Friday, May 28, 2010

Le Doudou: Fri 28 May - Sun 30 May

Actually, it officially lasts 8 days, but all the good stuff happens on the first 3. Bit like Passover. The 661st Doudou came to Mons this weekend, and with it the city's population virtually doubles in size (from around 91,000 at present). This festival, or carnival, orginated in 1349 as a way of helping the local Montois fight off the plague. The procession, which forms an integral part of the festival, was said to have been successful in banishing the plague from the city, and hence thanks to this it continues today.

As part of the Doudou, the Friday night traditionally sees a free concert in the Grand Place, the Saturday is a day of drinking, eating, dancing, and the torch procession, and the Sunday (the most important day) is the procession of St Waltrude's shrine (she being the patron saint of the city), through the centre of the city, followed by the reenactment of the slaying of the dragon by St George. This St George figure seems to find himself as a lot of people's saviour.

It's one of the most well known and revered festivals in Belgium. Well, in Wallonia anyway. My first sight of 'doudou fever,' was the steady flow of cars into the city, gradually occupying any bit of pavement, road or grassy-bank they could find in which to park. I was certainly taken aback when I also saw several portable urinals lining many streets. I never in a million years thought I'd see those same, nasty, grey things in Mons, of all places. The last time I saw them was almost 7 months ago. On a Friday night in Bristol.

Apparently, Mons does turn in to one big public toilet over this weekend. Indeed, I can vouch for this. The walk around the centre on the Monday morning, a very warm Monday morning, wasn't pleasant: stale beer and sticky floors galore. The stench you'd associate with that of a music festival.

So, I wandered around Mons on the Friday afternoon to get a feel for what was going on. Lots of the bars, restaurants and cafés had erected their own mini-gazebos outside their premises. Many had hired their own DJs, some preferred to stick huge speakers outside with dance music playing. Almost every gazebo came complete with a food and drinks stool, selling anything from the usual pommes frites, to burgers, noodles or filled baguettes.

The restaurants and cafés that live in the Grand Place had put out special long benches in place of their usual tables and chairs. By early evening, the party spirit was up and running. Indeed, by mid-evening, as me and C tried to make our way to the centre to see the concert, it took us almost 40mins to walk somewhere that would normally take only 5. Almost every street off the main square was completely rammed with revellers.

The concert itself was bizarre to say the least. Rather than the DJ I thought we were getting, we had to make do with an old Belgian act (with an old codger for a frontman) from the 80s. Needless to say, we had never heard of them, and yes, they were pants. Making our way back home involved avoiding the steady flow (I kid you not) of piss that trickled down many of the side streets. But, as outdoor parties go, this one was great! Just a lot of people drinking a lot of alcohol, dancing, and enjoying themselves. And not the hint of aggression, or sinister atmosphere, that you'd expect to see and feel had this festival been going on in England at this time of day.

Saturday pretty much continued in this vein, complete with dodging the rather heavy downpours that fell in the afternoon. During the day, a service is held in the cathedral to mark the point at which St Waltrude's shrine is taken down from its altar, ready for the main procession the next day. To mark this occasion, in the evening a torch procession, starting from the train station, is lead through the city. We caught up with it once it had made its way out of the Grand Place. Following on behind the torches are various large groups of men (many topless) who run manically, stop for a moment, and then continue running like mad. I have no idea why this happens but it just does. With the aid of a local Belgian we know, we also had various local chants translated to us. One of them amusingly being directed at the outgoing PM: "Yves Leterme, enculé," which means something very rude indeed. Good to see even a festival can't bridge the north/south divide.

Sunday morning was an early start. Up and out by 9, round to our friends' flat for tea, croissants and cakes, where because of the great vantage point of their flat, we were able to look from their window and see a stage of the procession of St Waltrude's shrine below us. The shrine is the last thing to appear. Before this, there are various groups of people of all ages dressed in medieval frocks who slowly walk through the city, accompanied by music and applause from the crowds who line the streets. We even caught a glimpse of St George himself.

The next phase of the day is the horse and carriage, carrying the shrine, being pushed up the very steep hill adjacent to the cathedral, by several dozen men and women. This is supposed to be done seemlessly and in one go. If the carriage fails to be pushed up the hill, a great misfortune is supposed to fall on the people of Mons. And of course, legend has it that they failed this task in 1914 and 1940. And apparently in 1803 as well, so I read. Luckily for us, they succeeded!

