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Rubbish at gayness March 28, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Girls, you don’t know what you’re missing out on by me being in the gayers.

Though I might make a rubbish het too.

I am shit at decisions. Yesterday, I flew. A chap asked me to check one of his bags on for him so he wouldn’t go a gazillion kilos over his limit. I wrinkled my brow as that was the rudest thing I could think of at the time, but as we stood in the queue for 80 years together, and sort of hit it off, and after he’d showed me the contents of his bag, I said, yes, I’d check in his bag and felt naughtier than when I threw a rubber spider at Mr. C_ in second year juniors when I told the check-in gent that, yes, I had packed my own bag, no, no-one could have tampered with it and, oh no, no-one had asked me to check anything in on their behalf.

I’m now writing this from a Thai jail.

Not really.

Flying has become such a pain. I loathed it already. But all the security measures, queues, queue-tension, non-thrown-in expensive food and booze and the worry that I am about to die any second just make it that much worse.

Yesterday’s flight seemed to be going vaguely to plan. Apart from being asked to smuggle a drug-smuggler’s 20kg of narcotics in my name to Berlin, it was being relatively smooth. But the check-in queue snaked to the North Pole and back, and I hadn’t packed anything wintry, and by the time my smuggling pal and I got to the front of the queue, the word, “Berlin,” was already being hollered by the you’ve-got-to-get-a-move-on harridan. Then it was very visible queue-jumping to get through the striptease stage, much to the fury of some effusive Spaniards, and then dashing planewards, whereupon my smuggling pal and I took up our seats and got on with becoming best friends.

My pal was awfully nice. I’ve got a feeling he might be a megastar one day, if he isn’t already. A groovy musician – I’ve got a website I’m too scared to link to – and I was chuffed to bollocks at being able to keep up with a groovy type in conversation, which involved lying and saying, yes, actually I’m in the music business myself. Yes, I produce Madonna. Oh yes. She’s awfully nice, actually. Guy’s a pill.

Ding-dong.

“Ja, zis is Herr Kapitän spreching. Very many Entschuldigungs, aber it looks like ve’re going to have to sit on ze tarmac for an inexplicably long time. Ja, ve are slot-los.”

The smuggling musician and I got on with consolidating our friendship as we waited for our slot. “Elvis was an awful pain,” I went on. “I used to say to him, ‘Look, Elve, if you don’t stop all this drugging – the smuggler cast a furtive glance at his hand-luggage – you’re gonna end up croaking on the john.’ But he wouldn’t listen…”

Ding-dong.

“Ve are now slot-voll. Ve vill be taking adwantage of our wunderbaren slot in just a tickety-boo.”

“Bach was one of the trickier composers to manage,” I dribbled on. “…do you think we might get some free booze?”

Ding-dong.

“Ja, ladies and gentlemans. Your Kapitän Fritz-Felix noch einmal. Several, several Entschuldigungs, aber one of our computers is total kaputt and if we take adwantage of our slot, there is the possibility zat we all completely dead will be.”

“That Moses didn’t know a thing about music,” I glistened further.

Ding-dong.

“Ja, again your Kapitän, Graf Fritz-Felix von Koks, here. Ve have now ze computer-fixer on ze tarmac, aber zese stupid Englanders can’t even find ze ladder. God knows how ve managed to lose Tanganyika and Kamerun to zem. Zey really are dumm as Bohnenstroh. Not even a bit surprised zey cannot save ze penalty.”

Folk stood up. Wandered around. Switched their mobiles back on. There was talk of the flight being cancelled altogether. Clued-up passengers mentioned the Warsaw Convention and our entitlement to free booze. The no-frills airline staff fudged as best they could. Bunker spirit broke out and the other passengers were fast catching up on the smuggler and me on the getting-to-know-your-neighbours front.

And then a hive of activity. And dings and dongs galore and we whizzed off down the runway some hours behind schedule.

The smuggler and I and our handsome German neighbour got on to the thorny subject of how the fuck we were going to get home from the airport. There was talk of cabs. I said I was sure there were still going to be trains at 2 in the morning and my neighbours exchanged a knowing glance and then got on with their conversation back in the real world. They had mentally teamed off by the time we landed. But the handsome neighbour didn’t want to leave me stranded and, having done a bit of geographical survey-taking, soon had me paired up with an exhausted-looking Scottish woman who was heading in my direction.

And, darlings, just when I thought my hitting-it-off was done for the night, I only had to bloody go and do it all over again.

