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My perfect syrnik September 24, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, whom would you least like to be invited to dinner by? Though I like Closer to Fine well enough, I’d still have to say I’d least like to go for dinner at the Indigo Girls’ house, assuming they live together, because, let’s face it, you’d only choke to death on quiche and some bone-dry salad within minutes.

A squillion years ago, part of a job I had was translating the restaurant reviews for a St. Petersburg magazine. It was an OK way to (part-)earn a living, though not as much fun as translating the excoriating film reviews by the same person. He saved his sharpest vitriol for anything that came from Hollywood, or perhaps even America in general – he was a product of his times and environment, after all – and I then found that a bit of hoot. I was young. But he was more obsequious when it came to food, or perhaps the food in St. Petersburg restaurants was just unfailingly excellent. (I often did eat rather well there, but was too skint for it to be frequent.) And I remember him saying that the pudding was always the most important part of the meal as that’s what you leave the restaurant with the memory still fresh of.

I thought that was probably bollocks as even now, with my brain almost completely erased by badness, I am still capable of thinking, “Hmm, that spotted dick wasn’t so good but their toad-in-the-hole was magnificent.”

So I am heroically resisting an urge to let my pudding-memory, as it were, of England disflavour my whole meal. Yet am I allowed just a minor gripe about transport back on the island? I was even impressed to find a website to help you plan journeys when I’d always previously relied on ze Tschermans, even for journeys within the UK. Faithfully, trustingly tapped in Metroland to Luton Airport. Quickest option was by two buses with a 15-or-so-minute wait between the two at the romantically named Bricket Wood. “Wonderful,” I thought. “I’ll get fifteen minutes of greenery. There’ll probably be a cricket match happening within view, the players making the most of the last days of sun before it disappears again for 8 months. A thatched cottage or two.”

I was dropped off on a dual carriageway at a ramshackle bus-stop which had last seen human company in the 1970s. Lorries whizzed by at what, so close up, seemed terrifying speed. The odd motorist dashed a sympathetic and unbelieving glance at the nutter waiting by the side of the motorway. And then my bus appeared. In the outside lane. Travelling at about 100mph. I stuck my hand out feebly, remembering my country’s mores – a French friend once refused to believe that pulling the string on a bus would make it stop – but it sped past. “Just as well I’ve left myself oodles of time,” I muttered to myself, picking the bits of gravel thrown up by passing vehicles out of my face. And then another 757 to Luton Airport. Going at 100mph and in the outside lane. I stuck out my hand, then pretended it was the opening move in a head-scratch as he whizzed past. “Just as well I’ve left myself oodles of time,” I remuttered to myself with less confidence. A man in a rich person’s car pulled into the bus-stop’s microscopic lay-by, I thought to rescue a gentleman in distress. But he looked at a map and sped back off. Eventually a 321, servicing the world’s slowest and most circuitous bus-route, stopping at every bird’s nest in the south east of England, trundled up in the right lane and ground to a stunned halt. The Polish driver – I thought of befriending him it all took so long – got us to Luton Airport in record non-speed, where it was a mad dash through security – fuck, haven’t got a pound coin for the liquids plastic bags and it takes no other coins. Excellent. Fuck. Will risk it – planewards. I wrote indignant SMSes to the Russian throughout keeping him up-to-date. “You write complyaint lyettyer ven you get khome.”

I arrived in Berlin some hours later, still breathless from my English goodbye, wondering if the Russian might have decided to truncate his trip by a few months and surprise me by being here. Not a bit of it. So I’m fending for myself. Threats in the post. Mostly placated. And a fridge with some milk that had turned into yoghurt and a packet of Quark. (Is that really curd cheese in English?)

Nothing for it. It was going to have to be a syrnik (cream cheese fritter or cottage cheese pancake, says the online dic), which Russians eat for breakfast, for dinner.

Cook with BiB. Take a bowl. Splat packet of curd cheese – I don’t know how many effing grams. Probably 250 – into bowl. Add some white sugar. Add one egg. Add some flour. Mix it up until it’s a fairly sturdy gloop. Then dollop some gloop into a frying-pan sizzling with butter or olive oil. If you don’t burn them to a cinder, as I do, you should end up with a fairly satisfactorily thick, rubbery pancake. Nice with jam or nutella for breakfast.

