More muscles September 28, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Tags: age, muscles
“You wanna look like this?” the slogan asks, forcefully (and in a loose translation of the Soviet lingo). “Then move your ass!” (even looser). The Russian is back from the former Soviet Union now – there is a cultural readjustment on both sides for about the first 14 years after any trip he makes there – and decided to present me with the attached image – there are plenty more like it to be found at this Russian poster site – as well as a million cigarettes – before proceeding to bollock me for smoking – a million chocolates – in contradiction to the postcard’s message – and Nabokov’s Дар (The Gift), all about Russians in Berlin, if my sources haven’t fooled me, which I’ve wanted for a goodly age. I was not slow to let the irony of the postcard image, seeing as I have done nothing but drink power-milkshakes for the last month and the Russian has lived on a diet of lard with fried fat, trickle down to my beloved. I’ll scan the internet looking for equally subtle liposuction postcards forthwith.
But, darlings, although the Soviet man does have a good, sturdy neck, quite nice shoulders and admirable biceps, between you and me, I think he looks like a bit of a cunt. His hair is inexcusable, regardless of era, and his big, perfect face is much too sweet. I like his fat nose, but he needs to go and have a few of his teeth smashed in.
The minuscule child, perhaps the sweet collosus’s own, has a copy of Будь готов к труду и обороне (Be ready to work and defend!) in the hand that isn’t having a feel of the strong gent’s muscles. The man would probably have his name and address published in the press if this was the UK. But it isn’t. It’s the Soviet Union, of sorts, though I have no idea what the flags fluttering in the background represent. But perhaps this is a rite of passage in the Russian world. When I worked in a sort of youth club thingy for naughty children a hundred years ago, a pair of boys at an annoyingly hormonal age once asked me to flex my muscles for them. Having shot a glance over each shoulder to make sure this wasn’t being photographed by an English news-reporter with too much time on his hands, I reluctantly dragged my fists towards my shoulders, preparing to be laughed out of town by two thirteen-year-olds. To my amazement, they were impressed. Yet another wicked side effect of growing up without fathers.
I am about to hit a catastrophically huge age, and so all thoughts of sport and muscles have gone out the window anyway. The Russian took me out to buy some ludicrously expensive present to mark the occasion and as I caught myself drooping in the mirror of a shop with clothes for 14-year-olds, I reminded myself once more that I need to look into the hessian sack range of garments. We were bullied into a purchase Madonna might have thought twice about by a four-year-old shop assistant and neither of us could pluck up the courage to run out of the shop as his back was turned.
Another year, another bout of dystrophy.
Home September 27, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Darlings, you’ll agree I only go to the choicest spots for a bit of p&q. And to think that people told me Belfast used to be even worse.
Which is not to say I didn’t have a top time in the disputed province. And, thankfully, the wedding I attended wasn’t in Belfast itself, but an hour or so away from there, near an incredibly delicious bit of coastline. All the heterosexual men who’d marauded through Berlin but a couple of weeks earlier behaved in a far more restrained way in the company of the fairer sex, and that was only to be applauded. In fact, there’s something awfully intimate about seeing old friends. One of the brigade, whom I’ve probably only been seeing in group settings for the last gazillion years and last had a one-to-one conversation with in 1992, twice made disapproving sartorial comments, which I thought bespoke great intimacy. Our friendship has solidified as a result. And our goodbye hug was the real thing, rather than the limp version.
My route to the disputed province was a circuitous one. I thought it would be sacrilegious to go to the UK without going to London, but I did precisely this, apart from a mindblowingly quick dip into my mother’s almost provincial abode before heading ever deeper into the provinces to stay with my airport-convenient sister. My return route was equally provincial. As I sat in Gatwick, I took stock.
