Sunday 22 November 1998
(pounds 9.99, Little, Brown)
Pearson's mission in writing this book is to convince us all that Belgium's reputation for being dull and dreary is completely undeserved. "Belgian mundanity," he states, "is a camouflage. But like all camouflage, this one, once recognised, quickly disappears to reveal the solid, eccentric shape beneath."
His account of the journey, taking him from Ostend in the North to Arlon in the South, is one of the most amusing things I have read for a long time. From the holiday house in East Flanders, the walls of which "sucked in brightness and burped back dust", to the mannerisms of his hosts, memorably one Monsieur Bonfond ("a pear-shaped man in a weekend sweater"), Pearson's observations are both fresh and funny.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about this odd combination of travel- writing, history and slapstick is that Pearson makes no pretence of sticking to the point. Anecdotes about adolescence mingle happily with character observations on irritating museum staff as Pearson, girlfriend and baby daughter in tow, bimbles around Belgium. He does not, thank God, drag us around too many worthy artefacts or yawn on about local custom. We get taken, instead, into endless grim guest-houses, on a whistle-stop tour of garden ornamentation in Flanders, and into the Paul Delvaux Museum, where, we are told, "the nipple count must be well into four figures".
In his ability to combine sharp observation with an unpretentious, often self-deprecating, tone, Pearson manages to convey both affection and admiration for a country which has been invaded so often that the inhabitants have tried to make it "look as uninteresting as possible in the hope that, in the future, their neighbours will simply ignore them or march right through on the way to somewhere that looks more exciting".
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage
Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour
Dramatic GoPro video shows backpacker Alexander Hennessy warding off armed robber in Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Best Place To Be Today shows 365 of the world's most amazing places - and the perfect time to visit them
Top 10 zoos in Europe, according to TripAdvisor
El Caminito del Rey
Pakistani passenger power forces two politicians off plane
- 1 Scottish independence: Learn from Quebec's mistakes and beware of promises. Vote Yes.
- 2 iOS 8 is full of shiny new features - but it's terrible news for app developers
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
- 5 Cocaine and cannabis haul hidden in Vatican car seized by French police
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...
Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...
£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...
£15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...