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Names January 31, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, I find the best thing to do when you’ve got work – or homework, if any students or children happen to be reading – to do to be submitted a few hours hence and you’ve made as much progress as has been made on expanding Berlin’s international airport, currently on a par for size with Berwick-upon-Tweed’s, is to do a bit of night-blogging to get the juices flowing. But what if your blogging juices aren’t even flowing? Why, you delve back into your memory, think of some vaguely engaging anecdote from your past, which, ideally, has happened to someone else, and think how to manipulate it for the sake of the blog.

So names it is.

As I sat pondering how to translate the swirl of German letters in front of me which, on first viewing, made no semantic sense whatsoever just a moment ago, I had a flashback to the time I was in hospital in Russia. (That occasion has, it goes without saying, already been blogged.) It was only the second time in my life when I really thought I might die and, d’you know, I didn’t really mind. The first time was when I was in a car hurtling, and with an unimpeded, crystal-clear view, towards a tree. I’m not sure my life flashed before me, which meant my very last thought on this planet, had I croaked, would have been, “Bugger, your life doesn’t even flash before you! Are none of the old wisdoms true?” Anyway, I didn’t die, obviously, as the driver had managed to reduce his speed a tad before colliding with the tree and I was the only one of the three passengers who got off scot-free (but for the trauma of realising that your life doesn’t flash before you). The driver had legal woes. The other passenger was injured, though, praise be, not seriously. But, for some reason, it wasn’t frightening, as I prepared to meet my fate.

The second time, in the Russian hospital, death would have almost been a welcome intervention, both because the ailment – something stomachy – was so unpleasant that death seemed cosy in comparison and being in hospital was just somehow unsurpassably grim. (Although being in hospital to have my tonsils out was actually heaven. School-dinners and room-service. And doctors and nurses being kind. I instantly understood the phenomenon – then wondered if it only applied to me – of folk falling in love with practitioners of the medical profession.) But again, I didn’t die. Though I did read, which is a lot more prosaic, but then – let’s be positive – far more nourishing and, ultimately, favourable than death.

A Russian writer I had wanted to read was Dovlatov. I hadn’t read a word and, deciding to exploit Russians’ (though chiefly the Russian’s) offers of kindness in my stricken state – Russians adore illness and the ill and will go to great lengths to assist a man, dying or not, when he’s not at his best – I asked the Russian if he could provide me with anything by him. Dutifully, he would turn up (not at the appointed hour. The Russian doesn’t do punctuality. Meaning it would be time for him to be thrown out a second after he arrived, though a nod and a wink to the staff normally got round that. He even stayed the night once) with food – a hyena would have turned his nose up at the hospital’s offerings – and whatever else was on the shopping list he’d been given by me (books) and the doctors (tablets).

So, one night, as I lay on my non-death-bed, in non-mortal agony, bemoaning my fate and my innards, I read Dovlatov. Luckily for me, someone with the attention span of a goldfish with an attitude problem, he wrote short stories. The first one I read – bugger. Can’t find anything with preliminary googling – was about an American spy who was sent to the Soviet Union to do whatever it is spies do. Drink and have lots of sex, I think. The spy was a nice guy, got a regular, manly job, convinced everyone he was Russian and worked his way up so well that he was eventually offered the chance of a life-changing promotion. He was given a choice. (Who said there was no freedom in the Soviet Union?) Amusingly, the choice was between Syktyvkar, the Russian’s home-town, and New York. “Syktyvkar,” the American answered in a flash.

Anyway, what the fuck was this all leading up to? Oh yes. The thing is, the American was called, if my memory of the near-death experience doesn’t deceive me, John Smith. (Or was that Pocahontas?) And I thought it would be awfully nice to be called John Smith. Not if I lived in Russia, and, indeed, our fictional John Smith was presumably renamed something along the lines of Ivan Kuznetsov for the duration of his sojourn in the Soviet Union (which ends with him walking into the Lubyanka and confessing all, and the KGBers not believing him). But, if I lived in England, I thought it would be a handy name. Deliciously anonymous. No marking you out from the crowd. No having to spell it. Now I know living in Germany means that, even if I were John Smith, I’d still be less unremarkable than a Jan Schmidt, but being called Engelbert Humperdink – that’s my real name, you see – is a pain wherever you are.

So if you could call me John Smith from now on, please…

Now there was a drunken occasion I was once at where the booze had raised spirits to such heights that some bright spark came up with an impromptu game. It wasn’t, “What would you ideally like to be called?” It was, “What would you most loathe being called?” My inner archives have failed to correctly record most of the answers given on that unfateful day, but a couple have stuck in my memory. One woman, a mega-Catholic – Anglo-Catholics are a queer bunch – said she’d least liked to be called Protestant. One gent, an Englishman who lives near Paris and gets through quite staggering amounts of tobacco, booze and life-saving operations, said Temperance was what didn’t do it for him.

So darlings, in a quite brazen attempt to get you to say a bloggerly hello, have you got any particularly favourite or least favourite nominal fantasies? All very good answers win a “very good” from me as a prize.

