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Coat November 29, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

The only reason I’m not a mass murderer is that I don’t have a driving licence. Because if you’re a mass murderer, or even a singular one, you always have to do that thing of killing the people in one place and then rolling them up in a rug and driving from Stoke-on-Trent to somewhere really far, like Penang, to dispose of the body and thus cleverly make it difficult to revisit the scene of at least that part of the crime. Mind you, I love it when that type gets caught because the clever people in Penang find the body a squillion years later and there’s a spore from some Stoke-only tree in the tyre mark and they work out that the tyre was from a type of British car that was never exported and the DVLA knows who had that type of car in the year of the murder – only three people (and one was The Queen, and she doesn’t do crimes, and the other one was someone uninteresting and incapable of murder) – and then the murderer, who’s since mended his ways and has become the Lord Mayor, is arrested in the middle of a Stoke’s-Favourite-Cow competition and then someone in Minnesota decides to make a TV programme about it and that gets shown in Germany at 3 o’clock one February morning and you happen to be watching because you’re lying sleeplessly on the sofa having decided your beloved is the wickedest person on earth. But I can’t drive, which is why I don’t go about killing all and sundry. Which scores me morality points both for greenery and for sparing life. Plus what if I got played by Christopher Biggins in the reenactment part of the programme from Minnesota? So I don’t kill, for a number of reasons.

But, darlings, and call it incitement to violence if you will, I think we should start exterminating shop assistants. Do away with the damned bally lot of them and roll them up in a carpet the size of Slovenia and then attach a block of concrete to their collected feet and hurl them into the sea (but not the Sea of Azov, because that’s receding and we’d be found out really quickly).

We’d only popped out for a bit of fish and some truffles. As we live in a backwater where everyone hates life, there’s nothing of any interest whatsoever for sale in our local supermarkets. A Chinese whisper starts at the supermarket’s automatic doors and swells to a deafening roar by the time it’s got to our house if they’ve stocked something exciting like a nice bit of tongue. But fresh fish is beyond them all so if we want that, we have to travel to do so.

As I live in a constant state of abject penury, I have tailored my consuming habits accordingly. I’ve cut right back on the champers, we’ve swapped from beluga to salmon caviar (don’t tell anyone) and, darlings, the truffles were a snip at only 150 euros a kilo. And I have been gifted with a loathing of shopping. So I’m happy to duck in, get my truffles and duck straight back out again. But the Russian’s a more proper gay with an eye too large for his wallet and likes looking at and owning things whereas I am happy to walk around with my eyes shut and own nothing but the handed-me-down shirt on my back.

“I must khev autumn jeckyet end shyuz,” my darling intoned seriously. Russians are great slaves to the seasons. Give ’em an equinox and they’re out changing their wardrobes as quick as a flash. It’s as much of a crime to wear your ushanka in Russia before December 21st as it is to wear white after Labor Day in the USA.

We escalatored ourselves further and further away from the fresh fish and truffles in a big shop. I would hesitate momentarily as we attained each new floor, wondering if we’d arrived in shopping heaven. But the Russian appeared to know the layout disconcertingly well and would say, “No. Khousekhold ityems… No. Vimmin’s ityems…” We got to the men’s bit. I have no knowledge of or interest in fashion but I have always found men’s shoes a disappointment. The shoes on sale looked identical to the ones in the shops my mother would have dragged me around to buy black shoes for school 30 years ago. “I don’t want to do my fucking homework. I wanna go pictures,” I screamed at the Russian such that everyone was distracted and one man even dropped his shoehorn. Then I apologised to everyone over the public address system, explaining that I’d got carried away in a shopping-induced daydream.

“Zese vuns?” asked the Russian. “No, darling. They’re disgusting.” … “Zese vuns?” “No, darling. They make you look like a 90-year-old paedophile.” … “Zese vuns?” “No, darling. Only the Mr. Men can wear those shoes with swirls.”

We gave up on shoes.

We wandered over to the jackets. Rows and rows of jackets crying out for an old man to take pity on them. Enough suits to clothe a hotel lobby in Brussels. Oilskin jackets. Tweed. Fucking tweed. Anoraks.