Now you may well say that the two bottles of non-free, non-Warsaw Convention wine had loosened my tongue, and perhaps hers, but we were best pals in seconds. I explained to my Scottish pal/fiancée, as if to an old friend, as they all stood waiting for their luggage and drugs to whizz round on the spinny thing, that I was slightly too tight to contemplate a 40-euro taxi-ride and was willing to hijack a train to save myself 37 euros 90 if necessary. She agreed with my logic and added that not only would she happily taxi with me if my train-search was fruitless but that she was willing to leave her husband and six children to spend the rest of her life with me – she was 97, mind you – and I, emboldened by my non-free wine, said that perhaps that was rushing things and, anyway, didn’t she know I was really a whoopsy and what if I was rubbish at the other with a woman and she’d say, ‘It was better with Angus’, and I’d be devastated and…

There were no trains.

The smuggler and the handsome German went off in their taxi. Scottish woman and I settled into ours to get on with some speed-dating.

And it made me think I’m rubbish at gayness. I mean, I can mince if strictly necessary and I know my way round a flagon of poppers and all the abbreviations and that the colour of the string attached to your key-ring means something, as does whichever pocket it’s dangling from – straight gents, if you’ve ever wondered why a stranger has come up to you on the street and said, “I see you’re into watersports,” now you know why – but I hit it off so much more easily with women than men.

Scottish woman and I hooted and chortled all the way to our bit of Berlin. I knew everything about her. Why she lived in London. That she was from near Edinburgh. She was in Berlin for this reason. She’d gone to Brazil after a man and, by the time she got there, he was already hooked up with someone else. She did this type of work. For some reason, I decided she was definitely a blogger – I thought she could be you, Marshypops, if you’d lied a bit about your family – and we had a whale of a time. And she knew why I was in Berlin. Love. Fate. The Cold War. The regular spiel.

We drew up at her hotel. By rights, I thought we should have carried on the fun and drunk till dawn in the hotel bar but she was here for work, and only for ten minutes, and it was a million o’clock. Instead, she got out of the cab, we said how nice it was to have met, didn’t exchange cards – I don’t have a card – and that was that, without so much as an introduction.

Still, I got the smuggler’s mobile number should anyone need to be put in touch with the drug-running fraternity.

Just 17 March 23, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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I think I’m in favour of social engineering. And intelligent machines, like that one they used somewhere in the Far East that could awfully cleverly tell if you had SARS when that ailment was de rigueur. It would be so convenient if, every time you entered some establishment or other, it could tell how dim you were and send you to the right section for your IQ-category. (I’d be in with the toddlers, obviously.) The machine would know, say, when I walked into the bank, from my skin-tone and stomach shape that I am clearly not a sensible type and it would send me to the can-I-have-my-swallowed-card-back woman, rather than the 12-year-old boy in a suit who deals with grander types, in suits themselves, often, or sensible but heeled footwear, who want to talk about how to juggle their investments or get a loan for some new pebbledash. Or, in the video-place, the artificial intelligence item would notice from my gentle step and thin neck that I could be steered straight away from any film with the word ‘raid’ in its title or ones featuring muscular, topless men with long hair wearing artillery necklaces on the cover, though it would also know, of course, that I wanted to see, and cleverly be able to produce, a slide-show projected onto the walls as I walked down the corridor to the films-in-European-languages section of the covers of the ‘raid’-in-title films cutting off the men’s long hair, removing their artillery necklaces and giving them a hint of chest hair.

Wouldn’t it just all make life so much easier?

As I was going to look at flats to move into, the relevant artificial intelligence item would put up a force-field preventing me even from entering areas where the residents have a high lip-pursing and complaining-to-neighbour indicator. It would also guide me away from houses where the residents were shown to be utterly, flagrantly in their 20s and who would, on discovery of my deliciously foreign passport, say, “Toll!” and try to get to know me. Houses with a high curtain-twitching indicator on the artificial intelligence item’s display would also be instantaneously enveloped in an impenetrable shroud.

And whenever a teenager came within a 200m-radius, I would instantaneously be teleported up into the clouds and teleported back down at the next convenient, teenager-free location. And if that teleportation transaction was to get in the way of an appointment with the can-I-have-my-swallowed-card-back woman or even something as conventional as meeting a (previously-screened) friend at a (screened and approved, and in possession of brown sugar) location for a (just so fucking not decaffeinated) coffee, the artificial intelligence item would instantaneously let them know, and perhaps we could do the whole thing virtually. Or something.

Because I just don’t know how to cope with the young.

Although I do actually rather like the young. But not as much as I like the old. And a trip to my old woman pends. I repeat, this is not a euphemism for rooneyanly paying for sex. No, I soon plan to go and visit my old woman friend, who was born before Jesus. It has, until now, always been an easy transaction, except that it involves getting on planes and being bollocked, twice, for the state of my passport. “It’s you that insists I carry it round with me every-flippin’-where I go,” I think hard at the German bollockers.

