It’s not every day you see a Guiness World Records certificate behind a bar. At the Delirium Café, they received the certificate after a GWR representative inspected the bar and discovered that there were (in 2004) 2,004 different varieties of beer on offer. When you reach the bar (a long wait, of which more in a moment) you find on it what appear to be a set of mail order catalogues, sitting next to where the barmen are plonking down the drinks. But while they might once have had a gloss, they are now a bit manky, since they are also acting as bar towels and slowly soaking up stale beer. All beer is here inside these weighty tomes, from the ‘light’ 6.2 per cent bottles right up to the ‘triples’, which means beers that have been brewed three times, to up the alcohol content and strengthen the taste. These are almost unbelievably strong, going up to twelve or even fourteen per cent. The supposed best ones are brewed by Trappist monks, as a means of financing their monasteries.
At first, paying €3.50 for a pretty small glass feels like a bit of a swizz. But they go down a treat, and if you’re English like me, and accustomed to drinking pints, you’ll gulp it down and have another one long before realising that you’ve just taken 20 minutes to drink the equivalent of most of a bottle of wine. But despite its supposed world fame, the Delirium is not what you might call a refined experience. There are bars on the ground floor and in the basement; in the basement, the decor, mostly nailed to ceilings and walls, spans the full gamut of styles from beer trays to beer mats, the floor is inexplicably wet all over, and the barmen are more preoccupied with dancing and looking cool than with pouring beer. One of them helped himself to a tip from my change, having taken 20 minutes to serve us. I am starting to put this kind of thing in a category invented by my boss: NFB, or Normal for Belgium. (Actually, when she invented it, it was Normal for Borehamwood, but since I can’t think of anything more normal than Borehamwood, I’m nicking it). Either way, it’s been nice to get out and about in Brussels, having spent my two previous weekends here either working or in Paris. Next weekend is the Big Conference, with 110-odd people for me to look after, and bringing with it the wonderful thought of working from 7h to about 22h on both days. I am kind of wondering when some sort of proper social life will get going.
What also seems to be NFB is that while the cost of living is pretty manageable, some things are inexplicably really expensive. Shoes are a case in point. The soles of both of smart work shoes (my only pair) have developed holes. As anyone who has read Asterix in Belgium will tell you, it rains a lot here, and though it held off for a while when I first arrived it is now back to normal, with howling, icy winds and lots and lots of rain. It started with me noticing my feet were damp after walking through a puddle; now all I have to do is walk down slightly wet paving and I get freezing, cold feet. Having been told by the cobbler that they couldn’t be repaired, I set off today to find a new pair, and couldn’t find anything for less than €80. Somehow spending over a tenth of my monthly salary on a pair of shoes seemed excessive, so for now I’m going to have to make do until I can get back to the UK and either retrieve one of my spares or go to a decent cheapo shoe shop. Nothing like wet feet for lowering your spirits, though.
After a month of waiting, o2 have STILL not pulled their fingers out and unlock my handset (this has been too unutterably frustrating and irritating a story to repeat here, so I won’t, but it’s enough to say that it’s reached an impasse, with them saying they can’t unlock the handset and me being unable to close the account because if they don’t I can’t use it with another network). If anyone wants to call me they’ll need to use my UK mobile number, which remains the same as before, though it costs me money to receive and make calls and texts, so Skype might be a better option.