and as the inventory on the day we arrived lasted over an hour, I’m having to be ridiculously careful with everything. The cheap and nasty coasters from Wilkinson’s finally have a purpose, and I’m avoiding resting so much as a finger on the over-elaborate wallpaper.

The central heating system is completely baffling. I have become obsessed with the ‘How it Works’ manual stored in a green ring binder. After several hours, and when I think I’ve got it cracked, it soon becomes apparent that the heating just seems to come on whenever it feels like it. The temperature of the house is always monitored and the system adjusts itself accordingly; which sort of defeats the purpose of having a ‘How it Works’ manual. Do nothing pretty much sums it up.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wed 4 Nov

Wandering around a supermarket trying to find fresh milk. Not a chance. The removal men from Angleterre will not be happy if they don’t get their cuppa. Decide on a carton of something. Think it says it’s semi-skimmed, but does that really matter when it’s UHT?

After returning back to the same place later in the day, finally discover the fresh milk section. Either it was there before and I just hadn’t spotted in, or several Brits have all moved to Mons in the same week and have already put an order in.

It quickly becomes apparent that things in the supermarkets are far dearer than back home: 1.50 E for a tube of tomato puree, anything between 3.50 and 6 E for a small box of sugary cereal. 6 E for a 375g box of Golden Grahams! There goes my breakfast. And 10E + for a flippin’ light bulb. Rip-off Belgium! Where’s a Tesco Express when you need one? Do I really mean that? Maybe not now, but I’ll be asking the same question in a few weeks time and may well give a different answer.

Lots of sneezing, sniffing and blowing (ooh er).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tues 3 Nov 2009 - Let's all move to...Mons

We just have. I’m committed to spending the next two, possibly three, years of my life here. This blog will consist of anything from daily observations, to my attempts to find work, and frequent updates of my nagging cold which I have now had for 2 weeks and counting. This year has been a record for me for endless sniffles, aches and pains (including a nasty experience with a kidney stone. Message to all men: drink lots of water everyday). For someone who’s used to being pretty healthy, I’m getting seriously fed up.

And so we arrived in Mons on Tuesday 3 November 2009, via a very turbulent flight from Southampton. And of course it was hammering it down. I’ve read, and been told it countless times, that it rains a hell of a lot in Belgium. This usually said to me from other Brits. Who are of course not used to seeing the rain.

First observation with regards to cultural differences, Belgian pizza toppings: very little tomato sauce (not good, as a rich sauce is what makes a fine pizza in my opinion), what looks like half an onion which engulfs most of the pizza, olives everywhere, big chunks of artichoke hearts and a tiny amount of cheese. So, based on one pizza, from one takeaway, ordered from a hotel in Mons, I can conclude that pizzas in Britain are far better than the ones in Belgium. More generalisations to follow no doubt.