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Teetering tortoises June 8, 2006

Posted 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…



1. Welshy - June 9, 2006

Isn’t tortoise “schildkrote” or something like that? How wonderful! I remember a sort-of single word of German! No idea on “teeter” though – do you perhaps know the word for “stagger/wobble” instead? I’m sure that would suffice.

2. Bowleserised - June 9, 2006

The whole tortoise/di Caprio comparison is almost too apposite. Love it!

3. BiB - June 9, 2006

Schildkröte – shielded toad – it is. Well remembered. Having played around with online dictionaries, I think the best verb would be ‘taumeln’, which is defined as teeter, stagger and wobble. “Madam, Ihre Schildkröte taumelt unglaublich gefährlich am Rand des Blecheimers,” is what I’ll shout if I’m ever lucky enough to witness such a scene again. (Perhaps someone with proper German knowledge can edit that for me.) (And for some reason, that sentence has reminded me of, “Ambassador, you are really spoiling us,” from the Ferrero Rocher ads.)

B., I must admit that the tortoise didn’t look quite as cocksure in its split second of imperiousness as old Leonardo did, but he came close…

4. Michael Scott Moore - June 9, 2006

“Madam, Ihre Schildkröte taumelt unglaublich gefährlich am Rand des Blecheimers,” is so good that I think you should use it in general conversation. Add one -e (“am Rande”) and I think you’re in excellent shape.

5. BiB - June 9, 2006

MSM/RFM, thanks for the tip. I’m ready to go now. Gonna get me on that balcony and stalk that tortoise.

6. Wyndham - June 10, 2006

Clearly, that tortoise was recreating his past Titanic glory in that bath tub.

7. BiB - June 10, 2006

But do we have documentary evidence that there were shelled creatures on the Titanic? I know they can live for at least several million years, so perhaps this one does have an interesting past. By the way, the Charles-Ingles-bucket has now been replaced on the balcony with some plants. Between you and me, I think the tortoise copped it.

8. Adrian - June 12, 2006

I’ve just been laughing and laughing about a tortoise running away. Did you find out what really happened?

9. BiB - June 12, 2006

It all remains a very dark mystery, much like my relationship with the former tortoise-owner, come to think of it…

10. Welshy - June 15, 2006

I’ve been away for ages it seems – so much bloggage! But in any case thank you so much for that fantastic phrase – I am going to use it somehow, somewhere tomorrow! (I have already been using “unglaubichly” for a few weeks!)

11. BiB - June 15, 2006

But Welshy, why put off till tomorrow what you can do today? Go tortoise-stalking now. (Still no sign of the poor beast. It really must have croaked. I hate having been a silent witness to its demise.) Personally, I’m longing to get some mileage out of ‘taumeln’, my new verb, but occasions are proving thin on the ground. Flip!

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