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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.



1. narrowback - January 31, 2007

ah, well I’m relatively sure you’re off to bed by this point regardless of whether the job was completed or not. I’m dodging homework – actual homework – at 11PM chicago time. hadn’t the time to check in recently and. lo and behold when I do…

as a young child I was unhappy with my name. TOO irish of course… For some reason I hit upon Michael which I thought was a wee bit less ethnic sounding…unfortunately I failed to take into account the family name. Combining Michael with that would’ve been tantamount to dressing in green, slapping a clay pipe in my mouth and hanging out in front of pubs called “Bantry Bay” or “The Dubliner”… perfect for seeking employment as a leprachaun.

In my 20’s I grew fond of my given name…

well back to my “studies” as slapdash as they are

2. pleite - January 31, 2007

Narrowback, there is an Irish pub more or less in my neck of the woods called The Dubliner. We won’t go to it when you come to Berlin. There is another one on Friedrichstr. called The Oscar Wilde which gives me INSTANTANEOUS suicidal depression the second I walk in. Which ought to stop me from walking in. And, to be fair, I don’t much walk in. It’s oppressively dark and oppressively wooden. And oppressively empty. The staff are, I think, Polish.

And I’m still up. I think sleep has been cancelled for tonight. Though I’m vaguely deliberately planning not to get this work in on time to punish the thieving company for never paying promptly, or even punctually. Conveniently, tomorrow they are due to pay another invoice, in my book, at least, and so I might even have the joy of sending the translation at one second after midnight on Thursday morn with a rancidly and rabidly rude e-mail. Unless they pay today, of course, in which case I’ll write apologetically that I just simply couldn’t be bothered to do their work on time. It’s a shame, because it’s light and interesting. I am currenly translating something about one of my favourite painters. But for such kopecks!

I’ve flirted endlessly with using my middle name, which is on a par with John, actually, when it comes to non-descriptness, though perhaps it’s too late to take the plunge now.

3. leon - January 31, 2007

I loathed my name when I was growing up, especially because I wasn’t given a middle name and therefore had no choice in the matter. Although I later gained a middle initial for a while due to a clerical error, which was quite amusing.

4. BiB - January 31, 2007

Leon, as I think your identity is not a secret, may I be allowed to speculate on the initial? As you are basically LB, which is already packed with meaning, I hope the errant initial made you something equally meaningful, such as LAB, LIB or LOB. LEB still means London Electricity Board to me, though I expect that has long since been replaced by something more glitzy called Spark! or Fizz! or… dunno. Or maybe you became LXB, which must have constantly made people think you were Luxembourg Airport.

5. Marsha Klein - January 31, 2007

I’ve always been known by my middle name, which is odd (the circumstances, I mean, “Odd” is not my middle name!) as my first name was my maternal grandmother’s and chosen by my mother, her own mother being not long dead. Anyway, my resulting initial sat very badly with my maiden name, which I loathed. I was therefore very keen to take Mr K’s surname on marriage. Turns out it, being English, is not easily perceived by Scottish ears and we end up with all sorts of weird and wonderful spellings. It’s not a bad name though. My first (ie middle) name is unspeakably dreary, but sounds better with a German or Polish pronuciation. I’d like to have used my real first name (which I share with one of your Berlin based commenters/bloggers) but it’s too late now.

I’d least like to be called “brainy”. Sounds like a compliment but it isn’t. It means “geeky and a bit dull”. I am spectacularly dull but, curiously, not at all geeky.

6. pleite - January 31, 2007

Marsha, or should I say, Dagmar, I don’t believe for a single second that you are spectacularly dull. I know you’re not. No-one is, really, are they? So, just for you, I’d like you to tell me what you’d undully like to be called. (Not that this is an invitation for folk to out themselves, of course. I think anonymity is sex.)

But Marsha, while you’re on, and seeing as the timing is so providential, can you help me out with a rather thorny dilemma which I allude to at length in comment number 2 above? I have, just this second, finished a piece of work which will earn me 2p, which will be worth 1p by the time they pay in 2094. The deadline is now. Well, today. By tomorrow, the same people are due to have paid me for other work. They’ve never, ever, once paid on time. So do I…

a) Unleash my inner bitch and deliberately NOT send the work today, hopefully creating a bad atmosphere in their office and ruining a couple of thieves’ day, and send it at a second after midnight with no apology for the delay but fulminations about where the hell my money is and why are they late again and wouldn’t it have been logical to pay this invoice with the one they paid a few days ago, which was – surprise, surprise – also late and can the boss or finance person only get a hard-on (or female equivalent, if female) if penny-pinchingly paying late?

or b) Unleash my inner Protestant-work-ethic, arse-licking, obsequious, pushover wuss and send them the work this second – well, once I’ve done my invoice, which will take one second as all it says is, “Pay BiB 2p by 2094” – and not complain about anything – admittedly, they’re not yet late – and close the e-mail programme the second I have sent the thing off with a sour taste in my mouth and suppressing glee-inducing images of a very concentrated earthquake affecting just their building?