But now the awkward-aged are getting involved.

“Vvvvvv,” vibrated my mobile as we left our receptionless and joyless shopping centre the other day. A garbled, almost inaudible message in English from my old lady’s 17-year-old great-grandson who’s clearly reached a stage where he knows that everything that happens needs to have something for him in it – such a dreary stage – mentioning the words ‘duty free’, ‘cigarettes’, ‘friends’ and ‘selling on to’. Oh just fuck off.

Firstly, it’s obviously a lie. And I’m sure I’d never have had the balls at 17 to ring my gay quasi-uncle abroad and ask him to bring me something. But the national curriculum clearly now teaches that cigarettes are a billionth the price in Germany of what they cost in England and the 17-year-old, who naturally doesn’t have a bean, thinks Christmas has come early.

So what to do? I contacted a related-to-the-17-year-old person whom I could trust not to repeat a word and asked for advice. “Screen all your calls, ignore his messages and breezily, grown-uply say, ‘No, I haven’t bought you cigarettes,’ when he appears at the old woman’s house like a hungry cat within half a second of your arrival.”

A moral minefield. Firstly, I repeat, it’s clearly a lie that they’re for him to sell on to his friends. And, anyway, even if they are for him to become the West Sussex middle-of-nowhere teenage equivalent of the Berlin Vietnamese mafia flogging cheapo Ukrainian cigarettes, that’s hardly a money-spinner that I should avuncularly be promoting, is it? And, anyway, I don’t necessarily want my trips to have a commercial angle.

I can’t contact his uncle or grandmother, whom I know much better, as they would spit with fury and bollock him from now until the next millennium. I would instantly become a grass, and a cunt. I can’t contact his parents, as they would be twice as livid and actually kill him. Twice.

But I can’t just give him the god-damned cigarettes, can I? He is 17, after all. Old enough, technically-speaking. But as they peeked out clumsily from under his bed, half-smoked and unsold, his mother would spot them within a second with German writing all over them and then I’d be bollocked for adding an element of undesirableness to a visit which is, otherwise, a halo-polishing exercise. My halo is so fucking gleaming with this family for the most part that blindness is not unknown to occur in other West Sussex locations nearby.

Damn the young and their actions-don’t-have-consequences philosophy. Maybe my old lady and I should just video-conference instead.

Spaniards in the U-Bahn March 19, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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…I know, I know, it’s serious.

So you’re out. You don’t that much fancy going home, feeling like quite a lot more booze. Thanks to some especially complicated combinations of interweaving U-Bahn lines and building works, the journey home from West to East that would normally be direct now involves a million changes. The permutations see you running between platforms at Wittenbergplatz. “Hm, if we take the U99 fifteen stops to Munich and then get the S-Bahn forty stops and change at Rostock, we should be home by Wednesday.”

It is the early hours. Most folk have imbibed. Which is usually the only time Germans ever make any noise. (When they are sober, they are racked with guilt for existing, and are immersed in friarly silence.) But, darlings, what are a few noisy Germans up against a carriageful of drunk Spaniards?

I sat in a restaurant earlier the same evening. Food standardly poor. The Russian had practically finished his main course, which ACTUALLY had tinned mushrooms and sauce-from-a-packet in it, by the time mine arrived. Waitress amazed that we wanted to order food and wine at all; it was clearly the first time it had happened to her in her career. The Russian and I know everything about each other – OK, that’s not true. I’ve only just discovered he used to collect stamps and metal badges, for example. And that his mother used to collect envelopes – so I spent my time sounding out the neighbours.

There was a provincial solo homo who’d come to Berlin on a shopping trip and to get away from it all and to have some space and some him-time. He was clearly having the most miserable day of his life. He whispered instructions for the waitress to bring him one deadening beer after another, hoping that the whisper slightly wouldn’t make them count. He played with his mobile. “Darling, we’d better befriend him.” “No.”

There was a nice couple on the other side. The girl had short hair which suited her and wore a top accentuating her womanly assets and cried in a nice way. I thought she’d had a bereavement. The Russian thought she’d been sacked. And her boyfriend, who was wearing a lovely boring jumper, dried an eye from across the table with each thumb (boys, it seemed to work awfully well, if you have crying girlfriends, girls, if you have crying new-men boyfriends, queers, lezzers, if you have crying queers, lezzers, and, thanks to the symmetry, there was no tricky left-right, brain-hand coordination to worry about). I remembered the moment in The Elephant Man where our eponymous hero of magnificent cranial dimension says, “I try so hard to be good,” as that normally makes me bucket, to see if the Russian would wipe my tears away with thumbs but I was too worried about my cigarette smoke and hoping that a smoking ban would be introduced that second to get the tears flowing.

