… not exactly sitting in a rainbow, but sitting on my seat in the office in the comfort and security of my own home. And am I glad to be back after all of this?
Blasted out of bed at 05:00 by the alarm, I’d made a coffee, filled the flask, made my butties, packed my bags and cleaned the digs by 05:30 and I was ready to roll. But it was far too early because I didn’t want to loiter about on the draughty Brussels Midi station so I relaxed for a while
At about 05:55 I hit the streets and walked off down to the station. And I’m not used to it being so bright so early.
A lot has been said, mainly by me, of the pedestrian pace at which Belgian (and French) builders seem to work. Much of that is reflected in what’s going on here. It’s been under repair for a good couple of years and by the looks of things they are still a long way from finishing it.
Surprisingly I was on the station for just after 06:10 which meant that I had the choice of a couple of trains that were running earlier than the one that I intended to catch, and that’s always good news.
It’s a rake of double-deck coaches pulled by one of the top-line electric locomotives of the SNCB stable, and I’m not disappointed. Despite its number, this is one of the Class 18 locomotives built by Siemens between 2009 and 2011. There are 120 of these locomotives in total and they have displaced almost every other type of electric locomotive from front-line duties, although we’ve ridden on a few others just recently.
There was a lady ticket inspector and she seemed to be quite satisfied that I’d correctly installed the SNCB app on my mobile phone and displayed the ticket correctly. I’m making great strides with this technology stuff, aren’t I?
The train pulled into Bruxelles Midi bang on time and to my surprise my train was actually indicated on the departures board. So I went up to the platform and there was a TGV already there. Not mine though. This one was going to Marseilles. Mine would be a-cumen in once this one had cleared off, so an attendant told me.
It’s one of the TGV Réseau 38000 tri-volt trainsets, the PBA (Paris Brussels Amsterdam) sets that we have occasionally, and the fact that it’s pulled up so far down the platform seems to suggest that there will be a train set coming from Amsterdam that will be coupled up at the back.
Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we saw them coupling up on another occasion that we were here just recently.
The train was actually quite empty and we all had plenty of room to spread out which was nice. I could get on with some work. And once more, the electronic ticket on the SNCF app that I presented to the inspector passed muster too.
And to my surprise, I passed muster at the Paris Gare du Nord Railway station as well. The gendarmette who inspected my Covid declaration from the hospital and my carte de sejour and waved me through without comment can detain me for further questioning any time she likes.
The metro was crowded – it seems as if despite the President’s entreaties, France has gone back to work. The casualty figures show me that this virus is very far from being beaten here and it’s all going to end in tears.
Parked next to it is one of the BB7200 class of electric locomotives, the nez cassés or “broken noses” of the SNCF railway system. These, and their half-brothers used to be the mainstays of the high-speed long-distance SNCF railway network but now they are used for less glamorous purposes since the arrival of the TGVs.
It’s a long walk from the metro station to the railway station (they moved the railway station so that they could build the Tour Montparnasse on its site) and so I was exhausted. But I found some more seats that I hadn’t noticed before and one of them was vacant so I could sit in peace.
It is indeed my train – the back half of it in fact because it’s 2 trainsets coupled together. And I’m sitting in the rear trainset. The train is busy but I could still have a pair of seats all to myself which pleased me greatly.
And here’s a surprising thing. The ticket collector came up to me and instead of asking to see my ticket he asked “what’s your date of birth?”. So I replied and he said “bon voyage, Monsieur Hall”. This SNCF app clearly does more than it lets on that it does.
In the past that kind of thing would have bothered me greatly but everyone’s privacy has long since been eroded away. 30 years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of writing like I do but the authorities know where I am and what I’m doing no matter how hard I try to disguise it
We pulled into the railway station bang on time too and found ourselves parked up next to one of the Bombardier trainsets that works the Caen-Rennes line. At least I could photograph the front trainset from here
It had been a pleasant journey and to my surprise, despite the 05:00 start I’d only dozed off for about 10 minutes. But I’d only had some hot coffee, not anything cool to drink, with me and so having set out at that time, I now had a thirst that you could photograph.
That was what I would call rather bad planning, but seriously, you’ve no idea how much stuff I usually have to bring back and I simply couldn’t carry any more. I had quite a job carrying this lot.
Going down the steps to the Parc de Val es Fleurs was okay but even on the flat I was struggling. I wasn’t looking forward to the hill up to my place. But I cheered up watching a grockle try to park his motor home in a completely empty car park. I really don’t understand some of these people.
But surprisingly, despite the emergency and the big hole and the traffic lights and the vans, there wasn’t a single workmen (and not a married one either) about anywhere. It was about 14:15 so they all should be back at work after lunch.
