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Bllog February 22, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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Our village is small. And getting smaller by the day what with the mine closing. When I go out on my bike to start my rounds, I see fewer and fewer of the houses have smoke swirling out of their chimneys. It’s an insult, almost, to the coal our community was built on. But Bllog still keeps its beauty. The grey stone cottages with their slate roofs. The chapel. The Glyndawr community centre.

News travels slow in the village. It was a couple of days before word got to me that Blodeuwedd was ill. Well, she’s right at the other end of the village. Had a right case of the sinuses on her. Stuffed up like nobody’s business. I made sure my cap was on straight, that my medical kit was ready and wheeled my bike up onto the hill.

“Hallo Nerys!” shouted Brythonwen from the post-office.

“Oh, hello Brythonwen! Just off to see to Blodeuwedd. She’s got a right case of the sinuses on her!”

“You never stop, Nerys…”

“Hullo Nerys!” said Creiddylad from the tea-room.

“Can’t stop, Creiddylad. Blodeuwedd’s got the sinuses. Give my love to Rhioganedd and the kids.”

“Dw i’n codi’n gynnar bob dydd. Codaf yn gynnar yfory,” mumbled Llwybyr, the village idiot, incoherently.

“Sorry, Llwybyr, didn’t catch a word o’ that. You know I don’t speak Welsh. Just got the accent, like.”

Language is a problem round these here parts. Right in the middle of the village, there’s a 4-million strong community of German guest workers. Ber-y-llyn, we call it. They came over when the mine was going great guns. Well, they’ve stayed and they’re a productive, hard-working bunch, I’ll say that for them, and though they keep themselves to themselves, they’re all right. Haven’t mixed much. It’s meant a right run on the German evening classes at the Glyndawr community centre. ’cause the Germans have got most of the businesses, see. Clever the way they done it and they’d creamed off all the opportunities before we could recover from the shock of the mine going the way of the dodo.

Well, I was hesitant as I made my way to the chemist’s. Had to stock up, see. That’s German-run too and they don’t like it much when us Welsh come in. Primitive, they find us. Won’t speak a word of local. Six years I been going to the Glyndawr for the classes but I still feel funny having to talk to the Germans. In Bllog! I know all the medical words of course but I still don’t like going and discussing Blodeuwedd’s Nasennebenhöhlenentzündung with just anyone and I’ve never much liked that Mrs. Waltraud Llewellyn what works there, even if she has married a local, Anynnawg, what runs choir practice down the Glyndawr.

But I was right pleased with myself this time. Mrs. Llewellyn was in a better mood and my classes down the community centre have really paid off. I chatted away about Blodeuwedd’s sinuses no problem like and Mrs. Llewellyn even went and wished me, “iechyd da!” as I rode off down the village lane on my bike.

Well, poor Blodeuwedd was in a right state. I administered her the medicine and told her to get some more coal on that fire. Made her up another hot water bottle and told her not to leave the house before Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant. Well, it’s only next week.

I rode home feeling right pleased with myself and with Bllog. Bllog has its fair share of problems but we’re a lovely little community. I rested my bike against the cottage wall, took my cap off and put the kettle on the stove in preparation for a good litre or two of tea. Got the buns out of the larder. Put the wireless on in the background. Cole Porter came crackling out. I love him. One of my favourites, along with Max Boyce. You can right imagine yourself off in a different world.

Then I don’t know what it was, if I’d accidentally taken a hallucinogen or something, but everything changed. The four walls of my grey stone cottage fell away. The whistle of the kettle on the stove fell silent. And Cole Porter got louder and louder.

“She can speak. Sie kann sprechen sprechen.
She c’n’inquire. In den Apotheken.
Be it Nasennebenhöhlenentzündung or nay,
Sie kann German talken und German walken any day…”

My nurse’s uniform was replaced by a lovely long white frock. All frills and sequins it was. My hair went all lovely and curly and had a great big feather sticking out of it. And out of nowhere appeared a huge great staircase, all illuminated and leading from nowhere to nowhere and I was right at the top of it. And on every step on the way down, on either side, there was a great big hulking man in black tie just waiting to swirl me down to the bottom. Like a feather I was as I blew from one man to the other, cascading downwards in their big strong arms.

“She can fly. Sie kann fliegen fliegen…”

When all of a bloody sudden I did hear the whistle of the kettle from the stove after all and the walls of my cottage sprang back up around me.

