Friday, 30 November 2012

All Princess, No Pea

The getting of the mattress deserves its own blog post.  I'm sure it's all very symbolic, but I'm buggered if I know how.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, and what choice had I if I wanted something to sleep on tomorrow, was to get to IKEA at Zaventem.  Not my choice, but Man with Van was doing another job out that way.  So I found myself back at Botanique, where once I lived, where icy mist had descended over a tall hotel; the word SHERATON hovering red in the low sky.  Bus didn't come, and didn't come.  My hands were burning numb.  I asked a similarly numbered bus if it was going to Zaventem IKEA.  No, and the driver said I was waiting for the wrong bus.  Like bollocks.

It is the law that all IKEAs have to be in places you would never otherwise set foot.   Zaventem, so far out on the Chausée de Louvain that it's practically another country, is sort of an extended Croydon.  IKEA has its own little announcement.  But when you get off the bus, you have to hack access via the car park of another store, and then break through a hedge and walk around the back of the building on roads with no pavement.   At least that's what I did.

Man with Van was waiting for me.  It was almost like a date.  So what if I'm paying him and he's only interested in my boxes?  He led me confidently to the bedding department (shut up at the back) where I bought a mattress in English and French.  Do they always ask you to lay down to test them?  I felt a right prawn laying there in my blue rainhat.

I was just anticipating the hellish bus and tram home when Man with Van said he would take me.  And then we did chatting in French.  And he came in to see my boxes.  All very professional, I assure you. 

So now I have a mattress that is about, ooh, five times better than the one I've been slumped on these months.  And tomorrow at nine I go. 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Almost Gentle

Nearly there.  I picked up my keys this morning, all ten of them.  Front front door, my front door, mailbox, cellar door and my cellar.  Times two.

My insurance, apart from covering the normal house stuff, also covers my private life.  How wonderful is that?  If I had know it was possible to ensure one's private life against catastrophe I would have taken out a policy long ago.  I'd be a millionaire.

Then to Gent station for the intercity hurtle to work, where I splashed out on a three month season ticket.  Although the price made me wince a little, it is actually no more than I paid in London just to travel into central London and gives me full access to all Genty buses and trams too.  I get between 70-80% refunded by law.  So it was only a momentary wince.  I apologised to the massive queue.   Well they had to get my picture off my ID card and everything for the railcard.  Took ages.

So we're all but there.  I finally stepped out on the balcony today and realised with a sort of chorus of angels that the hook for the pulley is actually above MY balcony.  So even if it's not needed, at least it's there.  Of course this does mean that I am the Keeper of the Hook.  Am I prepared for this responsibility?

This apartment will provide me, at the age of 50 years and eight months, with my first dishwasher.  I cannot tell you how exciting this is.  I didn't say anything to the owners because they seem quite normal. 

Tomorrow after work I get the new mattress, meet the Man with the Van who will incubate it overnight, and then he returns to fill his van with my goods on Saturday.  I am looking forward to sharing with you my new city.  

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dust to Dust

The inside of my head sounds like the Psycho shower music at the moment.  It's six days till the move and although everything is theoretically on schedule, in practice it's dust, sweat, boxes, tripping over boxes, not being able to find my Stanley knife, and trying to pack for a business trip.  Because I've chosen to move in a week where I'm out of the country for two days.  That was clever.

I'd say the packing is about 85% done now, although downstairs resembles a dustbunny and hairball convention.  With added recycling bags of books I am chucking overboard to prevent sinking.  There is something very satisfying about throwing away India Knight novels.

As I was explaining to lovely S (who bought me lovely brunch today to send me on my way) I feel about my apartment and indeed about Brussels the way you do when you are going out with someone, and you think you are going to love them, and you try to fall in love but it doesn't quite work, and then you start seeing the cracks, and smell the leak in the cellar, and then they run off with your jewellery.

There's a list on a constant loop playing slightly under the shower music.  EE! EE! EE! get the money out for the movers EE! EE! EE! phone Electrabel EE! EE! EE! pay first month's rent EE! EE! EE! boxes boxes boxes bring home empty boxes from work EE! EE! EE! and so on, and so forth.

