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Hölping August 31, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
To reward myself for finishing one of the most hellish translations since someone bothered to translate Carlos Ruiz Zafón into English and in the full knowledge that I’m utterly not behind schedule with the current translation and because I got a 2p tax rebate yesterday, I decided to pop out for a quick self-congratulatory queer beer.

Having valiantly survived the atrocious weather to get there, teeth chattering for the first time since May, I settled in for some Bierbauch-reinforcing consumption and got on with giving up giving up smoking. Chatted to a couple of acquaintance queens, one of whom told me about the difficulties of being a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence. I was as sympathetic as could be. (“Some take two hours to do their make-up, whereas I only take one.”)

I popped to the loo for a self-congratulatory wee. En route, I came across a gentleman sitting on the floor, almost recumbent, with his trousers round his ankles. Thankfully, his undercrackers were where they were meant to be. I didn’t react immediately, as I wondered if this might be some type of performance, or whether he was being some living installation, or whether this was perhaps pants-round-ankles night and I just hadn’t noticed. Plus, there were others wandering past him too, and most paid no attention, stepping over this inconvenience-made-flesh.

Another responsible queen and I exchanged concerned glances. Call us sharp, but we realised all was not well with this gent. It wasn’t a performance. He was either pissed or stoned out of his head, or had just had a stroke. It was time to help. The trouble is, I can never remember whether the verb for to help in German is hilfen or helfen so always have to disguise my ignorance by saying a neutral-sounding hölfen which instantly makes folk realise you’re a foreigner, or mad, and they ask where you’re from, or what medication you’re on, and we didn’t need that distraction yesterday. “England,” I said, curtly, as we bent down to take an arm each over the shoulder.

I suppose this was as close to parenthood as I’m going to get. Once we’d heaved him upright – and he was a big, chunky thing – I started having to pull up his trousers. This went smoothly enough until I got to the final over-the-hips movement. I had to yank like fuck, and still didn’t succeed and just didn’t think I had the right, in 2006, with consciousness of violation of personal space and all that where it is, to start fiddling around with belts and buttons right in that danger zone. I left them at rapper height and hoped for the best.

We began to tug him towards a bench. His pants were back round his ankles in seconds. I gave them one good final yank and indecent exposure was a thing of the past. It was surprisingly hard work for us two queens – the other one made me look butch – to hoist him up the few centimetres onto the bench. Especially as his jelly-like body couldn’t manage the hard work of L-shaped sitting and he wanted to slither naturally to the floor. Eventually I held him in place and wondered if this was to be my fate for the next couple of hours.

“Hey, Sven, Sven,” hollered some drunken twat who’d already asked me for a cigarette. “Do you know him, then?” queen B and I asked, as one. “No,” he said, washing his hands of all responsibility. We tried to pour water into Sven. This afforded limited success, and a wet chin. The homely Polish barman then appeared, brandishing a flannel full of ice-cubes, and gave Sven a facial bench-bath. Sven showed signs of life and slurred his disapproval. The Polish barman looked at us western queens to show us that if you need to get something done properly, then get a Slav to do it.

We hoiked Sven to a bench closer to the bar-door to get some fresh air into his lungs. Again, there was the jelly-body+bench factor. I held on to him for my life.

The cigarette-poncing twat reappeared – he too was huge – and dragged Sven outside. I followed. “You do know him, then?” “No,” the twat insisted. We asked Sven where he lived. “Pwthl,” came the reply. “Fat chance we’ve got of getting him back to some village in Wales at this hour,” I thought, until I realised it was the drink talking. His second attempt was more succinct, and revealed that he lived on S_ str., just round the corner and a three-minute walk for a mobile person but a good four-hour stumble and slither for someone in Sven’s condition. Sven wobbled off, and I thought, good-samaritanishly, that I’d better finish what I’d started. I dashed back into the bar to get my full-winter clothing, but when I reappeared, there was no sign of slithering Sven. I wandered S_str.-wards thinking I’d catch him up, but no sign. The poncing twat had presumably stolen him and sold him into slavery.

I wandered home, sober, and with a full packet of cigarettes. That doesn’t happen too often.

Backblog August 30, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Too dim to write a book review. And too freezing. Why must it be THIS cold? I’ve got every orifice to the outside world closed and am wearing a number of layers. I already let my eye linger lovingly on some long-johns this afternoon. But, anyway, I’ve got a backblog to clear and A Woman in Berlin was one of the things on it.

As I say, no review. But a quote, as our non-anonymous anonymous heroine wonders how to go on with her city and Volk in tatters. (Honestly, how prehistoric. Hasn’t mental cut-&-paste been invented yet? I actually have to type this out…)

Sunday May 13th 1945.
I’m just an ordinary labourer, I have to be satisfied with that. All I can do is touch my circle and be a good friend. What’s left is just to wait for the end. Still, the dark and amazing adventure of life beckons. I’ll stick around, out of curiosity, and because I enjoy breathing and stretching my healthy limbs.

I rather like that matter-of-factness. The book is full of it. Its stories are sometimes incredible, but the incredible became ordinary. Rape became ordinary. But life was got on with, for what else could be done? The collective experience of rape was somehow its only comfort. As the heroine explains, if this hadn’t been wartime, there’d have been the reporting of it, the having to face the rapist, potentially. Now, you got on with it in the knowledge that most of the other women you met had been raped too.

And the relationship with the Soviet soldiers is equally odd. There are moments of warmth. By befriending the right soldiers, food can be guaranteed. By befriending one soldier, the attentions of others can be avoided. Befriending the wolf to stave off the pack, as the heroine herself puts it. And how she wishes all stocks of alcohol could somehow have been destroyed before the final advance. There would have been much less rape without it.

There is fear, in some quarters, that this book may be a fake. It is wonderfully well written, but then the authoress was a journalist with rich travel experience and a handy turn of phrase. It wasn’t published for years after the war, and in English first. Germans only got to read it in the 60s and it caused such uproar – such a humiliation for German men – that it has only been rereleased in the last couple of years, since the authoress’s death. Perhaps it was touched up once the war was a more distant memory. A gripping read nonetheless.