Then there were two big tables of Germans. A group of young Germans. And a group of old Germans. And as my brain settled in for a nice bit of national stereotyping – check in soon for my next endearing post, “Why Welsh people have sex with sheep and Scottish people never open their wallets” – I thought Germans are much better old than young. The young Germans spent their whole meal worrying about the bill and when the bill actually came, the waitress needed to take a quick applied mathematics course online simultaneously while working out the minutiae of the payment. “Ja, aber Detlef, you had a bite of my Würstchen, so you must pay 5% of my bill.” “Aber moment, Waltraud,” said Detlef, who was not going to be outverarsched, “you knocked my Spezi-glass and some of it spilled, so I think that cancels out the Würstchen bite.” And so on. Whereas the old Germans were having a great old time of it. Two old couples and a widowed pal. They drank their beer. Pushed their glasses back up on their nose when their uproarious laughter got out of hand. Ate sausagey, cabbagey food without a thought for their waistlines and told stories like there was no tomorrow. Conversation flowed. Along with the booze. We’d gone by the time their bill came but if I know my senior German citizens, one of the men will have magnanimously taken out his EC-Karte and paid for the god-damned lot, brushing away Fritz-Harald and Sybille’s protestations. (Doris the widow will have secretly breathed a sigh of relief.)

“The English are better young than old,” I thought on. Young English people – by young, I mean up to 60, of course – are better at fun than young Germans. Whereas old English people just moan about their holidays and write letters of complaint all the time (in my enormous experience). “French? Better old than young. Danes? Better young than old. Finns? Always perfect. Russians? Better young than old.”

And I thought that was my national stereotyping done for the evening. But then came the Spaniards. My sister lives in Spain. She commented, as we sat in a restaurant in Berlin one evening, how quiet it was…

We got on our carriage with the gaggle of drunk Spaniards. One spoke drunkenly louder than the other till, within about thirty seconds, they were all shouting festively at the top of their voices. Utterly deafening. The Russian and I took our emergency glasses out of our man-bags and put them on so we could sneer over the top of them disapprovingly.

And then the train broke down. All but one of the lights went out so we sat in relative dinge. Which, naturally, the Spaniards decided was a cue to celebrate. They sang songs. They clapped. They played a game which involved kissing each other. And then two of the ladies actually started flamencoing in the carriage, twisting around and making esses with their arms. And then the train shuddered into semi-consciousness, and one of the flamencoing Spaniards fell and slid on her bum a quarter of the way down the carriage, landing perfectly at my feet. She said to me, “I dancing.” And with everyone around erupting into laughter, she thought she’d better make the most of the moment and cocked her head to one side and flipped one arm and one leg out as if receiving applause having just popped out of a cake. Then she showed us her arse, at which point a German gent who was enjoying the show more than anyone shouted, “Show us your tits,” which she didn’t understand, and perhaps just as well, as I’m sure she’d happily have obliged. And then they sang and danced on and the Russian and I and everyone laughed hysterically throughout and commented that there was, undeniably, a hint of cultural difference between Germans and Spaniards.

Spaniards are very good young.

Neighbourhood watch March 15, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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No, not the local news. Although our sleepy street has seen a bit of excitement of late. As I trundled home, drink perhaps taken, some night or other not that long ago, the police were present in considerable numbers at our local brothel. And they weren’t there to avail of its services, as surely they’d have come in an unliveried car if they’d wanted a bit of paid slap-&-tickle. No, there’d obviously been an incident.

I let my imagination – a feeble tool – run wild. The shutters had been blown out or smashed in. It looked like there’d been a fire. So I imagined that a dissatisfied customer was so livid at the service he’d got, or at his own performance, that he’d come back with a Molotov cocktail and hurled it through the brothel window. Or perhaps a new range of sex-toys had just arrived and they’d had a lot of clients that day and it had wrought havoc with the wiring… And sure enough the Russian and I even saw a headline about it – Feuer im Bordell – the next day in the local paper, the story going on to reveal, unmythically, that it wasn’t a case of dissatisfied customers or short-circuiting dildos but the dim owner of the ‘brothel-like establishment’ – I didn’t know the Germans went in for that sort of euphemism – had thrown a lit bit of paper in the bin. Honestly, madams nowadays. (Still, only 20-something, apparently. Once she learns about pyrogens, she might win Businesswoman of the Year one day.)

So, anyway, I’m not going to tell you about that. But it is local today. One for the Berliners.