Maybe I’ll start a musicals club down the Glyndawr.

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Small plate, big plate February 19, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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“Khev dinner on table ven I get khome,” went the Russian’s text, which I can’t claim oppressed-wife status for because he cooks 12 times out of 11, at least, and he was probably on his way back from a tough day of exams and all sorts of academic hardships, like getting stamps on bits of paper from recalcitrant women with short blond hair and glasses, so it was the least I could spouselily do to, for the first time this millennium, try to welcome him home with something bordering on warmth, wiping the flour off my flushed cheeks onto my apron and primping my hair so that he could be proud of his nest. Plus I was probably feeling guilty about something – he did try to pin Heath Ledger’s death on me, but I stood my ground – so shook myself up and admitted that it would be a scandal of enormous proportions if I couldn’t have a plate of some gruel or other waiting for him one evening in a million.

Thought I’d go for something a bit spesh. My beloved tends to dash for salt and mayonnaise whenever I provide any item of sustenance, even a glass of tap water, so I thought I’d better pull out all the stops. Throw in a bit of everything to disguise the main ingredient – bland nothingness – and confuse his palate into submission. And two courses. Nothing will make a Russian man’s mouth water like the prospect of a good, slurpy soup. With some good old-fashioned boring ingredients, like potatoes and cabbage. And carrots. Especially if you don’t blend it and it appears in the bowl as some bits of potato, cabbage and carrot looking dumbstruck and forlorn in a putrid puddle of murky water. Anyway, I cheated. There was a pre-made soup, which I sexed down with some boring ingredients, and then let that nicely fester away, while I went and dipped my fists into the packet of flour, which I had no intention of using, dabbed a blob on either cheek and my forehead, and got on with some main course or other and laying the table.

Seeing as it was such a rare occasion and it was so exceptional to have been unleashed on the kitchen, I wondered if I could be seditious and try to introduce some structural changes to the way we eat. We could do with them, after all. We’re both as fat as barrels and it’s not unknown for us to get wedged in the hall if we mistime our inward breaths and then have to wait, like Winnie the Pooh, for us to lose weight or the walls to sag.

“Small plates!” I said in my head with revolutionary zeal. Not really small. Not what couples who have wedding lists at John Lewis would call side plates. Just the plates we bought when we first got here, which are plain and spartan to the point of showing off and have ‘Romania’ stamped across the bottom of them. Off-centre. But then one of us must have earned some money and we bought big plates, the size of car wheels, to make ourselves be middle-class. A size=class-rule which didn’t apply on the wine-glass front, where we eventually got them bigger and bigger so that we could have a whole bottle in two glasses and still feel ungluttonous at only having had one glass with dinner.

I plonked down the small plates. On place mats. Three items of cutlery with the spoon across the top to remind me of school dinners. Wine glasses the size of vases. Another glass for water with a bit of lemon thrown in. Maybe even a napkin. And then put down some pre-middle-class soup bowls on top of the plates. It looked just like the dining room of a hotel on the English coast in 1977. Like in that execrable Suffolk shit-hole Southwold that we all have to pretend to like because Twiggy owns a weekend house there.

“Honig, I’m khome,” barked the Russian manlily to the click of the front door shutting out the wicked external world for another evening. “How was your day, dear?” I asked, flicking my apron onto a hook while helping him off with his coat and readjusting the shirt collar under his jumper to make sure he looked neat and tidy because it’s good for the soul to look neat and tidy, even if no-one else can see you.

“Honig, you go and sit and read your paper. I’ve ironed it for you. Do you want a gin on the rocks?”

“No, honig, but do zat sing for me you do. Vere you massage my tyemples. I khev such khard day.”

“Oh honig, baby, we need to take a vacation. You work too hard for that bad ol’ Mr. Boss.”

“Honig, you know I can’t tyake tsime off now.”

Dashed spouselily back to the kitchen. Served up the soup. The Russian ate it with relish. And salt and mayonnaise. And the Southwold 1977 look completely passed him by, so voracious was his manly appetite and so overcome with joy was he at the sight of some good old cabbage as tastelessly tasty as anyone could have made.

“But look, darling, see how clever I’ve been for the main course. SMALL plates. We’ll eat less. Be svelte in no time.”

Twelve portions of tasteless gruel later and we agreed that from now on we’ll only swap roles with carnivalesque infrequency.

