The vagina business June 29, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
A short history of an illness:
Quite a few weeks ago, I visited a doctor with the suspicion that I had an ear infection. I’m awfully good at self-diagnosis and was, it turns out, spot on. Antibiotics were probably going to be administered, to my delight. I love the thought of getting some antibiotics into my system to flush out whatever random infections are lurking around inside me from my dissolute ways. I hoped I’d get some big, blue tablets. Hard to swallow. Ages’ worth. They’d have me right as rain.
“You’ll need antibiotics,” the doctor confessed apologetically.
“Yippee,” I thought. “Oh,” I said, pretending that was a shame.
“Normally we’d give tablets,” she continued. Normally? My heart (and ear) sank. “Now we think an injection up the jacksy is more effective.” I had my pants down before you could say Mittelohrentzündung.
I wasn’t due my next visit till ages later. In the meantime, my ear continued to give me jip. All this time just to get over a piddly little infection? Again I thought I had spoken too soon about the joys of getting old. I trooped back to the Dr. Sure enough, the jacksy-route antibiotic hadn’t done a thing. I was just as infected as I’d ever been, and the quack and I came to an agreement that we’d dispense with the new and go back to some traditional old oral consumption. “Oh,” I groaned mournfully, for the sake of appearances. “Yes,” euphonised my innards.
Ten flipping days’ worth of drugs. You wouldn’t think your ears could do this to you. Not that I minded, of course, although constraints were put on the daily routine. “Don’t eat this and that. Don’t drink this and that. Avoid the sun. Avoid booze. Avoid this. Avoid that. Avoid the other.” I avoided galore. And consumed galore. I must have been as healthy as a bull, as our friends in Russia like to say.
Trolled back to the quack when my druggy days were done. I don’t know if this was a super bacterium I’d caught, but I had a suspicion all was still not utterly tip-top with the old auricles. The quack had a butcher’s. Her brow furrowed. Things were better, but not quite better enough. I wondered if we were going to have to go further back in medical history to find the ideal solution. But Ear, Nose and Throat woman thought we’d give it one last emergency extension of good old oral drugs and hope for the best. I consented manfully.
Another five days’ worth. This was now weeks of treatment for something wrong with one flipping ear. I had started to consider I might never get better and that antibiotics would become a staple of my diet. Doomed to dodgy ears but destined to be as infection-free as a private hospital ward for the rest of my days. I’d probably live for ever. But be deaf.
And then the queerest thing happened. I started to get a bit of an itch. And nowhere near my ear at all. No. Down below, if ya hear what I’m sayin’. Which you’ve got to admit is queer. I’m sorry to mention genitalia on this humble page but all was not well in the willy department. Its sanctity had been violated and it didn’t look nearly as ordinary as an ordinary willy should. There was a blotch. And it itched like mad.
Another appointment was fixed for yesterday. I dragged myself to medical woman. We said familiar and exasperated hellos. “Well?” she asked. I gestured so-so with a wiggle of the hands. She peered inside me. “Good news.” The bereavement I felt at the loss of my daily chemical intake was only compounded by the thought that I was going to have to come out about the willy saga. But come out I did. For the second time in a surgery that deals with matters of ear, nose and throat, my pants were round my ankles. She prodded around and looked up close. “A reaction to the antibiotics,” she quipped assuredly in what I couldn’t help half-thinking was an attempt to cover her back. “There’s a very good homeopathic treatment and a cream which you smear on for as long as it takes the unsightliness to disappear and then ANOTHER WEEK AFTER THAT, just to be sure. In the meantime, no jiggy jiggy.” I’ll be fit for the clergy after all this asceticism, no doubt. “Oh, and when you get the cream, don’t be surprised that there’s an applicator with it and talk of women here and there in the instructions.”
I trotted round to the secretaries, three of whom made a massive effort not to be the one to have the hard task of handing me the prescription which had fulfilled the much harder task of printing itself out without a hint of complaint. I strode out into the heart of this fine city, resplendent in the 700th day of glorious sunshine in a row, secretly happy at the thought that at least the initial ailment was gone and my body hadn’t given up on me altogether. I flounced into the first chemist’s I found. And handed over my prescription. For vaginal cream.
Look after your health boys and girls. You never know what tricks your body’s going to play on you next.
Side effects June 27, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Tags: prostitutes, World Cup
Now I am, of course, very happy with all the spin-off revelry that Berlin – and, no doubt, all those other top German hotspots, like Gelsenkirchen – is witness to for the duration of the World Cup. The weather is being good to us. The tourists are here in great numbers (which is probably good for the economy or something. Drone) and the atmosphere is marvellous.
And I like the tourists, really I do, but perhaps Oranienburger Straße and the environs are best avoided for the rest of the championships. The Russian and I were out for a bit of random drinking and footballing on Sunday and by the time the Portugal-Holland five-a-side match was over, we found ourselves wandering ever closer to Oranienburgerstr. in search of entertainment. We had actually hoped to go queer, but where can one get a queer beer in the middle of Berlin? We sheepishly snuck up on Ackerkeller on the off-chance that it might have more than one customer, but it didn’t, and we couldn’t think of a single other option. (Is there one?) So we thought we’d throw in our lot with the tourists and wandered synagogue-wards.
Our first encounter with lost tourists involved a trio of gents from, I think, different corners of the English-speaking world: an Englishman, an Irishman and either an Australian, New Zealander or South African (walked into a bar… No, they didn’t). The non-European of the three was the leader, because he could say Danke schön a million times per utterance without giggling. He was also the best-looking. “Do you speak English?” they asked as one as the Russian and I approached. “Yes,” I replied, trying to change my voice so that we wouldn’t have to have a pretending-to-know-each-other-because-we’re-abroad-and-speak-the-same-language conversation, and, worse, spend the rest of the evening with them (although they were perfectly decent). “Oh, thank god,” the leader enthused, as if he’d just been informed that his attempt at sneaking across a tricky border and he was now back on friendly territory had been successful. (He managed to resist the temptation to embrace me.) “Can you, bitte, tell us, danke, danke, where such-and-such a club is? Danke.” Luckily, I didn’t know it. But the Russian did and so we could discuss in Russian how I’d instruct them to get there. The trio were probably perfectly happy that Russian was German and my foreigner credentials were assured. I kept a tinge of Russian in my English for the explanation, and I could see the trio wondering if I was an Eastern equivalent of Dick van Dyke (except in reverse, I suppose). But I managed to resist the temptation to out myself, accepted a torrent of Dankes with due grace, resisted the über-friendly overtures of the Irish gent, and sent them thundering on their way.