I had been genuinely and actively unimpressed by what Belfast had to offer. As I was whisked from its international airport to the city centre, I was convinced I was yet to discover the bits that didn’t look grimly similar to the centre of any dreary British city. Where the wedding was, on the other hand, was lovelily lovely. Both the man-made and nature-made bits. The wedding was bliss. My sister’s provincial bit of England is nice. My mum’s almost provincial bit of London is lovely. I fancied a good percentage of the gents I saw sauntering around the place (although they might all have been Polish). I had a minor quiver of worry when I heard German voices again at Gatwick, both because of the linguistic handicap and a moment of feeling culturally dissonant. “There are things I loathe about the UK,” I said to myself, “but haven’t I had a rather good time chatting to folk in the native tongue over the last few days?” Admittedly, my 4-year-old nephew did set the conversation stakes fairly high. Yesterday, from his village school, he had entered a church for the first time in his life in preparation for Harvest Festival. With great relish, he told me how he and his friend, Stanley, who had entered the church through a magic door that only they had seen, met God. I caught a glimpse of his mother’s scathing expression in the rear-view mirror. But, alas, a volcano erupted in God’s head and God died. I think this heralds the start of a life-long ambivalent relationship between my nephew and the deity.
And here I am. Back in Berlin. Without a clear feeling, as almost ever, of whether this is where I want to be or not. (Although at least Belfast has kindly removed itself from the list of places I might fantasise about living.) But then I like to think I’m one for a non-answers life. I can’t believe there’ll ever be a flash where I decide, once and for all, that I must be in Berlin, or must be in London, or must be in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Perhaps this is the fate of an exile. I have been convinced (by others, not myself) in the past that there must be a psychic spot I can call home. I might just have to disappoint them.
(With thanks to Nicholas Gibson for permission to use the photos.)
(Aber what’s with the Israeli flag?)
Love and marriage September 20, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Tags: Homoehe, Kylie
I’m off to the farthest-flung (and most hotly contested) corners of our kingdom for a wedding any minute now. As ever, there’s last minute panic in the BiB household. I have resisted the urge to accidentally machine-wash my passport, will soon finger through my small wardrobe and try to find something resembling a suit to wear, will do likewise for shoes, and am about to consider the present-buying and flight-booking chapters of the whole shebang. Plus there’s a scrap of work to finish and I’d rather like to meet two different sets of people for a last-minute drinkette this evening. Fuck, and I need a haircut. And a shave. And I suppose I have to water the plants. And clean up the flat in case the Russian secretly has spy-cameras wired up and will check out the place when I’m away. And… and everything.
So I need to blog to calm myself down.
The wedding, and the stag-do that preceded it, must have got me thinking. Yet, previously, I hadn’t given marriage much of a thought. The stag-boys, showing their best gay-friendly credentials and understanding that almost seven years sounds like ever in the relationship stakes, asked when the Russian and I were planning to get married. “Um, never,” I answered, not because I wouldn’t like to, but just because, well, I supposed I’m not used to the idea yet. I have nothing against the idea. It might possibly even very much help the Russian to get a more secure residential status in this bureaucratic paradise.
“Darling, are you chattable-to anywhere on the internet?” I asked in answer to a late-night e-mail from the Russian, still bubbling with pride at his driving-test success. “ICQ,” he answered. It’s the in chat-medium in the former Soviet Union. Downloaded the bastard. Got myself a number. Closed pop-ups for three hours. Switched off the speakers as the foghorn that accompanies the programme’s opening is likely to cause a neighbourly incident. And finally found the Russian.
“Darling, do you think we should get homo-married?”
“Oh, yes. You could put a dishwasher on the top of the wedding list and then you’d never have to do anything ever again,” came the reply. “What’s your favourite Kylie song?”
“Shocked… But I wouldn’t want a list.”
“Shocked’s shit. The Locomotion is better. But your mum would want to buy you something.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to invite anyone, ” I went on. “We’d just pop to the Rathaus in Pankow, bung one of the people from the 100%-long-term-unemployment house across the road 100 euros to be a witness and Bob’s your uncle.”
“What, you wouldn’t tell anyone we were behusbanded?” came a surprisingly tender reply from a snow-decked apartment-building near the Urals.
“Oh, I’d say we’d registered ourselves somewhere and that it was no big deal. Or do you want a big, fuck-off cake and dress? And your mum there?”
“I want a big, fuck-off, white BMW.”
I looked for Kylie on YouTube.
“In Your Eyes is all right.”
“I like that la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la one.”
“Darling, do you think we should get married? Do you miss me? Or is life actually much nicer when we’re in different countries?”
“Better the Devil You Know.”
“Life’s shit here. Berlin’s spoiled me. Life’s better there.”
“So do you think we should get homo-married?”