Or can you think of a c)?

7. Ed Ward - January 31, 2007

You don’t want to be known as John Smith. Not here, anyway: the name contains two sounds Germans just can’t make. You’d be Chon Smiss. Me, I’m Herr Vott.

8. Marsha Klein - January 31, 2007

BiB, I would say do (a) (if for no other reason than than that I nearly always do (b) while wishing I was doing (a)) Once you have something they want (their translation) surely they’ll have to pay up?

It’s not Dagmar but the initial letter is next to D!

9. pleite - January 31, 2007

Herr Vott, you remind me of someone I (vaguely) know in Finland who called her son Sean or Shaun or Shawn (or Shorn?) and Finnish doesn’t (really) have the sh sound. Or, perhaps, the aw sound either, come to think of it. So maybe he’ll be called Sson. Which is quite nice, actually. And better than Chon.

…and Marsha, a woman called Ed! Fancy that! I like trendy parents. I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be me and do b) so that I can forget about it and have a restful siesta (except it won’t be, because, rather than being ruined by nightmares of guilt at letting people – admittedly thieves, but still – down, it’ll be ruined by nightmares of self-hatred… and then the earthquake affecting just their building).

10. Marsha Klein - January 31, 2007

Unmasked at last!! if I change my surname to “Inburgh”, then “name” and “location” will be the same and I’ll sound like “New York, New York”! (Ramble, ramble)

Do (b) and do forget about it. Don’t bother with the self-hatred (easier said than done, I know). Try moral rectitude instead. I always do (b), by the way and, even if the demands for payment were my own rather than corporate ones, I always would. Some of us are just made that way, it seems.

Enjoy your siesta. I’m having one at my desk but no-one knows because I’ve cunningly kept my eyes open!

11. Marsha Klein - January 31, 2007

I hope you’re not listening to Radio 4 (Afternoon Play). It symbolises everything that is bad about R4 (oh yes, there ARE bad things). It’s crap. Weak plot, deplorable accents and…just CRAP!

12. narrowback - January 31, 2007

While I’m not familiar with the Dubliner (is that Pankow or P’burg?) I have stopped in at the Oscar Wilde some years ago. Granted that was when there were a lot more irish construction workers around so the post work pint time could be a bit busy.

The Kilkenny at Hackescher Markt S-bahnhof was a savior during my first visit some years back… my hotel was in the area and I stumbled upon it in the course of my arrival… the afternoon bartender was a ex-GI from Oklahoma and a waitress was from the Chicago suburbs. After a day of fumbling around with my extremely poor german it was a relief to be able to revert back to my mother tongue.

John is my middle name tho’ now I wish my parents would have gone with the gaelic version – Sean.

Its not so much the “Sh” combinationas the fact that the “Sh” sound in gaelic is rendered as “Se” or “Si”… it confounds yanks as well which is why you wind up with such cultural abnormalities as Shawn, Shaun, Shivon, Shiffon…for many years even I though Siobahn was actually spelled something like “Chiffon” (I thought that the girls parents had been fanatical fans of the 50’s singing group of the same name)

13. MountPenguin - January 31, 2007

“Emerald Isle” on Erkelenzdamm in Kreuzberg is one of the better Irish pubs in Berlin.

Anyone tried the Irish pub (I forget what it’s called) down the side of the Colloseum cinema on Schönhauser Allee?

14. Daggi - January 31, 2007

Is that not ‘the Dubliner’? I once, god only knows why, applied for a job in there once, after being in Berlin for about 3 days. For some reason they didn’t want a short weak-looking long-haired Englishman for their establishment, despite my experience at various festivals pulling pints for up to 4 hours at once.

Otherwise, I’d hate to be called at home by the Arbeitsamt, offering me a full time job somewhere.

15. MountPenguin - January 31, 2007

(Checks the Interweb) Indeed it is the Dubliner. I swear I noticed it for the first time only a few weeks ago, even though I’ve lived within catapult-assisted leprachaun throwing distance for half-a-decade. For some reason I wasn’t tempted to enter, from the outside at least it has all the charm of an airport pub.

16. Taiga the Fox - January 31, 2007

I have to admit I kind of like my real name pretty much, but if I translate it to English everyone will always ask me immediately: Were your parents hippies?

17. Mangonel - January 31, 2007

I didn’t know until recently that ‘taiga’ was a perfectly good English word. Well, by ‘perfectly good’, I mean that it’s allowed in a game of Scrabble.

I never want to look it up – I have visions of vast landscapes sprinkled with snow when I see the word, and I want to keep it that way.

I’d hate to be called late for dinner.

18. Beaman - February 1, 2007

If you translate my hyphenated surname to its supposed French origins, it comes out as ‘beautiful mountain-pig/hog’. Whether it is French or not, or whether the translation is even correct I don’t know. I won’t complain too loudly if some calls me a swine anyway.

19. redneckarts - February 1, 2007

Try being a verrry thin, very pale for an Injun, bookish child, or grown man for that matter, named “Rocky”. Named after a boxer, not the Stallone one, the other one. It did put the fight in me, but jaysus. ‘Beautiful mountain-pig/hog’ just made my day. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou.