And then a lovely jacket. It stood out like a lovely jacket. A nice light-blue. I fancied the headless model that was wearing it. That lovely. I wouldn’t have dreamt of wearing it because I don’t own a gallery. And I wouldn’t have dreamt of buying it because it cost more than 2p. But now that I am my mother, I snatched a sneaky look at the price-tag so that I’d have something to complain about and had agreed with myself in the build-up to the sneaky look that I’d purse my lips and say, “Well! Would you credit it!” if it cost anything more than 50c. 400 euros. 400 effing euros. For a jacket! And not three weeks to the next equinox!

I dashed off to look for a complaints book but could only find a book of condolences so I wrote quickly that Perdita-who-used-to-work-in-accounts would remain the queen of my heart for ever and dashed back to the Russian. He was looking at the lovely jacket’s poorer twin. Before I’d even decided whether it was nice or not I had my hands out to look for the tag. Quite a bit less but still three figures which I think nothing but a house should cost by rights.

“Darlink, you look like tryemp. Try it on.” I did, just for fun. And out of nowhere appeared a shop assistant wearing a t-shirt that was much too tight for an alcoholic in his late forties and white jeans with a distractingly large and sported-with-pride bulge and no belt. A Stringfellow haircut. Had probably run a bar on Mallorca. Loved ’em and left ’em. Gone bankrupt and been chased out of island and turned up in Berlin with the sole purpose of making me want to kill him.

“Ooh, suits you, sir. Looks very good. Won’t let the wind through. You can wear the collar up or down. People normally put their hands in the pockets like this. My grandfather had one of these. I’ve sold four today. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime buy. Do you want a new scarf with it?” And before we knew it, the Russian and I were trudging, defeated and silent, to the till and being wished a nice day.

Need stringing up. The lot of ’em.

Nipple swap November 23, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

I was just saying to the Russian that, in a way, it’s a shame his nipples aren’t on his back as then I could have a little manipulate of them instead of just getting plain back when sitting behind him watching Wife Swap. But then I suppose they’re conveniently enough positioned where they are at other times and I can’t get on to the United Nations at this hour to suggest a working group be set up, chaired by São Tomé and Principe, to prepare a fact-finding mission AND feasibility study into whether we can all have our nips moved.

And, darlings, I can’t write about TV and Wife Swap again, so will limit myself to saying it is quite the most engaging televisual experience I’ve ever had. Twice. Yes, twice I can remember watching the programme and twice it’s been perfect as they have, inevitably, got two utterly different wives, one of whom is prim, proper and as anal about how the cutlery sits in its little plastic home as Mickey Rourke was about his suits in that film – what’s it called? 13¾ Weeks? – with Kim Basingstoke and the other who is, as luck would have it, less prim, untroubled by intellect and happy to live in a one-bedroomed cesspit. God, it’s a good watch.

So, I won’t blog about that. No TV. No nipples. That’s in the constitution.

I’m being a beaver at the moment. Beavering away at all sorts. Mostly of a translatorly bent. So I’m a zombie. Incapable of thought. And equally incapable of blogging. So I’m only really writing this to keep my hand in (and now dispel inopportune thoughts of the Hokey Cokey). And to say hello again.

Hello again.

No-frills bullfighting November 14, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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…or, rather, no-cape. Darlings, I’m so indignant I’ve had to switch on the lap-top.

Do excuse this barrel-scraping and blogging about what’s on’t telly but, you know, sometimes there’s no choice. And I’m quite a believer in telly, in a way, even though I don’t watch much a) because I think it makes me a more solid member of the intellectual bourgeoisie the less I watch and b) because we don’t leave the bastard on standby for ecology/tightness reasons which means actually having to move to turn the thing on. And just as well, because the moment I do resolve to set out on a quest for the remotes, I’m normally gripped.