“It’s a very serious matter. I shall think over your proposal,” he said, deciding humour was called for, and using the polite form.
“Or do you think we should get divorced instead?” I proffered, not liking to leave any avenue unexplored.
“No, I think we’re doomed to each other now,” came the reassuring reply.
I’ll have a mortgage before you know it.
Baby, you can drive my car September 19, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
…just as soon as I get one, ooh ooh ooh ooh yeah.
As I settled in for a marathon session of avoiding work this morning, freshly back from having two Berlin ladies abusing my teeth – mind you, I’m done for six months, I’ve been assured. I wished them a Happy New Year and skipped out of the surgery with glee – my phone vibrated into life. I was awaiting this vibration keenly…
Last night, I went for a drinkypoo with these people and felt revived and revitalised by socialising in English. On the way home, I seized on the good mood and fingered a gooey SMS to the Russian. Then, when he hadn’t answered within 18 seconds, I fingered a slightly less gooey one asking if the gooeyness was reciprocated. I staggered the half-hour home and my phone remained decidedly silent, unvibratey and ungooey throughout. If I hadn’t had a minor skinful, I might have had trouble getting to sleep. As it was, I was out like a light.
So it was with some glee that I leapt on the phone this morning. The Russian’s first SMS went, “…I have just signed my new driving licence. I hope you’ll buy me a car now. I want a BMW.” Darlings, we can drive! We can drive! I feel so fucking grown-up. I gushed SMSly back at how proud I was that he’d passed his test. But never one to let the potential for foreboding pass, my joy was instantly dashed with worry. “Darling,” I SMSed, “you did PASS your test, didn’t you, and haven’t just given some policeman a bung (and a bottle of cognac – the alcoholic bribe of choice in Russia, in my experience) to give you the licence?” The Russian had attempted to get his driving licence two years ago. Unfortunately, he was told to stop the car after about 13 seconds when he happily sped through a big, red light. Still, not one for letting reality get in the way of a mission, he was soon down the police-station working out how to get around the nasty detail of having technically failed the test. Agreement was reached, but, dang, the chief bribe-taker was on a ‘technological’ or ‘technical’ break – these are a Russian speciality. My sister once visited me in St. Petersburg. We wanted to go on some boat-trip round the canals. Just as we got to the front of the queue, the glowering woman who hadn’t been out of her booth since before the revolution defiantly propped a piece of A4 with ‘technical break’ written on it against the glass. During her break, she sat doing nothing in her booth. We looked at her. She looked at us. Then, without so much as a bell or the firing of a cannon, the break ended and she was ready to sell once more – and the Russian’s attempts to get his hands on a thoroughly undeserved driving licence were thwarted. “No, I really passed,” he replied. I SMSed further congratulations and pride (and told him he could buy his own flipping car). “Don’t be too proud,” he answered, in a rare moment of self-criticism. “The policemen told me I needed to get a lot more practice and I’ve got a double chin on the photograph.”
Every silver lining has a cloud.
Breakfast for dinner September 15, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Now I’m a nasty, selfish, spiteful, bitter old queen, so there’s a good deal of egotism – that t is all wrong – in the missing. Cooking is a loathsome chore. And I do it badly anyway. I’m half-tempted to live on my professed diet of choice of weetabix and bananas, but have been advised that bananas make one fat, and as anyone worth his salt knows, I’m on a new musclathon, involving minimal physical effort but an unnaturally high intake of strawberry power-milkshakes. Still, as I ogled in disbelief at the contents of the fridge this very day, I knew it was time to go out and get some real sustenance.
“This is a queer state of affairs,” I thought to myself as I trotted back from the supermarket with bananas, weetabix and a herd-load of milk. “Here I am in East Berlin. I’ve always been a bit one for abroad, but how the buggery fuck did I end up here?” Not that I’m complaining, really, and my World-Cup-initiated love affair with Berlin is still on the go. “If I’d made a few different choices,” I went on, “like what’s-‘er-face Paltrow in that film, I might be at home nicely in, say, Leamington Spa, in a three-bedroomed semi with a Vauxhall Viva and planning my trip to Homebase on Saturday with, say, Jeremy. And yet, here I am, trundling back from the supermarket, laden down with bananas and weetabix and planning a dinner of breakfast. Life can be too queer.”
