Paper map of the city centre in my pocket, headphones on, circling my index finger to an episode of This American Life on the iPod, and out the door I go. Aalst. Or if you wanna be French about it, Alost.
And… well, it’s a nice wee town. Small, but that means it’s easy to get around on foot. There are English language books in the bookshop, and everyone I interacted with spoke God’s English, so that’s handy, cos my knowledge of Dutch is limited to hello, please, and thank you. Whenever I see adverts or menus, I can’t help but imagine the inventors of Dutch taking a German Scrabble set and deciding it needs more Os and Js.
I’ve only ever spent one evening in Aalst prior to arriving here, so it was nice to see the place in the day time. It’s nice to be in a town with fancy old buildings and big factories. The view from my garret window is of a chimney at the power station. That makes me happy. And there’s a park just around the corner, too.
I tried some local cuisine at lunch in a restaurant called Subway. I had a delicious long sandwich made for me by a lady in thin plastic gloves, and ate it sat next to a loud TV playing a Pink video.
When I got home – home! – I couldn’t help but wonder if this is right place to be. Damn you, internal monologue, telling me that I could be somewhere else. I checked my email, open the garret window, had a smoke, and looked out at the chimney. I like chimneys. But I don’t know. I do know that more-or-less anywhere I decided to stay after the previous eight months was gonna feel a bit odd, a bit not right. There are certainly worse places to be, though. I put on my jacket and went around the corner to the Match supermarkt.
Picked up a red, plastic basket, and went though the fruit and vegetable section. I picked up a few bits and bobs to make some pasta sauce. Oooh, must go and get a courgette. And then Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” came on. I found myself humming along as I went to get a courgette. I hummed along throughout the song. And as I tried to work out which was the semi-skimmed milk, Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” came on. I was quite enjoying the supermarkt’s DJ, and life was normal. A bit of shopping, a bit of a Teary Feary spring in my step, and then: on a shelf at the end of an aisle, right in the middle, at eye level, there it was… Marmite! This place is alright. I could get used to Belgium.