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Search complete October 31, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
17 comments
Rack your brains no longer. I’ve found my dream job. Not that I’ve actually secured a position yet, you understand, but I’m sure it can only be a matter of time.

I’ve got my genes to thank for my eureka moment. Inherited from my father, along with a great love of fried potatoes, booze and fags, is asthma. Yes, of course I effing know I shouldn’t smoke. In fact, I even had a freshly converted Allen Carr evangelist here on Saturday night and some of his evangelism must have had a subliminal effect because I’ve forgotten to smoke since Sunday. And, anyway, asthma provided me with a useful German lesson. As I psyched myself up for a trip to the quack one day, I boned up on my German grammar, and discovered, to my delight, that it is DER Inhalator, DIE Praxis and DAS Asthma. When I mysteriously become fluent in German and get a job as a German teacher – not to be confused with the dream job. I’ve taught language before. The hardest job I’ve ever done. Not that I’ve done many jobs, really. But it was harder than sitting around drinking tea in Russia for a living, let me tell you – it’s the example I’ll give everyone for them to get to grips with gender.

Anyway…

I plan to become a doctor’s surgery receptionist. In Germany. I see only a couple of necessary qualifications and, while I agree that it would be better, for tradition’s sake, if I were a woman, I am sure that I’ve got every requirement covered. For, as I see it, to work in a doctor’s surgery in Germany, one need only be skinny, obese or old-&-dim. I plan to fill the latter category’s professional shoes.

I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if my health’s actually a bit of a mess – I’m so glad we’re not seethrough – but I don’t normally bother with quacks. As I’ve reported before on these here pages, either they’ll try to convince me I’m a woman or, as not reported, bollock me for doing a sedentary job. And the time I had my ears syringed was almost too pornographic to go into. So I won’t. But with asthma, there’s no way round it. There’s delaying it, which I do galore. As long as I’ve at least got an empty inhaler lying around the place, my body’s normally kept placeboishly in order. But Scotland beckoned of late, and any interaction with the Celtic world is almost bound to set me wheezing, so I dashed to the local chest-quacks to get me some real drugs.

A queer thing about being here, and my ludicrous working-life, is that I’ve got posh health insurance. It’s the only type a freelancer can get, and it’s worth every penny for the half second of respect it gets you in dealings with strangers. As I’m hopeless at haughtiness in the day-to-day, I do get a minor pitter-patter as I see the staff sit up in their chairs, speak nicely and make every effort to get me an appointment as quickly as possible. And it’s the one bit of naughtiness I’m vaguely prepared to exploit at the expense of your regular Germans. (Oh god, I remember, with massive internal cringe, that I used to jump queues in Russia too, though this was against my will. Foreigners were constantly given preferential treatment in Russia, and I would close my eyes as I walked past a snaking line of utterly beautiful folk, mentally cutting my heart out with the venom of their stares.)

So I walked into my chest-quacks’ surgery. I sauntered up to the reception desk. Three women sat at it. One skinny. One obese. One old-&-dim. My natural preference was for the old-&-dim one, especially as the other two were under 12 and I thought I might have to give them some sweeties or talk about pop-music. “I’d like to make an appointment, please,” I said to Ms. O-&-D. She began flicking tomes ahead in her Big Book and was clearly aiming to give me an appointment shortly before Armageddon. I thought we’d better truncate this charade so I whipped out my posh insurance card and slid it under her nose. She had a slow-motion eureka moment all of her own and told me, mustering as much of a Hollywood smile as 60 years of being drunk every day would allow, that I could, should I so wish, take a seat, as they weren’t that busy, and a doctor would see to me straight away.

I sat in the waiting-room, having champagne and grapes fed to me, for the microscopic hiatus until the doctor decided to stop surfing youtube and came out to fetch me. But it was long enough to garner an understanding of the anthropology of doctor’s surgery receptionist hierarchy.

The young thin and fat ones of the triumverate should, ideally, be employed about a week apart. This instantly gives the more senior of the two a feeling of importance and perhaps means she won’t be quite so hopeless at her job. The younger of the two, meanwhile, merely makes up the numbers – perhaps it’s a Brussels requirement – and makes laughable attempts at answering people’s queries. “Ja, so ven can I make my next appointment?” asked a stern German pensioner with a Mrs. Thatcher haircut. “Er – pause to blow huge bubble-gum bubble – dunno. Wanna give us your number and I’ll ring ya?” Luckily for the young one, Mrs. Thatcher thought this must be technology and progress combining to make modern life difficult again and she went along with the youngster’s incompetence.

The only moment when the thin and fat young ones can have a second of solidarity is when Ms. O-&-D weighs in on proceedings. Ms. O-&-D had mastered the layout of the surgery after 45 years there and was awfully good at pointing people in the direction of the adjacent waiting-room, but her skills ended there. Otherwise, it was all blank stares and dribbling…

I put out my cigar, told the go-go boy his services were no longer required, and popped into the quack for a half-second chat. His computer told him I had private insurance so he thought he’d better do a few extra things like bestethoscoping me to squeeze a few more euros out of the transaction. He then gave me a repeat prescription and sent me back to the ladies with a bill… to be settled immediately.