Oranienburgerstr. is a hopelessly touristy place, and we wandered around aimlessly, desperately looking for a single place that might be tolerable. We took detours. We considered new territory. But, sure enough, found ourselves heading back towards the tourist traps ere long. A panting, frantic, chubby gent asked, “Do you speak Eeeeeenglish?” “Yes,” I said, realising there was no need for me to outforeign this gent. “Can you tell me, Señor – OK, he didn’t say that – where is the bar such-and-such?” Neither of us knew it. “Do you know which street it’s on, my good man?” I asked. “Que no, que no.” I struggled to think how this relationship might develop. But his memory was jogged. “Is street with foxy ladies.” “Foxy ladies? Do you mean prostitutes?” “Yes, prostitutes. I am dronk.” As luck would have it, he was about half-a-second’s stagger from Foxy-Lady-Straße, and I sent him on his way like a good boy scout off to find his friends whom he had, mysteriously, been separated from. “Danke schön,” he quipped with panache, and I was happy to have met such good-natured tourists making an effort to integrate whilst here. (All’s well that ends well. Saw him revelling en masse later.)
Anyway, tourists or no tourists, and World Cup or no World Cup, but even on Foxy-Lady-Str., most things were closed (or empty) on a Sunday night. Finally hubbub in the distance heralded hope. With relief almost as great as our first tourists’, we sat down before getting a good shufti at our surroundings. We had mysteriously been transported to Ibiza. We were the only people over the age of 15. Children were smoking that bubbly thing. Is it a hookah? The place hadn’t yet been finished and reminded me a tad of the hotel in that Carry On film. The toilets had no doors. The staff believed majorly in the hard-sell. My Spanish came on in leaps and bounds in as long as it took to drink one beer. I almost hoped a prostitute might come and bother us to remind us where we were. We got out as quick as we could, and were just about to give up hope of a nice drink when we stumbled across the bar(s) in the land behind Tacheles. It was surprisingly nice, even if sand in a city is normally a very bad sign. Full of drunk Swedes and South Americans, which was fine. But, darlings, is it the party atmosphere or just straightforward drunkenness, but smoking in public in this city is now as dangerous as it is in Paris. For every one cigarette smoked, two are given away. Fuck off and buy your fucking own fucking cigarettes. The only one I was more or less willing to give away was to a drunken Swede, because he had the decency to flirt and converse for twelve nanoseconds before putting in his request.
Every silver lining has a cloud.
АлПу сold sweat June 25, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
I’ve just woken up in one. And I wasn’t even asleep.
Darlings, you know that mental disorder where you secretly think that everyone else thinks exactly as you do? And that everyone else IS actually the same as you? No? Is that just me, then? Anyway, megalohomoegomania, or whatever it is, has lulled me into a cosy but groundless sense of security.
It’s the hanging around, you see. I can’t really miss the football. So here I am, clicking my heels, drinking my 83rd coffee of the day, having a spot of pre-football preparatory carping with the Russian – thankfully he’s in worse shape than me at the moment, which is just so many strings to my carp-bow – and wondering what to do. Well, a spot of blogging, of course. But I thought I’d also seek solace in some really crap, mindless music. And, as I fingered the Русская коллекция (oh, OK, you old Korinthenkackers, the Русскую коллекцию) (Russian collection) out of its little plastic home, impaled it on the player-thingy and got ready to be distracted by Alla Pugacheva, it came to me. The realisation and the cold sweat. “Can it be true?” I thought. “Can it be true that there might be people on this planet, regardless of whether they have ever had the slightest connection with Russia or not, who have never heard of Alla Pugacheva?” So is it true? Is there a single one of you folks who might stumble sadly across this piffle when you could really be doing something much nicer, like drinking, or making money, or perhaps having a little bit of a smooch with your beloved, who has never come across the muse-tastic Alla Pugacheva, Russia’s supreme diva and the salvation from suicide of every homosexual in the former Soviet Union? (Darlings, I can’t do links when e-mailing my blog. But she’s well worth the google.) (Oh bugger, on second thoughts, here’s a link anyway, just in case you get the wrong Pugachev and end up with rebellions, Pushkin and all sorts of queernesses.)
Oh, wie ist das schön… June 25, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Not that I intend to write about football, really, but I do feel all INTEGRATED now that I know my first German football song. I even quite like it, heard for the first time chanted on a wave of sweat and testosterone in that tent in Prater – a beer-garden – where the temperature was AT LEAST 400 degrees (centigrade or Fahrenheit, I ain’t fussy) some days ago. It’s not a bad little ditty. Even quite tuneful, and I think singing’s an awfully good thing, and if it takes beating foreigners at footie to get young German men – maybe twelve ladies joined in too – to sing, then so be it. And far be it from me to do another bout of comparing like with like in this country and the homeland, but I think, “Oh, wie ist das schön,” is even a tiny bit more poetic and tuneful than, “Oooooooooooooooooooooooh, you’re shit, ha ha ha.” “Eng-er-land,” is up there battling it out for top-spot in my very own football-chant chart though.
