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Mother courage October 24, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

My mother’s visit is so close I can feel its tepid breath on my neck. It also coincides with the Russian deciding it’s time to update our lives and me finally dropping off the pace after a valiant effort to keep up with the world.

Darlings, what do I do with a mother in town for A WEEK? Yes, a week. In almost November, when even I – and I am not in my 70s – only want to leave the house for three seconds at a time because it’s so utterly arctic. Your tips would be greatly appreciated. Let me give you a few tipping tips by telling you something about my mother and the sort of things she likes to get up to…

Interests: n/a

German knowledge: n/a (although that’s not surprising, seeing as she’s never studied the language and that’s not much worse than I speak it and I’ve lived here for 6 years)

Leavealoneability: n/a

So it’s 24/7 mum.

My sister and I sniggered as we booked her flight over the internet while chatting on the phone. “What am I going to DO with her for a week? We don’t even get Home and Away.” My sister had my mother’s card to book the flight, which was a great show of trust in itself, as my mother usually shields her details from me when we visit a cashpoint machine together like a girly swot hiding their schoolwork. The flight, inevitably, cost 2p. “Mum, it’ll be 2p,” my sister shouted. “Can’t you get it cheaper?” my mother inquired reasonably. I assumed she wouldn’t be going for the voluntary carbon-offsetting payment.

My mother’s been to Berlin once before. In November. For a week. It was so freezing she couldn’t bear to leave the house and she loathed every second of her stay. She said our house was disgusting – we’ve moved since – and if we had that type of curtains… and we really shouldn’t eat mince… and if we just put a little bit aside every month, we’d be as rich as Croesus in no time. My mother is very much from the you-were-lucky generation, not realising, of course, that she was, in fact, very lucky to be around at the time when it was possible for a 21-year-old newly-wed to buy a house in central(ish) London for 30p…

So it’s been a hive of activity here to try to dedisgustingify our flat. The only practical thing I can do is paint. In fact, and I don’t know why I’ve been endowed with this ability, I can do it better than the Russian and that gives me trillions of bigger-cock points and him woeful cock-shrink. But not wanting to allow this skill of mine not to be put to good use and, let’s face it, painting is also rather unpleasant, which means the Russian thinks it’s trebly worthwhile, my beloved is always looking out for an opportunity where I can don my mask (which I remove after three seconds because I can’t breathe) and get busy with my roller. (Darlings, but I’m so a brush-man. Rollers are pants.)

One piece of good luck for me is that the Russian is, like most Russians, a great believer in the temporary solution. So rather than us repainting the whole damned flat, we just scoot around the place – it doesn’t take long – looking for non-white patches and agree to rewhiten those. I rewhitened like nobody’s business and pretended manlily not to notice when I could see the Russian looking on in loving admiration of the fact that I was a) occupied doing something useful and unpleasant and b) occupied at all. He offered me tea. “Got any cake?” I asked in my best Estuary and then tried to pinch his arse.

So the flat’s presentable for Mrs. Inberlin senior, but what about the cultural programme? Normally, for the home bits of any visitor’s stay, we have the wonders of the internet for them to play with and the map of Europe in the hall for them to stare at. But my mother is pre-internet and doesn’t believe in Europe. She’d rather die than leaf through one of my (four) books. No, the telly is her only friend. I zapped through our channels to see if anything passed muster. Euronews might have her entertained for nineteen seconds and the soft porn bemused for another twenty. “Darling, if we move the furniture around, might we be able to get a different set of channels?” “No, but ve kyen buy anuzzer recyeivyer.”

We trotted off to my least favourite shop in the world with bright lights, spotty assistants and wall-to-wall electrical goods. Darlings, and this is where I realised I have officially become old. My only other boyfriend of note was older than me so I have always felt young. I was the one who was lavished in praise for being able to set the video. But the technology carousel has either just picked up enough speed or I’ve just lost enough strength to be thrown off the ride and cast into gadget oblivion. I don’t mind in the least.

