I write short stream-of-consciousness fiction for one of my marketing clients. These stories are light-hearted vignettes with a mini marketing message at the end. They go down well on their blog and in the newsletter, so I’m told. That’s what you want from your marketing material, isn’t it? That people look forward to receiving it.
Here’s the latest effort. It’s not a work of literary genius, just a bit of fun.
You don’t know what you don’t know, do you? Little surprises in life wait around every corner. So when I skipped across to Brussels on the Eurostar last weekend to enjoy a little freebie open-air jazz at the Brussels Jazz Marathon, I didn’t expect to find myself being challenged by an army of fierce racers and fun-runners. But you have to take these things in your stride – no pun intended – don’t you?
It was a last minute thing. Check the weather, check it again, and then check it again. It rains a lot in Brussels. Even for an aficionado, it’s no joy perching on a plastic chair, drinking rain-diluted beer from a plastic cup in the drizzle, no matter who’s on stage. On Friday I wasn’t going to take the risk, but then the clouds parted and the little suns began to appear on the forecast, and all of a sudden, it seemed like a cool way to pass a couple of days. So I grabbed a room on Lastminute.com and a seat on the train, and it was all systems go.
Do you know Brussels? It’s a surprising place. If you’re in the trade, like I am, you can’t help but think of all those petty bureaucrats in their shiny offices with lines of international flags outside and fountains soaring into the air. You think of these guys spending day after day thinking up ways to make your life more difficult. You wonder what trading rule or cross-border regulation are they going to change today. What was I happily doing yesterday with my shipments or my paperwork, that comes with a hefty fine today? What are they going to do with our sausages, or our bananas, or my container load of merchandise from Malaysia this week? What carelessly worded line on a manifest is going to set them baying for my blood? It’s too much. I can’t deal with the stress any more – I have to find an easier way …
But I digress.
Saturday afternoon saw me up at the Sablon, in the shadow of the Notre Dame church. The beer was good, the jazz tap dancing – interesting. More fun was the steaming bowl of moules-et-frites and crusty bread with lashings of butter, followed by the mountain of crepes, cream and syrup. You have to do these things in Brussels, don’t you? Stuffed to the gills, I took a very slow stroll down to the Grand Place, pausing for a chocolate fix at one – or was it two – of those little shops that waft their cocoa-sticky aromas out the doors at you. Well, you can’t come to Brussels and not buy chocolate, can you? It’s like the beer – a hundred different flavours and every one of them delicious. You have to embrace the experience, I say.
But I made it eventually, at a very slow amble. And I have to admit, even with the sound stage cramping its style, the Grand Place looked amazing – all those gargoyles, gold-leaf and cobbles are quite a draw. I grabbed a chair and settled in for the evening. The stage dwarfed most of the acts, but the music was cool, and the atmosphere – well, that was warm, despite the unseasonal temperatures. A thousand people wrapped up in scarves and gloves – not quite what you’d hope for from a May weekend – but still managing to enjoy the show. And, well, you have to buy the beers, to keep hold of your chair. So I kept on buying. And on. And on.
Sunday morning, it took me a while to surface. I think that last beer I had might have been a bit off. Best way to shake it is a big plate of breakfast, I thought. So I wandered back up towards the Sablon and found a place. Eggs, hams, cheeses, an eruption of breads and spreads and a couple of bowls of piping hot hot chocolate. It had to be done, and it was delicious. But it lay in my gut like a slab of concrete and when I finally levered myself out the door, all I wanted to do was find a bench to sit on.
I heard it long before I saw it. It seeped into my consciousness as I sat in the square wondering how long I had to wait before it became a respectable hour to go grab a beer. I knew the jazz didn’t start up until the afternoon, and that was way back down in the Grand Place anyway. So the sound of drums, a funny rumbling, and a whole load of cheering was puzzling to say the least. I hauled myself to my feet to investigate, and followed the sound. And then I saw it… a bunch of drummers drumming and a gazillion people (37,000 to be more precise) crunching the pavement. As I drew closer the rumbling grew louder – it was the weirdest sound. If you ever saw me, you’d know why I’m unfamiliar with the sounds of a race day. If you, like me, have never stood by the side of a road race before – or much less run in one – you wouldn’t immediately recognise it. It was the noise of thousands of feet trampling thousands of water bottles underfoot – the endless, thunderous crumping, squelching, crackling mass, and the river of blue plastic, rising to cover the cobbles. It was surreal.
I salute you people, honestly I do – you go with your running. Hit the streets, beat your times, raise your charity money – I’m all for it. But I’m not the running type. I’m the sitting on a chair listening to jazz type. A plastic chair will do, but an armchair is better. Even so, this Sunday morning freight train of runners and their river of water bottles– I hate to admit it – tweaked at my guilty conscience.
Lean bodies, trim waists, muscular quads, and that intense, focussed look in their eyes – thousands of them, the very epitome of fitness and good health. You even have to admire the ones dressed like spacemen and gorillas, out for a bit of fun. Would I run 20k in a gorilla suit? I have to be honest, if I ran 20k in my own body it would probably feel as if I were running in a gorilla suit. Right now 2k would be a stretch. As wave after wave of intense racers and their fun-running compatriots washed past, crumping their water bottles and showering the bystanders, my stomach protested the excesses of my breakfast with a long, deep rumble, an indelicate belch and an unwelcome stab of heartburn.
So it’s fair to say that this little jazz jaunt to Brussels got me thinking on a couple of fronts. The music was great, but that wasn’t the game- changer. It was the runners – they did it for me. I decided it’s time for me to take action. It’s time to dust off the pedometer, sign up to a gym and buy myself a new pair of jogging pants – a bigger pair. It’s time to wave a fond farewell to fries and beer, crepes and chocolate and too much bread at breakfast time. Getting fit would help with the stress – and there was something else that could help with that too. I need to give those guys at CCL a call, see if they can’t do a better job of getting me and my shipments through the minefield of Brussels bureaucracy, than I can.