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Childhood Odour

12.30: Lunch break

I put my rucksack on my lap and try to fish my lunch out. I can’t identify it immediately between all the stuff that’s in there, so I put my face over the opening to get a peek.

That smell…

It’s the smell of lunch made by your mother. You know, whenever you went on a school trip. Stacks of sandwiches made with love by your mum and enough to feed all your friends too (and bribe the teacher). With a Mars bar for the morning snack and an apple for in the afternoon. Packed in aluminium foil, that you carefully unwrap sitting on a bench in the middle of the zoo, or in front of the museum. And after the official, educational part of the trip we’d go to a playground…

Alle Menschen Werden Lunchen

After a miserably wet month of August, the weather gods have come to realise that it’s not yet autumn after all. The last couple of days have been quite nice, if not to say hot. So lunch in the park it is then!

As I’ve explained before, there’s a strict picking order for the park benches. There are many of those, but not all of them are in the shade and some of them look like a flight of B-52’s dropped bird shit on them. But yesterday I discovered there’s another weird thing about the park. You see, it is situated on the border between the European district, where you can find the European Commission, the European Parliament and hundreds of related office buildings. On the other side of the park, where my office is located, there is a district with ordinary people including lots of immigrants from northern Africa.

The members of the European aristocracy are easily recognisable by their suits or business outfits. They buy their lunches in one of the fancy food shops and restaurants in the shadow of the EU Commission building, the Berliamont, where prices are ridiculously high and food is not that good but served by waiters with a lot of attitude imported from all corners of the Union. The Eurocrats tend to keep to their side of the park.

We, the commoners, make our own lunches that we unravel from their plastic wrap or aluminium foil. Or we buy our lunches in one of the cheap diners down the street. At our side of the park, you will mostly find pita bars, fry shops (our equivalent of the fish and chips barracks) and the occasional boulanger. We too keep to our side of the park. We hang on the benches instead of sitting upright. We play cards instead of quickly reading through a dossier. We play with dogs instead of thinking up regulation to standardise the production of dog pooh in the Union.

You can see here in practice how the Eurocrats are drifting away from the ordinary folk. Maybe we should try to write a European constitution right here in this park.

Park Life

The weather’s been lovely the last couple of days. Actually it was rather hot. Make that extremely hot, I’ve been sweating like a woolly rhinoceros in a Turkish steam bath. In short, the weather is terrible here. Damn global warming!

The bright side to this is that we have a park right in front of our office, complete with tall trees, lush lawns, frivolous fountains with Donald, Daffy and Daisy Ducks and broad benches to seat your big bottom on. It’s quite a large park and it has a lot of benches, but it is also located in a city district stuffed with offices, including the European commission and its subsidiaries. So finding an empty park bench can be quite difficult during lunch hour. Of course it has to be an empty park bench. We Belgians are reserved to the point of being anti-social, so we wouldn’t dream of sharing a park bench with someone we don’t know. This despite the fact that the benches are a full three meters long, which means they can provide parking space for quite a number of arses, depending on their respective width and expanding volume once the hard wood makes contact with blubberised fast-food and candy bars.

So once a single person has seated himself or herself on a bench, it’s taken. Gone forever. Conquered. Unavailable. Out of the running.

When you walk trough the park during lunch time on a beautiful day as this, you will see people running around with their brown paper bags or lunch boxes in hand, peering from one side of the park to the other in the hope to find an empty bench. The benches most sought for are the ones in the shade of one of those big trees. Only die-hard sunbathers take a bench in the full blaze of the sun and generally they have to flee it after ten minutes or so. When two people find their looking for a bench at the same time, they will nervously try to beat the other one.

In any case, what everyone tries desperately to avoid is to be left with the dreaded Shit Bench. Oh, many a desperate luncher has felt his relieved grin fading away when they found out that this last free bench they discovered in the shadow of the big chestnut tree on the west-side of the park turned out to be the Shit Bench. For some reason, this tree attracts billions of pigeons that reserve one particular branch right above this bench as their public toilet. This poor bench is for the most part covered in a layer of white slurry and most people wouldn’t dream to take a seat here.

But amazingly, some people seem so desperate to find a seat in the park, that they ignore the pigeon poo. They precariously lower themselves on the small corner that’s free of droppings, eating their sandwiches and salads while forcing their backs away from the back of the bench. Others even pretend their nose bleeds and plant their finely dressed office ass on the bench, poo or no poo.

You have to be desperate to sit there. It’s a sure sign your career has reached a tragic ending. Everyone has seen you sitting on the Shit Bench; you’ve become an outcast, a pariah.

Lunching in the park: it’s the survival of the fittest.

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