Wacky Races - Belgium Style

I knew it.

I’ve been enjoying Belgium too much of late.

I should have known that it couldn’t last forever. I had to be off my tits to think that everything in Belgium was fine. I mean - I most probably was off my tits – but that is neither here nor there.

So why the recent crash back down to earth?

Why is it all of a sudden that the Belgium, that only yesterday offered so much hope and promise for me, is now today a Belgium that I want to flush through the U-Bend of Life??

Well Readers – the reason for my newly reborn anger and rage towards this country, this little insignificant part of the world, this little chip on the shoulder of Europe – is quite simple….


Now I realise that Belgium is not unique in suffering with this problem, Lord knows I used to travel the car park that is London’s ring road, on a daily basis. Otherwise known as the M25, or as Chris Rea famously referred to in music as “The Road to Hell”.

Well Mr. Rea, whilst I admire your ability to pen a moving, emotional song whilst sat in a traffic jam on the self-titled ‘Road to Hell,’ I have to say that anything you experienced must surely pale into comparison with this morning’s antics on the E314.

Heading to the office, I wanted to join the E314 to take me the relatively short 25 minute commute to the office. Approaching the slip road, I noticed a build up of traffic stood at a standstill. This did not look good.

Deciding against joining the traffic jam, I drove past with the intention of perhaps joining the highway in the opposite direction away from my intended destination and then deftly take the next exit and … well … take it from there.

OK, granted - as master plans go this was a decidedly uninspiring one but it was first thing in the morning and my head was still fuzzy from a night out with an ex-colleague of mine. Not a long, late or even particularly heavy night but one that had taken its toll on me nonetheless. My head felt a little ‘cobwebby’ - certainly not prepared for sitting in a frustrating, mind-numbing traffic jam.

Perhaps it’s because I cut back ever so slightly on alcohol consumption over the past few days. Could it be that I’d already lost the ability, that God-given talent as a fully blooded Irishman (all be it with a British passport) for drinking copious amounts of alcohol, without relative impact the morning after?

I’d heard people (usually older people) say things all the time to me like – “Auch sure when I was your age, I used to be able to drink 25 pints of Guinness, down 12 Bushmills whiskey, snog a kebab on the way home for breakfast, have a shave and a shower and then go straight out to work. Not a problem.”

Yeah, well Da – guess what? I can’t!

Anyway, as I drove over the highway, I looked to see what the problem was. There, wrapped around a lamp-post, blocking the whole slip road onto the highway was a jack-knifed lorry. As far as the eye could see, traffic was at a standstill in the direction of Antwerp.

I looked at my watch. It was 08:30. This was messy.

I decided there was nothing else to do but rejoin the traffic jam waiting to get onto the highway – granted not another wonderful brainwave – but then as I approached it, the police arrived in a cacophony of noise and flashing lights and promptly proceeded to block all traffic from joining the motorway; without giving any indication where we were supposed to go as an alternative.

Complete pandemonium and mayhem ensued as cars started doing 3-point turns, reversing, signalling, U-turns, just generally trying to Get The Fuck Out of Dodge.

I followed a particularly determined looking woman in her 30’s who seemed to know what she was doing, cutting down one country road after another for about 10 minutes before realising that she had given up and was returning home.

Thankfully I realised this just before she turned up the driveway of her house.

Driving quickly back in the direction from whence I came, for the third time that morning my razor-sharp mind and wits deserted me as I made the decision to take the highway in the opposite direction and look for the next exit, 5 km further along in the opposite direction from my intended destination, before rejoining the highway in the correct direction… slap, bang in the middle of the huge traffic jam that the accident was causing.

Just at that moment, the traffic report came on Studio Brussel and the DJ happily informed me of my predicament – I was sitting on the E314, in the direction of Antwerp in a 15 km “file” (Dutch for traffic jam).

No shit Sherlock.

Sighing, I did the only thing you can do in these situations – I phoned the office to explain my predicament, turned the ignition off, lit a cigarette and turned the music up, trying to relieve the mounting headache / hangover with some music from back home in the form of those Northern Irish rockers, Snow Patrol.

(Incidentally, their latest album, Eyes Open, is fantastic, with songs Chasing Cars and Set the Fire to the Third Bar great traffic-jam stress relieving tunes.)

And so that was how I spent my morning – taking 1hr 30 minutes to do a journey that should take no more than a third of that.

As an interesting footnote to this tale of woe on the Belgian highways, about 10 minutes from the office, another traffic jam appeared almost immediately. One second we’re all happily driving along at 125 km an hour, the next we’re jumping on the brakes, trying not to turn the car in front into a hood ornament.

The reason for this? “File-kijkers” (dutch for “rubber-neckers”) who had slowed down to look at another jack-knifed truck on the opposite side of the highway which was blocking all traffic going in that direction.

As I spent the next 10 minutes driving past a traffic jam facing the opposite direction but going nowhere fast, I realised that there’s a lot to be said for working and living in the same city.

Anyone got any SAP logistics contracts going in Antwerp? I’ll buy a bike!

And there you have it folks – an unfortunately all too familiar episode in Belgium’s Wacky Races.