Despite the late night, Brussels beckoned on the morning of our first full day. One of the deciding factors in choosing the Scandic Grand Place was its inclusive buffet breakfast, at which we could shamelessly stuff our bellies to save money on food later. So stuffed, we trotted out into Bruxelles, data-less on our phones thanks to crippling roaming charges, but armed with the cheap map gifted to us by the reception clerk. The generosity was soon understood when we noticed that instead of directing us to landmarks of historical and social interest, its key was devoted to the “RN Make-up For Ever” boutique and “La Parmigiana” restaurant.

It was certainly useless in locating the Mannekin-Pis, a statue of a cherub who urinates realistically, albeit ceaselessly, into a fountain to the delight of all who bear witness. When researching the trip, websites designed for tourists in Brussels would list very little apart from the chance to “giggle” at this display. Click on the ‘Nightlife’ tab and we were invited to giggle at it at night. It adorns the side of all the public buses, appears in numerous guises (a guitar photoshopped over his modest member to advertise a rock festival; an Uncle Sam costume and “Yes We Can” placard to honour Barak Obama) and seems very much the official mascot of the city. For us, it would serve as a token piece of touristy sight-seeing before we hit the bottle.

With it nowhere to be found on our free map, we appreciated the astonishingly good signposting Brussels boasts. I suppose they’re more psychologically prepared for visitors than most places, being such a hub of EU legislature. A friendly sandwich shop proprietor made Mo and me feel smart when her second question after, “Where are you from?” was, “Business or just, you know…”

“Just a holiday,” we replied, although I’m sure she’d meant, “Just, you know… for the Manneken-Pis?”

Alas, although the signage was comprehensive, I missed one crucial change of direction and we careered off in the wrong direction. I should have reappraised the route the first time we passed a signpost that made no mention of it, but my problem-solving skills delivered only the resolve to carry on in the same direction: a triumph of hope over, well, intelligence.

It reaped one rather large benefit, however: when I consulted the free map to get our bearings, I found that we were already a stone’s throw from Brussels Midi, the train station from where we’d caught the taxi the night before. It was even closer than I’d first surmised! Knowing that we’d passed the Parc de Bruxelles in the cab, I could see that the wiley driver had taken a very, very scenic route to our hotel. My shame at not tipping him turned to a swollen pride.

Since I had veered us off the intended path, I thought we might skip the touristy bit and go straight for the early drinking. Mo objected, citing the sun’s position against the yard arm. I attacked her objection on a number of fronts.

Firstly, we were not at sea, and there was no yard arm. I accept that it’s churlish to point out the literal flaws in what was clearly a metaphor; Mo knew we weren’t at sea, and was just saying that drinking too early in the day was unseemly and impractical, in that you’d just get hopelessly addled that much sooner. What I meant was we were in an unusual situation, one designed to afford us a level of self-indulgence that would usually be unseemly and impractical.

Thing is, never in my life have I needed a holiday more. When I used to work jobs I hated, no holiday could compensate for the trauma of going back after a respite. I survived those nightmares by becoming numb to them, each day dragging like the burden of Sisyphus, while the months would glide by somehow unnoticed. I remember one morning walk to work when I checked my watch to make sure I wouldn’t be late, and was surprised not by the time but by the fact it was September.

Holidays were nice, sure. They were fun, but the return to work was like contracting anew a hideous disease I had previously learned to live with.

When I finally found a job I loved, I had no need of escape. Editing video was how I’d choose to spend my spare time anyway, and I’d take my laptop with me on trips to LA or Malaga, and do a bit of recreational editing while I was there. Holidays had become something I knew Mo craved, and I congratulated myself for humouring her as often as I could.

This time is way different, though. No need to go into details, but life for us, the way it does sometimes for everybody, I imagine, had just gotten out-of-control hard and we needed to get into a self-indulgent space as soon as we could or our selves were in a lot of trouble. At least, my self was, I could feel it.

This was the crux of my argument to let me have a beer at half eleven in the morning, though hopefully I was less dramatic about it. I talked in terms of shaking off our cultural shackles. After all, THEY were doing it. The locals. A few of them, anyway.

Plus it was civilised! Not pints of beer like at home, but a half pint, then a wander, half pint then wander, repeat, repeat. Civilised, see?

Mo relented at around quarter to twelve — way before any yard arm stood a chance — as we passed Le Long Bar on one of the main strips. The young barman sported a lit cigarette, and Mo could inform me that the smoking ban didn’t come into effect here until 2012. How it can be possible that we from the land of the deep-fried Mars bar are somehow more progressive on this point than the centre of the European Council, surely the symbol of imposed political correctness, is beyond me, but there you go. People do still smoke in pubs here, though the temperature keeps most of them at the pavement tables, and the wide open doors and windows take care of those who insist on puffing away inside.

Remarkably, they don’t think much of their weather here. Souvenir shops sell self-deprecating mugs with the legend: “Brussels — where it always rains”. The sandwich girl who’d thought us so smart told us, “I think our weather is the same as Scotland’s: cold and wet.” I leaned over her counter and in the same quiet, reserved tone you might use to say, “Your joke is very clever, I can’t deny it, but I should tell you that my son has cancer,” I told her that, at least for the duration of our stay, Glasgow was consistently ten degrees Celsius colder than Brussels. Her expression fell into a show of sympathy bordering on actual fear. “No!”

We caught the Manneken-Pis at some point, I forget when. Considering the build-up they give it, it’s pretty forgettable. It’s life-size, which is to say, tiny, and as a monument, it’s pretty underwhelming. Not to say I didn’t giggle, I fulfilled that part of the bargain alright. I mean, it’s a perpetually pissing baby, what’s not to giggle about? Okay, it might have been more the idea of the dignified and sensible city, under the constant glare of the whole European Union, being obsessed with a pissing baby that made me giggle, but the result was achieved.

Honestly, the hundredth time you’ve seen a cheap copy of this display, you see nothing but a baby having a wank. It’s worse when they dress him up. Then you can’t see the way he’s gingerly pinched his penis between thumb and forefinger, you just see a small chef, or whatever, with his his hand stuffed into his crotch, obviously up to something. One gift shop had a foot high version forcing his cock into the mouth of a stuffed, animatronic tiger, whose stiff, motorised movement, for my money, failed to indicate consent. Still, it’s charming somehow.

The rest of the day was devoted to my dream of a relaxing time: half pint, wander, half, wander, full pint, scolding, wander, repeat. Split by a civilised siesta, this continued until the wee hours of the next morning.


50° 50.896 N 4° 21.391 E

By Kenny Park

Kenny Park, pro video editor in Avid and Final Cut for over a decade.

3 thought on “Brussels II: ManneKen-Pis(sed?)”
  1. Sounds like after you guys suffered the trauma of actually getting there, you had a good time. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I hope it served its purpose in helping you recover from the year so far.

  2. I got drunk there with Ruk once on a bank shoot.
    Thats where we famously done the ouija board with the girls from the bank and they summoned a spirit that, once Gary (Angus) Purden walked into the room, wanted to speak to someone called AGAY.

    I was the only one that interpreted that as A GAY.

    Additionally, I like what youve done with the place.

  3. Ruk always banging on about how good Brussels is was one reason it occurred to me. He wasn’t lying.

    No ouija for us, but there was a healthy gay section in town, complete with a guy who was enjoying sitting on the bollards outside the Homo Erectus bar a wee bit too much.

    And thanks!

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