Soap January 27, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

I have become my father’s son. Well, I mean, I always was him, but, with inevitable predictability, I am actually turning into my father.

Which needn’t necessarily have been the case. Our early lives could hardly have been more different. Well, we’re both youngest sons. But my father grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Whereas I am a Londoner born and bred. Whereas my father’s teenage years would have been spent, no doubt, doing things like milking cows and shooing hungry foxes, mine were spent bunking off school and, when I did occasionally make my way in, spending hours in HMV on Oxford Street with my pals on the way home and being laughed at by Scandinavian tourists because of our school uniform.

Now remember that American comedy Soap? With Billy Crystal playing the gay son and that confusing round-up they had at the beginning or end, or perhaps beginning and end, of every episode? I was addicted. Both because it seemed daring and raunchy at the time – I must have been about 10 – and there was a gay character. I think I even managed to make myself fancy Billy Crystal, which is no mean feat (although there was a much dishier brother played by Ted Wass). And there just didn’t seem to be many gay characters around on TV at the time – Colin and his filofax came to Eastenders years later – and even though the UK charts must have been awash with poofs, the actual g-word was probably never mentioned and I was too dim to make the connection. And of course I thought Freddie Mercury doing the hoovering with massive fake knockers and a moustache was just the fashion of the time.

So this is where my family life and romantic life get Soap-like. My ex – though not till years later. Well, he wasn’t even my present till years later. I didn’t have a boyfriend at 10 – was my brother’s best pal at school. My ex and my brother are 8 years older than me. This means my ex, then my pre, was already in my life when I was about 6. He was an absolute regular at our house. He and my brother used to do teenagerly things together. He would stay the night. My sisters were known to comment on his good looks. I would remain tactically silent. My pre, or rather my brother’s pal, as he would then still have been qualified, became a pal of the whole family. When he and my brother fucked up their A Levels, my brother went back to school to resit but my pre went to work for my father.

The pre/ex and I come from rather different families. Whereas the greatest achievement by my ancestors was perhaps winning the fastest cow-milking competition in the land – yes, mother a farm-girl too – everyone in the pre/ex’s family had written twenty novels, had had countries named after them and had invented the wheel. While my grandmothers and great-aunts were perhaps honing their udder-skills, the pre/ex’s grandmothers and great-aunts were going to Oxford and Cambridge or turning their progeny into concert pianists. Which made for good fun when our two families ran into each other.

By phone.

The pre/ex’s mother – then just a disembodied posh voice but later to become my sort-of (now ex) mother-in-law, good pal and source of or inspiration for every witticism in this blog – is/was a shrink and a worrier. When my pre/ex was a teenager, his mother would ring our house if he hadn’t come home for the night. Sure enough, he would be safely ensconced at our place. When my pre/ex got that first job, in a spectacular career non-move, working for my father, his mother would still phone our house to check if her son was with us. And he always was. Her calls were a moment of some excitement. We didn’t have that much contact with posh types and she even had an odd, posh name for good measure. She and my parents became firm telephone friends.

Now my father liked a drink. As did/does my pre/ex. Their work-place must have had the highest booze consumption of any organisation outside a Russian moonshine factory. When work was done for the day, the men would troop off, as one, to their pub and stay there till they would team off in an early take on the car-pool and the designated driver, barely tipsy after 13 pints, would decide it was time to call it a night. The pre/ex was very frequently my father’s designated driver as, aged 18, he could, naturally, easily take his ale and drive the two of them home where my mother would have two once-steaming dinners waiting for them, keeping warm on covered plates atop a saucepan of simmering water.

Fast-forward a gazillion years. My father had shuffled off his mortal coil, the pre/ex was now very much my present and the posh, disembodied voice had become my pal. And, having never met a single member of my family, but for my older brother, she knew more about my family from those fretful phone calls than I did. “Darling, has present ever told you about my most famous phone call with Mr. BiB senior?” The present looked on blankly, aware that my innocence was about to be shattered. “No? Then I’ll begin…”

Then-pre/now-ex’s mother put in one of her regular phone calls. My father, fresh in from a quick 19 pints after work, picked up the phone. Telephonic mores were abandoned as soon as he’d put her mind at rest that her son was safe and sound on the sofa, sloshing with beer, tepid potatoes and probably clutching my father’s car-keys. The conversation went south. “Then-pre/now-ex’s mother, Mrs. BiB (senior) – though there isn’t a junior – has locked the bedroom door.” “Oh.” “She’s been locking the bedroom door for six years.” “Oh.” Then-present/now-ex’s mother had perhaps never had a moment so tricky in all her shrinking days. “For six fucking years…” She consoled her son’s drunk employer, whom she’d never met, as best she could.

I took the intelligence like a man, grateful for this belated insight into my parents’ ancient history.

