Sprung

Yes, I’ve changed my blog design/layout-thingy. I also plan to get my hair cut soon. It’s that time of year. Brussels is going through something of a…well, not a heatwave as such – more of a “springwave”.  I wasn’t quite ready for it – in fact I was more than a little resentful, and was hoping that when I go on holiday in early April it would still be cold and miserable here, so that I could savour the contrast more. It’s not enough that I enjoy my holiday, you see – others have to envy me the good weather I’m enjoying while they’re battling their way through wind-blown drizzle back home.

I also deleted most of the blogroll – please don’t take it personally, but it was getting unwieldy and, I think, unnecessary. Most of the bloggers I like leave comments here every now and then, so you can follow them back to their own sites that way.

Here comes the sun

It is a truth universally acknowledged that summers in Belgium are crap. And like most “universally acknowledged” truths, there’s not much truth in it at all. We have sun, we have temperatures ranging from the high 20s to the mid-30s (yes, celsius…), and these conditions can last for weeks, even months. Of course, this doesn’t stop many Brussels-based expats (particularly those from mediterranean climes) complaining endlessly about how much sunnier it is back in their country.
What irritates me a little is not so much the prejudice that Belgium doesn’t get “good” weather, but the whole notion that only unbroken blue sky and blazing sunshine constitute “good” weather. While I admit that the weather can have some effect on mood, I’m mystified by those who seem to simplistically equate sunshine with happiness and clouds with misery. Cloudy, even rainy, days have their appeal too, albeit of a different nature, and I can’t help feeling that think those who don’t get it are missing out. For me misty, grey days, even with a little drizzle, or blustery, thunderous ones, can be just as “good” in their way as warm, bright ones.

One more change of season

I’ve just come back to work after two weeks’ holiday (including a brief trip to Italy for Easter) and it’s amazing how much things have changed.
Firstly, my eldest daughter started pre-school today and secondly the temperature has shot up about 15 degrees Celsius in as many days.

Before my break, I wore a coat to work and had the heating on in the car. The trees were mostly bare and the skies were mostly grey. Now, I’m still hot even though I’m only wearing a shirt, I keep the window of my car open as I drive, and the air-conditioning on at work, and the trees are an explosion of green leaves and pink blossom. The skies are blue but hazy and dusty. As others have noted, this is somewhat pleasant but also a little worrying. 25°C in the shade in mid-April? Quick – someone call Al Gore…

Big Sky

Today’s sky is wide and blue and full of hope, and is especially welcome after a week of heavy greyness. A meteorology book I own (ok, the only meteorology book I own) starts with a quote from Emerson to the effect that “The sky is the daily bread for our eyes”.
For me, as well as the simple visual pleasure it provides, it’s an opportunity for an atheist such as me to connect to something larger than the cares of everyday life. I spent many hours of my idle teenage years simply laying in bed staring up out of the window at the passing clouds, and kind of wish that I had the time to do that nowadays too. Although I have to say, I was never into that popular game of “find the recognisable shape/character/animal in the clouds”. Clouds are interesting enough in themselves – they don’t need to be anthropomorphised.

Whenever I think about looking at the sky, an anecdote from Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy comes to mind. There’s a planet whose peculiar weather system means that the skies are constantly covered by a uniform grey mist. The species that lives there have no concept of life beyond their planet, because they’ve never seen the sun or the stars.

Of all the phenomena I’ve seen in the sky, the one to so far elude me is aurora borealis. Even during a week in Lapland we managed to miss it…

Getting Better

Brussels is wet ‘n’ wild today (no, not like that). Almost every bin I see on the streets is overflowing with discarded, fractured umbrellas, their skinny arms and flapping material looking like giant broken bat wings. As I walk down the street the wind keeps shoving me in the back as if to say “Come on! Get a move on!”

Still, I’d rather light a candle than curse the…er, wind…that’s trying to blow it out (phew! great recovery there, even if I did end up sounding like Elton John), so today I’ve been thinking about personal improvement. Not in the sense of taking a self-help course, but just in the sense of thinking about how I used to be and ways in which I’ve changed, hopefully for the better.

1. Confidence and Assertiveness. I used to be terribly English in this respect. If you want to know what I mean, walk down an English street and deliberately bump into someone. They’ll apologise to you. Anyway, I used to be very bad at sticking up for myself. Not that I now go throwing my weight around and kicking sand in people’s faces, but if someone’s taking the piss (especially in a “customer service” context), I’m now much better at saying “No, hang on a minute, that’s not good enough”. Then, once it’s sorted out, I’ll mutter “Sorry to have made such a fuss” and scuttle away. I can also now talk to strangers, make presentations in front of groups of people, and generally function in society without cringeing and apologising for my very existence.

2. Priorities. As previously noted, with age I’m becoming more discerning and am less willing to waste time. I like to think that I’m pretty good at keeping things in perspective and identifying what’s worth spending time on and what isn’t. Having children to deal with helps, as time becomes an ever more precious commodity, absolutely not to be wasted (although I still spend a lot of time on YouTube, so I have some work to do in this area).

3. Willingness to Learn. New challenges keep things fresh, and I’ve learnt quite a few new things recently. I don’t just mean “learning” facts by watching documentaries on tv, or “learning” how to change nappies. In 2000 I learnt Italian (not all of it, obviously, but I made a start), in 2004 I learnt to drive (admittedly this was somewhat forced on me by the impending arrival of our first child. My wife was unaccountably unenthusiastic about the prospect of driving herself to hospital while having contractions), and in 2005 I started learning to play the piano. Admittedly this fell by the wayside after 9 months, due to the arrival of our second child and the consequent loss of leisure time, but I made an effort, and learnt some interesting stuff (don’t ask me to play anything though, unless you’re keen on glacially slow sub-Satie ambient noodlings). I’m still doing a course to improve my French, and I’m determined to start Dutch at some point.
On the other hand, maybe Homer has a point:  “How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?”

Of course, as my school reports never failed to note, I “could do better” (who couldn’t?), but it’s nice to think that I’ve made some progress.

A hazy shade of winter

It’s dark now when I get up in the morning. Not that this stops me from getting up, but it’s a comforting sign of the time of year. I love autumn – it feels very cosy, especially if it’s cloudy, like today, and the overcast sky feels like a warm duvet. The only thing I like more than that, weather-wise, is cold crisp sunny autumn days, preferably frosty, and first thing in the morning is my favourite time of day. Watching the sun come up fills me with a wonderful sense of opportunity and optimism.
I’d rather be too cold than too hot; I love having to wear a coat when I go outside. I hate sweating. Maybe it’s because I was born in mid-November? It’s not that I like being cold, but there’s something about warming yourself by an open fire with a hot drink that’s infinitely preferable to laying in the hot sunshine with a cool drink. The light is also better at this time of year – no harsh shadows or glare, even when it’s sunny.
I’m already planning trips to some German winter markets, where I can sip mulled wine in the twilight and see my breath puffing like steam from my mouth.