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hicklit

O Belgium, My Belgium!

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Whilst most travel books tend towards the adventurous or the exotic – with titles like ‘Across the Gobi on a Gnu’ or ‘My Seven Years Among the Sodoffandleaveusalone People of Borneo’ – I’d like to alert everyone to a little tome about a rare jewel right on our own doorstep (assuming you’re reading this in England that is). Yes! Belgium!

 

I must admit that I assumed that I was alone in my own rampant Belgophilia. That it was some foible or eccentricity that was – like, say, a fondness for lemon curd or a soft spot for Showaddywaddy – best kept quiet. So imagine my delight in chancing upon a kindred spirit, a fellow Lover of the Low Countries.

 

The book in question is ‘A Tall Man in a Low Land: Some Time Among the Belgians’ by Harry Pearson (Abacus Paperback). You may be familiar with Pearson already – he writes a regular (very funny) column in the Sport section of the Saturday edition of The Guardian. And he brings the same sense of whimsy and delight in the ridiculous to bear in this travelogue. He brilliantly captures the oddities of a country where two distinct linguistic groups live side-by-side – but have virtually nothing to do with each other. He illustrates this by saying that you can be driving along in the French-speaking section of the country merrily ticking-off the kilometres on the road signs as you head for the ancient city of Mons – only to find that when the motorway crosses the boundary into the Flemish-speaking section, ‘Mons’ suddenly becomes ‘Bergen’. And, no, you are not now heading to Norway’s second city – it’s just that there is no linguistic compromise. You are either French-speaking or Flemish-speaking – but not both. (Although, of course, we’re all right – just about everybody speaks English).

 

He also enjoys other Belgian quirks – such as the passion for pooch pandering. As a dog-lover himself he is rather touched by the fact that a lot of poodle parlours are given English names – implying, as it does, a fellow-feeling with Anglo-Saxon animal lovers just across the Channel. However this can sometimes lead to some, erm, unfortunate misunderstandings. He spotted one such emporium proudly emblazoned with the legend: “Dog’s Toilet” and another, somewhat racier-sounding establishment – “Doggy Style”.

 

But Pearson is also at pains to point out the wonderfully civilised nature of much of life in Belgium. Whether it be the artistic genius of a Breughel, a Van Eyck or a Rubens; or the myriad local festivals which thrive across the country; or the national celebration of gastronomy, beer, the good things in life, more beer, even more beer.

 

This delightful, warm-hearted book will make you look again at this wrongly-maligned land and maybe, soon, Harry Pearson and Hicklit will have more people who share their secret. And, yes, I can name ten famous Belgians…

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Here is the link to A Tall Man In A Low Land by Harry Pearson. I haven't read this book, but Harry Pearson is, in my opinion, the funniest sportswriter around. His Saturday column in The Guardian and What Won't Happen This Week on a Monday are almost always hilarious. (Almost always, because comedy always mis-fires sometimes.)

 

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I haven't read 'A Tall Man...' but Pearson's football book, 'A Far Corner' is a brilliant read. Basically, he travels by bus, train or car to various football matches in the North East of England during the course of a season. All levels are visited, be it Sunderland or a working men's club team with 40 supporters and a dog present. Highly recommended.

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