Fast-forward to the present, in which the ex is now my ex, but still my pal, his mother is still my pal and the Russian is my present. I too now like a drink, though thankfully, as a freelancer, don’t have a timetable or logistic arrangements allowing for a quick 19 pints on the way home. Nor do I have a driver. The Russian and I are at a busyish separate-lives sort of stage. No time for proper dinner. Just both wolfing down helpings from a vat of chicken soup of the Russian’s confection. As I went for helping number 12 yesterday, I thought it would be awfully nice to wash it down with 19 pints of red wine. I assumed, though, to my chagrin, that there was none in the house. I randomly opened every cupboard in the house, hoping there might be a bottle discarded in a moment of carelessness, and to my amazement found one nestling promisingly. I gently closed the kitchen door and opened it as noiselessly as I could manage. I finished wolfing and trundled back to my computer with my glass still very much half-full. “Un très bon choix,” I cackled triumphantly to the Russian through the crack in his door, like a child with an ice-cream.

This was my mistake.

When I returned to the kitchen about 13 seconds later to top up my glass, the bottle was gone. I rescoured the cupboards, but it was nowhere to be seen. It dawned on me that the Russian perhaps hadn’t appreciated my triumphant solo-drinking. And the bedroom door was locked.

But who might phone for me to pour my heart out to? “The Russian’s locked the bedroom door. I have become my father.”

Faithful bloggers. You do come in handy.

Social autism January 23, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

…won’t get the rent paid.

I am currently at war. A low-intensity war, where I mostly lie low and then leap out of the jungle in a limp attempt at an ambush every now and again. It’s fairly Davidy-and-Goliathy, and I’m very much the David. Only there are twists. One, I don’t win. Two, there are three Goliaths.

I am at war with my employers. The bane of any freelancer’s life – well, apart from having to do the work in the first place – is the extra hassle of getting paid. The transaction would appear easy enough. Thief requires translation. I do translation. Return it to thief. Thief pays.

Except it isn’t that simple. My thieves, though they have never dealt in outright robbery, can’t seem to manage to last part of the transaction. Tradition demands you wait 30 days for your dosh once the job is complete. In my more childish moods, I wonder why this can’t be quicker. What takes 30 days, after all? Have a shufti, biff the invoice off to whomever, transfer the wedge. Hey presto…

There is a hierarchy of ineptness amongst thieves. And you’ll be happy to hear, I hope, that it is strictly along national lines. Unfortunately, I haven’t worked for people in many countries. My freelancing activities have only taken me, financially, to Russia, Switzerland, Belgium, the UK and, of course, Germany. Now, darlings, give your prejudices and stereotypes free rein and try to put the thieves in order of unspeakable cuntery… But just in case you can’t bear the suspense, let me tell you who pays like a dream and who are heartless, thoughtless arses who’d happily let you starve to death rather than bother signing the bastard invoice onto the next stage of the snail-speed process…

Admit it, you thought the Russians were going to be the naughtiest, didn’t you? They’re not. They’re the best. Along with the Swiss. Send them an invoice and they pay it. Imagine! That simple! No 96 reminders. No saying, “Oh, 1 euro seems a bit much. Can we pay you 99c instead?” (They leave that to the Germans.) No waiting till the 29th day to have the money on their accounts for that bit longer. No solicitor’s letter before they budge. Just straightforward, honourable, gentlemanly interaction. From the Russians, perhaps, because they know the value of eating. From the Swiss, no doubt, because the invoice is fed into a cuckoo-clock alarm-reminder. Or something. And they need to launder the money as quickly as possible.

The Germans are the tightest. There’ll be (virtual) head-shaking and hand-wringing when you quote a price that will keep you above the starvation threshold. “Couldn’t it just be a borderline starvation wage?” they’ll ask, and I say, “Oh go on then. You don’t ‘arf drive a hard bargain.” And we’ll guffaw, virtually, and all will be pally… Until 31 days later when they still haven’t paid and I fire off, at one second past midnight, an e-mail so full of bile and vitriol that I hope it comes through on their two-bit, shit-stink computers with a warning. “WHY hasn’t this invoice been paid? When EXACTLY will it be paid?” And the office Sabine, who can probably hardly get in the office door with such huge teeth and glasses, will answer sheepishly that something must have gone tits-up, as on every other occasion, but they’ll pay soon. But she does answer. And they do pay.

By insulting Belgium, I am really insulting every nation in Europe, so please don’t feel excluded. Trying to get money out of the EU is no doubt on a par for difficulty with every other interaction with an organisation with such a huge bureaucracy and at which, presumably, every message scribbled on a post-it note has to be translated into however many official languages it is now. You do your work for the EU thief. The EU thief is in contact with you 1700 times a day during that process. “Could we have it back a day earlier? Can we quickly just change that whole text and add another bazillion words and not pay you any more? Can we just…?” And then a deafening, echoing silence the moment the work is done and the invoice is with them. You can even see the phone ringing, unanswered, in an office that’s been cleared in a rush. E-mails go ignored. Calls to other departments don’t come up trumps. And then, you sneakily ring at 9.30pm. A sheepish voice answers. “Can I speak to Thief, please?” “Speaking.” “Um, hello, this is BiB. Perhaps you’ve had my 17000 e-mails this last half-hour?” “Um, sorry, Thief isn’t here.” Extraordinary.

