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Booze February 17, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

No time to think or make anything up for this blogging lark so memory lane it is. Mind you, a heavily prompted and signposted memory lane. Good old commenters have got me there.

So booze. I do occasionally plan to make this blogging business a vaguely organised affair and I write down things I plan to blog about. Three blog-idea squiggles currently adorn the bit of paper in front of me along with a whole load of mildly-disturbing doodles and then a rash of numbers which I’m guessing – I’ve long since forgotten – are calculations about the magnificent sums of money I’m earning… and the even more magnificent sums I owe. I remember a similar previous occasion – though don’t you go thinking my life follows a cyclically treacherous path – when I had a rush of work and great fun doing some equation or other with all my (most pressing and life-threatening) debts on one side and the sums of money I was owed on the other. I threw in a few xs and ys to remind me of school and remembered to change a + to a – when switching sides and, having mentally pencilled in, in addition to all the paid-off debts, ecologically unsound holidays to undemocratic countries, realised I was going to end up left with -9 euros. Alas. Anyway, I hate holidays.

So, yes, booze. Well, one of my three blog-scribbles was booze-related. “Plotting alcoholism,” is what I wrote. Although, to be honest, I’m worried I don’t drink nearly enough. I’m almost permanently sober. And haven’t had a sniff of booze for, ooh, at least 2 days now. Maybe even 3. But I do wonder whether it’s a slippery slope, this natural progression in booze-consumption, or whether it’s even natural at all and I should be worried that I can now drink 80 times more than my 19-year-old self could. I’ve occasionally commented on increased consumption to friends. “Does this equate to alcoholism?” Everyone has answered reassuringly, while adding that, if I am right, then they are alcoholics too.

Anyway, fuck all that. The point of this is to tell a little story which I’ve already told in my comments so I don’t know why the bugger I’m telling it again here. Oh yes, no time to make anything up. Well, AA came up. The 12 steps came up. And my mind was sent careering back to my days as an employee-without-portfolio at a charitable organisation in Raasha. All I knew when I finished university was that I wanted to go and learn Russian, which I hadn’t managed at university, really, so I was prepared to do any old job that came along to get back there. I was originally meant to teach English in some university in some town of no interest but THANK GOD I got out of that and ended up, at a friend-with-huge-shoulders’ suggestion, being the employee-without-portfolio at the charity. And it was the only job I’ve ever really got mildly enthusiastic about. I was a right little hive of activity, trying to organise this and that and network like mad and be an all-round girly swot. I made contact with other folk doing charity work in the city. Wall-to-wall born-again Christians.

“So what took you here?” I asked an extraordinary-looking gentleman who looked as if he hadn’t yet taken his clothes off in a porn-film as we walked towards the project he ran for tearaway teenagers in an insalubrious part of St. Petersburg. “Y’know BeeyaB (he was from one of those bits of America that doesn’t really exist. Kansas or Wyoming or somewhere), I was a-sittin’ (OK, he didn’t say a-sittin’) in ma church and I asked God, ‘God, whatchoo wan’ me to do?’ And God told me to do his work in Russia. Just the same as what happened to you, I gueyess?” I can’t remember how I fudged my answer but it must have passed muster as I was invited along to a conference a few weeks later.

My colleague and I loped along. It was soon obvious that it was a wholly (or holy, take your pick) born-again affair. There were oodles of ‘Praise the Lords!’ shouted, quite a lot of tears and group hugs, lots of stories of people who’d mended their ways and found the Lo(-wa)rd, a few suspicious looks in my colleague’s and my direction that we didn’t seem as enthused as the other participants. But we made it through.

When it wasn’t about group hugs, a mad English woman who did nothing but talk about her periods (much to the Russian translator’s consternation) and shouting, things did actually get discussed. And we all scribbled furiously as the AA 12-steps thing was explained to us. It was a lively session. The Russians had plenty of questions about alcoholism and how to treat it. A nice, beardy, long-haired, long-collared gent who also seemed to have ended up there by accident piped up, “How you deal with white fever?” Cue whispers about how best to translate the term from Russian into English. Murmurs and knowing nods amongst the Russians. Yes, white fever. That was the knottiest and thorniest alcohol-related problem of all. A pause for people to gossip amongst themselves and exchange white-fever tales as the translator tried to get across to the American lady conducting the whole thing what ‘white fever’ was. She was, of course, unshakeable and imperturbable – she’d been around (Wyoming), after all – but I did notice her eyes getting ever wider as the translator made himself more clear…

For white fever, ladies and gentlemen, (and please don’t anyone read the comments to the last post) is when you go on such a massive bender that you go stark-raving mad. Isn’t that marvellous? I’ve still got so much to learn.