I plopped my bags down on the rickety kitchen table, whipped off my shoes Russian-style, went to pick up the parcel – some beauty product the Russian had ordered for himself – that had been left with the neighbours (thankfully not ones I’ve had noise or flooding issues with) and psyched myself up for a brinner/brupper (delete according to class status) (brea, should anyone north of the Watford Gap be reading) of exquisitely delicious and freshly baked pumpkin-seed bread – God, the Germans do good bread – either some Camembert or Brie (not brea) (can never remember the difference), some roughly hewn lumps of tomato and sexily milky coffee, which I hadn’t had for two days because of quoffing all the milk to get those flipping muscles. It was all lovely. I settled in for the post-prandial and wondered how it should have come to pass that of all the places I seem to have ‘ended up’, I’m in Germany, a country I couldn’t have had less of a psychic connection to until the moment I stepped off the plane at some Berlin airport or other a bazillion years ago.
It came to me in a flash as I contemplated some Fleischsalat. “Boyfriends.” Flipping boyfriends. Not that I don’t love them, of course (though one at a time. There’s nothing poly- about my relationships), but I now realise I am geographical putty in their hands, a powerless feather blown wherever they so care to wish.
I have one major ex. He happens to be the kindest, gentlest, most helpful person on the planet and is one of the least likely homosexuals I know. (His mother still claims he’s a ‘closet heterosexual’.) He must be 100kg of pure brawn and works in one of the manliest environments on earth, happily taking his rather more obviously homosexual 4kg-boyfriend along to any worky occasions and no-one, thankfully, giving the slightest of tosses. We were the on-off type of relationship. We can never answer when folk ask us how long we were together because the mental arithmetic is too tricky. 6 months here. 3 years there. Another 2 years in the middle. (OK, five-and-a-half years.) Anyway, it struck me, over the contemplated Fleischsalat, that he was the one that started getting me deported around the globe against my will when I’d just as happily have been in Leamington Spa with Jeremy and the Vauxhall Viva.
The ex believed in the full service deal. Not only was it selecting the right model, (high) maintenance throughout the five-and-a-half, disjointed years, there was even post-sales service. When we decided to split up after the first proper go of being together, his life gliding smoothly along well-oiled rails to a specific destination, mine derailing at Tring all the while, he decided I needed to go abroad. Naively, I thought this was all utter altruism on his part, rather than him wanting to see the back of me. Still, I couldn’t complain. He got on the phone to his friends in Paris, asked them if that boyfriend they’d met about one-and-a-half times could turn up and live with them for an undisclosed period and for total free in about ten minutes’ time and I was on the coach before I’d penned the letter to uni asking if I could have a few months off to find myself learning to drink in France.
Two years later, having learnt the lingo and done a job that I will have a one-way, first-class, TGV ticket to hell for, if hell exists, I was back, sniffing around his heels and asking if my deportation order had expired. Sure enough, it had. Wangled my way back into university, got the Tring-train hoisted back onto the tracks, removed the leaves and the powdery snow from the line and seemed to be rolling gently back towards stability.
Before I knew it, I was being bundled – handcuffed, blindfolded and gagged – onto a plane to Russia. “It’s for the best,” he assured me. “Working for a religious charity and earning $50 a month in a city with the world’s worst climate is EXACTLY the right career move for an atheist homo who’s just finished university with quite glitteringly good results.” (Have I mentioned those before? I promise that is the quote verbatim.) “You’re sure I shouldn’t stay here and find, say, a Jeremy in Leamington Spa with a nice Vauxhall Viva and a loyalty card for Homeb…” “Trust me.”