And that's actually the closest I've come to writing a list.  Perhaps I should actually write a list.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Homing In

All systems are go for 1 December.  Man with a Van who won't do r&p does not think we need r&p.  I bow to his greater experience but have Miracle Friend from Amsterdam on standby.  Not on standby in Amsterdam, but neatly camped out in Brugge on the day, just in case.  This kindness will never be forgotten.  Old whatsername, Blanche Dubois, said that she always depended on the kindness of strangers.  For me it's a new experience and an amazing one.

Slowly, my belongings are finding their way back into boxes, and downstairs is again beginning to resemble a World War I trench, but with less mud.  Sleep is full of anxiety, and I wake certain that I haven't done something.  Well there are lots of things I haven't done, clearly.  I haven't sailed around the Greek islands.  I haven't been married in an unflattering dress and then had a fish and chip dinner (but I'd quite like that).  I haven't climbed every mountain, just a coloured-blob wall in Ladbroke Grove.  I have no idea what stuff it is I'm supposed to have done that the dream tells me I haven't.

When I left London, there was a sense that my spirit had gone ahead, and it was just my body knocking around for those last few weeks, waiting to catch it up by Eurostar.  It's like that now.  I've gone ahead, and my body remains, picking its way around turrets of dogshit, and lethal slithery leaves.

And then when I get there I can stop.  No more running.  This has been a year of constant change: three moves; three jobs; one burglary; and several dates with frankly undateable men.  It's time to be still now, and just live a nice life.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A Bit More Rope

It probably wasn't that wise to travel to Gent this evening, given that it's been a day of industrial action.  But I forgot and bought my ticket, and then remembered.  So, what the fuck, eh.  I was, and I do not exaggerate, the only person walking towards Gare Centrale, at a time when there is normally a shoal.  The station was open but nothing was on any indicator board.  A few other dogged lunatics hung around hopefully.  I was just trying to work out if protesters on the line at Schaerbeek would affect my train when, hurrah, it arrived.

The alternative title of this blog should be Lost in Gent at Night, because that's what I seem to specialise in.  Trams that don't go their normal route, me getting on the wrong one, you name it.  Anyway, I went to the restaurant on the corner of my road so that I could see their back alley.  It may seem like an odd request but they allowed it with a smile.  I stood in an alley about a metre and a half wide looking up at my balcony and a shadowy distant wheel, way up.

Next thing, find a neighbour.  Parking my shyness, I rung the doorbell of a flat with lights on, in my building.  I was buzzed in without a word. Not strange at the second floor the door is wide open.  It was like my flat but with clothes on.  Perhaps she's expecting someone.  No, it turns out she saw me.  I'm not sure where.  Or when.  She was very friendly and gave me rosé wine with ice cubes.  We talked about all sorts of things and then I left, shoving a note for the chef on the fourth floor into his mailbox.  As far as I can see, he is the keeper of the pulley wheel.

The journey home was rather hellish.  As if the industrial action had finally caught up like lack of sleep, trains were being cancelled left and right.  A train to the airport disgorged all its passengers back onto the platform.  I wanted a wee and the toilets were shut.  It got to the point where I was considering a hotel.  And then a train for Brussels came.  To make amends, it appeared to stop at every no-horse town on the way.  There was nothing for it at Gare du Midi but to take a taxi.  The alternative was shaking all my organs loose with bitter cold, at the tram stop.

That's it really.  Don't go to Gent during a strike, unless you really have to.  But my goodness it's beautiful at night.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Enough Rope

To say I'm tense at the moment would be a slight understatement.  Clifton Suspension Bridge has got nothing on me.

So, we have the chap who said rope & pulley work is highly dangerous and flounced off.  We have a chap who hadn't really heard of this system but gamely said he'd got some ropes.  I declined, on the grounds that it would help to have someone who had at least done it before.  Other chaps or companies have sent just a standard tariff, with no reference to the r&p work at all.  The more I say r&p work, the more niche and sleazy it sounds, and I wonder if I'm looking on the wrong websites.