Or dinner.

White trash September 19, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Google says I’m riff-raff. Spot on, of course, but you don’t expect computers to be quite so damned discerning. But maybe it can sense the HP Sauce stains on my shirt or smell the vinegar off my crisp-soiled fingers. All I wanted was to google something, like any sane and sober person, when it provided a very ugly screen, which they’ve enuglied especially to put us riff-raff in our place, telling me that I reminded them of a virus-creating robot and spyware-ridden ne’er-do-well and, frankly, a bit of a tosser. And I had to do word verification just to get things back to normal, as if I was posting a comment on some lovely blog. I was struggling to hold back tears as it was – imagine not being allowed access to google. Surely a far more severe punishment than the death penalty – but they thought they’d complete the humiliation. The word verification word was ‘sCUmbAg’. Honestly!

I’m on the island. Bloody hell. Lovely here, innit? The Russian and I have already had to exchange soul-searching SMSes. “Darling,” I might write. “London is the wickedest place on the planet. We should probably move here tomorrow.” But he has to go and spoil things and shatter delusions by introducing reality. “Vere I vill vörk? Vot I vill do? Deesh-vosher?” Which, combined with freshly-formed thoughts of bedsits and single-ringed hotplates and the western end of the Bakerloo Line, saw me removing my dunce’s cap and thinking the current set-up, where I am treated to fantastic but infrequent snippets of London, is perhaps not the worst thing in the world.

I accept I may not be the first to point this out but it’s worth repeating. My god. Isn’t London fan-fucking-tastic (pardon me tmesis)? A pal asked me what had changed since I was last here as normally there’s some obvious shift or other. Though this time nothing has leapt out. Well, there always appear to be new buildings around Canary Wharf but I can’t remember that skyline from one trip to the next. I wouldn’t notice fashion trends, though people seem well-presented and, though this could be to do with my own magnificent age and decrepitude, folk look in good shape. Perhaps slobbishness is out (though I put on a good couple of kilos a day from all the delicious sausages). “Hmm,” I said to the pal. “Well, of course it’s still 900 times more crowded and racier than Berlin, but maybe things don’t seem quite as hectic as normal.” But I must have hit some quiet blip as when I ended up at London Bridge station some hours later, I thought I might pass out from the excitement of so much movement. Bloody hell. Humans swarming this way and that. Crowds the likes of which Berlin only sees when American presidential candidates or the Love Parade come to town. And yet, to my touristy eye, the atmosphere seemed pleasant enough. I never felt I was only a hair’s breadth from a frustration-unleashed bloodbath.

And my mother has moved to beyond London’s borders. To betjemanian Metroland. Even London Underground staff look bewildered when I ask for a zones 1-9 travelcard. “Where ya goin’?” they ask, pouring scorn on my mental probity. Then their eyes roll with dollar signs as they ring up my bill, a one-way ticket costing, naturally, 700 pounds. Still, London is so magnificent that I have even resisted the urge to engage in the quick getting-a-dig-in-at-how-expensive-everything-is conversation with Londoners. How else are we riff-raff to be kept out, after all?

So here I sit, blogging on what feels like a boiling hot day, though the body may have reset itself to autumn, in my mother’s Metroland garden. A little splash o’ Reeocka to wash down my second go of sausages of the day. A 25-metre extension cable keeping me hooked up to the grid. And nothing to disrupt the idyll but the odd scratch of a squirrel and my mother’s pen dancing elegantly across the Daily Mirror crossword (and perhaps my testiness at having to give hints to, “Scottish River. Three letters. TA_”).

It’s a privilege to be here.

Love all September 9, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

If TV didn’t exist, Americans would have to invent it.