Music February 14, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, first things first. Liukchik turns 30 today so you must go and wish him good tidings… This is becoming a bit of a habit. Now Liukchik always gets things the wrong way round – he’s a university pal whom I naturally assumed was a whoopsy, seeing as his dancing makes Grahame Norton look like Sylvester Stallone, until he started producing girlfriends, whom I grilled just to make sure it wasn’t an elaborate ruse. Anyway, happy to see I wasn’t a million miles off the mark. His mother was just perfecting the gay gene when Lukeski was being gestated nicely and his younger brother bore the full brunt of his mother’s efforts (oh gosh, Lukeski, is this all too indiscreet? Well, I mean I know it’s too indiscreet, but is it so indiscreet that I have to take it down and replace it with, well, nothing instead?) – so in his honour of his birthday – well, not really, but the calendar is playing along conveniently enough – he’s giving away musical presents here. Go and claim your free gift. (Even I’ve heard of some of the artists for once.) Money no object. Postal distance no obstacle. And wish him a Happy Birthday and, if so inclined, feel nicely rebellious at cocking a snook at Valentine’s Day.

Darlings, I’ve got nothing for you really. Too bogged down with busyness and business. Although, every cloud having a silver lining and all that, I have at least worked out the PERFECT recipe for the work-related nervous breakdown. Do job you hate. Earn pittance. Move to country where you don’t know the language with long-term student boyfriend. Don’t work as much as you could, making pittance go even shorter way. Spend money you don’t have as that’s probably a good idea. Get in trouble with people whose money you’ve spent. Borrow money off known human. Breathe sigh of relief. One second later feel redoubled guilt and dread and worry and panic at owing the money to someone you know, who saintlily never, ever mentions it, quadrupling the guilt. Allow to simmer for, say, two years, waking up in sweats in the night six times a week. Decide suddenly you must earn a million pounds in one week and take on according amount of work. Blog instead of work. Have nervous breakdown.

ANYWAY, what about a little bit of music for you from me too to be getting on with? Now why would Michelle Shocked hit the spot at the moment? I’m trying to string analysis of that out for a good few hours a day both not to work and to speed up the onset of the nervous breakdown. Well, I think the song might remind me of a time of full houses and lots of va-et-vient and high spirits. So that’s one thing. And then I like the song starting nicely as a story (and there’s a hint of not majorly intrusive and quite pleasant string) and she’s quite good at enunciating her friend’s feeling of, “Oh fuck, it’s all passed me by.” Which isn’t what I’m feeling at all, actually, and the friend probably thought a couple of years after this whole exchange, “God, thank god I’m not a skateboard punk-rocker, actually. Michelle can keep her skateboard. I’m perfectly happy anchored down in Anchorage with Leroy and Kevin.” But it’s somehow all suitably wistful, with poor old Leroy asking for a picture from the big city. I’ve known that. The woman I first stayed with in Russia, heavily pregnant with her first child in a not enthralling marriage, in the Russian equivalent of Anchorage, asked me to send her photos of London. It almost makes me want to force myself to try and cry. But I haven’t got the time.

Happy Valentine’s Day, if you insist.

Post-communist hair February 9, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, first things first. B. turns 30 today so you must go and wish her good tidings. Imagine ever being 29! I don’t even think I could read and write till I was in my 30s, and I certainly couldn’t blog. Many Happy Returns, B., and may the next 30 be as good as the first.

Just occasionally, Berlin reminds me of Russia. And, let’s face it, they ought to have the odd post-communist thing or two in common, after all. Sometimes Berlin or other bits of the former East Germany manage to even look like Russia. Decrepit bits of Potsdam look quite like decrepit bits of St. Petersburg. Grotty stucco and faded splendour. I haven’t been to Russia for an age now so I don’t know if they’ve started trying to sex up the fairly dreary modern blocks of flats. That does happen here. Just south of my street is a cluster of perfectly perpendicular blocks round an abandoned square with gnarled wire-fencing and overgrown grass. But the houses have had a lick of paint and a decent front door put on and probably a posh entry-phone thing installed and that lightens the mood considerably as you traipse past pissed at 4 in the morning hoping you won’t bump into any of your neighbours as you try to saunter noiselessly up the stairs and make yourself look sober even though you reek of booze and have fresh scratches on your face having just fallen into an annoyingly-positioned prickly bush.