Darlings, remember I told you, because it’s important that we don’t have secrets from each other, that the Russian bought a new box so we could, we hoped, pick up Anglo-channels for my mother’s visit? Well, it’s been quite an acquisition. I’ve already mentioned (no secrets, remember…) the 800 new Arabic channels – we’ve got both Al-Jazeeras – and that the new soft porn is very soft indeed. Also very depressing. And I do think that if the girls taking your phone calls live and feigning interest in each other’s bits were given a crowbar, they’d liberate themselves out of slavery. As luck would have it, we did get all those BBCs and CNNs and Fox Newses. We got a Cuban channel. A Turkish channel or two. A very, very low-budget Hungarian channel. A Polish one which seems to talk about nothing but god. A Bible channel. And then a good sprinkling of stuff from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

So I’m live-blogging Spanish TV for you. Not all of it. Just one, regional, satellite channel. Televisió Valenciana Internacional, one of whose aims is promoting the social structure (and other things) (like no-frills bullfighting) of the Land of Valencia in Spain and the rest of the world. I’m not sure I think TV is the right medium for social-structure promotion but the bullfight’s got me gripped.

But, darlings, they’ve cut such corners it’s all a bit of a scandal. I know nothing about bullfights but can tell this is only Vauxhall Conference level, a poor copy of the real thing. I’ve never been to a bullfight on any of my trips to Spain in case I instantly turned into Hemingway but I do remember the man of the house (or the man of one of the houses) I stayed at on my first trip to Madrid a hundred years ago – I arrived wearing a polo-neck in August because of being so mal élevé – watched them on video and we even saw one matado(r) get gored, which his daughter pointed out to me was autodefensa. I was 16 and didn’t dare express an opinion, though secretly I was chuffed for the bull.

Anyway, that was over 20 years ago. It’s November, not August. And I’m very much not in Spain. Nor did I become Hemingway. But seeing the Spanish sun and the sand in the arena has got me (semi-)gripped. I don’t know if this is November sun. You never can tell with those Spaniards. But if this is what bullfighting has come to, I shall have to write a letter in the strongest terms to Su Majestad Rey Juan Carlos de Castilla, Ceuta y Melilla y Jefe de las Corridas to alert him to this distressing and blatant example of dumbing-down.

I don’t particularly like animals, especially ones that can kill us, but this no-frills bullfighting is majorly taking the piss out of the bulls. The Russian says I mustn’t worry, (“Take a tablet.” OK, he doesn’t say that really) and the bulls know what they’re doing and are playing along. Like the wrestling. I think I’m watching bull no. 3 – once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all, frankly – and I, in stark contrast to my beloved, don’t think any of them had been prepped about what they were getting into. They make their way through a sort of bull-flap into the arena and you can tell they don’t know it’s about to be ritual humiliation. Initially, they are on the sand alone to bask unbothered in the jeers of a full-house. No sign of a matador. Or atormentador. For their no-frills tormentors don’t even have the common decency to kill the poor beasts once they’ve driven them to distraction. Instead, the boys, all with modern haircuts, hide themselves behind a little fence where the bull can see them but hasn’t got a hope in hell of getting a bit of blood for his efforts and then our hapless hero is ultimately ushered back through his flap none the wiser what he’s been paraded around like a common criminal in the Valencian sun for.

No tradition is respected. The bulls, at least, have the common decency to hoof the sand every now and again. Someone’s got some manners. But you’ve got to conclude, and I don’t know if this is because they’re no-frills bulls, though they look the real deal – black, horns, quite handsome – that bulls aren’t very good at what they do. I must have been watching for a good week now and no bull has struck gold. Not once. Either they are slow to learn or have very poor analytical skills. If they could just once, even by accident, not go for the perfect straight-line form of attack, they might get a nice bit of revenge and slake their thirst for blood.

But it’s the matadors who are the real disgrace. Perhaps because they’re no-frills. Maybe they’re apprentices. But not one of them is dressed up to the nines in the correct garb and the only headwear I’ve seen is a baseball cap. Indeed, the non-murderous matadors seem to be wearing baseball outfits. Elasticated waists. Numbers on their t-shirts.

And not a cape in sight. Their main move is best described as a wiggle. They do come-on-then, you-want-some signs to the bull, let it charge, and then wiggle deftly out of its way at the last minute. Some have replaced the cape with a stick and are pole-vaulting the poor beasts, which is adding insult to injury. And some, in my least favourite move, simply run away.