I reappeared before Ms. O-&-D. A vague flicker of recognition spread across her sclerotic features. She fiddled around with some paper lying on her desk to give her a moment’s extra breathing space. Annoyingly, the least senior new one – obese, in this case, though the body-shape-seniority index can also work in the other direction – decided she’d better get in on the act. I duly handed her my bill. She looked perplexed. “Whassat?” “My bill.” But she couldn’t cope with this rare conundrum and bowed to Ms. O-&-D’s greater wisdom and experience.

The bill was for 19 euros something. Alas, I had no change and handed over a 20-euro bill. I think I sensed a moment of joy in Ms. O-&-D’s haggard visage as she had a quick thought along the lines of, “That’d get me five cans of Oettinger and four packets of woodbines,” but then she realised there was work to be done and staggered off in search of some cents. I stood nicely, declining offers of caviar from fatty and skinny. And stood. And stood. For a while I wondered whether this was a new take on mugging and whether I’d bump into Ms. O-&-D caning fags on Schönhauser Allee. But just as I was thinking I might take another glass of champers and lap-dance after all, she reappeared, tottering and apologetic, with about 5 euros in coin change. “But you only owe me 4 cents,” I protested. “It’s all we’ve got,” she retorted, and pretended to be busy by looking at the computer, which she thought was a complicated lamp. I thought it would be patronising to say, “Yes, aber you can take away the four euros straight away and that would make the change much closer to the mark,” but happily bade the staff farewell – I think I may have said hello instead of goodbye in all the excitement – and skipped downstairs and put my ill-gotten gains towards two inhalers and a packet of fags.

So, just as I soon as I learn German for, “Fucked if I know,” my application’s in the post.

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Windows October 29, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Tags: ,
9 comments

window.jpg

Darlings, I’m in such a panic about work that I think I might have to do quite a lot of blogging on subjects ranging from the weather, underwear and cars to syphilis. I’m sure by the time I’m done, I’ll flick back to the other windows – is that the word? – daring to be annoyingly open in the blue line at the bottom of my screen and hope that some translation imps have invaded my computer and done the bastard for me. I think that sort of thing happens quite often.

Darlings, I don’t think I’ve ever blogged my flat before, perhaps for fear of being overrun by mobs of marauding, naked, muscular blog-fans. But I think this photo is neutral enough for me to sleep soundly knowing that my geographical anonymity will not have been challenged. Our flat looks a tad like a hospital ward, without the drips and ill folk. All white walls and not much in the way of adornment. One Euro-guestess once asked how long we’d been living here as I provided her with some bakewell tart and a nice cup of tea – to prove that England can do cuisine too – and she didn’t do that good a job of hiding her surprise when the answer didn’t come back as, “We moved in ten minutes before you arrived”.

Anyway, the point of the window is… look, it’s dark at this time! We all know that putting the clocks back or forward doesn’t make darkness happen only an hour earlier or later. Yesterday it was bright outside till, ooh, at least 11pm, whereas today it was dark by about one. Cue thoughts for the next eight months of moving to Australia. (I would have happily said Thailand or Equatorial Guinea a few years ago, but after another night last night where I struggled to speak to our Eurotastic guests in German, I think my hot place needs to be in some bit of the world that the British once colonised. Canada doesn’t count.)

So winter-time it is. I next plan to leave the house in June, give or take the odd eaSyjEt commitment. Our Eurotastic guests yesterday were from a selection of countries east of the iron curtain, so the conversation was heavy in fantasy. The Russian and I caught on remarkably quickly for old-timers and peppered the proceedings with unlikely destinations for a bit of winter sun. By the time we got the Slavs out the door at some obscene hour, their innards sloshing happily in booze and the most calorific food this side of a 5-year-old’s birthday party, we’d convinced everyone, bar ourselves, that we’d probably AT LEAST make it to Peru, Mauritius and Israel this winter. But just in case we don’t, I’ve tracked down my long johns and look forward to resembling a mentalist, just as soon as I’ve learnt how to roll my own cigarettes, for the foreseeable future.

figaromain_r2_c2.jpg

Weather – done. Underwear – done. What next? Cars. Here’s a snap of one I don’t own and can’t drive. Nice, innit? A Nissan, of all things. I felt very unfashionable falling for a Nissan, having hoped it might be the latest Trabant or Invacar model. Saw it – or its twin – in Scotland (where I visited a nuclear family. All pop music and laundry. How do folk bear it?). Do I really have to bother saying where I’ve pilfered it from? I can’t remember, obviously. And won’t worry inordinately much about feeling the long arm of the law coming down hard on me.

Ha! Defeated by blogger once more. Mid-post, it has decided to stop letting me upload photos. Or perhaps it’s a decency policy, as the next upload was going to be Dix’s Syphilitiker. Slightly à propos of nothing, but in stark contrast to all the old frumps I saw at the Rembrandt the other day. I need more Dix in my life. (Boom boom.) I need splashes of colour (not that this Dix has any), and folk with venereal diseases, to brighten up the winter months.

