Category Archives: cool amazing

Music Time: The Aim, live in Berlin

Hi!

First of all, yes, it’s been ages again. What happened? Well, after I got stuck in Dublin airport, I went to Germany for the day on the ICE (lovely), London for 14 hours on the Eurostar (swishy, especially as I jammily got to go in First) and Luxembourg. Luxembourg’s going to get a whole post of its own due it being a Ruritanian mountain fiefdom with hedge fund managers instead of peasants, but I’m not in enough of a coffee-fuelled rage to begin to pen that yet, so let’s wait and see.

Yet more arty beer pictures

Also I’ve just been busy. There’s been cooking – I learnt to roast a leg of lamb – fine wine and dining galore and also lots of trips to the cinema. These have included excellent South Korean horror movie (but really clever metaphor for US involvement in the Far East) The Host and the cheese extravaganza that was Spiderman 3: The emo musical.

Also I have been reading. I haven’t done a book thing on here for ages but I’m definitely planning one on on Nicolas Freeling – I’ve been re-reading his books, especially the early Van der Valk novels, and thoroughly enjoying them. Also I purchased Neil McKenna’s ‘The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde’ when I was in Dublin, which is revealing that not only does my idol have feet of clay, he was also a total and utter cad. However the book is annoying me deeply with its conflation of certain events: Wilde ‘probably’ did x with y, he ‘almost inevitably’ must have met such-and-such in New York and ‘in all likelihood’ he did blah as well. Now look, I know we’re dealing with events happening last century and you can’t exactly pick up the phone and check BUT there’s only so much idle speculation I can handle in a work of biography.

Because I can’t just leave you with selection of post-lunch thoughts here’s a review I wrote a while ago of an extremely fun up-and-coming band called ‘The Aim’ playing live at an absolutely brilliant club called ‘White Trash’ in Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin.

The Aim

Berlin. It’s a city with one hell of a reputation, a glittering cabaret act of decadent debauchery – a lot for a group to live up to. But when Iturn up at a kitsch-filled proto-goth bar in a former Chinese restaurant in East Berlin, the vibes are good. And when The Aim come onstage, they’re excellent.

All four of the band look androgynously alluring in identical poker straight black trousers, dress shirts and flowing black cravats. Eyeliner is de rigeur for both the boys and the girl and the fact that the tiny stage is covered with their black-and-white target logos show The Aim are a group who understand that a sharp, sexy image matters just as much as killer riffs.

The audience is full of Berlin scenesters modelling a variety of looks from lost new romantic to trilby-wearing mod but everyone starts to move when The Aim launch into their edgy, angular brand of rock. Catchy hooks which recall mod, new wave and krautrock influences are brought to life by a stage presence which can only be described as pure energy.

The band’s myspace proudly refers to their ‘kick-ass live performance’ and the move form their native Copenhagen to the German capital has only revved their motors further. Songs follow each other at breakneck pace and frontwoman Veronica D’Souza is a sexy, sassy, hair-tossing frontwoman who could even teach Justine Frischmann circa 1995 a thing or two about how to move onstage.

The energy just builds and builds and by the last couple of songs, Veronica and bassist Greg are playing back-to-back with a frenetic enthusiasm which has even the most tryhard emo kids grinning with joy. Even though the ceiling’s barely high enough for us to stand, D’Souza launches into the crowd, whilst guitarist Adam and drummer R.R. – a man too damn cool to have a first name – keep the infectious riffs coming.

As the band leave the stage to wild screams I get the feeling I’m not the only person in the room who’s convinced Berlin’s a city where the spirit of edgy, sexy rock is as potent as ever – and that the The Aim are right on target to rock.

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Bear time: Knut, Knut, ALLES IST GUT!

