Apprentices in Antwerp: In Antwerpen

Last week, our Apprentices in Antwerp series started with Wirral Apprentice Eamee sharing her experience of helping to run a Read to Lead course in Antwerp as part of a commission by Boek.be and the Flemish Ministry of Education. The Belgian adventures continue with Development Apprentice Niall Gibney:

Niall Antwerp 1Anybody ever seen the film In Bruges? It stars Colin Farrell (the girls love him) and Brendan Gleeson (he looks like my uncle who’s ironically also called Brendan). Ifyou haven’t, here’s what happens in a snapshot: two contract killers visit Belgium on the behest of another contract killer and are commenting on how nothing ever really happens in Belgium. One character, Ray (Colin Farrell),  is a typical lad who doesn’t take the greatest interest in the cultural delights and history of Belgium – in particular, Bruges. The other is Ken, a wiser head who is more interested in culture and all the things Belgium has to offer. I tried to find a quote from the film which encapsulates how the characters felt upon arriving at Belgium but unfortunately, they are all pretty offensive to at least someone. A typical remark made by Ray if he could stop swearing for a minute would go something like this: “Why Belgium? What the bloody hell is in Belgium? Why would anybody want to visit Belgium?”

Needless to say this film was probably my only ever Belgian experience before we went on to deliver Read to Lead in Antwerp, so for the few weeks before we went rather than allow myself to get excited at a free break away (I say break, but rest assured I did have work to do, honest!) I just thought about Belgium in a similar way to Ray, combining my liking of the film with my dislike of the First World War – a lot of people died. Though I did say to myself, they’re also famous for beer and chocolate too so it can’t be too bad. That was my glimmer of hope.

Having just re-read these first two paragraphs I have to say sorry to any Belgians who might be happening to read this, I mean no offence and your peaceful country grew on me a lot, (though it was quite the culture shock compared to Liverpool), in that I don’t think I’ve ever felt safer anywhere else in my existence. The cups of tea were mad, I think I got given a three course cup of tea once – impressive, but sorry love I’ll have a Tetley in a greasy spoon thanks…

I loved the people who we met on the course, they were the best! Including one really naughty woman who had a cheeky smile – I like that – an older woman who we all wanted to put in our pockets and take home and a complete workaholic who devoted her whole life to helping children in care, bless her!

Niall Antwerp 2From the minute we started the course they all already got it – the message of shared reading. They all were already enthusiastic so we felt as if we could have just handed them some poems and got off but of course, we stayed and their enthusiasm was greater on the day of leaving than it was on the first day, a number of them walking among the lowlands to start their respective groups. I won’t go through every single thing that we did – we shared reading, you should already know this…

So what else happened in Antwerpen? We went to the cathedral and got a tour from a man, though we did have to pay a fiver to get in! (The Catholics don’t do that in Liverpool) We saw a bit of Reuben (they love that guy) (he did art); we went up to the 10th floor of a museum to enjoy the view (good, but no Liverpool skyline I might add);  had many walks around the city (I got lost), ate a lot  – I was on a full protein diet that week. Drunk a few Belgian beers but stayed away from Duvell – which means devil, thought it might have poisoned me – ate some chocolate (I promised the kids in our Leasowe Bookworms group I’d bring them chocolate back, I did but then I ate it….oops! They understood after I doubled their English sweet intake for a session)…

I brought a crocodile statue home to put on my table along with the panther, the eagle and the lion –I’m recreating the Amazon above a chicken shop on Smithdown! I was followed around shops and accused of robbing on more than one occasion (I don’t rob but I’m used to the preferential treatment, makes me feel like a star), yep so other than that they love art, and we drunk in a pub called the 11th commandment! It was a pub FULL of religious artefacts, I was bricking it, the man behind the bar looked like Hannibal Lecter, and I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t have wanted anybody in there at all so the more beer went down my grid the more I felt uncomfortable – then we left.

So, that’s Belgium for you. I enjoyed it, I don’t really know what In Bruges problem was, I mean whoever said nothing ever happens in Belgium should have come with me – they would have had a laugh then.

3 thoughts on “Apprentices in Antwerp: In Antwerpen”

  1. Nothing is ever boring with you about Niall , as you even make Belguim sound cool and exciting but you could travel the world over nothing beats c oming home to our Liverbirds !!!

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