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Toss April 30, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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…and turn. Toss and turn.

I am keeping an old pal company in his insomnia. When it would be much better to keep him company somewhere else. And so I am trying to exhaust myself, thinking this is just about not expending sufficient energy in the daytime, with fifty-hour walks. Now that the greyness and arcticity appear to have gone for good, it is, goddammit, even pleasant to do so.

But fatal, if an insomniac’s problem is a busy head, to go for a walk. All those people out looking and being interesting. They’re enough to cram your head full of sleep-preventing images till the winter comes back, though I hibernate well, so the eight dark, gloomy months of the year here have their purpose.

A couple of days ago, I needed an excuse to leave the house, a work-sesh behind me. I’d forgotten about the purposeless walk, what used to be known as ‘a walk’, and wondered how I could possibly justify going out of the house. But I haven’t had an idea since my importing-samovars-to-Tula business proposal was rejected out of hand so have had to, unless one presents itself of its own accord, create jobs that involve burning calories and creating tiredness.

So I’ve started destroying my documents so that I can go and apply for new ones. I trotted off to the town hall to remind the ladies there that I still live exactly where they know I live. “But would you mind printing it out for me again? Oh go on. I’ll give you €4.09.” But, darlings, it was all so much more stimulating than I could have hoped for. The town hall is chock-full of riveting snippets of information. Once I’d got my number, I settled in to watch Town Hall TV. Some failed to be gripped. Paid attention to their children. Or their newspapers. But I couldn’t take my eyes off it. For Town Hall TV lists facts and, for someone incapable of thought like me, facts are brilliant.

“Pankow has this many trees,” Town Hall TV explained with pride. And then there was a breakdown of make of tree. “And Pankow has this many people and is the largest district in Berlin.” My heart swelled with civic love. But Town Hall TV must have had consultants in who’d said that inculcating the locals needs to be done interactively. You can’t just bombard them with facts. Get them involved to keep them fresh. Just as I was about to burst from fact-excitement, Town Hall TV gave us a quiz. And not even about Pankow! But about the outside world, as if Pankow didn’t have everything a human could need! A flag appeared on the screen. “Which country’s flag is this?” asked the quiz. It was so Finland’s flag. Christ, this quiz was made for me. “a) El Salvador. b) Finland. c) Burkina Faso.” “b). b). Finland,” I shouted with all the force my pleuritic lungs could muster and springing to my feet competitively, almost ripping my waiting-room number in the process. “Is Burkina Faso the one that used to be called Surinam?” asked my neighbour, an old Berliner still indignant at having had to press a button to get a number in the first place.

Didn’t sleep a wink all night.

That walk was such a success, though, that I decided to repeat the performance yesterday without so much as a purpose. An old-fashioned, purposeless walk. But blow me if I wasn’t bombarded with all sorts of interesting events and goings-on. “This isn’t going to help knock me out this evening,” I worried, and then post-worried that that would mean the Russian moaning at me with sleepy indignation when, at 5am, having managed to lie still for 3 hours, I decided I needed to have a minor tossing-and-turning session, waking him up in the process. He doesn’t do insomnia. Indeed, he’s got the bed=sleep association so down to a t that sometimes, just when I think we might be about to embark on something sinful, his envy-inducing snores ring out. So I’ve taken to wearing a cow-bell on bed=sex occasions to keep him awake and that works very well.

Just as I was getting into my ambling stride, I saw a youth trying to catch my eye. He appeared to be heading a youth convention. He was the only boy and was tonnes taller than the six or seven girls. “Oh god, I’m going to be mugged in broad daylight by a group of 15-year-olds.” But I wasn’t. “Do you speak English?” he asked and I was thrilled to be linguistically unhandicapped for once in my life. “Can you tell me how to get to the Brandenburg Gate?”

That was sweet, wasn’t it? And respectful of tradition. To want to get to the Brandenburg Gate. I instantly had thoughts of Big Ben. And being asked directions to Big Ben. That would have made me bristle with some positive emotion for London. The trouble was, for the non-mugging youngsters, we were in Camden Town. Nowhere near Big Ben. Or the Brandenburg Gate.