We found the receiver. The Russian compared it to others and spoke to me in tongues. “Hmm, maybe TBS4 recyeivyer eez byettyer zan TBS5.” He then had manly conversation with one of the spotty assistants about which wire he’d need to be able to use both at once and I wandered round the shop. And, darlings, I didn’t know what most of the things were. I approached one thing which looked quite pleasing. A flattish oblong with engaging lights. I whittled my choices down to a scanner or a sandwich-toaster. The Russian reappeared at my shoulder sporting fresh bruises, blood and singed hair. “Oh, what happened to you?” “Oh, you know, ze assistyent and I decide to khev fight and light our farts for manly fun.” “Oh I see… Darling, do you think this thing is a scanner or a sandwich-toaster?” “It’s lifestyle,” he answered curtly. Please no-one tell me what a lifestyle is. I want to live in mother-level ignorance of all developments from here on in.

We still haven’t got Home and Away, but we do have a million Arabic channels and the soft porn’s got softer.

Mother Christmas October 19, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Oh my god. My mother’s coming to visit. For a week.

Oh my god. The phone calls about Christmas have started. Rival bids for our attendance. And everyone claiming – falsely – that they won’t be offended if we opt for another option. And the thought of children expressing dissatisfaction at their miserly presents and being comforted by their parents who say, “There, there, poor little darling. It’s just miserly old Uncle BiB and the Russian. It’s because they’re gay and don’t know what’s normal.” No wonder we usually boycott the bastard.

So a survey-cum-game for us to be going on with.

The worry of it all meant that the Russian and I decided a spontaneous booze-up was in order. That followed a spontaneous shop-up. I don’t have a bean, of course, but I’d just paid 20 kopecks off my credit card bill so decided I could give it a bit of a pounding. The Russian thinks shopping is pleasant and wondered why I was preparing a noose for myself as we approached some department store where he wanted to buy a guide to London for future reference because my local knowledge is out-of-date and useless (though I could, thankfully, point out that it had wrongly located a landmark on the first page I saw). “Buy music,” the Russian instructed me. Oddly, and just as I was about to install my portable gallows, I remembered there was something I wanted to buy. Well, wanted to possess. I’d rather have stolen it, in a way, or have had it sent to me, but as I don’t do crime and can’t spend all my time waiting for people to give me presents I haven’t intimated I’m expecting, I trotted downstairs to look for Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no.3 in A. Darlings, if you don’t know it, find it this instant and listen to it and feel inadequate – unless you are brilliant – that a fellow human can have composed such brilliance. (Here’s a bit so you can have the fun of seeing how nuts Glenn Gould looks at a piano.) It gives Britney a run for her money. I wanted it played by Jacqueline Du Pré and Stephen Kovacevich but the only cheapo CD I could find was the good lady and Daniel Barenboim. “Oh wanking fuck,” I shouted out loud and then decided I’d try to pretend to be one of those posh people that knows about music and went to hassle the staff. “‘ere, see this recordin’ ‘ere, ‘s by Du Pré ‘n Barenboim, ‘n I wan’ Du Pré ‘n Kovacevich, dunn I?” Except I said it in bad German. The staff member looked at me pityingly and then said, no, they didn’t have exactly what I was looking for but might I be interested in a Jacqueline Du Pré box-set? I had a peek. 50 euros. And then box-sets make me think for no good reason of people who like Dire Straits and I wondered if I might not have to start drinking real ale and grow a beard if I bought one.

“Darling, buy me a box-set,” I texted the Russian a couple of floors above me, including texting symbols for throwing a tantrum and tears.

“Fak off. Buy yoursyelf.”

And then I remembered I had a credit card and that it would, therefore, be free, so I did.

Anyway, where were we?

Oh yes, so we decided to get drunk. Or tiddly. In my blogging pub. Where I’ve supped with all these folks. Now the blogging pub has a hint of the gayers about it. It’s not as much as gay, but it must be semi-officially gay-friendly or gay run or there’s something in the water because it always has an above-average sprinkling of whoopsies. But yesterday it was, or so we thought, wall-to-wall shirt-lifters. All shaved heads and delicate manners.

