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Luton Airport May 31, 2006

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Oo-ee-oo.

Another jaunt to the kingdom. Family duties. Not a second of free time. OK, a second, when I made my pilgrimage, coldly, to Waterloo Bridge, sucked in the view and got back on public transport to carry on being dutiful.

My flight back was delayed. I sat in Luton Airport for three hours, people-watching. I tried to guess who’d get on the Berlin flight. (This got easier as time went on and I could see the types that were as silent and motionless as long as I was.) It was fun guessing where the non-Berliners were going to. “Quick, Trace, we’ve got to get to gate 25.” (Look up to screen. Gate 25 = Palma de Mallorca. Smug inward satisfaction at having guessed right.) The following eventually made their way to gate 18 to shuffle onto the Berlin flight without a hint of an apology or a free compensatory Easyjet coffee:

1) Every white person with dreadlocks in the airport.

2) Every person under 27 who looked as if they wouldn’t mind participating in a revolution.

3) A fairly hefty proportion of the Luton Airport homosexuals.

4) A swarm of women, lips pursed, with short blond hair and glasses.

5) A couple of businessmen – one ludicrously tall and young-looking in his whistle – who presumably hadn’t been able to book a flight to Frankfurt on time and didn’t realise that it would cost them 700 euros to get from B. to F. with Deutsche Bahn.

6) 14 million Poles.

7) Assorted other wankers.

Still, had my passport checked by a ravishing policeman at Schönefeld with a lovelily sprouting hairy chest and an organ-melting and loin-troubling smile. It’s fucking good to be back.

Christi Himmelfahrt May 25, 2006

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Although I was christened at the tender age of three weeks, I must say I was none the wiser that today was Christi Himmelfahrt until the cashier in my local supermarket wished me a happy holiday yesterday. I, naturally, assumed she just hadn’t taken her lithium or that it was a sneering snide at my only having purchased a packet of fags, and it was dangerously close to the 8pm closing time, but thanked her for her kind words anyway. Holiday? On a Thursday? In late May? You mad old brush. But then a beautiful friend – hereinafter known as the beautiful friend (tbf), perhaps – told me yesterday that today was indeed Christi Himmelfahrt and that folk would be driving round town on their bikes with a siphon coming out of their backpacks delivering beer straight to where it’s meant to go. Which doesn’t sound very religious to me, but then if gorging at Christmas and Easter does the trick, why not at Christi Himmelfahrt too?

I didn’t have a clue what Christi Himmelfahrt translated to either until about 14 seconds ago when I whipped my hefty dictionary out. I’d noticed the word Himmelfahrt before, because, down to a  little bit of linguistic autism, I’d noticed there was another feast day called Mariä Himmelfahrt and it’s not often you get an umlaut on the end of a word. (Unless you have the good fortune to be a Finn, of course. When it’s not really an umlaut anyway.) (Quick Finnish lesson: ‘night’ is ‘yö’, pronounced oo-er, only a hundred times quicker.) Turns out that Himmelfahrt means ‘ascension into heaven’, and today is, thus, Ascension Day. The Mariä variation on the theme – just remembered a story. A Russian child I worked with once commented on the difference between two versions of a prayer. Once he’d clocked it, he summed up for my benefit, “Ah, so that’s the Catholic remix of the Orthodox one,” – is Assumption, although I don’t know what was assumed when Mary made her way skywards. (I suppose she assumed, rightly, for there had been plenty of portentous omens, that she’d have a very privileged position when she got there. But I’ll have to go into scripture in greater depth to see if that’s the actual cause.)

Now I thought I knew my Christianity. I am not a Christian any more, but I went to a Christian school. We had a service once a week. We had RE lessons. I got my RE ‘O’ Level. (Grade C, but still.) I thought I knew my Pentecost from my Whitsun from my Himmelfahrts. But I just simply don’t. Awash in 2000 years of Christian culture and I don’t know my arse from my elbow. Which I won’t lose much sleep over, but I have been worrying that this ascension took place 40 days after Easter. So what happened in between? I thought Christ went off to be at the right hand of the father as soon as he was resurrected. Or did the 40 days in the wilderness come then, which seems a bit like rubbing in the cruelty, if you ask me.

My ignorance pales into insignificance, though, when I compare myself to our cousins outre-Manche. I lived in Paris for a couple of years when just a slip of a thing and stayed with an extremely nice family when I first arrived. Extremely nice. Fucking unglaublichly nice, actually. (I was just checking if I could reduce myself to tears. I can’t.) France, being an avowedly secular place, obviously wouldn’t have a Christian assembly at the start of the school day. No, if you wanted god in France, you had to go to a specifically religious school. And the family I lived with were atheists anyway. And one half – the wrong half – was Jewish, so this family seriously didn’t know its Christianity. This didn’t concern me overly much, but I was pretty stunned when, as we watched TV one evening and Serge Gainsbourg’s interesting take on the Nativity was shown, the younger daughter of the family asked me, “So who was that Joseph geezer then?” I’m not expecting any Happy Ascension wishes from her, let me tell you.

