Image © Miceking | Dreamstime.com

For several months now, the battle of the brush has been raging in our Belgian household. Perhaps it’s my Virgo sensibilities which are not jiving with adolescent male standards for toilet hygiene, or perhaps it’s because I expect cleanliness before godliness. God knows I expect the loo to be flushed! 

Whatever the reason, every second week that we have the kids I find myself waging a campaign of Napoleonic proportions with regard to the downstairs toilet.  One revelation of moving countries and sharing a house with The Belgian and his boys is that I am able to set my watch by their bowel movements. Regular as clockwork. Yeah, I know…possibly a bit too much information!  

Nonetheless, I make this claim as it means I can also predict what will happen should I need to avail myself of the facilities.  Picture this scenario...desperate for a pee, I head to the nearest loo, only to find it resembling a Calcutta hell-hole. Cue a loud shriek from me and lengthy discussions with my husband, who shares my views on clean loos, but seems less bothered by this than I am.  I am extremely bothered by this…

Clearly the second revelation of living in a male-dominated household is that the sexes have opposing views on what is acceptable in terms of keeping things spic and span in the smallest room in the house…

We tried a cordon sanitaire, complete with photographic evidence. No discernible effect!  We tried logic and an appeal to their better selves. No discernible effect!  Were they doing this deliberately?  Was I being unreasonable? I didn’t think so. However, in the absence of an outside portaloo and a mandatory bidet regimen, I was ready to pack my things and move back to a place where the throne room really sparkles…

It all came to a head this week. Yes, I’d really had enough of other peoples crap! Sensing my distress, The Belgian, who is ever resourceful, has now come up with an incentive plan to ensure that brushing happens after flushing. No skid-marks means a bonus on pocket money, but only if both toilets are spanking clean. Where there’s no muck, there is definitely brass. Meanwhile, I have drafted in reinforcements with industrial amounts of toilet cleaner. And if that fails…well, I can always use the boys’ toothbrushes to polish the bowl!

In Flanders fields…

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. – Rupert Brooke, 1914

Image: Copyright Chiromancer 2017

If you read my earlier post Adventures in Benglish…you will know that I have set myself the task of adventuring across the A-Z of Belgium.  It’s a sort of therapy for me.  A way to kill my inner conflict about living here, by being a tourist and acclimatising simultaneously.

I’m not doing it in any kind of chronological order, the only requirements are:  #1 that I hit all 26 letters, and… #2 that I try to visit places that are a bit off the beaten track.

Visiting Ypres (Ieper) probably breaks condition #2, but it does cross off the letter ‘Y’ which I thought might be problematic.  As I headed out of Bruges for an appointment I spotted it on the periphery of my satnav… ‘I’ll give it a go’ I thought, as the sombre stanzas of several War Poets began running through my head…

Two things I had certainly not anticipated. #1 As a town, Ypres is a lot bigger than you think, and…#2 there are war graves everywhere. And, I mean e-v-e-r-ywhere. In fields outside of town, in the middle of residential areas, and of course at the emblematic Menin Gate (Menenpoort).   In the 1920s the Commonwealth War Graves Commission built 150 military cemeteries in and around Ypres in the honour of all those who gave their lives during WW1. I must have missed that part of the history lesson…

What I found so moving today was the realisation that it wasn’t just Germans, French, British and Belgians, who made the ultimate sacrifice, but South Africans, Algerians, Senegalese, Chinese, Indians and loads of other nationalities. A conflict to end all others… It’s estimated that half a million people died between 1914 and 1918.

Which got me thinking…it’s time I started my own inner peace talks. Sacrificing the best of who I am to bend my current world to my will isn’t working. It’s not the way forward. George Orwell wrote that ‘happiness can exist only in acceptance’.  I think he was right…


Adventures in Benglish…


Image: Copyright Chiromancer 2016

So, I’d be lying if I said the adjustment to living in a new country where I don’t (yet) speak the language properly and recovering from severe shingles was going swimmingly.  It’s not. After another hospital appointment where the doctor barked at me in Dutch (yes, that is actually what passes for good bedside manner here, despite the excellent healthcare),  I got in my car and drove away in tears. Enough was enough and I was ready to pack my passport and hot-foot it back across the Channel to sanity…and my own GP!

As I drove back to the house, I began to wonder about why and how I was feeling like this. Of course, The Belgian (a.k.a my gorgeous husband) will tell you that I am impatient – and that feeling rubbish for such a prolonged period has brought out the very worst in this patient.  He is, of course, factually correct!  Patience is not my super-power…neither is being ill.

But there is a bit more going on here. As I drove back to the house, I reflected on what I could do to feel more at home in a role (wife, stepmom) and country (new house, new ways) which, in essence is unfamiliar to someone who has been a committed single-career-girl- about-town for so long.  So, instead of turning left, I carried on driving and took myself to the beach for a few hours. After all – I have time on my hands, so why not?

I parked up in a new place, and discovered the most amazing building. As I walked on the sand, enjoying the pale Northern sun and the emptiness of the beach, I found my antidote…to uncertainty, unfamiliarity and unhappiness. I made a decision. After all, action is the cure for despair.

What did I decide?  Well, I am going on a quest…and this being me, and the country in question being Belgium (and therefore small enough to criss-cross in a day), I am going to visit the A-Z of places in my new abode. This is entirely possible, since Belgium is half-Flemish and half-French so the likelihood of every letter of the alphabet being represented in place names is high. This being me, I am also going to pick destinations that are off the beaten track. I might be impatient, but I am certainly not conventional! I hope to document this in my blog, and while I’m doing it – rediscover my new self, and a whole lot more about this small, but interesting nation!  Perhaps you will enjoy reading my adventures, too.

P.S. The picture was taken yesterday at the Thermae Palace in O-for Oostende. I’ve crossed that letter off the list, then!