Heatwave

It’s day forever of a heatwave that’s been ongoing since last week, and it’s been getting worse. The temperature over the past few days has hit the mid 30s and we have been sheltering indoors until things start to become bearable, which is not until after 7:00pm.

I’ve not been for a walk for the past couple of days because it’s been too damn hot. Even when it’s bearable to sit outside, it’s still too warm to try exercising — especially as I’m supposed to be wearing a face mask when on the street.

We did have a bit of a shower last night which has cooled things off that I was able to enjoy a decent night’s sleep. It’s not over yet, though, and the temperature is forecast hit 35° this afternoon.

I’m thinking I should go and sit in the basement until the weekend when the thunderstorms arrive.

Mad compromise of the moment

I went to the drink shop today. As with shops everywhere at the moment, they have a one-way system through the store and a screen at the counter. The screen has clearly been causing them a problem.

I generally buy beer by the crate and also, since it’s summer, I also picked up a big bag of charcoal. All of this I loaded onto my very low trolley along with several bottles of soft drinks. When I say the trolley is low, it’s a plank of wood on castors which comes about as high as my ankle. There’s a metal bar at a more normal height so it can be easily pushed, but the crates are very close to ground level and this is the problem.

Normally, in the years Before Corona, the shop assistant would lean over the counter so she could see what I had on the trolley. In these days, After Disease she can’t lean over the counter because there’s a great transparent shield in the way. This has made things a bit of a faff for the last few months, but they have now found a compromise.

The barrier is still in place but they have turned the till around so the assistant can now stand on the same side of the barrier as the customers.

I give them ten out of ten for finding a creative solution, minus about four hundred for completely missing the point.

Curfew

So this is serious:

A curfew will be imposed on the entire territory of the province of Antwerp as authorities race to contain a steady surge in new coronavirus cases.

Stopping short of imposing a new all-out lockdown, authorities decided that all residents in the province must be home from 11:30 PM to 6:00 AM.

Antwerp is both a province and a city and, even though I live in the middle of nowhere and an hour’s drive from the city, I do live in the province. And while the whole province is affected by this not-a-lockdown, it’s very much a case of the city driving these numbers upwards.

Not that I’m ever out — or even awake — at 11:30 in the evening. Except for the last weekend in August. How, or even if, the annual bat-spotting walk will work this year remains to be seen.

Following a marathon 10-hour crisis cell meeting, Antwerp’s provincial governor, Cathy Berx also announced that face masks would be mandatory in all public spaces for all residents above 12.

So that’s clear, at least.

The Antwerp city authorities have imposed further measures including an obligation to always carry a face mask.

As the number of new cases continues to grow across Belgium, the city of Antwerp has emerged as a hotbed for what experts fear might be a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

As far as I’m aware, there is no clear definition of what a second wave actually is, but these measures make Belgium the country with the strictest response in Europe.

It’s not a surprise, therefore, that there is some pushback. More surprising is that the legal basis is not actually in place yet. That said, I think we can effect these measures to take place in the very near future.

It will be a couple of weeks before we know how effective they have turned out to be. And I really hope that they do get the virus under control again, and quickly, because it’s going to be hard on the kids if the schools are not able to open again in September.

Dodging the second wave

Last week, amid rising coronavirus infections, Belgium’s Security Council called a halt to the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions and, instead, tightened some of these restrictions. The reaction was less than positive, with meany experts saying that the new restrictions didn’t go
far enough and calling for more frequent meetings of the National Security Council.

So they met again yesterday and, to nobody’s surprise, restrictions will be tightened.

The aim, according to Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, is to avoid another full lockdown.

From 29 July, and for at least the next four weeks, social bubbles will be reduced to a maximum of 5 fixed people per household, children under 12 not included. Within this bubble, caution is necessary: keep your distance and wear a face mask if required.

Non-guided events, such as trips and gatherings with family and friends, as well as receptions, such as weddings, however, are limited to groups of 10 people, children younger than 12 not included. An exception will be made for summer camps.

This is quite a tightening of the existing rules and remains in place for the next four weeks: all of August, in other words. It’s also cause a bit of confusion, which has led to a a clarification as to how you can have only 5 social contacts per household, but still take trips maximum of 10 people.

The numbers of people allowed at events is also reduced and anyone who wants to go shopping will have to go on their own again. Not that I’ve seen the inside of a supermarket since March, but I won’t be surprised if I start seeing queues of shoppers outside again.

The requirement to leave contact details to aid contact tracing is also extended to also include wellness centres, sports classes and more. Frankly, I’m surprised these types of location weren’t already included.

While the aim here is to avoid going into a full lockdown, stricter measures have not been ruled out. It’s going to take a couple of weeks before we know whether these measures will bring the infection rate back under control. If they don’t, who knows where we will go from here.

No-one is admitting, as far as I have seen, that we are being hit by a second wave of the pandemic. But it certainly feels like it from here.

Lockdown reloaded

About a month ago, Belgium went into phase four of the country’s exit from lockdown. Since then, the numbers of cases have been slowly rising again. So it’s no surprise that phase five of the exit has been cancelled and various restrictions have been tightened.

Face masks were already mandatory in shops and now they will also be required in more places, including busy shopping streets and markets. I have already been trying to get into the habit of always having a mask when I go out, so this should become a case of ‘when in doubt, wear a mask.’