“Hmm, well, you’re quite a way away, youths,” I said, thinking there was no point breaking it to them gently. The male youth took the news like a man and asked me to suggest a route nonetheless. A bus, perhaps? The girls all agreed. And I realised they were Danish. They gobbled advice to him like rather aggressive turkeys as he manfully led the show. His English was so good, at 15, that he could even put on a cool accent. He’d selected London for this linguistic outing. He used the word mate. And a glottal stop. I sent him on his way with his gobbling brood behind him.

Music of the type heard in discotheques – not a tune you could whistle and not a lyric for love nor money – boomed out of an establishment. I was on a busy street but this seemed to be taking the piss. Discotheque-volume music in the afternoon. And then there appeared to be a queue. Good lord. Could it mean that there was a new phenomenon of daytime dances? The French used to do those. As I got closer I saw the boom-boom was coming from a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream emporium. Flyers for free ice-cream were strewn across the street. The Ben & Jerry’s staff, all dressed in blue, were struggling to cope with the throng. The girl who was on balloons was hard-pushed to inflate them fast enough, thereby keeping the party atmosphere alive. You can’t have a party without balloons, after all. I wonder if queuing for free ice-cream at a Ben & Jerry’s day-time discotheque was part of this cool-Berlin phenomenon that folk are so fond of talking about.

I won’t sleep till Christmas at this rate.

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Location, location, location April 25, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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There is a bar in our neighbourhood which makes me shake my head and tsk my teeth whenever I walk past. It’s not in glorious Ruislip proper. Nor is it quite far south enough to technically be in the next area, the mere mention of whose name is enough to double property values and make everyone in London want to buy a flat there. No. It is in a sort of no-man’s-land in between. Not, unfortunately, a no-man’s-land that I can romanticise and say was former wall country – though one unremarkable-looking house does have a plaque to some victim or other of fascism on it. Which just goes to show that even resistance fighters can grow up in unremarkable-looking houses – where people were constantly making daring attempts at a dash to a perfect life in the West. Mind you, if any did do their dashing around here, it’s a slightly sobering and deromanticising image to think they dashed from Pankow (Ruislip) to Wedding (Northolt). This bit of no-man’s-land is, far more prosaically, probably so no-man’s-land-like because it’s along a fairly long sweep of mainish road with a good gap between U-Bahn stations and the U-Bahn is actually still just about above ground, or about to molishly bore its way into the (thankfully, suspecting and prepared) ground right there, which means the main road is divided in two by engineering which gets in the way of life nicely organically springing up. There’s no waving to your neighbour across the road, really, if a big train’s going to yellowly trundle past with Teutonic predictability every couple of minutes.

No-man’s-land, as befits the designation, is not pulsating with life. The pavements on this couple-of-hundred-metre stretch are even less pounded than elsewhere in Ruislip. A petrol-station is perhaps its highlight. A video-shop whose recruitment policy was only to employ ravishingly handsome working-class young men. A bric-a-brac shop (not-)selling the same ancient toaster. A market which I’m not sure deserves the prefix flea-. All in all, an uninspiring few blocks, fitting for a perfectly ordinary and OK residential area in a forgotten and forgettable part of Berlin.

One of the vacant commercial lets – there are lots of those, and those which do get let are usually for let again very quickly as, surprise, surprise, there turns out not to have been that much call for a shop selling coloured glass in a corner quiet even by Ruislip’s standards – was one fateful spring to be seen with a gaggle of youngsters inside clearly preparing it for a grand opening. Youngsters with a project! How enterprising. And they looked a certain type of Berlin youngster. Perfectly nice. Nerdy and cool. Can’t think if the girls might have shown a millimetre of midriff. The boys would have been too thin. Probably took a drug or two but preferred green tea. One of the girls might have been a lesbian once. Would ideally have liked their enterprise to open in Prenzlauer Berg, aber, na ja, the rents were probably too high down there and they were probably convinced – they were a good few years too early – that Pankow was the next big thing.

They beavered industriously away. It was going to be a bar, by the looks of things. The Russian and I feigned interest and enthusiasm. “Oh, that will be nice. There’ll be somewhere we can pop into in the local area if it’s run by green-tea types.” And then they installed shelves! And books! It was to be a ‘Leselokal’. A reading pub. A book bar. An imbibrary. They painted their sign. Quite a good font. Neutrally stylish. And stylishly neutral. The name was neutral too and alluded to the local area. Café No-Man’s-Land it was. (Not really.)

