I’m here again and I’m taking you back to Belgium. This in anticipation of my long-awaited return to Flanders next week. I must confess, it is two years since my last visit and I am prepared to eat as many waffles as you insist on for my penance.
So looking back at previous blogs I have written about my Flemish jaunts, I see I promised to tell about theme parks. Then this week on facebook I shared a post about a parade of Geese. It becomes clear then, that I must try and illustrate, if not explain, the Belgian sense of humour which I very much appreciate.
Now on a personal level, you would think that we are miles apart since when a group of Brits and group of Belgies get together at a Toc H event, we often confuse them with our sarky malarkey. However, on a regional or even national level, the Belgian sense of the absurd aligns very well with my comedy suckling on Monty Python, the Goons, and Blackadder.
The Flemish (and I have no doubt the Walloons) love a good old fashioned and slightly surreal pastime. The Ganzenfanfare (Goose fanfare) appears to involve a man dressed an ancient military uniform carrying a large staff and leading a parade of geese. In the rear playing drums is an equally bizarrely dressed fellow.
. Now, this just describes the one I saw on facebook marching through the rural lanes near Wijtschate. I’m sure there are many variations and I shall be looking out for them when we arrive.
Whilst looking for such a spectacle, I may well come across a long line of old men sitting on stools in front of a cage. These are men engaged in vinkenzetting or vinkensportt (Finch sitting or finch sport). Here each man has brought his most loquacious chaffinch. One of his opponents will be sat in front of the cage counting every time the bird chirps and cutting a notch in a stick. The most chirpacious bird wins (Look it up, Wikipedia even has a page about it now).
I have yet to see anyone playing the other great Flemish sport of Popinjay which involves firing a crossbow bolt at a stuffed parrot perched on top of a tall pole. There was a shop in Poperinge that sold the crossbows but I never saw them fired in anger. Interestingly the Flemish Weavers brought Popinjay to the UK and there are traces of it all in East Anglia, certainly in Great Yarmouth. Mind you, at the risk of being clubbed to death with a lump of willow, I should tell you that the Flemish Weavers also brought Cricket to this country!
However, if making your own pastimes is too much like hard work then why not go to a place where all the work is done for you. Bellewaerde is a fairly traditional theme park in very pleasant surroundings (Although like most of the area they were once a muddy battlefield) but there is another park 40 minutes away aimed at young children. Today it is called Plopsaland De Panne and is one of a chain of Plopsa-things. Plopsa is, I think, a cartoon gnome of some description but I notice that the website is still covered in little cartoon bees. This is relevant because when I first went to Plopsaland 30 years ago, it was known as Meli Park and was dedicated to honey. Yes, a theme park dedicated to honey! I might have appreciated it more but I was more concerned with the fact that as a park aimed at youngsters, it was impossible to get a beer anywhere, You’d have thought they would have had some honey mead or something.
One of things I most remember about Meli Park were the dancing fountains (which for all I know are still part of Plopsaland). I have seen similar things many times since but I’m pretty sure that was the first time I had seen them. As a jet of water arced across a lake and splashed into the water, a new jet rose from that very point and curved away to a different part of the lake. This was repeated several times until the jet returned to whence it began and then the journey began again. For all the world it looked as if a single jet was worming it’s way around the lake. I was very impressed!
But then the continental Europeans do sculptures of this nature very well indeed. My favourite sits in a roundabout on the outskirts of Ieper and has done for many a year. It is a tap that spouts water and appears magically suspended in mid-air. It is more impressive than the giant hop on the outskirts of Poperinge but spotting that did at least mean we were only a few minutes from our destination.
So this has been a quick look at the Flemish psyche. Perhaps I shall have more to say after my eagerly anticipated return next week. But for now that’s it, to which you might reply helaas pindakaas (Which roughly translates as unfortunate peanut butter) but is a Flemish expression for ‘that’s a shame’.