It’s a glorious Sunday. I’ve got a squillion things I could vaguely be doing – none of them urgent. Well, there is a job application to contend with, but I need to scan something for it, and to use the scanner I have to remove one plug and insert another, which involves bending down and fiddling with that infernal tangle of wires just lying there being ugly behind every good computer, and that would give me BSE. Scanning’s awfully hard – but I don’t really plan to do them but what I do need to do, or not do, is not watch England’s match. Now that it’s the knock-out stages and vaguely exciting and there could even be penalties and all that, I just have to not be anywhere near a screen. So what do I do? Go to church? Does that last two hours? Anyway, I’m not religious. But I need to do something. Plus, the Russian’s crowing during an England football match would be unbearable, especially if Ecuador wins. That man would support Chechnya if they were playing England. (I think this is payback for me whooping for joy every time a Russian ice-skater fell at the Winter Olympics.) (Oh, and perhaps supporting Finland in the ice-hockey semi-final against you-know-who.) (Oh, and again, perhaps revelling slightly too enthusiastically at Finland beating you-know-who into second place at this year’s Eurovision.) (Oh, and because we’ve been together for over six years.) I could go to a park, I suppose, and attempt to toil through a page or two of Murakami. Or attempt a siesta.
And although I really am a tad footballed out, I feel, for the benefit of my several million readers abroad, I should point out that, for me at least, the World Cup is being a great boon to Berlin life. Well, OK, it still couldn’t make the area around Zoo not be total puke when I popped over there the other day to buy some Levis to smuggle back here to the East to sell for some hard currency, but in this half of town, or central bits of it, at least, the streets are awash with happy, jolly, pissed folk. The pavements outside bars and cafes are peppered with short-term, just-this-once football fans. The weather is fucking gorgeous. The atmosphere is friendly (although, admittedly, Germany is yet to lose a late-evening match (or, indeed, any match)). The novelty of cars honking and flags fluttering hasn’t yet worn thin. This morning one friend said he’s already dreading the World Cup being over. Personally, I’m going to enjoy the carnival while it lasts. When you even get Angie and the Bundespräsident practically tripping over each other to use chatty, colloquial German on TV one after the other and Angie talking about, “Our boys going to Berlin,” you’ve got to smile.
The Wild West June 24, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Darlings, West Berlin is all a dark forest to me, as our friends in Russia say. Every time I venture there, which is about as often as I venture to Ústí nad Labem, I am always mystified why anyone lives there at all, or why it isn’t just closed down and the whole population billeted to somewhere much nicer or the whole semi-city isn’t just transported to England or somewhere it’d suit better and have done with it. But exist it does, and I am a great one for believing in facing the truth. Wish as I might, West Berlin is attached to the rest of the city I call home and no big fuck-off park (plus zoo), river, or bits of wall are going to tell me otherwise.
Due to a misunderstanding, I ended up in that part of the city for a date – not a raunchy one. I mean a social engagement. Is there a better word for it in English? A rendez-vous? A meeting? (Business was not involved. Well, apart from the business of drinking) A tryst? (Though there was nothing surreptitious about it) – about a squillion hours early and was loth to get myself back on the train to more civilised climes, plus I’ve just discovered that a two-hour single ticket doesn’t allow you to go back and forth – interrupting your journey? Bitte schön. Aber retracing your steps? No way – so I whipped out my guide-book, my West German for beginners and decided to hang West for a couple of hours. The promotion terrorists are even more ruthless over there in the West. Not only is the best restaurant in town a Dunkin’ Donuts, but you have to take an even more circuitous route to not sign up for a two-week free subscription to Porno Weekly, not get a T-Mobile keyring and not offer to save the planet and all its animals. If it wasn’t that, I was fighting to not give away at least 90% of my cigarettes. “Haschte eene Zigarette vielleischt?” I begrudgingly proffered my fags. “I’ll take another one for my friend.” “No you fucking won’t,” I enacted, wordlessly, and scarpered.
But far be it from me to be a tourist who’s decided he’s going to have a bad holiday before he’s arrived. What was good about the West, in comparison to sleepy old Pankow, at least, is that Fussballfieber was alive and well. And when else might one get to see, unless an active participant of Orange Revolutions, Ukrainian flags fluttering in the breeze and car horns hooting in the best Slavic attempt I’ve seen yet at being Latin? I’m chuffed to bollocks that the Ukes are through, of course, although their hijinks did see me witness the first bit of hooliganism of the Weltmeisterschaft. A Uke in a car honked when the density of Tunisians on Tauentzienstraße was higher than it’s been in a long time. A livid Tunisian decided to retaliate with violence, but only had something soft in his hand, yet threw the feather – or whatever it was. Perhaps a bit of snotty tissue – at the long-since-departed Uke-mobile with vigour. Some more placid Ukrainians crossed the road cautiously.
Still, you can’t live on Fussballfieber and fresh air alone. I was bored. And time passed as slowly as only it can when you are hours too early for an immediate event. I popped to the Tiergarten for some peace and quiet and a nice sit down. Four rotund gents walked by in identical outfits of white t-shirt, blue shorts, white trainers and sports bags, as if on their way home from games. I assumed they were English but was mystified to hear them speaking Dutch. “Well I never,” I think I didn’t think. Then I realised it wasn’t Dutch. “Oh, so that must be that Plattdeutsch which Germans will always tell you is virtually identical to English,” I didn’t think, again, but should have. Then I realised they were Liverpudlian. Good legs for rotund gents, mind.
The Tiergarten is famed, in addition to its zoo, beer gardens and beauty, for its homosexuals. They loiter there at all hours of the day in their quest for love, orgasms and venereal diseases. I knew this full well in the corner I traipsed through, but daytime should be safe enough, I thought, and I promise I was only there because it’s the first bit you come to when you walk in from Zoo Station. It was deliciously peaceful. A couple lolled past me, uncomfortable on my rickety bench, in a rowing boat. It was an idyllic scene until the he of the couple started to rock it to show his lady-friend how good in bed he was. I tried to sit silently, philosophically. Which was boring, so I whipped out my mobile and wrote SMSes to everyone I know. “I’m in a beautiful park,” I wrote to best friend in London, in an attempt at poetry. “I’m in Montreal,” came his terse reply. I sat onwards, my bottom ever sorer. I leapt back up, thinking a one-step walk would miraculously make two hours pass. I went to pass three 17-year-olds on a bench. “Oi,” they cried. I ignored them valiantly, hoping my cigarette bulge wasn’t too obvious. “Oi,” they repeated, cocksurely. I puffed out my Hawtreyesque chest and turned round. “20 euros for my mate?” cried the one in the middle. I wrote the other day here that getting old is wonderful. Paying for sex was yet to enter the equation. “Not a penny over 19,” I said. No, I didn’t. I sniggered haughtily and went on my way, secretly as shocked as a Mother Superior who’d just seen her first penis.