But it all seemed an age before it got off the ground. When was I going to be able to go and get pissed and educated? Sellotaped A-4 Word documents started appearing on the door. “Due to problems with the landlord…” “Due to problems with the electricity people…” and then the explanation, written in the carping language perfected by youngsters conflating grievance and privilege.

Hmm, this wasn’t looking good. Not only were there delays getting the place open, so the young entrepreneurs weren’t making any money, but was a literary saloon really what this area needed? And would the locals go for it? I had my doubts. But internally wished the youngsters luck.

Eventually it was open. The décor looked all right. There was the rash of early promotions. Which looked, as each customerless week passed, increasingly desperate. “Buy one (or even a half), get nine free.” “Beer, wine, hot drinks, snacks and as many books as you can get in your pannier.” They tried everything. “English night.” “Free sex.” But none of it worked. Soon it closed down and the young entrepreneurs tasted, for the first time, the bitter pill of failure.

The premises remained vacant for a while. But then, sure enough, the busy-bodies that we are, some other humans decided they’d give the location a shot. “Ooh, I wonder if they’ll come up with something unnecessary and inappropriate,” I pondered as I walked past, imagining myself as a ruthless business guru with rings on my fingers and gold on my teeth. These owners were older. Perhaps more local. A bit tougher. Less green tea.

Another pub! The youngsters hadn’t even bothered stripping the place. The bar was intact. The tables and chairs had probably been left behind too. All the new lot had to do was make it their own with the odd throw-cushion, perhaps a lick of paint and we’d see how Café Incarnation no. 2 did in comparison to its predecessor.

They didn’t change the name. But they did redo the sign. The font got a bit more bubbly. Some might say trashy. A lot more ‘fun’-looking. The books and shelves went. A telly appeared at one end of the bar. A pool-table and dartboard at the other. Plants and other non-Pankow fripperies were tossed out. Decoration was kept to a minimum. Though not in the Conran sense, exactly. More in the don’t-really-care-about-décor and nothing-to-distract-you-from-beer-telly-pool-and-darts sense.

Packed to the rafters every night.

Kitchen wisdom April 19, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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As for any son of the Soviet Union, accidental or otherwise, and my late-adopted cultural heritage is very much accidental, the kitchen has become the centre of my world. Admittedly I don’t have to turn on the kitchen taps before I’m unafraid enough to set the world to rights, but, taps or no taps, and with my captive audience of one suitably silent true son of the Soviet Union, I have now taken to middle-aged kitchen rants.

Western men of a certain age are more than happy to talk bollocks too, of course, given half the chance, but if you really want a prime example of someone holding forth, preferably on a subject they don’t necessarily know that much about, you need to get yourself a time machine and fly off to the past. To the Soviet Union. Though post-Soviet Russia will do. Or my kitchen.

This type of ranter is well represented in Dostoevsky novels, proving that even the might of the Soviet Union was not enough to quell the irrepressible Russian soul. I like Dostoevsky as much as the next wanker, but I would always groan in displeasure, and put the book down for three months until I’d forgotten my objection, when a male character would inevitably say, “This is the way I see the world and here, let me talk about it in a 75-page monologue.” Or, using an alternative literary rant device, “This is the way I see the world and here, I just happen to have written it down and someone can now read it out in a 75-page monologue while I die noisily of tuberculosis in the corner.”

Though fair play to Dosters because anyone who’s been in a Soviet or post-Soviet kitchen knows that the characterisation is perfect. The type exists. Male, of course. Ideally with the first flush of youth well behind him. Has reached the serious-dressing stage. You can’t rant in jeans. A collar. A jacket. Preferably a well-rounded belly. Principled on all matters and with strict lifestyle choices (this is where I fail the Soviet test). “Shall we knock back a quick 50g (to help me bear the remaining 25 minutes of your rant on tea), Volodia?” you might say to a ranting Vladimir who happens to have turned up in your kitchen on a wintry Tuesday evening to hold forth on tea. “Vot? Vodka? On Tuesday? I nyevyer dreenk vodka on Tuesday. Vodka make you impotyent. Beeb, khow you kyen dreenk vodka on Tuesday? Ektuelly, I karrently writink book on vodka and impotyence. Let me tsyell you about it for 35 minutes. By ze vey, I not say you kyen call me Volodia yet. Please call me Vladimir Poligrafovich.”

