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Wankers and Radical Losers February 27, 2006

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All sorts of top blogs have linked to this article in the Graun which makes for a fascinating read about the mindset of the deluded radical.

Apart from it being interesting for, well, being interesting, it also raised another topic I’ve thought about on more than one occasion – the link between gayness and fascism. I didn’t know that Johann Hari had written on the subject and, indeed, reading his article leads nicely to a number of other links on the same theme. In any case, Buruma is somewhat lighter on gays than Hari is and concludes that it is not necessarily something inherent within gayness that leads to this overlap with fascism, but just that, “Extremism is the loser’s revenge on society. Who the losers happen to be depends on the nature of the society”.

Anyway, one good thing leading to another eventually took me from Buruma’s own article to one he mentions, on radical losers, written by Hans Magnus Enzensberger in signandsight (I slightly loathe this German tendency to not go for capitals in titles), the English-language spin-off from Perlentaucher, as far as I can understand. So a number of good and fascinating and gripping discoveries all within a couple of clicks. In any case, Buruma and Enzensberger both get to grips with the state of mind of the potential radical. I find their analyses riveting. They ring true. The latter ignores the sex angle, the former underlines it. In any case, they agree. The radicals’ radicalism comes more from within that without. Well worth a read.

Taivas on sininen ja kultainen… February 26, 2006

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…well, it is over Turin, anyway. Bugger. And there was even concord in the Bib household. We were both longing for the Finns to win. What I’m sure will be a great consolation, though, is that as the medals were being handed out to the gloomy-looking Finns and the jubilant-looking Swedes, both the Russian and I agreed that the Finnish team was far the better-looking, so ten out of ten to them for that reason alone.

Well, that’s the Olympic spectacle over for another two years (apart from the closing ceremony, which is apparently going to feature not just Avril Lavigne but also Ricky Martin. Imagine!). The biathlon and cross-country skiing events have been right up my alley, as has the ice-hockey, belatedly. Partly because ice-hockey-ists are so good at ice-hockey. I mean, I know it’s their job ‘n all, but they seem better at ice-hockey than footballers are at football, say. And there are no boring bits, and it’s fast, and their skills are marvellous. (And they never fall over and wear ridiculous costumes – well, not that ridiculous – or attempt triple salchows. Those ice-dancers are just asking for trouble.)

Well, the Finns go home without a single gold. The Brits go home with a single silver. And the Germans come home laden with all sorts of booty. I shall look forward to Vancouver in four years’ time. Gimme the nice-sized Winter Olympics over the ludicrously overstretched Summer version any day of the week or, rather, any other year of the calendar.

Suomi Россия – Venäjä Финляндия February 24, 2006

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Talk about divided loyalties in the BiB household. We’re watching the Olympic ice-hockey semi-final between Finland and Russia to see who gets to go for gold – whatever did happen to Henry Kelly? – against the Swedes who, to my (relative) chagrin, beat the Czechs in the other semi earlier today. The Russian is, it goes without saying, rooting for the Russians. I am, naughtily, rooting for the Finns. This is not strictly for the sake of sowing a little bit of enmity chez nous. It is, at least partly, down to a genuine love of Finland and, as someone who doesn’t really get sport at all, for the sake of fairness, as the Finns haven’t won a gold this whole Olympiad whereas the Russians have won a squillion. So go Finland.

Well, unless there’s something of a miracle, it looks like my wishes are going to be granted, at least for this evening. And Finns must be celebrating in the only way they know how at the prospect of a final against their arch-enemies, the Swedes. Indeed, there’s no route to the final a Finn could prefer, I reckon. Beating semi-arch-enemy before, if all goes according to plan, beating arch-enemy in the final.

Anyway, divided loyalties aside, half the joy of watching this match, ignoring work and knocking back red wine on a Friday night, is listening to the (I’m guessing) American-Canadian commentary on Eurosport. There is a Russian player on the ice called Kovalchuk (Ковальчук) – pronounced Ka-val’-CHOOK – being pronounced KO-val-chuck by the commentator, which couldn’t sound less Russian (or Ukrainian, as the case may be). Which is a nice way, at least, of relieving the tension in the BiB household. We can at least snigger while secretly wanting to smack each other over the head with ice-hockey sticks (except I don’t, of course, as the Finns are whooping the Russians’ collective arse).

I’ve been relatively gripped by these Winter Olympics, it must be said. Could be because I’ve been skint and busy and have been forced to sit indoors for god knows how long. But there are spectacles galore and, living with a Russian poof, even ice-skating, for example, has been a staple factor of our televisual entertainment in recent days. Again we had divided loyalties as I whooped for the Japanese lady – again claiming fairness as my main motive; I might need to analyse this – and the Russian whooped for the Russian. (But her hair was ludicrous, so she deserved to fall.) And some of the skills displayed in various disciplines are pretty breathtaking. And the glory. The glory. It’s got to be a sensation-and-a-half getting up on that podium and claiming the Olympic gold. And how often do curlers get the horn, eh? I bet those Canadians were pretty fucking chuffed today, though.

Anyway, a translator’s work is never done (because he’s watching TV). The Finns can now celebrate in style, the Russian and I can exchange frosty glares and my computer can labour further under its own divided loyalties – doing its duty to me while simultaneously resenting being subjected to my very own scorn-filled, translation-weary fingers…

London exhibition February 24, 2006

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***PRESS RELEASE***PRESS RELEASE***PRESS RELEASE***PRESS RELEASE***Exhibition

Private view Friday 24th February 2006 6.30 – 9.00 pm

Tuesday 21st February – 27th March 2006 10 am – 11 pm
Inn on the Green, 3-5 Thorpe Close, Portobello Green W10 5XL

Francesca’s most recent work explores the contrast between the London monumental landscape and the transient nature of people, relationships and memories.

This new series of paintings entitled “Trafalgar Square paintings” will be exhibited at the Inn on the Green from the 21st February 2006.