Wow. Just wow. I’m writing this on the train, ensconced in a comfy corner seat on the miracle of ferrovial perfection that is ICE. My original plan was to go to the BordBistro and have a huge lunch but my fellow travellers were quicker off the mark and the Maitre D’ – or Speisewagenuberhauptkontrollman – told me to wait until Hannover. So in the meantime, you get my thoughts, hungry but happy, on the Bear, the Berlin, and the Beers. Knut, for those of you who’ve been living in a shack in the woods, is a wickle baby polar bear whose sad story can be read here. He is very much in demand and several times today it looked as if the cruel hand of fate would stop me meeting his fluffiness. Here is a near-realtime account of my ursine mission, or as I prefer to call it, DER KNUTQUEST.

08.30: Wake up. Realise that drinking champagne until the wee small hours and dancing to underground German electronica in the Ur-kitsch surroundings of Prenzlauer Berg’s finest nitespots was a manifestly foolish idea and may even impair my bear location skills! Crisis.

09.30: Check out of hotel and drink some miraculous German life-giving vitamin juice.

10.00: Get taxi to Hauptbahnhof and check in bags. Scan the day’s headlines for latest Knut-updates. Tell taxi driver I am seeing “Der Bar”. He nods sagely.

11.00: Ask for metro ticket to get to zoo and see the Knut. The Deutsche Bahn lady says how cute he is. Disappointingly they haven’t started making special Knut-passes to the zoo and I buy a normal Tageskarteregeltarif ticket for the Verkehrsunternehmen.

11.15: Get out at Tiergarten station, run downstairs, and into the street. Realise that although my special linguist powers tell me this means ‘animal garden’ it is the wrong station and I should have stayed on to ‘Zoologischer gartem’. Feel a bit stupid and get some lemon fanta.

11.18: Arrive at the zoo station. Ask a trendy Berlin scenester who is parking a bike where the zoo is. He points at the station. “Nein,” I say. “Ah, das Zoo, mit Knut und alle,” he says, the sun glinting off his aviator shades. “Ja,” I say, and follow his excellent directions, as the realisation slowly dawns on me, that no-one from the hippest Replay-clad club kid to the white-haired granny in front of me in the queue is immune to the cuteness of the Knut.

11.47: Buy zoo ticket

11.51: Scorn rhinos, ibexes and otters as I rush towards der fluffmeister’s enclosure.

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12.03: Let out cry of “nOOOOoooooOOOOOOooooooOOOOO” which upsets even the hyenas as I learn that Knut is having a nap and not coming out til 2 o’clock! Disaster! Whilst the furry little fellow is being played Elvis songs by his keeper, my day is thrown into disarray. My train leaves at 14.51. Can I risk missing the day’s only connection to Brussels to see a small, fish-eating bruin?

12.04: Clearly I can. Picture the faces of my grandchildren, transfixed with joy as I tell them, misty-eyed, about how I saw Knut.

12.05: Look at the other polar bears. One of them must be Knut’s mother, her heart as cold as the arctic floes upon which she once resided. Give all bears a dirty look so she’s aware of my disdain.

12.06: Decide I have been unjust in my decision to snub the zoo’s other inhabitants. Go for a wonder and realise I haven’t been to a zoo for years. It’s fascinating! Nature is amazing. Consider evolution and the fascinating twists and turns it’s taken. Take ostriches. Birds’ main advantage and their evolutionary USP is that they can fly. They can escape predators, build nests in trees and do all sorts of great stuff.

Ostrich

So why, over the course of several millennia, did ostriches evolve so that instead of being able to fly like their relatives, they can run fast – not a good situation when all the things that want to eat you can also do this, often better – and look really, really stupid? Why have they survived? Why do they have such silly-shaped bodies? Why do their knees bend backwards? What’s going on?

12.50: Buy Knut poster, postcards, but not Steiff bear. That’s just silly.

13.04: Look at ring-tailed mongoose running round and round and round and round and round and round in its little jungle playground cage and think serious thoughts about human existence, or, as Hegel would have called it, a Mungomenschlichzusammenhangdenkbarhietmoment.