Dinner for one August 30, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
My virtual darlings, there’s so much to blog about I hardly know where to begin. Well, that’s a lie. I don’t know at all where to begin. Not because I can’t put my thoughts in order, although that’s a bit the case too. No, more because I know I’ve said to myself over the last few days, “Once that bastard translation’s over – it is, as of about 18 seconds ago. You see where my priorities lie the second I’m done? – I’ll blog like mental.” Trouble is, didn’t jot down any of the things I was meant to blog like mental about. Well, I did a bit. On a coffee-cup-ringed post-it right before my eyes, twixt keyboard and screen, are various pointers for when I’d find time again to get with the Muse. I quote, “Weight – being deported” and “dressed like a tree”. They do vaguely mean something to me now, in the cold light of a summer’s winter evening. I’ll get round to them eventually…
My news, which I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for on the edge of your ergonomic seats, is that the Russian’s gone and fucked orff for a month. Between you and me, we’re a nasty little couple and there’s no telling how we’ll behave with each other when thousands of miles apart. We bitchily, carpily, after all these years, still have to play babyish little games. Sending the first SMS, per esempio, would be a great display of moral weakness. The Russian caved in on that one, fingering me a “landed-safely-in-Helsinki; reindeers-on-sale-in-airport” message as an opening gambit. I caved in hopelessly in a moment of weakness (and hunger) some hours later and wrote, “Please come back,” which was silly, because I know he won’t for another month. But I hoped it might soften his granite heart if he could imagine me standing tearfully on the balcony, awaiting the day he might return. A couple of hours later on, the romance deadened by work and hunger pangs, I realised I can’t use the printer. (Mine dead. Another attached to his computer. That now under Fort-Knox lock and key (and password) for the duration.) “How do I print?” I fingered off, witheringly. No reply.
Anyway, one plus of the Russian being away, apart from the freedom to put on Jacques Brel whenever I god damned like (without hearing a drone and a dash for something by Ace of Base to take the nasty sound away), is that I plan not to eat for a month. As this has been a particularly nasty winter of a summer (the last few weeks), and as I’ve worked like a horse, and as I’ve accidentally given up smoking for want of smoking-windows, I’ve all of a sudden got the pastiest complexion this side of Morecambe and have put on 100 stone. My hair has just got to that loathsome in-betweeny stage too to round off the full effect. So it’s drastic measures. A diet of cigarettes and no food shall commence forthwith.
But I thought I’d have one last goodbye-to-food-and-all-that-jazz supper this evening. Cooking for one is miserable. Doubly so if your loved one is a whizz in the kitchen and what you make is invariably tasteless gruel. The fridge was bereft of any ingredient that could be called vaguely interesting. There were the dregs of two different types of pasta wilting in the one big kitchen cupboard. I lugubriously got to work on some tomatoes, peppers and onions. Cooked those in the wrong order so that the peppers and onions were still tooth-crushingly hard at the end of it all. Threw in a ton of gorgonzola – that was vaguely interesting, ingredients-wise, I suppose – to disguise the taste of anything else. Dashed for the pasta. And I had a life-changing, seminal realisation. As I upended the packet and the spaghetti went cascading all over the floor, I realised that that’s where that picking-up-sticks game that children from families where the parents don’t bother to send them to violin lessons play came from. So cooking for one can be didactic after all. (And, again, I didn’t have to see the Russian’s face contort and him dash for taste-disguising salt or mayonnaise.)
But this isn’t what I meant to blog about at all. At all. Must have gone stir-crazy.

More beauty August 26, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.


…to help avoid work and bring on a real nervous breakdown by about Tuesday.

Troitskij Sobor (Trinity Cathedral) in St. Petersburg, which I worked just down the road from, has burnt. Not down. But that wonderful blue cupola has gone. The building seems to have been being repaired for as long as I can remember. It seems now the scaffolding has caught fire and destroyed all their efforts. But it will rise again, no doubt.

Joshua Goodall August 26, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Woof! And a British tennis-player qualifies for the US Open? And he’s a total spunk? (The Russian asked me if he was only British in a Rusedski/Baltacha sense. Naughty, naughty.) And already a bit of rough at 20? Come up and see me in ten/twenty years, Josh. (Oh, OK then, next week if you insist.)

Pooey McPoo August 25, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
…as we once collectively decided was a fitting rendition into English of Akaky Akakievich, the pathetic hero of Gogol’s Overcoat.

But I want to be Pooey McPoo, although I might change my name by deed poll if I do wake up as him tomorrow, or any other day. Of course he is risible, even by Gogol’s standards. He’s a horrible pen-pusher – nice expression for this in Russian: канцелярская крыса, or office rat – taking pride in copying out official documents. No job could be worse. He’s a nobody. He only briefly finds fame and fortune and popularity when he orders himself a new coat. It gets nicked and he dies of a broken heart. Such is the fate of Pooey Mc Poo.

But I think his job sounds like the best job in the world. I’d adore to be a copy-clerk. I am livid every time I read about any idiot in Russian literature. They always have the best jobs. The actual Idiot, in Dosters’s Idiot, beboasts his good handwriting early in the novel, and almost gets a job on the back of it. Instead, he just bees mad, nicely, and sits around drinking tea and trying to save the world. When he’s not raving and getting into trouble between Petersburg and… is it Pavlovsk? Can’t remember… he’s off being nutty in Switzerland somewhere. I haven’t been to Switzerland for years, but I’d be more than willing to go mad for the sake of a trip there. (Although it would be boring to have to become a revolutionary. Is it, in fact, because Switzerland is so boring that folk feel they have to turn revolutionary the second they get a bit of choc inside them?)

For – surprise, surprise, this is about to get anti-translation – I just CAN’T do my job. I just can’t. I have been staring at the computer screen for the last fifty years and just CANNOT translate the pus I’m currently meant to be translating. I mean, I can, obviously, and am lying when I say I can’t, but give me a bit of licence as I despair at what I am doing to earn a laughable living. And I will do this, no doubt, as I’m much the most slavish person on the planet and just will get this done by the time I’m meant to. But how I hate it. Oi, you, translation! Rot in hell.