Another guy wants photos of both ends.  That is, the locations at Brussels and Gent.  Difficult, what with me living 50k from Gent and having no camera.  He is based in Amsterdam and is the only person yet who I've found who actually advertises r&p work.

Another guy has taken himself off to look at the place today.  I haven't heard anything further.

And yet there may be a small miracle at work.  Last night I was posting on a website I frequent.  It is, nominally, a place for intelligent discussion, but is more like a large school playground/dating agency/grammar lesson/lunatic asylum.  I was in a head-ripping-off sort of mood, not good, when someone I'd never spoken to suddenly popped up.

She has a rope and pulley.  Her friend is expert in the use thereof.  He may be willing to do it for free, as long as I can get all my stuff to Gent.  She, again, is in Amsterdam, which seems to be the spiritual home of r&p work.  (Stop giggling.)  It really is a miracle, for which I will remember to give thanks, to someone or something.

Tomorrow I'm going to Gent to ambush the other residents of my building and pin them down until they tell me what company they used to get their stuff in.  It's good to know there is a back-up plan though, in case they refuse to tell me.

18 days.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Heave Ho

The place I'm moving into was built around 1500 and it's in books and that.  People take photos and put them on Flickr.  I see I'm going to have be careful not to dance around naked too much.  Although maybe they could pass me off as a quite substantial ghost.

At some point in the last 500 years, someone must have got some furniture into the building.  Not via the pretty front windows: too small.  Not via the stairs: too narrow.  Not via the lift:  they didn't have one then and it's tiny anyway.  No, someone must have got things like large oak settles and huge tables and heavily pregnant vrouwen in through the big back windows, using the rope and pulley, accessed via the yard of next door's brasserie.  The apartment owners were very relaxed about the matter and said that movers would know what to do.  When I asked how you get the rope up there they said like in a Western.   I think it was a joke. 

The mover (more accurately a man with a van) whom I had selected for the honour of moving me said he would not do this rope and pulley thing as it is highly dangerous.  He concluded by saying he would not now be passing by on Monday to give me a quote.  Dumped by a man with a van.

I feel as if I've been set a puzzle with three weeks to work it out.  Someone knows the answer, but not me, not yet.  I'm buggered if it's going to beat me.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Leaded Light

You would think that signing a tenancy agreement would be a simple thing.  Reader, it took all day.

The agency was obviously chosen by the owners for their own proximity.  Oostkamp is a genteel town some way outside of Brugge and not the easiest place in the world to reach.  One bus an hour on Saturdays from Brugge station, and that bus was showing dangerous signs of not turning up. Unfortunately the only option was an €18 taxi.  Most of the morning seemed to be taken up with a drily heaved panic.  Would I get to Gare Centrale on time? (Yes.)  Would I find the ticket machine?  (Only just.)  Would I even catch the train?  (Again, only just, due to platform change and mass galloping exodus.)  Would I catch the bus to Oostkamp?  (Apparently not.  Thank goodness for cheerful expensive taxis, eh.) Would Mr and Mrs Gent Apartment like me or would they change their mind at the last minute and throw me derisively onto the busless streets of Oostkamp?  (It was fine.)

Two hours at the agency though.  Well the contract was in Dutch innit, so the agency had to explain everything to unpolyglot me. 

And then THREE FUCKING HOURS to get back.  I'd quite like to sleep and think about my leaded windows and the logistics of getting furniture up a rope to the back window.   But I'm babysitting.  Leaded window dreams will wait.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Gentlewoman II

It's that kind of day.  Delayed responses.  Sweeping the big rug before rolling it up.  How can I shed that much hair and still have hair?  I've got boxes and bubble wrap and a headache and a big fear.

Unpicking that a bit, it's all sorts of things.