There were still hours to go and, I’m sorry to say, I had to seek solace in a fast-food establishment by S-Bahnhof Tiergarten. I knew that Frauentausch would mark the thin end of the wedge. But, darlings, it was full of totty. Forget Castingallee and groovy types in Prenzlauer Berg. If it’s rough totty you’re after, Burger King Tiergarten is the place to be. I chomped through my whopper and decided to make use of their sanitary facilities to kill another twelve seconds. My heart sank when I saw a gent, saucer primed with planted 2-euro coins, loitering outside. I hoped he might be having a dust around when I came back out so I could sneak past without leaving him a tip. But as I went to wash my hands, his head popped round the corner and he thrust a towelette at me so that I didn’t have the hard task of raising my hands to the dispenser myself. Begrudgingly, for the second time in one post, I left him some change and went off to meet my friends.
It’s not safe over there, I tell you.
Camus and Wife Swap June 23, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Tags: Frauentausch, TV
I think I might have to move country. Or throw out the TV. Or have whatever German it is that has wormed its way into my unwitting brain removed before it’s too late.
I’ve had what could only rightfully be described as an unproductive day. Plenty of time-wasting. An obscenely long walk in the morning/afternoon to avoid work the only way I know how, by not being within striking distance of a computer. (May I also recommend having your mobile switched to its lowest possible volume? Thus you can miss calls with a light conscience without having deliberately turned the volume or the whole stinking contraption off and pretend that you would really have liked to take that call about proofreading a text on the fitments for fridge doors.) But how to avoid work once actually here, in my very own home-office? The internet provides chances galore, of course. Perhaps I wrote the odd e-mail. Did a bit of blog-surfing. Checked my bank balance 72 times. That sort of thing. I feigned – to myself – interest in the football. (Well, I was secretly gutted that the Czechs lost. And the Croatians are out too, I see. So it really is just the utterly mediocre – only in footballing terms, of course. Is Shevchenko up there for one of the dishiest players in the tournament, though? Answers in a comment, please – Ukrainians left to represent Slavdom.) When all my options were exhausted, I thought it was time to move away from the computer altogether – actually even turn it off. Always a traumatic moment, though a sweet sorrow – and feign even greater interest in the football by going as far as surrendering myself unto catatonia by having a game on the screen in front of me with neither fellow humans, alcohol or cigarettes for company. This lasted for about a billionth of a second before I decided to zap.
TV is fatal. I always pretend to be one of those groovy types that never watches because I’m too busy reading Camus or out at a north Bulgarian film festival. But I do secretly watch. I actually get up in the middle of the night, like the secret lemonade-drinker, when no-one is awake – admittedly, on our street, I wouldn’t have to wait too long for this. The police tend to do a drive-by if a light is switched on at 9.05pm – and watch all the brilliant programmes like the round-ups of German chat-show clips made with absolutely no attention to the calendar whatsoever. They’ll happily throw a clip from last week’s Oli Geissen show in next to one from Bärbel from 1992. I get sartorial culture shock about twice a minute. Then there are the ladies in various states of undress and doing odder and odder things with their bosoms, which I can’t believe gives anyone at all any pleasure, least of all them, and especially the older ladies with very generous bosoms indeed who are, as a rule, obliged to jiggle them about like the jelly in Roobarb and Custard. (Was there jelly in Roobarb and Custard? Or did everything wobble in Roobarb and Custard?) I occasionally let my finger rest for a second as I get to the all-night programme advertising the fitness equipment as I try to work out whether the men there are beautiful or not. And I worry every time for the sanity of the programme-planners over at N24, a sort of cheapo, German, 24-hour, rolling-news channel but often the news is only ticker-taped in along the bottom of the screen and the rest is filled with images of natural and man-made disasters. Never a nice programme about someone making a lovely cake. Always a volcano erupting. Too babyish. They should employ some women or homosexuals, perhaps, to loosen the grip of this obsession with violence.
So this evening I watched TV. And I accidentally got consumed with Frauentausch, German for Wife Swap. Not just lightly absorbed. Consumed. Glued-to-the-screen, swearing-when-the-adverts-came, forgetting-I’d-run-out-of-cigarettes consumed. It was a wonderfully extreme case – now I’m not just trying to show off, but this really was the first time I’ve seen it, so maybe they always manage to get such polar opposites – with a fun-loving, not-majorly-posh mother from the wicked West swapping with a majorly Christian, frumpy, old sourpuss from the East. Darlings, it was much the best thing I’ve ever seen. Better than Citizen Kane, or the Battleship Potemkin. And even better than what’s-his-face Maguire in Pleasantville, but it was along similar lines. The wicked Wessi mother wrought havoc, in a good way, in the Ossi household and the 700 children, and even the husband, adored her and she adored them and there were tears and hugs and sobbing and sadness as she left. And the über-religious Ossi mum was loathed in equal measure by each of the members of her ersatz family and neither could wait to see the back of the other. (Having said all this, the very-odd-indeed religious mum’s children were marginally the nicest.) And then there is the crescendo when the two wives finally meet and, inevitably, hate each other. For full effect, both ladies were decidedly queer-looking. It was too good to be true.
Which is why I must move to Slovenia, so that I won’t be able to watch TV again for the first three-or-so years of my stay there. Or make a concerted effort to speak even less German. Or, of course, throw out the TV, whip out my Camus and get me to the nearest north Bulgarian film festival.
Sad return to a theme June 22, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Tags: belarus, br23
I have got carried away with being silly, perhaps because of the sun, on this blog of late and have ignored serious themes altogether. I’ve only really ever had one serious theme, and that is the disgrace of the Lukashenka regime in Belarus. I’ve stopped writing about it for a number of reasons, but chiefly because I’m not well-informed and can only rely on better-informed sources – frequently bloggers – for information. In any case, even if I’ve stopped writing on Belarus, I continue to visit Belarusian blogs with the same frequency I ever did.