13.20: Feel a bit sorry for the big cats, they must be lonely and miss hunting stuff on the plains of Africa. It’s alright if you’re an otter and have a massive water park to play in but it doesn’t seem fair on the lions and leopards. Improve language skills by learning the German for ‘Don’t stand too near the cage or the lion might wee on you’. Heed warning.

Watch out for lion wee

13.30: Become aware that rest of zoo is getting emptier and emptier.

13.48: See massive, huge, first-day-of-the-sales size queue. The crocodile snakes round and I ape everyone’s bullish behaviour by leapfrogging several crabby people to get a bird’s eye view (do you see what I did there?).

13.55: Listen to speech about Knut, how he’s doing, what he’s been up to, get told not to scare him.

13.59: He’s coming

14.00: Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! He’s here!

14.01: Experience a sort of cuteness epiphany, a cuddliness transcendence. Nietzsche, I’m sure, would have named it a Niedlichheitursprungdaseinerlebniss – but let’s face it, if old Friedrich had seen anything as cute as Knut, he would have cheered up and become a sort of Teutonic Beatrix Potter.

Knut

14.02: Knut follows his keeper round on his hind legs. The keeper pulls his sleeves over his hands so he has big giant paws and they roll round on the ground play fighting. I hear the sound of several hundred people sighing simultaneously.

14.03: Knut, Knut, alles ist gut…

14.10: Realise I have to catch a train in 41 minutes, and that my baggage has to be picked up as well. Panic and get lost going out of zoo. As I leave, I realise the cuteness has affected me and I am dizzy and disoriented. My efforts to escape the zoo are continually thwarted as I find myself at the flamingos again and again and again… Hilfe!

14.20: Get taxi to Hauptbahnhof. My taxi driver, like every single one of his colleagues I encountered during my 4 days in Berlin, was polite, friendly, interesting and kind. Having reassured me that, of course, we would make my train, he pointed out all the embassies we were driving past and answered all my questions about German history.

14.40: Get baggage

14.51: Get train and enjoy seven hours of such pleasant travel, such delightful surroundings and such delicious food it’s a whole other blog entry… Bis bald!

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Filed under blue peter, cool amazing, cute, europe, germany, knut, literature, trains, travel, Uncategorized

Train time: 575km/h of TGV goodness

UPDATE: In the time it took me to write that I couldn’t find this on the web, it got put on YouTube – chouette!

You can see the France 2 programme here – skip to about 13.15 to see the really fast bit…

I just watched a little bit of transport history in the lunchtime news on France 2 - the TGV just set a new speed record for trains-on-rails (maglev trains can go faster but purists say they’re not on rails – I say pragmatically that I can go on the TGV any time I want but it’s a bit trickier for me to get to China, so this is more exciting) of 574.7 km/h.

That is seriously bloody fast.

I just booked some tickets to go on the ICE so that’s double European high speed train joy over two days. Princess is super fast and international – and on the Thalys tomorrow too! Wow, technically that’s triple train excitement – I’d better go and lie down in a darkened room…

Isn’t this exciting? Trains are getting faster and faster and more and more comfortable. I love planes as we all know but trains are great as well. In fact a train journey gives you more sense of travelling, and you just turn up at the station rather than being forced into holding pen and made to buy sunglasses for hours on end at airports. Even better, when we all have to stop flying in a few years because there’s no oil left the train will still work (even if we have no money for tickets as the global economy has stopped).

Cooler still, they set this new record on the sexy, brand-spanking new TGV Est track between Paris and Strasbourg – I wonder if its as smooth and fast as Paris-Marseilles? And I wonder how long it is until public services will go this fast – I could totally eat some high speed canapés at 550 km/h…

Here’s a video form yesterday getting excited about the record attempt:

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Friday Frenzy

It’s Friday! Hooray! Isn’t that great? Obviously yes it is but the total lack of a plan for the weekend and the confusion which currently reigns is making me feel like this:

Googly eye crazy pastry man

Yes, like a crazy googly-eyed pastry man!

