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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?

This is exactly how I feel.

Weekends are meant to be the light at the end of the tunnel. But this weekend is killing me and it’s only Saturday evening. It started with a call in the office at 7.30 on Friday evening. It was Hanno and before I’d even said “hello” I knew something was wrong. He’d burnt his hand while cooking and asked me to come home as quickly as possible. My journey home includes a bike ride, a train journey, a few stops on the metro and, finally, a short walk. It normally takes me about an hour. Yesterday, it took me 40 minutes. As I was peddling like crazy away from the office, I noticed a bicycle lying on its side on the pavement and a small pair of knees jutting out from behind a letterbox. I thought it might be a little boy playing hide-and-seek, but as I flew past, what I saw was a small girl, about Amélie’s age, huddled into a ball, sobbing her heart out. As my brain told me I couldn’t stop because I needed to get home to Hanno, my instincts applied the brakes and I came to a screeching halt. The girl looked up. Maybe she was a bit older than Amélie. I hesitated. I don’t speak good Dutch. I looked at her and asked “are you ok?” hoping my tone would convey my concern even if my words didn’t. She sniffed in her tears and nodded “yes”. I hesitated a few seconds longer and then took off again. That’s been haunting me ever since. What if… What if that little girl really needed help… What if I could have helped her if I’d stayed a bit longer… The train line that goes towards Brussels runs parallel to the road I cycle along to get to the station. I had to sprint for the train and just made it thanks to a kind conductor who waited before closing the doors. As the train whizzed out of town, I looked down along the road, and she was gone.

When I got home, I found Han still in a lot of pain, with blisters all over his fingers. I told him he had to go to hospital but he was worried he wouldn’t make it: every time he took his hand out of the cool water he’d been soaking it in, the pain was so bad he couldn’t bare it. I fed him some paracetamol and we found him a can of cold tonic water in the fridge that he could hold as he walked the 10 minutes to the ER. He headed off around 8.30. I got Charlie and Amélie into bed but we all felt a bit odd without Hanno being there. He called me at 10 to say he was still waiting to be seen but that the pain had dropped to manageable levels. I think he was finally seen at 10.30. He has first and second degree burns to three fingers on his left hand. They bandaged him up and gave him a referral to the specialist burns unit at the military hospital just in case. He got home around 11.30 and went straight to bed.

Today was going to be better. Had to be. It was a sunny Saturday. Charlie and Amélie were up at 7.30 and we decided to let Han have a lie-in so I picked up my camera and we went out to the park. I was really excited to take some pictures with my proper camera after relying on my iPod camera for so long. But I immediately noticed something was wrong. It wasn’t focusing. I didn’t immediately worry. I figured I’d probably changed a setting accidentally – I switched to using the back focusing button a few months ago and thought maybe I had somehow turned that off. But no. No that wasn’t it. I turned my camera off and booted it up again. Nothing. I carefully took the lens off. Everything looked ok. I put it back on again. Crossed my fingers and… Nothing. I tried to enjoy my children playing in the morning sunshine but I’m ashamed to say it didn’t work. I wanted to go home. When we got in, Han emerged from bed to greet us and I burst into tears. Silly I know.

The rest of the day was good. We picked up Amélie’s best friend and went for a picnic in the park. We had ice-creams and slushies to keep cool in the hot weather. They played for hours. Charlie rolled around the giant sandpit rubbing sand and wood-chips into his hair with glee. I’ve given up telling him not too. We went to a museum (it’s Amélie’s favorite one and she always pesters to go in – I often say yes as it’s on the way home and they have nice, clean – and free – loos! Sssssh!). We walked all the way home. Amélie and Hawa tap-danced all the way. Charlie chased them. Roared like a monster. Held their hands. Got cuddles. And then ran back to us for a hug. This was the good bit. When we got home, Amélie, Hawa and Charlie played dressing-up. Charlie found a piece of fabric to put over his head so he could pretend to be a ghost. ROAAAR! he shouted and ran forward to find a victim. Unfortunately, all he found was the corner of the wall. SMACK! As he reeled backwards and the fabric fell away, blood started pouring down his face… Really, world??! REALLY?! I grabbed a clean cloth and started applying pressure. I think the only reason we didn’t go to hospital was embarrassment at turning up twice in 24 hours. I did get the bleeding to stop though. His forehead is a bit of a mess. AGAIN. But I think he’s going to be ok.

We got Amélie’s friend home (her mum had given her 2 Euros spending money for the day. As she was leaving, I gave it back to her because I hadn’t used it. On the way home, she ran into a shop and came back out with two chocolate Kinder eggs: one for herself and one for Amélie. Such a sweetie). We decided to get take-away for supper. There’s only so much you can do. We ate, dunked them both in a bath – mostly so I could wash blood off Charlie’s face (he wouldn’t let me clean him in the immediate aftermath and I was in no mood for making him scream again), and put them to bed. I don’t even think Amélie did her teeth. RATS! Amélie didn’t do her teeth. Urgh. Anyway. We got them to bed and that’s when I remembered that can of tonic water. Han, did you put it back in the fridge when you got home last night? Yes he did. Gin and tonic it is then. I drink alcohol maybe once every few months but tonight was definitely one of those nights when a cup of herbal tea just wasn’t going to do the job.

(Photos from last October – just happened to be next on my list to edit – perfect timing or what? Grumpy face aside, I love the outfits she puts together.)

15 July 2013 - 7:44 PM ralph - Oh sweet friend. Any one of those things would be enough to send a sane person over the edge. I hope you're doing better now, and I hope Hanno's hand is on the mend. Terrible 48 hours. I'm simply sending a hug, letting you know you're all thought of, and hope today is much much better. And Sigma better fix that lens. XO

30 July 2013 - 9:14 PM Amélie - Oh what a terrible few days!! I really hope Hanno's hand and Charlie's head were fine after a couple of days. It all sounds really scary :(

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