All this time, the dragon waits patiently, perched up against the wall of the cathedral. Not the fiercest-looking dragon you've even seen it has to be said. In fact, quite lame looking. It looked like something that had been put together by a year 7 art class.

At this point, the dragon is then carried aloft and marched towards the Grand Place, with hundreds of people in tow. I decided to join the throng but could only get as far as the edge of the Grand Place, such was the size of the crowd. The square is literally heaving with tens of thousands of people, all waiting for the duel, or the lumeçon: St George, complete with weapons, 3 different guns, versus the papier-mâché dragon! You can barely see a thing, although there is a big screen for those with 20-20 vision.

The fight takes place in a specially constructed ring with a huge sand pit in the middle. On the perimeter, hundreds and hundreds of men wait, expectantly, ready to do their best in attempting to grab some (horse's) hair which forms part of the dragon's tail. The latter is then held in the air, slowly walked around the ring, and every now and again dangled above the heads of the group of topless, sweaty, men. They then fight, charge, wrestle, and do all they can to get hold of a hair from the dragon's tail which is meant to bring good luck.

This goes on for about 30mins and looks rather crazy to be honest. Inevitably, the dragon gets his comeuppance and is slayed/shot by St George, who succeeds after using his 3rd pistol, the other two traditionally failing to work.

Once this is over, the ring is left to the public to trawl through the sand, and disgarded garments of clothing (I saw t-shirts, socks, shoes), and find a hair for themselves. The rest of the day continues much as the previous two: more singing and dancing, and lots of drinking and eating.

It really was a wonderful experience. I had no idea really what to expect, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I love the way that many of the streets off the Grand Place turn into mini-discos, so you may have about a dozen different sounds coming from one street, with different groups gathered around their own gazebo. Now that I've seen it and know what to expect, I'll treat next year's doudou more as a local, and less as a tourist.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thurs 27 May - Train Strike(ish)

Got caught up in an impromptu train strike on my way back from work this afternoon. Had heard mutterings from people as they got on at various stops and managed to work out that the train was terminating at Châtelet, still 40mins short of Mons. This was confirmed by the train manager who reassured us all that a bus would be waiting there, ready to take everyone onto Charleroi, the next stop. He lied. There was no bus. Or any intention of there being a bus.

I listened in on a conversation between someone and the guy working at the station's ticket office. La grève. Strike. Train drivers and staff had staged an unannounced strike, which had started over an hour ago. No one knew why, or for how long. The ticket office worker just greeted every enquiry with that great, stereotypical gallic shrug. The face, the eyebrows, all go up, the shoulders too, and the bottom lip sticks out. It means: "who knows." But, it could also mean: "I don't know, I don't really care, now leave me alone."

I ended up chatting to a couple of people at the station, asking them whether they had any idea how long these things last, and what I should do. They told me just to stay put for now as the whole network had come to a standstill. One of them was on his way to Paris for the French Open the next day. I found out that it's not just us Brits that jokingly take the view that, 'when he wins, he's Britain's Andy Murray, and when he loses, he's Scotland's Andy Murray.' The Walloons do it too. But, when talking about Kim Clijsters. When she wins, she's Belgium's Kim Clijsters, and when she loses, she's Flanders' Kim Clijsters. The same joke is used in the north about Justine Henin, I imagine.

Him, and his partner, also had a good moan about life in Wallonia. About how nothing works, there are always strikes for no reason, it's corrupt, and everyone is stuck at home all day living off state handouts. In fact, they were not the only people I've spoken to from this region who share this view. Two of the students I currently teach, and 2 or 3 before them, have similarly echoed this view. The common theme is envy and anger that Flanders is so far ahead of Wallonia, in virtually every way, and that there's very little good about living in Wallonia. At least two of my past students even told me they were actively looking for ways to emigrate as soon as possible.

I guess one glimmer of light is to be found in a news story which reports that actually last year more foreign businesses chose to invest their money and resources in Wallonia than Flanders.
A reason isn't given in the article, but I imagine it must be cheaper to set up projects in the south, although that must be offset by the excessive bureaucracy and tax burden.