The first possible date is with Stagiaire X, who have just sent me an electronic telecommunication though the ether all the way from the parliament.

Secondly I am torn about tomorrow night. Either I can get organised and go and see up-and-coming Swedish popsters I’m from Barcelon and do a review for the magazine I freelance for sometimes OR I could throw off the mantle of coolness and go and see a bizarre combination of overblown spectacle (Lordi), 80s throwbacks (Kim Wilde) and utter total kitsch (Demis Roussos and Julio Iglesias). How could they possibly improve a bill like this? How could they make this more of an almight rockfest of debauch and musical mayhem than it is already… There’s only one way to put the cherry on this rocktastic cake – SIMPLY RED.

Oh dear God…

There’s also a classical concert in the afternoon with Jose Manuel Barroso and Guy Verhofstadt – be still my beating heart! Actually I’ve got a lot of time for Mr Verhofstadt… However as Matti Vanhanen just got re-elected there is still some considerable competition for ‘Europe’s fittest Prime Minister’.

Thinking about this, whilst measures to celebrate 50 years of the EU vary massively from country to country, nobody has come up with a walk-off  of EU member state Premiers to decide who is the the most swoon-worthy democratically-elected EU head of state/legislature.

And, you know, I would have taken time out to organise it as well – all they had to do was ask…

Anyway, what shall I do? I am panicking, especially as I had a really good time last weekend… Which I shall tell you all about in a moment!

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Music Time: Long Blondes at Botanique

The Long Blondes are very, very cool and extremely good fun. It was my sister who made me aware of them, through repeated plays of their album ‘Someone to drive you home’ for the duration of the Christmas holidays. However, I hadn’t fully understood their appeal until I saw them live – Kate Jackson’s effortlessly chic femme fatale cool and guitarist Dorian’s razor-sharp indie cheekbones and tousled blond hair make for a great entrance.

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The band then proceed to take us through their energetic, fast-paced, super-enthusiastic album at an energetic, fast-paced, super-enthusiastic rate. Songs like ‘Once and never again’ fly past in the blink of an eye, the breakneck pace accompanied by Kate’s dancing. Actually, dancing is an understatement – what she’s doing is flicking her hair and twisting her hips in a mesmerising display of empowered, sexualised abandon.

Think of every single eyelinered, corduroy-wearing girl you’ve seen attracting attention in a black-walled, cider-floored indie night with her over-the-top, are-they-or-aren’t-they embarrassing moves. Well, in her head, that girl is dancing like Kate Jackson. In fact, in her head, she is Kate Jackson. I thought I was her by the end.

In Ghent
(It’s a picture of some indie/emo bracelets by way of illustration, see?)

This is the genius of Kate: every single girl in the audience wants to be her, and every man fancies her like hell, but it’s somehow all extremely acceptable. Her outfit has the same contradictory charm: a buttoned up turquoise shirts, black skinny jeans and heels. I’ve shown more flesh this at a government summit meeting, but she’s somehow very, very sexy and cool.

She’s also the only woman ever seen get a wedding proposal from a fan – and turn it down – live onstage. That’s cool and amazing.

The songs continue. We’re treated to ‘Five ways to end it’ and ‘Giddy stratospheres’. I notice something other than Kate and Dorian — apparently there are other people in this band too. Alas, as pretty as they are there’s no disguising the second guitar and bass player are, well, standing around a lot. Now I’m very easy-going when it comes to band members with no other purpose (I mean, come on, what did Chris Gentry do in Menswear? Please email me if you know) than being cool but there needs to be more attitude from those at the side.

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When Kate and Dorian start singing at each other during ‘Only lovers left alive’ I have flashbacks to a most unlikely (but curiously similarly-named) parallel: Katie and Crispin from Queen Adreena. It’s fun and frenetic and Emma and Reenie need to move mroe to make the whole thing work, because so many other aspects of the package are so good.

