The BB Odyssey continues

Trip Start Mar 22, 2010
Trip End Jun 10, 2010

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Flag of Belgium  , West Flanders,
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Out of all my odysseys on this trip so far, this is definitely my favourite - it even beats the foodie pilgrimage in Italy I think. How brilliant is a Billy Bragg odyssey. (S: Do you think Rach is a bit of a fan????). I think that could be the name of my first book - the Billy Bragg Odyssey. Woke up completely excitable, and quickly donned my t-shirt that I bought last night, put on ‘Must I Paint You a Picture’ and settled in to writing it all down before I got hazy on the details. Can’t believe I met Billy and Grant, not only to see or get an autograph, but to actually have a conversation. I am trying now to figure out how I am going to oh-so-coolly get pictures with them every night of the tour.

Had a lovely morning’s writing, while Seano went up to the Lidl for some breakfast supplies (we ate our breakfast supplies of bread and pate when we got home last night!). The camp ground is actually really lovely - quiet, green, shady, clean. All the things that add up to a great night’s sleep and a lovely relaxed morning. Packed up and went back up to Lidl because Seano was quite excited that they had some very cool stuff (dim sims!!! Weiss wurst and Schwartz wurst - which we haven’t tried before). We were putting it all away in the car when a man approached Seano, speaking in Flemish - he started to speak in English when Seano replied in German! I worried that we were going to get told off for having a camper (albeit a tiny one) in the Lidl carpark, but it turns out he is the president of the local motor home society, and wondered if we needed advice on where to stay! We told him that we were moving on, but that we really loved the campground we stayed at last night, and it turns out that was the one he was going to recommend anyway.
We thought how nice it was for this man to approach complete strangers and offer advice and assistance. Really kind.

Set off then towards Beveren (’Beaverin‘), which is the town where Billy is playing on Saturday night. Found the theatre, which was down a lovely tree lined cobbled laneway, and was attached to a restaurant and culture centre. The town itself was little and had a nice cosy sort of feel to it. We found the ticket counter, and were helped by a very nice lady who gave us our choice of seats, and smiled at my wearing a Billy t-shirt. I stopped in at a hairdresser to buy some hair product (my hair is too long - I can’t do a thing without product!), where the ladies were so sweet, giving me advice on products, and decided between them that for my hair type, I should use the wax - they then gave me a couple of samples of other products, just in case, then gave me a discount!! We started to set off towards Eeklo, but found a post office, with a park right outside! That never happens anywhere in the world, so we knew it was fated. Inside, I started my best German rendition of “We are Australian, we speak a little German and a little French; do you speak English” and the lady responded in English “better than Deutsch!” haha. She helped us with postpaks, stamps, filling in customs declarations (which were written in French and Flemish - our 2 weakest languages, with the possible exception of Slovenian)etc, and we posted off some presents and bits and pieces (I finally have let go of my thermals. Dad - its addressed to you - hope it arrives before we do!). She was so helpful, and told us the different prices, and when she told us the more expensive one, she did a little look under her eyebrows at us and shook her head just quickly - I felt in very good hands with this lady. 

Excellent. Next stop, Eeklo. Nothing is very far away from anything so far in Belgium, so a quick little 30 minutes and we were in Eeklo - another quiet little town, with a culture centre, and two extremely delightful ladies at the desk. We asked about the culture centres, and they explained that the big cities have Kunstcentrums (arts centres) and the idea is that some of the smaller regional centres have the culture centres and they are funded to provide a variety of cultural activities from music, to theatre, cinema, comedy etc to the larger regions. They gave us a look at the program for the year, which had a different act / artist / show on each page and was a reasonably hefty sized book - So very impressive. She was excited because we were the first people she had ever talked to at home from Australia, and she said that it is her dream to come to Australia - told her to come to Newcastle when she comes!

Have been thinking as well about what makes you love a country when holidaying, and there are multi facets to this - the people, the food, the landscape, and individual experiences. So far in Belgium, we have had outstanding experiences with every person we have come across - everyone is friendly, helpful, funny. We feel really safe and well looked after in places. I know it has only been 2 days, but this is certainly a place I have on my “must visit again” list. And we have only just skimmed the surface of the beer culture too!!!

Next stop Roeslare. Arrived at around 4:30, and started looking for a camping platz in town - none that we could see, but headed into the theatre just in time to see Henry and the van show up. Didn’t actually see Billy… Picked up our tickets, and made excuses to hang around for just a few minutes (after hastily checking my hair), but I imagine they were unpacking their gear. Back to Hans Bubi and on the search for a camping ground / tourist information. At least we are here, organised with tickets and way earlier than yesterday. I had promised Seano an early beer before the show to say thankyou for precision driving and logistical management from yesterday, but time really did start getting away from us. Sitting in a service station (the second one we had tried) car park at 6 o’clock, I had a pre-emptive neurofen to prepare for the stress that was no doubt to come given we had no where to sleep; I swear that one of these shows I will turn up showered, with my hair done and lippie applied.