This for no good reason made the Russian and me wonder again what sort of hets we’d make. I drifted off – the blogging pub has massive, fuck-off windows so it’s hard not to stare out of them, especially when you get distracted by a nice bit of awkward socialising. A correct young lady with a bike ran into an acquaintance, a correct young man with glasses, and a friend of his. They were introduced – there was awkward kissing and awkward hand-shaking – and the threesome attempted small-talk. And they were so brittle that I actually worried they might shatter and end up as shards of person around each other’s feet – as he described me as being liked by one parent-in-law and hated by another and I saw myself as my older brothers. They can both drive and play football but probably aren’t much better acquainted with a drill than I am. They’re not ludicrously butch so the leap of faith wasn’t too far. The Russian has a hetero twin so I imagined him as him with a very nagged wife and, again, the prospect wasn’t too ludicrous.

A German member of staff asked an English member of staff how to say a couple of the dishes’ names in English. “What?” I thought to myself. “That group of classic Berlin homos next to us aren’t German?” I cocked my bad ear towards them. And, do you know, they weren’t gay at all. Just Danish.

Darlings, what type of gays/lezzers/hets would you make? As ever, bisexuals are barred from the survey/game. As are Scandinavians. My findings will probably appear in The Lancet.

No, nay, never October 16, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

I’ve been a wild smoker for many’s the year and I’ve spent all me money on ciggies and beer…

But that’s all in the past. Darlings, you wouldn’t think you could get so much blog-meat out of your lungs, but I’m going to give it a go. Bear with me (if you haven’t got something much better to do).

I’m sorry to say it, but I realise with ever-increasing certainty that my mood is as much controlled by money as it is the weather. Battling scum-kings to get the money they owe you makes me more livid than a bear with a personality disorder who’s been woken early from his hibernation by builders building a supermarket on his patch of forest, but the upside of this is that when they finally cough up and you can put the grievance to bed, my mood is so euphoric that I actually have to inject myself with a whisky+NightNurse cocktail to knock myself out so as not to annoy the neighbours with constant singing and leaping round the room for joy. If the sun is out when the scum-kings happen to cough up – luckily, a rare event in northern Europe – then I buy strangers flowers, heal the sick and stand on a soap-box in Alexanderplatz and tell jokes.

Yesterday, I was paid. And the sun was out. But I had a gazillion things to attend to so I halved the whiskey+NightNurse dose, sent an SMS to the Christian I borrow the soap-box off and told him he could do a double shift, and set about my errands. Paid some of the more manageable-looking bills from the pile. Wrote some rude e-mails to translation people. (No thanks, I don’t fancy working for 40 euros for a thousand words and you paying the invoice after 90 days, actually. PS. Fuck off.) Tried to distract the Russian as he was suggesting we go to Australia, the moon AND IKEA, and all before bedtime, and remembered, to my great relief, that I was completely out of my delicious inhalers. Russians adore and respect illness, so when I said I’d better make a quick detour to the quack, the Russian adopted a stern but caring expression, patted me on the back and wished me luck as I went into battle.

I’d hardly relit the cigarette which I’d only started smoking the night before to annoy the Russian but which was truncated by the predictably punctual arrival of the tram before I noticed the dreaded attempt at eye contact by not one but two cigarette-poncers on our famously boring street. I tried to look away, down, behind me, but they were not to be thwarted in their poncing. A youngish couple – late 30s, dishevelled. I instantly had wicked Daily Mail thoughts about their last moment of non-taxpayer-funded generosity being when one of them once bought their friend a penny chew. He asked politely enough for a cigarette. She giggled goofily, in the way that Andrea Jaeger did when she finally won a point in that Wimbledon final against Navratilova in 1845 when she was 6-0 5-0 40-0 down (probably a Navratilova double fault), if they could take two. I’ve decided the best policy on such occasions is to agree but with a look of foul distaste and, of course, total silence. They bounded off happily on their way and I worried about the world we live in and thought that she could easily get a job as a court jester and I couldn’t quite think of what he should do, though he had the looks for a certain type of singer, and isn’t it queer when you’ve been on the street for two seconds to have only smoked 2/3rds of a ciggie yourself and to have given away two.

