Monday, 2 April 2012


Dear Reader, 

How did this come to pass? Why am I thinking of Belgium? Apart from the fact it begins with B. I had written something else, but it has been rejected by my editing department (dear lady wife) and now I have to come up with something else. So, Belgium...

It has a flag!
I have some personal experience of Belgium. I once had to visit a client in Belgium, near Brussels. Due to the combined incompetence of myself and people who assisted in arranging my diary, a hotel had not been booked and nothing appeared to be available. Apparently this regularly happens in Brussels when highly important EU meetings take place (more about these highly important meetings later). The client said they would find something for me utilising their local knowledge, which they did.

I arrive in Brussels, spend the day with aforementioned client and then journey to my hotel. Except it wasn't a hotel, it wasn't even a Bed & Breakfast, it was a youth hostel. I got a strange look from the lady manning reception, no doubt wondering why someone smartly dressed in a suit with a laptop would want to stay there.

Things went rapidly downhill as I was shown to my "room".  When you stay in a hotel you may also be shown to your "room". Room in this case is a little mis-leading. After all this is in fact somewhere that you spend the entire evening, (if there is room service). It is, at the very least, your bedroom and your bathroom. It will probably have a desk and tea-making facilities. You will, for a small fee, be able to access the internet, making it an office as well. Finally you can settle in for the evening and perhaps hire a movie meaning it can sort of be a lounge as well. The point being laboured here is that it is more than just a "room".

My room in the youth hostel was a "room" pure, and simple. Bedroom, to be precise. There  were no tea-making facilities, there was no internet, there was a microscopically small television, showing local Belgian television without sub-titles. No Sky Sports for me, definitely no movies. No room service, no restaurant and no bar. If I wished to use the toilet or the shower, there were shared facilities at the end of hall. Unlike most hotel rooms, however, the owners had kindly catered for the meteorologist in me. Belgium, and most of mainland Europe was in the middle of a very cold snap. I could, if I so desired gauge just how cold it was by measuring the thickness of the ice on the inside of the windows. This would prove to be very useful information to me, as, without room service, a restaurant or a bar, I would definitely be going outside. I was quite hungry, ravenous in fact, above all else though, I needed a drink.

I was back, a few weeks later, to complete my assignment. On this occasion, there were no important EU meetings taking place (some would say that was always the case), consequently I was sequestered in a perfectly serviceable hotel. There are many in Brussels, if you book in advance and remember not to clash with one of those oh, so important meetings.

Having shared my most miserable night away from home, it's only fair I turn my attention to why Brussels was booked to the hilt on a weekday.  

Brussels is the administrative hub of both the European Union and  NATO. The European Union, or EU for short likes to create some order out of the chaos presented by 27 member countries, each with their own cultural, ethnic and social make-ups. It likes to do this in very long meetings, over a numbers of days, often about the most trivial things. I sense that a list of more infamous debating topics are required. There will be bullet points. The precise shape, size and position of these bullet points has no doubt been debated long into the night, possibly at the expense of a comfy hotel room for me. So:
  • The curve of the banana. Straight bananas are acceptable, it is the degree of crookedness which was at issue. Depending on the class of banana, differing degrees of crookedness are allowed. Class 1 bananas can have "slight deviations of shape". Class 2 bananas may have full on "defects of shape". When it comes to bananas the acceptable degree of curvature has never been defined. 
  • The curve of the cucumber. Unlike the banana, this has been defined. Class I and Extra Class cucumbers can bend by 10mm per 10 cm of length. Class II cucumbers can bend twice as much.
  • The hydrating effects of water. Producers of bottled water are now forbidden from claiming that this is true and face up to two years in jail if they do.
  • Prunes are not laxatives. Apparently not, there is insufficient evidence to link consumption of prunes with bowel movements. Hmmm.

Apparently the banana rule has since been relaxed as the EU was worried that two many perfectably eatable bananas were being disposed of unnecessarily. 

Too bendy, bendy enough, too bendy, quite bendy, who knows?
I don't know what EU discussion was so important that everyone had to stay overnight, consequently booking all of the OK hotels and displacing me to a youth hostel and nor do I care. Unless the discussion was about the acceptable thickness of ice permitted on the inside windows of guest rooms in youth hostels, in which case I might have listened very closely to the outcome, very closely indeed. 

More tomorrow Dear Reader, as we enter the crazy world of the Letter C



  1. Hahahahahaha yeeeeesss. I know all about these, since I am a fresh produce exporter. Worst thing is that no one seems to care when it's from their own country. I mean really, if we're spending so much time and money to set up standards, can't everyone at least be expected to live up to them?

    1. I am a slow replyer, at times. Over the next few days I will be catching up with that part of my blog.

      Living up to standards is not important to Belgium, as long as they get to hold lots of meetings creating them.

      That being said, if not living up to standards requires more meetings, all the better.