Cinema has reappeared on the horizon, perhaps with the spring. And money worries having subsided for a second so that recreation can be allowed to take its natural course. Whereas, say, a week ago, if I was ever to walk past our video-hire place, I’d have been too consumed with worry about something or other to even consider wandering in, now the Russian and I, making the most of our short-term membership of the petite bourgeoisie, can wander past at a lazy amble, laden down with bags of uninteresting shopping – darlings, I bought some trousers that make me look like Sherlock Holmes. I was aiming to look like a hopelessly cool Berliner I met at a party recently. An English friendess was in town and she invited me to the people she was staying with. And the Berliners were all so cool and all had job titles I didn’t understand, like Media-based Vice-Consultant, and my friendess and I got hammered on vodka and DANCED while the Berliners sat coolly by taking opium and being artistic. And one of the vice-consultants was wearing trousers. And I bought the same ones. And look like Sherlock Holmes – and say, “Oh, shall we go in and argue for forty minutes about what film both of us can bear to watch?” And there are two sickeningly beautiful gents working there too.

So we finally saw Das Leben der Anderen (The Life of Others), Germany’s Oscar-winning film. Have folk seen it? Can they let me know what they think, if so, as I’d like to know what opinion I’m meant to have of it and can’t make my own mind up, obviously, as I have no mind. But, going out on a limb, I’d highly recommend it. Thankfully, I didn’t know till after it was over that the director – a Wessi called the German equivalent of Sebastian Farquhar Urquhart Farquharson Farquhar III, and with the heritage to match – was wellesianly young when he made it, as that would have made me want to slash my wrists doubly much, in addition to the content. In case folk don’t know the film, it’s the story of a Stasi agent and the couple he observes and how that ‘relationship’ evolves. It is a work of fiction, of course, but the word on the street is that it has won praise from yer actual East Germans for being an accurate portrayal of Stasi operations. My cry-count was two, but I can cry at ads, so that’s not much of a recommendation. And it’s full of Trabis and Wartburgs.

So it got film back on the agenda. “Darling, we’re going to the cinema,” I said forcefully yesterday. Then, having moved away from the mirror, I went to find the Russian at his perch in front of his computer and gave a more human version of the same exhortation. Just down the road from where we live is Kino Krokodil, a cinema specialising in Russian/Soviet/that-part-of-the-world films. And the website revealed that, yesterday, Krisana was showing. “Darling, it’s Latvian. It’ll be brilliant.” It was the worst film I’ve ever seen. And makes you realise that Kaurismäki is properly fucking brilliant to make a film with two words of dialogue and nothing at all happening interesting to watch. Anyway, you’ll be happy to hear, Berliners who think of nothing but spending their time at Kino Krokodil, yesterday was its last showing. I review the films that you can’t watch.

But, Berliners, and people elsewhere with access to an awfully posh video-store, there are some other films that you should drag yourself along to. And Kino Krokodil is so tiny and cosy and old-fashioned – Berlin Diary should pop along and take some of his nice photos of the old machinery on view as you walk in – that it really only is as much effort to go there and watch a film as it is to go and put the kettle on. So go and see…

From Saturday 18th-Thursday 22nd – but don’t go every day, as that would be bonkers – Москва слезам не верит (Moskva slezam ne verit) (Moscow doesn’t believe in tears) which, I think, was the only Soviet film ever to win best foreign-film Oscar, which Russians are chuffed to bollocks about. To be honest, I’ve never been able to see what the fuss was about. (With the film. Not it winning the Oscar. I’ve already got my acceptance speech ready for when I win an Oscar. I plan to cry three whole times.) But it’s a film that Russians can practically quote from start to finish and is on TV at least eight times a day. A single-mother who makes it big in the big city and her travails, and the travails of her life-long girlfriends, as she does so. Thursday 22nd, Sunday 25th, Monday 26th, Wednesday 28th, Маленькая Вера (Malen’kaya Vera) (Little Vera), which I haven’t seen, but about a teenage girl, Vera (which means Faith), who rebels in the late Soviet era. It’s got miniskirts. It’s got hair-dye. It’s got fishnets. And on Tuesday 27th, В той стране (V toj strane) (In that country) about grim family life in a desolate village in the north of Russia.

And, darlings, so many more. We’ve missed Eisenstein’s Strike. But if you’ve got nothing against subtitles, get ye to Kino Krokodil or your posh video-store immediately.

Familiarity, familiarity, familiarity March 14, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Darlings, you must tell me to stop when the time is right.

But until you do, more booze and haircuts for you.

Now what’s the use in going to all that effort to autistically find the only alcoholic pensioner hairdresser in Berlin so that you can be sure you can sit in sleepy silence during the worst half-hour of every six-week period only for her to either go on the wagon or up her intake – couldn’t quite tell the difference – and decide to get all chatty on my ass? Having thought I’d perfected one tiny aspect of my life, I see it’s time to move on.