And it would be so lovely to write instead. I mean, translating is writing of a sort. But what could possibly shrivel your cock more than slavishly translating someone else’s (often, FANTASTICALLY uninteresting) words? I feel like some gangster’s lackey. Not brave enough to do any of the dirty work myself, but hanging around on his coat-tails to feel as if I’m vaguely in on the action. (Which is not to say, of course, remembering to be diplomatic, that SOME translators don’t do an awfully good deed. Making Russian literature, per esempio, available to the rest of the world is a fantastically important thing to have done. And, no doubt, the plundering of nations would have been a lot more difficult if translators hadn’t busily, lapdoggishly been bobbing about amongst the main players. I’ve never understood how Pizarro and the Incas did their early ‘negotiating’.)

Yes, it’s got to be writing (or a job on the till at Lidl. I’d quite like to do that swipey thing). But don’t you think for a moment I mean writing writing. Well, that would be nice too, of course, but I couldn’t write any work longer than a postcard. No, I mean real writing. Pooey McPoo writing. Do you think there’s still much call for copy-clerks in the 21st century? Do I need to get me to some obscure bit of some obscure country? If I learn an Indian language, perhaps I could, in a variation on the theme, become one of those folks, like in Salaam Bombay, who sit on street corners and write up letters for illiterate types (before then throwing them away when their backs are turned. I’ve always hated that man).

If anyone wants me to handwrite their blog for them, just give me a sign. Payment: full-board (cabbage soup) and lodgings (breezy mansard).

Slow August 23, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
I was just saying to B., now that you ask, how slow I am. The thing is, we’d like to do a bit of spontaneous, or even scheduled, boozing at some point this week but I haven’t been this inundated since the book of Genesis. My working methods are, admittedly, poor. I work as a translator, translating one sentence and then taking a well-deserved break before embarking upon the next one. Posh (read, professional) translators claim here and there to be able to translate 2000 words a day. I can do that, on a good day, if the text is laughably easy and in a language that’s easy to translate into English. (French, in other words.) This 2000-a-day – why have I just had a pornographic thought about cigarettes? – figure must be where posh translators also come up with the figure – fanciful to me – that we should all be earning at least 4000 euros a month. Which is nice, in theory.

So, yes, the flood. Indeed, I am antediluvian in many ways. I like to think I’m old before my time. My clothes do have a bit of a biblical look about them, now you come to mention it. “Après moi, après moi,” I’ve been shouting to a random French-speaking deity to make the most out of my flood-vocabulary. But it’s pointless trying to put it off. I am well and truly caught up in this flood. I am being rushed in a swirling torrent of work towards god knows where. I expect the journey to peak in my eventual failing strength leading to me going over the edge of a waterfall, but then, by rights, I should be rewarded richly and will hopefully land in a tranquil oasis of milk, honey and temporary unemployment. The oasis will also, mysteriously, have a glut of strapping Russian men wandering around it, doing manly things like repairing cars and stacking boxes.

But anyway…

Work does get in the way of drinking and blogging. And everything else. But fear not, B., and other potential drinking partners. Sometimes, resistance is futile and spontaneity wins the day. I temporarily dam the flood behind a switched off computer and hope it’ll hold till I get back.

I don’t know why the Protestant work ethic is so named. Or, if it is as apt as it ought to be, why Russians aren’t Protestants. Russians love work. And the horribler the better. My very own Russian adores it, especially if he can do it instead of something nice, like not working. But he too is currently being battered around against his will in a frenzied flood of labour. Luckily, Russian education makes for well-rounded folk, and although the Russian was almost ecstatic with labour, he remembered, on Monday afternoon, that life isn’t all about work. No, the physiological must be taken care of too. How long had we been cooped up at our computers? It was absolutely time to go out for a leg-stretching walk. It was 6pm.

We got in at 4 on Tuesday morning. We did walk. But we also did quite a lot of sitting. But that was justified because it’s so utterly freezing at the moment and hardly appropriate being-out weather. And I had to do a bit of smoking of hand-warming cigarettes. Arctic out there, I tell you.

Anyway, there the Russian and I sat, having a bit of horizon-broadening and character-building beer and tobacco, when who should I see at the bar but one of my first Russian teachers from a thousand years ago! I bounded up to him with a friendly, “Well, fancy that…” He looked perplexed and worried that he was being stalked. I gave him hard facts to prove my bona fides and pointed out the Russian to prove I had a life. “Brill,” I thought. “A Russian-speaking Engländer. That’s the Russian’s favourite type of foreigner.” We sat down, and got chatting. In German. In flipping German. I sat with the Russian, the Engländer, his American friend, and we had to speak Deutsch. I’m sure it was a conspiracy to keep me silent. I sat in my corner, thinking about the dam cracking under the pressure at home.

My phone rang. The beautiful friend – tbf – was in the environs. “Would you like to join us?” “Be there in five.” And in walked tbf, just as beautiful as last time we’d seen him. Resplendent in beauty. And utterly German. He switched the conversation to English. Sometimes, you’ve got to be grateful for the Germans’ complexes.

Oh god, but the work! The work! All this spontaneity’s getting me nowhere.

Cocktails August 18, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
It’s pure pre-guest panic in the BiB+Russian household. Such is the panic, in fact, that I’ve decided I’d better have a bit of a blog and the Russian’s decided to have a quick lie-down. And such is the panic that this very nearly got uploaded onto the wrong blog. (Oh yes, other people are quite willing to trust me with their passwords, dontcha know.)

There’ll be no time for me to check back to get your top tips, but I’ll ask anyway, and maybe, if anyone is good enough to answer quickly, I’ll receive your tips telepathically. It’s all in the drinks, the panic. The food’s under control, I think. We’ve been to get halal everything. Halal chuck. Halal desserts. Halal cheese. (OK, halal desserts and halal cheese are pushing it, but they were bought in a shop that dispenses with dodgy, haram rennet.) Got some alcohol-free champers.