But why I’ve really noticed Christi Himmelfahrt is because it’s made me feel normal. It’s a non-working day here, and I’m on an enforced holiday with the rest of the populace (98% of whom are unemployed anyway). I’m awaiting a piece if work, thought I’d have it today, the deadline is short for my depleted grey matter and a family occasion beckons in the Kingdom this weekend. And my employers have gone and slunk off work for the day. And I bet there’s not a Christian amongst them. The shower…

(Utterly random joke, told to me by tbf’s (German) friend yesterday. “What do you call a miserable German?” “I don’t know, tbf’s friend, what do you call a miserable German?” “Sauerkraut” Boom boom.)

Accessorising May 23, 2006

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My wardrobe is dwindling, due to some inexplicable force of nature, and I am making the most of a few select items with every greater, and perhaps indecent, frequency. Colour coordination is becoming problematic. And sometimes the outfit is so bright I worry that people will think I’ve established a cult and then I’d have to have sex with them all and look out for some convenient comet to fly off on the coat-tails of. Which would never do.
I dressed up in preparation to go out and get some fresh air into my lungs. And I needed to buy some fags. I was in a dazzlingly light pair of strides and the lightish shirt covering my upper portions was, natch, giving the Hale-Bopp effect. Luckily, it’s freezing today and I found a (slightly ragged) black jumper to throw on, turning myself from cult-leader into French-waiter-in-reverse. But never mind. Still, freezing as it may have been, it wasn’t jacket-weather, so where was I going to carry all my bits? Left trouser-pocket for wallet (in case you should want to pickpocket me in future). Keys, inhaler – yes, I know I shouldn’t smoke – in right. But I don’t like to leave the house when on the continent unless accompanied by documentation issued by Her Britannic Majesty. Thankfully, the light shirt has a breast pocket. And, darlings, what a great accessory the passport-under-the-jumper made. At a push, and to the uninitiated, it looks just like a big hefty pec. For all you holders of foreign passports, I’m sure the effect wouldn’t work nearly so well.
Once I’ve got a shirt with two breast-pockets and steal another British passport, I’ll be a muscle-queen at last…

Euro-confusion May 22, 2006

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Until the riff-raff family moved into this house on the floor below us, we were undoubtedly the most riff-raff residents to be had. The residents of this house are, bar us and the riff-raff, nuclear families or young couples Blairishly planning to go nuclear ASAP. True, there was a single-mother once but, after she’d moved flats within the house to try and fool us into thinking she was someone else, even she gave up the ghost and moved on. But our crown has well and truly been usurped, and now we don’t even bother to do outrageous things like deliberately mis-sort the rubbish or breathe too loudly after 8pm as we know the riff-raff family will only go and do it better than us.

But I’ve done a hint of social work in my time and I might have to go to the doctor to see if any of my socially-minded genes are still in full working order. Because that family needs re-education and if it doesn’t happen soon, I might get onto the Kinderamt to come and have a word. I can cope with the whispering at 8.01pm. I can even cope with the electric guitar. But you’ll never guess what I heard AND saw – oh god, it’s the Archers. No, not coming from the riff-raff’s flat. On Radio 4 – as I went onto the balcony a few moments ago to rescue the washing from a magnificent Berlin storm. (The best storms I’ve ever seen have been here. And there’s a delicious warm wind today -the first of the year.) Well, to my vague amusement, and even pleasure, the winning Finnish song was blasting loudly out of their flung-open balcony doors (probably to remove the smell of marijuana, I shouldn’t wonder). But what was fluttering in the breeze in accompaniment? What indeed. Only the flipping Brazilian flag. How’s that for a mismatch? I’m half-minded to do another flag-post.

Incidentally, as you are numerously no doubt wondering what the taivas-on-sininen-ja-valkoinen malarkey was, I’ll put you out of your misery. It means, “The sky is blue and white,” i.e. the colours of the Finnish flag, or perhaps it’s just a stunningly banal coincidence that there’s a traditional Finnish folk-song pointing out that the sky is blue and white. But I’m guessing it’s symbolic. Or maybe just a sung truism. (The Finns are a pretty down-to-earth bunch when they’re not dressing up satanically.) And I only always use those Finnish words when I want to write some Finnish in my blog because, well, they’re about the only words of Finnish I know. And they’re not wildly inappropriate here, at least. We can imagine the sky was blue and white that day just because Finland won the Eurovision, as opposed to the German black, yellow and red that it normally is. Perhaps. And, anyway, if it isn’t my taivas-on-sininen-ja-valkoinen, then you’ll have to make do with tottelemattomuudestansa, which means “because of his lack of obedience,” which won’t do nearly as well.

Maybe I should work more.

TAIVAS ON SININEN JA VALKOINEN! Hurrah! May 21, 2006

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lordi.jpg
Personally, I fancy the one on the bottom left hand corner. Such nice lips. And gorgeous eyes. And pretty good teeth too.

Well I’m absolutely chuffed to bollocks that the Finns won. There were so many queens that wanted to watch the whole shebang at the club we aimed to go to that we actually couldn’t get in and only got into a bar across the road because, I’m guessing, one of the friends I was with is actually the most beautiful man in the world. And if you can’t use your beauty to get to watch the Eurovision, then what can you use it for, eh?