But today it’s snowing. It’s boiling still – about +25, I’d guess – but snowing. My mother claims it only snows when it’s boiling. Or, rather, that if it’s very cold, it won’t snow. “It’s too cold for snow,” I’d hear her say wisely on a rare cold day in London. But that must be bollocks, surely, as I remember it snowing away happily in St. Petersburg when it was -28 and I don’t imagine Scott of the Antarctic had a moment of snowlessness as he and his chums sat awaiting their fate. Still, I’ll pardon her error as it’s never really cold in London. I don’t think it’s EVER been below -10. Though lest anyone think Londoners are lucky with their climate, it’s horrible in other ways. Damp and windy and often downright shit. The Russian, from a town where -40 is nothing unusual, found London in April unbearably freezing.

But today my mother is right. It’s boiling and snowing. And though the temperature is very unRussian, Berlin today reminded me of St. Petersburg. I trotted off on an errand – in t-shirt, shorts, hat, gloves and scarf – and as I turned the corner onto a mainish street and caught sight of random, living people for what seemed the first time in ages, I was instantly transported, mentally, straight to Nevskij Prospekt. People were wrapped up warm. Women were in fur coats. Men were in padded jackets and wore sensible, ear-warming caps. Determined expressions aided folk concentrating on making their way through the elements. “Cor,” I said out loud, much to the surprise of an orange German coming out of a suntan parlour, “this is just like St. Petersburg.”

But why should that be the case? I mean, as tropical as London is, it does occasionally have snow too, and no doubt folk brave the elements there in the same determined way. Luckily, I needed to cross the road just as this train of thought was taking off and crossing the road takes a good three hours in Germany as you wait – not a car in sight – for the man to go green and then almost get knocked over anyway as it is always one set of cars’ turn to go regardless and they only don’t have to kill you at their discretion. But it gave me ponder-time.

“It’s the hair!” I shouted, to the further bemusement of the orange German who was shadowing me for novelty value. (You don’t get that many foreigners in these here parts.)

Now the post-communist nations may have gone through rapid, upheavally change, but their hairstyles haven’t. Post-communist ladies over 50 still have rock-hard, colourful, bird’s-nest hair. Whereas every woman in the UK, unless she has had at least two novels published or a play put on at The Royal Court, wakes up on her 50th birthday – mark my words, B., and check in 20 years’ time – with hair EXACTLY like the queen’s. My mother’s got it. All my aunts have it. Mrs. Thatcher had it. All the women who haven’t written novels or had plays put on at The Royal Court in old people’s homes have it. It’s just the rules. Which actually works vaguely in post-communist countries’ favour, variety-wise. There you never know which type of bird’s nest you might be met with. It might be a jet-black, spiky thing that could take your eye out or a generous, plumy, bright-red affair. The colour need, naturally, bear no resemblance to anything usually found in the animal kingdom, unless on the more exotic and obscure birds of the Amazon.

Mind you, in spite of the post-communist hair and the determined snow-braving, I was once again struck by the Berlin totty. An agonisingly lovely boy-next-door type crossed my path. And that got me wondering if there was a girl-next-door phenomenon too. Or do your neighbours have to live in a stately home for that to work?

But no time to ponder that too.

Seek February 7, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

No, not an injunction for you all to go out and find yourselves and perhaps make your way to a big city with nothing other than the clothes on your back and a couple of bread rolls for company to make your fortune. Or to reflect on who you are, what your place in the world is and to find happiness that way. Although neither of those is that catastrophically bad an idea, actually, so if you want to go out and have a bit of a seek, far be it from me to stop you.

But when I say seek, I mean Russo-English ‘seek’, i.e. ‘sick’.

Now I’m always sick or pretending to be sick at one level or another. But the Russian appears to actually be sick. Man-flu. Sniffing and snorting. Coughing demonstratively. Wailing plaintively. Wandering around dressed like he’s on day-release. And, of course, I am a paragon of sympathy throughout. Mopping his brow with a damp flannel. Providing him with basins of warm, soapy water for his feet. Asking him if he wants a little ciggy.

Now I’m up to my cock – as Raashans say – in work so thought that – a bit of sneaky emergency blogging aside – I’d better create some other diversionary tactics to put the inevitable off as long as possible. It would have to be something practical, and something which couldn’t be defined as recreation, so shopping it was. We didn’t really need anything but, after a good ten seconds’ research, I decided I could justify a trip to the shops for fags, Weetabix and a toilet duck.

“Buy me paracetamol,” came a husky exhortation from the Russian as I donned my winter woollies for my journey into the known. I dashed off to our depressing new shopping centre. The first establishments you come across are an ice-cream parlour – all plastic and colours everywhere – and a grotty café – all plastic and colours everywhere – which seem to attract precisely the same clientele, namely hardened boozers who order nothing to eat but are seen happily nursing a bottle of beer. I expect to be a regular by the end of the year.