A good Russian rant can be entertaining, though the length can be exhausting. The subjects can be mundane, e.g. tea, or trying, e.g. why foreigners are cunts. Jews are good Russian rant-grist. From how they don’t exist. I’ve been at that rant. To how they don’t eat meat, which is why they’re weak, which rant took place in the very room I type from, by an exiled Soviet ranter, and which has been mentioned before, who went on to rant further that the Estonians and Ukrainians were also cunts. And then took me to the map of Europe on the hall wall and, making a compass of his thumb and index finger, showed me how far into Russia NATO missiles would reach when NATO, inevitably, started bombing Russia any second now. (Coincidentally, the range was the exact same distance as the largest part-circle his thumb-and-index-finger compass could draw.)

And by the queerest twists of geopolitical and romantic fates, I have become the first queer, post-Soviet, non-Soviet ranter. It’s the Russian passing his unwanted rant genes on to me, while I have generously donated my empty western soul to him. While I rant, he online-shops. While I hold forth on Ukraine being further along the road to democracy and manage to blame the (considering-itself-)Russian population in eastern Ukraine for all the country’s ills, the Russian smiles a smile combining pity and magnanimity in superiority and thinks of holidays. While I spout that theists should stop thinking they’re important enough to deserve a god and that we’re just fleas. That we’re no different from fleas. No, we don’t deserve a god – drink can feature on these occasions – the Russian will briefly be shuddered awake by the more preposterous aspects of my russorant – “What? Actual fleas?” – before returning to an IKEA-reverie.

But I’m thinking if I can just youngen up my wardrobe there might be hope for me yet.

Ears April 16, 2008

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Earphones are the scourge of the stealth work-avoider. In the past, if I heard the front door opening or the screech of the Russian’s chair from the next room, I could panickily close any incriminating window and arrange my shoulders to reflect a stern hunch over an especially tricky translation. Or, though this was only a recent discovery, and could only be applied when I was willing to explain myself, press ‘sleep’. What a brilliant button! So much less drastic, and traumatic for the computer, than pressing reboot or the big off button altogether. I can tell the computer suffers PTSD whenever I do that to it.

But the Russian must have recently decided that the noise of me, or noise created by me, or the noise of what I am listening to, when I allow myself, you understand, a rare break between almost non-stop translo-slog, is too painful a reminder of both my existence and proximity and has decreed that I am now to sport earphones. Which I vaguely loathe. I’m quite a believer in ambient sound and there’s no noise on earth or no music ever created that I love enough to want it to fully occupy my hearing. Bar, perhaps, silence. Occasionally.

So I was caught red-eared when the Russian came in from actual out the other day – we could have been burgled and I wouldn’t have noticed. Mind you, any burglar of our flat would go away feeling very hard done by indeed – and walked in on me, with a deliberately sudden whoosh of the living-room door, watching the I Like to Move It, Move It scene from Madagascar on youtube. I hadn’t been so embarrassed since my ex came home early and found me bunking off work with my hand very guiltily in a packet of crisps. “The translation’s about raccoons,” I lied brilliantly, but the Russian was not for fooling.

They almost did for Michael Douglas’s wife in Fatal Attraction too, remember.

My father was of the view that walkmans were the creation of the devil, or perhaps Protestants, because folk would listen to their music on the street and, by some strange musical brain-numbing and fear-quenching mechanism, would forget not to be run over by cars until they were as much as dead. My objection to having my ears hijacked is less to do with worrying about being squished to a pulp, though I agree that is a perfectly good objection, and more about having free aural space for spontaneity, burglar-catching and spousely-moan-avoidance.

Do the world’s great religions pronounce on earphones? Surely it must be a sin to insert speakers, however small, into any orifice.

Begging letter April 14, 2008

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When I write to my bank, there is normally very little for them in what I suggest and, potentially, a whole lot for me. Or, rather, potentially nothing for me, but that’s at least better than the something for them which I am writing to ask them not to take. Occasionally I might post them a cheque, which perhaps they get minorly thrilled about. But, usually, it’s just a letter saying, “Thank you for your letter. Please don’t charge me whatever it is you’ve written to tell me you’re going to charge me for.”