Be good February 14, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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OK, the link’s vague, but I can pretend what’s brought my attention to this idea is my constant pondering of matters affecting children in war and while that is something, of course, that disturbs my feeble mind when I think about it, I must say it was actually stumbling across the idea here that got me interested. So, a project, like the Shaggy Blog Stories book before it, making a book out of blog entries and making money for charity at the same time. Pimp the project and your own blog all in one go.

But philanthropy has been on my mind of late. Maybe it’s a late-30’s thang. Or hating my job. Or thinking it’s a silly contribution to make to the world, translating nonsense, when I could easily be doing something much more useful, like being a painter and decorator, or a school-teacher or a stevedore (although this last one’s only for convenience’s sake because my name is, by a queer twist of fate, actually Steve Dore). My translations are only good in the sense of getting one man to dig a hole and another to fill it in. It keeps a few of us queer types busy and the wolf from our door.

Yet I’d struggle with usefulness. Intellectually, I can agree with it, but then I think a desire to be useful need naturally spring from a love of the society you’re being useful to and, by extension, a love of your fellow man. And while I’ve loved a few of my fellow men in my time, I still think we’re mostly a shower of cunts. But there are all sorts of little devices for getting round that nagging little fact. Firstly, we mostly know we’re a shower of cunts with ghastly natures but we pragmatically reason that, seeing as a life nicely lived is more pleasant than one where we live according to our natures, we suppress our cunticity and counter one logic with another and attempt, at some level – a cultural one, I suppose – to be ‘nice’ to each other. Or at least not actively nasty. Good is cultural. (Darlings, I’ve got a feeling this is what Dawkins’s memetic theory is all about. I didn’t know meme was his coinage. But, anyway, a meme, being a cultural unit, so he says, I think, presuming I haven’t got the wrong end of the stick, which I might easily have, of course, is subject to a cultural version of evolution. Good or useful cultural memes survive. I think it’s how he explains away religion, in fact.)

Which I’m all for, actually. If we’re going to pretend we’re someone we’re not, and then actually, by dint of pretending for so long, actually become someone we’re not and be social (beyond our direct little social unit, I mean) animals, then I’m a great believer in making the whole charade as delicious as possible – not believing in god may add some urgency here, not that I’ve been majorly adept at getting my skates on, be it said. And not to say that the godly don’t do good either, of course – and doing good and being kind to your neighbour and helping the less fortunate and saving the world and eradicating poverty and violence and… and… and everything. And translation – at least not the types I do – just doesn’t contribute too much to anything.

Still, I don’t want to get too good lest you all be blinded by the glint off my halo. And then we have to retain a modicum of honesty, do we not, as we go about our daily lives. So I’ve thought hard about how I can contribute. Encourage charity, yes. But how can I push myself? How can I make it be the essence of all I do to improve the lot of my fellow men, all the while harbouring a cosy grudge against them? How can I be a misanthropic philanthropist?

Bingo! No, not actual bingo. Bingo, as in eureka. And, oddly, translation DOES come into it. Oddly, I need to make a fortune to do my good. I don’t know the first thing about anything other than translating, so I’ll have to carry on translating my bollocks off and earn a fortune. Then, to quench my disdain for my fellow man while also taking the reprehensible edge off the evil of my act, I’m going to buy cars for all the people I hate so that I can go and let down their tyres. Don’t you get all uppity with me. I’m going to try to target my hate at a remote community that needs means of transport. I know slashing their tyres will put a temporary downer on the good I’ve done but it’ll create a need for tyre-repair people, thereby creating jobs and wealth, and I’ll spend money on stamps in local, community-based, post-office co-operatives to send postcards home on my tyre-slashing trips.

No time to waste. But before you all have your philanthropic eureka moments, go and help War Child and pimp your blog in the meantime.

Walk February 13, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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IsarSteve’s post about, and photos of, Stolpersteine – ‘stumbling blocks’ built into the pavement outside the last dwelling-place of victims of the Nazi era, aiming, in this way, to keep their memory alive – made me want to get out of the house and go and scour the pavements of Pankow to see if commemoration had made it this far. There was a specific building I was aiming for, one that used to be a Jewish orphanage. I remembered a plaque on its façade with some details of what fate had befallen its residents – the deportation of ‘many of the school-children, apprentices and teachers resident here’ to extermination camps in 1942 – and, upon slightly more insistent inspection yesterday, discovered that that’s all there appears to be. The prayer room of the synagogue that used to be there survives, in some form or other, but twice I have tried to find it and twice I have failed and I worry about snooping around civic buildings too much to wander up every staircase and down every corridor. It’s hard to apply a hierarchy to those who deserve to be commemorated – I’m sure the project’s organisers would happily commemorate everyone they possibly could, and will happily lay a Stolperstein to any victim whose details can be corroborated and whose stone someone is willing to finance – but I thought it would be extra fitting to individualise the orphans of Orphanage no. 2 of the Jewish Community in Berlin, robbed as they already had been of their pasts, of a normal present, and then of any future.