The other big change, as far as we are concerned, is that we are going to have to provide either an email address or phone number when we next go to a restaurant. A form should be available from tomorrow, and the information will have to be destroyed after 14 days but I am wondering whether I should start trying to remember to have a pen with me for future excursions.

The contact bubble remains at 15 people, and night shops will have to close by 10:00pm. Bars and restaurants can still stay open longer though. And mayors will have more powers to take additional measures in the case of local outbreaks.

The only other change is that there are additional restrictions and possible quarantine for people traveling abroad. This doesn’t have a huge impact for us as we’d already written off this summer as far as holidays were concerned, but I’m glad we managed to visit Apenheul at the start of this month.

While it’s a bit of a blow, none of this was unexpected and the restrictions could have been much worse. Time to hunker down a bit, I think, and hope that this second wave washes away reasonable quickly.

I don’t think I’ll be seeing the inside of the office before next year, though.

Vuvuzela

Feeling a bit adventurous on Tuesday, Eve and I decided to take a 30-something minute bike ride to the Vuvuzela in Ham. Once we had a handle on how we supposed to order drinks, and after the food had finally turned up, it was all very pleasant.

The service did feel quite slow and, while they certainly weren’t speedy, I may be being a little unfair here.

With Tuesday being a public holiday, we’d had quite a late breakfast and, consequently skipped lunch. As such, we were both more than a little peckish by the time we arrived. Then we realised that the couple at the next table had ordered a stone-grilled steak. This is where you get the raw meat and a hot stone so you can cook your own — and it smelled so good…

Some of the slowness was probably also a reflection of the fact that this is primarily a fiets cafe — somewhere for cyclists to stop for a drink. I’m guessing, therefore, that they would normally expect you to order food at the bar and are struggling a bit with the switch to table-service that the coronavirus restrictions have imposed on them.

This has left them, however, with the maddest compromise possible.

While someone will come to our table to take our food order, and to serve the food once it’s finally ready, we are still expected to traipse into the bar to order and collect our drinks. It would probably be a bit saner to accept that things will be a bit slow and let the waiting staff handle the drinks as well.

That said, the drink selection was rather good — with much of it on draft as well. They have several very local beers, including their own Vuvuzela Bier. This was okay, but I much preferred the Cuvée Clarisse, a strong dark ale from Brouwerij Wilderen.

The food itself was very Flemish, which is no bad thing, and sitting on a terrace with a beer and burger is one of the better ways to spend a summer evening.

The cafe itself is situated in a large outdoor area with plenty of space for walking, cycling and mini-golf.

The kids should all be able to manage the bike-ride there, so we will certainly go back to explore further. Although next time, I will be very tempted to order some snacks along with our main course, just to keep us going while we wait.

Summer camp and baby orange trees

I nearly forgot to mention yesterday that, as well as the berries and vegetables in the garden, William took it upon himself to attempt to grow an orange tree.

I helped him a bit with getting the seed to germinate and with potting it, but once it was warm enough for the plant to go outside, it has been entirely William’s responsibility.

It’s still alive.

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I am under instructions to keep it an eye on it for the next week. Although most of the youth group activities the boys normally attend have been cancelled due to the corona virus lockdown, the restrictions were eased soon enough for them to attend the annual summer camp.

It’s a bit different to usual, of course, as the kids have to remain in contact bubbles so they are less able to freely mingle than usual. Also, the Sunday barbecue is cancelled, for obvious reasons.

As ever, the older kids make their own way to the site on Thursday and the following Sunday is when the younger groups are dropped off by parents. Normally this is quite a big event, with a barbecue, drinks and a chance to catch up with how things are going so far.

This year, there’s no barbecue, no mingling and no catching up with anyone. We had to turn up, drop the kids off and leave.

On the other hand, this did mean that Eve and I were able to hop on our bikes and go out for mussels.

Mussels

Next time, though, I will check the tires are properly inflated before we set off.

Smeagol

During the course of my evening walk, I pass a small lake which the Flemish conservation group Natuurpunt has spent most of the spring draining. This has been in order to remove debris from the bank and improve the connection to the Grote Nete river in order aid the spawning of fish such as the burbot.

The cleanup appears to have been completed, the lake has been refilled and the path around it has been reopened. It’s clearly not completed yet, but it is coming along very nicely and I shall look forward to seeing how it progresses from here on in.

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My purpose in mentioning this, however, was to post the above photo as an excuse to crack a series of weak jokes about hobbit holes, river folk and the fact that The Shire can be found in the vicinity of Kasterlee.

Yes, I am massively stretching things, both geographically and in terms of fictional small folk, but the Kabouterberg is well worth a visit — with or without kids — even though it’s not as close to us as I would like.

There are, of course, no hobbits in the above photo because it was raining.

While on the subject of hobbits, it’s worth mentioning that I am currently reading The Hobbit with the twins and it’s going down a lot better than I expected. Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves have just left Beorn’s hall and are heading towards Mirkwood and the boys won’t stop talking about it — which I am taking as a most excellent sign.

When we started the novel, I was assuming that they would soon get fed up with Tolkien’s incessant songs but I have been proven to be very wrong about this indeed. It probably helps that I never make any attempt to actually sing any of these songs.