Which is a shame. We had a nice little arrangement. I’d go into the always-deserted salon. Express my desires. She’d satisfy them to the best of her ability and, were it not for the almost-constant burpettes throughout, I’d trot along happily when the job was done without anything more than the most strictly necessary of utterances having passed our lips (plus the odd shot of nerve-settling poison that she’d sneak off round the back for). Even the price was right.

But that was before the rise in VAT and her decision to go on the wagon or double her intake. I trotted in this week. There she was, customerlessly idle, looking as Slocombe-like as ever she did. I don’t know if it was the new hair-sweeper-upper I saw loitering around the place that had pepped her up a bit, but she insisted on chat. And call me inexperienced in such matters if you will, but as she rammed my face into her heaving bosom for some logistically-tricky stage of the proceedings, I think there was even a glint of the flirty Mrs. Slocombe in her eye. There were playful grins. Coquettish chuckles.

“So, you come in from work, then?” I was so combi-shocked at the thought of having to converse, realising I was in Germany and the preposterous idea that anyone might think I had a job that I shouted a rather graceless, “Was?” back at her before coming to my senses. While mulling over which replacement hairdresser I should now go to, I did my spiel – “Naa, work at ‘ome, dunn I” – and then nodded and hummed my agreement as she gently burped and spoke Berlinese in my direction for the rest of the haircut. But just as I was thinking I could put up with a bit of a minor flirt with the drunker/sobering-up Mrs. Slocombe for half an hour once every six weeks after all, she mentioned the dreaded loyalty card. This contact was getting far too human for my liking. Chit-chat was bad enough but then having to explain every time I came in that she should have my card stored somewhere in a drawer? And then there were the painstaking efforts of her recording what I’d had done. (Shavey-thing. 6mm. Dry cut.) And my name and address. “Ooh, what an odd surname!” “Yes, I’m English.” “Ooh, yes – burpette – I thought there was something funny about you.” And then the standard joke about my surname, which is sort of similar to an everyday German word. And then the announcement of the new, improved, 2007 price. “What!” I said internally. “I could have had a homosexual or girl-with-exposed-midriff to do it for that price,” but then remembered that I didn’t want them to cut my hair, as they might talk about pop-music or, worse, fashion.

It’s awfully tricky. Where does a wannabe hermit get a nice bit of social silence in this day and age?

How rich are you? March 11, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
67 comments

The Russian and I are preparing for the onset of fabulous wealth. I’m already surfing for bling on ebay and the Russian is working out how to upgrade the contract-killers he uses on a regular basis when someone makes some egregious, death-worthy transgression like look at his pint of red wine and coke the wrong way or call him a poof.

And we’re also preparing for the feeling of moral rectitude that will go along with our fabulous wealth being earned. I won’t have got rich with a lottery win, as happens on Australian soap operas – I don’t think Madge ever lived that down – and the Russian won’t be rich on the back of his oligarch braazer’s ill-gotten gains. No, he’ll be as rich as Croesus from his nice little university job. I’ll be as rich as Croesus from my appalling translation efforts.

Like any folk who basically never have any money, the Russian and I spend a good 90% of our time fantasy-flight-shopping on the internet. Luckily, fantasy-flying leaves a carbon footprint an especially lazy sloth might be proud of so I don’t have to have guilt-pangs at all the toxins we’d help spew if we did indeed fly to Venice this week, Dubrovnik next week and Jerusalem the week after that. (Sometimes, I’ve got to admit it, I’m glad the Russian needs a visa to step outside the front door.)

But the fantasy’s nice while it lasts. With all those pfennigs I’ve earned of late, I think to myself – presuming they’re ever paid – I’ll be able to irrigate the third world, pay for Iran to abandon its nuclear programme and find a cure for the common cold. And then, as the euphoria wears off and the cold wind of reality starts to bluster once more, I remind myself that we won’t really be very rich at all. By the time we pay bills – on time, for once – and some debts and go on a posh shoppery and double our jeans-and-jumper count from one to two, we’ll be skint again.

But the moral rectitude will still be there.

And then suddenly a flashback to being seven. Third year infants. Cross-legged in shorts on a freezing winter’s day on the wooden floor of the school hall waiting for our Belgian-witch deputy-headmistress to take assembly, which normally involved screaming about the evils of chewing-gum or enumerating our routes to hell. Thankfully, aged seven, my classmates and I were all wise enough to know that the Belgian witch was laughably wrong and we amused ourselves with our own conversations. I grew up in a standardly riff-raffish part of London. Some of my classmates lived in flats. Imagine! But we still had to pretend we were as rich as Croesus after an especially good day at the casino and thus it was that I heard Caroline K_ bigging up her family’s wealth. “My dad’s well fuckin’ rich,” she said, unconvincingly. But Linda E_ wasn’t in the mood for compromise and was, anyway, a faster runner than Caroline K_ so knew the gods were on her side. “How rich?” countered Linda, which boded well for a career in academia. “He’s got at least 100 quid in the bank,” Caroline jousted feebly back, cuing snorts of derision as far as Maida Vale, even if it was only 1978.