Francesca is an artist living in Shepherds Bush and has exhibited regularly in West London over the past 8 years. In 1993 she graduated from Plymouth University (Exeter Faculty of Art and Design) with a BA Hons in Fine Art. After graduating Francesca lived in Paris for over two years where she designed theatre sets for a Parisian operatic company.
Previous exhibitions
 March 04 – Group Exhibition-Mothers,Oxford House, London
 October 03 – Studio Lounge, Waterstones Piccadilly
 July 01 – The Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London
 June 01 – The Start Gallery, London
 February 00 – Soho Curzon Cinema, London
 March 99 – Boston University, London
Other projects

1994 Record Cover Design
HAL Alex Sharkey / Keris Howard
For Further Information
See website or telephone 07763496356

PS. This post should have included two wonderful pictures to tempt you along but blogger has thwarted all my noble efforts. Tant pis. Either, therefore, visit the website or click on these old links where I uploaded some of her paintings myself.

One for the boys February 17, 2006

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Or something for the weekend, perhaps I could call this. No, I’m not going to stuff condoms in your pocket or sate your lust with pictures of a scantily-clad Barbara Windsor. But it is barberish. I am going to give you the first in a one-item range of BiB grooming tips just in time to impress that someone special over the weekend.

I am also fortunate to have a someone special both for weekends and every other day of the week. (Actually, why haven’t I got a single gay reader? Aren’t I catering enough for the gay blog-reader? I might have to accuse myself of discrimination and take myself to court and win a huge settlement – either in or out of court will do – from, erm, myself.) I think what unites homos and heteros, in the relationship stakes, is that your significant other demands presents, especially if your latest bout of leaving the house has involved the showing of passports and gravity-defiance in a large, iron bird. I do sometimes stretch out my hands – I too am guilty of this Geschenkslust (as it might easily not be called in German) – in hope when I know the Russian has been no further than Humboldt. My hopes are rarely rewarded, except perhaps by a letter, usually a bill, collected from the box downstairs, for which I then have to dance. (Do folk know this Russian tradition? It’s up there with no-empty-bottles-on-tables and sitting-in-silence-before-you-go-on-a-journey on the guaranteedtoputyouinabadmoodonceinawhile-o-meter.)

The attentive reader will have noticed that I have recently undertaken a journey to the other end of the world. The much-discussed and much-researched Bodyshop-Tierack present-distance-ratio study proves beyond doubt that it is tantamount to treason to return from such a long journey without a substantial, at least in size if not in any sort of value, moral or financial, present. Now as hols go, mine to NZ was a fairly busy one and certainly didn’t contain any shopping windows, and I don’t leisure-shop anyway. Not because I’m against shopping, per se. I’m just always too skint. Or, rather, don’t have money to that much splash around on unnecessaries and when there is spare cash, I’d much rather spend it on practicalities than a dishcloth with New Zealand written on it, say. (Although that dishcloth has come in very handy.) But my last day did see me dashing up and down Queen St. in Auckland, frantically looking for something appropriate according to the aforementioned Bodyshop-Tierack scale. “Hm. I could spend rather a lot of money, which would do very nicely for an electricity bill,” I thought, unromantically, “on that carving in a fairly ugly dark brown wood with bits of mother-of-pearl for eyes. That would be just the inconveniently wrong size to fit between any Billy-sized – yes, sorry – shelf-gaps and then have to sit on the floor somewhere, like the wrong-sized chess set (also in a quite ugly dark brown wood, actually) (but this isn’t part of what I thought in the shop) (keep up!) we have.” But I failed to have my lovely plastic dollars lured away from me and thought I’d risk it and go on a last-minute, whirlwind, airport-based, present-finding mission. “Buggery fuck, only more carvings, only twice as expensive. Buggery flipping fuck. That’d cover my medical insurance as well. Flip. No, I can’t just give him a tube of sweets, even if they are doused in unbelievably healthy NZ manuka honey. That’s too piddling.” I flipped and buggered on, internally, dismissing anything with a fern-leaf or flightless-bird motif. It was beginning to be a bit of a nail-biter. I might have to turn up at home with a couple of bottles of Weissbier and say I’d bought them at an underpublicised yet awfully interesting German colony on a remote part of the Middle Island called… Germany. I went into another shop, grazing my limbs on carved wood as I went. And there it was. A Body-Shop-gift-set-sized gift-set of black – natch – men’s grooming products. The black wasn’t just a gimmick, though, and there wasn’t a fern leaf or haka-performing rugby-player in sight. No, these items were black because they were made out of Rotorua mud. Indeed, the shaving “foam” item is called, simply, Mud, which is nothing if not honest. It and the other two items are all as thick and gloopy as you’d expect muddy wares to be and actually aren’t strictly black. They’re more, say, elephant. Or tanned elephant. And, thankfully, don’t stink of poo, as Rotorua does.

But boys, what a brilliant, accidental, last-minute-panic-present buy they were. Firstly, the Russian was suitably impressed by the packaging and the exotic-looking-ness of the purchased wares for me to have passed the present-test with flying colours. I’d forgotten about them since, only occasionally having a fond reminisce when I see the tanned-elephant soap sitting nicely (and, indeed, wash my hands with it). But the non-foam shaving foam is marvellous. Get ye all to New Zealand immediately to buy shaving mud. I’ve never had a better shave and feel like I’ve drunken a bulgakovian elixir that has made me young and gorgeous once more. (Not that I wasn’t that much it already, you understand.) But boys, honestly, we are being hoodwinked. I know all those Gillette boys have got perfect bodies and ideal bathrooms and are sometimes even David Beckham, but fling out those products immediately and go mud. It’s where the future’s at.

Have a good weekend, sirs.

Шутки в сторону February 17, 2006

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Ouch! Вова серьёзничает.

Minsk squib February 17, 2006

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Both RFE/RL and the beeb are reporting arrests at last night’s demonstration in Minsk. What they also report, and what breaks my heart, is that the demonstration had 200 participants. Now I understand folk are perhaps rather afraid to demonstrate, and that the demonstration hadn’t been given the official go-ahead, so potential participants half-knew they’d be asking for trouble, aber 200? Isn’t that just a little bit piffling? It’s not the stuff the Orange Revolution was made of. Which makes you wonder just how many people give a toss. Is this apathy the Belarusian equivalent of Britons having speed-humps as their number one global concern? Or, as a relative of mine once bravely declared, “I’ll stick my neck out on which party to vote for just as soon as I know which one will keep my pavement clean of dog poo.” Yet one can hardly equate British and Belarusian levels of apathy, or at least give them the same reasons to exist. In Britain, rightly or wrongly, many may feel that it doesn’t make an awful lot of difference who’s in power. No-one could possibly argue that that’s what people think in Belarus, surely. Yet so much seems to indicate that the majority just don’t give a toss. Indeed, the one Belarusian I know in Berlin, a doctor of chemistry who’s been in Germany for a million years, only this weekend told me what a stooge Milinkevich was and that Lukashenka is a diamond geezer and man of the people.

