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On Being Boring

I moved from London to Brussels with my husband nearly 10 years ago. When I told people we were moving, the news was greeted with bemusement: why did we want to move to a city that was possibly the most boring place on earth? Ten years later and I can honestly say that I've had more fun here than I ever did living in London. It might not be the most exciting city in the world but it is a fantastic place to live. It is full of hidden treasures that you probably never get to see as a tourist: wonderful shops, amazing food, great museums and galleries, beautiful architecture, a forest (yes, a whole forest), and so much more... And if that doesn't convince you, well, get on a train and you could be in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne or, yes, London in no more than a couple of hours... Which other city can you say that about?

Friday Night Leftovers

I tried to do this once before, I think: write a little something about what we’d been up to without – shock horror! – accompanying pictures. But I’m actually quite shy and worry I might sound silly. Or worse yet, offend someone. So I don’t think I got very far. I’m going to give it another go though. I’m going to be brave and let you into the little world inside my head (instead of the little world in front of my lens) and we’ll see how long it takes before you’re pleading for me to let you out again.

Monday – A couple of weeks ago, after being hit by a car door, I fell off my bike and needed seven stitches in my arm to put me together again. Then, just a couple of days later, it started snowing. And it didn’t stop for about a week. Having ended up in hospital once already, I really didn’t want to go running in the snow and the ice that followed. I don’t think Hanno would have forgiven me if he’d received yet another emergency call. So I plucked up the courage to try out the gym at work (none of my colleagues want to see me in a hot mess. And I’m one of those people who turns pretty instantly into a copiously oozing, bright red sweat monster at the mere sight of physical activity). Pros of running on a treadmill: you can stop whenever you want to without finding yourself a long walk from home; there’s no rain or ice inside; erm… that’s it. Cons of running on a treadmill: it’s relentlessly boring; you’re inside where there’s no breeze; you can’t take fun detours; the view consists of a white wall; it gets stupidly hot inside; you start being able to smell yourself after about 10 minutes; you can’t run away from people who stare at you; those machines make a heck of a noise; did I mention it’s horrendously boring? To overcome the lack of visual stimulation, I turn on the TV and then set it to mute so I can listen to my iPod instead. Now here’s something I’ve noticed: the TV is usually tuned to MTV or some other such young person’s musical divertissement. Now that’s fine by me because I actually quite enjoy looking at all the pretty singers and their pretty clothes. But what is wrong with them? They all look like they’re having epileptic fits! They don’t dance, they jerk around, limbs flailing, as if they were being electrocuted. Surely dancing like you are having serious convulsions can’t be a “thing” can it? Yes, I’m old. I know. But seriously, next time one of you young’uns is watching your favorite music channel, turn the sound off and just watch the moves. Without the music, I swear it just looks like a sick and very inappropriate joke.

Tuesday – Hanno had just left home. He was going to the shop to buy some milk, then it would have been time to pick Amélie up from school. From the end of our road, you can see the corner shop in one direction and, in the other direction, the road with Amélie’s school on it. As he neared the end of our street, he happened to glance towards the school and, suddenly, the milk could wait. He was running. He could see a mass of blue flashing lights, ambulances and fire-engines, all crowded round the school building. You know what: it’s a good thing I wasn’t picking her up that day, because I would have added terrified screaming to the running. It turns out that there had been a big fire in the adjoining building. Several people had had to be rushed to hospital with burns. And Amélie’s school had been evacuated as it filled with smoke. Now, what you don’t know is that Amélie has a recurring nightmare about our flat being on fire. The thought of being caught in a burning building is one of her worst fears. So as Hanno was telling me this story, all I could think was “oh god, Amélie is going to have been terrified”. But, after Han had found her in the crowd of (by now super excited) children, and they were walking safely home, she proudly told him that, while other people had been screaming and running, she had stayed very calm and just walked out. She never ceases to amaze me.

