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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.


1. MountPenguin - February 7, 2007

The apothecaries here are very well-organised as far as maintaining control over the retail of your actual medicinal drugs goes, and have arranged it so only well-qualified professionals (and none of your evil locusty chain stores) can run dispensing chemists (Apotheken), which are all very nicely done-out and overstaffed and have elaborate window displays and are one of the reasons why health insurance is a little more expensive than it could be. Rossmans, Schlecker and Co. definitely won’t have anything stronger than the odd homeopathic dose of herbal tea.

(When obtaining stuff like paracetemol, aspirin etc., do ask your friendly white-coated apothecary for some ASS, which is cheaper than the well-marketed Bayer stuff they will otherwise sell you).

2. MountPenguin - February 7, 2007

Oh yes, and it’s cheaper in 100 packs but try not to look suicidial when ordering, and nod wisely when they give you the lecture on how you should go to the doctor if the pain doesn’t go away in three days etc.

3. pleite - February 7, 2007

Penguin, you are so brilliantly nocturnal. Wonderful. I admire your indefatigability. (Was that what Galloway said to Saddam?)

I am up pretending to work, of course. But I accidentally got sidetracked by a 911/inside-job-conspiracy-theory film. Utterly gripping. I adore conspiracy theories. I’m off to watch a film that claims Messrs. Armstrong and Aldrin never left Arizona in their lives next.

I always look suicidal. Though I always nod wisely too.

4. MountPenguin - February 7, 2007

Naah, I just fell asleep while listening to the latest Dead Ringers repeat over the intarweb, and seem to have fallen wide awake at this ridiculous hour with an open browser full of sites which needed checking for vital updates.

5. narrowback - February 7, 2007

during my first visit I came to have need of a simple bandage…a “bandaid” as we say..the german term is escaping me at the moment. it was a holiday weekend and you know the rest of the story

I finally asked the staff at the hotel for one…I was presented with a 6 in X 6 in sheet and a pair of scissors ..eh, what? that plus a following trip where I needed to score some ibuprofen caused me to now travel with a small Walgreens (chain drugstore) in my luggage

6. pleite - February 7, 2007

Penguin, I recommend booze to help you sleep, though it might seem a bit odd to crack open a bottle of something at this ungodly hour. Is there something you could have a stealthy little swig of?

Narrowback, yes, good thinking. Take your own drugs with you. We’ve still got a massive stock of potions and chemicals from Russia, no doubt all now out-of-date and gradually getting more and more poisonous all the while.

7. leon - February 7, 2007

I had a dreadful cold a week or so ago but managed to finish it off with some lemons. Or more likely my immune system finished it off naturally while the lemons gave me something to distract myself with, as I was spending most of my time making them into hot drinks. It took its time though.

I managed not to take fright and start pestering the doctor for antibiotics this time, which is good….

8. William Thirteen - February 7, 2007

oh there is a delightfully cute ‘apothekerin’ down the block from me. i think i will head on down there and ask her to dutifully provide me with ‘ASS’.

9. MountPenguin - February 7, 2007

Actually thinking about it on a freshly-woken brain, ASS is the Aspirin™® equivalent from “Ratiopharm”. I’m sure they do something paracetemoly as well, but I’m more of an Acetylsalicylsäure type.

10. BiB - February 7, 2007

Leon, no, antibiotics are wonderful. I usually hope to take them even when I’m perfectly well. Mind you, as I say, hard to get your hands on drugs here. Still, isn’t the food we eat now nicely packed chock-full of antibiotics in order to combat bird flu?

William, do, but she’ll probably wear you down by asking you to justify why it is, precisely, that you want ASS. And if you say, “Oh, you know, I just fancy some o’ yo’ ASS,” she’ll probably go all strict on you.

Penguin, I sleepily didn’t notice the ASS-thing either. And I already want to go back to bed, and I’ve only done about two seconds’ work. Meet you here at 3am…

11. MountPenguin - February 7, 2007

The ASS reference was very intended, but I had it in my head it was the name of the producer.

There used to be a chain of sport shops in Berlin called, originally, “American Sport Shop”, and the logo consisted of the abbreviation of the name.

12. BiB - February 7, 2007

Oh dear to ASS-abbreviations, though as long as you’re not trying to purvey something TOO serious, the association can be countered with a smile, nicht wahr?

So… Penguin, hopefully the American Sport Shop coped with being ASS. Sporty ASS is even quite a good association, I would think.

Aber… Herr Actual Factual, does the Anglo Stuttgart Society? And are you president? That IS posh. But are you coming back to Germany? Or are you already here? I’ve lost track of all your interviews and the vulvas therefrom. Actually, this chemist-lark made me think of you and your brash chemist(ess) commenting on your masturbatory activities. I haven’t had anything as rude YET but I did get a bit of a strange look when I went to buy my vaginal cream. I look forward to the day when it can all be done by machine to obviate the need for messy human interaction (buying medicines, I mean).