Well, I’m still holding out for a March miracle, and Belarusians can hardly be blamed for being ill-informed politically. But the ‘revolution’, when it comes, and whatever form it takes, can only really be generated from within.

Еўрапейскае Радыё для Беларусі February 16, 2006

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You’d think, if you flicked on to Еўрапейскае Радыё для Беларусі, as I’m sure many of you probably might, easily, that there wasn’t a country to save. Honestly. I crank it up, expecting to be regaled with 3-hour lectures on how it is our civic responsibility to do away with the last dictatorship in Europe and what do I get? The Bee Gees! Surely you mean BG? No, not the БелГазета or even the Беларуская (сацыял-дэмакратычная партыя) Грамада. No, the flipping brothers Gibb. (And I don’t even think it was Stayin’ Alive. Or Tragedy.) Still, today is the 16th of the month and, in spite of a rash of corkingly good, bloggable stories on the front page of the beeb – David Irving, Haiti (is there anywhere on earth you’d less like to live?), various grimmery from Iraq, Somalis literally dying of thirst – I’m going to stick with Belarus. Well, there’s only one more solidarity day before we can hope for a miracle in March so light your candles and yearn as hard as you can – positively strain those yearning sinews – for Lukashenka’s demise.

A poofter’s work… February 15, 2006

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…is never done. Or so it seemed. Today, at least. If it wasn’t one housewifely task it was another. Thank heavens I am – selectively, and temporarily – unemployed, until Monday.

Yet it’s a sure sign of blogger’s block when you think of writing about how many washes you put on and how cooking was a chore. And yet I like to convince myself that the everyday makes a riveting read. Perhaps not. This is like reading about paint drying. For which I apologise.

So how to sex a post up? Talk of quiet February days might not do the trick… But isn’t February rather a spare month anyway? It can’t even decide how many days to have, often. I propose, in the name of going metric, and for simplicity’s and standardisation’s sake, it being abolished along with November – another utterly pointless month – and us having ten 35-day months with a two-week period called Yearmiddle, or something catchy like that, stuck between months five and six when we all do nothing but lap up the sun and be nice to each other. Those in the Antipodes, southern Africa and the bottom chunk of South America could have a Christmas-style Mittelfest to make sure we were all happy.

There we are. That’s what to write about when you have blogger’s block. Revolutionising the calendar. If there are no takers here, maybe I can get on to Turkmenbashi and give it a whirl with him.

Them There Eyes February 14, 2006

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So I go into my booth. I flick through the songs available on the Bontempi Karaokatron Instamatic. I press the big red button when I’ve aligned the green arrow alongside Them There Eyes, as previously evinced by Billie Holiday. I rid my throat. Look out to my public of twelve drunk, almost naked 17-year-old girls and a couple of earnest-looking folk clearly from the music industry smoking thoughtfully, checking their mobiles for messages and biting their nails. I brace myself.

“I fell in love with you the first time I looked into them there eyes,” I start, with less than a flourish. The ill-clad girls whoop supportively. The overweight gentleman of the serious twosome mops his brow and looks around as if expecting the police to come in and arrest him. He then looks back, catches my eye and gives me a knowing grin and chuckles to himself. “Fuck, I’m in there,” I think. “You’ve got a certain lil’ cute way of flirtin’ with them there eyes,” I bellow on, settling into my task and sensing an involuntary wiggle of hip and a clicking of the fingers on my left hand set in. I’m belting it out now. “They make me feel happy, They make me feel blue, No stallin’, I’m fallin’.” I can tell they’re loving it. The girls have called in some of their mates from the drink-as-much-bacardi-as-you-like-for-a-tenner bar next door and the overweight gent has exchanged a whisper with the strict-looking woman with stiff hair and too much lipstick who makes up the other half of the non-teenage contingent. “They sparkle, They bubble, They’re gonna get you in a whole lot of trouble.” My shoulders are going. I’ve raised an arm in the air. I’ve even closed an eye. I’m beginning to feel regret that I’m drawing to a close. I want more. They want more. I’ve spotted the first homosexual in the crowd, out on a girls’ night out with his mates. He’s suppressed the bitchy gene and is whooping supportively too. “Maybe you think I’m just flirtin’, Maybe you think I’m all lies, Just because I get romantic when I gaze in, Them there eyes.”

I feel a rush and a shudder when I’m done. I feel I’ve poured my heart out to a group of strangers, that I’ve just stripped on stage, that I’ve let folk into my inner sanctum and they’ve come in and accepted me with open hearts. What a great feeling. I close the booth behind me and make way for a plain, portly girl thundering mikewards with an inane grin on her face and intent on doing damage. I smile embarrassedly to those who’d so generously applauded. “You were great,” I hear shouted in a Lancashire accent from under a springy, yellow perm. I decide I’ll get me a Weissbier.

But the two non-teenagers are blocking my path. “Hallo, I’m Martin von Steckelbrücker. Here is my card. I work in music. I liked your voice, your way. I think we could maybe do something.” “Oh, Martin, please, this is so not for the German market,” interrupts the stiff-haired, belipsticked woman. A hand is thrust towards me. “The name’s Matilda Steinthorpe Fernandez III. You need to gimme a call when you get the chance, OK? I don’t do this for just anyone. You need to gimme that call. Martin’s good, but he’s not what you need,” she says confidently, coldly and perfectly happy to ignore Martin’s continued generous physical presence. I look sympathetically at Martin. He is sweaty, but unswayed, and already gazing lovingly at his mobile again. Matilda’s won this fight hands down. “Honey, I can’t stick around, but listen to what I say. You gimme that call. What’s your name, by the way?” “Oh, yes, it’s Broke. Inberlin.” “OK, Mr. Inberlin, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna walk over to that bar, we’re gonna get you a drink, then I’m gonna give you a few words of advice, then I’m gonna get me a cab outta here and you’re gonna ring me tomorrow but not too early. I don’t like too early.”