I wheezed my way to the asthma quack. Stopped off to buy chewing gum to take away the stench of fag so that the doctor wouldn’t bollock me only to be served by a Hungarian woofter I’ve chatted to when out and about on numerous occasions. “What are you doing here?” I said to him, feigning surprise, interest and normality. “Working,” came his not surprising answer. “But what are you doing here?” he countered, thinking he’d better play along. “Um, buying chewing gum.” “80c please.” “Bye then.” We didn’t exchange phone numbers.

The doctor’s was lovely. The old but dim receptionist had obviously cut back on the booze and was a beacon of efficiency. There was one new receptionist who looked like a model. And the young, dim, plump one seemed to have settled into the job. “I’d like some drugs, please,” I said to the old but dim but sober one. I didn’t have an appointment, but she flashed my computerised file at the doctor who happened to be sitting in reception and is so tall and thin that I worried he’d be no good in an earthquake (and I did think of suggesting he have one of those weights attached to his head that they put on top of buildings in Japan, but then remembered we don’t have that many earthquakes here. Phew!), plus he wasn’t wearing a belt, so I was preparing to amass disdain for him, but he authoritatively said I hadn’t had a good, thorough check-up since 2002 and talked me into one without a drop of resistance. The young, dim, plump one was in charge of that and she was ruthlessly efficient. She hurried me down the corridor. Sat me in the booth. Made me put a posh clothes-peg on my nose and fellate the blowy-machine. I sat still and looked left, then right, and felt a little bit silly as I awaited instructions. She fiddled with her knobs then told me to breathe normally. Then deeper. Then she regulated my speed by chanting in, out, in, out. First it was regular speed, then frantic, then I had to do a big ‘in’ and then she’d holler, “BLOW!” And then another big in and BLOW! And again and again. I was putty in her hands. I thought she was probably the dominant one in her relationship, and imagined her boyfriend as being tall, thin and silent.

I calmed myself down and waited for my go with Herr Quack himself. An old Berlinerin beed witty with the receptionists. Another old Berlinerin’s eyes were so wide with indignation at this display of Schnauze that I was worried they might fly out of their sockets and land on my lap. A youngish couple dressed IDENTICALLY – identical dark-blue jeans turned up a mile, identical black leather jackets and identical caps – waited their turn and I wondered why he still needed his girlfriend to take him to the doctor.

The beltless doctor ushered me in. I assured him I was as right as rain but didn’t half fancy some drugs. He did the stethoscope while I worried if I could breathe in and out and still manage to hide my belly at the same time and then told me what the young, dim, plump one’s tests revealed. “Yes, no major change. Your asthma’s much the same as it was. Do you need the inhalers much?” (Scribble, scribble.) Then some technical spiel and telling me that if I wasn’t careful, I might have a nice little bout of emphysema to look forward to. The word emphysema sounded so terrifying that it was the first time I’ve taken medical advice properly, instantaneously on board. I remembered an old friend’s girlfriend – a nurse – from a former life telling me I’d be dead by 40. A combination of the beltless doctor’s words and a will to prove the nurse wrong did for me in one split second what I am led to believe Allen Carr does over the course of several chapters.

I will never smoke again.

Tidy October 11, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

I woke up craving quite strong, milky coffee, toast with a hint of crispiness and slatherings of jam and wondering whether the Russian and I should get married tomorrow or pack our bags, decide that it had all been a bad joke and agree never to see each other again.

We sat down later to spaghetti with bacon and halloumi and talked of Marx and nuclear fission, work and our next hundred holidays. England, Turkey and Poland are all on the agenda and will be visited by Friday. Squeezed in some speed-nagging. Both enumerated with pride each of the communal things we’d paid for to score points over the other. Then celebrated being alive with a disgusting cup of tea – I vaguely loathe tea – from our brand new teapot.