Oh god, it’s gone six. The imps haven’t done a thing as of my last check. I’d better get back to some high-octane panicking to the accompaniment of Shura, Russia’s least likely heterosexual pop-star. (Though Russian pop is not to be blogged. Zemfira almost did for me.)

The Lightning Express October 26, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
10 comments
Speaking of heartlessness, I think I had my first exposure to the heartless masses aged 9. It’s taken me 27 years to be able to write about it.

It was second year juniors. I was already feeling a bit discombobulated because our school was having repairs done to it and we second year junior types were in portacabins round the corner from the real school premises. Not to say that I’d managed to create the provinces in London and concentrate my whole life in a 1km squared space – my mother still calls the West End the City – but it must have been at least 15cm outside my regular stomping ground, so was pretty frightening.

So, with me feeling discombobulated and 9, Miss H_ decides she’s going to strike up a song one day. Honestly, teachers had it easy then. “Fucked if I know what we’ll do next,” Miss H_ probably thought to herself. “I know. I’ll belt out a song.” Miss H_ had a not bad voice. I think it was to make up for her looks and lack of anything resembling a pleasant personality. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s still Miss H_ to this day, in fact. Or in prison for child abuse. Normally, we were tunefully indoctrinated with One Day at a Time, by the songtastic Lena Martell, but Miss H_ went out on a limb on this fateful day. Either she wanted to work out who the gay boys in the class were – the experiment worked a treat, if so – to send them for extra Lena Martell instruction, or was dealing with an admittedly tragic event in her own life.

Miss H_ belted out – bosom heaving, huge glasses bobbing – the Lightning Express. (Please listen to the audio link. I’m emigrating to Arkansas TODAY.) I listened intently. This song had gloom. And relatively few references to god and not a sniff of Jesus. Tragedy at a gazillion levels. Dying mother. Boy travelling alone. From where? Was he the Arkansas-equivalent of down t’pit? Poverty. The cruel (but converted) conductor. The kindness of strangers.

I began to bucket. I sobbed and sobbed and my bosom heaved more than Miss H_’s. I looked around the room, 9-ly, expecting to see a concert of tears. But all I saw were the hardened and emotionless faces of 9-year-old, working-class girls with plaits and dressed in miniature dinner-lady outfits – our school didn’t do aspiration – and the boys already stabbing each other with compasses again. The only solidarity came from Manuel N_, the fattest boy and slowest runner in the class who pronounced dodo doodoo and emigrated in shame to Portugal. (Even his cousin, the much thinner Maria N_, who became head-girl, didn’t cry and looked on at Manuel in horror.) The ever-sensitive Miss H_ asked us what the bugger we were crying for. Manuel N_ said something in Portuguese about his mummy, and that he was hungry, and I sobbed. Deborah D_ may have given me a comforting arm round the shoulder (and then stolen my dinner-money).

Dunno why I’ve got onto this. I was planning to tell you all about the Rembrandt exhibish on in Berlin at the moment. Funny how things work out, as I once heard Julian Clary say when the gay couple thrashed the straight couple at his own version of Mr. and Mrs….

Ambition October 24, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
29 comments

I may not have been aiming very high, but I did once claim that it was my dream to own a dishwasher – human or clockwork – and thus render myself utterly redundant. In fact, becoming the superfluous man par excellence wasn’t strictly what I was aiming for; indeed, I might even have aimed to replace the washing-up, which I seem to spend about 90% of my life doing – the other 10% is spent on interaction with eAsyjet – with some other chore, or maybe even a job. No. But I’ve been known to blame many a misfortune on my almost constant proximity to the kitchen sink. Various aches and pains. Bad skin. Allergies. Poor knowledge of German.

So imagine my excitement! I am, this very second, sitting in, waiting for some – I’m hoping – rough, working-class, middle-aged men to deliver me a clockwork dishwasher that the Russian has deemed it fit to purchase. Actually, I’m not very excited at all. In fact, I couldn’t be less excited. Even if the deliverers do turn out to be bits of handsome rough, the four seconds that they spend in the flat will be a chore, and it’s a chore having to sit here and wait for them when I could be outdoors smoking and having lascivious thoughts.

But I suppose the real unexcitement is caused not by the worry that I really will have become an utterly superfluous man, but rather the dissatisfaction one feels at almost any desire coming to fruition. Perhaps, rather as with jiggy-jiggy, there’s the exciting build-up, then the moment of intense pleasure and then the thought, “Bugger. It’s over. What next?” Except I seem to have gone cold even before the intense moment of pleasure on this occasion. Ambition interruptus.

So I need a new ambition. Something new to strive for. To look forward to. To aim at. I’ve got a couple of ideas up my sleeve. So far, it’s a neck-and-neck race between paying off my debts and trying to prove whether the Russian has any internal organs at all. All recommendations greatly appreciated and eagerly considered.