It’s all happening so quickly I don’t even have the chance to think how odd this all is. And what luck I’ve had. But, hang on a sec, isn’t that Brad Pitt over there? What, and now the whole All Black squad too, without shirts and running towards me with flirtatious intent? Oh not a dream. Not a fucking dream. How fucking boring. Oh bugger. I should have known when the bacardi was being sold in pounds, not euros. And why were there Lancashire accents in Berlin? And no-one’s called Steinthorpe. Much less the third. And no wonder the Weissbier was shit.

Oh god, and here comes my mother…

Why bother? February 14, 2006

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No, no, no, not a misery post because I’m anticipating a non-avalanche of anonymous missives in the post later today. (Or are the postmen on strike?) Or because I’m in an anti-blog mood again. Or because I realised my home life was too odd when I went into the kitchen a few hours ago and saw the Russian sanding – yes, sanding. I didn’t know we kept sand-paper lying around – a chopping board frantically. No, none of those things. It’s a paaaaaaaaasitive ‘why bother?’ It’s a why-bother-your-arse-looking-for-any-other-music-to-play-ever when you’re in possession of ‘A Fine Romance’ by Billie Holiday? I mean, what’s the use of searching? This IS perfection. Fantastic voice. Fantastic range of emotions. Suitable for weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs. Suitable for groovy friends (if you have any), boring friends, mothers, neighbours. Suitable for dinner time, breakfast time. Suitable in company. Suitable alone. Suitable loud. Suitable quiet. My god, Billie, but you’re suitable, which sounds more like damning with faint praise than it ought to.

I mean, I have actually been amusedly distracted by this (the song, not the video) this evening but only because I was having an amused reminisce at two adults enjoying a children’s video recently while the children stared bemusedly on and looked around for dangerous, sharp objects to play with. But I couldn’t put it on if my mother was coming to dinner. Or if Madonna was popping over. Or if I was cooking elevenses for a rugby team, say. Whereas Billie would suit all three.

I challenge anyone to name me an album with a better collection of blinding songs on than this one. Go on. I dare you.

Saturday afternoons February 11, 2006

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Berlin Diary recommends ways to spend your Saturday if at a loose end (before wrapping himself back up in his duvet and going back to bed). I had a spontaneous bout of binge-drinking-&-smoking yesterday in a ludicrously cheap bar – I half-wanted to tell them to put their prices up – across the road from the Polish Losers, which was, babyishly, closing when we trolled up at 2am to get our evening in full swing and have a computerful of translations to do so will also be going for the lazy Saturday option. Anyway, as I psyche myself up, if that’s the right expression, to get down to a good translating sesh, I’ve got the BBC on the internet to lull me to distraction. I’ve got two options – the World Service and Radio 4 – and flick between them when one becomes too unbearable to listen on to. Mr. Dimbleby’s phone-in after Any Questions normally becomes unlistenable after a while so I flicked over to the World Service and was provided with a little bit of joy. Oddly, by football, a sport which I don’t normally get majorly excited about (until the boys swap shirts at the end of a Ukraine-Russia international, zum Beispiel). But it was strangely lovely and soothing to stumble across the commentary for Wigan v Liverpool. Not for the sport, exactly, although I could have an OK flashback to vaguely grim February Saturday afternoons in the 1970s and images of 22 gentlemen running frantically, pink-leggedly and tight-shortedly around a muddy pitch. No, more for the commentary. The commentators were two. They’re probably megastars although I lost track of sports commentators in the days of Frank most-unlikely-five-hundred-in-a-bed-sex-and-cocaine-romp-participant-
ever Bough and Dickie Davies. But, at a guess, it was the BBC wanting to combine the old with the new, or the young with the experienced. One sounded 32, vaguely public school, passionate when strictly necessary and measured and deferential most of the time. Perhaps he’d been employed in case the BBC decides to use the commentaries in English-as-a-foreign-language exercises at a later date. Football and RP in one fell swoop. The other sounded sort of Ron Atkinson age, was probably a manager and definitely a former player who spoke in a Yorkshire-ish say-what-I-like-and-like-what-I-say matter-of-fact kind of way and only just hid his resentment at being stuck in a glass box with some posh whippersnapper who’d have been more at home commenting croquet than footie. (It might have been Ron Atkinson, actually.) But they soldiered on. Posh boy, “Oh, I say, that was an awfully good headed clearance, but I don’t think that substituting decision is going to do a jolly lot of good for their attacking potential.” Atkinsonian. “Don’t talk soft lad. It wunt (wasn’t, ed.) a flippin’ header. He made no friggin’ contact. Now, what iz (he’s, ed.) gunta (going to, ed.) do is put Platty up front wi’ Gomez de los Rios and…” And so on. Lovely. But radio and man can not live by commentary alone, and sure enough it got spoiled by Chris Waddle or someone coming on for the post-mortem. And I had to flick back to Radio 4, where Death of a Salesman gave me BSE within seconds, so, in a temporary snub to the BBC, I had to go for emergency last resort ERB (European Radio for Belarus), which has one minute of news every three hours and then non-stop appalling pop along the lines of Whitney Houston, Gloria Estefan and the odd token song from the former Soviet Union. Anyway, the passion and life-and-death seriousness with which Posh Boy and Atkinsonian discussed the footie had me gripped. One can get serious about anything. About football. Stamp-collecting. God. Timetables on the Helsinki Metro. And I suppose all these passions are rightly justified. So I’m now actively looking for a passion. Then I’ll pursue it. Stick with it. Get super-passionate about it. Make a job and a living out of it. And we’ll all live happily ever after.

OK, back to work and the great search…

Sport, cars and the DDR February 10, 2006

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Perhaps in the wimpish knowledge that I’m in for an unsexy weekend of translation with few windows for fun, a bit of light, blokish bloggage to keep me entertained.

Well, it’s a veritable sportathon of an evening in the making. The penalties in the final of the African Cup of Nations have just got underway and I’m reliably informed by the monotone Eurosport commentators that we’ll be dashing straight over to Turin for the Olympic opening ceremony the second one team has covered themselves in glory in Cairo.

Now over on the south coast, Herr Holland is using the occasion of the Winter Olympics and Britain’s likelihood of only winning medals awarded 80 years too late to dare cast a shadow over some of the DDR’s humble sporting achievements. So what if Marita Koch still holds the world record for 400m and so what if that record has stood since 1903 and so what if it’s faster than the men’s record by a good minute and a half? And what if she has a slight hormonal imbalance and a full beard? This is just envy from those caustic Brits at their empire going to pot and them not having had a moment of sporting glory since we Commies put on a good show for them in Moscow in 1980 and made sure none of those other Westerners turned up. We invaded Afghanistan for you, England! Don’t you understand?