For me, time has stood still and I now secretly envy Caroline K_’s minted father. Yet I sometimes try to convince the Russian that we are living proof that the rat-race is a lose-lose situation. “Darling, we demonstrate – admittedly, you do need to live in Berlin and not London or anywhere else with money sloshing around for this to work – that you can be (sort of) comfortable on peanuts. We may earn 4p a year between us, but we have a very comfortable life, just without the frilly extras.” Which is sort of true. And where would the thrill be if every time you went to a cashpoint-machine you knew in advance that it would make the heart-lifting sound of whirringly counting out your money? If you think there’s a chance it’ll swallow your card or tell you to fuck off, it’s cowards’ Russian roulette thrown in.

So darlings, are any of you really going to try to tell me you’ve got more than 100 quid in the bank? I’ll know for a fact you’re fibbing, whatever mickey-mouse currency it’s in. But, just in case some of you are secretly minted, can you let me know whether I’m REALLY missing out by not making it my life’s mission to marnerishly hoard gold?

Babcia’s socks and Pani Bożena’s swirly carpets March 8, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
36 comments

Do not, under any circumstances, go to Poland in winter if you’re watching your waistline. But do go if you like good, heavy, creamy stodge and booze. Not that you can’t have booze (or good, heavy, creamy stodge, for that matter) elsewhere, but innard-warming booze just seems all the more appropriate half-way up a mountain wearing your other half’s soaking trainers because you don’t have any footwear of your own from being the fecklessest winter tourist in Małopolska (or was it Śląsk? I never could tell my voivodeships from my hetmanates).

But, darlings, go on holiday! Why had I talked myself into thinking holidays are cack? “Holidays are for losers!” I’d say witheringly to the Russian whenever he suggested we visit any location further than Lidl. But I’m back in love with the Berlin-busting break and we’ve now got a fantasy holiday-list as long as both Mr. Tickle’s arms brewing for when we’ll both be as rich as Croesus – for about ten seconds, before I grudglingly transfer money to a few of my creditors – at some equally fantastic point in the future.

Lovely southern Poland. OK, perhaps not some of the grimmer industrial bits you crawl through on the slowest train this side of Tal-y-llyn. Katowice can probably be given a miss. Wałbrzych, I’m told (on an almost hourly basis), is one of the nastiest settlements ever to disgrace humanity. But Krakow is properly lovely. Like Prague without the headache, as one of my co-revellers put it. Proper Mitteleuropa beauty. Castles. Jewish bits coming back to life. Stodge. Middle-age-bemoaningly handsome boys with nice Slavic hair.

Speaking of which, my co-revellers and I decided to spend our pink zlotys in a Krakow homosexual tavern one evening. The organiser of the revelry and Poland-lover extraordinaire got chatting to some of the locals. And one of them turned out to be an Israeli who’d emigrated to the land of his forbears. And hands up who knew – BaH, you’re excluded. If that makes me an anti-Semite, so be it – that all Israeli schoolchildren go on a compulsory school-trip to Poland? I didn’t go into greater detail with the Israeli-Pole, but I assume it’s to visit some of Poland’s other landmarks – Auschwitz is just down the road from Krakow, for example – and, I’m even more tendentiously assuming, to see a bit of Europe where Jewish life once flourished. And it was quite a thrill to wander into Krakow’s Jewish bit – I’d missed it on my first trip 15 years earlier – and see that the revival in Polish Jewish life might be more than just talk. Our trip-organiser has studied every language known to man, including Cornish, and he got a thrill when he heard a gaggle of Hasidic boys speaking yer actual Yiddish. And it was here that I got my tingliest cultural sensation of the trip. We wandered into a synagogue and its attached, reconstituted (having been desecrated) graveyard. There was a sort of hollering sound coming from within. I thought at first it was two of the very many vociferous Hasidic boys we’d seen milling around involved in some very loud banter but closer inspection showed it was just one boy, praying with a fervour I’d never before witnessed from such close quarters. He extrasensorily perceived our fascination and spun round mid-sway before turning back round to face wherever it was he was facing – Jerusalem? – to carry frantically on.

