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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.



1. Arabella - October 24, 2007

All I can think of to suggest is old films or episodes of ‘Magnum PI’ because these were things my mum used to like (in fact she was addicted to the telly). But then, your mum would have to cope with subtitles so that isn’t much of an idea at all then….
It’s been my experience that all Irish ladies of a certain age are absolute card-sharps; afternoons of gin rummy and tea?

2. pleite - October 24, 2007

Arabella, well remembered that she is Irish and of a certain age. Tea is definitely a winner, but I’m afraid cards haven’t worked their magic on her. Bugger. Have just looked through my video and DVD collection. I’ve got Alan Bennett. Whom she probably loathes. Or doesn’t know. Spaced (courtesy of Marshypops) but she’d find that too modern. Absolutely Fabulous (courtesy of the Russian), though she’ll probably think that’s too silly. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. That might be good, but might be dubbed into Russian. Oh fuck. Anyway, looking forward to her trip, masochistically. If I can manage to force a second drop of booze on her – yes, she hardly drinks. For fuck’s sake – the conversation could get entertaining.

3. Katchyta - October 24, 2007

When my mother was here last time, I sent her off to Freiburg but I suppose that won’t work here. Couldn’t she whip up some yummy scones or something to sell on the street, thus improving your cash-flow issues? But seriously, what about bus tours in English, aren’t there lots of those that she could be sent off on, preferably for most of the day? Lots of museums to lose her in, even some with English documentation. DVDs in English (though DVD language settings may need interpreting by the Russian thereby neutralizing your painting-induced cock-lengthening advantage).

4. annie - October 24, 2007

I would suggest TV links but the man was arrested and the site taken down (which nearly made me cry.) I have found this one, though I don’t know how mum-friendly the programmes & films are…


5. emma in barcelona - October 24, 2007

I´ve got the Michael Palin DVD boxset – should I bring this with me tomorrow when I also visit Berlin?

6. narrowback - October 24, 2007

luckily, my mum naps a lot…makes it easier on the recreation director side of things. in her better years she enjoyed a few drops of whiskey after her 5 p.m. dinner and the resulting disclosures of long held family secrets kept me entertained.

take her over to the irish shop near hackesher hof the proprietor is always thrilled to have irish and quasi irish visitors

BTW BiB…the travel plans have been finalized – I’ll be in berlin Dec. 5th thru 10th. the first pint is on me

7. Sylvia - October 24, 2007

The one advantage of living near my mother is that she never has to stay. I suggest rounding up all your friends’ English language DVDs and letting her get on with it.

8. MountPenguin - October 25, 2007

You can, apparently, get proper BBC free via satellite, as my parents keep telling me (they have a caravan and are well-informed about this kind of thing), but I too am over 30 and there is already a horrendous stack of silver-grey boxes beneath the (non-wide screen) TV (which is annoying now they’re starting to broadcast in wide-screen mode) for which I have had to make an actual diagram of which cables go where, so I can’t be arsed. (Anyway I hear the BBC is having to sack most of its staff or something and will be mainly broadcasting “Last of the Summer Wine” repeats from now on).

But why, for heaven’s sake, November? November is the month for realising that one really should have got one’s life together so that one can spend November somewhere which is not north-central Europe. Umm, how mobile is your mother, if that’s not an indelicate question? I find Potsdam a reliable destination to pack people off to for a day, a walking tour of Sanssouci is nice and tiring.

Hmm, what else… How about a “do the entire U-Bahn in a day” challenge? Rural Berlin by bus? A river cruise? Trip to the Zoo / Tierpark? (Knut has just reached the magic 100 kilo mark, I hear.) A tour of various Konditoreien? Dinner in one of the two towers (lots of pretty lights)? An after-hours-party in the Berghain? No, scratch that one, but I can lend you “Fawlty Towers” on DVD.

9. marshaklein - October 25, 2007

Ooh, I feel your pain regarding least favourite shops. In the last week I have had reason (No. 2 daughter’s birthday) to visit JJB Sports (for hockey boots) and GAME (for an expansion pack for her Sims2 game – yes that last bit IS written in English!). Sport and computer games – perhaps the hospital gave me the wrong child?! Only kidding.

You know, we mothers may appear to complain and criticise rather a lot but it’s only because we care about you! Have a lovely time, whatever you end up doing.

10. KMS - October 25, 2007

You can indeed get proper BBC via satellite. But only if your landlord doesn’t mind you attaching a 2.5 metre-wide satellite dish onto your balcony. In the west, it’s another matter, 60cm will do (apparently).
Does she listen to the radio? Get a *German* Digital Radio set (it needs something called “L Band”, so a British one won’t do) and she can listen to the marvels of ‘Talk Sport and Bigotry (But Mainly Bigotry) Plus 1’ and Virgin Classic Capital Gold Hits Wave OneWord Madness FM, just as if she was at home. And the Voice of Russia.