So once more I found myself trudging the wide and windy streets of a foreign city, appreciating the clemency of the weather when the thermometer hit the dizzy heights of -10 and spending an inordinate amount of time surrounded by Catholic priests. And then up popped the Russian, doing all the flattering things that young-people-in-love do, loitering outside my flat when I got home from a hard day of drinking tea (and learning the Lord’s Prayer in Russian) at the office, rustling up delicious dinners, taking his shirt off, telling me I had no soul. It was all marvellous. But for the German connection…
The Russian had studied German in his time. After a year or so of our togetherness, there was the chance for him to spend some time in Berlin. The charity closed down for the summer, as that’s when poor people stop pretending to be poor and take their savings out from under their mattresses and spend their time in Gstaad, so I was free to waft aimlessly around the Bundeshauptstadt without a care (or Pfennig) in the world. The Russian had arrived a couple of weeks before me. “Isn’t it vaaaaaaaaaanderful?” he assured me forcefully as he took me to a deserted Alexanderplatz late on a Thursday evening. “No, it’s the ugliest architectural ensemble I’ve seen since being ushered to my flat in Petrozavodsk when I was still a student,” I replied, love struggling to disguise the rancour. We stayed on for a few more weeks, me loathing every second, and had the most Hollywoodish goodbye imaginable at the airport as his visa expired and I thought I’d try and stay on and see if we could emigrate here immediately.
Thankfully, that was impossible and I was back on a plane to St. Petersburg within weeks. I hoped Germany might slip off the radar screen. But sure enough, the old deportation gene kept busy on the quiet and all of a sudden it was announced that there was a place waiting for him at Humboldt University. I whooped for joy as it looked like he wouldn’t be able to get the visa on time. But the gods of deportation had the last laugh and now here I bloody well am, having breakfast for dinner while he lives it up on his babushka’s potato patch.
And I could have just seen myself in a Vauxhall Viva.
Muscles September 13, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Men September 12, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Men, tell me honestly, do you enjoy the company of thirteen humans of your fellow sex for four days in a row uninterrupted by the fairer sex unless she is semi-naked, is paid by the word (rather like translators) and does not speak the same language as you? It’s too queer. And I feel almost compelled to attend a hen-do (alas, the ability to call these events -night has long since vanished. I think the stag/hen-dos now tend to be more extravagant than the weddings themselves) to find out in just what ways women go wild when in an equally exclusive group.
I think my only prediction which was vaguely accurate regarding the weekend’s festivities was on the way-hey front. Not that I did shout way-hey, probably not even once, but if we can count way-hey as very hearty laughter, then there was that in abundance. English men have an extraordinary capacity to find anything funny, and to make a joke out of everything. Which is, I suppose, only our version of small talk. Where was it I was reading recently about some ancient Frenchy who wrote of his travels to England and talked of this thing they had called, “Humour”? Indeed, I think we Brits are ourselves proud of our sense of humour – how often is a perceived lack of it taken as a chance to berate other nations? We’ll be sorting out those Czechs and Estonians sharpish, no doubt – but conversing in jokes is a queer thing to do. Frenchies and Germans don’t get it. I’m not sure I do.
Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself at all (or bray as loudly as the others at given times). The queer thing about all the bravado and banter and – yes, really – business talk (property prices, career moves, markets, the works!) and being perfect family types (for the most part, or soon aiming to be so) was that once you got them on their own for half a minute, you were soon able to morosely twist the conversation round to gloom, not a way-hey in sight, and have them pouring out their troubles. This was nicely reassuring. I suppose this was a fairly regular group of 30-something, middle-class Engländers (with a token Australian thrown in to spice things up a bit). A good minority have their worries. Another good minority said, in quiet moments, how they slightly despised having to go and sit in a bar with semi-naked females squirming onto their laps and paying 40 times the normal price to boot. (Darlings, an English tradition I had forgotten. The dreaded whip or kitty. Guaranteed, by some mysterious force of mathematics, to make any evening 80 times more expensive than it would normally be. Black holes.) (I still shudder with horror every time I log on to internet banking. “You mean I took ANOTHER 100 euros out that night?”) All were obsessed with bum sex.
Yet, darlings, sometimes, I have to say, I was ashamed. Ashamed. For a fairly regular group of 30-something, middle-class Engländers (with a token Australian thrown in to spice things up a bit), the behaviour was shocking. Shocking. I think this was heightened by the Brits-abroad factor. I couldn’t wait to leave one restaurant we went to. I think the staff were of like mind. Thankfully, we had a corner to ourselves. It ought to have been caged off. But at least the humiliation factor was low. The only thing aimed at total humiliation of A_ – the groom – was dressing him up as a clown, but he looked so sweet that I actually rather enjoyed that moment. And it was short-lived.