The hill up the Rue de Juifs was not something to which I was looking forward. It’s pretty steep at the best of times and here I was, loaded up, not in the best of health, and I’d had an emergency operation a week or so ago and the stitches were still in.
But I shan’t get home just standing here looking at it. There’s no other solution but to press on.
One of these stops was looking over to the Place Pelley where they usually play boules. There’s quite a crowd down there right now, presumably also taking advantage of the bar ephemere, the temporary bar in the shipping container that comes here in the summer and which we saw them unpacking a couple of weeks ago.
If I had had any sense I’d have come home that way and stopped off for a cold drink but I was in a hurry to go home. I took a deep breath, girded up my loins and continued on my weary way back homeward.
Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that we have seen over the past few weeks a corner of the car park of one of the other building in the Place d’Armes used as a builders compound but they all cleared off just before I came away and left the place empty.
But it seems that there is some more work going on somewhere presumably in the old walled city and they have set up the compound again. I see that I shall have to go for a walk out that way one of these days and have a good look to see what’s going on, and where.
You’ve no idea the size of the sigh of relief that I emitted when I sat down in my chair in the office, back home. It’s been a long hard slog in the 12 days since I was last here and I don’t want to have to go through all of that again. I transferred the files over and merged everything in – that’s the limit of the work that I did.
And despite the short night, I did actually manage to go off on a couple of nocturnal rambles here and there. And more than just a few too. I’m surprised that I kept going for as long as I did today.
First off was about a boy who lived just up the street from me when I was a kid. Last night he got divorced. I’d forgotten to tell everyone on the day but about a day or so later I remembered it. Anyway we were sitting around the table at lunch ansd he came along with his ex-wife and sat down at our usual table. A couple of other people who were usually there picked up their knives and forks to go away and he sent some kind of scathing comment after them. Of course I didn’t say anything at all. He looked at me and started talking to me about how well I knew Sandbach. I said “yes, I knew it quite well”. He asked “enough to take me somewhere tonight?”. I replied “yes”. So he mentioned a street called Volunteer Avenue (that’s in Nantwich by the way, not in Sandbach). “Do you know where that is?”. I said “yes” so he added “you can take me there and there’s a lot of money in it for you” – something to do with jewellery. He said “we have to leave at 04:00”. That was a bit inconvenient for me but I’d go because I don’t believe this story about money than anyone else. So I leased some sort of dummy office and fitted some kind of dummy recorder because I expected some kind of strange visit. While I was out fetching a coffee and people were talking to me a girl who I’d known and I knew her very well too (and I wish I’d remembered who she was) just walked up to my office as if she was going in. I thought “what on earth is happening here?”. She saw me so I said “what are you doing here?”. She replied “I’ve come to see if such-and-such an office is convenient for me and my boss”. “Really?3 I asked. “Why don’t you go in and have a look?”. “I can’t” she replied. “I don’t have the keys. It says that it’s locked for painting”. So I asked “why did you come here if it was locked for painting?”. She stammered some kind of silly answer at that point and I thought “yes, this is all just so crazy”.
Next up, I was in an office somewhere. I was overhearing a conversation from another desk about a woman who was trying to arrange some kind of exchange visit with a Government department in Germany about tourism. My ears pricked up and I said that I would be extremely interested in that. This woman looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. She had a little chat with me while she was having a chat with this other person. When she’d hung up on this other person she said ‘here’s my number” and it began with 5 zeroes, not 0049 as you would expect, and then a couple of other numbers “and I’m on extension 37 at the moment but this afternoon I’ll be on extension 38. Why don’t you give me a ring?”. So I asked her name and said “yes, OK”. I don’t think that my employers would agree to it but it was still an interesting thing to overhear.
Later on we were a group of impresarios organising musicians and dancers and all that sort of thing for different concerts all over the place. Roxanne was there and I told her a joke about Aunt Mary – Aunt Mary had died and it was actually quite funny but the answer to this was silence, which was one thing that no-one would ever have got. Roxanne delighted in telling it to everyone. We were trying to get this act together with these 3 or 4 dancers and so on. Roxanne told this joke to TOTGA but she didn’t understand it. There was something about ballet in it and I surprised TOTGA and Roxanne by actually being able to do these ballet steps without even thinking about it
Tea was burger and pasta followed by chocolate sponge (to my surprise it’s sill good) and coconut soya dessert.
And now having written my notes, I’m off to bed. And quite right too. I’m absolutely whacked. Tomorrow is Welsh lesson and then I have to look at these hospital appointments and condense the timescale because I have no intention of being away for another 12 days, that’s for sure. I can’t keep on going like this.