Take the lyrics. According to the NME, “like Pulp, they’re not afraid to use smart lyrics as weapons”. When Kate shimmies around telling you that “People think I’m being perverse on purpose” you can’t help but listen and when Dorian tells us how “I was still in full-time education when I met you” he’s doing a great job transforming the quotidian into the spectacular, and the mundane into the demi-mondaine.

Dorian

I said once to my friend David, singer and lyricist of the awesome More Silage, that when he sings about having a crappy temp job in the holidays, its touches a nerve with a lot more people than Mike Skinner’s tales of urban violence. I feel my point was proved by Dorian’s songs about worrying about getting into university or living up to your parents’ expectations, real issues which I find a lot more relevant than, say, crack or drive-by shootings. Being able to articulate themselves like this only adds to the Long Blondes’ charm.

The band come back for a triumphant rendition of ‘Separated by motorways’ and tell us that they want to come back to Belgium… I’ve got a feeling they’ll be very welcome when they do!

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White Label Musical Weekend Mash-Up

Hi, it’s Monday, but I had an exciting weekend of fun adventures. My recent lifestyle decision to stop spending all my money on going away every single weekend is reaping rewards, both in terms of improved balance sheet and discovering the mysterious underworld of crazy Brussels.

Still Leffe

Possibly the only Low Point was my failure to meet up with Stagiaire X. Whilst electronic telecommunications were established they were drinking Chimay and enjoying life on the other side of town whilst I was at a lovely dinner party drinking bordeaux and eating frittata. Such is life. Stagiaires I promise we shall meet up! If you are in town tomorrow night, I shall be at Botanique seeing the Long Blondes — I recommend them very highly! But perhaps Leboeuf has taken you to Strasbourg.

Anyway this weekend consisted of some journalist-tastic drinkies on Place Lux on Friday before chilling out with an Indian takeaway chez une copine. Takeaway was yummy – of course, it had to be, I ordered a Peshwari naan – though I did get fluffy long birman cat hairs all over my black outfit thanks to Romanoff the cat. Bad Romanoff!

On Saturday I performed boring domestic chores – even la princesse has laundry – before a really, really fun evening. I went to a friend’s house for dinner which was very full of yummy food (those little cubed sauté potatoes with loads of herbs) and wine, and also, top quality conversation: I came away more knowledgeable about German football, drinking through straws, spelt (the grain used to make waffles) and Romanian. Even better, we played Cluedo, and I won. HA!

After eating and board games we climbed into a taxi and went on RANDOM ADVENTURE to a night club I found a flyer for in a Tapas bar, 100% collage Bootleg party 3 (dear older readers, if you don’t know what a bootleg is, wikipedia will tell you here). Having whined like a small child all evening wanting to go, my heart sank when our driver navigated his way through the lost portside of industrial scuzzhole Brussels and drew up at a graffiti-strewn, semi-derelict abandoned boxing gym which looked insalubrious to say the least. However on entering the DJs were playing such an awesome combination of records that my trainspotting, beat-loving soul was transported to white-label bootleg mash-up heaven.

Highlights I remember:

‘Galvanize’ by the Chemical Brothers VS. Macarena

‘Marcia Baila’ by Les Rita Mitsouko’ VS. ‘And the beat goes on’ by The Whispers

‘Crazy’ by Beyoncé Vs Kraftwerk

It was AWESOME. And because the floor of the ex-gym was sprung, and I had flattish shoes on I danced and I danced and I danced. Until 6am.

My beloved boots

A few hours of sleep later, I awoke and realised: a) my friend’s mum was visiting and I wanted to see her b) she was going that afternoon and c) they were going to the Musical Instruments Museum and I wanted to go to that too!