I only ended up waiting just over an hour for the strike to end. Just before 4.30, everything was up and running as normal, as if nothing had happened. And I'm still none the wiser as to why the strike happened in the first place. Reading the Belgian press didn't shed much light on the matter either. That's 3 impromptu strikes since I've been here, I think. Not a patch on France, yet.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sat 22 May - Namur

The place I always struggle to pronounce correctly. Now, I think of how we you say manure and it makes it a lot easier. If you're not from or live in Belgium you will have no idea what I'm talking about.

Spent the day here. A wonderfully warm late Spring's day. I found Wallonia's capital to be a very chic and stylish looking place. The main shopping street could have been any street in any British city, but the narrow, windy ones were a delight. Endless boutique shops and cafes, and the place generally looking a lot wealthier and smarter than Mons. Less dog crap on the pavements too. Ahh, the things I look out for!

Had a walk around the citadel too; one of its main attractions. It was okay. Nothing to write home about.

Definitely somewhere to return to, with a view to paying the museums and galleries a visit next time.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fri 21 May

Found a few facts and figures relating to the Belgians whilst trawling through Le Metro, which has become my indispensable guide to all things going on in this country. That, and being very helpful at expanding my French vocab.

A study has found that about one in four Belgians smoke, with the habit increasing with age. Whereas around 25% of 15-24 year olds smoke, that figure rises to 33% for 45-54 year olds. Some of these figures do seem to vary according to which report you consult. It also suggest that Belgians are towards the lower end of the scale in terms of people who smoke in the EU, according to a European Commission study released last year which showed the Greeks to be Europe's biggest smokers at 42% (so when they're not busy rioting, they're busy smoking), with the Slovaks the lowest at 22%. We're on 28%, which is about 5 points higher than I thought we'd be, although the effects of the smoking ban may take a few more years to kick in.

Yet more evidence (this time more than simply my anecdotal stuff) to back up my claims of 'rip-off Belgium,' are found in a joint Franco-Belgian study which concludes that the cost of food is on average 12% more expensive in Belgium compared to France. A food basket containing exactly the same items from the two countries will cost you €473.50 in France (that's some weekly shop), but will set you back €540.60 in Belgium. There are variations within the report of certain foods being cheaper in Belgium, but overall the picture is one that I've been boringly banging on about since I moved here.

And, staying with this theme, a European Commission report this week finds that Belgium has amongst the dearest mobile phone (le GSM as they're sometimes called here) tariffs in the EU. Only Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands pay more to use theirs.

And so to something different. Whilst browsing through my Metro this week I stumbled across a job advert for a number of posts at a hotel in Brussels. The whole advert had been written using some rather bad English, and I know it's cruel to laugh, especially when I'd love my French to be this 'bad,' but it did make me giggle. A lot. For example, the vacancies listed include: 'revenue manager,' 'floor supervisor' (whatever that is) and a 'mice coordinator.' Now, I'm not entirely sure what a 'mice coordinator' is. At first I thought they meant cleaner but they have also listed 'public cleaner' as an available post.

Maybe something to do with pest control, but aren't they usually linked to environmental health type agencies? Still, the advert asks you to: "Challenge yourself for Great Spirit at work...at a hotel that is away from the ordinary." And to reply, you are to, "jump on your mobile and compose 02 224..." I'm sure there are dozens of other gems in the Metro everyday, and I shall now be trying to look out for them.

I never understand why when foreign companies or galleries/museums, or governmental bodies, want to write something in English, they don't double-check things with a native English-speaker first. But then if they did, it'd take away my fun.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thurs 20 May - The Bins

The Socialist cartel is alive and well in Mons, with the binmen as loyal henchmen. My reasoning? The rubbish collection of course. Or the rules surrounding it. Even more precisely, the type of bag you are supposed to put your household waste in to. I'd never really paid much attention to Mons' bin bags before...until the ones left behind by the previous tenants in my house had run out and I had to buy some new ones. I innocently bought your standard, sturdy, black types.

The result? They didn't collect them, for two weeks in a row. I noticed (by keeping a beady eye on every rubbish bag I walked past for the next week) that every single house, property and shop all put out the same particular white bin bag with red lettering marked on it. I tried, in vain, to buy these specific bags at numerous shops but couldn't find them anywhere, so I settled on any white bags I could find. And of course they didn't collect them. Then one week they did, then they didn't.