But for downright, brazen, spectacular wickedness, I’m sorry to say my compatriots win hands down. Private sector. Not spectacularly huge companies. All loaded. They pay well enough. But you practically have to kidnap their children to get the fucking money out of them. It gives me BSE every time.

My current multi-front war is, unfortunately, UK-heavy. I decided to spread my guerrillas a bit thin but go for a three-pronged attack today. The Germans surrendered with relative ease. Sabine answered my pornographically rude e-mail and couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been paid but would get onto it within the next 5 years. But the English are made of sterner stuff. I’ve only written 800 e-mails pointing out that I’ve now relocated to under a bridge and haven’t eaten since Hallowe’en. Not a peep. Heartless, they are. Heartless. One set of thieves is only scandalously, wickedly, disgracefully late. I am happy to have my e-mails ignored by them for another good few years. But the other set is so criminally, unforgivably, contumaciously late that the invoice is written in pounds, shillings and pence. In Latin. Cunts.

So I thought it was time to phone.

I am rubbish at the phone. I don’t know how they work. I have never, ever – OK, that’s bollocks, but never since moving from potty to real loo – willingly made a phone call. The idea of sitting with a bit of plastic wheezing into my ear as recreation has never sat well with me. No, the phone is a necessary evil which I use as rarely as possible. Which means I stutter and dribble and make a hash of phone etiquette.

Today, I phoned Thief Headquarters to ask for an up-to-date e-mail address for the correct thief to contact for matters relating to their theft. I assumed the previous thief had left or been murdered seeing as he had ignored my previous missives… in Latin, Old English, Middle English, French and our current tongue. “Would that be ledgers or accounts?” asked a dowdy woman with one hand on a doughnut. “Fucked if I know,” I stuttered back. She left a passive aggressive pause before transferring me to another human. A 29-year-old gent, slightly overweight and who’d never had a moment of unhappiness in his life, dealt with stage 2 admirably efficiently. I stutteringly explained that I was naked, shivering and under a bridge as my translation of the Magna Carta – or was it Beowulf? – hadn’t been paid for. “Which mag was it for?” “Cartas Weekly.” “And your name?” “BiB.” “OK, I’ll put you through to G_,” and before I could say, “But I only want an e-mail address,” I was being put through to a girl with a modern name.

“Fuck, fuck, I’m going to have to be assertive.” The girl with the modern G-name answered. “Fuck, fuck… Um, hello. Um, bridge, rags, hungry… BiB… Latin.” “Oh, that’s funny,” said the bubbly G-girl with a LAUGH. “I’ve just been forwarded your 9000 e-mails from the man in accounts.” “So you mean he hasn’t been murdered?” “No, he’s just been ignoring you.” “Oh good.”

“So, um, about the invoice?” “Oh, sorry, I’m afraid I’m not in a position to give you any information further to your inquiry. I don’t do invoices.” Pause for laughter. “You’ll have to wait for an answer from the man in accounts… Yes, the one who’s ignored your 9000 e-mails. Thank you for your patience at this difficult time.”

So once you hear the news-story about a man in rags, speaking depleted English, who goes on a murderous rampage through a central London accounts department shouting, “Don’t you understand? I’ve got a Russian homosexual to support!” before surrendering feebly to the (beefy, uniformed) police, don’t forget to write to me in prison.

Peace offerings January 19, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

…make you fat.

The Russian and I spend about 99% of the time with one argument or another on the go. As with any couple that has been together for more than about twelve seconds, it is likely to be a matter of grave importance, such as, “WHAT? You finished the milk? Oh my god. How could you? You wanker! We MUST divorce. Today. That’s worse than infidelity, you secretly being a woman and you having a family I didn’t know about in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskij/Polperro,” that sets off an ongoing, almost permanent quarrel which then only normally passes when we are forced to behave at some social occasion together and we forget about the milk until the next milk-saga about, say, twelve minutes later. And so on and on.

We’re quite good at the quarreling. We’ve got quarrel etiquette down to a t. There’s quite a lot of silence. Quite a lot of doing things separately. Quite a lot of being in separate rooms. Quite a lot of not passing on vital everyday news. If the silent treatment lasts especially long, it can be exhausting updating the Russian on new news and being updated by him on his. “Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you my sister had twins and they’ve grown up and gone to university and graduated and one’s become a drag-queen and the other’s the president of Botswana.” Such oversights! Or, “By ze vay, I forgot to say, my braazer buy Gazprom for 20 roubles and now own Siberia.” You just never know.

