Sunday, 26 July 2015

Permaculture Course: Days 1-3

I  am on a Permaculture course, enjoying an intensive two-week long learning experience about ecological design, with lots of natural history thrown in. The days are long - sometimes 12 hours contact time. There's a wide range of people here: chefs, smallholders, a woodsman, a graphic artist and so and each person is bringing a different knowledge set to the course, although most of the guys have beards and/or buns!

Here's some photos from the first three days.

Monday, 20 July 2015


My gypsy caravan home in Cornwall for the next couple of weeks, while I do I a Permaculture Design Course.

Back to Blighty

The sun comes out just as I reach Calais. The approach to the port is now ringed with about 3 km of 3 metre high double fencing crowned with barbed wire. It's still shiny, so obviously brand new. Fortress UK is defending its borders more and more. Sniffer dogs checking all the lorries. Apart from fortifications Calais port is really lacking in facilities: there's just a toilet block and three vending machines. o unlike Dover.  

I am traveling with P&O today. I normally don't because they are major donors to the Tory party. But today their timetable suited me better. I get on board and find out they don't have TV (unlike DFDS), which scuppers my plan to watch the first mountain stage of the Tour de France - on Bastille day too! 

I order a steak and kidney pie, mash, mushy peas and gravy to get me into a 'going back to Blighty mood'. The staff are very friendly and jokey but the exchange rate they charge for meals is about 15% worse than you get anyone else. The White Cliffs should be in sight soon.

There was a 20 KM queue of lorries waiting to get into Dover harbour, lined up on the inner lane of the motorway. I felt really sorry for the drivers. Make it to my friends place in time to see the highlights of today's stage. It finishes in the valley where my last Pyrenean trip ended (and where the next will pick up. Chris Frome tore the filed apart on the 1500 m climb at the end. I don't think 'll try to emulate him when I go back that climb looked vicious.  Thursday I travel onto to Cornwall.

Sunday, 12 July 2015


I'm driving past the Commission today on the eve of what is likely to be one of the most important EU summits ever held (the Grexit).  Security is tight.  Europe's leaders seems to be really divided on the issue of whether to keep Greece in the Eurozone or push it out. The Greeks are damned either way.  Either they stay in and face a far more stringent austere package than they voted oxi to last Sunday or they get pushed out - their economy goes into free fall and nationally-owned institutions get comprehensively asset-stripped.  Perhaps with a devalued dracma they can rebuild their eceonomy faster than staying in (people are takling about Argentina's example, but the switch there wasn't nearly as dramatic - they actually had a currency in place) - but in the short term the consequences will be horribly painful. Either way the Greek future looks grim. 

But for the EU as a whole it raises bigger, more strategic, questions.   There are most definitely both hawks (the Finns, the Baltic States and others who think Greece should be kicked out of the Euro zone) and doves flying around (the French are trying desperately hard to get them to stay in).  Since the early Benelux agreements what is now the EU has been expanding, and over the last 25 years this seems to have been more for political reasons than economic ones. When the Euro was created there were several states whose inclusion was the subject of much debate (Greece being one of them) but much was made of inclusivity. I   I can't help but feel that if the Greeks are foced to leave then the EU will have symbolically have turned a corner and the talk of unity and a common cause will start to sound like empty rhetoric. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The hottest day of the year

I did a grand tour of Belgian traffic jams today. The first on was at Rue Belliard, where it took twenty minutes to make the 500m from Arts-Loi to the tunnel because they have narrowed the five lane road to two lanes. --AVOID Indefinitely--.  The second was on the A40 where it took forty minutes to make two kilometres on the highway - though it was not at all evident whether that was due to an accident or what. I realised it might be a long wait when I saw first aid squads giving out water (in bags labelled 'civil emergency drinking water';) to people stuck in the 33 degree heat.   I was grateful for that - as I had just finshed mine before hitting the queue.  That was a thoughtful and inclusive gesture but also perhaps symptomatic that the Belgians recognise that they don't manage their motorways very well.  There were overheated cars stranded on the hard shoulder every 200m or so. 
On the upside I helped a friend move - under a stressful timetable - and got to do my first natural water swim this year (sharing the pool with goldfish and dragonflies! :-). Hopefully the first of many.   I came home with 'van driver's tan': a reddish brown left arm and a white right one.  Can anyone lend me a right hand drive car for the weekend so I can get the balance right???

