Stranded on a chilly Gare du Midi in Brussels it is hard to be sympathetic to the Belgian railway strikers – whatever their demands. Anyhow, it is not clear how the damaging effects of a strike may prove the legitimacy of any claim. I’m not quite sure what distinguishes the right to strike from the right to punch your opponent (and bystanders as well).
Passengers from London are brought from Lille to Brussels by bus through the services of the French SNCF. But though the Belgian strike is officially over at 10 p.m., no transportation goes beyond Antwerp.
At the Gare du Midi, cafes and shops close at 10 and you may relieve yourself until 10.30. After that, there’s just hanging around. Plenty of floor space in this station, but little to sit on. A shielded waiting room with no obvious class distinction besides the colour of its chairs (blue against red) seems tolerable enough for the eight hours till our homebound 5.52.
At 10.40, following the letter of some obscure regulation, an overzealous cleaner insists on evacuating and closing the place. We give in, but not without a quarrel.
Between the pernicious cough of a clochard and the draught of the main hall, we choose the latter. At 0.30 a.m. Mr. Spic & Span turns his attention to our new domain, ordering us to leave our seats and pull our luggage aside. Strike or no strike, benches have to make place for the broom. It is just for a moment, and it is not so much the absurdity of his present demands as his earlier intolerance that make me stage a little childish sit-down strike before giving in.
1 a.m. Mounted on his street sweeper Mr. S&S moves slowly up and down the hall. He leaves a vaguely shimmering snail’s trail behind that shows no interpretable pattern. Sometimes he retraces his previous path. Then he makes a few rounds in a remote corner, returns, redoes the same thing.
We are joined by a middle-aged American woman. She had chosen the hard floor and relative warmth of the shopping arcade, but was ordered out of her corner by Security’s tough guys.
At 1.30 the sweeper turns to the area where tramps and backpackers have prepared uneasy beds. One of the benches goes on its side. But moving this whole little crowd seems to overtax the King of the Night, and most of the sleepers are left undisturbed. A slender and graceful elderly lady, wandering around with a quilt bag, watches me making a photo and smiles with faint irony.
What to do with wasted time? – Forget about it. Or register and describe the waste.