These damn bags will set you back €8.70 for 10. What kind of country thinks it's okay to charge such a ridiculous amount for bin bags? The same kind that thinks it's justified to force you to buy "their bin bags" and then charge you a stupid amount for the privilege. But, I have no choice. It's either buy their brand or never have your rubbish collected. And that's what happens when a place is run by a cartel. Long live free market capitalism and that thing called consumer choice; carefully monitored of course to prevent monopolies taking over! See "First" and its running (down) of Bristols' buses for an example of how bad they can be.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wed 12 May - 6 Days After The General Election Night Before

I know this is supposed to be a blog about my time in Belgium (and surrounding countries!), but you'll forgive me if I devote this entry to commenting on what has come to be regarded as the most exciting British General Election ever, to be followed by its even more fascinating aftermath.

I managed to tear myself away (very briefly) from BBC1's election coverage in order to ensure that I at least had some sleep before my trip to Munich. 2 hours was all I could bear, such was the excitement and unpredictability of the night. Even at 4.15am, the time when I forced myself to go to bed, the outcome was still uncertain. I actually awoke in time to witness the highlight of the evening/morning for me: the election of Britain's first ever Green MP, Caroline Lucas.

And so, for the second election in a row, the hundreds of opinion polls were once again actually correct. In fact, the joint BBC/ITV/SKY exit poll was spot on in pointing to our first hung parliament since 1974, with the Conservatives the biggest party, and the Lib Dems down on seats, despite the 'Clegg Bounce' and surge in support for the Liberals, thanks mainly to the Leaders TV Debates.

It's the bit that came next that had me glued to the radio/tv/internet for days. After 5 days of discussions, political wranglings, media reports of which take-aways were being ordered by the parties in order to keep them going during negotiations that spilled over into the small hours of the mornings, we knew by Tuesday evening that we had our first coalition government since the Second World War: a Conservative/Lib Dem one. The 3 main options open were really: Con/Lib coalition, Lib-Labour coalition, or a Conservative minority government, relying on votes from the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland. The latter was seen to be the most unstable, most precarious, and most likely to result in another general election later this year.

What made me laugh was all the talk of a "progressive coalition" between Labour and the Lib Dems, and how any other scenario was clearly not 'progressive' (whatever this word is supposed to mean. A friend reckons it's the new, acceptable word for 'socialist.'). Now, I know Labour has enacted some excellent policies since 1997 (enormous improvements in the NHS, especially for cancer patients, minimum wage, civil partnerships, although gay marriage would have been even better in my book, Sure Start centres, maternity/paternity leave, and a lot more. Yes, Labour wasn't all that bad), but to start calling it a 'progressive' party is a bit of a joke, and an insult, in my eyes. A progressive party wouldn't have spent the last decade doing all it could to erode our civil liberties, all in the name of the nebulous concept of security. A progressive party wouldn't have introduced some of the most draconian and authoritarian policies ever passed in Britain, and given the police a ridiculous amount of power to implement them. A progressive party wouldn't have taken joint responsibility for one of the most immoral, reckless, and badly planned wars since Vietnam, resulting in the deaths of anywhere between 100,000 + and a million Iraqi civilians (whichever report you care to believe) whether directly or indirectly.

To call the proposed alliance with the Lib Dems a progressive one was frankly preposterous in my view. The arithmetic also didn't add up. Together, Labour and the Lib Dems (315 seats) would still have fallen short of an overall majority (326), although their vote combined totalled over 5 million more than the Tories, or 52% of all votes. So, yes, together they commanded far more votes. But, Labour had also polled its worst showing of votes since 1983, and lost more seats than at any other time since 1931. The election result was clearly not a ringing endorsement of the Conservatives (glad to see that as a nation, many of us still remain suspicious and wary of the Tories), but it was clearly a huge rejection of the Labour Party, and in particular Gordon Brown. In fact, he was probably one of the main reasons the party did so badly. That, and simple voter fatigue with a party in power for 13 years.