I can’t cook. Well, I can, sort of, but the Russian certainly cooks much better and I would never be set loose in the kitchen to cook for guests who know their onions, as tonight’s do. So I’m in charge of the table. Might even stretch to a table-cloth this evening, you never know. And smelly candles. And I’ll try to get the glasses gleaming, rather than befingerprinted, as they normally are. I hoped to do my once-in-a-blue-moon posh drinks, but forgot half the ingredients. This is where you come in. I have two posh drinks. A kir, or kir royal, and that palate-freshening thing with gin, tonic and lemon sorbet. Only I forgot the crème de cassis for the kir/kir royal. And I forgot the gin for the second thing. And the tonic. Fuck. So, having rooted around in the cupboards, I’ve come up with the following ersatz ingredients. Should I or shouldn’t I? Instead of the crème de cassis, some raspberry syrupy nonsense. That might not be too bad. But the gin and tonic thing without gin or tonic. Buggery fuck. Bacardi instead of gin? And what about the tonic? Tap-water?

We must never have guests. Or must simply get rich enough to hire caterers when anyone even mentions popping over for a cup of tea.

Germans, Jews, Muslim homosexuals, a former Soviet officer and meat August 16, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
There’s no denying it. This blogging lark is all a bit of a struggle at the moment. If it’s not bloggers giving up the ghost altogether, or others losing interest for getting PAID to do it elsewhere, it’s the Stasi telling you you’re a loser and that nobody loves you. So it’s all a struggle. But soldier on we must.

All I can think of as blog-meat for today – well, I wouldn’t mind a quick moan about what some translation-demanders are willing to pay. Thieves. But I won’t – is, well, meat. And I’m going to have to get Abrahamic on you. Or monotheistic. Or whatever you want to call our lovely little trio of Mediterranean faiths.

We’ve had guests of late. The former Soviet officer has had a mention before, and he’s going to have to get another, such was the oddness of some of his revelations. He should definitely establish his own cult. Or his own offshoot of Orthodoxy, if that is, indeed, the basis of his fantastically weird world-view.

The Russian and I did get a tiny lecture on homosexuality. Genes are stronger than any theory, the former Soviet officer assured us, and we’d find ourselves going over to the other side any minute now. Which, I must say, is a tiny bit of a rude thing to say to a couple. I had a minor urge to blow a whistle and chant something, but we were in our sleepy French restaurant again on our sleepy street, and I was struggling to stay awake as it was.

The former Soviet officer and his wife and child live in Finland. Reluctant as I am to ever have any conversation stray philosophically more than half a degree off things Eurovisual, I asked if Finland had partied like it’s 1999 at their stunning success in Athens back in May. The wife picked up that I was in a not-entirely-wanting-to-set-the-world-to-rights kind of mood and was about to take up the gauntlet with gusto. But the former Soviet officer saw things much more deeply than either of us did, shallow 30-somethings that we are.

“Was the Finns’ success met with dismay in Germany?” he asked, with considerable gravitas. Dismay? In Germany? At the Eurovision? Could he have really noticed and remembered that Germany’s song deserved to do quite a bit better than it did? The Russian and I, perhaps even his wife, darted numb looks at each other as furtively as we could.

“Erm, dismay?”

“Because of WWII.”

I know voting at the Eurovision is obviously pretty political, but yer average German minding the Finns winning? In 2006? And, anyway, the Finns and Germans were allies, even if only in their anti-Sovietness. We said we thought Finland probably didn’t feature highly on the Germans’ psychic list of enemy nations, and left it at that.

But the best theory was left till the last day. There had been much talk from the former Soviet officer of getting raw mincemeat for breakfast, which he claimed every German has every day. The Russian and I had never had it, and our breakfast table groaned under the weight of far less exotic offerings. But as the Russo-Finnic family trundled into our flat on Monday morning, hot off the train from Paris, the former Soviet officer could hardly slip his shoes off before gushing to tell us they’d found the raw mincemeat at the train-station. The Russian and I explained how happy we were for them. “By the way, there’s a theory about that,” he went on, settling cosily into a soft seat and loosening his clothes, sure sign of a Russian man’s intention to hold forth. “It’s why the Germans are such a belligerent nation. Whatever there is in raw meat – I’m not a doctor, I couldn’t say. But a doctor would tell you. It has a psychological/physiological effect – it makes you more aggressive, more bloodthirsty. And it’s why Jews are so wishy-washy. Jews don’t eat red meat at all, you see.”

It’s amazing the things you learn from your elders.

I’ve got a religious Muslim homosexual guest arriving this weekend. I’ll be dashing off to Wedding to buy halal meat forthwith. I forgot to ask the former Soviet officer what his thoughts on the subject were. For I’m sure he had some. In any case, genes and religious conviction aren’t proving stronger than gayness in the case of this man. He is willing to accept every other precept of his faith, but when it comes to love, he has to draw the line. Compromise and loopholes. I don’t mind if you don’t.

As a non-religious gent, of course I don’t really understand the demands of kosher and halal. I mean, I know they’re hygiene-based rules which have become codified with time. (Incidentally, lest we should think there is never a good word to be said when Jews and Muslims are mentioned in the same week, this same Muslim homosexual has said he would/does happily eat kosher meat, as the rule is so similar.) But hurrah for (partially) unintended consequences. Did folk see the famous abbatoir docu on British TV earlier this year? Turns out the quality of kosher and halal meat is often significantly higher because due care is taken at every stage of the animal-to-meat process. A caterer I know in the middle of nowhere in Sussex buys halal at every opportunity.

Anyway, red-meat-eating homo that I am, I’m off to find myself a wife, whether she’s willing or not. There’s no arguing with those genes.