We were collectively gutted that the Australo-Krauts didn’t do better, of course, especially as the song was actually pretty good. A big, tractor-driving lesbian in the same establishment confided in me that it was, frankly, a scandal that Germany hadn’t won. My Australian companion was understandably distraught. But go Suomi! I instantly texted my friend in Turku – the second most beautiful man in the world actually. I can’t grumble, knowing the world’s two most beautiful men – and he replied, “It’s too good to be true.” Which was perhaps overdoing the fervour. But the Finns have never won it before, and I’m more thrilled than if I’d won the lottery two weeks running that all that voting for your neighbours still didn’t manage to make Russia or Bosnia win. But that might be because I’m not very nice.

And poor old Daz with his family rap.

Anyway, it was, as ever, the highlight of my year. I’m already looking forward to next year. Because of all the prattling queens (and the odd tractor-driving lesbian), I couldn’t hear a word of the commentary. But I hope that, next year, the Finns will say at least a few words in the native tongue. Then yet more folk will know that not only do the Finns sing beautifully (sorta like kinda), but that they also have the world’s most beautiful language. Suomi, minä rakastan sinua!

Perkele, the Finns are the stars of the show… May 19, 2006

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There could be no worse time to blog than on a Friday night. You’re guaranteed to miss all the office types who’ll revel in the non-computerised days of the weekend and by the time they may, if you’re lucky, get round to clicking on Monday, it will all be as stale and unfresh as a discarded baguette. (That bread just WILL NOT keep.) But tant pis. Because there’s no determining when a blogging window might present itself, and if Friday evening it is, then ainsi soit il.

What’s with all the French? Well, I suppose it’s got to be my mind getting eurotastic in time for tomorrow’s extravaganza. I haven’t done much window-blogging, as it were, yet, but I’ve already come across a couple of corking Eurovision posts. I’m gutted to realise I missed the semi-final yesterday – didn’t even know it was televised – but I shall go with a smattering of Euroqueens to watch the real thing in a suitably gay environment tomorrow. But I’ve hardly recovered from last year’s show and now there’s all the excitement again. Turkey’s song from last year is on a shortlist for when Sue Lawley eventually gets round to inviting me on. (Ooh, she’s just had Darcey Bussell in the back of her cab. She’s awfully nice. Heard her interviewed somewhere else once. Diamond geezer. Although Golden Brown and Love me Do in her choice? Warum?) And I won’t go into my near-obsession with Israel’s 2000 entry for fear of being sectioned, or having an ASBO put on me. (Do I still fall under UK jurisdiction for some things?)

So, another Eurovision. The Finns have already stolen all the headlines. All the songs can be watched/listened to here. Finland is a last-place kind of country when it comes to Eurovision, so they must be whooping for joy at having stormed into this year’s final. (Although some have asked for presidential intervention to stop such ugly people representing the nation at the highest level.) Admittedly, the song is execrable, but I, along with everyone else in Europe, shall vote strictly according to biased principles so will be voting for the Finns – the nicest people in Europe – regardless, as long as my Handy has reception at SchwuZ. But who will the Greeks vote for this year, what with Cyprus not having qualified for the final? And this their home show ‘n all. Annoyingly, the countries that didn’t qualify for the final still get to vote, so Cyprus can still vote for the Greeks, and I think the chances of them not getting the big douze are pretty slim seeing as Greece is this year being represented by a Cypriot. (They were represented by a Swede last year, and that did the trick.)

And the Germans might even manage not to come last as they’ve plumped for a country song sung by an Australian. It’s not even wrist-slashingly bad.

So hurrah for the Eurovision. Yeah. Hell, we can even say yahboo sucks to the North Americans. (Although, admittedly, a contest with the US, Canada and St. Pierre et Miquelon could be pretty gripping.)

Germany 1 England 0 May 16, 2006

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Just carrying on the anglo-dissonance theme while fresh back from a jaunt to the Kingdom. It wasn’t to London, so I don’t have to feel guilty about not having seen anyone. No, it was more social duty, but also fun, visiting an old lady I know in the middle of nowhere. She isn’t at all the reason Germany wins 1-0 (or any other score) in this short-term comparison exercise. She was bliss. And, I think, with the passing years, the decreased mobility and, therefore, limited social abilities, feeling as anglo-dissonant as if she was herself abroad. She sang – although her singing was a bit like speaking (or rapping, I suppose), it must be said, but she is 94 – Cole Porter songs, which was lovely, and that made me proud to be American, until I remembered I wasn’t, and then we tried to be proud of Noel Coward instead, but it’s not quite the same, is it? Little knowing that her questions were grist to my current mill of feeling remote from England, I fed her answers that reinforced both my current pro-Germanness and her worries that England’s gone down the pan. “Darling (this is her, not me), do German youths swear as much as English ones? Would a German teenager call his friend ‘a pile of shit’ at cricket (as her great-grandson had just done)?” I ignored the cricket factor, thought for a sec, and answered, “No, he wouldn’t.” I said to the other people gathered that I was finding England a bit philosophyless, a bit empty for my liking at the moment. I don’t think they were overly impressed, perhaps not surprisingly, both at me criticising from afar, and, worse, having gone over to the Krauts.