20. pleite - February 1, 2007

Penguin, as, to my knowledge, you are the most computery person here, do you have a theory about that about box? WordPress doesn’t let/make you play with html like blogger used to/does so I don’t really know where to look to find where the code for it is hiding. And when did it appear? And who put it there? Too mysterious. I shall get on to wordpress maybe, but, in the meantime, please feel free to call me Novalueindb. (Ha! Have done a bit of panic-googling and it actually means something, in wordpressese error-speak. God knows what, though.)

Redneck, Rocky must have been/must be difficult to live up to, I agree. I’d never have survived with a fighty name. I mean, being called Broke got me picked on occasionally, but I was never challenged to a quick boxing match. (It’s all boxes today.)

Beaman… or, should I say Beaumont? (I’ll ignore the piggy/hoggy bit.) You must come back to Berlin immediately and move to Schöneberg, to be in a beautiful mountainy place. Or is there a bit of London called Mount Pleasant? You’d better move there. It’s in your name-fate.

Mango, no need to look it up. I’m sure you’re spot-on. But just in case you’re ever planning to go to Russia and plan to talk about taiga a lot, there the stress is on the second syllable, so it’s not pronounced like tiger. Mmm… dinner.

Taiga, I like those nice old poetic names that Finns still have. Hurrah for Finns for not going down the boring European path. I remember meeting a Finnish Happy once. Mind you, Germans still do the odd good name. Well, Wolf is fairly butch. And then all those Hartmuts and Waltrauds are vaguely mythic.

Daggi, quite right. I’d hate to be called by the Arbeitsamt. I’d hate to be called full stop, actually. So please, no-one call me ‘Full Stop, Actually.’ But Penguin is right, that pub does look like an airport one, even though it’s on a nicely busy street. A new ‘coctail (sic) bar’ has opened a few doors down from it which seems to have all the charms of ‘Regret Rien’ in that Mike Leigh film.

Narrowback, yes, the Dubliner’s up here in Prenzlauer Berg (well, or down there from where I am). It’s not Berlin’s top nite-spot. (Although it could be fantastic. I’ve never been in.) But being fully committed to German beer – it’s the only concession to integration I’ve made – I never look out for pubs serving anything else. I’ve never managed to acquire a taste for Guinness, much to the disappointment (perhaps) of my ancestors.

Marsha, or, rather, Eddie, luckily I am still a bad-Radio-4 virgin. I am yet to have a bad moment. Although I do occasionally switch to something else – the World Service, perhaps a mix from Slaminsky or a drop of Schubert – when the dramas come on… Inberlin is only quite a convenient surname for a man called Broke. Perhaps I should change my surname to Ndown, or Nhearted, or Nwings. L’embarras du choix

21. MountPenguin - February 1, 2007

Talking of names, BiB, in the “About” box at the top right it says “novalueindb”. Bit of a mouthful though, can we abbreviate it to NViDB?

22. aimee m. - February 1, 2007

Part of the joy of being a (former) wire reporter (aside from the steady stream of stories about fires and police chases and jolly interviews with the city coroner) was the anonymity of my work; I seldom got a byline, just a tagline — which for me, meant: a.male. Yep. Caused no end of confusion at press conferences when I turned up in the flesh, most decidedly female.

23. Marsha Klein - February 1, 2007

Norangepekoe? Sounds exotic, no? Ndreams? Nenglish? (not that I’m suggesting that’s what you speak) Nbones?

Truly an embarrassment of riches.

24. MountPenguin - February 1, 2007

Novalueindb, the box has disappeared, so I can go back to calling you BiB. I presume someone at WordPress was mucking about with the code and had one of those “ups, I just pushed the latest unchecked development codebase to the production site” moments. Happens from time to time (or every day, in the case of blogspot.com ), and is infinitely preferable to having an “ups, was that the live and not the test database I just deleted”?

25. pleite - February 1, 2007

BUT, A. Male, which is a very good (abbreviated) name, by the way, do you know about our secret connection? Yours and mine. Well, it’s not as good as us being long-lost brother and sister, or anything like that, but ALMOST as good as that, actually. So there I was one day, looking at Television is Furniture, which, incidentally, I can’t remember how I got to. But I was there. And I saw John Borland. And thought, “Oh. He’s the Quetzlcloths geezer.” (Do warn me if I’m going off at a tangent. You and he are “connected”, aren’t you? And, if you are, but that’s top secret, warn me and I’ll instantly press the ‘destroy-this-blog’ button, which I secretly long to do about 80 times a day anyway. I’m sure I’d be a rich, healthy non-smoker if I didn’t blog. Although I am really a non-smoker. But I just smoke sometimes.) So, yes, I was at Television is Furniture, and noticed John’s name, and thought, “Oh, this blog has a Berlin connection, then, as John is now a Berliner…” And then carried on smoking or eating my toast or whatever… And then started a house-fire with the hurled-in-excitement cigarette, which I let my beloved put out, when I saw that Paul Berger was also a contributor to the site. Paul Berger whom I went to university with in London and who is now EiNY and a proper, real, non-virtual friend and everything. I sent Paul an e-mail – you know, one of those annoying ones demanding confirmation of receipt and with 12 exclamation marks – asking him to explain all and he explained the mutual-friend connection, Mr. Quixotic Optimism himself. And I think it’s all a quite-good-coincidence, on the coincidence-scale, and probably worthy of celebration. What say you? (And now you’ll tell me that you don’t know John at all.) (But you do. You link to each other and everything.) (Don’t try to deny it.)