I’m wondering if no-frills bullfighting is a bit like WWF wrestling for Spaniards. You know, a cheapo day out (though WWF wrestling probably costs more than a trip to the moon, doesn’t it?) for all the family. Or like going to see the Harlem Globetrotters at Wembley Arena. (Don’t laugh. Mad Lizzie was doing the warm-up.) Easily watchable but not overly taxing, especially as I can’t even be bothered to force myself to compare man and beast when the beasts have given such a poor account of themselves.

Still, Spain is obviously in a deep philosophical crisis covering identity, the limitations of regional autonomy and its place in the modern world. I just saw someone wave a plastic bag at the bull.

Useful November 13, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Darlings, I haven’t done a single useful thing all day. Nothing productive. Worthy. Deserving of a gold star, a big tick or a slap on the back. Haven’t done a scrap of the work I should be doing, unless purists will count the perhaps even as much as fifteen seconds I did after midnight last night. Haven’t massaged the Russian’s bunions or bought him a big diamond ring. Haven’t done anything bureaucratic. (Not that I can remember there’s anything bureaucratic I specifically and urgently need to attend do, but there probably is, this being Germany.) Haven’t rung my mum. Paid any bills. Self-flagellated.

So I hope blogging counts.

Darlings, as I don’t have any convictions (I mean ideas, though I don’t think I have a criminal record either, though no doubt German computers flash up all sorts of asterisks and exclamation marks by my name due to paperly infractions I have committed) and, in a way, life isn’t especially ghastly at the moment, I have nothing at all to say. At all. Apart from hello.

I reminded myself somewhere and sometime or other, seeing as blogging is the only thing in life I like (as well as jam roly-poly) and the only thing I am prepared to take seriously – paying bills? Pah! Making my way in the world? Sod it! Blogging? Hell yeah – and, potentially, even make an effort with, that I had decided I should buy a notebook to note down things I wanted to shock, scintillate and scandalise anyone who happens to drop in here with. I can’t afford a notebook, of course, even with all the money I have saved from not smoking (still livid with myself for stopping. It’s so English of me to have stopped, isn’t it? So Protestant. I’m probably going to have to start preaching about the nation’s morals soon. Once I learn German), but, as luck would have it, I had one lying about. “Yes, that’ll come in handy,” I said to myself, though I mischose my moment, and accidentally said it out loud when I happened to be leering at some Pangasius – is that really catfish? – in the supermarket and the sales assistant of unclear gender – I think she’s a woman but she has a pencil moustache and a not ungenerous beard – frowned disapprovingly. So now I’ve taken to jotting down things, and then the scribbles stare back at me and make me feel guilty and have ruined the whole experience altogether.




All the things I’ve got written down are pants.

But it’s too late for usefulness today. You can’t start the working day when it’s dark. As much as I detest winter, it’s quite cosy, in a way, it being pitch at four. I can soon look forward to hibernation and my body-clock switching to its anti-nocturnal setting. Going to bed at about 7, like in children’s books, and getting up at about 4. Though I can’t blame the darkness today. Not entirely. (Darlings, can ordinary folk use this as an excuse for not working? Can you say, “Sorry I didn’t come into work today. It was too dark”?) No, it was another moment of ill-timed low-grade spontaneity. I happened to be over near our home-discotheque, probably putting something away as the Russian (probably) came into my bijou home-officette and (probably) quook with anger that a dictionary was on my table rather than on its shelf. I lingered a while, to put off activity a precious few useless seconds longer. Pressed play on my tape-deck willing to let my ears be buffeted by whatever it was happened to be lying around compactly in there. And I knew there was no hope once I’d been got into disco-bunny mode by everyone’s favourite Turkish pop song.

If I can just be bothered to get dressed, it’ll probably be a long night…

Beanstalks November 9, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, I’ve had yet another brilliant idea which I’m sure is going to earn me millions so I can pay off my debts and never translate another word and probably win the Nobel Prize for Cleverness into the bargain. None of you be unscrupulous, please, and go stealing my idea before I’ve had a chance to jam the switchboard of whichever organisation can bring my idea to fruition. To discourage unscrupulousness, I even promise to throw a big party for all of us once the cheque has cleared.

