In Brussels whatever clothes you leave the house in will always turn out to be the wrong clothes! So goes the saying of one of my friends. Earlier I cycled back to work in the sunshine, arriving a little sweaty. We were planning to go rowing. A few hours later the lowering sky became progressively gloomier, and lights spontaneously flickered on in offices. I sat uneasily in my deserted office waiting for the inevitable strike - not wanting to commit myself to cycling home or rowing. When the rain came it was with a roar and a thump and a full percussion section, battering down on the streets until they were awash with greasy water. I sat wondering if there could possibly be any more rain in the sky, and whether these violent storms were really a consequence of global warming.... Then, when there was some respite, I abandoned the bike and walked home, splashed by raindrops and accompanied by thunderous groans of indigestion from the sky - but avoiding the worst. The weather was bad. Later I was shocked to learn that some festival-goers at the Pukkelpop festival near Hasselt were killed and others injured by falling stage debris in a violent storm.
Then, tantalisingly close to home, the rain came down again. "Mauvais, hein?", said a neighbour, sheltering in a doorway. I arrived, doused again at my front door, in my spattered white jeans, convinced that my friend was right about the clothes.
't Zoet Genot
Tel: +32(0)58 52 07 47
Did I write the other day that Brussels' roads had become more comfortable places to ride? Well, I retract that. Friday afternoon and the horns, angry gestures and near-misses are back. I narrowly avoided being run down on my bike in the middle of a junction, having patiently waited to follow in the wake of a car turning left into my road. I received an angry blast from the horn and a wave of the arms in response to the only words I could mouth through the windscreen, quite polite ones I thought, "Mais qu'est-ce que vous faites!". Presumably Mr I-must-get-home-never-mind-anyone-in-my-way felt that "priorité de droite" still applied even though I was mid-way across the junction, but actually I think he was too impatient to look properly.
I feel I'm seasoned enough at the ways of Brussels' roads now to be able to judge them with a reasonably unbiased eye. I'm a fairly regular car passenger (not having a car or anywhere to park one), a fairly regular but still rather timid cyclist, and a fervent believer in walking, as much as possible. When doing the latter and using pedestrian crossings I've learned to make eye contact with the driver beforehand and to nod or mouth a thank you as I walk. I've seen cyclists act as if they were truck drivers, not flesh and bone on a flimsy aluminium frame. I've seen pedestrians risking their legs by stepping out in front of vehicles, and I've seen more than enough cars acting as if they, and only they, were the Kings of the road. And the traffic signal timings are bad and don't seem to relate to actual traffic flows.... Is it any wonder that nothing runs smoothly? Politeness goes out of the window. I won't bore you with tales of the many times I've been scared, shocked, furious! Ultimately my take on the situation is this: irrespective of whether the cyclist or pedestrian is right or wrong; in a contest between their flesh and bones and your welded metal bubble with its air-filled cushion; irrespective of how well your bubble crumples on impact; the cyclist or pedestrian is always going to come off worse. So please take care.
As for me, the only way I get to take revenge on Mr Mr I-must-get-home-never-mind-anyone-in-my-way in the dark glasses is to write about him and share him with you, dear readers! For he drove off too fast for me to collect my thoughts or note his number...