And has no-one mentioned the Fernsehturm and its revolving restaurant? Perhaps you can bribe someone there and make them slow it down so the 365° turningness takes around 5 hours (the speed having doubled since the wall came down as part of the recognition that however long it takes, people can only afford one cup of coffee and a cake, so you might as well get rid of them as quickly as possible).

Konditorieien – indeed. There’s one always full of old ladies opposite Schloss Charlottenburg. Take her to some nasty shopping centre. Take a train journey somewhere via Wochenendticket – Dresden takes around 5 hours via this method – and then stand in line for the Frauenkirche for another 5, then get the train back; and that’s one day done.

11. Ed Ward - October 25, 2007

I was going to suggest a day-trip to Leipzig, so she can gaze on Bach’s grave and putter around the art museum and all. I think there are English-language tours you can set up through the very helpful tourist office, and a trip on the ICE is always fun. Well, for me it is, anyway…

12. KMS - October 25, 2007

Or – if you’re planning a long-ish train journey somewhere, but don’t want it to take as long as Wochenendticket journeys, take an EuroCity and marvel at and in the restaurant car. Fairly good value too, and a good way to get rid of any eastern European money you might have lying around (as long as its Czech Krona or Hungarian Florint)

13. MountPenguin - October 25, 2007

Or there’s always Poland just a short train trip away (assuming there are no strikes). Although there’s not that much to do in the nearest town, Slubice (apart from buying ciggies), and now Poland is part of the EU (they’ll be abolishing border controls in a couple of months), the border crossing experience itself is a pale shadow of what it once was.

@KMS: I did obliquely refer to the Fernsehturm (as one of the “two towers”), though when I was last there it only revolved through 360°. Inflation, I s’pose.

14. KMS - October 25, 2007

I think I was thinking of the height, 365m… the extra 5° will only come about once T-Systems have sold off the place and it gets completely turned into an advertising hoarding.

15. liukchik - October 25, 2007

Potsdam would be ideal for a day out with your dear mother.

16. MountPenguin - October 26, 2007

> I think I was thinking of the height, 365m

That’s been suffering from inflation too, they added an extra 3m during the 90s, so it’s now 368m. Still only the 2nd tallest structure in Europe though.

17. KMS - October 26, 2007

I occasionally wondered why the height was sometimes given as 365m and sometimes as 368m… Anyway, BiB, the ‘Dunkelrestaurant’ could be an idea, perhaps when you get to the ‘I never want to see this woman again’ stage?

18. bowleserised - October 26, 2007

If you go to the East Berlin zoo you can hire one of those buggies for children, pop her in it and spend all day meandering round looking aty grievously depressed polar bears and Poitou’s Asses or whatever they are. They’re lovely. You can play with their ears for hours.

19. ewhi - October 27, 2007

Seems to be a plan behind that – she always comes at lieber-zuhause-bleiben times. Mein buddhistischer Rat: Just let it happen! It will be interesting what comes out of it :-) Maybe she will be happy to come back in summer next time!

20. MountPenguin - October 31, 2007

Are you suffering from blog paralysis, Mr. BiB? And will you be at the Stammtisch tomorrow (which is November already – if that means your mother is here, bring her along too).

21. Paul - October 31, 2007

If you still need televisual distractions, we have Cold Feet – which parents tend to like – and This Life – which they like as long as they ignore the occasional nudity.

Elsewhere in our collection you will find the West Wing, the Sopranos, Friends, Queer as Folk and Buffy the Vampire Slayer…it is perfectly fine if you want to use us as a mother-distracting DVD library :-)

22. Blognor Regis - November 3, 2007

My work colleagues are Xbox nuts and they’re on at me to get a Wii. I’m semi-sympathetic as although computer games bore be to death the Wii is different enough to maybe not be so bad. The wife has put her foot down with a firm hand though. No computer games. Yikes.

23. Tim Footman - November 6, 2007

All gone a bit quiet. Did you kill and eat each other?

Got my parents arriving tomorrow. My mother managed to break her wrist in NZ a couple of weeks ago and has informed me several times “I haven’t worn a bra” since.

Oh well, at least she drinks.

24. KMS - November 7, 2007

Perhaps he’s got stuck in the Fernsehturm with his mother. What will they do when the cakes run out?

25. narrowback - November 7, 2007

I have feared that a combination of his mother’s visit & nicotine deprivation has just driven him over the edge

26. MountPenguin - November 8, 2007

I believe BiB had to go to the UK urgently, though I don’t know any details.