Anyway, so when the quarrel is still fresh, and I am still seething at not being able to have my Weetabix or the Russian can’t heat one drop of milk for his coffee – I remind him (we have one of those depressing electric hobs that always remind me of documentaries about neglected, snot-encrusted children) it would probably be cheaper to fly to Paris to have his coffee every morning – we know that we’ll get a good few days of peace and quiet. I can get on with blogging and pretending to work knowing I’ll hardly be interrupted. He can get on with whatever unseemly things it is he gets up to: money-laundering and hiring contract-killers to liquidate his brother’s enemies, I shouldn’t wonder.

Then comes phase II, when after, say, a week, we can begin to calm down from our admittedly righteous anger at the milk-incident and are probably quite keen on a hint of the other. Thank heavens for hormones. We are willing to spend more than fifteen seconds in the same room. May exchange the odd pleasantry over the dinner-table. Might accidentally, in a moment combining moral weakness and forgetfulness, touch the other with something bordering affection before remembering the slight and returning to our separate lives.

But phase III is the most fatal. This may involve hardly seeing each other at all for, ooh, months on end, but we’re both beginning to feel a little bit silly, can’t even remember which milk-incident it was that set the snowball rolling and probably need each other for practical purposes. I may need a letter written to the medical insurance company – incapable of writing a literate sentence in German still – or the Russian will want my advice on which fantasy holiday to most concretely fantasise about. So we get into serious peace-making mode.

With food.

We know a good quarrel is reaching its apogee when the croissants start appearing. To start with, when the dairy-anger has not yet quite ebbed, the croissants will be plain. Butter croissants, as they are called here. No filling. Either of us will wander into the kitchen and find the paper bag from the bakery lying fully, promisingly and calorie-ladenly on the table. “Oh good, it’s almost over,” we can think (if I may think on behalf of the Russian). “Might even have some jiggy-jiggy before the year’s out.” But far from thinking a bad peace is better than a good war, or whatever that expression is, we wring the quarrel dry for every last drop of valued conflict. Having tried and failed with the butter croissants, we will move onto cream-cheese ones. From there to ham-and-cheese. Until we finally hit the obesity peak with the lard-and-chocolate variety.

We make-up-make-up-never-do-it-again, perhaps over booze and at someone else’s house, and wobblily enjoy the quick-as-lightning good times. Just like, I imagine, at least 99% of all other couples who’ve been together for more than twelve seconds. Single folk, plan your next steps carefully.

Spiritual NHS January 14, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Tags: ,

Darlings, what to do when you hit a spiritual low? When you’ve reached intellectual rock-bottom? When inspiration is lacking and you feel as creative as an accountant? Why, you go to the spiritual, intellectual and inspirational NHS, of course, to stock up on spiritual, intellectual and inspirational drugs, and all at someone else’s expense: the BBC.

And don’t you even think of thinking that I’m one of those nasty BBC-bashers. I’m sure, if I was harangued long enough, I could vaguely begin to understand why some folk find the licence fee and the BBC at least as morally wicked as torturing kittens, and that it and the NHS and Sweden are the true axis of evil, but I’ve never gone in for minding myself. Anyway, I now kindly allow you UK residents to fund the BBC for me while I’m away, which is awfully kind of you. But lest you Brits feel especially singled out, rest assured that here in the Bundesrepublik we also pay for the privilege of owning a TV, though I have no idea where this money goes and if it’s just a straightforward tax or goes to fund some channel or other.

But the BBC. The glorious BBC. Its place in my internal world grows ever more mythic with every new day I spend in exile. It’s like Big Ben, Stonehenge, cricket and spotted dick rolled into one. I don’t have access to its televisual efforts – well, I’ve got that BBC World thing – but the TV has long since been replaced by the wireless as my favourite inanimate and unimbibable source of entertainment. If you are happy, then I presume Radio 4 is already a great part of your life. If you are happy but don’t listen to Radio 4, then listen to it and you might well drop dead of happiness within minutes. If you are miserable, listen to Radio 4 and you will become happy. In a flash. It IS the perfect cure-all. Far from worrying that we have all become too atomised, virtualised and straightforwardly wicked, I think we’re not nearly atomised and virtualised enough. I think people should be housed in single-resident pods with a chute that delivers food and, far more importantly, 24-hour, high-speed internet access. I would advise folk to go to this page, click on Listen Live and then spend ALL DAY, from dawn till dusk, and dusk till dawn, if they can manage it, listening and having all their spiritual, intellectual and inspirational nourishment needs tended to.

So as I bumble and lumber through January as skillessly as usual, Radio 4 keeps me company and keeps me sane. I have seen B. confirm to RFM that Radio 4 is the best thing ever with the latter seconding the advice of posh folk from Vanity Fair that Radio 4 is well worth dropping in on. See? EVEN Californians and New Yorkers recommend it…

But a couple of more targeted links for you. Here’s what’s done it for me in the endless hours of spiritual, intellectual and actual darkness in the last week: first there was this today, an excellent half-hour programme about the closing of The Bow Street Magistrates Court. More characters than in an episode of Little Britain. A perfect range of accents for anyone wanting to do a PhD on social class and how the English speak. And a lifelong criminal of the type I thought existed solely in the minds of Jake Arnott and Eastenders scriptwriters. In a bonkers way, it made me glad to be from London. And glad to be alive. (And wonder – again – what the fuck I’m doing here.) Second, this comedy show, which nicely takes the piss out of us internet types. “A fast-paced new sketch show about modern communication, media noise and contemporary obsessions. It brings you deluded bloggers, home broadcasting, interactive soaps, celebrity kidnaps and e-mail scams,” goes the blurb. Made me titter. And continues a fine tradition of comedy on Radio 4. They rarely seem to get it wrong.