And from the wonders of Krakow we trolled on to Zakopane. Alpine towns look much alike to me. Multi-storey pointy houses, folk wandering around in expensive clothes and shoes (apart from me), mountains all over the shop. Were it not for the strapping, great musicians with huge lallies wearing this kind of costume peppering the restaurants of the town, I could easily have imagined I was in Switzerland or Austria. The town seemed just as prosperous too. And there are all sorts of mountain recreations to get up to. Cable-cars here. Funiculars there. Sledding somewhere else. Even skiing and snowboarding, goddammit, if that’s your bag. The Russian and I had a lovely old troll through some pristine bit of National Park, shanks sunk in snow, only remembering to turn round and head back to civilisation and a rewarding mug of grzane wino, or mulled wine, when the avalanche warnings got ever more alarming.

Local wares are hard-sold like nobody’s business. Local cheese. Local honey. (Got ourselves some of that.) Local socks from the local babcia (the Polish take on the babushka, headscarf ‘n all). They came in handy for fending off frostbite and now litter our clothes-horse as a timely reminder of a season almost past. And Poland seems to be trundling along nicely, though Zakopane is presumably loaded from all those tourist zlotys and might paint a false picture.

…but we stayed with a local woman. Pani Bożena has one of those great, big, pointy houses and if it wasn’t for her carpets and her hair, again you might have thought you were in St. Moritz. The Russian and I were in the pointiest bit of the house, with a breakfast view of looming mountains and a frustratingly, just-not-quite-good-enough wireless connection to steal access from whomever it was. By the time Pani Bożena’s been in the business another couple of years, you mark my words, she’s gonna get herself some hair-straighteners, invite nephew Jacek back from plumbing in Peterborough and Poland’s going to be the happiest country in Europe.

Berlin’s nice though too, innit?

Terror cell March 6, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
47 comments

I hereby declare my intention to become a fully paid-up terrorist. Though paid-up is something of a misnomer. Indeed, it’s not being paid-up – in fact I’m very down on the payment front – that has compelled me to throw in my lot with the terrorists. Luckily, as I have stated on here many a time, I have no convictions about anything whatsoever, so I can’t really become a terrorist with a cause, and I can’t majorly be bothered with all that hating folk because of their nationality, skin-colour or meat-eating habits.

I’m not properly a lefty or a righty, so I can’t become a one-man terror cell with ‘red’ in its name or cut all my locks off and wear Fred Perry and be in a terror cell with a capital N (though I’d probably have a better chance of meeting my gay brethren in that terror cell than in one with Red/Rouge/Rot in its title. A rather dim Russian gent the Russian and I have met on our sojourns in homosexual establishments here is only a neo-Nazi – so say his friends – because the social aspect of wanting to kill your fellow man provides the best rodding opportunities in town. Too queer). Anyway, red isn’t my colour. And I like having hair.

I don’t hate Jews, blacks, Asians, Muslims, gays. I don’t hate Zoroastrians. I don’t hate women. Or the ordinary man. I don’t hate MacDonald’s. Or Starbucks. The state. The church.

I do slightly hate smoked salmon but it would be embarrassing to blow up fish.

So I’m going to have to become the translation terrorist. This will entail pernicious acts of microterrorism which might well bring about the downfall of western civilisation with the odd misplaced comma but also some wanton acts of violence like sending rude e-mails, playing knock-down-ginger on translation agencies’ front doors and making the odd threatening phone call where I either hang up after an ominous three-second pause or, as Russian school-children do when they want to be naughty, tell them that their premises are mined.

But the translation world is a niche market ripe for a drop of terrorisation. The fact that people ask you to translate anything in the first place is almost reason enough to want them dead. But the fact that people ask you to translate something, even about grid-powered pencil-sharpeners, and want you to starve while doing it by paying you half a florin per year’s work AND THEN PROCEED NOT EVEN TO BOTHER PAYING THAT… well, what can I say? I’m afraid that’s poo through the letter-box, night-time knock-down-ginger and anonymous e-mails saying that their translation software has been hacked and will insert the word ‘jiz’ at random intervals.

I’m going to be the happiest terror cell in town. Don’t try to get me enrolled on some Terrorists Anonymous programme. Or make me try to see the good in my fellow translator. I know it’s a world peopled almost exclusively by the wickedest, dreariest specimens ever to disgrace non-god’s unclean earth. If ever there was a just cause for a bit of a terror campaign, this is it. I’m willing to sacrifice visas to foreign lands. I’ll even go and live in a cave, as long as it’s got high-speed internet access. And I look forward to the day when a war on terror starts against me. I’ll put up a fight. I’ll send mocking videos to the translating powers-that-be. If I go down, it’ll be keyboard blazin’ and the highest deliberate typo-count in history.

Um, anyone wanna join me? All applications (no attachments) indicating price per word depressedly considered.