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Urban wildlife

I've been neglecting 'my garden' this year.  The courtyard I planted up so lovingly three years ago is not quite gone to rack and ruin - just not not receiving the maintainance that it deserves (though my landscape architect neighbours said I chose the plants and planted up the courtard well :-) .
The last 2-3 days I have  been paying it more attention. Each time I have seen a blackbird flying in or out of the ferns that I bought back from Cornwall three years ago which are now well established.  It's a rare treat to see a blackbird in Brussels.  Guess she's built a nest there and that I should continue to beningly neglect the garden for the summer - unless until the chicks are fledged. 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Pictures in a gallery

I was at the Chagall retrospective at the Musée des Beaux Artes yesterday. I was really impressed. I was familiar with some of his work but was not aware of the scope and depth of his work. And he did a lot as he lived to be almost 100 years old.  The audio guide was really useful in explianing the contexts of his work - the outbrek of war, his time in France etc.) and the symbology he employed. 

Highly recommended if you are in Brussels in the coming weeks.  But hurry! It's only on for two more weeks. And go as early as you can. It was already crowded by midday.  
This is a portion of one of his later works called the rainbow – when he appears to have found some peace.  

And here's a link to some of the images on display  

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Traveller's Tips

I wrote this stub almost a year ago - and then forgot about it.  Some of these tips related specifically to my SE Asian experience - others are more general and universal.  Feedback, ammendments and additions most welcome.

I was ‘on the road’ for more than my fair share in 2013/14. Here’s a few tricks I picked up on the way. 
  1. Always keep a card and/or US$100/ €100 in a safe, separate, place (e.g.  a different pocket on money belt when you are travelling) in case, through stupidity or malfeasance, you lose your pocket book/wallet, etc. Also a photocopy of your passport / ID card, credit and debit cards and health insurance and their emergency numbers can prove very useful.  When going out at night carry a photocopy of your passport and only as much money as you plan spending.  Try to carry a few low denomination hard currency bills (1 $ or 5 Euro). If you are going outside of Europe do let your bank know – otherwise you may not be able to draw out any cash from any machine!
  2. Get to know (and remember) the name of your hotel receptionist / porter. This pays big time and both ways!  It makes them feel like recognised people, rather than just cogs in the global tourist machine and it can pay dividends if you have a problems that need solving – they remember you as someone who is interested in them as a person.
  3. The ‘posher’ the hotel - the less interactivity
  4. Try to avoid eating in places on the main ‘walking street’ or on the 'Grand Place'.  They are for the ‘vous-m’avez vue?’ set.  Root around the back streets just around the corner. You will invariably find better food and better service - at a much lower price. 
  5. Don’t do drugs (except in very safe environments). It exposes to you to police and mafia scams
  6. If staying any length of time buy a local SIM card and put in an old phone.  It makes local calls that much easier.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Barefoot Walking Outdoors

I  just (yesterday) finished reading Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane.  In one section he writes about the joys and perils of bareoot walking.  I was reminded how long it was since I have walked barefoot outside so gave it a try again when I found myself in the woods near Tremelo last weekend.  It was refreshing.   And the book is highly recommended too.

Monday, 4 May 2015

In the gallery - again

Went to the Henri - Cartier Bresson expo at the Belgian Museum of Jewish History yesterday.  Great show - aside from being an excellent photographer he was witness to many of the key events of the 20th Century - from the Spanish Civil war, through the liberation of Dachau, the communist victory in China,  the independence of India, Paris '68, the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements in the USA and much more.  He got to photograph Picasso, de Gaulle, Marilyn Monroe, Eisenhower, Gandhi (the day before he was assassinated), the Mountbattens  and so many other iconic figures of the 20th Century. A rich life well lived, although I always thought (and still think)  his best work was of street life in his adopted home city of Paris (see below).  In all a highly recomended show.

Getting in was a bit creepy - the museum was the scene of a fatal shooting last year in which four people were killed.  Getting in there now is like flying - full scan as you enter (but, then, that's the same at my local library these days) and four highly-armed army guards outside (the library doesn't have those).

After the Bresson expo I watched a harrowing film about the deportation of Jews from Belgium between 1942 and 1944 - detailig every train that deported more than 25,000 Jews from Belgium to Auschtwitz. Very few survived.  The whole video was particularly harrowing to me as some of the street scenes of the places where the Jewish community lived and were rounded up in the middle of the night are places where I regularly  shop.  One elderly Jewish guy described all the shops and houses in one street where his friends were taken from, half way through the interview he turned away from the camera, broke down and cried.

Tomorrow is freedom day in Wageningen: the place where the German army surrendered in the Netherlands.  There's a parade, a fly past and a big party.  I shan't be going this year - but think I will set aside a few minutes silence in memory of the Holocaust and pray that such a thing will never occur again.