Search complete II November 10, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
It’s a Berlin thang, you see. I mean, Berlin’s all well and good, but the 11-and-a-half month winter might be a bit of a pain. And, just occasionally, in the exile’s constant quest to find out is-it-or-isn’t-it? on the ideal-home front, Berlin might occasionally strike one as a touch of a shit-hole.
The Russian decided today that some smart items of clothing were in order, so we trolled off for a last-minute panic shop that was vaguely meant to cover shoes, suits and ties. We left the shops without any new garments but laden down with comestibles. In a moment of supreme abstemiousness, I decided against pressing the red Gauloises button on the machine that cleverly spits cigarettes right onto your spot on the supermarket conveyor belt as the Russian was paying and I didn’t think I could cope with moaning till spring. But we WERE feeling rich, for god knows what reason, so had at least treated ourselves to a posh supermarket. “BiiB, I don’t vont cook tonight. Ve jaast buy sinks like snyecks. Pyeppyers filled viz kreem cheez. Some trout filyay. Some khoumous.” My mind filled with images of rotund homosexuals rolling happily home, and I agreed heroically. Managed to sneak some quite posh wine into the trolley. And we trundled off into the night. (Germans and residents of the Bundesrepublik: DO NOT buy houmous in Germany. Germans just CANNOT do it. Even the English can make nice houmous. So it’s a mystery. But don’t waste your money. And stay thin.)
The weather is not good at the moment. Not utterly arctic. But unpleasant. And windy. And rainy. We stood forlornly, waiting for the tram. The Berlin equivalent of a dot matrix indicator – did folk know that’s what the ones in the London Underground are snappily called? A friend of mine once suggested that, rather than you turning up on the platform at Kentish Town tube only to see “Bank 24 mins” greeting you, the machine might just read “Fuck off” instead. I don’t know if he’s got on to TfL with his suggestion – informed us it was 9 minutes till the next tram. The Russian, having integrated into non-Soviet life far too well for my liking, decided this was an inordinately long time to stand in inclemency and insisted upon parting with some hard-borrowed cash in a convenient cafeteria.
Deciding I’d better match generosity with generosity, I splashed out in the cafeteria and ordered two massive fuck-off bits of cake and two cauldrons of coffee. All in all, it was about an extra 15000 calories, and similar number of euros. The waitress informed us that the establishment was thinking of closing at some point that evening and, as they’d done the washing-up once and couldn’t be bothered to do it again, we’d be served our coffee in paper cups. She stretched to plates for the cake, rather than us having to snuffle it off the floor, but we were also given plastic utensils. My radar for automatically-but-unwittingly always finding the worst spot to sit in any establishment worked like a dream and we settled in a draughty corner being buffeted by hurricane-strength, icy winds if the door to the street ever opened by more than a millimetre.
Which it did.
A lady who had last had a moment of lucidity in 1983, looking 99 but probably about 40, lunged towards us with an open bottle of beer in one hand and, oddly, a toothbrush in the other. I was indulging in a sneaky ciggy, all the while regretting my abstemiousness in the supermarket. (Indeed, I sit here utterly cigaretteless now.) She initiated conversation with my absolutely least favourite line and asked if she could ‘buy’ a cigarette from me. I thought I probably wasn’t going to bother relieving her of 20c so gave her a cigarette and even bothered with a ‘bitte schön’ for the sake of… don’t know. To my horror, the lady tarried. She ranted and spewed forth drunken wisdom. The man at the next table gave a knowing chuckle. The paper-cup waitress wondered whether it was part of her job to do something. I ignored the lady as best I could, occasionally reminding her mid-flow that I didn’t understand. The Russian then informed me that she was BOLLOCKING me. BOLLOCKING me! It appears I had handled the transaction of her being given a cigarette by me incorrectly. She didn’t want my charity. Wasn’t her money good enough for me? This she really couldn’t understand! I presented her with the most withering look I could muster when being buffeted by hurricane-strength, icy winds and consuming 15000 unnecessary calories, all the while worrying about the low cigarette-count.
We had actually cunningly positioned ourselves (or so we thought) to have a view on the dot matrix indicator. Sure enough, it was tram to the rescue. We gathered our comestibles and prepared to dash for our conveyance. Showing there were no hard feelings, I said goodbye to the woman with beer and toothbrush who hadn’t had a lucid moment since 1983. She announced that she was coming with me. Unfortunately for her, a minor, two-step sprint had to be made for the tram, and that was beyond her. Our friendship ended there.
The Russian and I sat middle-agedly on the tram. “Meine Güte!” I said, adopting my best petit bourgeois German housewife face. “That would never happen in Pyongyang!”
…So if any of you hear about a vacancy at a Pyongyang doctor’s surgery, give me the nod.