27. Arabella - November 8, 2007

Hope all is well BiB.

28. Blonde at Heart - November 8, 2007

Hello! Are you still alive? How was your mother’s visit?

29. pleite - November 8, 2007

Darlings, sorry, sorry. All is fine and I’ve just been busy and lazy. So…

BaH, alive and well and now that it’s all behind me, I think I can say her visit was fine. I had to tell her off every now and again when she misbehaved, and the Russian said I was too strict, but we survived.

Arabella, thank you, and sorry for making folks have sympathetic thoughts. All is well. Just her trip was very full-time and then we actually flew back to London with her, where of course I didn’t see anyone, which gives me guilt pangs, but I realise I will never see a friend ever again unless it’s in Berlin or non-London as London is just too consumed with family things.

Penguin, thank you for the tips and, again, sorry for making people thing something dramatic had happened to me. Just my mother and then us having a holiday. I didn’t do a scrap of work for two whole weeks, which has made me worry, of course, so I’m now trying to catch up… And what’s the tallest thing in Europe? Not the Eiffel Tower? Or Ostankino in Moscow? Or the London Eye?

Narrowback, thank you too, and we DID go to the Irish shop, which was probably the only moment my mother really enjoyed, as she doesn’t see the point of things that aren’t Irish. She bought us home-made whisky marmalade. And the non-smoking is going OK. I was out yesterday, with smokers, and survived. Wanted one, of course, but didn’t have one. Naturally, my asthma is much worse since I’ve given up.

DZ, we didn’t go up the tower as we’d done that last time. We did have cake galore, but didn’t leave the city. She was also fantastically impressed with the Schönhauser Allee Arcaden. Too odd, really. And would feign interest in utterly mundane things. “What does that word mean?” she might ask about some random piece of text somewhere. “On.” Conversation was sometimes a struggle.

Tim, I hope your parents’ visit is a roaring success and that your mother will be back to her bra-wearing ways soon. My mother wore a bra throughout, as far as I know. She also tried the odd tipple, and seemed to like it, but I think she was secretly horrified at the Russian’s and my consumption. But it aided politeness, so I don’t regret a single drop.

Mark, you’re talking in tongues. Or is that what a lifestyle really is? An Xbox? Not that I know what one of those is either. I haven’t played a computer game since that tennis one you played on the TV. My posher, richer cousins had it. I liked Tetris too, but I can’t tell the Russian, for cock-shrink/-grow reasons, obviously.

Paul, TV was quite a distraction, but only when we were cooking or something, and then it was all news, which I think quite bored her. But she didn’t leap at the chance of watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, so we didn’t bother any further with the video/DVD route.

Ewhi, I hope I was satisfactorily Buddhist with her. I’m not sure I was, though. But then I think it’s OK to tell pensioners off when they misbehave. Luckily the weather was OK and far less freezing than last time, so she liked Berlin more. And even our flat, on this occasion.

B., we didn’t go to either zoo, as she doesn’t majorly believe in paying for things, and probably hates animals. I can’t believe we ever had cats and dogs in my youth. Maybe they were meant to double up as baby-sitters.

Liukchik, Potsdam is a staple of my tourist-diet and we did indeed trundle off to Potsdam one day and even had lunch in that Drachenhaus café, which was, no doubt, deemed “pricey” by my mother, as was everything that cost anything at all.

Ed, Potsdam was, leider, as far as we made it. I did think of Slubice, which I know is a dump, but I thought she might be vaguely interested at crossing into Poland, but she is, I suppose, slowing up and the thought of longish journeys instantly made her want to have forty winks.

Marsha, you too speak in tongues. What was that second purchase? Oh gosh, and I can’t think of you and my mother as being the same category of mother at all. Though I suppose one can’t think of one’s mother being like any other mother, or can one? But, yes, I agree. Poor mums. Doomed to a life of constant bollocking from their progeny and, no doubt, almost constant worry about them.

Sylvia, yes, the best she did out of the box was BBC World and Sky News and the odd bit of Russia Today, to show willing. I’ve never watched Sky News before. Appallingly bad. I can feel my old-fashioned loyalty to the BBC gently being cast in stone.

Emma, so sorry I didn’t get to see you. I didn’t think I’d be able to manage it with mumsy here, and couldn’t, but glad to hear you’ll come again, when I would be amazed if we couldn’t meet for a good old knees-up, though, boringly, I won’t be smoking.

Annie, oh no, arrested after providing such a public-spirited service. Hope he’ll be let off with a slap on the wrists. My mother is scared of computers and would have complained, probably, at having to watch telly on one. But we did entertain her one evening for a few minutes by google-image-searching people she knew, which amazed her, of course.