I think I should only enter England by sea. Although I now brace myself for it, the airports’ swirly carpets still lower my serotonin levels without fail every time. But I think Gatwick must have received complaints. There were only a hundred metres or so of bechewinggummed, filthy, stinking carpet and then it went sort of neutral tiles and glass and, for a sec, with no-one around, sun shining and a neutral landscape, I thought I was in Dallas, or Washington, or anywhere. I queued up to show my passport, which has seen better days since it was issued the second before I moved abroad almost seven years ago and have lived in countries where I prefer to have it with me at all times ever since. Our queue’s woman was a bit of a stickler. I think she was being trained as a man stood a discrete but nosey distance to her rear. “Can you stand where I can see you?” she said to the occasional Engländer who was jumping the gun and wanted to do an emergency bit of extra-shopping – yes, you can duty-free shop when you arrive now too – and I enjoyed watching each of them having the same raising-eyes-to-heaven reaction to their friend next in the queue at the bollocking. Once I got through and met my pal who was waiting, we got down to Anglo-German business. She is a real Engländer(in), not a fading one like me. She had enjoyed the people-watching possibilities afforded by Gatwick arrivals herself. “English people are all perfectly round and pink,” she said. My flight arrived with ones from Faro and Alicante, so there was a gaggle of freshly enpinkened Engländers coming through at just that moment. I’d enjoyed watching them on the other side too. Huge groups compared their tans and there was the fuss, as they approached the front of their respective queues, as each group-leader redistributed to their minions the passports that had clearly been in their control since they’d been waved nonchalantly at Spanish and Portuguese officials a few hours earlier. The men were dressed mostly as if about to walk on to the hallowed turf to represent their nation (but without the studs). And I suppose the women were sort of a bit like footballers’ wives. Clean(ish)-cut. Tarty. (Sorry, am I allowed to write this in 2006?) Stiff-haired. And angry.

But England itself was lovely. Trains are now posh, efficient, and empty. I was in a lovelily quiet bit of West Sussex, with wheezing and almost bracing walks on the Downs, peace and the aforementioned 94-year-old and her miscellaneous descendants. I even had a drop of booze, but it doesn’t count, because England was my Alicante. And I chatted and listened and fussed vaguely round my hostess, her worrying all the time that, what with feeling so utterly well at her huge age, she might never get round to dying at all. She rushed me off yesterday, worrying that I’d miss my train, with ten pounds, “because that’s what grandmothers do. They give their grandsons money.” I reminded her that she wasn’t my grandmother, but that didn’t matter, and she said I could give it to a poor German, if such a species existed. She worried about England out loud to me, and was worried that Germany still suffered from its wartime legacy. “Darling, my first memory is waving my father off to the First World War. As he wandered off down the road, I cried after him, ‘Don’t kill any Germans, daddy’.” Unfortunately, one killed him, and she has been a life-long pacifist and all-round romantic ever since. And bloody good company.

So that England was lovely. But Gatwick wasn’t. So I was in two minds as I got my plane home. Has England gone horrible? Do I want to be in Germany? Is Berlin nicer? (Well, it’s nicer than Gatwick, and, admittedly, no-one lives in airports for fear that their life stories will be made into a Hollywood blockbuster and what could POSSIBLY be worse than having to live down the ignominy of being played by Tom effing Hanks?) Half-amusingly, one of the trolley-dollies was one of the three outrageously drunk ones I met a few posts back and who’d half-made me think I’ve turned into a German (or Russian or composite Euro-type). I didn’t say hello, obviously, and luckily he stopped serving about a row in front of mine and I had a pair of German queens on my trolley instead. The low-budget airline in question, which isn’t Ryanair, likes to make the flight as theatrical as possible and the staff make every announcement as if they are desperately trying to suppress giggles, presumably because Andreas the purser has just been caught trying to snog Mike the pilot. Or something. The announcements were made in two languages. After we landed, and once the gaggle of Italian pensioners on board had finished applauding its smoothness, the queens went head-to-head in a Germany-England match-up for who could make the funniest goodbye speech. My one went first, and heroically got through his spiel about how great it had been having us etc. without letting his voice descend into out-and-out fake laughter. The German queen, who’d made the odd embarrassingly unwitty remark during the flight, peaked at just the right time. His first joke, “Even though I know you want to switch your mobile phones on straight away so that you can ring all your friends and say what great crew this low-budget airline provides, please wait another couple of minutes until you’re inside the airport building etc.” already sent a ripple of laughter down the aisles amongst the German-speakers. To make my annoyingly bilingual, good-looking and in-love Polish neighbours feel left out, I laughed along too. But then he went in for the kill. “Unfortunately, none of the great crew was on duty this evening, but we hope you’ll phone your friends and tell them we did a good job all the same.” The Germans went wild. There were whoops of joy. There was applause. The German women who didn’t have short blond hair, glasses and goofy teeth instantly delved into their bags to get out their comedy-German-outfit set (of short blond wig, glasses and goofy teeth) so they could guffaw as conventionally as everyone else. The German queen had stolen the show. Once I got through immigration – passport checked by a strapping, handsome and friendly policeman – that was it. I knew I was home.