Zemfira, spid & the Russian soul quiz October 12, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
35 comments
Darlings, a quiz, from which Russian-speakers must, unfortunately, be excluded. Now, watch this video, from Russian pop queen Zemfira, carefully making sure not to look at any of the comments that other youtubers have left, if they appear, and then tell me what the song is about. You can be as loquacious or laconic as you like. The song title is one word. Your answers could also be. My only clue is listen to the joyous chorus:

U tebia spid, doo-doo-be-doo, i znachit my umrёm,
U tebia spid, doo-doo-be-doo, i znachit my umrёm,
U tebia spi-i-id, i znachit my umrёm
…and so on.

I’ll reveal the answer, and give a translation, when my ego feels satisfied by the number of reactions.

*Where the mystery is solved*
OK, so my ego has been gently massaged, and as I’m sure perhaps half the world’s population is on tenterhooks, desperate to know what Zemfira’s little old song is about, I feel obliged to end the suspense.
Well, spid, the title of the song, means AIDS. And that jolly old chorus: “U tebia spid, doo-doo-be-doo, i znachit my umrёm, U tebia spid, doo-doo-be-doo, i znachit my umrёm, U tebia spi-i-id, i znachit my umrёm” means, “You’ve got AIDS (doo-doo-be-doo) and so we’re going to die … You’ve got AI-AI-AIDS and so we’re going to die.”
Someone in Russia – a French person, not a Russian – tried to convince me it was a great love song. That Zemfira was willing to die along with her beaidsed lover. It was the ultimate ‘gage d’amour’. I asked many a Russian too, “What does this song MEAN? What is Zemfira saying?” The answer normally came with fairly short shrift. “BiB, it means they have AIDS and will die.”
Do folk agree it’s a fucking odd song?

So much excitement I could… October 11, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
19 comments

…dunno, really. Yelp, perhaps.

Yes, it’s yet more e-mailery for you today. I woke up at my take on the crack of dawn, hurtled headlong towards the computer, wondered if it would be the thin end of the wedge to start having a cigarette before breakfast – decided against, healthily – and looked through my riveting mail. I was fast heading towards a bout of RSI at having the mouse on delete for such ages when, all of a sudden, I removed my hand as quickly as if I’d just stuck it in some boiling water.

Title: a familiar abbreviation.

Sender: a familiar concoction.

E-mail: Is that BiB from abbreviation (common abbreviation for my school)? If so, I am an old school friend of yours! Signed the familiar concoction.

Well fuck me with a big stick! Imagine that. The power of google. Actually, it’s not that earth-shattering, in a way, because I’ve had e-mails like it from that friends reunited site, and have even seen this friend’s name there. But we left the school in different years and his search skills obviously didn’t amount to remembering the calendar, so it’s got to have been google. How exciting!

But what to do?

Now I left this school at 16. After that, I stayed in touch with this pal intermittently. I saw him once when we were at university. And bumped into him once in a pub in Camden Town. We must have been 21. Maximum 22. A massive 14 years ago.

I instantly wrote to the ex for advice. My one suggestion was, “Do I just press delete?” He answered instantly. “No, answer.”

Darlings, but do I answer? I mean, we’ve done quite a good job of losing touch with each other for the last fourteen years, after all. And furious googling back reveals that my old pal is now a diamond-trader. A diamond-trader, for fuck’s sake. No doubt he’s just had his hands on that massive one from Lesotho and is getting in touch with all us old losers to fly us somewhere lovely – he used to live in West Hampstead – for champagne, oysters and scantily-clad, trafficked ladies.

It might be fun to contact the old pal, but then it might be a pain having to spell out my CV for the last millennium. He doesn’t even know I’m a whoopsy. He was sporty and a big hit with the gals aged even 15. He was the first pal I had who started ‘working out’, although I don’t think that term existed in the mid-80s. He was the first person to drag me into a peep-show in Soho aged about 2, where I think we proceeded to pay 8 quid for a coke. (Little did I know this would stand me in good stead for future stag duties.) He was the first person I knew to rent ludicrously hard porn from his bog-standard corner-shop where he’d somehow got chatting, man to man, with the shop-keeper. He was the first person I knew with a Commodore 64. And I used to pretend to fancy his sister.

So I’m thinking of writing back in the guise of an invented alter ego. I’ll have to be BiB, and have to be in Berlin, but I think I might be married to a nice, sturdy Helga and have a gaggle of children whom I speak to in a selection of languages. There’ll probably be an Alexander in there somewhere. And a Bettina. And the twins, Berlina and Gonaria. “Oh yes, Gonaria’s a very talented violinist,” I’ll say, “…and Bettina’s got try-outs for the German youth lacrosse team. Helga and I worry Alexander might have a few mental health ishooz. Well, and the less said about Berlinochka the better…” And I suppose I’d better be the Deputy Vice Consul, or something, and hope that his google skills are wanting. And I’d probably better have an indoor pool, and be living in Charlottenburg.

…or do I just tell him the bitter truth, that I’m scraping by doing ludicrous work, living in a rented one-bedroom flat in Berlin’s Ruislip with a Russian student? And no children, mentalist or otherwise?

