Should you be looking for careers advice, Benedict is your man. Not only is he weaving our boat under the low bridges, around the dumped bicycles and past other boats but he is also telling us about Ghent and its history. In the course of which he has mentioned a few occupations readily available to anyone with a time machine.
Ghent was in medieval times a major trading city, being on the confluence of two rivers. At one point, it was the second most populous city north of the Alps; Paris being the first. So there were many job opportunities, though I fear some of them might be on zero hour contracts.
Young boys could be employed to do what young boys do best, as there was a need for urine to soften leather for the manufacturing of clothing. If that doesn’t appeal, there were also opportunities to become a urine-taster, spending your days checking acidity levels of said urine.
Women and children who prefered an outdoor life could stroll along the tow-paths hauling a boat behind them. The men would have helped but, alas, they were needed inside the boats to do the tricky steering. Women and children were also needed to turn the mechanism which worked the cranes which hauled the cloth and grain off the boats and into the riverside stores. Ghent was a major centre for the trading of grain which was then made into bread and beer, though not necessarily in that order. It must have all smelt delightful.
Talking of smelling delightful, one of the buildings we saw was painted in a colour called Isabella yellow. The name derives, Benedict tells us, from one of the many battles between Belgium and Spain which led to a siege in Ostend. Princess Isabella of Spain was thoroughly adamant that her husband Albert of Austria should win and vowed not to change her clothing until he had done so. The siege lasted some three years and the yellow colour is thought to refer to the state of her underwear by the end.
Apparently Ghent escaped being bombed in both World Wars which means that many of the beautiful buildings built by those rich merchants are still standing. There is also a castle which resisted centuries-worth of invaders but was finally occupied in the 1940s by students complaining about the tax on beer.
So that was Ghent. We’re now on the train to The Hague where we’ve got an apartment for three nights. But I find that there’s still a little time before the bell, so perhaps we could have a sing. Any requests? Did I hear you ask for some Beautiful South? Ok, after three: this could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or…. Oh – wait a minute – we’ll end it there. Class dismissed.