Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sporrans and sewers

I realised with a guilty start that it has been ages since I last blogged...February, I think. Things have been somewhat hectic around here recently, as this summer we are moving from our current home in Flanders to Scotland. By the time we actually move, we will have been living outside the UK for exactly 10 years, so I am viewing the move with a mixture of interest and trepidation. At the moment, trepidation is winning, as there seems to be an interminable list of things we have to do, such as working out how to transport our cats (and gerbils) to Scotland, selling our car, renovating our rental house in Belgium, etc. As a result, not very much actual WRITING is happening at the moment.
I have however been doing some research for my next couple of books. I'd like to set the next couple of books in Flanders, so I need to do all my local investigations whilst we are still here; there is a lot you can do on the internet but nothing beats seeing stuff with your own eyes. Also, since most of the research involves poking around creepy locations, it's fun and takes my mind off the move for a bit. People often ask authors where they get their ideas. I get a lot of mine from visiting atmospheric places; I like to prowl around a cemetery or a ruined castle or an ancient church and see what suggests itself.
Just recently I decided to spend a morning visiting exactly the sort of place I find most inspirational: somewhere dark, dank and creepy. (It was also a bit smelly, but I didn't find that particularly inspirational...) I took the tram to Anderlecht and went down the Brussels sewers. Anderlecht is one of those areas that looks as though it was probably very affluent about a century ago. There are lots of grand old buildings that now look extremely tatty.
When I got to the tram stop for the sewers museum, I had some difficult in finding it. The intersection where it was supposedly located was not the sort of place where you want to stand about looking lost, so I decided to make a quick circuit of it and hope to stumble on the museum. It turned out to be one of two classical-looking buildings which faced each other across the busy road. When I went inside, the man who sold tickets told me in French that you go into one building, along the sewers and up into the other building. "At least," he added, "I hope so."
There were no other visitors at all, although apparently they do guided tours some days of the week. I had a look at the exhibition, which was quite interesting in a chilling sort of way. Apparently the section of metro which runs through the area around the Bourse in Brussels has a big sewer underneath it, but there are also overflow chambers at the sides which allow flood water to go into another sewer above the metro tunnel. So in theory you can be zooming along in your tube train completely surrounded by water. Somehow, I did not find this thought comforting.
After looking at the exhibition you can go down into the actual sewers. I made a short video of this. If you are interested in - er - sewerage - you can see it here:
The thing I particularly noticed was the noise. You can hear all sorts of strange booms and rumbles (probably trams and traffic overhead) and trickling noises. On the whole I was quite glad to get out again at the other end!
Next week I am planning to go to Paris with a friend to visit the Paris sewers and the catacombs. I'm not thinking of setting a book there, but I feel that the more I see of sewers the better; you can only visit about 100m of the Brussels ones. The catacombs are just for fun - but you never know, something may suggest itself!

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