Damn you, past. Always sneaking up at the most inconvenient of moments to remind you how feckless you’ve been.

Or do I just press delete?

Kindness October 11, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
10 comments

lightninglondon.jpg

Darlings, aren’t people kind? And aren’t bloggers nice? One fine day, ages ago now, as I trawled through my inbox happily deleting the 9 million translation proposals from Pashto to Romanian and other deliciously undoable (by me) combinations, there was a nicely surprising e-mail from a familiar name. A name familiar from the world of blogging. Yes, there was an e-mail from Mr. Blognor Regis who’d remembered, from an earlier bloggy exchange, that I liked St. Paul’s, perhaps all the more so since my banishment from the UK for crimes against insanity, and decided to send me this pic. Darlings, I could have cried. I might even have. And it’s true that the London skyline does indeed now hold a very special place in my heart.I’m thrilled by the gherkin. Or was, at least. On a London trip when I’d forgotten it was being built, and on the train from my mother’s leafy suburb into Waterloo, it suddenly loomed in to view – I think it made an extra effort for me, knowing I was on holiday – and transformed instantaneously my view of London for ever. I know there’s plenty of wank down around there too – the Nat West tower is actually pretty cack, let’s face it – but the gherkin made me think London was an admirable kind of place.

I wrote recently of a night-time walk through London town and was impressed with how beautiful the city looked. This photo reminds me of a couple of very lovely spots… And a conversation with a random German who, if I was quite another type altogether, might well have experienced my fist in his face. But I am not that type. At all. And he was a perfectly nice random German, but kept sending me into an ungovernable rage about the UK. I’ll explain.

It was a random queer beer. He was a random queer German. He spoke English, so we spoke English. Which was his cue to hold forth with a UK-for-beginners lesson, the beginner being, inexplicably, me. “No, no, no, ze country is called Great Britain,” he insisted, my fist clenching all the while, “and United Kingdom refers to ze union of ze English and Scottish crowns.” “Very good,” I said, applauding his knowledge of English and Scottish crowns, “aber absolutely, totally fucking 100% wrong. Great Britain is the biggish island – you know, England, Scotland and Wales – and the country’s full name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” “Ja, aber Norzern Ireland doesn’t have a king. Ze kingdom is only England and Scotland.” I reminded him 800 more times, fingers curling in and out behind my back, that it was awfully nice of him to try to convince me of his bollocks but it was, nonetheless, out-and-out, unmitigated and actually rather dreary bollocks.

We moved on. “Ja, aber ze problem is zat London is so ugly, especially in comparison to Manchester, which is a really beautiful city.” Now I don’t know Manchester, so can’t comment on its beauty, but have, perhaps, once or twice, allowed myself to succumb to the odd stereotype about it. “Ja, zere has been a lot of urban renewal zere.” “Well hoo-fucking-rah for Manchester,” I went on, “but this does not account for your blindness in thinking that London is ugly. Are you quite stark raving mad? London… Ugly? Manchester… beautiful?” He then went on to correct my pronunciation of the noise Salford, correct my misconceptions about Greater Manchester’s population, and correct my RP to Manchester-variant English. We haven’t met again.

Anyway, what was the point of all this?

Ah, yes, Mr. Blognor Regis’s kindness. Perhaps he doesn’t know it, but St. Paul’s and Blognor Regis also occupy a very special place in my blogging heart. When I once pilfered a different snap of St. Paul’s from the Blognor site, its kind owner then provided me with my FIRST EVER comment from a blogger stranger. Until then, my blogging life had been a strictly personal affair, between me and my two blogging pals. In fact, so naive was I, and such a wallflower-blogger was I, that I hardly dared even VISIT unknown blogs and assumed from the chatty tone that I saw elsewhere that all these folk must know each other personally. I actually asked EINY what the etiquette for linking was. Didn’t know my arse from my elbow. So, Herr Blognor, you introduced me to the world of unknown blogs. Through you, I discovered Wynders and so on exponentially ever onwards.

And then more kindness, as if my kindness cup wasn’t already full to the brim. Popped down to check the ‘real’ post – thankfully, no Romanian-Farsi proposals there – and there was a great, big, fuck-off jiffy bag from DJ Lukeski. That man is a one-man shelf-filler. As the months pass, his random acts of kindness make my book and CD collections ever more respectable. And so Imre Kertész’s Fatelessness – eek, I see it has won an award for translation – now sits expectantly atop my desk, yawning under the weight of various bits of filth. (What the fuck is a GB-Europe plug-adapter doing here? And sunglasses?)

Aren’t folk kind? I’m feeling all gooey.

Scrabble October 8, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
28 comments
Now lest any of you non-Berlin readers think we Berliners aren’t cool and funky, even when the sun’s disappeared for the best part of a year and we’re not allowed to sit outdoors and coolly watch football anymore, I’m going to remind you just how cool we are. Or how cool I am, for I suppose I best not speak on behalf of my fellow Berlinobloggers.