After much umm-ing and ahh-ing, we decided to splurge and avert a potential divorce inducing situation, and stay at…. Shock horror… a MOTEL! Tried looking for a hostel, but couldn’t find any (the one that stated hostel out the front looked far too swank, so we just kept on driving). I realised how very used to camping and our routine I am now, when I asked… Do they have lock out? Do we have kitchen facilities? Do we have shared bathrooms? Seano just laughed at my campers mentality. Turns out, we have our own bathroom, coffee making facilities, chocolates on the pillows, breakfast in the morning, and a REAL BED! I even can shower with NO SHOES ON!!! But, with not too much time to spare, I once again changed from smelly nomad to almost femme fatale (complete with hair product in situ, but no time for lippie…) in no time flat, and we actually managed a semi decent walk (read - didn’t have to run tonight) to the culture centre, and even time for that beer that I had promised Seano! The theatre was bigger than last night’s, and actually had little Muppet stalls at the side, which would have been great. Grant was at the producer’s desk and when he saw us, he yelled out hello! I did notice that the front row was empty, and some of the ushers were seeing if people wanted to move down there - they avoided us, I think they knew we didn’t speak Flemish (the ushers were all of about 12 yrs old). I went up to one and said in German that we are from Australia, and don’t speak Flemish, and could we sit up the front please? (with lots of gestures to get the message across). The little girl I think was quite keen to get rid of me in case I spoke to her too much or asked any more questions, and let us - so we had front row centre seats!!! Hurrah! The gig tonight was more energetic - a few more people singing (but still no “weighed dooooooown” in Sexuality), but the highlight for me was when Billy actually talked about the audience last night, that most of the Belgians were drunk, and that there were even some Australians in the crowd (at which point I whooped, and he said “There they are there!”).

Afterwards (always a highlight) we waited in the theatre for Henry to come out and start unpacking the stage - I asked him if I could have the play list, which he got for me and told me to get Billy to sign it afterwards. I asked Grant if he would sign it too, which he did! Seano and I started on our new game (go to any random Belgian bar, and work our way across the beer taps until we have tried every beer in the bar. Pike, we should start playing this at the Belgian… and the Bavarian, but that’s a whole different country, and different game). Started with a wiesbier, and moved on to a blonde beer. Started talking to a couple of people (Steven was from Ypres and Griet was from Bruges), they asked us to take their photo with Billy and email it to them. We got talking and they started telling us about local places to go and where to get the best beers (a tiny little monastery near Ypres, apparently). Got their photos with Billy, but since we had had our turn with Billy last night, we sort of just hovered while he chatted with other people. We could see him try to get over to say hello to us a couple of times (joy of my life), but he was caught up with some Flemish girls who just would not let the man go, and kept calling him “William Stephen Bragg”). Got a Billy tea towel, a mug, and a bootleg from Australia in  2001 to add to the collection. When he got away from the Flemish girls he came straight over and started having a chat - we told him about the Belgian thing with chips (they claim they invented the hot chip!!!) and Seano said we’ve thought of another way to offend the Belgians. Billy said, “Great, your getting the hang of this thing”. Seano said you could have fun with the Belgians by singing Unisex Chip Shop (a Bill Bailey song written as a parody of Billy Bragg). He told us the story of Unisex Chip Shop, where his son (who is a big Bill Bailey fan) asked Billy to sing it at Glastonbury, which he was planning on doing as a bit of a private joke between the two of them - but he ran into Bill Bailey at Glastonbury, and invited him to come and sing it with him! 

Seano and Billy have struck up a relationship based on soccer (football), a love of teasing people and politics. They even have a brothers in arms way of shaking hands. We got some more photos, a few things signed, and then Henry insisted that they make a move. Talked Henry into getting a few photos - he hates having his photo taken - and have promised him a beer tomorrow night. The boys all stay in Ghent which is sort of central to all the gigs. After Billy left, I rather pathetically, got another photo with his left over beer! We hung around with Steven and Griet (the Belgian friends) and had a chat about beers, Billy Bragg and what they did . We invited them along to tomorrow nights gig in Eeklo. They weren‘t able to come because both Griet‘s and Steven‘s daughters were being confirmed and having parties on the weekend, and needed time to organise. We wandered back to the hotel for a sleep in a REAL bed. Snore.

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