So thank you, licence-fee payers. Surely keeping Brits abroad happy is well worth other people’s money.

Befriending your double chins January 10, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

B. refers to an excellent photographic service – they accept paypal – that can turn you, or rather, your children, into someone else for not even a fistful of dollars. Now I quite like the idea of being someone else, and wouldn’t mind having someone else’s face and body photoshopped permanently onto mine, but damn homosexuality and the concomitant lack of children which means I can’t even try it out on them first. I might adopt especially.

I subjected myself to the six-weekly torture of a haircut this morning. As ever, I’d been putting it off. I walked past my old ladies of choice – I’ve blogged them at least 90 times before – the other day but it was the younger of the two on duty and I prefer to get the properly old, barely vertical, terminally tipsy one. Today I gritted my teeth and went for another walk-past. I struck lucky and went in and took a pew.

She was engaged with an older gentleman when I arrived. He was having the standard cut but went for a supplementary head massage, which I thought was awfully modern of him. The tiny hairdresser – she has to hoist herself up on a high-chair when manipulating talk folk’s crowns – massaged a glob of some gel or other into his head. They chatted away nicely.

I got a good view of the man as he got up to pay. I surveyed his frame carefully, making mental notes of what physical fate held in store for me. Presumably the gent had shrunk quite a lot in his dotage. But he still had generous shoulders and was sprier than I. The waist of his trousers began just below his shoulder-blades and then his bottom and hips billowed outwards before billowing back in shortly above the knee. All in all, he looked slightly like a rubbery neck, the rubberiest skin of which has been pulled outwards as far as it will go. He paid his huge bill – cock knows (as the Russians say) what she massaged into his skull – and went on his way.

I took up my place and grunted my wishes. Just as she was about to begin, the old lady remembered she’d forgotten to take a swig of Dutch courage and quickly went round the back, unscrewed the cap of whatever her poison was, knocked it back and returned to my locks. I bravely managed to enunciate the desired millimetre-setting of the shavey thing – she smiled her agreement – and got down to staring at myself.

My face looked more like a pink splat than a face. Should anyone ever forget their compass when in my company and desperately need to draw a perfect circle, my splat would provide the ideal template. Of course this is the standard yearly state of affairs, with roundness peaking shortly after the Christmas festivities, before, hopefully, a less geometrically quantifiable mould resumes service at some point in the spring. Luckily, my old lady was so tipsy that I didn’t have to hide my efforts at contorting myself into beauty in the mirror. I sucked in my cheeks and breathed in at the same time but that only left me looking Munchian. I screwed up my eyes to make myself look more seductive but still looked more Marty than Marky. I made short-lived, empty promises to myself that, at the age of 36, I would consider darkening the door of a gym for the first time in my life.

But fuck that shit, I admitted to myself, honestly, moments later. I have weights lying around here, after all, and can normally be bothered to pick those up about once a decade. I am never going to be a sporty type. Befriend those double chins, BiB. And so I settled into some decontortion. I gave my chins free rein. They wobbled slightly before relaxing at gravity’s behest and the perfect pink circle appeared once more. I breathed back out and allowed the thing velcroed round my neck to sit more tautly on my frame. Far less of the old lady and the trinkets adorning her premises were now on view in the mirror.

She flashed the mirror round the back of my head for me to nod my approval. I didn’t pay any attention to the hair but counted the number of ripples in my tattooless neck. Three. I paid the tiny bill – I had a voucher for a reduction which I tendered sheepishly – and went on my way, resolving to go for a pinkening, roundening beer this evening before gorgeousness gets a chance to settle back in in the spring.

Hell-Dunkel January 9, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings (in Berlin, unless the world is linked in more intricate ways than I realised), did anyone else have their power cut yesterday? I was sitting playing on my laptop and all of a sudden its screen went dimmer and all the lights went out – you get that with power-cuts – but I didn’t think it was anything unusual and just assumed the Russian had turned the electricity off because he felt like drilling a random hole in the wall. But then I heard inquisitive and mystified fiddling with the fuse-box and then I could hear the shuffling indignation of the whole street with the smacking of lips and sighing of sighs.

And it was, initially, lovely. When I was a slip of a thing in London, we had power-cuts all the time. I can’t remember if it was anything to do with the miners’ strike, my parents not paying the bill or just England being the third world. And it was bliss. And we never had any candles. Or a torch. So I can’t remember what we used to do. Peer at each other a lot and tell stories, no doubt. But that was in the days before the candle revolution, and now surely no good home is ever to be found without at least 4000 spare candles (or at least those little tea-lights) and the Russian was soon depositing candles at vantage points around our powerless abode.

