My secret life

Out, damn spot

We have dozens of weird museums in Brussels, including a museum of underpants and one devoted to bird boxes. I thought it could get no stranger, but then I came across the Petit Musée de la droguerie, the Little Museum of the Hardware Store.

Before it became a museum, this was a shop where you could find a remedy for every type of domestic spill. You might for example pour red wine on your expensive Martin Margiela dress. But there was no need to panic. You just had to pop round to the little shop behind the town hall the next morning and Madame would provide just the thing, possibly involving a combination of German laxative pills and seaweed gathered from the Brittany shoreline on a warm September evening.

A trip to this shop taught you a great deal about the private lives of the Belgians. Many customers would pop in for advice on getting rid of mayonnaise stains incurred while eating frites in the street. Others were troubled by persistent cockroaches. Nothing was too difficult for the owner, who claimed to have 100 different remedies.

But Madame has now retired and heaven only knows what we will do now when we accidentally drop raspberry coulis on our newest purchase from Olivier Strelli. There is simply nowhere else in town to go for that sort of personalised service. You might try a big hardware chain like Brico, I suppose, but would they have the right product to deal with chewing gum embedded in cashmere? I very much think not.

And so we have to say, with great regret, that another Brussels institution has bitten the dust, and all we have now is a window on the Rue du Viaduc full of dusty cartons bearing names like Fly-Tox and Presto. It’s enough to drive you to drink, only be careful not to spill it, because you will never get rid of the stain now.