Emergency purchases August 12, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Come with me, if you will, to the world’s most southerly capital. Imagine yourself in Wellington on a scorching hot day in January. Imagine you’ve spent the previous night above the bit where the driver sits in a mobile home. And imagine that the family you’re travelling with – a husband and wife and two sons – have got a ferry to catch at crack of dawn. The husband is a former military man. His conversation is peppered with militarisms. If husband and wife disagree about how to discipline son number one, and said disagreement takes place in front of said son, there is talk of ‘dissent in the ranks’. Which is a bit of a hoot, especially if you’ve had a bit of a shant beforehand.

Anyway, either the shant had made the militaristic one lose his discipline for a sec, or it was all just so exhausting, but we, of course, woke up about ten seconds before we had to set off from our camping thing to head for downtown Welly for them to get their ferry across whatever that stretch of water is called. They would head for the beautiful South Island. I would have a day – a wonderful one, it turns out – in Wellington before heading back up north. But the lack of time meant it was all fuss and palaver. There was no time for breakfast. Or washing. There was frantic preparation of the two children. One attached to one boob. The other – son, not boob – suggested mummy cut off her boobs altogether and throw little brother in the bin. The parents worried their son was mad and prepared to discipline him before getting into a disagreement about how to do so and arguing amongst themselves. All the while, packing, tooth-brushing and good-byes carried on in a panic.

I made my way off the ship about three seconds before it was due to depart. And stood alone in Wellington in what I’d slept in. An OK pair of shorts and a filthy, creased white t-shirt. “They’ll drop out in the course of the day,” I thought, and I set off to wander like mad round the city.

It couldn’t have been more boiling. And Wellington couldn’t have been more lovely. But NZers are an awfully funky bunch – at least they were in downtown Welly – and I felt just a tiny bit awkward unwashed and unkempt as I was. I wandered trampily into shops, hoping to find some emergency replacement garment. It was all horribly cool and horribly expensive, and I only wanted something to get me through to the evening. Painfully friendly shop assistants would come and befriend one. I would run away, self-consciously, mouthing, “No speak Kiwi.” Eventually I stumbled across a shop for old, working-class men and bought myself a plain old white polo-shirt for a couple of dollars from the becobwebbed shop-assistant. Dashed to a public loo, changed into it, stuffed the rag in a bag, tried to ruffle my hair slightly and got on with the rest of the day.

Gosh, sorry, that was all only the intro. I must learn to truncate.

Anyway, the plain old whitey has now become a staple of the BiB+Russian wardrobe. The Russian likes it, even though it’s technically ‘mine’ – this would normally give him cockshrink – because it hugs the figure in a way that best shows off his rippling muscles. But it is an undiscriminating garment. I have no figure to hug, and it hangs in a nicely neutral way on my skeletal frame too. We are both happy.

I was in said garment this very day, when the summer has made a brief but welcome return to the German capital. This heightened spirits like nobody’s business. The Russian and I wrestled our way down the street, leapfrogging small cars and clicking our heels in the air. “I love you, Russian,” I said, once per footstep. “Shut up, fool,” he replied.

On the hopelessly beautiful Kollwitzplatz, we saw an Italian restaurant – another sure sign of an inordinately good mood. Normally can’t be bothered to enthuse about Italian food. Poor Italians, having so little choice – that looked oodles too expensive for us, full of the type that we’d like to be. We dashed in and made ourselves comfortable. Ordered way beyond our means. I even ordered a real fish. The fiddliness would normally put me into an ungovernable rage. And while I can’t claim to pretend that I don’t know a fish is, well, a dead fish, I don’t usually order the headed version. But today I did. And ate it with relish. And didn’t manage to choke myself to death either.

But by the end of the meal, I looked like Sir Les Patterson. The Russian was almost as besmirched, but at least not in dazzling white. All around us, perfect folk strutted around, flashing their cleanliness and mastery of table-manners. It was quite a humiliation.

“Darling, we’re going to have to go and buy something to change into. (Translation: “you’re going to have to go and buy us something to change into.”) We can’t walk around like this. We’ll be arrested by the Ordnungsamt.”

We dashed into some shop. There were reductions galore. The Russian tried on a garment or two, but the ripple-factor wasn’t high enough. He put them back on the rack with a huff of disdain. Then, he spotted a jacket. For me. This is a rare occurrence. So I went with it big-time. I tried it on. It fitted (fat?) like a dream. And it would be light enough to wear home in this weather. And it covered the pattersonesque stains perfectly well.

It was a light, carefully scruffy affair. Greyish. Made of cobweb or something. And had some carefully positioned stains – can’t tell whether it’s sperm, tipp-ex or a smattering of old paint – dotted here and there. We allowed the prissy assistant to put it into one of those posh plastic bags before hurling that away within a nanosecond of leaving the shop. And, darlings, it was perfect. It went lovelily well with the emergency NZ purchase, the (Russian’s) jeans I was wearing and the (Russian’s) new trainers I’d just changed into because they were ripping his feet to shreds. I sashayed down the street. I dared to look some of the groovy Berlin types in the face. I wolf-whistled at topless builders. I could even see a reluctant hint of admiration in the Russian’s ravishing features.

I floated homewards. And as I floated past a window, dazzling in the sunshine, I caught my reflection. I looked exactly like Francis Rossi.

