AND so for a few days to Antwerp, my first time back on the golf circuit (in a working capacity – honest) for a couple of years.
I travelled to Belgium via P&O ferry from Hull to Rotterdam, an experience about which the best I can say is that we didn’t sink. I wouldn’t fancy it in a Force 8, that’s for sure.
What is it like? Think of an expensive working men’s club (£22 for the restaurant buffet) with a cabaret ‘turn’ who would have lasted about three songs in Batley Irish Nash before being paid off and replaced by a few rounds of bingo.
The Royal Caribbean or Star of the Seas, it certainly wasn’t. The staff were very friendly though.
Much is made of the free movement of people within the EU, the idea being that after Brexit you’ll have hour-long queues of red-taped frustration, trying to get to or from anywhere.
And what’s the difference from the current situation, pray tell?
I had my car and luggage turned upside down and inside out by six customs staff – and that was at Hull, before I’d set a foot or a wheel on the flaming old tug!
Once across the water I intended motoring down to visit 2nd Lieutenant Eric Henderson’s grave outside Ypres, which had been commemorated the day before.
Some hope. Once docked it took the thick end of two hours to get off the darn boat and through passport control. Free movement?
Once you’re on the continent you can breeze over invisible borders, for sure, but to and from the UK? I think not.
Such on-board entertainment as I enjoyed was watching the gang of 20 Satans Slaves (Lancashire chapter) embarking on a biker tour of somewhere or other. I tried to engage a couple of the blokes in conversation but they looked at me like I was a police spy or suchlike.
They clearly don’t do conversation with ‘the man’. What they do, is tattoo their bald or shaved heads which given that the average age was probably closer to 70 than 60, made for hilarious observation.
Fat paunches and wrinkled acres of smudged blue skin which 30 years ago might have been discernible as a skull and crossbones, but in leathery dotage looks like someone’s poured a bottle of Quink over them.
I noticed that when in the bar, there were always two of them standing ‘guard’ on the perimeter of their group.
Well, it stands to reason. You never know when a horde of Lambretta and Vespa-riding Mods might cast aside their walking sticks and zimmer frames, turn their hearing aids up to full volume and pile in for a re-run of some fracas from Blackpool circa 1967.
They seemed a tad disconcerted at me standing at the bar, watching and listening. I had thought of pointing out that their expensively embroidered leather biker jackets should have an apostrophe – Satan’s Slaves, not Satans – but it’s a long way down from deck 12 into the North Sea. And I’m not sure that flashing my press card would have helped either.
Our hosts at four golf clubs in Flanders were absolutely delightful and I can heartily recommend Antwerp for a weekend visit. Stunning architecture, excellent bars and fabulous beers – I got a round of six ‘bollockers’ (that’s what it sounded like) for less than 14 euros.
You’ll be pleased to hear there was no strip search on the equally lengthy return procession through customs and immigration, although an Alsatian sniffer dog straining at a thick leash did seem intent on shoving its snout up my arse.
That would have ruined its ability to sniff out cannabis or heroin for a few weeks...
OF COURSE Brexit came up – how could it not, with two Irish, a Scottish Nationalist who thinks the sun shines out of Nicola Krankie’s doodah, a Belgian, Luxemburgian and Swede all sharing a healthy number of brewskis?
“What a great craic we had,” said an irish journalist. “Why would you want to ruin this?” he inquired, as if Brexit meant I was determined to break everyone’s golf clubs over my knee and dig up the greens of Royal Antwerp.
“What on earth will stop us doing as long as we live and breathe?” was my reply.
“I just don’t want all my laws to be made by a bunch of foreign dictators, answerable to no-one whatsoever, who never liked my country before, but are now clearly showing they absolutely hate us! Who in their right mind would want to stay being ruled by them?”
“We’ll have to agree to disagree,” he concluded, seeing the lengthening face of Jo, the Belgian who lives on the Northern Ireland side of a lake that forms the border with Eire.
“Cheer up pal,” I encouraged him. “It will all work out fine. Think of the opportunities! Buy a rowing boat, become a people smuggler! ”
He didn’t find it funny.
I DIDN’T watch the royal wedding; never gave it a thought actually, being halfway round the stunning Royal Limburg golf course in eastern Belgium.
I’m sure the bride looked lovely and the event was a worldwide success, because when it comes to pomp and ceremony, we Brits still rule the waves.
I don’t care what it cost the taxpayer, because as an industry I reckon the royals are worth an absolute mint to the nation.
My habitual Sunday newspaper reading was ruined by obscenely obsessive reportage of every burp and fart that occurred amongst both the celebs and the plebs who descended on Windsor. Ho hum.
I did notice one photo of Victoria Beckham, presumably inserted in the royal wedding acres of pages by accident, because by the look on the sour-faced cow’s mush she must have been to a funeral at Windsor crem.
I can only imagine that mean, glum visage is the former Posh Spice’s deliberate ‘look’. Part of her brand. Time for a new one, darling.
For the happy couple, I wish them all the happiness they deserve – and hopefully a well-deserved break from the microscopic media attention. I doubt they’ll get it.
I’M not going to bore you with a morass of detail but if you’re interested in European geopolitics, especially in relation to Brexit, keep an eye on what’s happening in Italy.
In short they have a new coalition government, an unlikely joint force of left and right wing parties who have little time for the EU generally, but none at all for the single currency, the euro.
With youth unemployment in the south over 50% and a stagnant economic and industrial base, they want to go on a spending spree with money they don’t have (they owe the European Central Bank two trillion euros!)
The EU/ECB has to say no, as it did in 2011 when it acted completely illegally to effectively take over the Italian executive.
This time the Lega (League) and Five Star parties are wise to that, and ready to bring back the lira. If that happens, then the whole EU needs to hold onto their hats because that’s essentially German money they’d be defaulting on. Spain, Portugal and Greece could rapidly follow suit – as has looked likely, eventually, from the day the euro was launched.
You simply can’t marry such vastly different economies under a one-size-fits-all currency union.
Theresa May has her own difficulties, but Jean-Claude Juncker, the alcoholic President of the European Commission, may have far bigger headaches than how people cross to and from Ireland soon enough.
He has previously joked that he has a torture chamber full of weapons to force recalcitrant states to heel – the EU and Poland are already at each other’s throats. Juncker just might be about to meet his match in Italy.