The Russian would ideally like every moment when we’re not eating or planning a holiday to be occupied with some activity or other, preferably useful and unpleasant. Little does he realise what a nag-meat godsend it is that he is, like almost all Russians, a stickler for cleanliness and tidiness and I am a slovenly slob. We have colonised a room each in the flat. I get culture shock every time I leave his room, which looks like a neat Norwegian hotel room and re-enter mine, which looks like a room in a doss-house where the resident’s corpse has been lying unnoticed for a week and a half. His room smells of flowers and productivity. Mine of cigarettes and dust.

“Vot zese papers lying khere?” my darling asked primly, motioning towards reams of tree scattered around my desk with only some dictionaries, calendars, anti-allergy pills, a calculator and wayward ash for company. “I dunno. Probably some unpaid bills or other.”

I live in fairly muted terror of the times when the Russian decides it is time for me to conranise my life. When I can sense that his sigh-level is about to beat all previous records, I might frenziedly try and bring some order to my chaos. But it’s worthless and counterproductive labour as outward neatness only means that my system has broken down and none of these papers will ever get dealt with. For when things are as I like them, one pile of papers strewn there may be the dealt-with pile, another might be the being-dealt-with pile and another the haven’t-even-got-round-to-thinking-about-dealing-with-them pile. Whereas any neat stack of papers will inevitably turn into an oh-I-give-up pile and will then only get dealt with when the threats start coming in the post.

But the Russian is currently into tidying my internal as well as external world. Terrifying. This inner and outer slovenliness has got to stop. “You’re 72 now.” It’s going to be theatre on Mondays, swimming on Tuesdays, museums on Wednesdays. Exhausted just typing it. Basket-weaving on Thursdays. Fish on Fridays and god know what little something for the weekend.

I try to put up resistance but I know he has the moral high ground. I say it’s part of my translatorly lifestyle – you know, we’re almost writers and all that – to live like Christopher Hitchens but we look down at our hitchensian bellies and concede that he is right.

If I can get past the lashings of (sugar-reduced, at least) jam, I’ll be all lithe, lissom and tidy in no time.

Supine future October 8, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

OK, that’s enough grammatical nonsense now. No doubt most of these tenses/moods/whatevers don’t even exist. And I’ll be blowed if I can remember what the supine is. Apart from meaning lying on your back.

Speaking of which, I went to a gay bar not long ago. I didn’t lie on my back there, though there was quite a lot of that sort of thing going on on screen. And I had pangs of sympathy for porn-stars who seem required to come together in quite the least comfortable of positions.

The gay bar’s not bad for people-watching. And still just about the only place I’m not too mortified to go to on my own if drink is deemed absolutely necessary and there’s no-one handy to imbibe with. I might often pop to a gay bar with a pal. Even with the Russian once in a blue moon. But on your own is best for observing the full, undiluted misery of certain aspects of being in the gayers.

Arrive at a gay bar late and it might already be vaguely pulsating and that can be hopeless. There might be people having fun. Smiling. Knocking back poison. Watching whatever the gay bar is choosing to show on its screen, if it has one, which might well be Czech soldiers rodgering each other senseless (with their oohs and aahs helpfully subtitled into English) but might easily just as well be some nonsense film, or scenes from Eurovision, or MTV, or some other bollocks.

But arrive early and it might be empty enough for you to sit, if your mood’s just right, and witness grimmery in slow-motion. My last absolutely essential bout of solo-drinking at the gay bar came unpredictably early. I ordered a beer I loathe to make the occasion all the more miserable, smoked for all I was worth and watched life go by.