And why bring our lovely Trabi into it?

Aber, while I’m on, and while we’re on cars, IHMN did once declare, where I declared a Trabiliebe that she – if indeed she is a she; it’s all a bit of a mystery, the IHMN-Identität – was a fan of the Invacar, and I enthused, I now think wrongly, that there was a no-doubt Ossi Invacar on the very street where I live. Well, on a bit of further research, i.e. I walked past it today, it turns out the car is a Ligier Prima, and might have nothing to do with invalidity at all. And is, presumably, French. Anyway, here’s a snap of one. Pretty fucking snazzy, eh?

OK, enough of pretending to be a het. Well done Egypt on winning a not-that-exciting final on penalties. And well done Slovakia on having the best-looking flag-bearer in the rather-more-interesting Olympic opening ceremony. I can just sense that the curlers are going to do it for us again…

Don’t work, just blog February 9, 2006

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Actually, I have to thank a bit of comment spam for prompting me herewards as it was sent to the best man’s speech post from a while back and I need to say a few post-speech thank-yous.

Well, first of all, I want to thank my mom and my dad… No, I don’t. What bollocks am I talking? I’ll leave that sort of thanking to Gwyneth, blubbing and all. No, I want to thank my intuition for dashing to the internet in times of crisis and putting out a bloggerly SOS for a bit of speechy advice. Pavvers, you really did save my bacon with this post. Not only was it printed out and taken to the other end of the world, it rocked me to sleep in the panic-stricken nights as the duty drew near. As I thought to myself, “I dunno what to do, I dunno what to do,” your words calmed me down and lulled me into an utterly false but necessary sense of security. By the time the big day drew near, I had your 11-step guide down to a t (and my speech off by heart, as you recommended. I had a cheat-sheet just in case but it got barely a glance). And I also want to thank all the people who commented on this post, especially anonymous Jon, who, I think, is a Kiwi in Australia. I followed your advice more closely than you might care to believe a blogger should, and it worked a treat. I went for a pretty unsalacious brand of speech in the end. Genitalia didn’t even get a look-in. And it was all received okayly enough. (But I won’t give up the day-job.) (Once I find a day-job.) (Plus I should thank all children present in the audience who laughed throughout anyway.)

But being best man, eh? Who’d bloody warrant it? And in NZ, you’re actually not best man, but MC, which means not just a speech but all sorts of responsibilities. Announcements, ushering folk in and out, being bossed around by the venue’s bitchy queen maître d’ (and, almost amusingly, having orange juice spilt onto your crisp white shirt within one second of arrival by him so being stained throughout. That calmed my nerves, obv). Quite a fuss. Meaning I was stone cold sober until well into the festivations. You see. No respect for tradition.

Anyway, I think that is NZ well and truly done now, blog-wise. You can expect me to get back to my deeply intellectual and philosophical entries any minute now…

Live porn (and other scenery) February 9, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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It’s the only way to describe it. Or live catwalk, I suppose, but it was so much more hormonal than a catwalk. So much less sexless. And to think I had been half-prepared to spend my whole two weeks in Auckland.

My vague travels took me up and down the North Island. The wedding – I need to do a separate thank you speech to my speech assistants; you helped more than you know – was bang in the middle of my trip so time was of the essence. A quick jaunt down to Rotorua to snort in the earth’s smells and see it bubbling and making odd colours and to experience a geyser spurt – aber how could they know it would be 10.15am every day, my brother-in-law and I puzzled. Sister accused us of cynicism, and said it was a marvellous coincidence. Bar of soap bunged in at 10.14am – that’s how they know. I felt so butch, almost heterosexual, to be on the side of science – was truncated by an urge for the sea. The Lurch-like hotel-gent with black teeth (and who, between you and me, looked a bit like a kiddy-fiddler, or what a kiddy-fiddler should look like) informed us of the whale before parliament and recommended we dash due north (or thereabouts) till we came to the coast near Mt. Maunganui, New Zealand’s North Island’s very own Gibraltar, but without the monkeys (but with sheep). We were told when we got back to Auckland that we were in the most horribly built-up bit of coast there was, but it was still gorgeous to us. And that was without the live porn…

Oh, the live porn. I see video cameras do have a purpose after all. If only I could have captured that moment of beauty. As we fiddled with car-seats – yes, two youngsters on board – and braced ourselves for the drive home – gorgeous, incidentally, through some lovely gorge or other – a vision appeared from one of the hotels. At first, I thought it was just going to be one, random, drop-your-Calvins gorgeous gent in rather excellent shape drifting beachwards wearing nothing but a towel. But then more and more of them appeared. Hundreds. Thousands. Millions of them. OK, well, a couple of dozen, say. And I think they must have been a sports team. Those not wearing the uniform towel were in black shorts with the fern leaf and New Zealand written on them. Was it the All Blacks? Size-wise they were about right, I reckoned, but would rugby players have such ludicrously good bodies? I mean not just big and beefy, with huge lallies, but perfectly sculpted, gay-porn, gay-fantasy, gay-scene-magazine, super-gym-fit vision-bodies. Which later got me thinking that perhaps it really was porn, or porn in the making. Perhaps one of them had been declared an ounce overweight and they had to go down to the beach for a bit of a frolic to get an errant muscle in order and get them in the mood for the shoot later. Not that I let my mind run away with me, you understand. But it was a vision. A vision. (Double vision.) (Or perhaps another Cockney-Maori-style hallucination.)

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, this is a travel post. Dunno if I’ve got the energy to go on. Well, having splashed in the sea and seen the earth’s crust at its thinnest, I was already pretty chuffed to bollocks with what NZ had to offer, all the while remembering the mantra chanted at me when I dared declare I wasn’t going to make it to the South Island. “North Island good. South Island better.” And woe is me for that. But I was perfectly happy with drives through rolling, or rather, bumpy, landscape with the odd gorge here and a lake there. I couldn’t have been happier.