Do you know, the queer thing is, it normally works. I don’t much use the bank account I still have in the UK. I don’t often work for folk based there any more but when I do, and when they decide to pay, the money goes to that bank account. As I am perma-skint, I tend to use every penny I am ever paid. The balance on my UK account must average about 37p. If money goes in there, I carefully research the exchange rate and take the roundest euro amount allowed, factoring in the couple-of-quid charge, and hope that this won’t accidentally put me 14p overdrawn as then the bank will start sending pissy letters.

So I went 14p overdrawn again. Perhaps this pisses the bank off. Perhaps they see me as the quite naughty boy in class who just can’t resist being naughty. “I didn’t mean it,” I might write, in my defence. On the other hand, I don’t actually owe the establishment any money. I’ve had the account with them for 400 years. I explain, honestly, that I am expecting more money and the account will be back in credit (for about 18 nanoseconds) soon.

Promptness is key when writing begging letters to your bank. And I’ve foiled my own tactics on more than one occasion by choosing not to open letters that come with the bank’s familiar type-face. Spring just about appearing has made me change jackets and I’ve just discovered a number of letters threatening trouble which have gone nicely unopened for a good few months. Must have been empty threats. I’m still here and can remember nothing especially dramatic happening on the financial front for ages. No-one’s been kidnapped and held to ransom. I haven’t had a single letter written in bits cut out of newspapers.

In any case, I must have been in a brave mood when the last letter came. I opened it immediately and saw I was going to be charged some amount of money – they explained the arithmetic, but I’d fallen asleep by the time I got to the end of the spiel – because their charges had put me overdrawn. The letter I fire back is stored in my computer. I change the dates, change the amount they’re planning to charge me, and send it off saying, in a way that no doubt makes their hearts bleed, “…awfully sorry. But be a good bunch and don’t charge me what would be a ton of money for me. I didn’t mean it. Honest.” They first reply with a standard, “Sorry that you have felt the need to complain,” when I haven’t complained. I have grovelled, “and someone from the complaints department will contact you forthwith.” And then the letter comes saying, “…as a good will gesture, we have decided, on this occasion not to…” I high-five myself and think of how next to be feckless.

The computer happened to be off last time I needed to write and grovel. Quickly biffed off a hand-written grovel instead. And my formula went right out the window. Couldn’t remember the heart-rending turn of phrase I normally used. And decided humour and topicality were called for. “I know I have a credit rating that would have Robert Mugabe laughing in pity,” I began, “but, be good chaps. Have I ever lied to you in all the time we’ve been together? Have I? There’s money on its way. And it’s only 14p. For fuck’s sake. Honestly.”

The fine was debited form my account just as they promised it would be. Humourless old so-and-sos.

Squalor and tins April 8, 2008

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“This train goin’ Guildford, mate?” asked the man.

It was a nice welcome to England. I’d been chatting just the night before with an American gent who didn’t know how to respond when a stranger chatted with him friendlily back in the States. I flicked my brain to native-language-chat and problem-solving mode and looked helpfully and inquisitively at the board. The fact of the matter was that without the internet, which I haven’t yet had surgically implanted, or a leaflet of timetables, or a psychic connection to a timetable-memorising autist, I didn’t have a great deal more info at my fingertips than the asking man. But one look at him was enough for even the least perspicacious onlooker to conclude that I was in a better state for detective work than he was.

“Let me see, old man,” I began. But then I took a closer look at him and asked him to ignore that mode of address and re-began, “Let me see, probably not that old actually man whose features have been ravaged by alcohol.” It was only about 8 in the morning yet his eyes were gleaming with the euphoria of drunkenness. He didn’t reek of booze so I thought about giving him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe his glistening, blood-shot eyes were the result of some disorder or other. But no disorder, eye-affecting or otherwise, has a drunken leer as a symptom, I concluded, and got on with worrying about what the world was coming to.

Huge provincial men wearing white trainers and carrying the flag of some football team, or a nation I have never heard of, milled around.

“Hmm, well, the next train from this platform is going to Portsmouth. Oh, and to Bognor Regis.” I slightly couldn’t remember where Guildford was and waited for the screen to go through its selection of displays until it revealed all the in-between stations. “Erm, no, so this one won’t do. Er, that one’s going to London and beyond, but not to Guildford. Erm, perhaps you’d better go and ask a human in a uniform.”

The asking man tarried before setting off. He gave a big grin. His teeth had seen better days. He did his best to hide what appeared to be a generous covering of fading tattoos. Looked as if age might be doing him a favour by at least slowing the pace of a life lived with rarely a sober moment.