Wednesday – I mentioned that we’ve had a lot of very cold weather recently. It’s been by turns snowy, icy, and wickedly windy and wet. But as I emerged from the metro station on Wednesday, onto the square with all its restaurants, I could smell cooking. And I realised that this was the first time in weeks that the air had been warm enough and still enough for any smells to actually settle. So I breathed in deep and enjoyed the thought that in just a couple of months, with a bit of luck, I’ll be able to smell not only the delicious odors of cooking food wafting out of the restaurants but also the heat bouncing off the cobblestones, warm bodies sitting on terraces, spilt wine and beer fermenting in the sun, and the water turning stagnant in the fountains (funny the things you miss when you haven’t seen sunlight for months). In the meantime, we’ll keep on taking our vitamin D to stave off winter-induced depression.

Thursday – About twice a year, my colleagues and I do a kind of team event. It’s always small scale. Maybe visiting a local museum followed by a meal. Just a few hours together outside the office, not talking about work. On Thursday, we visited the new holocaust museum in Mechelen: Kazerne Dossin. Mechelen was where people were sent from all over Belgium – and further afield – to board the death trains to concentration camps. I spent the whole time holding back not just tears but great big sobs of anger and disgust. This is a museum people should visit. It’s an important museum. But it’s very very hard. And I ask myself again: how do humans do this to each other? Are there any other animals that slaughter each other for fun, for sport? There are some really really sickening images in this museum. But they’re not film stills. They’re not photoshopped. They’re not paintings that exaggerate or distort. They are actual documentary photographs. Of women lined up, queuing in a muddy ditch, devoid of clothing, dehumanized, some holding tiny babies, others holding young children, young girls, mothers, heavily pregnant women, old women… And they’re queuing up to be shot. Hundreds of them. Those pictures are ones that will stay with me for a very long time. And that will make me cry every time I think of them. What were they thinking these women, as they cradled their babies in their arms, as they tried to comfort their young children, knowing what was coming, knowing they were not going to be able to protect their son, their daughter… And again, I wonder: how? How did this happen? How is it still happening RIGHT NOW? We talked about that afterwards, about the fact that we knew this kind of thing was still going on all over the world and how helpless it made us feel. In the end, maybe all we can do is not stay silent. Speak up if you see discrimination. Don’t look the other way. Because when the crowd looks the other way, the consequences can be terrifying for all of us.

Friday – Today we entered day 3 of the norovirus with Charlie. Our flat is awash with vomit. Poor little puppy can’t keep much down. I hate seeing him retch. His little body turns rigid and his eyes open wide. You can tell it’s coming because he suddenly gets very cranky and then *woosh* the puke barriers open and we are awash with regurgitate (which, yes, is a word I’ve just made up). Han has mopped the floors more times than he cares to remember but the place still stank of up-chuck when I got home this evening. However, Charlie did make it through the night last night. And he was only sick once this evening. Fingers crossed he’s on the mend. We’re going to have a good weekend. I hope you do too!

2 February 2013 - 7:09 AM amanda - The school!! Oh my, how terrifying! Brave Amelie :) Poor Charlie :( I must visit that museum :( Hugs, what a week!

2 February 2013 - 9:55 AM Amélie { Callibella } - Hi Cass! I enjoyed reading your journal. So much happens to you in a week! I am glad that Amélie felt confident enough to stay calm during the fire. Maybe having those nightmares actually helped her during this situation. Funny thing is that I also had returning nightmares about fires as a kid. My mother had to teach me how to fully wake up by going in the bathroom, turning the lamp on and thinking about happy things before going back to bed. She certified that after fully waking up, it was impossible to be sucked back into the nightmare. I think it worked. I have never seen a holocaust museum. I wonder how that would feel. But it really is terrible that we are still repeating the horrors. Hope Charly is better already! I'll be happy to read more from you :)

2 February 2013 - 10:17 AM WSM - Give Amelie a cuddle from me for being sensible, don't pick your post-stitch scabs too much, give Hanno a plastic apron and rubber gloves for the vomit and get some bicarb of soda to put in the washing water - it's brilliant at getting rid of the smell and give Charlie a hug and (non vomit inducing raspberry) from me. Oh, and love to you!

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