But jaunt two did up the beauty ante, it has to be said. This was the dash to Wellington for some lucky other tourists to get the ferry to the fabled South. Lake Taupo is a fuck-off huge lake smack bang in the middle of the North Island with the cleanest water I’ve ever seen. And the drive skirted the lake for a lovely long stretch of wonderful, pristine views. And from there southwards, it just got better and better, with three massive, snow-capped volcanoes and the so-called Desert Road leading you through a heathery, heathy, moor-like bleakscape. Lovely. And so empty. And all the time we thought, “We’re on the M1. We’re on the M1.” And here is where you feel NZers are at their luckiest. A country roughly the size of the UK of stunning variety and beauty with a decent(ish) climate – there were some pretty freezing days for the height of summer, it has to be said – and only 4 million souls (and that was only 3 million till not that long ago but immigration has accelerated).

And then even though what you go to New Zealand for is not really that which has been shaped by man’s own hand, the towns do have their interest too. Lots of the little towns you drive through seem much of a muchness – a single-storey main street with a few other streets running off them. Some of these are fairly charmless – such as the one that became Hobbiton, Matamata – but others have something that appeals. Taihape, for example, NZ’s welly-throwing capital and major farming country, grabbed my imagination. The single-storeyness means that however cloying (or not) a town is, you never feel majorly hemmed in by it. So on Taihape’s main street, which felt just like a one-horse town in an American Western, with shops with nice, old stencilled letters and a minorly grand town hall, you could still see the hills around the town. And even here, where you felt vaguely in the middle of nowhere – not by NZ standards, presumably, as this town was on the M1 (or SH1), but by our crowded standards – it all still felt nice and prosperous and calm and happy. (It also happened to be a gorgeous day.) And then, boring old city-boy that I am, I was in for one last pleasant man-made surprise: Wellington. What a lovely, lovely city. Again, a fantastic, stunning location and the city prettily stretches out into the hills around the harbour. Lovely atmosphere, lovely views from on high, lovely botanical gardens, lovely museums, lovely places to be at the harbour (as in Auckland), lovely everything. A real little gem, the world’s most southerly capital…

Which reminds me. A gazillion times I’ve wanted to get a raging, heated debate going here on which city is nicer – London or Berlin. Well, all my many millions of readers with a knowledge of both have already answered so that’s nipped that in the bud. (Berlin won a resounding victory, by the way.) So, Berlin Bear, let’s do an NZ version instead, rather than an Anglo-German one. What’s it to be? Auckland or Wellington? Wellington wins hands down for me.

Which also reminds me, and just to put a drop of tar in the tub of honey, as our Russian friends say, towns where I do not want to live: Palmerston North and Levin. I think that’s where all the NZ chavs had been banished all along…

Aotearoa February 8, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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OK, that may be being a bit wank, but just calling a blog post New Zealand might have been just a tad too prosaic. So Aotearoa it is.

I’ve been resisting the (non-)urge to do a post-NZ Lonely-Planet-style write-up because, well, Lonely Planet could do it so much better. And I have no intention of giving you tips on where you can stay for $50 a night in Wanganui, for example. (Mind you, if you’re smelly and sweaty and have a night-bus to Auckland from Wellington ahead of you, you can pop into the backpackers’ place across from the main station there and have a shower for $2, or for free, presumably, if you want to be dishonest and just walk in.) (I’ll leave that sort of behaviour to the 20-somethings.) But then Berlin Bear’s mentions of Waitangi Day and all my fond recent memories of what a wonderful discovery NZ was mean I just have to give the country – or pretty small island, as the Australian woman next to me on the plane from Dubai to Brisbane called it – a bit of a mention.

Now we all have, presumably, a mental image of a place we’re going to visit before we go, unless you win a trip to, say, the Zagros Mountains departing tomorrow from the vouchers you’ve saved up for two-and-a-half years from your PG Tips packets. And, obviously, as a Brit, going to NZ, I’d wondered about how familiar it might all seem, and would it be, as I stated somewhere earlier, just like England but with wooden houses and decent weather? Or, as I’d thought out loud somewhere or other once, at a New Zealander, would it be like England only a bit more civilised, vaguely Scandinavianised? (The NZer scoffed at the thought, but, I think, took it as a semi-compliment.)

Which is why it was such a pleasant surprise that NZ wasn’t like England at all. Not at all. I mean, the people were, in ways, but not the place. This is largely, I suppose, down to location, location, location. Auckland was so lush. So lusciously green. Not in a Hyde Park way, or even a leafy suburb way. No, in a Caribbean way, or South American way. (I have been to neither the Caribbean nor South America.) But when you get a good view of bits of Auckland rising in the distance, white houses dotted among lush hills, I had flashbacks to pictures accompanying news reports from Port Moresby, PNG or Georgetown, Guyana. Which was such a pleasant surprise. I knew I was abroad after all.

Another very pleasant surprise was the absolute zero chav factor. I repeat that NZers, at least in as far as you get to know folk on a two-week holiday, seemed pretty much like Englanders to me in outlook, philosophy, humour. But it’s a more classless place. (I think this is actually to England’s advantage. You can’t beat a bit of a class system for social interest.) NZ isn’t, of course, a socialist paradise, but I didn’t see any great difference between rich and poor, between nice area and shit area, between chav and non-chav. In fact, but maybe this was because it was summer and everyone looked fantastic and sporty and healthy, I didn’t see a single obvious chav as hard as I sought in all Auckland. Where were they hiding? Where were the vulgarians? Or has the result of the colonial project been to utterly civilise all those folk who’ve made the adventurous move to the other side of the world?

Which is not to mention the Maoris, of course, and the immigrants to New Zealand from much closer to home, folk from the Polynesian Islands, and the fairly recent influx of immigrants from China, Korea and South East Asia. Statistics have a clouding effect all of their own. I remember hearing before I went that Maoris are about 15% of the population. Which sounds like nothing, doesn’t it? Well, not nothing, but not much. So I was pretty surprised at just how multikulti New Zealand is. As Berlin Bear says in his Waitangi Day post, Maori-Pakeha relations are still a pretty fraught subject, not least the Waitangi Treaty itself, but in the day-to-day, relations seem pretty normal, intermingling seems the norm and there certainly seems to be no such thing as ghettoes where the non-Whites live. Then there’s been so much intermarriage and, as I believe it’s technically called, intershagging, that every Maori is likely to have a drop of Pakeha blood in him anyway. (This gives rise to a massive range of different looks, by the way, amongst New Zealanders. An awfully good-looking bunch.) And then one of my first Maori moments was when, having first arrived and desperately trying to stay awake till evening time in an empty house, I flicked on the TV and watched the news and a Maori with a cockney accent was telling a story about how he’d just saved his children from a shark. Maybe this was a jet-lag-induced hallucination.