A middle-aged gent who is either married, in the closet or has come out that day creeps over the threshold paralytic with fear. He edges himself to the nearest corner of the bar, still close enough, in theory, to make a dash for the door, and whispers his order. The barman bellows that he can’t hear, what with the distraction of the Hungarian soldiers who appear to have got waylaid during their exercises and have ended up porking in an abandoned barn plus the boom boom boom of whatever the music they’re playing is. The shy type whispers again. The barman bellows back twice as loud to make sure that he’s grabbed the attention of the other punters – all three of us – so we stare at the shy type to make him feel uncomfortable (and, anyway, it’s got to the plot-setting bit in the new film. The Slovak soldiers aren’t in a barn yet but are still at the willy-waggling stage at the urinals. No need for subtitles). He eventually has success articulating loudly enough that he’d like a beer, which the barman pours with record-breaking slowness to make him feel just a little bit less welcome. Five minutes later he retrieves his tiny beer and retreats to a hidden corner as close to the door as possible.

The tourist queens arrive with a look of stunned horror. Why only four people? They explore the premises in case there are people hiding under tables or behind pillars and then trudge resignedly to the bar. They order in English. The barman leers back with contempt but provides them with refreshments. Again, they mope round the bar in disbelief that no-one is there bar me, the shy type, some regular or other who monopolises the barman – I think they’re discussing the porn and seem very knowledgeable – and a respectable older gent in a suit and with some sort of satchel who makes a poor attempt at trying to look busy.

I sip my beer. I mourn in advance the fast-emptying packet of fags. I watch the other punters coping with life as best they can and snatch the odd look at the perfect boys from the Austro-Hungarian empire pedestrianly shagging on the screen.

A familiar face or two gradually drifts in. I do my best to avoid eye-contact, as do they. This bar seems to have unintentionally etched itself a niche where folk go to drink and watch. Either the other queens who drink alone in bars or the entertainment on screen (which has mysteriously changed to The Golden Girls. Perhaps it’s Happy Hour).

A falsely jolly queen arrives and hollers, mistakenly thinking that what he has to holler might be of interest. He recounts to a long-suffering friend every thought that enters his head. Every expression appears carefully chosen. Every mannerism is rehearsed. He blinks artificially slowly. Spontaneity has long since left the building.

The place de-empties slightly as one solo punter after another walks in. Some look nervous. Some do confidence. Most are probably on the pull at some level or another. Sometimes an eye is caught and that may either linger or shift determinedly or shyly away. Some will gaze longingly at the object of their desire, whether the desire be of the raunchy kind or just someone to drink life away with. Some will be here by default, their feet as trusty as any guide-dog in getting them there every damned night and somehow getting them home again, not that they’ll have remembered the end of an evening with anything bordering clarity since 1986.

The perfect boys are back screwing on screen. It is unclear whether this is intended as encouragement or discouragement. “Look what you could be doing!” “Look who you haven’t got a hope in hell of bedding (or barning), drunken old losers!” Most people pay it little attention. Some stare blankly. I glance at an article in a gay magazine on why transsexuals are sexist.

We drink quietly on.

Present continuous October 4, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Tags: ,

Gosh. Life’s a bit relentless, isn’t it? You go to bed at night thinking, “I am good, aren’t I? Got through another whole day. In Russia I’d probably be given an Order of Someone-or-Other for that.” And then, sure enough, you wake up again the next afternoon morning and have to do the whole living thing again.

So, to fill in the time… some books wot I have been given.

Quite exciting getting books in the post. Well, terrifying if the postman happens to catch you in, because there’s all that opening-the-front-door and worrying that it will be the police, who’ve finally tracked you down for the crime you haven’t done, or the landlord to say you’re too unspeakable to go on living in his flat, or someone from some Amt or other making sure that you’re living your life correctly. But, luckily, the postman normally can’t be bothered to ring – we live on the second floor – and pretends we were out and leaves the nice note in our correct, standard and labelled-in-keeping-with-the-other-fonts-of-the-house post-box downstairs. “Ooh, a parcel!” I think. And plan to dash straight off until I see in big letters that the parcel is to be picked up at such and such a place – heute jedoch nicht – but not today. Then I pace the streets all night until I finally get exhausted and pitch my tent outside the post-office to be in before all the ne’er-do-wells with too much time on their hands first thing…

I wake sodden and confused, then rustle up a full-English on my camping-gas and have some tepid tea from my flask. Check if I’ve started a tent-city and a democratic revolution and burn the tickets for illegal camping from the Ordnungsamt. Then I change out of my Kevlar into some appropriate day-wear – a nice pair of slacks, my deck shoes and a tweed jacket – and take up my position in the queue. Of course I’m normally beaten to first place by some pensioner (posting letters to the Stasi) (you think they’d do pre-paid) but patiently wait my go with the woman-with-short-blond-hair-and-glasses with heroic forbearance.

