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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.



1. MountPenguin - October 2, 2007

You should go and live where my parents do… More sheep than you could ever hope to befriend, dogs galore and there’s a geese farm down the road who would probably lend you some fowl. And in the three days I was there, I saw (without trying) a sparrowhawk (“Mother, that is a big bird, what kind is it?”), a bank vole (a sort of non-nocturnal British hamster), a rabbit, lots of blackberries, and the few gray (sic) squirrels which have survived my parent’s anti-gray squirrel jihad. Oh yes, and the scratching sound which woke me at 4am was bats under the eaves.

On the other hand, I casually enquired about property prices, and I can only assume they are expecting oil will shortly be found in the area, or someone will come up with a novel scheme for turning bracken into petrol.

Your solitary neighbour sounds like the bloke across the landing here who just moved out, except for the hair, and he was about 7 foot tall and evidently one of your lot.

2. William Thirteen - October 3, 2007

make sure you’re clutching the big wine glass when extending the hand!

3. pleite - October 3, 2007

William, good advice. But I can’t think how to manufacture this friendship, actually. I’ll just have to hope to bump into him in the Hof or in the hallway but I’m not sure I’d recognise him, even, unless he stood at the right distance. There’s a second man in the house with the same just-deserving-to-have-his-life-spared hair-length and I could easily confuse them, but he seems full of bounce and confidence and has a girlfriend, so he doesn’t need me to save him at all. Hmm, and how do I break the neighbourly ice? If I say, “I see you are lonely and depressed. Would you like to be my friend?” he’ll call the police, and rightly so. Maybe I should send him some wine by post first. That won’t scare him off.

Penguin, but I don’t think this man is a whoopsy. In fact, I am fairly confident in the robustness of his heterosexuality. He doesn’t strike me as gay at all. Or seven foot tall, actually, though it’s hard to get a grip on perspective from two floors up and above the Hof. Maybe he is, indeed, a seven-foot whoopsy, in which case I suppose I’d better do the decent thing and fall in love with him. I don’t think the Russian will mind (or notice)… I like the sound of your parents’ place enormously. Do you think they’d like me to live with them? I could bring no practical skills to the relationship whatsoever.

4. marshaklein - October 3, 2007

Couldn’t you pretend you’d run out of milk or something and ask him for some. Not that I’ve ever done this you understand – I’m terrified of chatting to my neighbours. Not because they’re scary, just because I’m shy. On the other hand, one of my best friends now is a woman who approached me at a mother and toddler group because she realised we lived in adjacent streets.

I hate blogging too. Which is why I’ve done it twice in two days. And why I’m on here now.

5. pleite - October 3, 2007

Marsha, blogging is shit, isn’t it? I’m planning to blog every day this month. (That is not true.)

It would be tricky to convince him I justifiably needed the milk from him as there are seventeen flats closer to ours than his. Our direct neighbours, who have been known to complain about the noise of conversation at 9pm, came not that long ago – OK, just one of them. They didn’t all come. Husband, wife and child – and asked to borrow some butter, which I thought must have been a convoluted way of trying to foster a friendship. Unfortunately, he has hair which very much makes me want to kill him, and most of the rest of humanity, so he can stick his friendship where the sun don’t shine.

Bloody hell, all a far cry from childhood in London. We LIVED in our neighbours’ houses.

6. marshaklein - October 3, 2007

It’s the famous Edinburgh reserve, dontcha know. After a year or so smiling at each other in the street or over a garden fence is permitted. After the passage of another few years, you might graduate to. a polite “hello”. Kids are great for breaking the ice (amongst other things!) but a bit extreme for your present circumstances!

I’m getting a complex about my hair now.

7. pleite - October 3, 2007

Oh, no need. It’s only a very specific type of long hair on a very specific type of man which makes me want to commit genocide. In fact, I think the look might be based on my neighbour. Or on the hair of a gent I went on a language course to Poland with in 1992. He told me constantly about how wicked I was for being a screamer, which didn’t majorly endear him to me. A closet case, of course. He couldn’t wait to talk about bums and sex once the lecturing was done.

8. MountPenguin - October 3, 2007

The settlement where my parents live is technically in Wales, so you could become the “only gay in the village”, if I recall the “Little Britain” reference correctly.

9. pleite - October 3, 2007

You do, you do. But I’ll have gone straight by then anyway. Like Tom Robinson.

