Brussels Bound (and Movie Madness)

Although I’m writing part of this on the way, by the time you read this I will be firmly established in the Belgian capital, enjoying the beer, chocolate, and sprouts. And whatever else Belgium has to offer.

Eurostarting to get somewhere

This is my first train journey into mainland Europe, and my first time abroad for work. I’m taking the train from Plymouth to London Paddington, transferring to St Pancras for the Eurostar straight through to Brussels. The whole endeavour is quite exciting. Travelling under the channel in a tunnel still feels futuristic and speaks to a world where we could be more connected by high speed rail rather than relying on air travel. It’s a pity it’s bloody expensive. A return ticket to London alone is £125.80 before adding the Eurostar ticket.

Brussels isn’t the easiest place to get to flying and the train has ended up being the most convenient option with the added bonus of being able to carry a reasonable amount of luggage. I’m attempting to travel light though with a backpack and small travel case. Once in Brussels, I’ve got a couple of underground connections to get to my accommodation near the university. Spending most of my time in and around Plymouth these days, I’m experiencing a lot more travel anxiety than I used to. The lack of mobility during the pandemic is definitely part of it, and travelling without my family feels a little strange. Going anywhere for the first time can be a little nerve wracking, but travelling in Asia has prepared me for pretty much anything.

The “light meal” served on the Eurostar. I could get used to this.

The Bookcase Continues

There are more to doors than you might first imagine. Actually, there are about as much to doors as you can see, but putting them all together is another story. The story so far: the doors are on, and I glued a strip of oak to the right hand door to fill the central gap and improve the appearance (which worked rather well in my opinion). I did attempt to use the staple gun with some nails but it was no match for the hardness of the wood. There was quite a narrow strip overlap to attach it which wasn’t ideal, but it’s not structural so wood glue should be sufficient to hold it in place. If it falls off in future, I’ll attach it with small screws.

The next step is to fit a pair of antique brass knurled handles. But wait! Why stop there? To give the doors a bit more pizzazz, Sarah has bought an art deco stencil which, in combination with some metallic paint, will hopefully enhance the end result. Then I swear we’ll stop adding to it. Maybe. Or perhaps it could use some fins to lower wind resistance, and a racing stripe…

Operation Decking Demolition (ODD)

As with so many house projects, this one is courtesy of the previous owners. I noticed a few of the decking boards had a little flex (couldn’t bear weight in actuality) so I unscrewed several to assess the extent of the problem. It turns out the entire structure was held up by a series of one to two inch long spiders. That wasn’t the main issue, though. True to form, the decking structure had been built with cheap timber which wasn’t pressure treated. This didn’t cause issues during the tenure of the previous owners, but it had rotted completely through in a few areas and was completely sodden in others. The structural integrity was gone and there was no way to replace or rebuild it. Not only that, but it was built over not one but two manhole covers. Had anything gone wrong with the drainage, the whole thing would need taken apart.

In many ways, and knowing the methods of the previous owner, I’m not surprised that he took this approach. The manhole covers are made of reinforced concrete and appear to be actively disintegrating and an eyesore. Why not just put something on top and pretend it’s fine? Now it’s my problem, and I intend to sort it out. The surround needs broken up and replaced with a modern fitting. A recessed cover/tray that accommodates paving stones that fit in with the surroundings would be ideal.

That brings us to another issue. The replacement of the entire patio. We’ve got a 70s vibe going with multi-coloured paving stones and a random assortment of finishes. It’s very “this is all we had laying around” chique, but not exactly what I would go for myself. Replacing paving stones opens up a whole new can of worms though. Do we keep the existing brick planters/beds at the side of the decking? What do we do about paving around the raised beds? How do we lift the heat pump to change the paving stones after installation?

So many questions! For now, the status quo will be maintained. There’s no point rushing in and ending up with a bodge job. Otherwise we’ll be worse off than when we started.

Movie Madness

The past bank holiday weekend was a bit of a cinefest at home. We watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, Audition, and Moon. The selection spanned four decades and two genres which can often intermingle; science fiction and horror.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001 had long been on my watchlist, regarded as some as a science fiction masterpiece, and while most of the film holds up really well there are some odd choices. The pacing can be challenging at times, with the opening sequence feeling a little silly through a modern lens, but the vision and world-building was impressive. Keeping in mind that the technology was as envisioned in the sixties, some of it was recognisable as part of our daily lives (video calling, for example). The role and challenges of integrating artificial intelligence into our society was also a prescient theme. The HAL 9000 series doesn’t make mistakes, does it? At least, that seems to be HAL’s opinion. The final sequences are what stick with most people though. What does it all mean? What is the implication for humanity? Or is it all a drug-induced nightmare? It’s worth watching if you haven’t already, and even though it’s regarded as an epic, it only runs to 2 hours and 19 minutes which is nothing compared to many modern epics.

Moon (2009)

Following on from 2001, we watched Moon which showed an updated vision of a future where the energy crisis had been solved through nuclear fusion, and the necessary fuel mined from the dark side of the moon. One man oversees a highly automated mining facility and he’s coming up to the end of his three year contract. I won’t say much more than that, but this budget (only $5 million) sci-fi experience packs in an incredible amount for its 1 hour and 37 minute run time.

Some of the CGI hasn’t aged well, although it would be harsh to judge it for that considering how little money went into the project. Sam Rockwell gives a fantastic performance as Sam Bell, an engineer at the end of his tether after a long, lonely stint. He who shall not be named (not Voldemort, but Kevin Spacey) puts in a good show as GERTY, the AI running most of the base operations. We see occasional glimpses of other people, be it Lunar Corporation executives or family members over video calls, but the lack of human contact adds to the feeling of extreme isolation. Having a person lone working for three years is inhumane and would take a considerable toll on them and their families, as you’ll see when you watch it. Which you should.

Audition (1999)

Audition is the odd one out. A couple of Japanese film producers hold a phony audition to find a wife for the protagonist, but things are not quite what they appear. It’s a film of two halves, and one with some really disturbing moments so not for the faint of heart. There are genuinely creepy scenes and you really feel for the lead, Aoyama, as he appears to struggle with what’s happening now, in his dreams, and in his imagination. I suppose it’s a little like Moon in that regard. I’m not sure how I came across it and I won’t watch it again, but it’s worth a watch if you’re into horror. If you do, try and avoid a synopsis.

More on Brussels next time.

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