But do you know who was in the queue between me and Stasi-woman last time round? Only a young woman, with LONG blond hair and NO glasses – have you ever known such a scandal? – with a huge parcel for, and I’m not joking, the Engelbert-Humperdinck-Schule in Frankfurt. I forced my brain into activity and can only conclude that she had printed out all of Enge’s fan mail to send just in case spirits in Frankfurt were at a low ebb. I know it’d work for me. (OK, I suppose that the school could, possibly, be named after another Enge but I’m choosing to go with the other option.)

I rushed through my transaction with the woman-with-short-blond-hair-and-glasses so that the pensioner behind me wouldn’t have to labour for too much longer under the weight of the parcel he was having dispatched to the Paula-Abdul-Schule in Hoyerswerda. Truth is stranger than fiction.

So the DJ has been up to his old tricks and is sending me books in the post again to try and keep me on the straight and narrow. And he’s so clever, knowing that it’s my only ambition in life to be a Jew (but without the God bits) (or kosher bits, while we’re on the subject) (well, or probably most of the bits, actually) and giving me a book on Yiddish civilisation by a certain Paul Kriwaczek, whose family fled Vienna for London when he was a boy. It’s got Jews. It’s got anecdotes. It’s got Central Europe. I’m in clover.

“You khev got peckidzh?” the Russian asked out of the blue in an e-mail from Putin’s perfect post-communist paradise.


“Bzzzzzzz,” went the postman, who was obviously working on a commission that day. I slipped into my negligee and high-heels just in case he’d need to be encouraged to take the weight off his feet. Up the stairs bounded a lovely, big, blond thing. “I’m having awful trouble with my cistern,” I said, thinking he’d happily help a damsel in distress. But he said it wasn’t in his remit, asked for my signature and went bounding off back down the stairs with, I think I’m not mistaken, a hint of a chuckle.

I got back into my slacks, deck shoes and tweed jacket and made short work of the overdone packaging. The book of Belle de Jour with her name and a big high-heel that frankly wasn’t a patch on the ones I’d put on in my failed attempts at seducing post-boy in glittery pinky-purple on the cover.

“Oh, darling, thank you. You’ve got me the book by that blogging prostitute.”

“Yes, I sink you laik. She prostitute. She Jewish. She blog. She make book.”

Liukchik, will you marry me?

Optative future October 2, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

God I fucking hate blogging. So time for some blogging.

Darlings, I think I’m going to get myself a brand new friend. And I’m not even going to have to walk in the pouring rain to do it. (And nor will I pay the slightest attention to Jane wearing a turtleneck.) No, it’s a neighbour.

Now that I’ve turned 102, I’m just about to get fed up of this urban living. Any minute now, I’m going to start reading Loot, or Craig’s List, or wherever it is these things are advertised, and get me a nice smallholding somewhere. A few sheep (to keep me company), a mute dog, probably some chickens clucking round the place. Perhaps another farm not too far down the road where I’d be invited for Christmas dinner (once they’d hidden all the sharp items) and with a woman of the house who’d drop me in my paper, chocolate, bananas and benefits every Saturday morning from the local shop, which would be a good 45 minutes’ drive away. She’ll probably be driving a C-reg – I mean first time round – Morris Minor, even if her husband wouldn’t say no to one of them four-wheeled drive things. And god it will all be beautiful. And quiet. And, who knows, maybe even one or two of the ladies from the (distant) village will think I’m an eligible bachelor (as long as Mrs. Morris Minor doesn’t tell them about the benefits), though I wouldn’t be surprised if a rumour soon started going round that ‘he got up to all sorts when he lived abroad’.

