Jack Serle

T. drops by with a suggestion, plans are hatched, a ship sails

In BeNeLux on August 14, 2011 at 5:47 PM

My friend T. came to see me one day and announced he wanted to go abroad. Or more to the point, he said: “We must go abroad.”

“We should go somewhere cheap but out of the country.”

“Alright,” I said. “Have anywhere in mind? Somewhere in Eastern Europe, the former Bloc countries are frightfully cheap I hear.”

This was refused however. Flights are priced to make you wince. With the airborne option ruled out we had to content ourselves with destinations accessible from the end of the Eurostar. Again, a wince-worthy enterprise and one that our pockets could not stretch to so T. left on his canary yellow bicycle. He went not exactly disgruntled –T. is the kind of chap who does not easily lose his gruntles when others are losing theirs –perhaps put out would be the phrase.


I was most pleased therefore when my telephone wibbled and warbled; a brief text message with exciting news had arrived. This was the following week and it was followed the next day by an email extolling the virtues of travel by boat and the existence of a boat train. Apparently you can get quite cheap transport to Hook of Holland (via Harwich) from Liverpool Street Station. We were off to the Netherlands and Belgium I learnt.

“Surely the transport is cheap because no one wants to go there?” I said. A sentiment T. poo-poo’d. They have beer he reminded me, and chips. Not to mention salubrious town squares in which to sit and consume the two.

My trips to Belgium and Holland in fact have been enjoyable jaunts, the rather sobering sight of ranks of white headstones on tours of WWI battlefields aside. Some uncharitable souls might call the Low Countries the Rutland of Europe but not I.

“We shall have to wear our best duds on the boat.” I said, considering the prospect of sip sip sipping our way through a North Sea voyage.

“Of course” T. replied, confiscating my bank details and booking the trip. ”I shall buy an umbrella especially.”

And so I find myself preparing for a demi Grand Tour, an Ordinary Tour? Not taking in Italy but just the Flemish climes so cutting things brief anyway. First Bruges, then Delft or Ghent I forget which, and finally Amsterdam.

In the high traditions of the Grand Tours of old T. and I will take turns in affecting a club foot and stop briefly to confiscate some priceless marble artefacts to send back to the British Museum. This will take the place of the more usual tepid sin in which Britishers indulge when in Amsterdam. There will be no pill popping, blazing or tripping but plenty of the roaring, drinking and duelling. In deference to the family members who may read this, all whoring will be excluded from the records.

So here goes the voyage. Tomorrow is the off; a train and a boat await us. T. and I shall set out like the seasoned travellers we are – each with a pair of winter combinations just in case – to take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but heavily soiled bed linen.


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