The blower II August 12, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
“Oh, hello mum.”
My mother had just been away for a while. She was combining a school reunion with a family affair and it was all going to be awfully exciting. My mother is 71, so left school at least 100 years ago (or thereabouts). Apart from her siblings, I don’t think she’d been in touch with anyone else she’d gone to school with in all this time. The school has even been closed for 40 years. There was scope for Proustian moments in this trip galore. Galore galore.
“So, was the trip fun? Was the reunion a hoot? Any eligible bachelors?”
“It was very well organised, and there was a lovely spread.”
I think we were approaching this from different angles.
“Yes, but did you bump into people you used to play had with 60 years ago whom you hadn’t seen since? Were there Cilla Black’s Surprise Surprise-worthy reunions with tears and hugs and perhaps even having to break into a sprint?”
“Erm, no. Well, someone did take a photo of me and a boy in my class.”
“So, you DID bump into someone whom you hadn’t seen for at least 55 years? Was that fun? Is he married?”
“Yes, he’s married. But I didn’t remember him.”
“What, so this man, whom you hadn’t seen since you were, say, 16, came and approached you and said, ‘Hello, remember me?’, perhaps having harboured feelings for you all this time and was wishing his wife ill and was secretly chuffed to hear that you were a widow and you just said, ‘Who the fuck are you?'”
“Well, I didn’t say, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, but your name escapes me at the moment’.”
Which was, I suppose, at least better than confronting him with the undiluted truth, i.e. that this person had left absolutely no chink in the armour of her memory whatsoever.
“Any other old friends there?”
“Oh well, you know, most of them are dead.”
“What, at 70?”
“Oh yes, you know, people move to different places and die.”
Which can’t be true, can it? People don’t just move and die. In their late 60s. My mother had made that bit up.
I gave up quizzing my mother about her school reunion. Of course her approach to it was far more sensible than my own. Whereas I wanted to be silly about it and look for gossip-worthy – goddammit, even blog-worthy moments – she saw it for what it was: namely, a chance to go back and revisit a bit of her past. To see the place where she grew up. To see her siblings. And, to come away, having compared herself to the Joneses, no doubt contented that she’s outlived a lot of the others and was the one who did the forgetting rather than the being forgotten. And it was all well and good, but, and I’m guessing this must be the case for many a parent, my mother’s own childhood has become something of a PS. She’s not of a generation to think herself important. Her life now, even as she slips into forgetful dotage, is that of her children.

Goggomobil August 11, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Isn’t she a little beauty? Spotted one on the street the other day and gazed lovingly at it for an indecently long time.

(Note to self: Learn to drive, you big, poof loser.)

(Photo from here.)

Sick bed August 10, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Darlings, I’m writing from my sick bed. Which is much like my normal bed, only I writhe about whinily in this one. Let no-one praise nature ever again. Whoever created us, the world, its moons and everything else also created volcanoes, earthquakes, Stoke-on-Trent and toothache, lest we forget.
Darlings, I’m too tanked up on painkillers and red wine – I think that’s the encouraged combination, nicht wahr? – to write anything coherent. I have done nothing but sleep and pop pills for a day-and-a-half. Now I am writhing and writing at 2am, the Russian looking unsympathetically on and asking, “What are you moaning about, дура (female idiot)?” or words to that effect.
The pain, the pain. I now know for sure I’d be hopeless at withstanding torture. I will not be stoical in the face of any major disease.
Give me wine. Give me drugs. Give me sleep. Give me peace.

Music August 8, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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The Russian and I were, as ever, mooching lazily round the house. Me pretending to work. Him avoiding work. We thought we’d better go out on a non-errand to banish all nasty professional thoughts.

Our walks are normally a fraught affair. Perhaps this is the case with many couples, but I think we ought not to leave the house unless military-level plans have been laid out beforehand. What is our precise route going to be? What are the aims of this work-avoidance walk (in addition to work-avoidance)? Is it going to involve shopping? Is it going to entail eating? Booze? And, therefore, an index-linked, exponential number of fags?

We went out today without a plan.

Our bit of Berlin is nicely griddy. Nothing is old, so you can’t hope to get lost down some medieval side-street or take a surprisingly unfamiliar route. We live off a big street which has all the attractions within a couple-of-kilometre radius either on it or on streets off it or close by. We got to the critical Schönhauser Allee-Stargarderstr. junction/juncture. Heading south, as we were, you can either go left, and have a choice of two impossibly trendy squares at your disposal, with all the eating and drinking opportunities that provides – and we’d just had a good soljanka at home, and, anyway, the Russian worries, now that there’s a shadow of a spare ounce on one of his rippling muscles, that he has to live on a diet of soup and water (and vodka) for the foreseeable future. (Woe is me. He does the cooking round here. I’ll be gorging on Weetabix) – or you can go right, down Gleimstr., with a selection of homosexual establishments and few other delights but the scary knowledge that if you don’t slam on the brakes before you get to that bridge (that rather dashingly lights up as you walk under it, in a sort of Billy-Jean-video in reverse way), you’ll end up in the hellish west.

Now as anyone will know, Berliner or not, that bridge means this is where the border used to be. As such, there used to be a big, fuck-off wall there. Now it’s gone, but they’ve left the bit of desolate no-man’s-land to fester and called it the Mauerpark. And perfectly nice it is too, although I don’t think any French landscapers of the court of Louis XVI would be majorly impressed (although folk do play pétanque on a gravelly bit, which I think chapeau to them for for being resourceful). Normally, you are not allowed into the park unless you have a bongo, dreadlocks, haven’t washed for a goodly period or, horrors, plan to undertake some sporting activity. The Russian and I brazened our way round these obstacles and walked for all we were worth from one end of the park to the other.

As we approached the southern end, we could hear folk applauding. That end seems to be where the bongo-players congregate. I’ve heard Cubans belting out the odd tune there too in the past, although I think this was merely for their own entertainment as much as anyone else’s. My sneer was ready-prepared for whatever pus it was we were about to be accosted with. We arrived at the impromptu auditorium as the musicians were between numbers. I waited with trepidation and dread.

The musicians were much as you’d expect impromptu Berlin musicians to be. Three 30-something men and a 30-something woman. She did the vocals. They did the drum-kit, electric guitar and acoustic guitar. The acoustic man sad buddhistically under a tree, though it was a sapling if it was a day and that banished all thoughts of enlightenment from my mind fairly quickly. The gents were all carefully scruffy. Carefully scruffy hair and carefully tended-to scruffy beards. Their scruffy t-shirts were carefully creased. The drummer’s baseball-cap was pinned on scruffily. I thought they’d all have looked lovely if they had a nice shave, a hair-cut and put on some nice, sensible clothes and footwear. The lady was more naturally scruffy. She had more hair than face. And seemed to be clad in bits of old sari, though sari which had been fashioned into shirt, trousers and jacket. Her fat-free midriff was carefully exposed.