10. marshaklein - October 3, 2007

I got a CD autographed by Tom Robinson once. It was one of his, so he didn’t mind.

11. Sylvia - October 3, 2007

Oh, and to think that I had Margarita Pracatan’s version of ‘Hello’ going through my head when I read your post. Remember her from the Clive James Show in the 90s?
At least you don’t have your neighbours stark naked in their bathroom every evening in full view of every passer by…….

12. pleite - October 3, 2007

Sylvia, I’ve got a feeling I might quite like that. No, maybe I wouldn’t actually. I’ve seen plenty – OK, one or two – of the neighbours nude or semi-nude (and I don’t mean topless), but I think that’s fairly standard for Berlin. I remember smoking on the balcony while a neighbour across the street ironed happily bottomlessly away. No-one seemed to mind too much… Bloody hell. Margarita Pracatan.

Marsha, I hope you smashed it over his newly straight head and said, “That’s for my queer brothaz and sistaz.” I’m not sure I know a single one of his tunes, actually, apart from Sing If You’re Glad To Be Gay, which I always found rubbish, perhaps because he can’t sing.

13. bowleserised - October 3, 2007

I must get curtains.

14. marshaklein - October 3, 2007

I noticed the nudity thing when we were in Berlin. One evening I was so busy watching some guy bottemlessly ironing, that I almost got killed crossing the road (again!) Needless to say Brian was oblivious to the whole thing.

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t. He hasn’t been back to Edinburgh in many a long year but woe betide him if he does choose to show his face round here in future. As for his music, I’d stick with the lovely Heather Small if I were you. Far more life-affirming.

15. MountPenguin - October 3, 2007

Bottomless ironing, at least if you are of the male persuasion, strikes me as not so much risqué as risky. Can’t imagine what excuse you’d want to give the burns unit.

16. Ed Ward - October 3, 2007

Easy: “It was my only pair of pants, doctor!”

Living on the ground floor, I don’t get much risque input from the neighbors, but when warm weather comes around and I open the windows wide, I sure can hear a lot of fucking. Or, to be precise, female orgasm-ing. Men, women, or appliances (or any combination thereof) may be involved, but there sure are a lot of screamers in the ‘hood. (No, not *that* kind of screamers…)

17. pleite - October 3, 2007

Ed, I don’t think we have orgasms in Pankow either. Orgasms are very Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. Here in Pankow we have replaced the orgasm with the tut. I do sometimes hear cat-sex, but then that might easily be cat-murder.

Penguin, but at least they’d believe you that it was an accident. I refuse to believe there is a kink whereby some folk like burning their cocks. I’ll go and check the hanky-code list.

Marsha, gosh, that’s very unshy to bottomlessly iron knowing you’ll be visible from the street. My neighbour would presumably have known that his bottom – gosh, I wonder if he was ironing his willy, actually – could only possibly be visible at certain angles.

B., that is, perhaps, a good point. We never used to have any, but then I had guests coming once – French – and I knew they’d never cope with curtainlessness. (Not because of nudity, just light disturbance.) Anyway, perfect Finnish A_ wandered round the place almost naked when he was here so the neighbours have had the compliment returned. With knobs on.

18. engelsk - October 3, 2007

I had to listen to a woman orgasming above me in my last flat. I had no problem going upstairs when their arguing was too loud, but I was too ashamed to ask them to have quieter sex. Besides, she sounded so similar to a dog howling that I just pretended we still lived in a time of wolves, and I waited for daylight to come. Or her boyfriend.

19. Arabella - October 4, 2007

Is waving considered mad behaviour? What about a discreet wave while tending the geraniums on your balcony (presuming you have either).

20. pleite - October 4, 2007

Arabella, you force me into embarrassing confessions. We do have a balcony and it wins a prize every year as the least-tended-to balcony on the street. We don’t even bother with the compulsory lights at Christmas. Nope, the only thing that ever adorns the balcony is the clothes-horse and occasionally the cacti get put out there for an airing… BUT, re. making friends, the balcony faces onto the street, whereas my future friend – he was on the internet just now, no doubt trawling through dating sites, as I had dinner – is on the other side, so I’d have to hang out the window to wave, which he’d find mad.

Engelsk, actually, we do have the female orgasm in Pankow. I’ve heard it once, not that long ago. I think it was a Feast Day or something so tutting was banned for a day, like with carnival, and orgasming allowed. They sounded awfully good at sex, whoever it was.

