When puns go bad

March is international bowel cancer month and, from VRT, comes the news that Belgian charity Stop Darmkanker (Stop Bowel Cancer) has launched a campaign to get people to encourage their friends to test for early warnings.

Since 2013 test kits have been sent out to the over 50’s every two years. The tests are designed to trace bowel cancer in its early stages. A laboratory checks whether there are traces of blood in the excrement, something that could point to the early stages of bowel cancer. There is a 90% chance of being cured of bowel cancer it it is detected early enough.

In order to encourage the 50% of Flemings that don’t bother using the test kits to do so Stop Bowel Cancer wants Flemings to encourage people they know that have received a test to actually use it.

This is all good stuff and it is obviously far better to catch the disease while it’s still treatable rather than waiting until it’s too late.

I’m just not entirely sure about calling on people to Become a shitty friend.

Become a shitty friend

Strike!

As you may or may not be aware, the Belgian public service unions went on a 24 hour strike yesterday, impacting most of the country’s transport infrastructure. Most notably, Belgian airspace was closed for the day meaning that all flights in and out of the country were cancelled. Most of the trams and buses were out of action and only half of the trains are running.

For me, these strikes are great as they make my train journey to and from the office so much more pleasant.

The thing is that, while only half the trains are running, the rail company (NMBS) is working to an alternative schedule that prioritises rush hour traffic. So disruption is kept to a minimum and crucially (for me) the intercity trains that I usually catch are running as normal.

It get’s better than this though because most people who can make alternative arrangements (such as driving to work or working from home) do make alternative arrangements. I can usually find a seat on the train, but today I was able to find a block of four seats, sit back, stretch out and read in comfort. It’s almost a shame that the seats don’t recline.

And so to the office.

As mentioned earlier, everyone who can work from home is working from home. In this case, that’s everyone with whom I normally share an office. And if you have ever worked in an open-plan environment I am sure you will appreciate just how pleasant it can be to occasionally enjoy a distraction free environment.

Since I was both shockingly punctual and amazingly productive in the morning, I figured I could justify taking my full lunch break and go for a bit of a walk.

Going home was even better. For the first time this year the train was actually on time, and the carriage was even emptier than it had been this morning. The only problem is that, being on time, I was home with the pizzas before the boys had returned from karate.

There have been several strikes over the past year or so and, while I am aware that they cause a lot of problems for a lot of people, I can’t help but hope we have a few more.

Belgian Street Art: The Lego Edition

As part of trying to stay fit and shed a few excess kilos, I have taken to going for a walk in the evening after the kids are all in bed. The length of the walk is determined by how active I’ve been during the day — the more active I’ve been, the shorter the walk needs to be.

Because Sunday was such a wet and miserable day, I really didn’t move much at all. This meant that my evening walk was quite a bit further than usual.

Which is how I came to notice that someone has been having way too much fun with the road markings.

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It turns out that this came from the local school. This is due to receive a fair bit of building work in the coming summer holiday and they have been having a lot of fun with murals, graffiti-type artworks and small displays. I hadn’t realised that their activities have expanded to the surrounding streets.

Code Yellow

It snowed in Belgium this morning. Apparently.

According to the news reports, West Flanders has been coated in a light carpet of snow and the cold front is heading inland. This being Belgium, the Met office has issues a Code Yellow weather alert, indicating dangerous driving conditions.

There was no snow when I climbed into the car this morning and, even though I got up a little earlier than usual, just in case, the driving conditions to the station were better than they were on Friday.

In Brussels, we’ve seen a couple of flurries, nothing is settling.

According to Wttr, however, we’re in for a blizzard this afternoon. I will believe this when I see it.

That said, I like Wttr. It is the simplest weather site I have seen and it gives me a cruft-free overview of the weather forecast for today and tomorrow. When I check the weather, all I really want to know is whether I should wear a coat and Wttr gives me that information quickly and simply.

The site also appeals to the nerd in me in that I can also display it in a terminal. Simply typing curl wttr.in will give me the forecast without my having to open a browser.

Looking out of the window again, some of the snow is starting to settle, but there isn’t much of it.

Kruidtuin van Brussel

From where I work it is a five minute walk to Brussel Centraal station, I am trying to incorporate a little more activity into my life. So instead of spending half an hour loitering by the warm baked goods (Mmmm… waffles), I take the 25 minute walk to Brussel Noord instead.

My route includes a walk through the Botanical Garden (Kruidtuin in Dutch, or Jardin Botanique in French).

The Botanical Garden is now an urban park sandwiched by the roads of Brussels’ northern quarter. Thanks to its previous life as a working botanical garden it has kept a mixture of styles (French, Italian and English) and a large variety of trees and plants.

The original garden building is now a cultural centre, which I have not had the time or inclination to investigate. But I do like the statues.

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Students March for the Climate

A student march for the climate just went past about 20 minutes ago. The march was peaceful, if noisy — there was a lot of cheering going on — and, according to VRT, they are planning to repeat this every Thursday until they get an adequate response.

Two things struck me. Firstly, pretty much all of the placards were in English. I don’t know if this is a reflection of Belgian  multilingualism or if  the students are looking for international attention. But it’s interesting to note.

Secondly, the student who walked past in a pair of shorts — in January — made his point very effectively indeed.

 

Built for Belgian Roads

When we first moved to Belgium, Eve and I derived a fair bit of amusement from the fact that you could always tell when you crossed the Dutch-Belgian border from the road noise.

Dutch roads, in general, are well built, well maintained and very quiet to drive on. Belgian roads… aren’t.

It appears that some marketing hack at Mitsubishi has made the same observation.

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Democracy in action

The Belgian local elections back in October saw the mainstream parties losing out to the margins — the Greens and the far-right Vlaams Belang being the big winners. Most of the coalition agreements are now in place and new mayors are taking their places in councils up and down the country.

Not everything is settled, though, and we are still seeing the fall-out from the far right’s revival, most notably in the east Flemish town of Ninove, where Forza Ninove (the local iteration of Vlaams Belang) won most of the seats. Most of the seats is not a majority and none of the other three groups were willing for enter a coalition with the extremists.

The N-VA’s two councillors chose to sit this one out creating a stalemate in which neither the far-right nor the proposed Liberal-Socialist coalition was able to command an overall majority. This stalemate was broken last week when one of the N-VA councillors split with his own party to support the liberal-left coalition. This means that Ninove now has a new municipal council, and the far right have been excluded from the cabinet.

All good stuff, but on Thursday various far-right groups got together to have a march and a whine.

When I saw this, I first thought of the Paradox of Tolerance, which was defined by Karl Popper and can be summarised as:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

But I don’t think that this really applies in this case because the so-called March for democracy is inherently disingenuous.

It is quite reasonable for a political party to decide, on the basis of very divergent values, that no deal with another party is even worth considering. Moreover, Belgian politics has a long established principle of the Cordon Sanitaire in which mainstream agree to not deal with the far right — this was an explicit agreement in the case of the now defunct Vlaams Blok and remains as an understanding when dealing with Vlaams Belang.

No-one prevented Forza Ninove from putting up candidates and campaigning in the local elections. No-one was prevented from voting for Forza Ninove.

If no-one wants to deal with your party, this is not an attack on democracy but a reflection of the obnoxiousness of your politics.