Home > Chapters > 7 – 101 Things To Do And Smirk At In Brussels

7 – 101 Things To Do And Smirk At In Brussels

Brussels was a beautiful city. We arrived at the right time of year to enjoy a glorious Belgian summer, in the early July of 1978. As welcome guests of my Aunt Lynda and Uncle Richard we moved into their top floor apartment in the Avenue des Coccinelles, located in the Watermael-Boitsfort suburb of the city. This was to be our home for the next two months before we could head out to Germany once military accommodation was available there. Dad had to leave us in Brussels as he had already started his new posting, so with nothing to do but just enjoy life we got on with living it.

The apartment block was only a very short walk away from the nearest tram stop. For the purchase of a single ticket you could travel all day, on and off the trams as many times as you liked, so trips into the city centre were always looked forward to. My sister and I often went on our own, but the most enjoyable ones were when we were accompanied by Lynda and Richard who knew their way around and were also fun to be with. We did the whole tourist thing with them. The Grand Place, (pronounced Plass), the Atomium, (big silver balls on tubes), Waterloo, (no NOT more bloody ABBA but the memorial site of the actual battle) and of course, the Mannequin Pis, (bronze statue of small boy having a pee). I was also introduced to Stella Artois before it became a fashionable drink in the UK, a few years later and I sampled snails for the first time, served in a dish of spicy sauce, which I found very tasty and have eaten them again since. We were also introduced to two renowned Belgian delicacies, although not at the same time. The first was frites with mayo, which is basically a bag of chips (English version, not American), but cooked in such a way the taste is just amazing especially when topped with a good dollop of mayonnaise. The second specialty was waffles. I spoiled many a shirt with the drooling just from  thinking about their sweetness and taste.

But for a sixteen year old, the highlight of each tram ride into the city was when we stopped at a particular station. Richard alerted me to it as we approached for the first time, he obviously being well aware. As we pulled into the station, over the intercom would be heard the name of the station, Kunst-Wet. It never failed to raise a snigger or a guffaw, and if you don’t know why, well sorry but you will have to remain in the dark as decorum prohibits me from explaining, without smirking again.Two months in a foreign city had its ups and downs. It was obviously not really financially feasible to go out every single day, so we spent a fair amount of time back in the apartment as well. Being top floor, although only three stories high, there was quite a good view of the surrounding area, which was mainly housing. Set further back in the distance were some impressive high rise blocks of flats, many floors higher than our little abode and I would spend hours peering at them through Richards binoculars after he assured me he had once seen a woman topless sunbathing on one of the high up balconies. I never did see her.

There was a TV in the apartment, but I’m sure you can imagine how riveting programs, in French and Flemish, in 1978 were. Yes, you got it…not very! There was, however, an interesting interlude one weekend when we invented the worlds first ever TV remote control device. It was essentially two bamboo sticks tied together with a pencil eraser attached to one end. In those days when the TV channels were changed by pressing a button on the front fascia this innovative device worked incredibly well, and had we patented it we could possibly have been millionaires by now. Unfortunately it slipped down the back of the sofa and is probably still there to this day. Forgotten and fluffy.

 

Which just left the record player. The only problem being that all my records were packed in an MDF packing crate, in transit somewhere between Guildford and our future home in Germany. But I was in luck. Lynda and Richard had the semblance of a record collection and I managed to scrimp some of my earnings together to buy one of my own..

For some strange reason, Brussels seemed bereft of record boutiques. I’m sure that in this modern age you could probably walk down the main shopping street and come across the Belgian equivalent of HMV or Virgin Megastore, but in 1978 you just couldn’t. With hindsight perhaps I missed out on another millionaire-making patent opportunity but forward thinking has always been one of my shortfalls. I did however eventually stumble across some sort of musically aware shop in the murky corner of a dark alleyway. Amongst the racks of musty records by obscure foreign artists and long forgotten crooners was the object of my desire. A bell rang in my head. Visions of swaying bodies and flying hair sprang to mind as I recalled the energetic dancing at the disco a few months earlier. The record was there, waiting for me, and I had to buy it.

The album I bought was strangely prophetic in itself. It was the fourth studio album by Status Quo, named Dog Of Two Head. The front cover featured a picture of a dog, a British Bulldog no less, with two heads. It didn’t actually feature the song we had danced ‘the cave’ to, but track one, side one, was a song called Umleitung which is German for ‘diversion’. The Bulldog connotation was obviously symbolic of me, especially having two heads as I am a Gemini. And Brussels was indeed a diversion off our route to Germany. It was an album I connected with immediately and I played it to death back at the flat. It was also the record that started my life long adoration of the Mighty Quo. But more of that later.

From my lovely Aunt and Uncles small and insignificant record collection were just two that were totally significant at the time and for many years after. They were both albums I had never heard before. Although I had listened to Deep Purple to some extent, their Stormbringer was new to me and I found this album to be exhilarating. Probably what drew me to it was the connection of the title with a series of science fantasy books I had read by the very prolific author, Michael Moorcock. In one series the main character, Elric of Melniboné, wielded an enchanted sword with the same name. Other musical influences would become apparent in the following years that could also be attributed to Michael Moorcock, or at the very least, have a connection with him.

The other of their albums that gave me enjoyment through my Belgian diversion was Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. The range of instruments played on the album was incredible and the composition and actual sound was, I thought, fantastic. As an aside, there is much I was unaware of concerning this album right up until this very moment of writing. I was always of the impression that the voiceover reeling off the list of instruments was Mr. Oldfield himself. It turns out this was actually a chap called Vivian Stanshaw who was given the credit of  ‘Master of Ceremonies’ on that album. He was also known for a lot of similar work with the oddly named Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. I was also unaware that Tubular Bells was the first album released by Richard Branson’s Virgin Records and that he (Branson) later named two of his aircraft Tubular Belle. But enough of this Umleitung.

Brussels was an enjoyable time. I came away from it enriched, both cosmopolitanly and musically. I was ready in mind and body and soul for all that Germany could throw at me.

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Categories: Chapters
  1. May 28, 2011 at 16:23

    The Quo never got the respect they deserved here in the States. The same, however, cannot be said for Kunst-West.

    Enjoying the ride. Keep ’em coming.

    • May 28, 2011 at 19:29

      I’ve met a few Americans in my time ( one in particular will feature prominently in a future episode), but now you come to mention it, I don’t recall any professing to like or even to have heard of the Quo. Most are/were usually more preoccupied with such groups as Aerosmith, The Eagles, Grateful Dead etc etc..you know… the big American bands. I did my best to educate them 😉
      I’m glad to hear that USA has respect for Kunst-Wet… I think it deserves it 🙂

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