Perhaps the best-known Belarusian blog, written in both English and Belarusian, is the award-winning br23. Its writer chooses to stay anonymous, but we do know that he is a 30-year-old Belarusian called Uladzimir, with an Albanian wife, living in Prague. He has been a reliable and constant source of information on the wrongdoings of the Belarusian regime and his views appear around the net. His blog has also featured a radio interview where he eloquently informed the uninitiated, in English, just why they ought to be alarmed at the style of leadership in a country bordering the European Union.
Uladzimir went quiet this week. This was unusual. He has always posted regularly. Then, in the comments to his latest post, someone who somehow knows him has revealed that Uladzimir and his wife have been involved in a terrible car accident and that both are in hospital with very serious injuries. Uladzimir is in a coma. His wife has had either one or both legs amputated.
Since then, I have been clicking around various Belarusian blogs to try to get an update on Uladzimir’s state. I await further news. Bloggers often seem like friends you haven’t met yet. People you almost know. Thankfully, given the nature of the medium, this is normally all light-hearted. Just occasionally, sadness strikes too. I don’t know what to say, as a blogger worried about another blogger. Perhaps the religious amongst you might pray for Uladzimir and his wife. Perhaps others might hope for them. I wish them all the best.
Good company June 21, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
As anyone in the right parts of the northern hemisphere might well have noticed, it’s summer. I’m not sure whether I can trust the calendar completely, but, all being fair, today is even the longest day of the year. Which meant I just had to go on a longish walk to gather my thoughts, suck in some rays, mull over the blissful visit of friends and see if I could come up with some blog-food.
The trouble was, in spite of the perfect weather, I was ill fitted out for such a walk. The walk was preceded by the rubbish going out, so I was laden down with carefully triaged waste. I ceremonially flipped open the bio-waste thing, tore open the plastic bag with non-eaten comestibles and went to do the what-should-have-been-an-easy-transaction thing of pouring the contents of the bag into the bin before then sorting the soiled bag into its proper container. But there was terrible splashback and I got splatted in bits of mushy old banana and tea leaf. Still, I daren’t have gone back upstairs as I might have switched the computer on again and not left the house till November. So I soldiered on and took the back streets so no-one would notice the soiling.
I am accused round these ‘ere parts of not sticking strictly to my own items in the wardrobe so, to avoid a sartorial moment, I decided to rummage around and find a horrible pair of shorts of my own, or at least ones that had been handed down to me personally. They have withstood the test of time and don’t create hilarity amongst passers-by, even if they were purchased very early this millennium. But the trouble is, the bastards are held up with that stringy, toggly type fastener that swimming trunks are. I yank the cord as tight as it will go and then adjust the plasticky thing that’s meant to hold them in place. But every time you breathe out, the thing loosens slightly and you’re at risk of losing them altogether, and I’m not even sure the underwear I’m wearing would be suitable for Berlin eyes. So, whilst trying to think, I had to keep my hands in my pockets and make a fist to stop me exposing myself, which wasn’t the worst drag in the world but was tricky when I needed to smoke which made me all a bit lop-sided.
Anyway, I thought about getting old and its side effects. No, not in a gloomy way. For I am a great believer in getting old. I am sure – although I am also sure that there must be a cut-off point where things really do go arse over tit, but anyway – that life gets better the older you get. I would much rather die – well, OK, sprain my ankle – than be 19. I admit, it’s tough becoming an object of spirallingly diminishing sexual interest as the years click by – although I still seem to be able to attract the attention of the odd man in his 70s, funnily enough – but I’ve now learnt to cope with the disappointment of realising that, just when I think a handsome beast is ogling me on the U-Bahn, he is in fact watching the TV at the end of the carriage. In any case, by a remarkable twist of fate, I’ve managed to bag a much-too-handsome-for-me young Russian, so I don’t EVEN have to bemoan the onset of unsexiness with any great degree of misery. (Not quite sure how I bagged him, actually. There was no bag, rope and surreptitious crossing of borders involved. He must have fallen for my charm, wit, staggering social skills and great wealth. Not.) (Mind you, this was 100 years ago. Even I was young then.)
Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, getting old. Which I’ve written about before, I’m sure. But I’ve noticed a new (and good) side effect. It’s the friend thang. I’ve just spent a weekend of pure bliss and ecstasy with one old pal and his wife. (No partner-swapping was involved.) (Sorry, I think the sun does this to your hormones.) And just before they arrived, I saw another group of old pals, some of whom I hadn’t seen for an age either. And, darlings, it was all bliss. Every damned second of it. Which shouldn’t necessarily have anything to do with age, I suppose. Maybe young folk even have friends. (Can anyone confirm?) But, somehow, these relationships all seem far more important as the years tick by. Perhaps there’s a selfish angle to all this. Maybe friends, especially old ones, are personified pins plotting hotspots on the map of your past. (I’m worried the next stage of ageing will be that I’ll start longing for Christmas and raucous family occasions.) It also helps, of course, if the old friends are fucking good company.
But as I settle back down today to domesticity – to translations, (late) tax declarations – OK, only one, but I need the … fuck, can’t remember. What is that? Assonance? – and applications, god do I feel bereft.
July 10th June 15, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
I know it’s rude to play with the fates like this, but I’m convinced I’ll be dead by the end of the Weltmeisterschaft. No, no, not another gloom post, I promise. No, it’s all the hard living. If I don’t put a lid on this World Cup boozing – I wouldn’t drink every day of the week otherwise, you see – and smoking and all-round festivating, I’m sure I’ll keel over any minute now. Which would be a chore. Then there are the friends in town and others arriving soon, so some serious festivating needs to be done with them, which is almost bound to involve a drop or two of booze and some fags as a perfect side-order. All of which means I might end up looking rather a lot more like an archetypal English football fan – the sun’s helping pinkness levels, obv – very soon indeed and will blend in as well as the next man if they ever arrive en masse in Berlin. (The Swedes are doing that currently.)
