Continental weekend for the bank holiday

Saturday May 29th. Despite the excitement of going abroad – which I always love – I am sorry to leave the garden which is beginning to look exciting to me. I realise this means I’m turning into one of those unbelievably old people who would rather stay at home and supervise the watering, instead of taking the opportunity to “club” in a Euro hotspot. But to a certain extent I’ve always been one of those. It’s just more focussed now. How will the new lawn cope without me? Will my seedlings survive? How can I stop the cat from laying on top of them if I’m not there? But I am strong. I grit my teeth, force myself to be sociable, pack and go.

And it is worth it. F’s friend is holding a party a short drive away from Calais. When we get there, the vast quantities of flowers and white linen proclaim this to be a wedding and it proves so. We sit and eat nice food at a variety of tables. At the first there is a mixture of french and english people so the question du jour has to be “Demain; Oui, ou Non?” “Oui” is the answer from all around our table. The party must be very unrepresentative as the answer on Monday’s Bruges news proves to be “Non”. Even though I can’t understand the Flemish language at all, it is is very easy to read the relief on Jack Straw’s face, and later on Tony Blair’s. If that is the will of the people, we will listen to it, they intone with suitable humility. But they seem strangely pleased. I know I am. Because, sad to say, I haven’t read the 500 page proposed constitution. Or even one page of it. In fact, I wouldn’t know where to get my hands on it. it is impossible to say yes to something I haven’t read and where I can’t trust the summaries – not that there have been any much in evidence.

Maybe there are some online

Yes, there are, but I still can’t be bothered to read it.
Anyway, I leap ahead of myself. The Constitution is part of the evening debate, also covered are the usual topics of the educated British middle classes – how early can we retire, give up our fabulous jobs and dedicate ourselves to self improvement and gratification? How much do our children’s babysitters cost? How shocked are we when people cross picket lines? Will ID cards be a bad thing or a good thing?

The evening is progressively colder and colder, although the generous flow of wine means I am too drunk to care.

The next day, on a fine, sunny morning, and after a quick trip round Azincourt, we set off for Bruges, where the weather rapidly turns rainy. We stay in the Montana Hotel. Bruges is unremittingly pretty. Not at all multicultural. I think I may be the only ethnic minority there. But everyone is very pleasant. We explore a couple of churches which are incredibly stuffed and overstuffed with paintings, huge golden organ pipes and fabulous pulpits, borne aloft by cherubs. We eat in an OK restaurant.

Monday is wet, wet, wet. We take directions for Ypres, or Ieper, as it’s called here. This is much, much more moving than I expected. The Menin gate is astonishing. More so with its long list of asian names. I find myself standing in surprising tears at the sacrifice of it all, and the oneness of humanity. Until a Belgian guns his car straight at me and I escape death only by an Olympic leap for the kerb. But the feeling stays with me. We drive to Tyne Cot, where the simple white block headstones contrast with the white crosses of the second world war, which we saw in Normandy last year. A startling pink swathe of poppies cuts across a head stone in the grey downpour.

It is bitterly cold and wet. If it’s like this in June, god alone can imagine what it was like in November after a few months of trench warfare. We try out the Passchendale Musueum, with its reconstructed trench system, which is also very impressive.

We have a late lunch in “The Poppy” on the main street of Ypres, and set off to return to Bruges., As we approach Bruges, the sky becomes bluer and it dries out, allowing us to take a boat trip around the canals. Skippered by a tall, skinny middle class native with a heavy hand for joky remarks and a shameless tout for tips, it is nevertheless a beautiful and impressive trip.

We eat in “Cafedraal” . Possibly the worst restaurant I have eaten in for a lot of money. I propose the chateaubriand, but when it comes it is a sorry travesty. pre hacked, cooked medium, despite my request for rare, with some waterlogged and unidentifiable vegetable, and apparently culled from some sort of stewing steak, instead of the excellent meat it should be.

but the wine is good. Dispirited, we hand over the £80 and I resolve that is the last time I will eat in Bruges. But it is such a pretty place, I expect I’ll manage to find it in myself to backtrack…

Back home on Tuesday, today, and the good news is that the garden has survived.


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