Which is also not to say that whitey NZers set out to create a non-England, or, probably better to say, non-Scotland when they put down roots on the other side of the world. Of course they didn’t. How could you? You can’t create something other than that which you have known. But, obviously, with time, this adapts to local needs. Why build a big, fuck-off, monstrous brick house when a simpler wooden one will do and protect you from the elements just as well? Or why go in for built-up cities when space is there aplenty? I suppose this is all part of what makes me feel that the people were familiar, i.e. the descendants of Europeans don’t seem to have changed much, culturally, in the last 200 or so years, but the place isn’t. So the people have changed the place, definitely, but, in a way, the place hasn’t that much changed the people.

But then what had make me think of Scandinavia in pre-NZ thoughts of NZ? Was I barking up the wrong tree? Or had my brief interaction with NZers made me think, unknowingly, “Hmm, that seems like a country where the people are pretty much like us but where there’s no major grimmery and no obvious underclass.” Well, dunno where it came from, but I still think it. It can’t be put down to the system of government, as NZ is a pretty non-statist place, as far as I could understand. It’s no Sweden. The system of state welfare has been whittled away as far as possible. It must be that classlessness. A wealthy place, a small population and a peaceful environment all seem to have made a nation of middle class folk. There’s even the culture of the “bach” – pronounced batch (in NZese, dunno about in the original) – the summer cottage on the beach. (Bach is Welsh, by the way, not German.) And a quiet appreciation, I thought, for the good life. Yes, working and securing yourself a good, comfortable life. But also as much sun, sea, good food and good wine as is decently possible. This was summer in Denmark.

Which is all nice. Nice to be surprised by a place. (And I haven’t even talked about the place yet. How beautiful it is. How lucky NZers are. How varied it is. How friendly in an unwank way the people are. How fucking good the wine is.) When you’ve met the people, you think you can guess what their country’s going to be like. But I was pretty wrong on most counts. (Actually, I had a fairly similar experience with Ireland, of all places, a country which I should know both because of proximity but also because I have a gaggle of relatives there. But when I went to Dublin as an 18(or 19)-year-old, I was completely struck by how unlike the people it was.)

OK, enough bollocks. More on some of the beauty of NZ later.

Blog-a-job February 7, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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I think I’m going to have to get a job. A real one. A 9-to-5-er. I’m sure they have their merits. Firstly, there’s the sanity, which is to be much prized. Getting out of the house and having to talk to Jenny from personnel or Darren from accounts is a surefire way of keeping Alzheimer’s at bay, I’m convinced. Then there’s the regular income and, presumably, knowing you’ll be able to pay your bills on time. That must be a comfort. I recommend all freelancers to employ a heavy at the start of their “careers”. Not getting paid promptly is the scourge of all us freelancing types. Having done your scrap of work, you want to be paid your honest crust without having to send 100 e-mails and make 40 phone calls for it. (Actually, even we get to talk to Darren from accounts occasionally.)

But, anyway, this is all peripheral stuff. The most important thing, I think, about having a regular 9-to-5-er must be the blogging windows. Trouble is with this freelancing lark that either you have quiet periods, in which case you feel too guilty to blog, or you’re rushed off your feet, and don’t have the option. It’s so rarely just right. For some reason, I’m imagining a nice office job would provide the perfect blogging environment. I have no real evidence for this, except I suspect a number of blogs I read are written in the workplace – this could easily be bollocks – and judging from e-mail lore, I know that there’s not a cat in hell’s chance of getting one from most people outside office hours.

And then I love to blog. I’m prepared to sacrifice the great freedoms of being my own boss, of being able to get enough sleep, of not having to herd myself on to public transport for the sake of a good dose of bloggage. I could hardly enjoy my (actually very enjoyable) hol on the other side of the world for thinking of all the blogging I could be doing. (None of which has come to fruition, natch.) And the quality of my work no doubt suffers when it precludes bloggery as all I’m thinking is of dashing through it as quick as poss so I can write a few words of piffle once I’m done. (This reminds me of one of those other wicked addictions I used to – he says, lyingly – suffer from: smoking. I began to notice that I had stopped enjoying food and was racing through it so I could have the post-prandial fag. The sacrilege!) So I need to get a job. Hmm.

Truth be told, I’ve been thinking I should get a real job for about 4 or 5 years now. Freedom, like comfort, no doubt, ultimately becomes addictive. And I have actually got the Russian at home so Alzheimer’s isn’t really the imminent threat I claim it to be. And then job ads make the whole process that much more discouraging. If a job ad nicely said, “Nice chap required to sit around and do something languagey for us,” I’d dash for the phone. But when they claim I have to be a team-player and have good something-or-other skills and be able to cope with pressure, I think, “Maybe I’ll put it off for another millennium or so”. Which is not to say – much – I don’t have all those skills. I’m almost half-convinced I might easily have them, or one of them, but having to go and convince a putative Jenny-from-personnel of those qualities in the flesh… Well, I think I’d probably just laugh – or puke – in her face.

Plus, no-one’s got a job in Berlin anyway, have they? I’d love to be headhunted for something solitary, lazy and fantastically well-paid. My first job in Russia did mostly involve just drinking tea and gossiping, which was fun, but it wasn’t solitary and didn’t pay much, to put it mildly. But I’m sure that opportunity of a lifetime is just around the corner. Blog-checker. Blog-reviewer. Blog-writer. Something like that. And when it comes, I’m going to blog like mental. Just you wait and see…

OK, back to my red wine (and post-prandial…).

TV chefs February 4, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Lukeski is clearly semi-serious about becoming a Jamie Oliver with a tortured, Slavic soul as he has started putting up recipes on his site. Either that or he’s settling down. Anyway, we’re a bit of a foody household here. Not majorly foody, but we rarely eat shit. We do occasionally eat very simply and rushedly, if time or effort is at a premium, and yesterday was one of those days. As I sat beavering away – not – at a translation, the Russian slaved in the kitchen and managed to create delicious smells when it in fact turned out that he was just rustling up some mushrooms for us to throw on top of pasta. Perfectly nice, but I had visions of him coming up with various dead animals. Maybe he’d scoffed them all in the process. Anyway, perfectly nice mushrooms on pasta. Perfectly good lunch.