But what else might have me croaking by the end of the World Cup? Well, although the only real connection between the piece of work I’m (not) doing and death should be that the very sight of it makes me want to donate my body to science whenever someone’s willing to come round and give me the lethal injection, I might actually be crucified for not doing it. I will do it, eventually, because I have to, and said I would, and I want the cash, and I’m vaguely a grown-up. But I’ll be hollered at by all and sundry if I’m late, which is looking deliciously likely. But who could and indeed should even work at times like these? When Germany is in (spiritual) bloom and having a renaissance of self-worth? And the sun is out, there’s beer to be drunk, fags to be smoked and oodles of so-fucking-gorgeous-I-can-hardly-bear-it men to leer at wistfully? Who? Angie isn’t, for one, because she was sitting with Pan Prezydent yesterday in Dortmund watching football, presumably, before trying hard to not celebrate Germany’s last-gasp winner TOO rabidly, lecturing him on gay rights and asking him if he was the older or younger of the two brothers. A twin? Really? Identical? Different eggs? Really? (The Russian is a twin. I know this conversation.)
And, speaking of the Russian, I might also be dead by the end of the Weltmeisterschaft because the Russian will have nagged me to death by then for precisely all the misbehaviour laid out in the first two paragraphs of this piece of tosh and one or several of my vital organs will give up the ghost and I’ll meet my maker. Damn, if I miss England raising the trophy for the second time – missed it first time round because I hadn’t got round to being born yet – I’ll be livid. Dead, but livid. Here’s to making it to July 10th.
An eternal haircut June 13, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
The thing is, I frankly need to be pretty. Some old friends are in town and I need to impress, and it ain’t easy, as they’re heterosexual Scandinavians, who are hard-wired to be effortlessly drop-your-Calvins gorgeous. Then RFM organises a get-together every now and then which brings together bloggers and other Berlin luminaries and I want to go this week, so I need to be pretty for that. And then, as I’ve already mentioned, a funky New Yorker is in town at the weekend, so I need to impress again. It’ll be one long impress this week. (Fuck, fuck, WHEN am I going to work?) Plus, I know I look ludicrous with the Hugh-Grant look which I’ve been sporting, sort of unintentionally, of late, and as Russians don’t do subtlety and feeling-sparing, I’ve occasionally noticed the odd look of utter dumbfoundedness on the Russian’s beautiful features as I loom into view and it’s beginning to give me BSE. Anyway, I’m much posher than that guttersnipe Grant, so had decided the dumbing-down look had to go.
So I’ve gone for the Wayne-Rooney look instead.
But haircuts are traumatic. And an eternal one would be a much worse ordeal than what that geezer who had to push a rock uphill for ever in the underworld had to face. And it’s far more incisive a bout of self-analysis than going to a confessional or a shrink. For what else is there to do as you sit and stare at yourself for half an hour but navel-gaze?
My hairdresser was a nice old lady. With a lived-in face, a rotund figure and clearly a long-term alcoholic, she still lorded over the establishment as if it was her living room. She had a lovely old chat with the oldish man in front of me – why need anyone wear brown socks? – and I slightly worried I wouldn’t be able to give her as good chat as he had given, especially as the whole exchange was conducted in pure Berlinois.
But we didn’t do too much chat. A bit of football, once she’d recovered from the shock of realising she had a foreign customer. She looked on mystifiedly and sympathetically as I tried to express what it was I wanted before sneaking off round the back for, I’m guessing, a quick shot of Jägermeister. (I must learn German for short-back-and-sides. Mullet is the limit of my German hair-vocab so far.) But then she left me to stew in my very own mirrored confessional. (And they even dress you like a vicar for a haircut here. White dog-collar and black cassock.) “Who are you fucking looking at?” I leered wordlessly at the gent leering back at me. “What have you done with your life?” “Why have you considered it acceptable to inflict that non-cut hair on all and sundry?” And was that a glimpse of multiple chins as she pushed my head downwards with all the force of someone attending one of Berlin’s more flagrant gay parties but I strained to not lose sight of myself anyway in case it was a particularly revealing moment? “And since when has my left eye been 18 times the size of my right?” It was agony, I tell you. And I couldn’t get out of the place quickly enough once the nasty business of paying was dealt with, back into the deliciously hot Berlin air.
But it was worth it. Just you wait till I see you all, pals. I’m as pretty as a picture.
Get into the groove June 12, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
If any of you are at a bit of a low ebb, though, may I recommend taking up smoking as a great boon? I thought yesterday it was time to nip some renascent smoking culture chez moi in the bud, and have this evening chosen to nip the nipping in the bud in the bud, and it’s done me the world of good. I’ve put on Duel by Propaganda to heighten my spirits further still, wondering once more why no German knows this fabulous German song. (Perhaps I should occasionally meet people older than 3.)
Anyway, this is doubly no time for misery. There’s no point me seeking sympathy for having to work. I think I’m onto a hiding to nothing there. And I’ve got to get through the bit of work that’s currently stalking me – better have a quick blog, though, just in case I actually get started – as guests arrive this weekend. And not just any old guests. No. An old pal. And a blogger. And only a blogger from NYC and his missus – no link – who’ve never been to Berlin before so how do I show the city in its best light and make Berlin seem even groovier than New York? Is this doable? I need tips galore. Nightlife tips. Daylife I can do. But nightlife. Where’s funky? But not so funky that I’ll vomit with nerves about being turned away by the bouncer at the door for not being perfect, and then be turned away by the bouncer at the door for being covered in puke. Tips, darlings, tips! Our city’s reputation is at stake.
A bit of a moan June 12, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Wigs, sausage, football June 11, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Anyway, football. I’m a bit all footballed out, and it’s only day 3. I’ve watched five matches in two days, and the gay gene is struggling, it has to be said. England’s utterly boring match I watched at home. A line-up of pure stars – but who is that ten-foot-tall Rodney Trotter person with legs skinnier than mine? – were deeply unimpressive, but I’m sure they’ll settle now and win the thing. T&T were fucking marvellous. That was my highlight of the cup so far, but I watched the match in a homosexual establishment and they were too cool to turn their stupid fucking lounge music off, so that ruined the atmos slightly. I whooped with the Germans in the most goalful first match ever. Was indifferent about Poland Ecuador, really. And genuinely entertained by Argentina and Ivory Coast. Fucking good match, and that group, with Holland and Serbia and Montenegro – can a country that doesn’t exist – mind you, England is there – be allowed to take part? Couldn’t they be ruled out, as Yugoslavia was before Euro ’92 so that the Danes could come in at the last minute and win the whole thing? Are there any Montenegrins on the team? – must surely be being touted as ‘The Group of Death’. And rightly so.