Gissa job May 13, 2006

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I can’t bear translating for another single second (but have to). But once this bearing session’s over and done with, I want something else. So this is a direct appeal. Gissa job.

Criteria: in Berlin. Not prepared to move again yet (or ever, perhaps). Salary: don’t mind, really, though preferably tonnes. Nature of work: preferably a piece of cake, involving nothing that would take me anywhere near an industrial estate/retail park/building site/place where overweight heterosexual men talk about technicalia.

I have all the necessary qualifications and traits of character required to satisfactorily fill any position: I am lazy, unambitious, impractical, unreliable and utterly incapable of working in a team. But I can be a naked table, or something like that. Or make tea. (But I can’t cook.) Supremely obsequious and subservient. Criminally poor knowledge of German.

So how can you resist? Isn’t that just the profile of a winner (with a capital L)? Anything considered. But write fast to avoid disappointment…

Workin’ and sunnin’ May 12, 2006

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I’ve done about as much work as the combined populace of the 100%-long-term-unemployment house across the road in recent days. Well, OK, not nil, but not enough to afford the lolling around in the sun and eating and drinking (not booze) out that I’ve been doing of late. Which is just fucking bliss. Why do we, as Laurie Lee pointed out, always forget the one of the two seasons of the year that we’re not in? (He didn’t go in for this four-seasons lark. Just winter and summer for him.) Now that it’s been summer for about a week, and because I’ve been out traipsing up and down, and not been skint, and, therefore, having a lovely time, I am trying to remember if it’s always as lovely as this. Has summer always been so fucking wonderful? (Or is the Russian grating prozac into my buckwheat porridge?) Have I loved life this much 34 times before? Have I said every year – well, OK, give or take the first few – to whomsoever might bear to listen, “I MUST emigrate to somewhere where it’s never arse-cold”. Mind you, the ex, his cousin and I once played a game, sitting in her basement flat in Brighton in, say, 1993, on perhaps the greyest and most freezing day since records began, working out where we could live. And in the end, having worked out criteria like not-fatally-dangerous-for-queens, not former colony (we were young. We were being Euro-snobs), not horrible in other ways (including disgraceful 20th century history, I now remember. Japan thus came unstuck. Anyway, Japan’s winter’s shit too, isn’t it? Being Catholic or Islamic were also no-nos) and, most importantly, decent climate, we realised we could only live in Greece, which made us all decide to live in England for ever. (I broke the contract.)

So, anyway, I’m almost wetting myself with happiness these days, not that I’m bipolar, you understand. Yet I have been avoiding, funnily enough, translations about incredibly dull bits of machinery like the plague. But I’ve got a social duty to perform that will take up most of the weekend and so I’m on an enforced workathon. The people from the 100%-long-term-unemployment house are rubbing it in by sitting, at my expense – fuck, must do tax declaration by the end of the month. Fuck – and lording it on the sun-drenched side of the street. I will sit indoors all day, alternating between Schubert and Madonna, and try to earn a kopeck or two.

Anyway, why I began all this, and what I haven’t forgotten from previous summers, and without wanting to get too sexy, is the noted increased hormonal activity once the sun comes out. This is hardly surprising, seeing as folk are walking around with limbs and organisms flaunted all over the shop. Other bloggers, back on the island – Jesus, is there even sun there? – are having differing reactions to the increased exposed flesh. GSE is struggling with the exposed feet and recommends shalwar kameezes be worn at all times. Whereas Sex, Money and html begs to differ, and is pleased that all the totty has been released from seasonal imprisonment, unless it comes from Croydon.

Well, I am an Engländer. We are a Wintervolk, I suppose. And I suppose I should just put up with the 8-month misery every year. It makes the nice months all the more worthwhile. (Or should we all just move to California/Australia?) And, god, German men are good-looking.

Английская душа May 10, 2006

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…or my English soul. I’m a bit worried it’s disappearing. I don’t know whether my soul’s gone Russian, or perhaps even German, or just generally euro, but I had such a stunning bout of anglo-dissonance the other day that I was, in the words of that great philosopher, K. Minogue, shocked to the very foundations.

My most nomadic friend, who is now living in country number 50 (or thereabouts) (and is on passport number two) (I mean country number two. Not just that he’s had his passport replaced) (that wouldn’t be worth reporting) has ended up in Berlin. He has a new (binational too, actually) boyfriend. I trooped off to see them which involved an exciting trip to West Berlin. (Honestly, why does anybody live there? Like Willesden but without the charm.) Like some religious statue, I mysteriously burst into blood the second I was introduced to the new boyfriend. I don’t always do this, it should be pointed out. Nor did I have a flock of pilgrims queuing up to rub my toe. It was just a stunningly bad bit of physiological timing. A zit or scratch or some other unsatisfactory deformity chose that very second to erupt into blood. Mind you, boys and girls, I can almost recommend it as an ice-breaker. The new boyfriend was rushing around looking for appropriate wadding to mop me up and we were instantly thrown together in bloody friendship. He’ll probably be the best man at my wedding now. Or something.