This morning, both up at crack of dawn, for no good reason, the subject was raised, by the Russian, of what a perfect person he is. Gold, he called himself, if only I’d just open my eyes and see the obvious. His speech reminded me a touch of Mrs. Hfuhruhurr’s wife in The Man with Two Brains who, while being an utter cow, lists all the things she does for him. “I’m your cook, your housekeeper, your lover.” He then listed the delicious lunch. “Was it a Jamie Oliver recipe?” I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. The vagaries of Russian mean that Oliver must decline, whereas Jamie won’t. “Olivera?” he asked back, sleepily. “Famous TV chef,” I snored back. He didn’t seem to have noticed Mr. Oliver’s impact on the world, and more power to his elbow for that. But he had heard of one British TV chef, or so he claimed. “No, it was that female TV chef of yours, the black one.” Could he possibly, in just our few years of acquaintance and with only three trips to England to his name, have become so well informed that he even knew about Rustie Lee? I couldn’t believe it, and let him muddle on for a while, wondering if he had somehow got Oprah mixed up in his mind with Englishness and TV cookery. “The one whose recipes your sister was using for Christmas dinner,” he trudged on. “Delia Smith?” “Yes, that’s the one. Black. Big.” I suppose I should almost find the colour-blindness encouraging.

Zagros mountains February 4, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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One of the most beautiful things I saw on my trip to New Zealand was Iran, which makes me think all things must be better seen from above than from within. I certainly did coo with awe at many of the things I saw in New Zealand, but I think I was even more awe-struck on the flight home when flying over the Zagros mountains. I think I need to start an awareness-raising campaign for the Zagros. I mean, no-one’s bloody heard of them, have they? And yet they were breathtakingly gorgeous. One of my many flights on the way back home set off from Dubai. Now on the way there, I hadn’t had a good window view and only happened to catch a view of these mountains as I waited for the loo. Disoriented and unaware that we had crossed or were about to cross sea, I assumed the mountains I saw were in the UAE. But the journey back gave me a prime view. It was the best film I had ever seen.

As we left the UAE coastline behind and flew over lovely calm seas, I thought how dreary it was that cloud should so soon come to spoil the view. And then thought, “But is that cloud?” And it wasn’t. It was parched earth. It was southern Iran. And only remained flat and parched and colourless for about a billionth of a second before stunningly wonderful jagged dry mountains loomed into view. I was hooked, and it helped me avoid conversation with my effusive German banker neighbour.

Now I know Iran is huge, but I started worrying that the poor old Iranians must have nowhere to live. The country seemed to be one big mountain range. In the south, they were dry and brown. There seemed to be no life among them. But the odd town would pop up every now and then. And I was trying to remember my Geography classes from school and thinking alluvial plains and lush valleys and that those clever old Iranians must have thought to take shelter there. The mountains (and flight) went on and on, lasting the whole length of Iran. We flew over beautiful canyons and gorges. And the mountains got higher and higher, until they were eventually snow-capped. The clever map in the plane pointed out we’d soon be flying over Shiraz. I expected lush greenery (though not vineyards), but it didn’t materialise.

Romania put in a brave bid to steal the top beauty spot from Iran but didn’t quite pull it off. The Carpathians were also staggering, but not as staggering. And Romania looked familiar and similar to the world I knew, whereas Iran didn’t. Iran is now solidly near the top of the list of utterly unlikely holiday destinations again. Utter beauty.

Considering I vaguely pretend to hate flying, I think I secretly love it. Such long flights were a bit of an adventure in themselves, but I greatly enjoy the unintentional views. A couple of years ago, the Russian and I visited my sister in Barcelona. It was early March, so still arctic here but already warmish there. The city was marvellous in every way – location, looks, food, atmosphere. But the flight home, over the Alps, stole the show. Now I’ve been to the Alps. Twice. And was of course struck by their beauty. But seeing it from 10000m is just 10000 times more wonderful.

Similarly, Auckland’s location, undoubtedly its main selling point, is seen so wonderfully from above. On a narrow isthmus between two harbours with islands dotted all around in pristine seas, it’s a wonderful sight.

Which is not to say, of course, that one should spend one’s holidays flying over places, rather than being in them, but a view from without is just that bit more wonderful than a view from within. Shrinks might agree.

Bureaucracy hotline February 3, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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I was talked into ringing the Russian Embassy this morning on the Russian’s behalf as he is fed up of ringing himself to check whether his passport, for which he applied over four months ago, might soon be available. I thought the trade-off would be that he would then ring my bank(s) to ask them to extend and increase all my overdrafts exponentially, and hence spare me of speaking technical German, but the deal has so far remained decidedly unreciprocated.

Anyway, ringing Russian officialdom is a happy way to spend half a day and avoid doing work. As the phone rang and rang but remained unanswered, or beeped engagedly away, or was put interminably on hold, I had many a pleasant flashback to the days when I would try to get through to the Russian Embassy in London to ask some detail or other about my visa. Again, there’d be almost no hope, it seemed, of ever getting through, but then, all of a sudden, as you were about to put the receiver on the hall floor with the loud-speaker on and go and make a cup of tea, a disembodied, frantic, busy voice would shout, “Allo?” down the phone before unsatisfactorily answering your question and putting the phone down as quickly as possible – probably worried about the bacteria she’d get from the phone – or, alternatively, just putting the phone down and not bothering to deal with you at all.

Today, I eventually got through. The staff here, it turned out, seemed a bit less harried and a tad more polite than in London, or perhaps she’d been on an EU-funded customer service training programme. Or she was just nice. “Hello, can I check whether the passport for X is ready?” Either she had a photographic memory or remembered the surname, but she seemed to know the answer quick as a flash. “Have you phoned since December?” she asked. “I have,” I replied, temporarily becoming the Russian. “Best from now on if, when you ring, you just ask if we’ve had any post from Russia since such and such a date. But we haven’t had anything from Russia since the middle of December.” I took this postal hiatus on the chin without as much as a hint of consternation, surprise or moral defeat in my voice, but did venture to ask if she had any idea of when they might be expecting their next unspeedy dispatch from the snowy wastes of northern Russia. “Oj,” she cooed, homelily. “We never know that. It’s just like a gift when it comes. They put it on the table in front of you. Just like a gift.” And we left it at that, both contentedly and cosily defeated by the unknowability of an unfathomable and hopelessly creaking bureaucracy.