I am going to whinge. You have been warned. I have a friend, John B., whose birthday falls on this date, 21st July, which also happens to be Belgian Independence Day. He lives, in Brussels, in Ixelles, in a penthouse pad with a broad terrace overlooking the city and most years he celebrates his birthday with a party. The finale is the city’s fireworks display, laid on especially for him (as he puts it). This year we were saying goodbye to some departing good friends and toasting one ill absent friend, so the whole thing got a little bit misty-eyed, but we were inevitably cheered up by the display, which was truly splendid. Alas, the whole thing was spoilt for me by that bloody helicopter. I should explain. About four or five years ago the good Burghers of Brussels decided to heed the calls of the local police force and authorise the purchase of a big, fat helicopter. Ever since then, the Bruxellois have been persecuted on a daily basis by the whine of its engine and the clatter of its rotors. It is particularly noisy, and Brussels is particularly small, so we all get subjected to the din. As all children know, when you have convinced your parents to buy you an expensive toy, you had better play with it a lot or all credibility concerning future demands will have evaporated. So it is with the helicopter. I can imagine occasions when it might, just might, be useful. But it whines overhead every day and frequently hovers, noisily, doing nothing in particular extremely loudly. Maybe, just maybe, it has to do this so that its pilots get sufficient flying experience to keep their flying licences. Or maybe the chief pilot has a phobia about staying on the ground. Whatever, that bloody helicopter drives me mad. Worse, whenever there is a demonstration, no matter how peaceful, the helicopter is there, hovering overhead, needlessly creating a sense of tension. It also does this whenever the European Council is in town (see my 15 October 2008 post for the negative effects on ‘Europe’s’ image of security arrangements). But my whinge today is far more selfish. In the first place, this afternoon I was intent on writing a chapter of my masterpiece. What happened? That bloody helicopter hovered noisily overhead for three hours. And then, in the evening, as we were watching the fireworks from John B’s terrace, we heard a familiar whine as that bloody helicopter drifted overhead. We counted, as it circled five times around the firework display. As soon as the display was over, it flew away sharpish back to its Vilvorde base. In other words, dear Bruxellois, your precious taxpayers’ money was splurged on X amounts of unnecessary carbon pumped into the atmosphere and Y amounts of unnecessary noise inflicted on the good and mostly law-abiding citizens of Brussels, and all of that to enable the pilot and passengers in the police helicopter to enjoy grandstand views of the fireworks display. It is not for me to interfere in the due process of governance here in Belgium, but I know only that British journalists would very rapidly have found out who the passengers were and whether they paid anything and also just how much this daily infliction of unnecessary noise is costing. End of whinge.