Wednesday, 13 July 2016

In Brussels for the night...

I arrived at the Eurostar terminal in London with about 40 minutes to spare – or so I thought. My first problem was to obtain a ticket, albeit a free one. My fare had been paid by somebody (a rarity, but also a pleasant surprise) and all I had to do was key in the reference number and hey presto! But nothing is that simple. Or rather it is, but not today. It didn't work so I queued up to find out why and was quite prepared to simply go home if it all went pear-shaped.

Outside Bruxelles Midi station – the reassuring presence of the military
Fortunately, thanks to the very helpful woman on the information desk, all was well and soon I was through security with around 30 minutes, probably less, to grab something to eat before the train headed towards Brussels on roughly a two-hour journey. But that wasn't to be either and this time it kind of worked in my favour. There was a delay. The incoming train was late arriving and they put back the boarding time until 1530hrs. Fine by me! I ordered an egg and mayo sandwich and a millionaire's shortbread plus a cup of tea, but this was when I thought there were just minutes to spare. Once I knew I had time to relax and enjoy a leisurely snack (Caffé Nero's Millionaire's shortbreads, by the way, are to die for) I did just that, but it was pretty boring if the truth be known. I couldn't be bothered to read so I just sat there, munching the sandwich, chomping on the Millionaire's shortbread and sipping the tea. It meant, of course, that I could indulge in one of my favourite travelling pastimes – a glass of Merlot. Throw in a bag of sweet chilli potato chips (crisps) and, well, it was great, although still pretty boring.

The view from room 510...

The train boarded and I was in seat 73, coach 2. I thought, bearing in mind that somebody else was paying my fare, that I'd get a first class ticket, so it was pretty darn depressing when I noticed the figure 2 under the word 'class'. That's me, I thought, a second class citizen, but I wasn't really bothered. My aisle seat allowed me to stretch out a bit and en route I read a bit of Chomsky's Who Rules the World, it's a great book as it opens one's eyes to what's really going on, although, oddly, it's all stuff you kind of knew was true anyway.

Stuff like the so-called New Spirit of the Age, which is basically 'gain wealth forgetting all but self'. This led to what Chomsky describes as major industries devoted to the task of "'gaining wealth forgetting all but self' – PR companies, advertising, marketing, all of which contribute to what the political economist Thorstein Veblen called 'fabricating wants'. In other words, convincing us, the general public that we need and want things that we don't really want. It is, of course, all about putting the public in it's place – marginalising and controlling people who 'the establishment' (even to this day) regard as too stupid and ignorant to run their own affairs. "That task was left to the 'intelligent minority', who must be protected from "the trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd," the "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders" – the "rascal multitude, as they were termed by their seventeenth-century predecessors. The role of the general population was to be 'spectators', not 'participants in action, in a functioning democratic society."

The lush hotel garden below me...
What is amazing about Chomsky's book is the fact that, while 'the establishment' go on all the time about how great 'democracy' is and that's what we fought for in two world wars, the reality is that the further away from democracy we are, the better (for the establishment).

"A primary domestic task has always been to "keep [the public] from our throats," as essayist Ralph Walker Emerson described the concerns of political leaders when the threat of democracy was becoming harder to suppress in the mid-nineteenth century. More recently, the activism of the 1960s elicited elite concerns about "excessive democracy" and calls for measures to impose "more moderation" in democracy."

But enough of Chomsky (for now). After a pleasant journey in that lovely 'out of focus' state of mind easily captured by a large glass of Merlot, I stared out of the window, looking at wind turbines, which seemed to be rotating in slow motion and, in the process, slowing everything else down too. The train arrived at Bruxelles Midi around 1900hrs and I the first thing I noticed was the military presence – armed soldiers patrolling the station. It was strangely reassuring. I jumped into a taxi and the driver was a pleasant man in his early sixties who told me there were traffic jams around town and they were all to do with the erection of a fairground in the centre of town. After about 15 minutes we arrived at my hotel on the Boulevard Charlemagne, the First Euroflat, and all was wonderful from the word go.
My bed for the room 510.
I noticed before entering the hotel lobby that I was literally a stone's throw from the headquarters of the EU – that familiar-looking building with loads of flags outside. It was a wonderful evening: blue skies and sunshine and things were made even better by an efficient check-in. I was directed to the elevator and was more than plesantly surprised by the room. It was huge. There were two electric cooking rings, a sink, a large fridge, a glass table (on which I guess I could enjoy dinner, cooked by myself if I so wished) and then there was a huge sofa, a desk, a double bed and a bathroom. And let's not forget a full minibar, free and easily accessible WiFi and a balcony. The view from the hotel was wonderful too and if I looked down there was a pleasant garden with a pond. I couldn't really ask for me if the truth be known.

My sofa and desk... a great room

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't help thinking enviously of your time in the hotel in Brussels as I trudged through Ealing en route to a clean, but basic Holiday Inn Express. I'm spending my Thursday evening here in a small, very modern room in a not particularly exciting part of town. Earlier this week I was in a reasonable small hotel in Nottingham, and a week or so before that I was in a hotel near Warwick that had a very tiny washbasin with no plug, a fairly worn out mattress and the sound of the lift grinding up and down right near my room. Oh, the glamour!