Leaping out of bed and fortified by some very strong coffee I made it to the musical instruments museum where, once again I was educated. I saw a Glass Armonica – oddest instrument ever – as well as Sax clarinets, lyre pianos and a diamanté accordion. It was great! Whenever you stand in front of a case some magic wi-fi headphones play the instruments sitting in it so it’s actually a really cool interactive experience. Or at least so I though, until I took my fragile, hungover self to the bagpipe section. Big mistake. I was doing so well but the sounds of Patagonian goat bladder pipes squealing into my ears was, frankly, torture and I had to go and lie down.

Diamanté accordeon

The museum is great and I cannot recommend it enough – as well as the exhibits the whole things is in a Victor Horta art nouveau department store full of sensational wrought iron and peacock motifs. In fact the unlikely juxtaposition of Saturday night’s post-industrial clubland danceathon and Sunday’s Fortepiano and Cor Anglais educational musicfest sat together as well as Justin Timerlake ‘Sexyback’ and Fedde Le Grand, a little footnote that today’s most fantastically rocking indie band wouldn’t exist without the 5,000 year old Greek ceremonial wooden trumpet, and that the will to make music, dance and create is a little gold thread woven through the raiment of human history, glimmering with hope wherever it’s sewn.

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Music Time: A million ways to be cool

Wow. I mean, just… wow. I honestly never thought I’d go to a gig that induced the same sense of wild, hedonistic euphoria as the first few bands I saw when I was 16.

Andy

This is a longer, more biased, less polished version of a review I’ve done for a magazine in the UK and was really fun for me to do. It’s a return to my roots in many ways (cough pretentious cough) – I realised I wanted to write for a living when I was 16 and me and my friend Kate wrote a cool and amazing fanzine called ‘Opinionated Paranoia’. I found a copy when I was home for Christmas and realise it was 24 A5 pages of me saying how fit Johnny Dean from Menswe@r is; it’s a view I absolutely, sincerely still hold, though I’d probably express it with less youthful ardour.
Going to see OK Go, I’ve got a lot of questions – will the Chicago four-piece’s soaring power-pop work on stage without their famously offbeat videos? Will they dance? And, most importantly, will they rock?

Arriving at Ancienne Belgique, N and I are surprised to say the least. Where we’d expected fellow fringe-wearing indie kids and preppy specs galore, there was a round-the-block queue of Belgian chavs wearing burberry visors and odour reminiscent of Bob Marley’s bedroom. It turns out that French rap legends Sniper are representing for the banlieue and busting some rhymes badder than a Leffe hangover in the main hall that night, and OK Go are in the rather more intimate, paisley-lined surroundings of Club AB.

Club AB feels friendly and intimate, and with about 200 in the crowd the place is packed. When OK Go come onstage, immaculately dressed in three-piece suits, diamante tie-pins and killer cheekbones, the opening chords of melancholy album-closer The House Always Wins draw the audience into their secret world. And when they then let rip into Television, Television we realise these guys do indeed know how to rock.

OK Go

OK Go’s charismatic presence makes it feel like the group has four frontmen: Dan’s enthusiastic drumming brings the night non-stop energy, whilst bespectacled, grinning Damian and bassist Tim duel at each other in full-on rock numbers like A good idea at the time and Invincible. Singer Andy switches between fizzy, Jagger-esque energy and smouldering intensity during the slower numbers. During Oh lately it’s so quiet his dreamy, blissed-out gaze gives the song a whole new level of bittersweet charm – and ensures the group are going to have what record companies call a ‘strong female fanbase’ for years to come.

The house party vibe peaks when Andy leaps into the crowd and asks the fans to sit down in a circle. Tim and Damian then join him – in the middle of the audience – for a mini acoustic set, including A million ways played on guitar and glockenspiel. It’s like Christmas for the fans – intimate, friendly and typically offbeat.