Marsha, I think for the sake of euphony, it needs to be an N+vowel word, as Anglophones would struggle with Nbones or Ndreams. (I’d be laughing if I moved to Chad though, probably.) Did I mean ’embarras de richesse’, then, and not ‘choix’? I might have done, easily. And should it have been ‘du’ or ‘de’ choix. Or ‘des richesses’? That’ll learn me to try and get French in.

Penguin, it came, it saw and, thankfully, didn’t conquer. Too queer for words. Actually, even though I do contemplate deleting the whole bastard blog at least twice a second so that I could start a life, it would be annoying if some wordpress glitch did it for me. I think there’s a new, improved version of wordpress – Ben Perry‘s got it – and I think that means you can back up the blog and all sorts. But god knows how to update. And would I have to open my wallet? Which greatly lessens the appeal of any attraction (apart from smoking). (And, yes, blogspot is majorly up shit creek at the mo. I can only see about one blog in two of my regulars.)

26. aimee m. - February 1, 2007

Outted! With blushing links and all. (Cue the “it’s a small world thanks to the internets after all” theme song) It does get strange. That “geezer” (He is older than me, I can say that) is in fact scribbling in the room next to the one I’m currently sunning in (writing is a strong word.) (I can’t keep him out. He has a key.) What’s more, your pal Mr. Berger, did attend a running-away-from-the-U.S. party for us two, and was our physical link to your virtual link, dear BiB. And to make it even weirder, Mr. Quixotic Optimism (Had to cut and paste that one. Can’t spell worth a damn.) was in Berlin for a visit in December. So to sum up, BiB, I think we might be cousins. Virtually removed?

27. BiB - February 1, 2007

Herr Berger has a feeling you EVEN speak Raaashan. Is this true or a wicked rumour? In which case we just straightforwardly are braazer end seester. (Oh gosh, I’ve got a potentially massive piece of work to cope with. I’ve run round the room doing high-fives with myself and have, in my head, spent all the money already. Must go and try to make sure it doesn’t get away.)

28. aimee m. - February 1, 2007

da, da. it is a very fractured path from russian studies major to minor freelance writer, currently also avoiding her own massive pieces of work. sigh. although i’m furious that this german-learning is seriously getting in the way of all those years of vodka and salo. not that i can even put a sentence together in german, mind you. at this rate i will have reinvented esperanto, by just trying to ask where the toilet is.

29. pleite - February 1, 2007

Hochdeutsch is overrated. Invent your own version. Germans will think you’re eccentric and have a very special mind. The handy thing is when you’re good enough to start translating proverby/colloquialy/figure-of-speechy things into your new language. People will then find you highly original. I think the Russian only agreed to ruin his life with me because I once said ‘blanket of snow’ in Russian (одеяло снега) and he thought I must, therefore, be super-original and poetic, not knowing I was quoting the weather forecast.

30. pleite - February 1, 2007

Perhaps снежное одеяло would have been better, actually.

31. narrowback - February 1, 2007

Ah, despite all of the other ethnic foilbles I’m not big on Guinness which is probably one (of many) reasons why I holiday in Berlin rather than Dublin. I also prefer a range of german beers against the usual Harp, Smithwicks, Kilkenny…

A stop in an irish pub is usually in pursuit of a brief opportunity to communicate in english most often than not to request a pint glass filled to the brim with ice to accompany a quick cola or water (I’ve never gotten used to the room temp beverage thing) as I can work up quite a thrist hiking around town.

32. pleite - February 1, 2007

Yes, city tourism can be pretty exhausting. I haven’t been on a straightforward holiday for it seems like ages, though I can’t complain because I’ve been in the UK often enough, though always for some purpose or other and only ever for a weekend at a time, so it all makes me look forward to my trip to Poland planned for the end of this month. The four of us going had a prelimiary eating-and-drinking session yesterday… But the nice thing about going to Poland is it’s close but also properly different. Don’t know how the beer matches up. But I’m looking forward to creamy, heavy (I hope) food. Mmm, stodge!

33. narrowback - February 1, 2007

not so much exhausting as thirst inducing and pounding a few beers in the middle of the afternoon isn’t condusive to resuming the hike…hence a desire for a COLD non-alcoholic beverage.

The trip next month will be my first “real” holiday since last May with most of the travel since then similar to your trips to the UK…family, business, etc. & not truly a break. Needless to say I’m looking forward to the trip.