Gent really is pretty foreign.  Oh yes, they all speak English.  But the official language is one I can hardly understand, and attempting to read it feels like eating pins with my eyes.  So Flemish for Dummies on Youtube is very handy.  French, although far from being fluent on the tongue, is a language which I can read quite easily.  Gent is really a foreign place.

The rental contract is for a minimum of three years (breakable with all sorts of penalties - limbs, eyes, firstborn son, that sort of thing).  Which means I appear to have made a very definite decision to put roots down in Gent.

And then there is all the stuff around commuting and whether it's insane.  It isn't really - it's one hour door to door.  For Londoners, an hour commute is normal.  Some people commute from Brighton.  Not to Gent, that would be insane.

And just a general, sucky fear about whether this is all right.  Well, I don't know if it is.  I have a good job that I like, and now I have found a beautiful place to live in a beautiful place to live.

So that should be all right.  Yes.




Yesterday I phoned the agency and they had said that because my salary wasn't three times the monthly rent, I might not be considered without a guarantor.  So in my head I thought fuck that and started looking at other places.  Fuck them and their beautiful, spacious, gorgeously-situated flat.  Fuck fuck fuck. When they called this morning to say the landlord was offering me the tenancy, my brain was on a sort of delay and didn't react.  I wasn't going to get this flat. It took a few hours to go OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD.  OH MY FUCKING GODDING GOD.

I'm still quite scared about the whole thing, but it's happening.  I am moving to Gent in slightly less than four weeks.

These are my windows.  They are lovely windows.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Gently Does It

I'm wondering how many times I can get away with punning on "Gent".  Several, maybe.

It didn't start so well, with engineering work adding minutes and minutes and minutes to the expected train time until if seemed to be permanently moving out of reach like a ball on a boating lake.  We mopped up the passengers who were waiting for the next train, therefore it was a packed, rather whiny, rather suitcasey and standing up journey.  You know when you are in a hurry and everyone walks really slowly in front of you?  All right they were two blind people, but even so.  Reader, I almost ran to the taxi rank at Gent.  We did this weird thing of the driver speaking to me in Flemish and me answering in English.  Oddly I think we understood one another.  However I had to commandeer the satnav as he seemed not to have heard of this particular street.  And then he still got lost even after I'd punched in the address. 

So, the apartment.  It was not quite love at first sight.  Even in November, there was a desultory ambling of tourists getting in my way, and the local shops are full of what my dad would call expensive tut.  Oh apparently it's spelled toot.  The apartment itself was lush, though.  The dining/living area is about the size of my entire apartment here.  Nice bedroom, all modern fittings everywhere, loads of storage, dishwasher, cellar.  All essential shops nearby.  Afterwards I went and explored and the area is just gorgeous.  Google Patershol.

The tourists are the only problem - I cannot imagine what it would be like in summer.  I would have to devise ways of not killing them.  They are like zombies in cagoules with cameras.  (So maybe killing them is not strictly necessary).

After much thought, I'm going to go for it.  If I don't get this one, that is definitely the area I want.  It would be nicer slightly off-er the beaten track, but this place is so near the tram stop I wouldn't even need to wake up till the station. 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Mooving On

Autumn has slipped in like a knife and now it's very bloody cold.  I got extremely wet walking home but nevertheless stopped at the most unfriendly Indian (possibly) deli in the world for samosas and dahl.  Actually they may not be so much unfriendly, just scared.  Last time I was in there I asked what was in the samosas.  They said beef and I mooed.  When in doubt, moo at shopkeepers.   

Mr Fixit, the man who put a new lock on my door, has fixed my tap and got all three of my radiators working, so this small imperfect space feels tolerably warm at last.  I have given notice, and it no longer feels like mine.  There will be packing in the near future.  Tomorrow I go to look at the dream apartment on the canal near the castle in Gent.  There is quite a lot of fuzzy anxiety at the moment, which takes turns with mental list-making, and quiet feral excitement. 

Like Doris Day's mother, I can tell you the future's not ours to see.  Well we can see parts of it, between our fingers.  The rest, thankfully, is unknown.  Que sera, sera.