Back onstage, Andy and Damian’s banter is relaxed and witty, leading into a euphoric, energised version of all-conquering YouTube hit Here it goes again. The crowd are rewarded with a ‘special treat’ – OK Go’s ‘backyard dance’ routine, complete with projected backdrop of the backyard itself. Damian – a born performer – gives it his all and scaling the moves down for the club’s stage only adds to the charm. They also have huge pink inflatable streamer thingies, and as they leave to stage to hormonally-charged screaming (myself included, ahem) I think it’s safe to say that OK Go have no need of treadmills to ROCK.

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Restaurant time: La Bonne Humeur

For centuries now, journalists have braved death, violence and fear to bring readers the truth. War correspondents fighting alongside troops all over the world, undercover hacks infiltrating the sordid underbelly of global vice, and honest reporters killed by police brutality in oppressive police states: I now join their ranks, because there is a very real danger that my housemates will kill me in my sleep if they find out I am telling the whole entire internet about our local restaurants.

However, it is a price I am willing to pay, as I feel the world needs to know about the genius that is La Bonne Humeur. A hangover from a bygone age, its cheerful window, which proclaims it ‘Frituur’ status with pride, is a touch of classic Belgium amongst the multi-cultural patchwork of kebabberies, afro hair shops, Polish delis and Italian restaurants which make up the Chausée de Louvain.

On entering, you are transported back though time. Faded posters of North Sea fish adorn the pine-clad walls, along with certificates declaring the mussels to be Storm and Verbiest’s finest (Storm and Verbiest’s warehouse is all painted up to advertise their molluscy wares, and brightens up the train journey into Gare du Nord here no end, as well as sounding wonderfully like James Bond’s Universal Exports cover).

Even better, the chairs and tables are made out of that black formica with sort of white flecky tweed patterns on it. You’ll know it when you see it; I had a Pavlovian/Proustian moment of fear on my first visit, as I clearly remember bumping my head on a table made of said formica when I was about five at some long-forgotten relative’s house, then sulking in their garden afterwards. I’d like to tell you I gouged a piece of the offending plastic out from under the table in long-awaited revenge, but the Princess doesn’t hold grudges. Against furniture.

Enough of the decor, however. Once you are comfortably ensconced – or squished in if it’s the weekend – the nicest, friendliest lady in the whole of Belgium comes and takes your order. Impeccably turned out in chenille knits and gold jewellery, she is patient and ready to advise you, and, as far as I can see, speaks every language known to man. Orders placed, your beer – or muscadet – magically arrives and you can begin to psyche yourself up for the imminent moule-munching mission.

On a recent visit, my lovely friends T and H from London ordered starters too. Initially shocked, I soon came round to their way of thinking and got some croquettes. Croquettes are très Belge. Done badly, they are a Findus crispy pancake’s bastard offspring, a sad combination of industrial fats and sawdust breadcrumbs. However, done well – which they are at la Bonne Humeur – the crunchy outside gives a teasingly textural embrace to your tastebuds before you bite into the gooey middle. There, the cheesy meltiness is pleasingly offset by a more grainy, potatoey backbone, with the whole ‘squishy’ concept subtly twisted by the addition of prawns, which in turn have actual flavour and provide delightful bubbles of difference to the rest of the package. Very nice.

T and H had mussels and oysters, until we told T the oysters were alive, and then he didn’t want to eat them any more, so we did.

Next I had moules a l’escargot. They are not actually with snails; rather they are slathered in copious amounts of garlic, parsley and butter, in the same manner as their land-dwelling cousins. Lots of Belgian foods are confusingly named in this fashion. Imagine my horror when I found out Steak Americain doesn’t have ANY Americans in it – it’s just made of cow!

My moules – just the kilogram, I’m on a diet – arrived in a huge black pot, covered in garlic and celery oil and garlic. I love mussels. Sometimes when I’m bored and staring into the middle distance I try to decide whether they’re nicest on the North coast of France or here in Belgium, and I think it’s a mystery I’ll never resolve. Verbiest and Storm had been hard at work finding the fattest bivalves (I think they’re bivalves, biologists feel free to correct me) they could and I finished my whole pot. Sadly I could not eat all my chips, which was a shame, given they were lovely and golden and crispy – and had that tell-tale, old-school flavour of being cooked in beef dripping. Yum.

