"Belgians like above all to be practical, solid. They stand square and conduct conversation from the base of the neck. Courteous behaviour is expected: it is the natural product of right-mindedness. It is also practical: that is how you get on in the world." "Belgians would be very happy indeed if all the world knew them to be good-natured, tolerant, individualistic, self-assertive, modest, moderate, and the embodiment of European ideals. This is a long-term project. Meanwhile being placed somewhere on the map of Europe will do."
Like many of his generation, as a youth Antony Mason had almost no contact with Belgium, apart from hitch-hiking through it on the way to somewhere else. On one occasion he was picked up by a friendly Belgian driver who invited him and his travelling companion home for a meal, a very generous act but also alarming since the Belgian drove at top speed along the motorway and insisted on turning around to address long pieces of conversation to the back seat. This reinforced certain prejudices about Belgian driving, which - along with other prejudices and stereotypes about Belgium - the author has been monitoring closely ever since and, one by one, shedding. This task has been greatly assisted by fate. In 1975, on the French island of Martinique, he met a beautiful Walloon. He didn't really know what that was at the time, and it didn't seem to matter. She later became his wife. They now live in London with their Anglo-Belgian son, but make frequent visits to Belgium - to Wallonia, Brussels and Flanders - with ever-increasing pleasure. Antony Mason is the author of some 50 books on travel, exploration, history, antiques, architecture, house plants, espionage, volleyball... In 1995 Cadogan Books published his Cadogan City Guide to Brussels, with Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp, the product of three years' work which tested the forbearance of his Belgian family to just short of destruction. He feared that this book would prove to be the last straw. But like true Belgians, they have displayed admirable tolerance - and total bemusement with the whole enterprise.