Remember Belgium

I went to Antwerp on Friday to do a 45 minute set for the Felix Poetry Festival. It’s always an adventure performing abroad, but it felt even more so last week as I  hadn’t really done much but change nappies for the last two and a half weeks.

I caught a 3pm flight over the water (poor effort on the eco-front but it was booked for me and wanting to get back quickly to see my boy meant I didn’t insist on Eurostar, naughty, I know) and landed just after five local time, where I was met and taken to my hotel.

Upon checking in I was asked if I cared for a glass of port or sherry. Port! Before dinner! But I’m an Englishman. I opted for the more traditional sherry and headed up stairs have a shower.

I didn’t actually get that far. A quick look at my pocket watch told me that if I was to shower and wait for my lift at seven I wouldn’t see anything of Antwerp, and whilst that was tempting (I was knackered) I don’t want to be complacent about these foreign trips, so I set about exploring.

I was staying at Hotel Reubens which was right in the heart of old Antwerp, quite close to the river. The little enclave of restaurants and bars just round the corner from my hotel was incredible and the weather was perfect for sundowners.

I got cash and then wandered past a few bars before I saw some good old boys tucking into Belgium chips. That, I decided, was the place for me. Unsure of whether it was table or bar service I wandered up to the waitress and asked. In English of course. I don’t speak Walloon, as I doubt many of you do, but business travel makes you even lazier and I didn’t even have a few words. Not that it matters, as everyone speaks English, but it makes me feel even more nervous when out. I know it’s hard to believe, but I am usually very nervous when entering a bar of restaurant on my own in a new place. I generally think everyone is laughing at me – a hang-up from being an incredibly unpopular teenager.

Anyway, so the waitress was pleasant enough and told me to sit down. When she came I asked for beer and chips.

“We don’t do chips,” she spat the word as if to say, “ha, you Eenglishe all the same, all you ever want is the chips. “Can I have chips with that?” you say. No you cannot have chips! Fuck off with your chips Eenglishe scum!”

I looked at the good old boys.

“Except them … No one else has chips.”

“any other food?”

“Meat and cheese,”

“Oh, yes please.”

“what both?” again a slight spit

“Erm … yes?”

“Fine.”

Eventually, she brought me this with a terse:

“Hope you’re hungry.”

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What you can see there is what I left. No one is that hungry.

As I made my way over to the venue I was left wondering whether my little cafe exucursion had made me enjoy Antwerp less or more. I reasoned more, but only because I could blog about it.

Antwerp is very pretty:

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Prettier than me:

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I used Google maps on my phone and found my way to the venue where I met fellow English performers Scroobius Pip and Dan Le Sac. I like Dan and Pip, they are good sorts with a good sense of humour. We chatted about gigs and poems and poets and made jokes and looked at buildings by the docks.

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Eventually we made our way backstage for the gig. There were sweets! I never get sweets back stage (“no M&Ms in brandy glasses / or bohemians with back stage passes) but today I did. This is advantage of rolling bonedife poetry popstars like Pip and Dan. I ate too many and felt sick.

The gig was in a cool bar-cum-venue:

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I was on at 9.30pm. It was ok. I did about 50 mins to about 40 people who seemed pretty in to it. But it was weird. I was introduced in a language I didn’t understand, I only knew it was my introduction when I heard the dreaded words: “Poetry Boyband.”

There were some English speakers (or rather English as a first language speakers) in the audience and I sold about 4 cds, so it couldn’t have been that bad, it just felt a bit stilted. I think Messrs Pip and Le Sac felt the same, but we all concluded it was fun in the end.

Being in the company of a rock n roll group meant we were back home in bed an hour after the gig. That’s touring. And we didn’t even get the port.

So all in all a nice excursion but I was back in the Uk by 10am and I was changing nappied by the afternoon. Not that I’m complaining, infact I’m loving it.

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