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Accents and global warming September 1, 2006

Posted 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.



1. lukeski - September 2, 2006

It has been looking good in its rainy autumnal greyness this week.

2. Ed Ward - September 2, 2006

I think one reason so many cities look better than Berlin is that Berlin was mostly built in the last half of the 19th Century, quickly (to house all the workers coming in to work in the factories) and cheaply. When there’s a diversity of architectural styles, anyplace is going to look better than Berlin.

3. Arabella - September 4, 2006

Cooee – just popping round to say Bib! Wyndham is back!

4. GreatSheElephant - September 4, 2006

It is most definitely at its best at night when there aren’t many people about. I’d feel a lot better about London if there weren’t so many damn people in it.

5. BiB - September 4, 2006

Lukeski, it looked such heaven. I had a fantasy about turning up at your place of work on Friday morning before dashing Sussexwards, but you’d have had to open very early.

Ed, yes, Berlin ain’t a beauty. But I am desperately trying to remind myself that I mustn’t fall for beauty’s charms and think instantly that I should move back to London. I know I’d be living in a shared bedsit in the grimmest suburb if I did. St. Petersburg is beautiful, I remind myself, and I’d rather mangle my testicles than live there again.

Arabella, I noticed. I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation, and thank heavens for that. It was a nice thing to surprise me as I had a late, emergency, back-from-the-airport surf.

GSE, yes, perhaps peoplelessness did improve its charms. The warm, windless night helped. I was vaguely thrilled by the crowds on Friday morning, but perhaps that attraction would quickly wear off.

6. chendaberry - September 4, 2006

you writing the Kingdom make me think of the lars van trier thing and am now wondering whether you’re stuck in a lift with a freaky child ghost etc etc..

7. BiB - September 4, 2006

Yes, perhaps I should have written kingdom with a small k. I think I have become illiterate with either the onset of Alzheimer’s or being away from England, although I don’t know why that should be the case as I read English all the time. Perhaps because of not having to write essays any more. (No, home. Not stuck in a lift. Oh god, speaking of which, must finish this Murakami book…)

8. MountPenguin - September 4, 2006

About Berlin and its architecture: one of Berlin’s tragedies is that it has lost virtually all of its pre-19th century buildings and districts, apart from some of the stately piles along Unter den Linden. Those that weren’t destroyed in WW2 fell victim to the GDR, and not just the Stadtschloß but districts such as the Fischerinsel. So all what’s left is the sea of Mietskasernen around a hollowed-out core.

On the other hand Berlin does have a helluva lot of history packed into the last century, so that sort of compensates.

9. actualfactual - September 5, 2006

I haven’t been in Switzerland for a while, but I had the good fortune to be in Stoke yesterday. I even stopped the car, got out and walked around for a while. I didn’t actually talk to anyone, as the citizens of that much-maligned city all frightened me somewhat. I know that Switzerland does well enough, despite that strange version of German that they use, but, apart from the firms which board up shop windows, I’m not sure what economic activity occurs in Stoke.

10. Ed Ward - September 5, 2006

Ah, but there are a few very old buildings around town if you know how to look for them. A couple in the Scheunenviertel and a passel of old farmhouses in Britz. Not that even you Britz should have to go to Britz.

11. BiB - September 5, 2006

Mountpenguin, hello! (I am trying to work out if mountpenguin has some double meaning in German which I can’t fathom.) Yes, what Berlin lacks in beauty, it certainly makes up for in interest. It means it’s almost bound to be a love-it-or-hate-it city as far as tourists are concerned, and for early-in-their-stay visitors. (I’m afraid I was initially a hater, but only because my beloved took me to a deserted Alexanderplatz on my first Thursday evening and said, triumphantly, “This is the centre of Berlin.” It reminded me a tad of residential bits of Petrozavodsk, not Russia’s most glamorous town.)

IAF, you’re back. Good-o. Dja go up ‘Anley? It’s not England’s finest, Stök, is it, unless Wedgwood’s majorly your bag. I’ve got a feeling it might not be your top priority in life. Has mopping up the blood of students from Keele University been franchised out? There’d be money in that, I’m sure.

Ed, yes, I never got out of the U-Bahn at Klosterstrasse to look at that Kloster until I’d seen it from the top of the Fernsehturm and exclaimed, internally, “What the buggery fuck’s that thing?” And that led to the discovery of that whole area. I have been in Britz once, for I can’t remember what reason. It may have been a failed attempt to find a cinema. To compensate, the Russian and I went on a spontaneous shoppery. I bought a jumper which makes me look precisely like an old woman. It needs to be handwashed too. Never gets worn. Steer clear of Britz!

12. daggi - September 11, 2006

I may well be (voluntarily) spending much more time in Britz, as I’ve only been there twice that should be quite easy…

13. BiB - September 11, 2006

Are you abandoning us in the East for good? Is this what overexposure to the East in the countryside has done to you?

14. daggi - September 15, 2006

It was only 10 weeks. But, my, was I over-exposed. Abandonment, who knows. Not yet. Not for good.

15. BiB - September 15, 2006

Was it a good break, though (he asks, trying to be paaaaaaaaasitive)? Being around young people who adored you, and all that? Anyway, have you waltzed back into a money-spinning job since you got back?

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