A few days after Christmas, a friend and I went over to Belgium, where I used to live what feels like a lifetime (but was less than ten years) ago. I spent a year in Charleroi between 1999 and 2000, my time there culminating with the now infamous visit of the chair-throwing England fans. It was a year that has shaped a lot of my imagination, though I did little but eat frites drowned in sauce, drink and learn about beer at la cuve à bière, and play the guitar (writing songs about this, about that). That is, however, the life. We took the early Eurostar to Brussels, and walked around the busy post-noel streets, surprised to find that there was no rain whatsoever – I nearly didn’t recognise it in the sunshine. I like Brussels. I drew at the Grand Place, crowded, touristy, disgustingly ornate, but necessary for a budding urban sketcher to draw. I wasn’t going to seek out the urban grit – we were going to Charleroi later that evening, and there would be plenty of that.
I stopped in a shop I loved when I was living there: Grasshopper, an amazing store that sells all sorts of toys and books. I wanted to buy some French board books for my baby son (decided not to go with teaching him Flemish just yet). However, while I was sketching, I must have put them down and forgotten about them (very unlike me*). I went back to the store and bought some more, and asked if anybody had returned them. Non, they told me, ils sont bye-byes. Yeah, cheers. So, we took a very modern double-decker train south to the city of Charleroi, and while Roshan napped in the hotel, I ventured out into the freezing dark evening to do some night-time pre-pub sketching, and drew Le Luxembourg, a place which although very pretty, I have never actually entered. While drawing, I kept my eyes on the shadows for, er, shadowy people, happy to be back in my old town.
*I do tend to lose things in Brussels, though. I lost my favourite top here once, in 1999. I wrote a song about that too. It was white with thin black hoops. If you find it, let me know; it might still fit.