13. IAF - February 7, 2007

BiB: I know someone not too far away from here who was voted president of the Anglo Stuttgart Society….
It was only after he agreed to do the job that all the other members started referring to it as the ASS-club.

I wasn’t happy.

14. Paul - February 7, 2007

My girlfriend ran a series of readings at Humboldt a few years ago under the title Autumn Summer School…which, apart from being a weird title anyway, led to many amused email-recipients when they were sent news about her ASS.

15. pleite - February 7, 2007

Paul, excellent that you’re back on the block. Nothing makes me sadder than a dormant blog (apart from war and pestilence, of course).

I’m livid I have no ASS-stories of my own. I’ll go away and make some up and get back to you.

16. BiB - February 8, 2007

Does it cope with being ASS? I think that’s what I meant.

Anything is excusable on this blog. Especially after you’ve been out for a night in Newcastle-under-Lyme. I wonder if the Koh-i-Noor Indian restaurant still exists. Or was that up Hanley? Those two places have become one in my head, though I think we thought Newcastle-under-Lyme was posh in comparison to Stoke proper. And I hope that Ritzy’s in Newcastle-under-Lyme doesn’t still exist. Two of my pals were beaten up outside there once – I ran – and one had to be hospitalised. Happy memories. Thank god I’ll never be young again.

Oh, yes, but me not having a profile thing is inexcusable. Do you know how I get one? Does anyone? I’d happily oblige…

17. IAF - February 8, 2007

Does the Anglo Stuttgart Society what, BiB? They have quite a large membership, I’m sure one of them must.

I was joint (for they have two) president for a year and I like to think that I was the worst they ever had; I hope so, or they must have had some real losers in the past.

And yes, interviews and vulvas, I lose track too – So many interviews, so little, or indeed, so much – and so, er, gaping…stops. Time.
Time, obviously.

Please forgive any inexcusable (can one forgive the inexcusable?) parts of this post, with the excuse that there’s no preview option, so I can’t really see what I’ve written and that I went out in Newcastle-under-Lyme tonight and that’s how ‘real’ people here speak. Sort of.

18. narrowback - February 8, 2007

well it not only your own drugs that you drag along it’s all the other minor “stuff” that if you try to purchase while on the road you either can’t find or wind up paying extortsionist prices for …the mysteries of german retailing are still that… mysteries. reminds me of an old catholic school catechism joke about the holy trinity…a mystery that “never was, never can and never will be understood”

19. MountPenguin - February 8, 2007

William, after getting some ASS at the Apotheke, pop by the nearest kiosk and ask for some Bum-Bum (they’ll have some in the ice cream freezer).

20. BiB - February 8, 2007

Narrowback, shopping abroad is always a bit fearsome until you get into the swing of it. I used to prefer to starve in Russia to start with than go to the shops, especially as you had to ask a different scowling woman for every different item. Got into it eventually though and was soon jostling to keep my place in the queue with the best of ’em. Shops here are mostly open for five minutes a week, of course, but it is changing.

ASS AND Bum-Bum? I can’t think of any rude-part-themed products. Damn. I was once at a posh resto in London – I was invited, of course, as I’d still be doing the washing-up there otherwise – and blackcock was on the menu. We laughed about that for at least eight seconds. “Do you take blackcock?” my pal asked the lady present. Broke the ice like nobody’s business.

21. William Thirteen - February 9, 2007

“Blackcock & Ass” – sounds like a shady firm of ambulance chasers….

22. pleite - February 9, 2007

William, I had to look up ‘ambulance chasers’ and instantly had visions of the type of teenager who likes to grab onto the back of tube-trains or buses for thrills, but, now I’m in the know, I agree, it would make an excellent title.

23. MountPenguin - February 13, 2007

More German products with, erm, slightly amusing (to the English speaker) names : Emotional Posterior Solutions

24. pleite - February 13, 2007

I’m now having rude memories of both a post Daggi did around Christmas 2005 and a naughty story in Viz – might you have missed the whole Viz phenomenon, having left England when you did? – about home-made tampons. I’d forgotten Viz existed, vaguely, but two English friends came to visit and each had a copy and would guffaw every now and then as they came across a good neologism from its profanasaurus. Practically all masturbatory. The writers of Viz have remained steadfastly 17, though amusingly so.

25. MountPenguin - February 13, 2007

Am most familiar with Viz, fnarr fnarr, in fact I’m sure I must have a copy around here somewhere. Either its level has declined during recent years, or I am no longer as susceptible to botty-related innuendo as I was when it first came out (occasional relapses as documented above excepted).

26. BiB - February 13, 2007

My two English pals were Russian-speakers, so of course attempts were made at translating vizisms into Russian. It weren’t fuckin’ easy, I tell ya. But talk of Tescosexuals and wankariums (-ia?) still had the Russian amused.

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