Crazy retro coffee time

Pudding was similarly uncomplicated, which meant it was ice cream. Ice-cream’s very nice but it’s not a reason to go to a restaurant; it tastes the same from your freezer at home. Altogether more exciting was the awesomely retro coffee filter for one I got, which made me a cup of mind-bendingly strong, bitumen thick caffeine extract. I’m not saying it was right, but it was certainly fun, and kept me dancing til 6 am the next morning.

By way of a conclusion, I can only say that I love this restaurant, and so did H, who went back the next day to order moules (he had horse steak with bearnaise sauce on our first visit, which I assume he liked, from the small whimpers of gastronomic pleasure which occasionally escaped his mouth when he wasn’t putting chips in it). It makes me think of the wonderful Charlie Mortdecai in the books by Kyril Bonfiglioli. Charlie can wax lyrical about caviar for five pages and have you hanging on his every word – but he can go on about fish and chips for ten. For in the realm of culinary pleasures, a simple thing done well is the greatest joy of all – and one which I am willing to risk life and limb in pursuit of.

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Filed under canape, cool amazing, dystopia, film, food, lunch, Uncategorized

Cool and Amazing

Back in September I was relating some scurrilous gossip about my circle of friend to my long-suffering sister, who, after rolling her eyes commented that I really, really did ‘believe my own hype’.

What hype? says the woman who calls herself Princess…

“No, seriously,” I said, “I try to just get on with things, but the people tell me I’m cool and amazing, and so I sort of have to believe it, because it’d be rude not to”.

At this moment my equally long-suffering housemate, N, walks in.

“N,” I shout down nonchalantly from the mezzanine where my sister and I are debating the subject, “would you say I’m cool and amazing?”

“Yes… I suppose so,” came her heartfelt response, her wild enthusiasm only reinforced by the sort of dejected sigh children make when their pasta picture is smashed into smithereens as teacher takes it down of the art display board at the end of term.

And so it began. A sort of one-woman corporate branding exercise, with the company, product and ethos being Princess Benelux, and the delivery solutions intergrated performance promise being ‘Cool and Amazing’ all the time, more, every day.

I don’t know why but somehow it worked. The more stuff I said was cool and amazing, the more things WERE cool and amazing. The twin behemoths of coolness and amazingality started to seep into every part of Brussels life. Previously tacky nightclubs regained their sparkle. Waiters became fitter. Men started asking for my phone number! Admittedly our heating broke and we couldn’t shower for four days, which was stinky and rubbish, but after that got fixed the cool and amazing train was heading for the imperial party zone at full speed, driven only by enthusiasm (and trappist beer).

I began to think that perhaps I could become a life coach, spreading the word of cool and amazing and creating my own multi-billioon dollar self-help empire, thus allowing to spend all day wearing purple pyjamas in my Riviera mansion whilst my elite squad of Owen-Wilson lookalike acolytes fed me grapes. I could achieve so much! Then I realised that I would have to give up the job I have now to become a life coach, and would you listen to a life coach who couldn’t even get a job?

This is only reinforced by the fact that the only experience of a life coach I have ever had revolved around a conversation in the pub which started with a friend telling him how much she wanted to give up smoking.

“Well,” he said, “think of the things you like about smoking.”

Clever, I thought, he’s getting her to do that list thing where you make your own conclusions about your behaviour by listing the positive and negative points, thus making the impetus to change come from you and encouraging feelings of agency and control in your life!

“Um, well, it’s very sociable,” she began, “and I suppose I-

with that, he whipped out a packet of Marlboro lights.

Cool and Amazing lifecoaching by Princess Benelux is available now. Payment in non-sequential used 50 euro notes. The value of your sanity may go up as well as down

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