Now when I say I’m always sick or pretending to be sick, the emphasis should be on the pretending. Naturally I convince myself about twice a day that I’ve got cancer or meningitis, but mostly my health trundles along nicely unremarkably. I only bother the doctors when I strictly have to. And I never bother with painkillers as I normally like to milk any illness for all it’s worth and if I can convince the Russian an illness is the real thing, I’ll usually have e-mails from his mother within a day or two instructing me which exercises to do and which herbal remedies to take.

Which is all to say I didn’t think buying paracetamol would be a Herculean task.

Growing up in England, after all, meant quite a range of drugs on offer from the local pharmacy. Plus they didn’t seem to close at 11am, as they do here. As I scooted past the ice-cream parlour, accidentally kicking over discarded beer-bottles and getting a fine from the Noise Department and tuts from everyone in Germany – I think it made the local news – I came across a very closed chemist’s. There’s a chain called Rossmann here which, even though not strictly a chemist’s, sort of looks like the ones you get in England. People in white coats and tampons, make-up and coffee-filters on sale. I dashed breathlessly in there as it was about five to eight and I hadn’t even started my toilet-duck shoppery and rather than wandering fruitlessly up and down every aisle, I decided I’d ask the lady-in-white if they had paracetamol. “Do you have paracetamol?” I asked in, I thought, passable German. Look of total befuddlement from white-coated lady. “PA-RA-CET-A-MOL,” I repeated, with as much aggression as five syllables would allow. Shrugs and bewilderment. I repeated my request in as capital-letters a way as I could muster and she finally twigged. “Aah! Paracetamol!” “Yes, paracetamol (you old witch and, by the way, do you know your hair’s horrible?).” Honestly, what’s the point of pretending not to understand paracetamol? It’s not as if we’re even in Paris. They’d have understood in Bhutan. And I once again thought that the worst thing about Communism was that it didn’t allow people to travel… I gave her a chance to check her handbag was stored out of theft’s reach once she realised she was dealing with a foreigner and then donned an inquisitive expression. “So, about that paracetamol?” “No.”

And I wondered whether I was on a hiding to nothing. I dashed through the supermarket. Toilet-duck? Check. Weetabix? Check. Some-token-fruit-and-veg-so-people-won’t-think-I’m-a-pleb? Check. Not that it’s hard to be outplebbed by the Germans. The only things anyone seemed to be purchasing were cauldrons of cola and things in tins. I got to the druggy section. And all it was was herbal teas and vitamins. Not a proper drug in sight. And it dawned on me that you mustn’t be able to get any sort of proper drug in this country without either a doctor having agreed to it first or having to justify your need to the chemist. I once decided that the root of all my ills was that I wasn’t getting enough iron and marched into the chemist’s to sort my life out once and for all. Again, nothing on display but herbal tea and vitamins. “Erm, no iron tablets?” … “IR-ON.” “Ja, of course, but vy you are vonting zem?” “Because I’m mad and have decided I don’t get enough iron,” and then I stuck my tongue between my bottom teeth and lip…

So can’t you get drugs here just like that? It’s a far cry from England, if so. And an even further one from Russia. In Russia you can get absolutely everything over the counter. It’s fantastic. Once, when the Russian went on one of his six-month holidays to the motherland, he was hardly back in the door before I had my arm out for presents. And he dutifully produced. A teach-yourself-Hebrew CD or DVD. (I was having a Jewish phase.) Some book or other. A Russian keyboard. A basquillion cigarettes. And a little box. “Oh, is it a ring?” I wondered. But it wasn’t. It looked like medicine. ПРОФЛУЗАК, went the lettering. PRO-FLU-ZAC. “Erm, darling, what’s this?” “Oh, I buy you some Prozac,” came his impatient reply amid hurried unpacking and realigning his Raashan soul to its heartless, wicked-west setting…

I haven’t indulged. But we’d kill for some aspirin.

Happy Mondays February 5, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, it’s February, I can’t sleep, I’ve got work to do, I’m worried I’m about to have lots of work to do (which should be a cause for celebration, of course, but just isn’t), my body feels sort of wintrily fragile… which I thought were all cues to spread a little bit of gloom.

Life feels horribly eventless at the mo. The Russian is sick and refuses to entertain me. “Darling, take me to the cinema,” I holler, “or I’ll start an argument.” But he answers, “Seeck,” and so I have to make quite an effort not to watch German TV’s attempts to recreate the atmosphere of summer 2006 with the home nation’s glorious victory in the Handball World Cup. Jiggy-jiggy would be, it goes without saying, unthinkable for any Russian with an illness on the go. “But, darling, I couldn’t give a fuck about the germs,” I didn’t say, but might have thought, but he would see the whole transaction as far too microbially sordid.