I’m so cool I’ve accidentally got addicted to internet scrabble. Utterly addicted. Especially as this version of it panders to all your boyish little desires and gives you a ranking and everything. I see myself as scrabble’s Tim Henman, my ranking fluctuating wildly as I hit highs (beat a Federer-like scrabbler) and lows (lose in straight sets to another British player). But, I tell you, this internet scrabble site is the best thing to come out of Romania since the Dacia.

Actually, internet scrabble is sort of a substitute for blogging. When I should be working – like RIGHT NOW – my little virtual Romanian refuge is as cosy and welcoming as a snug old Berlin flat heated with coal-ovens. (This is the one compensation of the new freezingness. The streets smell of aga again.) But it’s taken on a worrying angle. Apart from the uncoolness, and occasionally being disturbed as the clock’s running down and having to shout frenziedly that I can’t talk now as I’ve still got a q to get rid of, it’s begun to take over. Just as I’d got into reading Nietzsche and thought I was about to turn into an intellectual. (I had even been planning a Nietzscheesque post entitled, “Why I write such a good blog.”) But, alas, no.

I suppose scrabble is poor man’s chess. Whereas I imagine Kasparov divides his time between wondering how to become Russia’s next president and how to perfect his Sicilian defence, I have visions floating around in front of me of how best to place a stubborn q. As Kasparov ponders whether he can conquer a computer that the best human minds have managed to concoct, I am tearing my hair out wondering whether I might beat Doris from Cleethorpes whose profile confides that she is 120 and also enjoys crochet and her Max Bygraves collection. Oh the ignominy! The ignominy! (Mind you, good word if you can get it over two triples with the m on the double letter score. 203. That’d show Doris.)

Game, anyone?

More death October 7, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
2 comments
Another political assassination in Russia. Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist famed for not being a Kremlin lapdog, was shot dead today. She survived what she and many others considered an attempt on her life a couple of years ago when suffering food-poisoning on her way to Beslan. The case bears striking similarity to the death of Galina Starovoitova, a liberal Russian MP also murdered in her own house in 1998.

There was an interesting chat the other night on the BBC between some journo or other and Boris Akunin, a.k.a Grigori Chkhartishvili, a contemporary Russian writer born in Georgia who now says, in the light of Russia’s bullying tactics, that he is being forced to rediscover his georgianness. (He writes detective stories. Can’t bear to read one.) He painted a grim picture of Putin’s Russia. And back on September 5th and 6th up to 400 people gathered in Petrozavodsk, a town where I once studied, to demand that migrants from the Caucasus be deported from Karelia, bearing in mind that most of these migrants from the Caucasus are also Russian citizens. The race card is still very much playable in Russia.

Russia is awash in oil cash at the moment. Life for many has improved. There is no opposition. And my breath is held to see if Putin will have the constitution amended in time for the next presidential elections so that he can stand for a third term, just as his miserable neighbour in Minsk did before him. Watch that space.

(More, for Russian-speakers.)
(And yet more, for Londoners: A vigil has been organised by a group of independent individuals, journalists, and human rights activists. It will be held outside of the Russian Embassy tomorrow, Tuesday 10th October. There will be no political messages, placards or banners, only candles… We can now confirm that the vigil for Anna Politkovskaya will take place tomorrow, Tuesday 10 October 2006 between 6.30 and 7.30 pm outside the Russian Embassy. The police have asked us to gather opposite the Embassy on Notting Hill Gate, next to the Champion pub. If there are a fair number of us, we are to move to the other side of Ossington Road, which is directly opposite the Embassy. The nearest tube station is Notting Hill Gate. We would like to stress that we would like this to be a quiet and dignified event. We do not want this to be taken over by anyone wishing to protest or promote particular political or ideological agendas. Please spread the word about this important event to those who wish to attend in this spirit. And please come, with candles.)

Kingdom-bound October 6, 2006

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Well, not for ages yet, really, and not for anything as life-changing as upping sticks permanently. No, just another UK errand beckons, and once more I must place myself in Easyjet’s (I know that’s not how to spell it, and that it starts with a small letter and there’s a capital in the middle somewhere – I think it’s EasYjet – but they can sod off if they think I’m going to remember that) incapable hands.

This travel lark’s an awful pain. Not that it isn’t always lovely to set foot on English soil, eat funny pies (had a nice ale and kidney – or something like that – one last time in a heavenly old ancient pub, but what is that bird’s nest disguised as pastry they put on top?) and chat with the natives. But as I get older and fussier and turn into all the women in my family who are ALL scared of EVERYTHING, travelling, and especially flying, has become an awful chore.

All the more so when this is with eAsyjEt.

Of course I’m awfully grateful for their cheap fares and the obscene over-familiarity of the staff, but they really need to give themselves more than 12 seconds between landing from one flight to get everyone off, have a rub around with the hoover, do a crammer of the eaSYjeT staff joke book and then get the next lot of punters on again. So flights are, inevitably, late. I am happily going to book myself on whatever cheapo flight to the kingdom I find, which will probably be landing at 4am at an utterly inconvenient airport.