Anyway, enough of my chuff. You need to go elsewhere too. The bookseller is in football mode, but also has breaking news from Germany, and it involves sausage. Daggi appreciates the World Cup from another angle (and there’s a wig). And an American in Berlin is determined to piss everyone off at his place.
Teetering tortoises June 8, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Summer has come back to Berlin, and not a day too soon. OK, a day too soon. If it had arrived tomorrow instead, we could have had endless opportunities for football+sun-related headlines. “The Sun Smiles on World Cup Opener” (The Times of London or Manchester Guardian.) “Muggy in Munich” (The Daily Mirror.) “Sonne, Fussball, Bier und Titten” (Bild.) “Fritz Blitz” (The Sun.) The autistic among you may have noticed that I have frequently bemoaned the location of this Wohnung. We’re on the unsunny side of the street. The ideologist in me would like science to be fair. I know we move round the sun. And I know that we get sun for some of the day. But why only five minutes at 6pm? Aren’t we as deserving of at least almost as much as the 100%-long-term-unemployment house across the street, every resident of which is now sporting a two-weeks-in-Tenerife tan?
Anyway, to celebrate the sun’s return, a new job today fell out of the skies and into my lap(top). It’s wrist-slashingly dull, and I need to be quite cunning to find work-avoidance tactics. Luckily, a bit of sloth over the last couple of days gave me household chores galore to go about with a fury, and they are now completed nicely. I went out onto the balcony for our sunny five minutes to pollute myself and the world around me with a well-deserved fag. I surveyed the suburban view in all its glory. The residents of the 100%-long-term-unemployment house leered over in envy. Handsome customers traipsed into the hairdresser’s downstairs. A lady walked slowly as she fumbled an SMS. But then my eye was caught by something much closer to home. In the neighbouring house, on the floor below, a tortoise was clambering out of one of those old metallic tubs that folk used to wash in in old American TV programmes – Charles Ingles probably had one – and in that painting in one of the first rooms of the National Gallery. Can’t think by whom. Probably Pissarro. Or Damien Hirst. One of the two. Only the tortoise’s tub was much smaller, which already had me thinking I might have to jam the German RSPCA’s switchboard. I watched it clamber with concern. I could already see it was a bit of a schmuck. It was clambering as wildly as a slow-moving animal can. It obviously didn’t have a clue where it was going and had patently received very little guidance in life. Its clambering was beginning to get silly. It got to a stage where it was half out of its tub, and for a split second it looked imperious, in a dicaprioesque way, as it too surveyed its suburban view, straight into its masters’ flat. Then it began to wobble as I did when I first tried (and never tried again) to negotiate roller-skates. Quick as a flash, I thought, I need to shout out, “Madam – I thought its owner was most likely a lady – your tortoise is teetering,” but resigned myself to helplessness when I realised in an equally quick flash that I know neither the word for ‘tortoise’ or ‘teeter’ in German. And then the bastard fell, with a proper thud, but must have rolled too, because it disappeared out of view and I’m now none the wiser as to whether it survived or not.
I turned to the Russian for reassurance. “Darling, the neighbour’s/neighbours’ черепаха (cherepakha) – which in fact means turtle, I think, but I can’t be expected to distinguish between shelled fauna in a foreign language – has fallen out of its bucket.” He placated me manfully. “It will be fine. They’re very strong. Even if it landed on its head it’ll be all right.” I breathed evenly once more. “We used to have a tortoise,” he went on, cosily. I’d never known about the Russian’s family tortoise. As far as I knew, there’d only been a dog, the most violent and nasty Alsatian in the whole Republic of Komi. “I never knew you had a tortoise.” He began to look guilty, and tried to confound my concentration with complaints about why I’d disturbed him for tortoise-talk. “We didn’t have it long,” he confessed. “We took it out to play one day and it ran away.” RAN away.
I think we’d better have a child and not a pet after all…
Berliner Schnauze June 7, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
…or Berlin gob, for the non-German speakers. The Berliners are awfully famous for it, for a good ten kilometres into Brandenburg at least, and they’re also awfully proud of it. But I’m not sure what it is, and if it should be something to be proud of at all. It might be as elusive and hard to pin down as the effing русская душа, or Russian soul, which I’ve never heard a good definition of either but which one Russian gent in Petrozavodsk, in an attempt to clear up the confusion (which involved stubbing a lit cigarette out on his hand), told me, succinctly, “It’s what we’ve got and what you haven’t.” But, anyway, if I’ve understood correctly, then Berlin gob is gob in a good and bad sense, but with the emphasis on the good. Sort of Yorkshire-like say-what-we-like-and-like-what-we-say, or Scouse… What is it that Liverpudlians have again? Is it charm or wit? Anyway, that Scouser cheeky chappy thing.
But I’m wondering if there’s an evolutionary morphological take on all this. Maybe Berliners are no more cheeky and witty and forthright than their comrades from Chemnitz, but maybe all the belief in it has so convinced them of their superior/inferior (delete as appropriate) gob that they’ve gone and… well, got strange gobs.
As this is part of a scientific paper I’ll be submitting for peer-review to some very important journal or other, probably in the States, even, ere long, I’ll back up my premise – or is this a theory? – with hard evidence. Facts, if you will. Today is a relatively glorious day. Glorious seeing as this has been the coldest summer since the Ice Age, apart from those hot ten minutes in May when we all thought we could put away the SSRIs for the rest of the season. Today I only needed a shirt and jumper as I paraded around the city centre – unintentionally contentious, claiming Berlin’s got a centre – but as I felt the frostbite set in, I thought it was time to hop onto a trusty tram and wend my way home. And I saw a gazillion cases of Berliner Schnauze in minutes. Perhaps it’s the season, now that Spargel’s done and dusted. (Or isn’t it, even? I grew up in a city.)
