Networking. Not something I was born to, but I am told by people in the know that I have to, on occasion, make an effort. One such recent occasion had managed to worm its way into my diary so I found myself entering the lobby of a fabulously traditional venue in London, the kind I hadn’t known still existed: doormen in tails and hats, marble floors, curved stairs with brass railings, “powder rooms”.
As I worked my way across the room in the direction of someone I wanted to speak to I was accosted by an important looking older man. He checked my name tag and said “Oh, you don’t have any children then?” That was a bad start. I instantly disliked the guy. Every fiber in my being stirred against the presumptuousness of this man, and worse, that he was only asking a personal question to find out the first thing about me at a professional networking event. Somehow I managed to exercise restraint and simply respond “sure I do”, perhaps a little too curtly but not so much he noticed. “Oooh, how many?” I always want to say “10!” when the question is put to me like that, but again I desisted. He went on to ask me how old my children were, and when I said my oldest was 15 he exclaimed “Surely not! You don’t look old enough!” And instantly I mellowed, and forgave him all his stupidity. What a lovely man!
Statistics can prove anything. They have now confirmed that London is the 6th largest city in France: more French people live in London than in Bordeaux, for example. There is also a significant French community in the Scandinavian countries. The French are taking these facts on the chin, and just work with it: they have created a “Northern Europe” constituency in Parliament. It’s a way of keeping ties with those who left, perhaps aimed at enticing them back one day. I may be ill informed but I don’t know of any other country that gives its expats a voice in home politics. My own experience is that my home country has shown no interest in me whatsoever since I registered abroad – I chose to leave so stuff me. Which is fair enough.
If lots and lots of us were to emigrate I suspect there would be a whole lot of navel gazing about what is driving the population away. Of course there aren’t very many of us, so the impact would be magnified. Not the French officialdom. They are confident they are the best country in the world to live in, and I imagine they are grateful for the French citizens who have kindly volunteered to go spread French culture and values to the barbarian hordes. And so am I, to some extent: I love to have French wine, patisserie and cheese among my options. Just like I love to have a few Danish pastry options. That is one of the things I love about living near enough London: it is metropolitan. I even heard a couple of women talking in Dutch in my local farm shop yesterday, in the sticks!
Maybe the French are plotting to claim London as their territory one day. I am not sure they ever got over the wars. And I do think they want a piece of the show here. Did you see the Royal river pageant for the Queen’s Jubilee today? Absolutely fabulous darling, despite the rain:
Love this recreation of the painting!
When I landed in Brussels for the first time in 11 years I didn’t recognize anything. I had expected to feel home, the way I had when I landed here during the months of commuting between London and Belgium before making the move west. Since then I have been back and forth with cars full of family, dog, and lots of stuff (the stuff mostly of the edible and drinkable kind, strictly going west) but never by plane. This being the first business trip in all those years time was finally more valuable than space and so I found myself in a bright, busy could-be-anywhere airport.
That all changed at night. Many things do. I made it into Leuven town centre on a nostalgia trip, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The hurdles on my path were so many I had begun to believe the whole idea was jinxed. The first was: I was seriously sleep deprived and a part of me was screaming to just go to bed in that lovely loft room. Hunger however was worse so I had to have dinner. Easy: eat at the hotel, then go to bed before anyone notices. Problem number two: the hotel restaurant was closed, and the hotel was just out of town. Problem number three: I had let my colleagues, who had the good sense to go home at a reasonable time, lock my coat in the office and so had no coat to brave the frost that night. Desperation set in.
I did the lost girl thing to the hotel receptionist, which is not my usual style but desperation is the mother of resourcefulness. And hark: he could lend me a nice warm coat, only slightly oversized, a bike, and a set of bike lights; he showed me how to work the bike lock and gave me directions. The answer to all my problems! I’d forgotten how well suited a bike is to seeing a town. Just the right speed and hop on and off as you like. London is finally cottoning on, but in Belgium we’ve known this for yonks.
Leuven town centre still looks very much as I remembered it. The historic buildings of course ensure the cityscape does not change. But I even found many cafes and restaurants we used to frequent as students way back then: one where they had good spaghetti, one where we’d occasionally splash out on a steak, and many cafes that bring back memories of evenings out with fellow students. The drowning Margriet statue is still there, as is the experimental theatre cafe that still seems to attract the more obscure “Culture” fanatics. They had huge screens in there now that were displaying some experimental video work.
I ended my pilgrimage in a restaurant with its own house brewery, enjoying a delicious pheasant with chicory and wine poached pear accompanied by the house Troubadour blond beer. Which I had never heard of but enjoyed greatly. Not a bad workday night.