Again, I had the odd moment of despairing for England. But remembered all the while to think, “This is a rowdy rabble. It is not representative. Men talking about FIGHTING – yes, fighting, with glee, in their thirties – who, you then see from their e-mail addresses, are senior partners in such and such a firm, are a staggy blip. England is really wonderful and sedate and civilised. The men were just having a bit of wild fun. Really, BiB, don’t get so het up”.
But the thing is, I snuck off early – about 3am – on one evening to go to tbf(the beautiful friend)’s birthday party. Firstly there was the shock of his beauty to cope with as he opened the front door but then the different world of Germans sitting discussing things round a table. It was a touch like being fast-forwarded several significant rungs along the partying evolutionary ladder.
I mustn’t write more. This is too naughty. And I will be in terrible trouble if this is ever discovered. But men, in a group… Ouch!
Het tips September 5, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Accents and global warming September 1, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
I am on an errand to the Kingdom. The errand is not an unpleasant one. It would be all the more pleasant if it didn’t involve having to fly from Berlin to Luton cunting Airport and then struggling into central London at an ungodly hour before making my way to Sussex, the hotspot of the errand.
Naturally, my last-thing flight was delayed, so this gave extra time for wandering up and down aimlessly in Schönefeld Airport. And Schönefeld has got new bits, even since I was last there, which I think can only have been a matter of months. There was never a Terminal D last time I looked. Call me a boy, but it gave me a rush of pride that Berlin’s minuscule airport had grown a tad, and while I know that small airports are very convenient and all that – this was before I’d landed at Luton – I do think Berlin’s new, improved Schönefeld will be even better when there’ll be somewhere to sit and perhaps, goddammit, even buy a drink, after 9pm. I wandered up and down looking for totty. Spotted a hopelessly stunning Pole carrying a see-through plastic briefcase with a teddy bear, a huge ‘uniwersalny’ Polish-English dictionary and some puking liqueurs. I thought perhaps catching the odd glimpse of his rough, pock-marked beauty might help while away the hours. And it did.
Inevitably, when I fly Easyjet, I am herded into row D at the departure gate, i.e. the row that’s last to go on. I don’t know if this is done alphabetically when you book, which must be rather bad luck on the Poles whose surnames begin with Z – about 90% of them in my experience – if the case, or just they can tell I’m a soft touch from how gently I make my booking. In any case, I am, inevitably, always the last person onto the plane to try to find a seat between all the people, even rude riff-raff who know each other, who decide to take the window and aisle seat and leave the middle one free. The Pole – he can’t have been Zbigniewicz after all – queued up in row C. I wondered whether towelling tracksuits were acceptable wear in 2006. His beauty was undented in any case. As I finally got onto the tarmac, I saw the Pole clambering beautifully up the back steps. I dashed to the rear of the plane. Damn, not a seat next to him available, but in the row in front, next to two young affable Germans. I plonked myself down, hoping I might catch a glance in the rear-view mirror every now and then.
The beauty sat with two girls from Stoke. I know they were from Stoke because a) I once lived in the environs and will never forget the accent and b) the Pole eventually asked, “Where you are from?” and they answered, “Stök.” The girls’ accents and conversation slightly made me despair for England. “Things will never be all right if people speak like this,” I thought, wrongly, as I now know. The level of chit-chat wasn’t inspiring. Quoting from Easyjet’s in-flight magazine, “Kim, flippin’ ‘eck, there’s FORTY-TWO museums in Amsterdam. FORTY flippin’ TWO!” The beautiful Pole interrupted, “There is more in London. More than 42.” “What’s he sayin’, Kim?” “Dön’t knö, can’t understand ‘im. What dja say?” “I say there is more in London. My English is so bad?” “He says there’s more in London.” “Does he live in London? Ask ‘im where he’s from?” “Dja live in London? Where ya from?” “Greece,” came his reply, to my amusement. Not-Kim delved back into the fount of all knowledge, the Easyjet magazine, to see if his assertion that there were more than 42 museums in London was correct. “Nö, there’s only eight.”
We arrived at Luton an hour late and half an hour before the last train to London Bridge, exactly where I needed to be. Having walked up the broken or switched-off escalator to tackle what I thought would be the easy task of flashing my passport and dashing trainwards – no luggage. Clever me – I saw crowds that the Orange Revolution would have marvelled at. A quite enormous throng, which, only once in its midsts, could you tell was actually one queue snaking in and out towards the THREE people checking the passports of the five thousand. It was at this point that I remembered with relish that England will be one of the first places to sink if global warming does its worst. I fingered an SMS featuring the words, “Shitty little country,” to my host for the night.