Given the large Polish population in Chicago Polish beer is readily available. It’s not too bad in my estimation…

34. pleite - February 2, 2007

One of my co-travellers’ other half is Polish and he told me something about Chicago Poles yesterday, which I now can’t remember. Damn. But I think he said that Chicago is the second biggest Polish city in the world, after Warsaw. Because I went to a Catholic school in London, half the other kids had Polish names so Poles have never seemed exotically foreign (although they told good stories. Either they never went to Poland because their parents/grandparents were involved in exile politics or they did go and would regale us with intriguing stories of life there. Actually, one of the most vivid memories is of a friend of my sister’s who spoke Polish perfectly even though she never went till she was an adult. She drove there with her father, whose parents had left during or just before the war. She described East Germany as one long straight road – Berlin was the only interruption – with forest on either side and – as her late-teenage mind saw things – barbed wire behind the first row of trees). Looking forward to seeing them in their natural environment again though!

35. narrowback - February 2, 2007

yes, Chicago does have the largest Polish population after Warsaw…Is been that way since the turn of the 20th Century but the city has recently been experiencing the largest influx in decades. I think that in terms of numbers polish immigrants rank just after mexicans.

They have definately put their mark on the city – a local dietary staple is a sausage simply called a Polish. In termsn of role and function its closest Berlin equivilent would be the Doner… recently Ed advised me that in Berlin its called a Krakower… I hope to try one on the next visit for comparison purposes.

It even follows me to Berlin…virtually every Pole I meet (taxi drivers especially) has a sister/cousin/uncle/nephew in Chicago.They always seem quite pleased that I can say “cold beer” in polish – Zimne Piwo

For most of my childhood the catholic “other” were italians and the occasional german and it wasn’t until I got to Chicago that I encountered ethnic and native Poles in any appreciable numbers.

36. Taiga the Fox - February 2, 2007

Mangonel, taiga is definitely a word for vast landscapes sprinkled with snow. I meant my real name, not Taiga. My real name is quite common in Finnish and translates as a fairytale, but if you add there my surname it will be something very strange.

37. leon - February 2, 2007

We had a few kids of Polish descent in my school (well, the school in the nearest large town). Apparently that corner of North-East Wales had a distinct Polish community since the 1940s, so you were always guaranteed a few exotic-sounding surnames (everyone else other than me was called Williams, I think. Or Jones.)

38. Mangonel - February 2, 2007

REALLY?? Really truly? Wow! You’ve chosen a wonderful handle. Maybe you will start a fashion, and some years from now when Spinny and LC and CB are all finally hitched and sprogging, they will have daughters and call them Taiga. I would.

If I had triplet girls I would call them Tisiphone, Megaera and Alecto. On the other hand, perhaps it’s just as well I won’t.

39. leon - February 2, 2007

I just did an interesting comment about the historic Polish community (since the 1940s, anyway) in North-East Wales but WordPress ate it, or something. Oh well.

Anyway, there were quite a few families of Polish descent in our town, including a kid in my school who pretty much had a full beard by the age of 14. Remarkable.

40. daggi - February 2, 2007

Are you off to the mountains, BiB?

41. In Actual Fact - February 2, 2007

Going back to names, can I change to “I Think You’ll Find….”?

And as for real-life names – the ones you get abused at school for – I think Laika, First Dog In Space would have caused less grief than what my parents actually chose.

42. BiB - February 2, 2007

Ah, IAF, yes, I can imagine that your name was not the easiest to grow up with. Now you are younger than me, and even I wasn’t alive when “that” happened so, please tell me, what were your parents up to, eh? Or was it a hope you’d follow in his (giant) footsteps? Which is both nice and unnice, I suppose.

Daggi, do you mean that in the sense of away with the fairies or just, straightforwardly, off to the mountains? If the former, then, I suppose, yes. If the latter, then definitely yes, unless there is some inconvenient microweather and we get stuck in Krakow, which wouldn’t be a bad place to be stuck in. But aren’t I the grown-up, going on holiday like normal folk? I’ll probably have to live off snow and tap-water when there, aber trotzdem.

Leon, wordpress occasionally sends what seems like an utterly innocuous comment off to the spam. Luckily, there’s spam limbo where the condemned sit before I finally give the guillotine-meister the permission to release the blade and your message was magnanimously given a last-minute reprieve. See? I rescued it… Our Polish-origin school-star was a Bogdan – ‘gift of god’ (or ‘god-given’), that means – who used to wedge the arms of his spectacles into his eyes and practically make them pop out of his head. I expect he’s now in a high-security prison. (He was nice, actually.) (As were most of the ‘Polish’ boys, come to think of it. Much more civilised than most of us regular white trash kids.) (I wonder if bilingualism made them more civilised. Did you know any English/Welsh bilingual children? Were they civilised? Or horrid?)

Mango, I had to go to the Pantheon to look those up, and they are all firebrand harridans, or harridan firebrands. So just as well you won’t, as you say. And, plus, people would CONSTANTLY think they were makes of car, at least with Megaera and Alecto, and how would you abbreviate Tisiphone? Phone?