I got distracted at the tram-stop by news – yes, at the tram-stop – that Nicole Kidman has got married, or is about to marry. I slightly didn’t give a toss about that, of course, but I hadn’t noticed that tram-stops now had rolling news till today, although I have tried to check my e-mail at one before… Just as I was about to be fully engrossed by news of Ms. Kidman’s nuptials, I heard a (Gordon-)brownian drop of jaw with that smack of lip and sharp intake of breath behind me. I swung round to see a woman with a Pepsi-&-Shirley haircut – actually, it could even have been the blonde one of the two, age-wise, if she’s moved to Berlin and stayed loyal to that style – browning loudly and muttering, audibly enough for her imagined enemy to hear, at having to make a minuscule detour round a dog. Sometimes I feel awfully normal. Pepsi (or Shirley) wasn’t old. The detour didn’t make her miss a tram or anything. So perhaps it was just a sense of civic pride that made her brown, to show off to any Paraguayans or Angolans who happen to be in town for you-know-what that she wasn’t from Duisburg. Cow.
That first exciting incident was scarcely behind me when the next, also dog-related, bout of Schnauze-display was to the fore. I sat on the tram next to a Russian granny and granddaughter discussing the latter’s sixth birthday. “One year ago you were five, two years ago you were three,” and then she gave up before she got any more confused and they dashed off the tram in a fluster. I don’t think the granddaughter had noticed. Babushka might think she got away with it altogether. I should have piped up that I’d spotted the gaffe and ruined her day properly. But anyway… Schnauze. A drug-addled, or perhaps just horrible, youngish woman got on with a dog that was way too good for her. A loyal, well-groomed, kempt, slightly-depressed-looking beauty, and it paced around about its mistress’s feet for a millisecond before it had understood, dutifully, exactly which position to adopt. In that intervening millisecond, a quite obscenely dressed lady, with an early perm – early in perm-history terms, I mean, not that she’d just had it done, though she might have, but it was an awfully bad job if so – was delayed for the aforementioned time by the beautiful dog from taking her seat in the tram that was no doubt transporting her homewards for an afternoon and evening feast of quiz shows, courtroom dramas and, I shouldn’t wonder, cuisine that involved unfresh vegetables. There was the brownian jaw, the accompanying sound effect, and a mutter loud enough to be heard by the dog, its mistress and everyone within an appropriate Schnauze radius. Luckily, the mistress was too mad to notice.
Now hasn’t there been some campaign or other in time for the World Cup where we all get a Blue-Peter-style badge which miraculously transforms us – he says, temporarily becoming a rude, gruff Berliner – into scouts and brownies (nothing to do with slack jaw), always willing to lend a hand to a Ghanaian football fan who’s got on the wrong S-Bahn and ended up in Frohnau? Has this Berlinizing, then, come to nothing? Can not even the World Cup and the promise of saccharine smiles and everyone going happily about their business turn ‘us’ Berliners into paragons of politeness and, well, urbanity? Or is it dyed yellow hair and gob for the long haul? Oder wat?
No tears for Fritz June 6, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
This summer is going to be a whirly blur of booze and football. Three Danish friends arrive this weekend for I don’t know how long. Perhaps the whole World Cup. I spent some of the last one with them in Denmark. (Thankfully I’d left by the time England thrashed them mercilessly.) Apart from it being the time I had the blackest tan I’ve ever had, it was also the time of the oddest drinking hours. Because the World Cup was in Japan and Korea, the matches were often on at crack of dawn in Denmark. When Denmark was playing, we were obliged to celebrate/commiserate in the only way acceptable, which meant cracking open bottles of beer at 7am. Heaven. As Denmark hasn’t qualified this time, and as they’ll be on a ‘boys’ tour’ in Berlin, I suppose we’ll have to drink twice as much. And then there’s a stag party gaggle coming later in the summer. I need to get heterosexuals out of my life. (Mind you, heterosexuals don’t do drugs, do they? Or is that Catholics? I can never remember.)
Arrogant haircuts June 5, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Another reason for the posting being thin on the ground of late is guests. Homosexuals from the Big Smoke and we’ve been getting up to all sorts of mischief. (I feel 12. OK, 19.) I’ve got a feeling I might turn into one of the more boring, late-developer characters from a Hollinghurst novel. In a nod to being tourists in Berlin, we made our way to the Carnival of Cultures here yesterday. Did folk go? Too odd. As I emerged from the U-Bahn at Hermannplatz onto the Berlin equivalent of Kilburn High Road, there was a Trinidadian float with folk strutting their stuff and waving (and dropping) flags. “Oh, Notting Hill Carnival,” I thought. They were followed by the Hare Krishna float which had been hijacked by an old loon riding a bike with vegetation attached and then came the Goa float, which was full of 18-year-olds having a rave. On Kilburn High Road! In the rain! The Brazilian float had the blondest and least coordinated Brazilian dancers I’ve ever seen. The Country and Western float was far the most popular, thanks to post-Eurovision Country and Western mania here. I think.
Anyway, this is by the by. The guests concurred with me that the official language of London is now Polish. Is there nothing that nation can’t turn its hand to? Not only do Poles now staff every cafe and building site in the capital, they’re solving Europe’s priest shortage too. As I, by some very wicked twist of fate, plotted by my father, no doubt, ended up working for a Catholic organisation in Russia, I was constantly surrounded by Polish priests. All the females that came across them would say, “What a waste!” I would pretend I didn’t know what they were talking about. But yes, Poles and Catholicism. When I went to Bialystok from St. Petersburg to attend some conference, there were spangly new churches all over the shop. And I’m wondering whether there are any priests, or at least seminarians, in the Polish World Cup squad. I fully expect Poland to win the World Cup. And for tears of joy to be shed. And then tears of misery that they hadn’t won it earlier. Go Polska! Go Polska!