He soon returned. “Platform 5 in half an hour,” he revealed, no doubt sensing I was struggling to keep a lid on my curiosity, with a self-deprecating guffaw. “That’ll teach me to get pissed and fall asleep on the train.” I ticked off my suspicion on an internal spreadsheet and wondered that any human had ever allowed themselves, via the devil’s own agent of alcohol, to be making their way home, drunkenly and with unplanned detours, at 8 in the morning whilst others all around were soberly making theirs to righteous destinations and huge provincial men in white trainers carried flags on their way to some rally or other.

I stared briefly at the panel advertising the pending arrival of my own train and wondered, if I stared very hard, whether I might convince it to bring the ETA forward. I soon gave up hope and returned to my leerer. “So are you going to be in trouble when you get home?” I inquired, accidentally getting into the swing of the conversation while pulling up my trousers from mooning at a passing train.

“Naa,” he guffawed. “Divorced. Live alone.”

I struggled to delete an image of squalor and tins dancing before my eyes.

“The wife had to call the police once. Went up London. Was gone for three days.” He repeated his self-deprecating, what-am-I-like guffaw.

“…”

“… just flown in?”

“Yes, from Berlin.”

“Fuckin’ ‘ell, never get me on one o’ them things.”

“It’s only an hour and a half.” I wondered whether to add that that was a fraction of the time it took him to get from somewhere-not-very-far-from-Guildford to Guildford but chose not to, in case he’d run out of self-deprecating guffaws.

“Get home safely,” I wished him as I clambered onto my train, choosing not to think of the future.

Rainy day April 3, 2008

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It is taking me a very long time to come to terms with the demise of the former Yugoslavia. It was such a pretty name and the Yugoslavs were always such fun on Jeux Sans Frontières. Former Yugos are constantly trying to console me. “Thanks for trying to help, Branko,” I’ll say. “But look, Viljemka,” I’ll go on, “I just have to grieve over this in my own time.”

Of course I agree with the right to self-determination. I sent telegrams to all my Slovene friends – it took ages – congratulating them on accession to the EU and being the first of the new countries to adopt the Euro. I shuttle-diplomacied like nobody’s business when trying to make sure the young Macedonia (no FYRo for me, thank you) could find a satisfactory constitutional solution to appease a restive ethnic Albanian minority. It worked, thankfully, and I’ve been honoured with my portrait on the verso of the 5 Makedon note. (I asked to be bumped up to recto but that went to Alexander the Great so I settled for second best.) I recognised Kosova before President Tadić could even meet privately with me and ask me to delay declaring my hand, knowing the influence I had. But I stood firm. “Boris, talk to the hand,” I said.

And my Yugo-nostalgia shall peak, of course, or go off the scale, when all Europe (and Israel) (and Cyprus – Cyprus is technically Asia, isn’t it?) (and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – or is that area in Europe?) meets in Belgrade this May. Chuffed to bollocks for Serbia, of course, to get a chance to showcase itself – they’ve had a tough few years (it’ll take me even longer to come to terms with Zoran Đinđić’s death, actually) – but I will cry huge Yugo tears and have been sewing like nobody’s business so that I’ll be able to hang huge Yugo flags with lovely big red stars out my window.

So, at times like these, what does one do to assuage one’s pain? You go through your Yugo-pop collection of course. I’ve been assuaging like mad. Remembering the good old days. The Yugo new wave, which, I assume, we were all brought up on.

Now blogging has its limitations. Naturally, I consider every reader – even the ones who’ve ended up here by mistyping their google search and come here to find bib tits – an intimately close friend whom I would happily donate an organ to if the need arose. But sometimes, intimacy and bonds can only be forged, or, at least, are best forged, around a bonfire, under a starry European sky – sorry, non-Europeans. Your friendships just aren’t real – with cheap alcohol, guitars and enough mosquitoes to sap a blood bank. That’s the kind of occasion when you can really get down to business. When you can become true friends. When you can stroke someone’s back as they cry about their troubled past. When you can hold back someone’s hair to stop them vomiting in it. When you can discuss your favourite Jura Stublić i Film song.

And, darlings, I feel we won’t be true friends until I know your favourite. Scroll around here. I’m off to get the tissues. Poleti Iznad Grada gets me every time.