Taiga, in which case both your real name ang blog-name are poetic and lovely and AGAIN I’m having visions of you in your long, white robe in your long, white tower with your long, white (OK, blond) hair, shivering and lonely in winter but flowery and princeful (and dogful) (and childful) in summer.

Narrowback, the Poles are on a massive emigration drive, but I think they’ve always been the most adventurous nation from Central/Eastern Europe. Well, they are more numerous than the Czechs or Hungarians, of course, but they seem to emigrate in far, far greater numbers. (Actually, speaking of Hungarians, my host the other night with the Polish connection said the Hungarians are the only nation the Poles like!) Zimne Piwo… Mmm… Zima (зима) is Russian for winter so I can see the connection. (And piwo is pivo (пиво).)

43. Daggi - February 2, 2007

I meant as in the latter. I was considering getting up the Tatra (but not necessarily “and around the castle”) some time soon, but I’ve been told they’re not “proper mountains” and only the Swiss Alps will do.

44. In Actual Fact - February 2, 2007

BiB: Apparently, if I was a girl I was going to be called Harriet, so, you know, it could have been worse: even stupider name, lower pay than men for the same work, banned from working in Trident submarines, multiple orgasms….
I’ve asked my parents many, MANY, times what the hell they were thinking of and they claim that they ‘just liked the name.’
To add to things, ‘girlfriend’ has a younger brother called Yuri and her name isn’t actually traditional Northern Indian (as I first thought), but rather the name of a fictional Bulgarian spy from a Russian language novel her mother was reading in the maternity ward at the time.
Previous (German) girlfriend-related-naming-info includes the fact that every time she went into the bank and was asked for her mother’s maiden name, she had to reply, “Schmuck.”
I smile about that now (okay, I did then, too).

45. pleite - February 3, 2007

Oh gosh, IAF, that is odd. You and a Yuri not too far removed. If there’s a Buzz (or Laika) anywhere in the vicinity, I’d say fate exists. And your parents – far be it from me to criticise, but allow me just this once – are clearly arrant fibbers. “Just liked the name,” indeed. Two of my favourite name-stories are an alleged Stamford Hill and an alleged Tufnell Park, both spotted living in London. There was an Alexander Pallis too, but at least not Palace.

Daggi, then, yes. Off to the mountains. I don’t plan to ski. Though I hope to do quite a lot of trudging. The Russian aims to ski. Which means I’ll probably have to worry the whole trip, seeing as he’s the clumsiest person on earth. I once thought he was trying to entertain me when he was about to fall off the edge of the U-Bahn platform just as the train was trundling in. But no. And he once swam so far out to sea when we were in Thailand that he disappeared from view for ages. I still get livid when thinking about that, actually, as water is clearly no different further out than close to, so it was done purely to annoy, and I was already worrying about having to go to the stinking Russian Embassy in Bangkok and explain that one of their nationals had drowned out of spite for his boyfriend. I might go and start an argument about it with him, actually. Excuse me…

46. Mangonel - February 3, 2007

Dear BiB, You take my commenty sow’s ear and turn it into a prosy silk purse. Remember that bit in a fish called wanda, when JLC and Cleese are getting down to it, and she says my brother is so dumb, when he heard your daughter was called Portia he wondered why anyone would christen their daughter after a car? (And then dumb brother leaps out from under the bed all annoyed from being called dumb and scares the crap out of them?)

47. pleite - February 3, 2007

Is he the one played by Kevin Kline? (60 this year, I see, from the wonderful http://www.imdb.com. He’ll start winning lifetime-achievement Oscars soon. Or maybe BAFTAs.) Perhaps I should get the Russian to watch that film – perhaps he already has – to hear Herr Cleese’s famous attempts at Russian. And the dog-squashing would amuse him.

48. Junky D - February 3, 2007

In Denmark it’s possible for a man to be called Bent, and a woman Randi. There are also surnames such as Bitsch and Vanche (probably both originally foreign).

A friend and I once spent a long time with the phone book, trying to find a Randi Bitsch and a Bent Vanche, with the intention to introduce them to each other. Sadly, they don’t exist.

(Still haven’t started a new blog yet, by the way. It’ll happen, once I’m ready.)

49. pleite - February 3, 2007

I like the name Bent. I’ll probably call all my children it. But Randi is not a good name. Any Randi is blighted from birth, destined not to become Prime Minister. Mind you, Ms. Crawford’s done all right for herself, though is she Randy? And then there’s Randy Newman, but I know nothing about him, except that he looks earnest(ly) at a piano.

How are you managing to get through the day without a blog, or is being a joint junky enough for now? Is the move all now done and are you tucked up in Copenhagen and as happy as can be?

50. Junky D - February 4, 2007

Over the moon to be back in Kbh! My home, my playground! Just got back from third night on the tiles. A daft git kicked me out for not satisfying him (we’re talking humping a sack here), and he lived near my old flat (the flat I owned and had a mortgage for). That was a bike-ride down memory lane.