After a mammoth session of being cooped up at the computer and only leaving the house to make a beeline, looking neither left, nor right, for addresses promising alcohol for the last god knows how long, it was overwhelmingly invigorating to go and get some daytime air into my lungs and stretch my legs as all about me regular Berliners, and not just those in search of alcohol, were stretching theirs. Sitting at home and working away, the only movement is from one room to another. Visual stimuli consist chiefly of the flickering of the computer screen and the flicking of dictionary pages. Society consists of the Russian as he does his best at being a one-man show.

So, as I wandered into the outside world, in the daylight, without having to concentrate on preparing to imbibe, there were so many stimuli I thought I might have a seizure. Even in Pankow, the Ruislip of Mitteleuropa! As I hadn’t attained any speed higher than 1kph since before the flood, the pace society was setting on our well-trodden streets seemed lightningly quick. Indeed, the hustle and bustle of cars, bikes, trams and youngsters running around all took place at such a different tempo to my working motor-slumber that it felt a bit like the depiction of the future in some future-depicting film. With traffic like in The Fifth Element.

I soon acclimatised, of course, and saved up culture shock for when I get to go somewhere deserving of the dissonance, rather than simply coming back to the present. I did worry, though, what would happen to poor Shakespeare if some clever type decided to bring him back to life – as the wonderfully bonkers Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorov said we should. Not Shakespeare. Everyone. We owed it to our ancestors to bring everyone back to life and then make everyone live for ever – and he was plonked in the middle of London. Not that it need be Shakespeare, of course. Any old person would do, though at least Shakespeare might be able to get a play out of his experience before, presumably, going mad.

To avoid my Shakespeare scenario, I thought I’d better extend the walk, and make it into a proper walk, and commune with and observe my fellow citizens a bit longer before heading back for another session of conjugal bliss with my computer. A man pushed a hot-dog into his face with urgency, as if he was shredding a very compromising document, all the while managing to speak on his mobile phone. I altered my step so I could eavesdrop on a young German-Irish couple whom it was hard to place on the relationship continuum. They looked physically as if they’d got to the very-bored-of-each-other stage but their conversation was at the only-just-met stage and had the fatal intercultural twist so they had to feign interest in fantastically mundane aspects of each other’s worlds. “And what beers do you have?” asked the German, wishing he was somewhere else. “Guinness!” answered the Irish lady predictably and not without umbrage. “It’s an acquired taste. Very heavy.”

I sped on in my attempt at halting the further atrophy of my wizened musculature. Took myself through the Mauerpark. Was instantly gripped by fear at the sight of dogs and people playing football. “What if a dog comes towards me? What if a football comes towards me?”

A dog came bounding towards me, wagging its tail in a way that meant, “I’m going to enjoy biting you,” rather than, “I’m going to enjoy being stroked by you.” Before he took the lethal leap, he turned round, in that dim way that dogs do, to see if he had permission from his owner to maim. Such bad logic. His owner prevented him from maiming. I took the dog aside. “Why would it be OK to maim me while slavishly doing what your owner said? If he said, ‘maim,’ and you maimed, wouldn’t there be a contradiction in you being nice to him but horrid to me?” It cocked its head and issued a whiney pre-bark. I was getting nowhere. “Wie sagt man ‘contradictory’ auf Deutsch?” I shouted after his owner but they’d already wandered off to play god elsewhere.