Anyway, the three of us sat queenily and ate and drank. (Them booze. Me water.) I plotted the nomadic one’s peregrinations since I’d last seen him in Russia five years ago. He was in France then. Has been in Denmark, Canada and England since. For good measure, he and my future best man have been being intentionally nomadic for god knows how many months and appear to have been to every corner of Asia in the process. We talked locations. We talked rich and poor. (The nomadic one is originally from an exotic Third World place.) They told me some India horror stories, and some nice ones. They talked about their escape to Thailand when India got too much. I said Torremolinos is awfully nice, not to be outdone. And we decided to go out.

I suppose one advantage of living in Willesden is that, if you’re of a homosexual persuasion, Berlin’s gay fulcrum is within trolling distance. I, as the most heavily decorated Berliner of the three, so to speak, was immediately pushed into a position of authority. “Let’s go to this bar.” They didn’t know it. It’s a good neutral spot. You’re not guaranteed a venereal disease the second you cross the threshold nor asked to open your wallet to spend time with a 17-year-old. We trolled up to the door. Pas un chat. The one member of staff engaged us in conversation, such was his boredom. Even he recommended we go away and come back later. My air of authority had been undermined – they knew they were dealing with a fake expert – and recommended a bar they’d come across themselves. “Darlings, haven’t you noticed there’s no-one there between the age of 17 and 70 and that the drinks cost 8 times more than everywhere else?” But they were not to be swayed, and we sat there gleefully ignoring the occasional shuffle uswards of the benighted youngsters. Having pawned our clothes and bling to pay for the drinks – fuck, ginger ale’s expensive. Do you think it’s because the rent-boys get free drinks? – we went back to the respectable bar, had another there, and then went to one final respectable bar for a night-cap.

It was late by now. And the boys were drunk. And I wasn’t. Which was fine. There was a trio of English-speaking queens braying next to us. “Do I not want to get chatting to them,” I thought to myself, grahamtayloresquely. At which precise moment one of the braying queens turned round and said, loudly, “I know you,” (not to me, to the nomadic one’s binational boyfriend) and we were instantly sucked into the braying coven’s orbit. Drinking had clearly featured heavily in their evening too. There was nothing one could really designate as conversation to be had. Just one loud bray after another, followed by ear-splitting laughter, perhaps a re-enactment of some event, usually sexual, one of the three pretending to be embarrassed (before adding some details of his own) and then half a second’s respite as the next round of vodka & Red Bull was ordered. The nomadic one, whose first language isn’t English, and I made the excuse of catching-up to be as centrifugal of this suction as possible but we were eventually sucked back in.

The three braying queens – two Englishmen and an Irish gent – eventually wanted to know who this interloper in their midst was. Was I a trolley-dolly? No. Was I single? No. Did I hate Germany? No. What the fuck was I doing here? Not a bad question, actually. A mixture of fate, love and the cold war, I answered, wondering if I might conveniently burst into blood again. How long had I been here? “Oh, you’ll never get away now. Once you’ve been here longer than two years, you’re here for ever,” brayer number 1, who would actually have been perfectly nice company if he hadn’t drunk a cauldron of vodka (or if I had, I suppose), brayed with uncorroborated wisdom. “What you see is what you get with me,” he added, provincially. And then there was more braying, including hollering at the bar-staff in English (Germans looked on in horror), some more (occasionally vaguely amusing) salacious story-telling and some more bitching about Germans before I thought it was time for me to extricate myself homewards.

My two pals left with me. I now saw that they had had alcohol on their side. They were staggering merrily and both declared, even though one of the two is from the English-speaking world, that they hadn’t understood a word the brayers were braying about and just laughed when it seemed appropriate. I said my goodbyes, skipped onto the night-bus, was swiftly bollocked by the driver for flicking my coins into the slots myself rather than letting him do it, and got thinking.

The brayers were rip-roaringly drunk, admittedly. And perhaps they wanted to queenily outoutrage each other. And, anyway, only two of them were English, but it somehow made me feel that England is an ever more distant country. Which isn’t what I would like to be the case (always), at all. If brayer number 1 is wrong and I don’t stay in Berlin for ever, would I really struggle to call England home again? Probably only initially, and then I’d forget to notice things I’d previously been remembering to. But I think, wherever one lives – but I suppose abroad types think about this more – one tends to have a point plotted on a mental map that’s called home. At least I think one needs one. But could England really ever cease to be mine for me? There is no single place in England that could currently be called home. My mother no longer lives in the house where I grew up. With the passing of time, inevitably I have fewer and fewer friends in England. And once I’ve done my pilgrimage to Waterloo Bridge every time I get back to London, I always end up feeling like a refugee at a loose end, never knowing where to go and what to do. A certain spot in West Sussex is always one trusty refuge. Yet it all feels more and more distant. England and English and the Englanders are changing while my view of them is not. The chief-brayer even remarked that I had a strong English accent, whatever the fuck that means. So I worry – though it’s not the worst of dilemmas, admittedly, but still – that the roots attaching me to the old country are becoming ever more withered. That I think more like a German, if you’ll allow me the generalisation, than I do a Brit, even if I’ll always do so in English. None of which might matter, but I’ve got a feeling it does.

My plans to resettle to Leamington Spa might just have gone onto the back-burner for good.