Erm, yes – I’m missing blogging about stuff. Eg the gay deaf Welshman from the other night, who ran away as we left the bar… after many hours of snogging and writing notes to each other. These things I can’t ‘junkify’, as that’s a different kind of blog. So I urgently need to re-vamp the single-me blog. To share the gossip! I’m just not sure which name to go with…

Soon, I tell you! But not for a few days!

51. Daggi - February 4, 2007

I did once (actually: once a week for about 4 months, I was 10) “ski” at the “Beckton Alps”. It didn’t turn us east end types into hooray-henrys with cockney accents though. Last time I was nearby it seemed that this great tourist attraction has gone, the plastic lattticed snow-ersatz being replaced by weeds and saplings, and instead of Kwik Save and a load of lock-up garages, an Aldi, a Sainsbury’s and some massive shoe ‘factory outlets’ are around the corner, the industrial estate having been turned into a ‘retail park’.

52. Daggi - February 4, 2007

Never mind Bent. How about Marvin? And then imagine it’s an 8 year old in Hellersdorf being screamed at in German “Meeerrrrfffin” across a shopping arcade. Or the Icelandic girl’s forename “Vigdis”? Perfect for the Kreuzberger Jugendgang Possee.

53. daggi - February 4, 2007

I was more thinking of Eastenders than of Tatort. It’s the Handball World Cup (teams taking part: Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Kaliningrad, Lithuania, Moldovia, Romania, Corsica, Isle of Man, FYROM, Jersey and South Croydon), which Germany seems to just have won. I assumed it was a women’s sport, but men are involved (hence the grunting). I don’t think that anyone really cares about it, but Germany got into the final, so Deutschlandradio and Deutschlandfunk split their frequencies Radio 4 Long Wave style, and it was all Handball in my kitchen earlier on, as I like the shipping forecast, which is only on the Langewellefrequenzen.

Still looking for a job? I’ve just applied to “Mr. Dr. President Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic of Iran, living in the Capital City Tehran” via his website. It seems he offers personal loans, as well as accepting greetings and criticism too. http://www.president.ir/en/

If I get invited to an interview, I’ll let you know. I wonder if Chavez has got something like this on his website?

54. BiB - February 4, 2007

Junky D, well, things certainly do appear to have looked up. Deaf, gay Welshmen – would he be the perfect meat for a very poor, very un-PC joke? – and unsatisfactory sexual encounters. And are you now living alone? And are there rats? And you had a mortgage! How posh! My ex was a normal grown-up and bought the flat(s) we lived in, so I was sort of bemortgaged-by-proxy. But I didn’t try to claim I was entitled to half of it when we split up (on 23 different occasions), seeing as I’d probably contributed the price of a light-bulb over the years. One day I will grow up.

Daggi, which is more depressing, an industrial estate or a retail park? Both are pretty much my least favourite places on earth, along with Stevenage and Calais(-sur-Mer?) (In Calais I once ordered something in French in a café. Looks of utter puzzlement from the staff, and I thought, “Oh god, the French are a pain having to pretend they can’t understand a word foreigners say in their language,” but, of course, the child-staff were English. “It’s great here. ‘S all English”). There is an indoor ski-thing here, just at the end of our street, more or less. Or maybe it’s just the shell of it, and it doesn’t seem to do a roaring trade. Though if you fancy renewing your hobby, Pankow could be the place for you… Vigdis is nice and mythic and probably means ‘girl with lovely hair’ or something poetic (or volcano) (or geysir). Was it a Prime Minister or Miss World that was called that? You know, with a Finnbogadottir on the end? I could google, of course. I’m now ready to close this blog as I have recorded every single second of my life, and I know I’ve already alluded to this moment before too – in fact, I might soon have blogged every moment of everyone-else-I’ve-ever-met’s lives too – but my ex in London once heard a mother screaming at her daughter, “Alchemy, I’m fuckin’ warnin’ you.”

55. daggi - February 4, 2007

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, Icelandic President from 1980 to 1996, and seems to mean “Goddess of War”, which is a title surely otherwise kept for the wives of Bush or Ahmadinejad. Otherwise, she was at Magnus Magnusson’s funeral in Scotland the other week.

Yes, Alchemy’s a lovely name, up there with Rocky, Kylie and Shakira. Retail Parks are much more depressing than Industrial Estates, do doubt about it – as Retail Parks involve not only the parents of Ricky, Rocky and Alchemy, but the children concerned as well, and the whole bloody family. Give me people under a railway bridge bashing dents out of Cortinas over people bashing dents into their kids anyday.

56. BiB - February 4, 2007

Actually, your mention of lock-ups in the last comment made me want to warn you to instantly transform into Detective Daggi. Where there are lock-ups, there are dead bodies and a British TV crime-drama, after all, preferably starring Helen Mironoff, or whatever that Oscar-winner-to-be’s called, saying, “Ha-ha, you wankaz. Eez gunna go dairn.” Actually, Dick van Dyke would have done just as well.