Anyway, that’s all in the future, and far be it from me to narcissistically wank my optative future onto a screen for all and sundry to read about.

So before I pack my bags and move to my mythical future, rooted firmly in the past – I was always rubbish at grammar – I’m going to wring this urban living dry for every last drop of human contact before going monastic… This evening, I rustled up a quick dinner of fried gruel à la sauce gruellaise and looked mournfully out the kitchen window, trying to emblazon the image of the Hinterhaus into my addled brain for ever.

Berlin’s good for spying on the neighbours. I mean in comparison to London, at least. I suppose in other compact-living European cities, the opportunities are much the same. But Berlin’s good because of the houses often having a Vorderhaus (front house) and a Hinterhaus (rear house). You might even have a Seitenflügel (side-wing) if you’re lucky. We live in just such a Vorder-+Hinterhaus-house. We’re in the Vorder bit. Then there’s a yard and the Hinter-bit beyond that, positioned at just the right distance for you to watch every damn thing going on in the bastard.

Now our area is still demographically confused. It can’t decide whether to pull the plug altogether and admit it’s died off nicely without anyone noticing or whether to battle on for all it’s worth and struggle to see another dawn. My neighbours are mostly remarkable only for being the least remarkable bunch of people to have assembled in close quarters outside a stag-do party with its own t-shirts. Clones of happy suburbanites. Apart from the old witch on the top floor who hasn’t realised the Stasi have shut up shop and still pops out to post her anonymous letters to them every lunchtime, I’d say few of them are harbouring any earth-shattering secrets.

A boring family with an ignored cat moved out. And in moved a singleton who’d mistaken the demographic and still thought Berlin’s Ruislip might live to see a brighter day. His flat’s on the ground floor. It has its own bit of garden in the yard. He resolutely tore up the garden the family with the ignored cat had left and made it his own. Through his open curtains, I could see him feverishly beavering away inside the flat too. Making it his own. Making it habitable. And ten out of ten to him because he seemed to do all that with relative speed. I compartmentalised him as someone I would never have the remotest sniff of human contact with and got back to living in wilful ignorance of my surroundings.

Until today… I sat eating my fried gruel à la sauce gruellaise. It was early for dinner, but already getting dark. I plumped for pretending the days are still long so ate in relative dinge. Yet the new neighbour was in his kitchen with the lights switched flagrantly on. I surveyed him as well as I could when only able to snatch the odd furtive look. He looks nice. 30-something, probably. Hair quite long but not in a way that makes me want to kill him. He was eating alone. And, which instantly sent him soaring in my estimations, I saw him pour himself a second glass of red wine. And not even seven o’clock! The clothes-horse was up too.

“Poor neighbour,” I thought to myself. “He’s obviously just split up with his girlfriend. Moved to a new pad. Got a bit of garden. Done it all up in his own way. And now he’s having lonely dinners with only the clothes-horse and the odd furtive glance from the miserable queen upstairs in the Vorderhaus for company.”

I think it’s time I extended the hand of friendship.

Future perfect October 1, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Or is it perfect future? Is there a future imperfect? Or future conditional?

Anyway, I’m through with the past. It’s all about the future now. I have turned 93 so it’s time to get with this living business. Any minute now I’m going to get me a job. I’m telling you, the future’s going to be as bright as the Bikini Atoll.

Erm, any ideas where I start, people?

To get me inspired, I’ve got out me tapes and I’m going to listen to all my inspirational hits. Any song that gets used on a BBC musical medley accompaniment, I’m going to have it on. I’ll probably play Daddy Cool. And Break Out by Swing Out Sister. There’d better be a good few songs by M People. And then that Everybody Hurts one by REM to remind me that it isn’t all sweetness and light. No, as our Slavic brothers say, there’s no happiness without suffering. I’m gonna keep in touch with my inner REM, but things are going to get pretty bloody M People round here. We’re gonna be Movin’ On Up – yes, with an effing apostrophe – and, why the bugger not, there’ll probably be a bit of getting excited and heart-opening too.

Hmm, dark outside, isn’t it?