Bounce, bounce, bounce, went the full-sized, proper, leather football being played with by four teenagers before trickling to a stop at my feet. One of them was walking towards me. I could have walked on. I could have left it. Let the teenager come and get it. But I’d already made my decision. The teenager and I had exchanged body language clearer than an SMS on a high-res mobile-phone display. I was going to kick the ball to him. I adjusted my stance. Remembered BaH’s advice not to toe-punt it, not to be a ‘spitzer’. “Get this right, BiB,” I muttered to myself. “You’re doing this for England. You’re doing this for gaydom. Goddammit, you’re doing this for Obama.” A collective ssshhh rang out, sprayed everyone in spittle and brought silence. In far-off windows I could see people jostling to get a better view. I looked up to a cloud over my right shoulder in which the Russian’s face appeared. “Davai, davai,” he mouthed. I stepped up to the ball. Turned my right foot to the side. Quickly made sure my hair was OK. And kicked… A perfect delivery. It landed with just the right force at his feet. “Vielen Dank,” he shouted, his back already turned, not even realising he’d had truck with a homosexual.

I grabbed my crotch and walked home, counting the day’s stimuli.

Communication February 5, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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It’s all anyone ever does these days, isn’t it? If we’re not connecting people here, we’re changing the communications landscape there. Our telephones are constantly being communicated to by someone or other who’d like to communicate some money out of us. The Russian can often be heard yelling down the phone at his babushka. I dash next door to give him some pointers. “Quick, tell her about your health.” He grimaces. “Quick, ask her about her health.” He acknowledges my existence impatiently and encourages me to leave the room.

But I haven’t got a second for any of this communication business at the moment. Not a second. Work, don’t you know. Oh yes, like a grown-up. Plus the Russian’s not in and his absences are always unpredictable in length and we’ll both die of acute moanitis if he comes in and sees me here or, worse, checking my stats, and then complaining at 11.45pm that I haven’t quite begun my working day yet and still have about 40 billion words to translate before the morning (and then yelping all night in bed, though not in an even vaguely sexy way, and waking up in sweats about undone work but realising all is sort of OK when the Russian says a reassuring, “Beeb, oll vill byee OK. Всё будет хорошо. You just mad”).

But, anyway, I’ve got this new policy going. A communications policy. You know, getting out there. Meeting people. Getting back on the dating scene. Except I had to scrap that bit when the Russian reminded me we were a couple. “Darling, sorry, I clean forgot we’d been together for a millennium now.” “Yes, iz very fanny. Saamtyimez I forget too. Zen I see your shyuz placed inkorrektly in kholl and remember ze joy of kommunal leevying.” Because I’m bored of my ivory tower now. And it’s stats what’s reminded me. I was having a minor ganderette through to see if anyone had come to visit me from an interesting place. “Darlink, vot you dooink?” came the disembodied voice of the Russian from an intercom system he’s had wired up so that he can spy on me from the next room. “You chekkink styets? Styop it. Do some vyerk.” “No, honestly, darling, it’s the last time. Honestly. This is my last ever check. Look at all those interesting places that people have come to visit from. Look, there’s a place called King of Prussia in Pennsylvania. Oh, just let me check that url. I’m sure it’s probably someone important wanting to turn my whole blog into a play…” But of course when I open the exciting-looking url, it’s just some regular old bastard service provider instantly flashing their ‘Connecting People’ or ‘Changing the Communication Landscape’ logo in my freshly despondent face.

Anyway, so I’ve taken on their words. Will make a paasitive out of a negative. Get communicating again. I’ve fallen out of the game. This translating away at home is rubbish. Go and befriend the neighbours. Pick up the phone. Text people. Write some e-mails.

“Drring, drring.” I braced myself. Rid my throat. Picked up the phone. “Hello,” went a drone with a job. “It’s your credit card people. Can you give us all your money and then borrow another different million so we can ring and hassle you about that and write to you twenty times a month?” “Bing.” Ooh, that’ll be an e-mail. “Er, yeah, sorry we haven’t paid that invoice. Yeah, there’s been some confusion about that actually. :-) Because we thought it was for such-and-such a piece of work ;-) and then that person left :-( and…”

“This is no place for gloom,” I reassure myself. “If you dash downstairs and check the post, there’ll probably be postcards from faraway places, cheques, invitations to balls.” I walk to the recycling to throw out the pizza ads and remind myself that I must get round to booby-trapping the letter-box. I pass the loathsome neighbour with the hairstyle that makes me want to kill him. “Hello,” I say with fake pleasure that England has honed to perfection down the evolutionary centuries. He walks past in total silence which makes me wonder if he can tell I put a glass up against the hall wall when their baby hasn’t stopped crying for four hours in a row and he and his girlfriend are screaming, no doubt about his hair. Butter-borrowing son of a bitch.

Still, today’s another day. And probably only four months till Eurovision.