Between 1999 and 2000 I lived and worked in Charleroi, Belgium, as my Year Abroad while studying French. Who could love Charleroi? The sprawling decayed post-industrial mess at the heart of the slag-dumped Pays Noir, derided as a bed of crime and shady politics, and the place where a lot of England fans threw a lot of chairs and got hit in the face with big water-cannons for their efforts. Well, grimy as it is, I do love Charleroi. The people are warm and welcoming, and down-to-earth, and beneath the soot and neon there is some gorgeous art-nouveau archtitecture to be found. It’s the home of some of Belgium’s most beloved BD (comic book) stars, such as Spirou and Lucky Luke. Yes there are rats the size of small cows, but so what? (I tripped over a massive rat here once, actually tripped over it – it ignored me and just shuffled along, watched by a prudent cat).
And the beer is amazing. This is la cuve à bière, a little pub I used to visit several times during the week, largely because they had a TV that would show match of the day on BBC1. I’d sit and write or draw, taste new beers, eat cheese. Sometimes, Tel would come over from England and drink Kwak. I remember that on cold sleety nights I would walk through the doors, my glasses would steam up instantly, but by the time I’d wiped them clean and gotten to the bar, my beer would already be there waiting there for me. I don’t even know if la cuve is still there; I hope it is. When I’m back in the UK this december, I might pop over there to find out.