In my Nobel speech, I’ll thank my mum, and cry, because mothers are a necessity of invention, both for having you in the first place, for which I suppose we really must all be grateful, and then, in my case, for making me have to fly to go and see her. All my best ideas happen above clouds.

Mothers are troubling though, aren’t they? Mine has been and gone. When she arrived, we’d run out of conversation before we’d got to the train-station in the airport, and that was after I’d even resorted to her favourite subjects of public transport and how to get to and from places. And, being a lady of few interests, naturally my mother would rather have not been here, were it not for me insisting on ridiculously living abroad, but she comes from deferential and non-complaining times and remembers rationing so thinks, I suppose rightly, that flying to and being in Berlin is a luxury – she was horrified that someone we know decided simply to miss a flight the other day – and sensibly decided to make the most of a bad lot.

My mother, as I’ve said, doesn’t really do interests. Or believe in Europe. Germany is probably a hazy concept. War probably features in there somewhere. Football too. Maybe sausage. And Berlin is the capital, so that means it’s sort of London. But my mother knows it’s the done thing to be interested in places. And things. And foreign cultures. She isn’t, of course, at all interested, but we like to keep up appearances, even within the family… We’d set off on an of-unspecified-destination walk. Inevitably, this would take us through our utterly uninteresting and devoid-of-attractions part of town. Conversation would have dried up before the end of our street once I’d asked her if she was cold and how her legs were bearing up. I could cope with the silence, which is probably due to having grown up after punk or something, but my mother must think it’s a grim state of affairs when a mother and son walk along the streets of a foreign city in silence so she’d look for prompts. We’d walk past a video shop called something uncryptic like Videoshop. “Oh, what’s that shop called Videoshop?” “It’s a video shop.” “A video shop?” “Yes, a video shop. Called Videoshop.” We’d resume a silence unbroken even as we passed our local sex shop (uncryptically called Sex Shop).

We flew back to London with my mother. The Russian had that hard-won visa to exploit. And we beed perfect tourists. Didn’t see a soul, of course, as I have finally resigned myself to admitting is now the case for ever. Trips to the UK are so consumed with family and duty that I will never see a friend again unless we agree to meet in a neutral venue. But London was heaven. Utter, total heaven. I fell head over heels in love. I spent four years’ earnings on public transport but it was still perfect. Friendly. Polite. I was called love and darling by total strangers. Beautiful. Exciting. Hectic. (My walking speed doubled.)

And the flight. Which was before I was reminded how heavenly London was, so I was still in disdain-for-England mode. We flew of a morning. Even though I need clouds for my ideas to bloom, they obliged by being suitably wispy and not impeding my view of the island as we flew in. And it looked so wonderful. The Essex coast – I assume it was Essex – seemed to be one long, perfect beach. There was the delicious patchwork of irregular fields, which I associate with England, until I checked and saw that it was just the same in Holland on the way back, but I’m going to pretend it’s English, like Russians pretend silver birch exist exclusively in Russia, even though we have them in the back yard here and they abound where my mother lives, and the nicely rolling landscape. From above, settlements looked wonderful. Nature looked perfect. Indeed, Essex seemed like paradise on earth. And yet we sort of know this isn’t true.

“Hmm,” I pondered. “I am slightly bored of being a linguistic cripple in Berlin. Maybe it’s time to come back to the homeland. But then the people here are so horrid.” (The wonderful love-and-darling-callers of London were yet to intervene, remember.) “And England is so depressing in so many ways. And, anyway, I couldn’t afford a glass of tap-water here. And it’s lovely being a foreigner. And I’d understand the TV here and would have my brain filled with McCannness. Hmm…”

And then I had my brilliant idea. Which none of you must steal. Darlings, as I can resolutely confirm that the world looks nicer from above, and as nice and love-and-darling-callers are, we must still agree that people are basically ghastly and human contact is to be kept to a strict minimum, I have come up with a solution that will ease overcrowding and anti-social behaviour all at once (as long as we’re choosy about who can live in these communities of the future). Living atop beanstalks.

Once we slay the giants and can neutralise the smell of an Englishman’s blood, I’m sure we’ll be laughing.