Stereotypes May 6, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
14 comments

Now, darlings, you mustn’t fall into that nasty (but very tempting) habit of going for stereotypes and thinking nasty things about, say, Russians, but the Russian ‘found’ a wallet yesterday. There was the exciting story of the mobile phone last week. Now a wallet. With money in it. And a resulting angry homosexual.

The boy and I went out for a late afternoon sunshine stroll. The Russian in nice shorts, some appropriate 2006 casual footwear, and a vaguely freshly-purchased upper-body garment. I was wearing a pair of sandals that cost about 3 baht in Thailand five years ago which STILL cut my feet to shreds every time I put them on, a 50-year-old hand-me-down T-shirt from my ex-boyfriend and a pair of shorts that made me look like a homeless explorer. But it was only a stroll. It wasn’t as if we were going to go anywhere, and be seen by anyone. We popped in, still pretending this was a minorly domestic-themed strollette, for the sake of convenience, to an extortionate Asian supermarket to buy coconut milk and some tikka stuff in a jar. Could get precisely the same things for half the price round the corner at Spar, of course, but there was solidarity amongst foreigners in buying there. Actually, to de-Spar the event, we made sure we bought a ton of chillies – wrap them in newspaper to make them keep was the top tip from the lady working there – to make sure my stomach ulcer never gets a moment’s peace.

(Darlings, I must tell you about my Russian stomach ulcer one day. OK, now. I got a stomach ulcer in Russia, I think from working with some of the nastiest individuals on the planet. Amusingly, once, the very nastiest one, with a Thatcher hair-do, the bluest make-up this side of South Shields and a look of hatred etched into her wicked features, à propos de rien, at a ‘party’, declared to me, “BiB, in vyest, you laaaaaav only maaaaaaaaaney. Khere, ve laaaaaaaaav only people.” So, yes, from her – yes, it was you, Svetlana Grigoryevna, in case you’re reading, you wicked old hag – and assorted like-minded devils, I ended up in Russian hospital. (Alzheimer’s check. Have I posted this before? Have I posted this before? Don’t think so.) The Russian was allowed to sit with me during the admission process, which included having a finger inserted in my bottom in a room full of the general public – for my sins, I then saw it happen to others, so it wasn’t special treatment or anything – and then inspected by the doctor, but was then sent away, departing to the sound of heavy, clanking metal doors. “They’ll be a story about me on the BBC website in 70 years’ time,” I thought. ‘An Englishman whom, for years, the Russian authorities considered a raving hoax, has been found by a visiting psychiatrist from Swansea in a mental institution in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskij. Dental records were checked and proved that the man was who he said he was. Local staff member, Svetlana Grigoryevna, commented, “Oj, ve just sink he is raaaaaaavink. He shout somesink laik, “Get me the fuck outta this hellhole,” over and over for 50 years, but ve ignore and shout byeck, “Shut up, Boris. You crazy feesh”. He is now being repatriated to a village near Swansea, where the visiting psychiatrist can keep a close eye on him.’ A dour, glowering, depressed female member of staff asked me to hand over all my valuables. I was led to the most depressing room ever, along the lines, I imagine, of that big place in Camden Town – what’s it called? – where homeless men can sleep. Six beds squashed together. Soviet paint job. Light-bulb. “You can khev own room if you pay half-rouble,” the dour, glowering, depressed female proffered. “I’ll take it,” I said and was led to my luxury equivalent of aforementioned room which actually had an en-suite bathroom with a loo with no water in it – but I got a potty – and a bath with no plug. (Soviet stereotype number 1.) As a foreigner, I was soon the star of the ward. Stars of the Russian stage and screen – OK, the hospital – were dropping by to tell me about their ulcers. One doctor from another section of the hospital came panting in one day. “You vörk khere for charity?” “Yes.” “Vot number I must fone to get much maaaaaaaaaaaaaaney?” There was a nurse, the only unbeautiful woman in all Russia, who asked me, “You laik some kaaaampany for night-time?” And the star of the stars, the nice, young, student doctor who had no interest in medicine but liked me enormously. “You from Inkland? I been Manchester. I like Beetlz veeeeeeeeeery maaaaaaach.” And then sang, yes, sang, ‘Dyezmond khez barrel at market-plyaaace’. He was crestfallen when the Russian, who happened to be present for this performance, asked when I might be released, seeing as no medical attention appeared to have been paid to me since I’d been committed, I mean admitted, however many days before.