21. engelsk - October 4, 2007

The one above me only used to happen on Saturdays. The rest of the week they spent fighting.

22. pleite - October 4, 2007

Gosh, that sounds rather like me and the Russian, except without the female orgasm. But we’ve decided to skew the fighting:orgasming ratio further in fighting’s favour. You’re very brave going to complain about the noise. I’d never complain, to us or anyone else. Although I do sometimes ask the Russian if he can shout a bit more quietly, at least after the watershed.

23. engelsk - October 4, 2007

I just appear at people’s doors and sheepishly state that I’m foreign and that I’m not sure if it’s the done thing or not, but – if they don’t mind – I’d really appreciate it if they could be a little quieter because it’s 2am and I’m directly below them and I have to get up in four hours.

All the while I try to avoid showing that I’ve noticed the tears in their eyes which are there as a result of their emotional turmoil. And despite their state, they tend to use my interruption as a handy way to leave some plates to eat with in the future…

One thing I’ll say about fighting couples – they’re more willing to be quieter than bloody teenagers or pissed up singletons.

24. pleite - October 4, 2007

Oh Engelsk, that’s sad. But you’re actually doing a good thing by interrupting. Good for you. I’ve never thrown a plate… Oh gosh, now I have to go and open a huge refuge where all the members of miserable couples can come and cry together. (You set up its twin so that their other-halves have somewhere to go to too.)

25. engelsk - October 5, 2007

Well, I don’t live below them anymore, so it’s no longer an issue for me. What will be, will be, I suppose – I only hope she was getting something good out of the Saturday nights. It certainly sounded like it.

I’m now on the second floor in a Hinterhof, with only an attic above me. And my room doesn’t even face the noisy neighbours in the building next to the street – so no-one can watch me ironing my willy and decide to befriend me. But I like it that way!

26. pleite - October 5, 2007

Engelsk, it sounds the very paragon of privacy. Though tradition does suggest you iron your willy in full public view. But perhaps they’re more conservative down there. It takes me all day just to buy bread by the time I’ve watched all the willy-ironing.

27. engelsk - October 5, 2007

Privacy’s good. Pity about the noise of children playing – the bastards! But that’ll be gone once I’m away at work all day.

28. KMS - October 5, 2007

“Second floor with only an attic above”. How quaint. Visiting Berlin when coming from Swabby G must be like going to New York.

29. engelsk - October 5, 2007

Ah, but I left Swabby G and moved to Stuttgart at the start of June. I now commute four days a week – which is no problem. Life’s much better in Stuttgart. Having said that, going to any larger city after Stuttgart is like going to New York! (Shh – pretend I didn’t say that!)

30. pleite - October 5, 2007

Engelsk, it does sound visually unimaginable now that DZ mentions it. A two-floor house? I’m having visions of England. Or is it just a very small tenement building? I have been to Stuttgart once or twice and thought it seemed rather… well… nice, though people have always told me to shut up once I’ve said it.

DZ, I once went to A HOUSE in Berlin. When I was here as a tourist in 2000. In Weißensee, I think. With a garden and a garage and all sorts. And more lesbians than a K.D. Lang convention.

31. engelsk - October 5, 2007

A small tenement building, with three flats: none on the ground floor (just storage and the entrance to a Tiefgarage), two flats on the first floor, and one flat on the second floor. I think it’s because it’s in the Hinterhof. It certainly doesn’t look like a house – but even house-like buildings here tend to be full of flats, right? Give me a semi with a garden, any day! (Am I getting old?)

32. pleite - October 5, 2007

Engelsk, wait till you get to 37! You’ll lovingly gaze at stone-cladding and pebble-dash in Homebase-like shops. I’m almost never out of my slippers these days.

33. engelsk - October 5, 2007

Slippers! I really must get some. I haven’t had any since childhood, and I hear they’re most comfortable.

Yippee, it’s raining today! The play school keeps its young offenders indoors when it rains. The climbing frame and swings are all mine!

34. pleite - October 5, 2007

When I moved to Russia, my then mother-in-law gave me airplane-type slippers, that come up as high as the ankle. They are heaven. And are the difference between a chill and a not-chill. Put slipper-shopping on your weekend agenda. (It’s a nice day up here, in a depressing, autumnal way.)

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