Category Archives: Brussels

Christmas lights

The traffic has started flowing again after the expiry of the overnight curfew. I shall miss the curfew to be honest; it has made the nights lovely and quiet. But I shall not miss the reason for the curfew and show me someone who will.

It’s 23 December; in the background, Michael McDonald is singing the Wexford Carol, and later, it will segue to some one of Michael Bublé’s Christmas numbers. For this year, that album has been quite the discovery.

Under normal circumstances, I would not by typing this; no, I would be chasing around, tidying stuff up so the place wasn’t a complete mess when I got back in January and in an hour’s time I’d be making my way to the airport to get a flight back to Dublin. But that’s not happening. Sorry Aer Lingus but I guess you are not totally surprised. I’ve rescheduled for March. For the first time in my life I will not be spending Christmas in Ireland.

I am philosophical about this. I knew as far back as September, when I originally booked the Christmas flight home, that there was a great risk I would not be home for Christmas. I gambled but since I could reschedule the flight, I have not yet lost out financially anyway. Although…

One of the things that makes this harder are discussions about how terrible this is, and what a pity that is. You know, it’s hard but I have a choice to make here which is basically to get on with things and make a fabulous Christmas within the limits of the possible, or mourn it. It’s one year, hopefully. I chose to buy Christmas decorations and plan a Christmas menu. Who knows how it will turn out, but still…

If you know people who have decided not to travel for Christmas, given the times that are in it, don’t go on about how awful it is. It is a mark of overwhelming privilege that you can think this. It doesn’t have to be awful or great but you – or I – can make of it what we will and if you go down the “it’ll be awful” route or the “pity” route, well that reflects on you.

I’m writing this mostly because I need to get the message out that it can be okay, at the very least. I’m listening to stoic people talking about being stoic, and I am reading the words of miserable people talking about working all the time because what is the point.

I am sorry for these people. I understand it is hard. But on a scale of hardness, it doesn’t come close to being the hardest thing I have had to do this year. Again, if it is the hardest thing you have to do all year, trust me, you have not done badly. Some people did not get to go to family funerals and those are one shot opportunities. I live not far from Porte de Namur metro station and a lot of people sleep in that station. If there is anyone left in the western world who does not know someone who got Covid 19 and the fear that must go with that at the moment, then, god are you lucky.

2020 has been, to all intents and purposes, a traincrash of a year on many levels and while there is light at the end of the tunnel on some fronts, it is likely that 2021 brings the hope of better rather than the delivery of better in the short term. I don’t want to wallow in the traincrashiness of it. I want to sit in my living room, take pleasure in my Christmas tree which, today, was lit before the Christmas lights on Avenue de la Toison d’Or. I might sign up for Disney Plus and watch Fantasia, several times. I was reminded of it last night because no one recognised The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on University Challenge and I feel like seeing it again. I shall listen to Leontyne Price singing O Holy Night. I shall not listen to the Pogues singing Fairytale of New York.

This year is different, and I am building the Christmas I can rather than the Christmas that would be if I just abdicated and said how awful it is. There will be next year.

2020, being as it is, has also brought interesting things. I watched Newgrange’s sunrise on Sunday last; the weather was helpfully clear and yes, we saw the dagger of light. The way that passageway lit up was glorious. I don’t know how much you’d really see that of a normal year since normally, there are people in there. I think this year offered a very unique opportunity to experience Newgrange, sitting in Brussels, and the weather cooperated. I tend to see 20 December as my personal New Year’s Eve rather than 31 December. It’s the day the northern hemisphere starts to tilt back towards the daylight and we can look forward to a few seconds more each day. Of course, the downside of that is Twitter fills up with “grand stretch” memes but fine. Let people have their smiles.

I learned, mostly courtesy of Brexit and recent history in the US that there is very little so bad that someone cannot possibly make it worse for other people in some way. At the moment, I am thinking of the army of truckers stuck in South East England where a combination of preChristmas, Covid19 being apparently out of control in the UK and preBrexit has led to thousands of mostly men being stuck broadly in the middle of nowhere. Some people might cynically point at it in an abstract manner and talk about how Brexit will be. But that misses the very human impact on these worker’s lives. You might like the finer things from your local good supermarket, or your amazon orders but they don’t get to you without goods traffic moving and right now it is not.

Somewhat apocryphally, Michael Bublé is singing I’ll be Home for Christmas, which, although written for another time and event, is appropriate for a lot of people, but I, at least, am not in a lorry cab in Kent.

It’s ten past 7 on Christmas Eve Eve. It’s now fairly clear I won’t get my other wish, namely a white Christmas; even the few snowflakes promised for New Year’s Eve aren’t looking good this year. But there is a 1000 piece jigsaw, a sewing machine and if they aren’t sold out, possibly an overlocker to make new clothes for 2021. I will be in regular contact with friends and family. All told, I have a lot to be thankful, and maybe one of the biggest one is that I can take a step back, and say, this Christmas will be different but it will still be a day of hope for the future.

just a day of rain

Courtesy of an assortment of events, mainly the one that was “moving from Luxembourg to Brussels”, I have only just gotten around to taking summer holidays. As a result, it is entirely in keeping with 2020 as a year that

  • It has started raining, quite a lot, and
  • there is a public transport strike
  • I cannot go anywhere because covid-19 has limited the number of places that would allow me to a) have a holiday and b) not quarantine at both ends of the holiday. So I am in Brussels.

Such is life. I have, after a month of no satisfaction with one network provider, finally been equipped with home broadband and television service. I think there is phone too but the handset was complaining about a lack of base and that’s not super urgent for the time being. Anyway.

So I’ve spent the first day of my holidays in FNAC and CoolBlue looking at stuff to buy. And scaring Mr Visa Card. I will have a television tomorrow with, apparently, BBC1 and BBC2. Good times.

I’ve been in Brussels a month now and it is the first time I’ve “moved back” to a place rather than Dublin. I left Brussels (the last time) 21 years ago, and there’s a part of me finds it hard to believe that. The place has, understandably changed a lot in the meantime. ING now occupy what used to be the HQ of General de Banque. For some odd reason that was one of my favourite buildings in Brussels. Not sure why; but then I liked the old Central Bank in Dublin and apparently I was the only one who did. Anyway, the metro line numbers have changed and the Virgin Megastore has closed. Maybe it closed before I moved; I cannot remember. Marks and Spencers has closed, opened and closed again in that time so basically, no Marks and Spencers.

I’ve changed too and so it matters to me that around the corner from where I live are 2 sewing machine shops and 3 fabric shops. I’m also not too far from Filigranes and a decent enough FNAC. Both of them have gotten money off me for jigsaws. FNAC also helpfully told me to day that all the concerts in 2020 have been canceled so if I want to see Florent Pagny in concert, the current scheduled date is November 2021.

Seems a long way off.

All that’s really urgently left on my shopping list is a printer of some description. I’ll sort that out later or tomorrow after the television has arrived.

It’s a really exciting start to the holidays. I hope it stops raining and then I will go to Antwerp. According to Reddit it has a gorgeous train station. And according to the wedding board on boards.ie, really cheap diamonds. I’m not getting engaged any time soon but in the words of a singer I cannot stand, namely Beyoncé, if I want a diamond ring I’ll buy my own one.