Our street was beautifully quiet. It was the closest I’ve got to the Sahara. I remembered a conversation I’d had with an American gent in Paris who’d travelled to all sorts of queer places – I think it was Honduras. Or maybe Portugal – where there was no electricity in the evening and it was all darkness and peace (apart from the blood-curdling screams of people being murdered left, right and centre. But APART from that…). I went out to enjoy the silence on the balcony but then had to hurry back in as all the neighbours had had the same idea and I was worried I might have to engage with one or more of them in conversation. “Well, what a thing!” I thought to myself. “Isn’t this lovely! Who needs electricity after all!” And then I quite fancied surfing the net, but couldn’t. And fancied a cup of tea. But couldn’t. And then I worried that the chicken and the beef in the fridge would go off if this lasted much longer. And then worried that life must have been awfully dark and unhealthy whenever it was that electricity hadn’t been invented by – 1963, I think – and was grateful for mankind’s recent resourcefulness.

“Hm, so what to do now?” I wondered, the novelty having worn off after about seven minutes. By rights I probably ought to have tried to negotiate a bit of the other with the Russian. But then my body tricked me into thinking it was the middle of the night with all the darkness and silence – admittedly our street is normally dark and silent by about 8pm anyway – so I curled up with my duvet for the night. I jolted awake when all the things whirred back into life at some point later. And sleepily turned them back off when I realised it had the cheek to be after 10.

Naturally I fished out the typewriter and have typed my Reklamation-letter ready for the first post this morning.

Cooking is fun January 7, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Yes it fucking well is, and don’t you even pretend it isn’t. I’d never really thought so before myself, either, but I was out yesterday – actually out! – and I walked past an Event-Kochstudio, which is a place where hobby chefs go and get taught to cook. But this was a Saturday night. I don’t think it was a straightforward cooking course. No, I think it was a night out – OK, at least with a positive upshot. Hopefully you’ve learnt a new skill by the end of it, which is unlike any night out I ever have, where the only thing I learn is that there is no limit to how much poison I am willing to insert undiluted into my body or to my lack of social skills – which didn’t look nearly as much fun as not doing it would have been. “Poor them,” I thought as I ambled past with my bottle of wine and after eights. It was Epiphany, after all. (Just looked up Epiphany in my dic to make sure and, although we were, ostensibly, celebrating Orthodox Christmas, the dic claims that January 6th is not really Christmas in the Eastern Church but the celebration of Christ’s baptism AND first miracle at Cana. Two celebrations for the price of one. (But what was the miracle at Cana?) I don’t know why I’m not a Christian really. I love the church, and would much rather hear hymns than go to a pop or – heaven forfend – a rock concert. All that noise! Although I did see The Smiths at “London’s Top Nite Spot” and that was awfully good and I lost an espadrille and my cousin lost her bra. Anyway, I don’t believe in god, which I think is a prerequisite for being religious, unless in Denmark.)

The party for the Kochstudio evening was your regular gaggle of middle-class, 30-something Berliners, probably all from Cologne and various other bits of Nordrhein-Westfalen. The girls had big jaws. The boys were boringly beautiful. And they looked as if they were trying very hard to enjoy themselves. I wondered – I ambled past very slowly – if this was the upshot of a bad idea that someone had had after their second glass of Babycham – or Glühwein at the Weihnachtsmarkt – and that everyone was too polite – definitely no Berliners in the group, on second thoughts – to pooh-pooh. “Ja, Sabine, tolle Idee! I’ve heard it only costs 400 euros for us to go and learn how to chop an onion properly. Hopefully we’ll learn so much that we’ll then be able to go on Das perfekte Dinner.” (And, yes, in case you’re wondering, there is a Celebrity Perfect Dinner too.)

Still, who am I to diss cooking-for-fun? If it’s an alternative to binge-drinking, then maybe chopsy Sabine is on to something. And the something-useful-as-recreation model has endless possibilities. I might suggest to all my foreign pals a German-grammar-for-fun evening any Saturday now. We’d have a groovy venue, of course, and the blackboard would be really chic, and our teacher would be cool – probably a pop-star (or priest) in his spare time – and we’d each pay 80 euros, and we’d chant, “Ich bin, du bist…” but it would be FUN. And we could probably, when the fun-zenith had been reached, go from there to dressmaking-is-fun (run by some porn-star) and from there to hairdressing-is-fun (run by some hairdresser).

I could do with making 400 euros or so myself on a Saturday night, actually, so I might hang a plaque outside the door – oh god. I can already see the neighbours’ bitchy little notes. “If the plaque-hanger doesn’t own up by the end of the month, we’ll have to have it removed by some Amt or other – there’s probably a plaque department – at EVERYONE’S expense” – advertising English-is-fun evenings, where every expat Nordrhein-Westfalen Sabine in Berlin comes and sprays me in spittle, for cash, and I correct their English. English lessons, only funkier.