As I sat, starving and skint, at Belfast Bobby Sands Airport – at least I THINK that’s what it was called – last month, waiting for a flight back to Gatwick before then heading on to Berlin, I screwed myself up ever more angrily in my chair when the inevitable DELAYED sprang up on the well-ogled screen. But do you know what the wankers at Belfast Airport have the cheek to write on the screen when your flight is delayed? Do you? “Relax & Shop.” In the imperative. Cunts. No I fucking well will not fucking relax and shop. I won’t relax because I’ll get ‘home’ at 3 in the morning, and either your or Gatwick’s cunting baggage-handling staff will by then have smashed my lap-top to bits, and I won’t shop because a) I’m skint and b) I’ll decide what to do myself, shall I? As it was, I shuffled around from waiting area to waiting area, hoping to get a bit of variety. And do you know who I saw? Only Gloria flipping Hunniford, stocking up on hairspray for the next millennium, no doubt. And then she got on my eASyjET flight. You’d think BBC Ulster would splash out a bit…

But another trip. Which will no doubt be peppered with talk of Christmas. I want to sleep till spring.

Fünf Jahre October 4, 2006

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…to keep in with my new instant tradition of having post-titles auf Deutsch.

So yes, five years. But without the plan. How has it happened? Five years (or thereabouts. I have blocked out the precise arrival date, but I know it was just after September 11th as I was even more petrified than usual of flying and everyone in Prague airport looked like a potential terrorist, and then, as we flew into Berlin, there was turbulence galore and we had far too good a view of the Fernsehturm) in Berlin. When my Londonness felt more solid, I used to quote with glee that whenever I did leave the Big Smoke, it was never for more than two years. Paris: 2 years. St. Petersburg: 2 years. Stoke-on-Trent: 2 years. Two years into my Berlin stint and I’d have happily been saying the same thing. And yet here I am, a full three years later.

So, five years. Had I been writing a week ago, I’d have nicely been able to call it a seventh of my life. Do double-figured fractions exist? A seventh and a bit or a seventh and a thirty-sixth doesn’t have the same ring. And only a wanker could even think of saying five thirty-sixths. Or 13.88(and so on)%. But five years it is. An oodle of time. Ripe for analysis.

Well, the words ‘disaster’ and ‘unmitigated’ do leap to mind when I try to think how to sum up the lion’s share of my 30s. But I want to be encouraging to my fellow immigrants, and know that B. is probably having the same dilemma as to whether Berlin should be home or not, Ed would like to be able to say that he had ONLY been here for five years, and Radio Free Mike sees how his views on America in the German press are in sharp contrast to some of his compatriots’. But let us not despair as we settle in for the nine, wet, grey months ahead. Berlin’s a lovely place after all.

I wrote a post a hundred years ago, but think I deleted it in a fit of pique, on anti-tips for the immigrant. You know, what NOT to do if you’re thinking of emigrating to a country where you know no-one, don’t know the language, don’t have a job and choose a region with 99% unemployment. The less daring or more perspicacious amongst you might have seen the pitfalls before buying the ticket (and dealing with German bureaucracy), but oh no, not BiB, always happy to risk his sanity for the sake of an adventure.

Well, the language handicap is definitely pitfall number one, and lest you want to be like Stavros, minus the smell (in my case), then that really is what needs to be tackled head-on. But the grey matter ain’t what it used to be, and I fear I am destined to master this great tongue about as well as Jane Birkin has mastered French (vache espagnole, indeed) or, worse, as Becks (and the thousands of his compatriots peopling unfortunate pockets of the Spanish coast) have mastered Spanish. Which is all right, in a way, but I never expected to be THAT type of immigrant, tucked away in my own little one-man community, cringing all the while when I hear Germans moaning about integration. I was always amazed at Mrs.-Hussain-from-number-32-when-I-was-growing-up’s poor command of English – “You like? You no like?” she would say, unsurely, as she thrust a new-born child in to my hands – but of course she was tied to the house and bringing up a brood of children. To my equal astonishment, I have turned into her. Formative years indeed.

But, darlings, if any 20-somethings are reading this, quickly go and do your emigrating now when you’re young and everything seems like a piece of cake. Leave it till the day after you’re 30 and you’ll end up living in the most unlikely of places and wondering how you got there. Which is not to say it ain’t fun being an émigré, but change and upheaval are a gazillion times harder the older you get.

So will I be saying, “Next year in London,” ere long? Probably not. I feel I’m in it for the long haul now. Up to my neck in Berlinness, tax numbers, Aufenthaltsbewilligung, Krankenversicherung and Weltschmerz. And luckily enough that’s all in a place I now like well enough. But just in case you’re thinking of giving up the day-job and casting your fate to the four winds, make sure you catch the current blowing you in the right direction.