This bracketed aside is just going to have to have a second paragraph. God that hospital’s got legs, blog-wise. Every morning, we ill folk had to go and line up to get something inserted into our buttocks – probably window-cleaner, à la Man with Two Brains – to the procedure room. No, they didn’t come to us. We had to go to them. And queue. And there was nowhere to sit. Once, as I stood ulcerously in line, an old gent toppled over before me. I was convinced he was dead. Quick as a flash, and without a word, two of the other ill folk had a hand under each arm and, thank goodness for lino, slid him at a frenzied pace back down the corridor and round the corner, reminding me of the scene in many a nasty WWII film where someone is taken round the corner to be shot. I don’t know if they just dumped him there and it was a case of, “Put him where no-one can see him. It’s no good for morale to have dead folk littering the corridors of a hospital.” (Mind you, another foreign friend who ended up in a Russian hospital had a perfect and privileged view of a cemetery from her bed. I don’t think I was allowed a window.) The next morning, there he stood again, waiting for his window-cleaner, right as rain. The procedure room had a door-sized grinning bunny holding a massive, fuck-off syringe painted on it, to cheer us up, no doubt. When I went in, having waited my turn – this was a rare privilege. Normally, cringing, I’d be ushered to the front of any such queue with some official explaining bumblingly to the rightfully annoyed other folk, “Foreigner” – I made some greeting and the window-cleaner administrator, not actually a bunny but a virago with hair so stiff you could knock a nail in with it, softened slightly – there was the sound of cracking plaster as she removed her frown – and said, “Oj, English gentleman. Russian vould nyevyer, nyevyer say hello.” Which just can’t be true. But I decided not to challenge her stereotype and offered my buttocks. As I shuffled back to my suite, foaming at the mouth, probably, a gentleman just emerging from the smoking room abutting my suite – yes, there was a smoking room on the ward – approached me with fresh enthusiasm, thinking he’d found a light in this endless darkness, and asked, plaintively, “Are you from Azerbaijan?” I was so gutted to let him down. If I’d even had O-Level-level Azerbaijani, I’d have given it a shot. But we only had Greek and Latin at my school.)

So where were we? Oh yes, chillies on Schönhauser Allee. This got us thinking of food. Dropped into a Thai place. Had (bad, actually) food accompanied by beer for the Russian, ginger ale for me. (Yes, still sticking at it. God, it’s boring.) Strolled onwards. Bar Gagarin, or Cafe Gagarin, or whatever it’s called. Not a Russian in sight, apart from the Russian, and I was hoping to satisfy a minor pang of nostalgia. Getting towards evening time now. Festive evening time. “Queers?” “OK.” Dived on the U2 to Nollendorfplatz. Looked at all the stunningly handsome queens littering the bars around aforementioned U-Bahnhof – thank god it’s spring. Even the Russian, who’s never paid anyone a compliment ever, had to admit some looked lovely – and drank, me, ginger ale, still, the Russian beer, wine, beer, wine, beer – can’t be good for you – and smoked till the early hours. I got home none the wiser about “the find”.

Today, not early, because of being out till all hours, the Russian announced, mysteriously, “I have to contact a certain young man”. “Yes?” “Yesterday, in toilet, I find vollet.” My heart sank at the repeat realisation that I live with an insane person. “Darling, what a sane person would have done,” I explained, teacherishly, “unless he intended to steal it, which only an absolute cunt would do (I didn’t say that bit) (I’ve actually been pickpocketed in a gay bar. Still livid), is hand the wallet over to the staff there, in the bar where you found it. The owner might still have been there, or might have at least worked out that that’s where he lost it and rung them the next day etc. etc.” “Oj.” Voices may or may not have been raised in the ensuing exchanges. In any case, the loser’s telephone number had been found online, but there was now a further inexplicable delay in phoning him. “You must phone him now,” I hectored on. “He’s probably considering suicide this second. It’s ruining his day. You MUST phone him now.” The Russian then phoned, using a hilarious phone voice nothing like his own, and was apologising within seconds to the clearly utterly unthankful and bollocking loser for having managed the find all wrong. So now I think he should have just stolen it. Not really. They’ve agreed to meet, at somewhere fantastically inconvenient for both…

But while the Russian’s away…

Oh flip, I slept through the revolution May 2, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
21 comments
Never mind, eh? Or was it cancelled this year? As I strutted around Berlin the day before yesterday, the police were already out in force in areas where anyone with a drum is known to congregate (i.e. Mauerpark). I did feel a bit naughty as I snuck through the police cordon with a plastic bag full of bread rolls, but it all passed off peacefully enough.

Anyway, for those of you with a yearning for Soviet memorabilia, may I suggest you go here where a lovely old ditty is downloadable. May I also add, while I type myself into an ungovernable rage, that I am chuffed to bollocks that the Czech Communist Party’s annual parade to remind fellow Czechs how they fucked their lives up for over 40 years was bettered by an anti-Communist one this year?

Actually, I did get a sniff of the annual Berlin revolution on my way home from a (drink-free) night out yesterday. As the U-Bahn rolled into Eberswalderstraße, the platform was full of drunk 17-year-olds bristling with earnest and heartfelt political grievances. Demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the lie of the land seemed mainly to entail smashing bottles and refusing to allow the train doors to close, which was pretty revolutionary, I suppose. I think the train symbolised the continued oppression of the masses by someone or other. And stopping it from carrying the four people on board onwards towards the centre of oppression, Pankow – the Berlin equivalent of Ruislip, for the uninitiated – was their act of resistance against… something or other. If I could have only been brave enough to throw off the shackles of my current life, but I think I’m too repressed, I would have got out of that oppressive train right there and joined the teenage revolt and smashed a Bionade bottle and the ticket-machine (another symbol of repression of and by someone or other if ever there was one).

But I failed. And here I am, continuing my bourgeois life. Sorry boys.