What I loved was the complete chutzpah (to be expected, though) of people like Alan Johnson and Alastair Campbell, spin master extraordinaire, claiming that in fact no one had won this election. Well yes, technically, no one had won the overall majority, but in a choice between the Tories and Labour, the Tories won hands down. They won far more votes and seats than any other party and so had the right to govern, whether alone or as part of a coalition.

The fact that Labour hoped to remain in power with the Liberals as their partners just seemed outrageous to me. Even more so, Gordon Brown standing down as Labour leader first in order to boost the chances of such an alliance (yet more acknowledgement that the voters wanted to see the back of him). An act I believe was selfish and solely in the interests of his party and not the country, despite what papers like The Guardian tried to portray it as. Labour's very poor showing had meant they had lost all moral legitimacy to govern. Of course all of this was occuring because of the criminally unfair and undemocratic voting system that we have in place.

And so watching Tuesday's joint press conference on the Downing Street lawn by new PM David Cameron and his deputy and Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, was a rather surreal and astonishing experience to say the least. Branded, within minutes, as a 'love-in' by our wonderfully cynical media, it certainly tore up all the election rule books and got us all feeling a little confused and, if you're a hardened Lib Dem supporter, bitter.

I would just say that given a choice between a Tory government, and a Tory government hopefully restrained and tamed by the Liberals, I'd go for the latter ever time. Of course I'd prefer not to see the Tories in power at all but that's not possible for now. 5 Lib Dem MPs have formed part of Dave's cabinet, with a further 20 odd taking up ministerial posts. The new fixed 5 year terms is welcome, but not so changing the rules so that now 55% of MPs must get together to back a vote of no confidence in the government and force the dissolution of parliament, down from 50% + 1. So, even if the Lib Dems pull out of the coalition and vote with everyone else, they'd still only number 53% of all MPs. It's getting very tiring hearing Cameron bang on about bringing "strong and stable government" to Britain, as his main justification for this proposed change.

As for whether this coalition will last the distance? I'd probably say more likely no than yes, but who knows. The Economist has given its usual incisive and overly optimistic verdict, pointing out that Cameron is a shrewd and skilled operator who will do all he can in order to ensure that it succeeds. There is a strange combination of damp praise by the right of centre media for the Tories finally taking office, whilst being wary of the presence of the Liberals, and the left of centre media predicting the beginning of the end for the Lib Dems, in line to be punished and thrashed by those on the left at the next election. And of course how Labour can now proudly boast to being the only 'progressive' party left in Britain. And an enviable choice of contenders to lead them out of opposition. One from either the Moribund brothers, or Ed Balls. I certainly share Lib Dem MP, and new Home Office Minister, Lynne Featherstone's concern that once again all three parties will probably be led by people who are 'male and pale.'

The reaction of the media is also in part because we are just not used to this style of politics. Nobody really knows what to expect. How can it possibly work they shout? Well, if we do end up having PR (although with the Tories in power we'll never get the truly proportional STV form of PR, more the watered down AV variety if approved in a referendum), we need to be getting used to coalition governments. I for one like the idea of parties being forced to work together, reaching compromise, and not left free and unchallenged to pass any law they see fit. And I'd say this was far more in keeping with the national character of our typically moderate British electorate: neither truly staunchly Conservative or Labour, but a mixture of both, but also rather Liberal at the same time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fri 7 May - Sun 9 May: München

Our second trip to Germany, and for me, on the back of only 2 hours sleep, due to the small matter of staying up all night to watch the General Election. More of which on the next blog entry.

You know you're in Germany when...you're at the airport, waiting for your luggage, and the screen above the belt says that your bags are to be loaded onto it in "16 minutes." Not 15, but 16 mins. In fact, I only waited 7. They're even more efficient that we're led to believe.

"Laptop and lederhosen." is the expression apparently used by Germans to describe the paradox that is Bavaria, and its capital, Munich. And there was certainly plenty of the latter on display. At first I thought it might be due to a local festival, or perhaps it was because of the weekend and they were 'dressing up,' but I've read that for some Bavarians it's just standard, everyday clothing for them. I think they look rather strange. Actually, it makes the men look like overgrown public school boys. I kept thinking of Just William. C thinks they look quite sexy in them. Yeah, can't see it myself. Didn't see many women in them, but I am reliably informed by a German friend that it's becoming more and more common for women to wear it.