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit October 3, 2006

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…yeah, I’m goin’ get all German on yo’ asses. Or something. Entschuldigung. I’m a tad on the tipsy side. But as I went to finger my calendar forward a notch having somehow noticed that the clock had struck midnight, I realised ’twas a momentous day for the locals. Yup, it’s Unification Day, and I plan to sing Germany’s praises to the heights. By the way… The title of this post of pure pus is the first line of the German national anthem. And while I’m in a contrary mood, and tipsy, and feeling silly, I feel we need to have a few words about the old hymn. Much is made of the German anthem. This first line is a new first line, because everyone associates the old first line, the Deutschland-Deutschland-über-alles one, with German plans to dominate the world. For some reason, this misconception has been allowed to catch on, perhaps even amongst Germans themselves – occasionally you hear the odd scandal amongst folk here when some politico has decided to belt out the old version – but it is just that, a misconception. The old Deutschland-Deutschland-über-alles line – Germany, Germany, above all else – is bugger all to do with Germany ruling the world and being superior. The anthem was composed in the 19th century when Germany didn’t yet exist as a nation. So the above-all-else malarkey was actually in reference to forming Germany as a state… Which is not to say I recommend going around singing the disputed version. Plus, Germans aren’t that much into singing their anthem anyway. THAT verse is now so associated with nastiness that it’s best left unsung. But that IS a misconception. Anyway…

So, 635 years – or whatever it is – since reunification. Imagine that. Now we have an Ossi (sort of) Kanzlerin and Ossi captain for the national football team. Berlin is the capital once more. We can still buy Ossi washing-up liquid and young men are still being christened Mirko. Germany is at peace with itself. The odd flag is still to be seen fluttering from the odd balcony, yet World Cup fever and fervour haven’t transmogrified into anything more nasty. Germany is Germany is Germany. Wessi and Ossi are just about as antiquated as epithets as left and right. (What? You mean they still exist?) And so, from the heart of utterly ordinary Europe, I want to remind you of some of Germany’s most important contributions to recent pop-Europaica.

Firstly, there’s this little musical gem from 1995. Now let no-one be fooled into thinking this is a messageless song about rodding. Personally, I like to think of it as a post-ideological, yet Marxist, feminist and psychoanalytical comment on post-reunification Germany. The ‘shut up’ is clearly a political instruction to accept the new order. And the ‘sleep with me’ is nothing to do with rodding at all, you empty old cynics, but merely a way of Wessis and Ossis instructing each other to forget their differences and hold hands across the wall that used to separate them.

And lest you think Nena’s 1984 hit was just a philosophyless old bit of crap, let me assure you that it was really a message of peace. Nena only really wanted to float 99 balloons – they were only made red to please English-speaking Marxists – across the border from west to east full of messages of lurve and reconciliation and to remind all the Mirkos in the east that they were still one nation really. Just as soon as they could shake off those pesky Soviets, all would be well again. I’m convinced that’s what Nena meant.

Alas, a grammatical error in Germans’ attempts at forgetting they’re actually German almost made us miss the message of this final German hit. Not ‘Duel’, you daft apeths. Sondern ‘Dual’, no doubt a reference to Germany’s then dual, Cartesian nature. “Ja, OK, Mirko, so vee are noch zwei Lands,” sang the Teuton beauty way back whenever it was. “Aber soon vee vill be vun again. You vill drive your Trabis across ze border, and ve vill give you Wessi chocolate.”

And so it transpired. And it’s been sweetness and light at the Brandenburg Gate ever since.

Ich bin ein Baum October 2, 2006

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Darlings, I keep fucking dressing as a tree. Luckily, I don’t have a barnet that members of the bird kingdom mistake for foliage, otherwise I could be in serious trouble. But I don’t know if this is a sign of age or me wanting to blend in with my environment, but I have undeniably begun to wear colours that could only be called earthy. All greens and browns. If I had an oilskin jacket and a rifle slung over one shoulder, I’d cut quite a dash at any Countryside Alliance march.

I suppose I most resemble a poplar. Though I don’t emit that allergy-inducing wool. Much.

It’s no fun looking like a tree. I blame the neighbours. Keeping up with the Schmidts, if you will. I helped a friend move to a funky new flat in the funky area down the road yesterday. The streets were resplendent with funky types who bore no resemblance to poplar, ash or London plane. We were rewarded at a café at the end of his new funky street. I cringed as I wandered in at the mover’s side like a dim child on a school outing. Everyone looked like a member of some revolutionary movement or other. The men looked as if they took part in group sex sessions at least once a week. The women looked like Sinead O’Connor with jobs. Everyone slunk around coolly. I lolloped around like a new-born giraffe and then sought refuge in cigarettes in an attempt at coolness but accidentally lit the filter of my most public fag.

I wandered home having taken my leave of the assorted moving party… I crossed the border from funky area back to this backwater. The average age shot up from 34 to 90 (according to a Gallup poll. Margin of error: +/-3%). The average weight shot up from 65kg to 120. Jeans were replaced by pressed trousers and dinner-lady costumes. Hochdeutsch changed to Berlinese. Healthy complexions changed to blotch. Brad Pitt changed into Arthur Mullard.

No wonder I’ve turned into a fucking tree in this desert. I need to get where it’s at.