Monday, August 29, 2011

Sat 27 August - Sun 28 August

This was Tanks in Town weekend. A procession of tanks pour into the centre of Mons to commerate the liberation of the city by the allies in 1944. It was a really nice and fun (if that's the appropriate word) occasion.

At first everyone is kept behind barriers whilst each and every armoured vehicle enters the Grand Place. Once they were all in, you were able to walk around and inspect and touch them. You could also chat to the people driving them. Judging by their appearance, safe to say that no one there was actually involved in the war. I guess there comes a certain age when driving a tank is probably no longer deemed safe.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mon 22 August

Summer has been a bit of a damp squib. Following on from what happened last year, August has been a pretty wet and unsettled affair. Although at least we had a scorching July last time around. This year, one day sun, then rain, then sun again. Has felt very English.

I heard the weather forecast the other day on Radio 4. It said "sunny spells, with occasional showers." That's pretty much how you could sum up an English summer.

Well, July was supposed to be the quiet month work-wise, but I actually had quite a bit of work in the end. It's been August that's been the quiet month this summer. Almost all of my students have at some point taken the obligatory 3-4 weeks off.

And if they're not abroad, they're doing up their house. Everyone seems to follow a very definite pattern throughout the year: January-February, go skiing. April-May, woodcutting(don't ask). And summer is time for renovation and/or painting and decorating. They're all at it.

Have been using my spare time to write, write and write. Have notions of becoming a freelance political writer/analyst, or whatever you want to call it. Partly inspired by my desire to try and do something other than a souless office job when I eventually get back to England. Of course I'll probably have to, for a while, until I find something else.

But, the writing gives me something else to focus on. And maybe a way out at some point in the future. And I like it. A lot. And I'm quite good at it. I think. In the name of cross-referencing/convergence, or whatever you want to call it, here are three articles that I've recently had published on the political blog Left Foot Forward, it being of the left/liberal persuasion. They were on: UK riots, the price of trains, and health and safety.

Have also found out that there will be no option to extend our stay in Belgium beyond our 3 year period. C will have to do a handover to her successor for a few weeks, which will mean moving back to England end of November/beginning of December 2012. Trying not to think too much about it at the moment. Have been in a bit of an anti-Belgium mood for weeks now. After almost 2 years here, you get a decent idea of how things work, or don't, as is usually the case.

Needless to say, I shall return to this familiar theme in the future. The thought of leaving behind our new wonderful friends though is not something I'm looking forward to.

There are however many, many things I cannot wait to get back to when I return. That's still a long way off, but another theme I'll return to - stay tuned!

Sun 21 August - De Panne

Or La Panne if you're that way inclined. Second trip to the seaside after last Summer's day excurison to Oostende/Ostend. I imagine this is what the local tourist board would call the "Belgian Riviera." Like its sister resort, it's not much to write home about. Enormous beaches (a good point), sand (an even better point), and lots and lots of families, together with endless entertainment for the little ones: bouncy castles, merry-go-rounds, sing-a-longs.

Not hugely different to Oostende really. Maybe a tad uglier. The seafront is of course replete with high rise flats, hotels, and the kind of stuff you expect to see. The restaurants serving the same kind of grub I've seen everywhere else in Belgium.

The architecture does get a lot more interesting and diverse once you leave the seafront area. A mix of art-deco buildings, and the old sitting alongside the very modern.

That's all I can really say of De Panne. Lying on the beach for a couple of hours, listening to the cricket on my Roberts radio, was very relaxing. I guess the overcast conditions didn't make it too crowded, although its size helps.

What was interesting was that all I could hear were French voices. Now, I read a few months ago that the traditional Easter time "exchange" - whereby, Walloons flock to the Flemish coast, and the Flemings head to the Ardennes - never really happened this year. According to a report (I wish I could find the source), the numbers in both directions had fallen dramatically compared to previous years.

Reasons given vary from the economic climate, the good weather keeping Flemings on the Flemish coast, at least, to unofficial boycotts by both communities at visiting each others' regions. Either way, these reasons no longer apply. All I could hear was French. I did notice a large number of French numberplates on the walk back to the car, but a student of mine insists that De Panne is hugely popular with Walloons, and that most French-speakers here would have been Walloon. They certainly had the air of Wallooness. That's me being (almost) diplomatic.

Before heading home, we stopped off at a quaint little Flemish town called Veurne, and had dinner in their very sweet and compact Grand Place. There are meant to be dozens of towns like this dotted all over Flanders, but this was my first visit to one.

And I'll leave you with this, taken from an article in The Independent, written in 2003, and entitled: "In search of...The Belgian Riviera." This very accurately sums up Flemish seaside resorts:

"It's not the height of glamour, but the Flemish coast has miles of family-friendly sand...They're trying to promote their meagre 42 miles of a major holiday destination. Well, it's not hot and it's not really stylish - but the good news is that the Belgian coast is one great sandy strip lined by a string of well-equipped resorts. There's a generally well-behaved atmosphere and it's a safe, clean place for children.

The bad news is that these resorts are modern, flat, windswept places, their promenades backed by concrete apartment blocks and hotels. The sands can extend for half a mile at low tide and become dangerously close to what you might call mud flats in places. Just don't expect Bruges-by-the-Sea."