Katchyta, she was not to be sent off alone at all. She was by my side throughout, apart from when asleep. She even came and sat in the hairdresser’s when I had a haircut, though we had found an English paper for her to attempt the crossword in. But we survived. We survived. And now onto preparing for Christmas. Oh god…

30. MountPenguin - November 8, 2007

Jolly good, I evidently gathered up the wrong garbled shred of information at the Stammtisch. But tsk tsk, you must drop a sentence or two before you disappear in case someone decides to send a rescue team up north.

Yes, the Ostankino is Europe’s tallest architectural phallic ersatz, and according to the Internet (I had to look it up to be sure) the Muscovites are hard at work building an even taller “mine’s bigger than yours” structure to be called the Russian Tower (how original), a structure from the ever-busy hand of Milord Foster, who presumably has in no way based it on Pyongyang’s famously incomplete Ryugong Hotel.

31. narrowback - November 9, 2007

glad to hear that nothing foul had occurred… and I second MP’s suggestion about a wee warning beforehand

I had been lured into the irish shop by the strain’s of christy moore’s “ordinary man” but was disappointed by the fact that the shop didn’t contain a single item that combined “berlin” and “irish” (that need was remedied by a pub over in charlottenburg) I didn’t see the whiskey flavored marmalade however.

32. pleite - November 9, 2007

Narrowback, no, all is well and my apologies if I made folk worry (which is awfully sweet of folk. I’m really not worth a second thought). But I’m wondering if I’m going to turn into my mother and, when I’m a bit older, and visiting my children – hear me out – in, say, Cambodia in 40 years’ time, I’m going to annoy them by only being interested in anything English. Or amazed by anything with an English connection. I mentioned that someone I know is on a cooking course in Ireland. With no Irish connection. She found this almost incomprehensibly confusing. I did have to go to war with her, though, when she pointed out the Irish pub in Hackescher Markt. “There’s the British Council,” I said not two seconds later. We did laugh. (The whisky marmalade is good, and I loathe whisky.)

Penguin, there’s only so much an architect can do, design-wise, with height, isn’t there? Though I quite like that Pyongyang unfinished hotel. That skyscraper page you link to reveals that the Russian skyscraper-to-be will be twice the height of Canary Wharf, or One Canada Square. That’s ludicrously tall, isn’t it? I hope it’ll have some nice flying buttresses or whatever it is those things are called to hold it in place if a wind gets up.

33. narrowback - November 9, 2007

well, I could understand her confusion as from her generational perspective the irish are/were not renowned for their culinary skills (I was a teenager before I learned that garlic is NOT a factory produced powdered substance)

I have to confess that I gravitated to that same pub on my first visit…guess it’s some form instinctual tribal memory thing… “threatened by the unknown/unusual? flee to the tribe”

however, i don’t picture you looking for a british pub for some bubble and squeak while visiting your children in phnom penh

maybe i’ll have to check out the marmalade – initially i was somewhat repelled by the concept

34. pleite - November 11, 2007

I’ll bring you a slice of toast with some on when we meet up to down some beer. (I will look at every ciggie you smoke with pure envy.)

By the way, to get you in the Knef mood, here’s this.

35. narrowback - November 12, 2007

thanks… i can just picture you passing me a slice of toast across the bar at prinzknecht.

while i can’t promise that i won’t smoke in your presence i’ll try and make it less alluring…perhaps a coughing fit or two?

thanks for the song…it was perfect accompaniment (I listened to it several times) for leafing through my latest book about urban planning/architecture & berlin

my german is crap however and I could barely comprehend the title let alone the lyrics …”for my debt red roses rained”?

36. pleite - November 14, 2007

“It will/shall/should rain red roses for me.” It’s a good ‘un, isn’t it? Must write down that I need to make a copy of her tunes for you. And, while you’re on, and while we’re on beer, can I already book you for the Friday night of your stay? I have a friend arriving on the Saturday, you see. Before the Friday is OK too, of course. But I might be free when the pal’s here too.

And no worries about smoking. I hope I won’t have turned into a prim non-smoker by then, looking at you with disdain and coughing emphatically. No, I promise I won’t have.

37. narrowback - November 14, 2007

eh, got thrown by the “soll”…wish last year’s german instructor had spent more time on the language than on stories of her childhood in pre-war/war time silesia

thank you…i’ll have to put together some tunes for you as well.

we can pencil in friday (7.12) i’ve no concrete plans for the visit except for a day trip to leipzig & that is projected for sunday. i’ll send you my hotel/contact details by e-mail

i’ve become immune to the disdain of non-smokers, particularly those of the “reformed” ilk

38. pleite - November 18, 2007

Good stuff. And I think I’m still in awe rather than disdain of smokers. I might ask you for your autograph.

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