And, darlings, just as my disdain was about to get audible, they started up and were absolute heaven. Like unexpectedly good sex. She had the voice of an angel. Buddha played like a dream, and was utterly expressionless throughout. The other two had fun improvising against each other. As no-one who walks through the Mauerpark has a pfennig to their name, folk offered them alms in the form of beer and sweetmeats. I clapped longest when their first song, something about Schicksal (Fate), came to an end.

The Russian and I thought we’d better walk planlessly on, in case this enjoying-ourselves lark got a bit too much.

We ended up on the criminally fashionable Kastanienallee and plonked ourselves down in a way that had alcohol written all over it. Beer me. Bloody Mary the Russian (having weighed up whether Tabasco sauce – shouldn’t it have been Worcester? – was fattening). The street is a magnet for speed-accordionists and other travelling musicians. Occasionally, they’re not bad. But today’s were hopeless. First, an embryonically young child appeared with a thing you blow but that has a keyboard. I had one when I was 6. It might even have been it, as I have no idea where it’s got to. Barely bothering to blow, and giving the word nonchalance new meaning, he piped out a couple of seconds of Bésame Mucho before over-ambitiously approaching folk with a paper-cup. I think its weight remained unchanged pre- and post-transaction. He scampered off, dirty and unbothered. A grown-up appeared within seconds. He set down his tape-recorder, switched on, to my surprise, Living Next Door To Alice, and clarinetted along to it. Badly. Teeth-clenchingly badly. The whole world hoped he might be as brief as his embryonic predecessor, but he blew away like there was no tomorrow. Thankfully, Smokie and he both eventually shut up. Everyone clenched their wallets and did their best to look either deeply engaged in conversation, asleep or dead. To the whole world’s horror, Dancing Queen then began to wail dronily out of his tape-recorder. Again, he clarinetted along unspeakably poorly. Windows shattered and people flung themselves off top-floor balconies. The Russian and I regretted not having gone to a library.

We read some newly-purchased Kharms to each other to flush out the bad memories which had so nastily replaced the good ones of the scruffy musicians from earlier on. We thought we’d better have a beer to round off the evening-long walk. Everything seemed to have gone without a hitch. Could this herald something new? After over six years, we can go out without a plan and have a successful evening without a hint of disagreement? “Where to?” I asked, resplendent with willingness. “There’s this bar I went to once on K_Str. a hundred years ago.” We set off for K_Straße. The street got darker and grimmer. There were no signs of life. Nor of a bar. Once again, I had made the mistake of giving in to the Russian’s famously skewed sense of direction. We trudged home silently, defeated, lips pursed throughout.

Taxi-driver August 5, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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“Tell him I was a Soviet officer.”

My eye tarried perhaps a moment longer than is socially acceptable at such moments, but I wanted to get a hint of passive disdain across as best I could. I thought this was perhaps the worst conceivable conversation I was going to be forced to have with a taxi-driver. I knew nothing about him, of course, and how could I know if he was a straightforward Wessi, in which case he might not give a toss about my fellow passenger’s past as a Soviet officer, or a West Berliner, in which case he might find it vaguely intriguing, or an Ossi, in which case he might have thought, “Were YOU personally here fucking up my country?” or an East Berliner, in which case he might have uttered, “Thanks for the memories”? I tried to think how I could best bend the translation as much as possible to make me not seem like an utter twat. Time for deliberation was short.

“Not a Russian officer. A Soviet officer,” the fellow passenger went on.

The taxi-driver could see this Russian ranting was meant for his benefit. He looked at me inquisitively. I began my first ever (unpaid) simultaneous interpreting mission, without a booth or earphones, from Russian to German. “My fellow passenger wanted me to tell you that he was an officer in the Red Army.” The taxi-driver was d’un certain âge. Not old enough to have fought in WWII himself, but no doubt old enough to have remembered it. To stop my loquacious Russian gent’s ceaseless flow of free association, I decided to naughtily use my tool, i.e. a language he didn’t know, German, to take the conversation off on a bit of a tangent that would make the taxi-driver think I wasn’t a total arse.The taxi-driver was a diamond geezer, it turned out. An East Berliner with a Polish wife who not only listened politely to talk of the private past of someone who’d been in his motor for half a nanosecond, but doubly politely engaged back, asking where we were all from, pointing out sites of interest – admittedly, not many between Tegel and Pankow, but for the airport Tegel itself, I suppose – and then, which, of course, my Russian guests thought was normal, speaking to them in passable Russian and giving them a quick round-up of German history from Hitler to the present-day.

Hands up who knew that Tegel was originally a missile-testing launch-pad? OK, you probably all did, but I didn’t, and the Russian word for such a thing – poligon – instantly made me think of hexagons and Tegel’s hexagonal shape, which is, no doubt, a red herring. Once my Russian guest had got bored of the taxi-driver’s and my tangent and had started out down the long road of his next anecdote, “When I was transporting nuclear weapons to Kazakhstan…”, and once he paused for breath, I thought it was time, you see, to regale my guests – a married couple with a child – with Berlin stories. I knew the wife – my friend – would be slightly uninterested and would much have preferred we get straight down to gossip, but she listened politely. Her husband, with the mention of airports, walls, East and West and cold wars, was agog.

“Tegel airport is the West Berlin airport, and that’s why it’s (sort of) right in the city, because, as you well know, West Berlin was completely surrounded by East German territory. So we’re now still in the West, and won’t get to the East until we cross a bridge at Bornholmer Straße, which, incidentally, was the first place the border opened on that famous night,” I began, primly. This was when the taxi-driver’s linguistic credentials came to the fore. He could follow that I was giving a remedial-class history lesson in Russian with a queer accent. I explained all, but for the Russian boyfriend. He then got down to business and decided to take my talk from remedial-class level to somewhere between A-Level and first-year-university.