You know, guys and galz, I think I’m onto something.

On blogging and evil January 5, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Having given up on the idea that he is going to hassle me into stopping blogging, the Russian has now decided that he must somehow add a spot of torture to the experience for me. It can’t be all play, this blogging, without even a hint of suffering in it. No, you want to get some rules in there. A bit of discipline. 10km of blogging before breakfast, then a starvation diet, then 15 seconds of sleep before getting up and doing the whole thing again the next day. That’s more like it.

“You khev blogged today?” the Russian asked yesterday.

“I have, actually, yes.”

“And yesterday?”

“Erm, no.”

Consternation and disbelief on the meaty Slavic visage. “But you must blog every day!” Which I sort of half-agree with, in a way, but it does make me worry that the Russian thinks the blog has become my job.

So here I am, doing my spousely duty and blogging. Bugger all to blog about, of course. But that’s never mattered before. It might have to be some blogging about blogging… Now I know the Russian’s main objection to (my) blogging is probably really a time-thang. Here I am, pissing around writing 500 words of nonsense, when I could be applying for or even doing exciting jobs like translating a contract, but I think he secretly thinks there’s something devilishly naughty about the whole pursuit. And I’ve heard Lucy Kellaway, whom I normally sort of like, and plus her husband is the editor of Prospect Magazine, which makes me think she must be nice, harping on about pointless blogs and pointless blogging. But I think we’re lovely, charitable types and if we can’t all colonise Pats’s pad in the south of France, I think we should go and colonise some nice big island – like Australia – and live in blogging heaven there, blogging each other our shopping lists and blogging our hearts out.

But never one to miss a chance for a bit of self-doubt, I’ve been examining myself and my fellow bloggers for signs of evil, just to make sure. Now the two bloggers I knew before blogging existed (in my internal world, at least) display no overt signs of wickedness. Admittedly, I haven’t seen the latter since he took up the habit, but the former visited last year and seemed no wickeder than BBE (before the blogging era). I’ve met a gaggle of bloggers from Berlin (and further afield) too and B., for example, doesn’t even bear a passing resemblance to Myra Hindley.

So I think the Russian and Lucy Kellaway should probably shut up.

But do let me know if you’re wicked in any particular way.

Violence and non-violence January 4, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Flipping biological clocks. Radio 4 hasn’t even started yet and here I am, up with the lark, waiting for daylight to hit, and wondering what to do. I’ve already had breakfast, painted the nursery, washed the Astra and checked the stone-cladding for signs of wear and tear. Have just finished a piece of work, so can’t seek solace in brain-numbing translation. No, it’s got to be blogging.

And why not? For it’s 2007, after all, and those 2006 posts are so, well, 2006. Trouble is, I couldn’t have had a much less eventful transition. And couldn’t have less news. Which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the year. If it’s meaning to go on as we started, then it’s going to be boring… but with a quiver of fear.

The Russian and I went to visit pals for New Year. Our hosts were a couple – a man and a woman. Imagine! – but because they both do vaguely languagey things, everyone they know is gay. So their New Year’s party was them and five poofs. I think they were a bit exhausted with all the cackling, cor-inne-gorgeous!-es, and looking for Kylie on youtube by the time the evening drew to a close. We eventually made ourselves scarce in one homosexual group.

As it was only about 7am, we naturally decided it was much too early to go home. One of the queer quintet broke ranks and abandoned us but the Russian and I and the two others soldiered on heroically. And just as we were nearing a homosexual establishment, there was violence. Imagine(again)! I’m not even 12! An extremely drunk and huge gentleman barged into one of our pals and then embarked on the loudest and longest tirade I have ever heard. We were bemused and mystified. He had somehow garnered – no idea how – that we were homosexuals and squeezed a gay angle into his insults. And as we walked away – me, funnily enough, at the front of the group and setting a cracking pace – he carried on, rantily suggesting we have fisticuffs. Which was brave of him, if a tad mad. And boring. And ruined the rest of my evening (morning).

There are things one hates and one likes about oneself with greater clarity as life plods on. Personally, I only have bad points but I have, when challenged, occasionally been known to claim that two aspects I can tolerate about myself are a) that I’m a poof and b) that I’m an atheist. Which aren’t achievements, but anyway. Time to add c). I’m so glad I’ve never bothered to get involved in violence.

Mind you, living in peaceful and quietful Berlin, I have to say this is the first nasty moment I’ve had in five years here, apart from having the odd Arschloch-insult shouted at me, normally by people on bikes when I have transgressed some tenet of geographical etiquette. And fear, for I was scared, even though we were four and he was one, had become a completely forgotten emotion.

Still, no moral to the non-story. Just a drunk Arschloch. But I DID wonder out loud to the Russian that I wouldn’t be THAT sad if he’d bulgakovianly fallen under a tram twenty seconds after the incident. So perhaps I’m nastier than he was.