What sporting event is happening today? I can hear the grunts of men through the window, which sound either like beautifully synchronised orgasms or sadly synchronised knifings. But I think it’s sport. Are Germany handball world champions? (Can’t get TOO excited.)

57. BiB - February 4, 2007

Is Ahmadinejad a doctor? Of what? I refuse to believe it. I thought he was a revolutionary chav. Between you and me, I’d rather live under Chavez – boom boom – than under Ahmadinejad. I’ve written to Lukashenka before but never got a reply. Although, admittedly, I wasn’t asking him for a job. Or a loan.

No, Handballfieber hasn’t exactly swept the land, although the men from the 100%-long-term-unemployment house across the road have let off fireworks to respect tradition. Will a film soon be released called, “2007 – Ein Wintermärchen”?

58. daggi - February 4, 2007

In 1997, he received his PhD in traffic and transportation engineering and planning. The graduate program was a special program for Revolutionary Guard members funded by the organization.

At least he makes the traffic lights run on time.

59. pleite - February 5, 2007

I’m reminded – though only a bit – of dear old Yelstin, who started out in toilets. And he’s now just a harmless old duffer, who embarrasses Russian tennis-players every time they win a match. Although Mahmoud doesn’t look as if he’s the type to settle into an alcohol-soaked and senility-betroffen dotage. More’s the pity.

60. narrowback - February 5, 2007

I’m a city planner by profession and I’ve never been impressed by those who’ve specialized in the transportation side of the field on this side of the pond…. all mathematics (475 vmpm X 2 traffic lanes = children will die) vs. the aesthetic (“lets make this parking lot look fabulous”) …hearing that he’s a transportation planner doesn’t endear me to Mahmoud tho on physical appearance he is a non-starter to begin with

…and here is the “DUH” moment of the day. Today I learned what “pleite” means… a friend and I went to an exhibit of Weimar art here in Chicago today (to escape our big sports event – the Superbowl..) – for those readers who are interested Chicago got waxed – .and they had several lithographs from a magazine titled “PLEITE”… hadn’t dawned on this dim soul that it was a freakin’ german word. so as we say in the states, “DUH”

61. pleite - February 5, 2007

Narrowback, I had a late eureka moment regarding pleite myself. Well, I mean, I knew what it meant, BUT I didn’t know it was Hebrew in origin. Which fact I’ve never checked, actually. BaH – if you read this – could you oblige and confirm? Am I broke not only in German but also in Hebrew?

62. MountPenguin - February 5, 2007

Oooh, I didn’t know that either, but it looks like that is the case: my Wahrig says ‘hebr. pelete “Entrinnung, Rettung” d.h. Flucht vor der Schuldhaft’.

63. leon - February 5, 2007

[BiB] English/Welsh bilingual children were few and far between in my area – tended to be from families where Welsh was spoken at home by older relatives and were mainly from a rural and/or working-class background. I think it’s increasingly the case nowadays that lots of middle-class Welsh families are choosing to educate their children bilingually, as a mark of cultural sophistication and pride, I suppose, whereas it used to be mainly a product of habit and insularity…as a result the number of reasonably fluent Welsh speakers is increasing, slowly, but overall the number of people who exclusively use Welsh at home as a funstional everyday language is probably still declining (this isn’t really based on any expert analysis so feel free to correct me).

I have never skied. I’ve been on a sledge about five times, ice-skated a couple of times, and fallen over on snow several tens of times, but that’s about it.

64. leon - February 5, 2007

By the way, “funstional” isn’t actually a word, though looking at it, it really ought to be.

65. BiB - February 5, 2007

Penguin, genau, genau. I did a bit of a search and came up with the same thing. I’d love to escape my debts. In any language.

Leon, including Welsh. I knew a Welsh-speaker at uni whom I was very impressed by, being young and impressionable ‘n all, as she was doing her degree in a foreign language. And I worked with another Welsh lady who didn’t speak English until she was well into her teens and whose parents hardly spoke a word still, and her husband was English, and I used to have romantic visions of their trips back to the village which featured both Dylan Thomas and Nerys Hughes. And then they divorced…

66. daggi - February 5, 2007

which featured both Dylan Thomas and Nerys Hughes…and Shadwell.

67. BiB - February 5, 2007

Daggi, bugger, I’ve tried electric shock therapy to try and buck my brain up and have had a preliminary google but no joy. You’re going to have to remind me who or what Shadwell is. I can even hear the word in a lilting Welsh accent in my mind’s ear but can’t place the bastard. But I am having more lovely romantic visions of Welsh villages and grey stone houses and hills and rain and the Docklands Light Railway. (Damn googling after all.)

68. MountPenguin - February 6, 2007

BBC TV comedy, late 80’s?

69. BiB - February 6, 2007

Nope, I need more. Evem http://www.imdb.com isn’t coming up trumps.

70. MountPenguin - February 6, 2007

The memory circuits have woken up: Naked Video.

71. pleite - February 6, 2007

Gosh, it’s more obscure than I remember. Though the Welsh poet does now ring a properly audible bell. Well sleuthed!

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