The city itself takes some time to warm to, in my opinion. The main square on Marienplatz is rather small with the impressive Neues Rathaus, or new town hall, (which needs a damn good clean), a few historical buildings scattered around in no particular order, together with a few modern shops and chains. Distinctly underwhelming for what is supposed to be the focal point of the city. A very high climb to the tower of St Peter's church gives you the panoramic view, but nothing different to the same kind of view I've seen over a dozen times, and not really marking out Munich as being particularly distinctive.

What is fun, or not if you're not too partial to heights, is the very tight space you find yourself in when trying to catch a glimpse of the city below you. There are tall barriers in place but nothing in between you and them so you're right in front of them as you as soon as you exit the tower. There was no way I was going to lean on them, no matter how secure they appeared. In order to walk around you literally had to squeeze past people.

It's only by devoting enough time walking around do you get a good feel of a place. And the more I saw of Munich, the more I liked. My highlights would have to be two of Munich's many parks: the splendid and perfectly manicured Hofgarten, and the wonderful Englisher Garten. And in keeping with tradition we even saw a game of cricket in the latter. I saw two wickets fall! There's also a small area of one of the park's streams which creates waves big enough to have been adopted by 'city-surfers', and we saw several showing off to the surrounding tourists all snapping away.

I think it's quite hard to say why I've enjoyed so much the trips to Munich and, last December, to Cologne. They're obviously not the tourist traps of places like Paris, or Rome, or London. And they don't have that stand-out "must see" thing that you are told about in advance. Speaking as a Briton, I can't remember ever hearing anyone say that they planned to holiday, or even take a break, in Germany. True, it's not as exotic or as fashionable as other places, but I think it's almost just as rewarding for the type of experience you get. You have to work harder to appreciate Germany I'd say, on the back of my two short trips there. You can't just hovver around the centre and expect to find everything you came to see all easily mapped out in front of you.

You have to move away and discover its other areas. Which I guess could be said of any city, but how many people actually explore much beyond the obvious sights? If you come to Munich, or Cologne (and I'm going to guess other German cities) and never venture very far, you're most likely to go home feeling disappointed.

I have also found a real affinity with the Germans, in the same way as I have with the Flemish. Again, maybe it's because I know that almost everyone I speak to will have excellent English and so I can actually have a proper conversation with them. But, the place just feels far more like England than I have ever felt in Wallonia, France, Spain. They also serve fabulous coffee.

Not too mad on the cuisine, although it doesn't help that I don't eat pork sausages which sort of cuts in half things you can actually eat there. The only night we went out for a traditional German meal I ate some rather tastless and dry duck (I think it probably was the entire thing, judging by the size of it), potato dumplings (foul), and red cabbage (usually a fan, but this one was too sour for my liking). All served to us by a very tall and buxom woman in lederhosen. They are a big-boned lot, these German women. I don't mean overweight, more large-looking. Wouldn't look out of place playing rugby.

The trains, surprise surprise, were all quick and punctual. For €9.40 you can buy an all-day ticket which covers up to 5 people.

3 nights is certainly enough time to see a lot, although there was still plenty more we could have done. Munich enters my "list of cities I want to see again."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wed 5 May - English Girls

For the second time I noticed the same woman carrying a Next carrier bag. Now, only someone from the UK would have such a thing. I noticed her and her friend last week but couldn't quite hear what language they were speaking in because the train carriage we were sitting in was so noisy. This time I made sure I sat opposite them. And yes they are indeed English, probably from Manchester I'd guess. All this time, going about my daily life in Belgium, I hear people speak, catch snippets of their conversation, and occasionally understand half of what is said, other times very little. But, for the first time in 6 months I have been able to understand every bit of a stranger's banal nattering. Whenever I hear French spoken I am never really able to distinguish between the banal and the serious. But I guess people, no matter what language they are speaking, are always having the same kind of conversations: the weather, work, love life, celebrity gossip.

If I see them again next week I think I might have to ask what on earth they're doing here in Wallonia.

There's a great notice that you find on many of the trains:
"Tout le monde n'a pas envie d'entendre que vous appelez votre cheri "mon petit lapin." Soyez discret avec votre portable."

Which translates as: "People really don't want to hear you telling your love that they are your "little rabbit." Be discreet when using your mobile."