Did you know that [counter] people have been having a skeg at my little autonomous region?

  

Rochefort

09/06/2013

I was incredibly delighted to discover that this little Belgian town wasn’t as commercialised and awash with tourists and their big buses as I had expected it to be. On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed that this little Belgian town wasn’t as commercialised and awash with tourists and their big buses as I had expected it to be because it meant that there wasn’t really all that much going on there.

Rochefort was famous for being the place where Trappist monks invented beer hundreds of years ago. Bad boys! In fact it was the monks of Rochefort who put the ‘pist’ in Trappist. So last night I decided that, it being Saturday night, I’d go and call for them and live the life of a monk for a bit but sadly there’s no visitor centre at their world famous beer brewing abbey and no gift shop or nowt so sadly I had to buy a couple of bottles of their potion from my local offy and sip them in my room at the B&B as I wrote in my bloggy book.

I could have spent the evening sitting in a bar to do this but it was really expensive to do it that way and it was always served in a poncy tulip glass and it wasn’t served fast enough for my liking. I preferred to drink it straight from the bottle, and a broken one at that.

The same sort of problem applied with the Rochefort cheese except, unlike the bars, all the cheese shops seem to be closed on a Saturday night. What fun is that?

Rochefort was also the birthplace of retired tennis player, and former world number one, Justine Henin. I called round for her to see if she fancied a demi litre and a nibble of cheese but her mum said she’d gone out to play tennis with her mates at the French Open.

Another feather in the Rochefort cap was its comedy festival which was also a disappointment to me. I was disappointed mostly because they were allowed to have such a thing in the first place. Belgians, in my opinion, are all very nice people but they are not exactly renowned for their humour so I could only imagine that a comedy festival would be a week-long orgy of doors falling off clowns’ cars and people throwing custard pies. Much to my relief, the festival wasn’t on while I was there so I didn’t have to worry about people falling about laughing at me if I slipped on a banana skin or got whacked round the back of the head by a man carrying a plank of wood.

Mind you, these days, such is the state of our own British comedy scene that perhaps I should keep my Trappist shut. Most of the things I have mentioned here would be far funnier than Miranda Hart who would be more than likely to turn up at any comedy festival in our country, if only for the free beer. Is it just me or is Miranda Hart about as funny as vascular leg ulcers?

Château Comtal, the beautiful castle that stood on the hilltop directly over the road from my bed and breakfast establishment, La Fayette Hôtel, was only open to the general public a few days in any year. This, I supposed, was a better show than that put on by the Trappist Brewery Abbey thing but as one of those days wasn’t today it was still a disappointment.

Lots of disappointments there but nevertheless, I did enjoy my stay. The positive things I will always remember about Rochefort include the hotel room I stayed in which, with a shower cubicle in the corner of the room on one side of the bed, the wash basin in the corner on the other side and the toilet in a separate room across the landing, was almost as peculiar as my lodgings in Arras had been.

The taxidermy shop looked like an ideal place to buy gifts to take home for loved ones. For as little as €195 you could get two stuffed squirrels sitting at a tiny wooden table playing cards, which for me just stands head and shoulders above those tacky framed prints of dogs playing snooker or poker that you can buy in England in shops that also sell Elvis Presley mirrors and plastic water features in the shape of the Trevi Fountain.

There was something a bit special too about the people who lived in a terraced house just down the road from my hotel. In the absence of a garden they were having a barbeque on the footpath outside their house at the front. A family of ten or twelve people tucking into burgers and chicken legs within an area of about four square metres of pavement. And such a security risk too . . . any unscrupulous passer-by could have quite easily helped themselves to a sausage!

The finest feature of my stay was surely the Sunday morning car boot sale where I paid €3 for a slightly scruffy but rather well put together album of holiday photographs taken mostly in Rome round about eighty years ago, I would have guessed. I’m going to Rome in November so this purchase was quite handy as it will save me the bother of having to take photographs there myself. I also thought it quite sad that something that someone had put so much time and care into so long ago was now lying on a wallpaper pasting table in a car park. I would hate to think that any of my much loved photo albums or holiday journals might end up the same way. So I bought it, with its excellent black and white photographs attached with old fashioned gummed corners to black pages on which captions were beautifully calligraphed in white. I didn't buy it because I really wanted it but because I felt it was my moral duty.

To round off my visit I had my photograph taken with the statue of Raymond Devos in the main street. He had been a Belgian-French humourist, stand-up comedian and clown who had died as recently as 2006 at the age of eighty four. I suspected that he must have been the star of many a Rochefort Comedy Festival to have had such an honour bestowed upon him . . . the statue I mean, not having his photograph taken with me. With a name such as his I had thought for a minute or two that he might have been the Belgian Ray Davies and I spent the rest of the day singing the Kinks’ Death of a Clown to myself.

 

Being given an Indian head massage by Raymond Devos, the Belgian-French humourist, stand-up comedian and clown.

Being given an Indian head massage by Raymond Devos,

the Belgian-French humourist, stand-up comedian and clown.

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