I knew there’d be a train at 1.06 to Blackfriars as I’d missed the London Bridge one, so not a disastrously long way from where I needed to be. I dashed to the shuttle bus. It sad idling at the stop. “What time will we be at the station?” I inquired of the bus-driver. “Five to,” he answered. “The train’s at six minutes past,” he went on, in an Irish accent that I can’t work out how to parody in writing. I wondered why we need sit at this stop to make it then be a mad rush for folk to buy tickets at the station. We were not waiting for anyone specific, or a specific flight. The logic of England defied me once more.
After a bit of a mad dash at Luton Airport Park-fucking-way station to get tickets, having helped a German (I thought) damsel in distress by explaining that Blackfriars and London Bridge were close enough, I got on the (late) train. As it pulled in, it was totally empty but for one Orthodox Jew at the very front of the first carriage. Where COULD he have been coming from, north of Luton, at after 1am? I decided that it could only possibly mean he’d been at a private rendition of a Matisyahu concert in the middle of darkest Bedfordshire. Too odd. The train stopped at every bird’s nest between Luton and London. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a clamour of people to get on or off at Radlett. Or St. fucking Albans. Or anywhere else in between. To punish British Rail, I recharged my phone at their expense and worried about England’s fate further still. The Orthodox Jew and a flurry of others scurried off the train at King’s Cross. I braced myself for arrival at Blackfriars. It was gone 2.
But, darlings, just as I was about to completely despair, damn England for ever and have thoughts of how to table a resolution at the UN to have the country shut down, London saved the day. The platform at Blackfriars is practically IN St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral wasn’t lit, but it loomed gloriously in its greyness. I instantly began to think nasty thoughts about Germans and sausage and remembered pearly kings and queens with natural pride.
Before I could get drunk on London’s beauty, though, there was my German damsel in distress to take care of. I’d run away from her at the ticket office as I didn’t fancy chatting for an hour. But she was clearly majorly lost. And probably scared. She was a chopsy, jolly-hockeysticks kinda gal. We chatted for as long as it took me to find her a bus to Elephant. (“Is she NOT going to be impressed when she gets there,” I thought.) Her German was slow and deliberate and had rolled rs galore. I wondered if she was Austrian or Bavarian. She was Swiss, it turned out. And I instantly realised Stoke and England were saved. If the Swiss can get by on a diet of cuckoo clocks, chocolate and money-laundering speaking German like THAT, then accent should be no barrier to anyone anywhere.
I had thought of leaping into a taxi for the final leg of my journey. Naturally, there wasn’t one to be seen, but thank god for that, as I had the most magnificent walk through deserted, night-time London. Darlings, how had I forgotten London’s beauty? Its magnificence? And its size? Berlin can only impose here and there, and normally in a way that the building was designed to. But London imposes with its scale, and its mix – beautiful old alongside ugly new and beautiful new alongside ugly not-so-old. Here I was glad to be reminded how little I was. What’s an individual in comparison to all these layers of past and present? The Oxo Tower and London Eye resplendent to my right, lighthouses of hope for any crushed, nocturnal London soul, as I walked across Blackfriars Bridge. The gherkin and Tower Bridge gleamed promisingly to my left. I ducked down an old staircase at the southern end of the bridge and walked along the river. I was in awe every step of the way. The Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge (not a wobble in sight). Folk actually down on the shingle at the water’s edge. The Globe Theatre, where something was being filmed and folk were hanging around in Shakespearean dress. The Clink. A pissed couple, her tottering on cobbles on high-heels. He made a good-natured comment about a tourist. (Me.) Borough Market. Southwark Cathedral, and that lovely old narrow staircase up to London Bridge station. And the river all the while. Then a dash from London Bridge towards Bermondsey Square, where gentrification is happening at breakneck speed and chip-shops are turned into delicatessens.
London, I know you’re an expensive and grey old shit-hole in many ways, but my god you’re a stunner with it. Berlin feels just a touch villagey in comparison.