Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Belgium Minibreak

As if I have not travelled enough recently, on Sunday I made a last minute decision to visit Belgium. The reason? Heroism, pure and simple. Heroism comes naturally to me. As naturally, say, as wishing to have a large stock of excess Brownie Points available for twitching far-flung Hebridean islands. So it was a pretty easy decision to for me, on finding that Mrs L and two thirds of my descendants were stranded in Belgium, to mount an immediate rescue mission. The problem? Mrs L, handbag connoisseur and noted security expert, had had her car key stolen in Brussels. To be absolutely clear, it had not fallen out, unnoticed, from her massively-overstuffed handbag that does not close properly. Never in a million years could that ever have occurred, and I most definitely have never mentioned this ridiculously obscure possibility to her. No, stolen. Stolen by a heinous criminal gang who had used incredible guile and agility to somehow gain entry to her handbag - amazing that they weren't suffocated by Tesco receipts in the process.

After an afternoon of faffing about with the Belgian RAC, after which it was determined that they could not start the car, nor now lock it back up again, the obvious solution began to dawn on me. The quickest way to regain access to the car and thus return the family to Chateau L and domestic bliss would be for me, Superfatherhusband, to personally and immediately travel to Brussels with the second car key. The second car key is my car key. It lives in my pocket, which I pat approximately once every twenty seconds to ensure its continuing presence. I am not paranoid at all. I gave my pocket another reassuring pat. Yup, one car key, all present and correct. Amazing, and so the plan sprung into action. My brilliant neighbours could take Muffin overnight, so he packed a small bag. Meanwhile I retrieved my passport from its ultrasafe secret hiding place, checked that my wallet – on a CHAIN attached to my belt was still attached – and that the remaining Euros from Spain were still in it. Check. Ipod zipped up in jacket pocket? Check. House Keys in case Mrs L had lost them too had them stolen too? Check.

With the Eurostar website down, I had no choice but to go to St Pancras and chance it. Chance is a fine thing, and so I got a seat on a train leaving 20 minutes later. Not long after that I was in my fourth European country in a week, and under cover of darkness I infiltrated Belgium, my fifth. The location of the car was pre-set on the sat-nav on my phone – attached to me via ANOTHER CHAIN (OK, so I am perhaps a touch paranoid; then again, have I ever lost my phone or wallet?) and so also still present (for the avoidance of doubt that means that it hadn't fallen in a puddle, or down the toilet.... ) but in the event it proved unneccesary as Mrs L's good friend and object of Brussels visit, Jo, was there to meet me, probably in disbelief that I would be on the train and needing to check it out just to be certain. A taxi to the car, and we were reunited! Rejoice! And then Mrs L and the girls came down the stairs - more rejoicing!

The moment of truth. Did I still have my car key, or had the Brussels phenomenon struck twice! Hah! Of course I had it, one simple click and the car was ours again. Family in, seat adjusted, mirrors set, and we were off. Warp speed through northern France as, already approaching midnight we needed to catch the last shuttle before a serious gap in the schedule. We made it with quite a bit of time to spare. A scary moment when the car wouldn't start when we arrived in Kent; not because it  wouldn't start at all, but because in order to start it I had to entrust Mrs L with my key whilst I fiddled with the battery. Luckily she managed to keep hold of it for five seconds and we were off again, once again with me selflessly taking the wheel and guiding us safely to Wanstead. A great success, up there with the best of twitches!

I was in bed by 3am, and in work on time the next morning, though the coffee consumption was excessive by anyone's standards. So, a lovely little trip - I've never been to Brussels before, and I have to say that during my lengthy stay it looked pretty nice. Of note were the taxi driver not having the faintest clue where he was going yet driving at about 100kph through suburban streets, and a Nespresso shop where on another day I might have sourced some decaf, of which I have run out. Next time I have to rescue Mrs L from a foreign city I'll be sure to research the retail options before leaving.

In addition to the above heroic tale, I have three other pieces of news. The first is that I almost accurately predicted that Sunday would be a great day for Buzzards and Red Kites on the patch. Before I was called upon to don my cape and mask, I had scored three of the former, but the Red Kite came through the following day when I was at work earning money for Eurostar tickets.

The second is that also on Sunday, I had a first winter Gull go over the Flats with a very clear black "W" starting on the leading edge of the upper wing. Distant, I could not pick it up with the camera for an ID-clinching shot, and in my excitement I didn't think through the options very clearly and am thus forced to concede that I cannot assign it safely to either Kittiwake or Little Gull, even though it was undoubtedly one or the other, and I need both for the patch. Upon reflection, the flight mode was that of a Gull and not a Tern, though this is hardly a concrete ID feature. So, elation tinged with bitter regret on that front.

The third piece of news is that during a short break from saving the world, I have managed to find time to put together a post of gratuitous photos of Lesser Kestrel from my second-most recent European trip. You can find it here, meanwhile I am off to check on the progress of the Telephone Box being installed outside the house.


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