So Tegel was a missile-testing thingy. And then, if memory serves, from 1948, the French military airport. Tempelhof – West Berlin’s other airport, now deceased, sadly, sort of – was coming into its own, and, of course, had its moment of true glory during the airlift. But as aeroplanes grew, Tempelhof could no longer cope. Tegel had to step in, and, from 1974 – these are all taxi-driver dates – took over as West Berlin’s airport. The taxi-driver even explained how, after the war, German missile experts plied their trade with whoever happened to be in control of their sector. And the allies were more than willing to have them, as the Germans were leaders in their field. (The former Soviet officer accepted this intelligence without a peep.) Hitler peppered the conversation liberally. No sphincters snapped. We were all paragons of post-war, grown-up civilness.

We got home and dashed to the French restaurant on our quiet street. I explained the boss was your actual French.

“Might he be interested to know I was born in Siberia?” asked my guest.

It’s been a long couple of days.

Carnage August 2, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.


It’s war in the BiB household. No, nothing nasty on the personal front. Just an ongoing but increasingly bitter offensive between me and the flies. They appear to have laid low for the seriously scorching weather and have now ambushed just as I was caught napping. The arses. Being a homosexual, I am, it goes without saying, incapable of doing any sport that involves kicking a ball. Or throwing a ball, come to that. To be honest, I’m hopeless at racquet sports too, but I wasn’t, at least, utterly filled with horror at the thought of giving them a go. I was once – or perhaps more often – beaten 6-0 6-0 by my ex at tennis, but our relationship survived the mauling – for a while – and I didn’t retire hurt at 5-0 down in the second set, as some unscrupulous professionals are known to do.

Tennis was abandoned for diplomatic reasons and the only time I stepped onto a court with the ex again was to play badminton. In a foursome. The shame. Even if one of the other two people was my sister. I consistently missed the shuttlecock for the first fifteen minutes but vaguely got the hang of it after that and leapt around like nobody’s business. And just as well, for Danes have entered my life since then and one is bound to have a badminton racquet thrust into one’s hand on any summer trip to Denmark with almost the same speed one is forced to take a drink.

And I can see that honing my badminton skills has greatly improved my mastery of the fly-swat. Fuck, I’m good at it. During last year’s hostilities, I may have waited for the enemy to alight on some solid, not-flapping-in-the-summer-breeze object before moving in for the kill… And missing, and then seeing them buzz off – though not in the way I would have liked – happily to torment me another day. Whereas now I’m happy to bludgeon them to death without having thought tactics for a single second. I’m thinking I might invest in a fly-swat for every room, or perhaps even two. My speed now means I could happily massacre with both hands.

Leaves an awful splodge on white surfaces though, this murder lark.

(‘Death to Flies’ image taken from here.)

Einkommensteuererklärung August 1, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, can any resident of the Bundesrepublik, past or present, local or foreign riff-raff, let me know if they’ve ever submitted their Einkommensteuererklärung – that lovely old tax declaration – quite as contumaciously late as I have this year? I don’t want to go into too much detail about my incompetence, silliness, laziness and fecklessness, but let’s say that it’s a very, very recent weight off my mind. Now I await the consequences, and my punishment, with bated breath.

I quite like the idea of going to prison in Germany. But worry I’m in for something lighter. A fine, say. Or, if I’m very unlucky, a live bollocking from one of those short-blond-hair-and-glasses women at the Finanzamt – they moved to a purpose-built, extra-depressing building in this area a couple of years ago – whose lips have been almost permanently pursed since 1977. I’m too lazy to be bothered to actually commit a proper crime, so think this is my best chance of a run-in with the law – a minor financial infraction. German magistrates don’t have quite as sexy regalia as their British counterparts – who does? – but they still wear quite a dashing red cape, and even, if you’re lucky, a silky red cap – I’m wondering whether I’ve dreamt this now – and it would be something of a thrill to have a German judge bark whatever German for, “Take him down!” is at me, with fraught relatives and, who knows, perhaps even the Russian, weeping frantically on the sidelines. I would shrug stoically and manfully, all the while sending them telepathic messages to bring me a file in a cake.

But you mustn’t think I’m a proper crim. I’m much too much of a wimp for that. And I wouldn’t know whom to target were I to go in for a proper life of crime. I majorly disapprove theft, although a nice mugger in Petrozavodsk did at least return the handbag full of documents to a drunken English muggee when I was there. Humane mugging. I’d feel silly loitering at East Berlin hotspots selling cut-price Ukrainian cigarettes concealed about as well as Cristo concealed the Reichstag in the strategically-positioned bin one inch away. There was some talk amongst a few of us Berlin bloggers, plus an eager accomplice in London, of setting up an NGO involving quite serious levels of embezzlement, but we never got the idea off the ground.

So I’m a low-level crim. Indeed, it really is only the declaration that’s gone in late. I’ve actually been paying my tax, as the tax-folk are happy to take your cash based on whatever you earned the previous year until you get round to delivering the current one to the aforementioned pursed-lipped ladies. So my chances of doing a stretch are probably small.

Which is a shame. When I lived in England, I was known to enunciate my greatest fear, when playing a what’s-your-greatest-fear-type game, as spending time in prison. This was because I imagined some grim, Victorian edifice with 40 to a cell and levels of violence that Guy Ritchie would balk at. (Mind you, Peter Wildeblood, imprisoned in England for homosexual offences in 1954, quite liked prison. And Alan Bennett has made a character find love and happiness in prison. And Theodore Dalrymple talks of folk finding something like happiness there too.) And what if the institutional colour was brown? And I had to work as a seamster? And I’d so obviously get fagged – or does this only happen in public schools? – by the scariest prisoner on site, not a feature visible for fat and tattoos.

But German prison holds no such fears. I’ve seen documentaries, you know. All nice and cushy. They’d probably have gay-awareness-raising classes. In English. And I’d learn German properly. And who’s in prison in Germany anyway, apart from Steffi Graf’s father? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I hope no-one’s been reading this piffle long enough to remember old posts. This blog is now going into recycling mode. Wildeblood’s been done before too – but I’m convinced German prisons are full of jaywalkers and people who refuse to accept the neue Rechtschreibung (spelling reform). I wouldn’t mind hanging out with people prepared to serve time for the sake of an ß.

And don’t you think I’ve overlooked the sexual angle for a second, because I flipping well haven’t.