So, no cinema, no jiggy-jiggy , I don’t want to overdo the work… So blogging, natch. But what about the eventlessness? Nothing on earth to blog about. So I’ve flicked through my mental and blogging archives, yet again, and a nice bit of gloom I’ve been meaning to blog for ever has presented itself as most suitable blog-meat candidate.

The Russian and I were in Thailand in 2002. We had a shit time, all in all, because I hate leaving the house, my skin burnt to a crisp within 1 second of arrival, and because it was deemed that English was more likely to be understood in Thailand than Russian – not wrongly – I had to be in charge of every transaction whilst there. Plus our combined social autism meant we weren’t allowed to talk to strangers, so it was three weeks solid of each other. On holiday. I did think of suggesting we meet back at the airport on the due departure date and tell each other stories of how we’d got on. But we stayed solitarily together. There was one handsome Australian gent that we kept bumping into, who was with his girlfriend, whom he hated, and they would never do anything together, and we would see him at some recumbent Buddha or other or doing a mime of what we wanted to order in a restaurant and there he’d be, and we’d exchange smiles, but no more than that, and we’d abandon him to his lonely fate or to other tourists. (I once heard him engaged in a riveting convo with a German about how Thais wrote text messages.)

So just me and the Russian. The Russian happy to be in Thailand. Enjoying sun in winter. And seeing the trip as a great privilege. Not everyone gets to go to Thailand, after all. And taking notes in museums to pass on the knowledge to his family at a later date. (He does this in London too. Even I have to admit it’s sweet.) And me loathing every minute, and even when I would accidentally get carried away and forget that I was meant to be having a horrible time and notice that ACTUALLY Bangkok was pretty fantastically interesting and the rest of the country had oodles going for it too, I would try to rein in all feelings of positiveness and try to re-etch the scowl into my face. (Can’t remember if the Russian had finished the milk within the previous couple of years or if there’d been some other egregious crime.)

Anyway, one day, in Bangkok, we ended up in an utterly uninteresting part of the city, which probably put me in an ungovernable rage, and made me scowl so hard that my eyebrows met my chin, but the Russian resourcefully thought we should make a good out of a bad and so we pretended it was now a shopping trip (by which time my lower teeth were embedded in my brain). The area was modern. Sort of skyscrapery. And seemed to be where Indian wholesalers plied their trade. So the shopping was unlikely to be interesting. We’d pop into another mini-shopping-centre and there’d be more people selling more curtain material. We bought ourselves some flavoured ice in a plastic bag and decided to go for one last shoppery before we’d call our mummies and ask them what to do when lost in a big, foreign city.

And, darlings, I was washed over in gloom. Traipsing through the utterly uninteresting shops was gloomy and soul-emptying enough but as we escalatored ourselves ever higher, the floors got more and more desolate. Floor seven might only have had three or four tables with curtain material folded nicely on it. Floor eight had even fewer and an automatic drinks machine. Floor nine had nothing but its strip-lighting and one upended plastic chair. We somehow had a feeling that the tenth and final floor wasn’t going to mysteriously turn into Harrods but we did see that it had a toilet so allowed ourselves to be elevated ever upwards.

And there was gloom itself. In the overlit gangway, on the lino floor, between escalator and toilet, was a karaoke machine. The karaoke machine had an attendant, a concerned-looking young woman. She was holding the microphone and clearly trying to explain to someone who didn’t know the routine how it all worked. He seemed at a loss. I loitered to watch the scene, which probably made the attendant more flustered. And then the man, having gleaned what he could of the procedure, began to sing. He was old and wizened. Decrepit and senile. He sang poorly. The girl looked more concerned than ever. Perhaps her regular clients – though god knows how many of them there could have been with only the smelliest toilet in Bangkok as an accompanying attraction – were teenage girls. But she needn’t have. The man was no trouble. He just wanted to sing. I didn’t know what the song was, of course, but it meant something to him. And it was all much the sharpest stab of sheer, unadulterated, unmitigated gloom I had ever felt. Not pain, because I have, of course, experienced worse things than a chronically lonely man singing badly. But something about his loneliness and the way he was combating it struck me as irredeemably pathetic. The poor bastard.

My jaw shot through my crown before I’d even got round to verbalising my new-improved gloom to the Russian. We entered the world’s smelliest loo. A leering idiot waggled his willy at us.

I’d had better days.