The US Open has just come to an end. For a tennis fan like myself, it is both the best of times and worst of times. Not it being over. It being on. Because my love is so ardent and my partisanship in any match so fanatic that I normally can’t bear to watch. Which slightly defeats the object of having a love in the first place. I might allow myself to follow the score online, but have to switch that off when the score approaches excitement. Or I might allow myself to watch a snippet of the first few potentially unimportant games of a match, but then panic when the player I’m rabidly supporting misses a first serve. I quickly instruct the remote control to move up or down one channel and alight on soft porn – there is a lot of this on German TV – which is a convenient backdrop as my heart-rate resettles. Perhaps Stephen Pollard is right that tennis is a sport for being who don’t like sport.

I’ve at least learnt that women flick their hair a lot during sex.

And there was even British interest in this year’s men’s final. It would have been exciting if Murray had won but I am thrilled that Federer, whose tennis can be so beautiful that I sometimes have my passions cryogenically put on standby so that I can absorb more than a few minutes’ worth, has, at last, won another Grand Slam.

And tennis is a great waste of time while the Russian isn’t here (and even when he is, to be fair). I can get a good few hours of work avoidance out of checking every result of every tournament happening on the planet twenty times a day. And once the results are known, and the suspense is deadened, I can try to find a replay of highlights.

And one of the presenters on the US Open website TV bit – I don’t know his name. He may be a mega-star in the States – was just so damned good, wandering around talking to random spectators, asking what they thought of this and that result, that I understood TV had to exist. He was made for it. And his excellence and charm make the viewers’ experience more enjoyable. Of course there must be good TV presenters from the UK. From Germany. From Azerbaijan. But it did appear, watching an unknown-to-me man in Flushing Meadow, that Americans had perfected the art. And cue much cringing when foreign broadcasters try to adopt and adapt some recipe that’s worked on American TV. French TV trying to be zany. The Price is Right on British TV.

This could be the success of American TV so dominating the market – when I was young, real life had English accents and the unreal world American – that it’s made me think anything that skews from the path American TV has laid out is less good. But if I want glitz and glamour, or upbeat fantasy unreality TV, I want it with an American accent. For feel-good, I want USA. For grit and comedy, I look more to the island.

Speaking of which, I am having the first strong pangs of home-sickness since about the year 2000. It’s meeting Londoners (or people who live there) what’s done it. I’ve had guests (or met others’) from London and the ease of contact makes me think, if I lived there, I’d probably make best friends on the Tube at least every day. So I’m going to come and nip the home-sickness in the bud by visiting the Big Smoke.

Anyone up for debauchery next week?

With or without you September 6, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, I was in the shiatsu chair in my local shopping centre the other day – honestly, the best 2 euros you’ll ever spend (downstairs in the Arcaden on Schönhauser Allee, for the locals). You are mechanically fisted – no penetration – for ten minutes and while it’s a bit embarrassing whimpering from pain and pleasure in public, it’s well worth the humiliation – trying to avoid thinking about the Russian being in Russia for fifty years again and watching the world go by. “But what will I do if anything breaks while he’s away?” I pondered. “What if I have to use some device with more than one button? What if I forget my keys and am locked out for a month?” (The concierge has a spare set, he assured me, but I don’t believe him.)

Just as the mechanical fists were giving my lower back a right good going-over, my thoughts of abandonment were rudely interrupted by interesting-looking passers-by. A professional son with a very vacant look in his eyes, though there was intelligence behind the vacancy, supported his aged and disabled mother as they dawdled past me at record low speed. I doubted they’d spoken – to each other or anyone else – in a number of years. I imagined their life consisted largely of tea and dry cake in a flat decorated with the German equivalent of Hay Wain reproductions. Perhaps the mother might occasionally cry, “Me knees,” and the son would adjust her pouffe or blanket as the occasion demanded.

“There but for the grace of god,” I started to think to myself, but then nipped that cliché in the bud lest I instantly turn religious. “Still, even if my beloved does fuck off and abandon me for eleven months of every year, my fate is a lucky one. I am yet to be institutionalised into any caring, familial role. I live my life quite disgracefully selfishly.”

I was just working my way up to the top floor of the shopping centre to buy a self-help (or help-others) book on how to be good when who should I see on the escalator going in the other direction but the institutionalised son! Without his mother! There was no way he could have delivered his charge back to their flat and put a blanket over her knees in this time. Naturally I assumed he had flipped – those eyes had a hint of the murderous – and killed his poor mother, chopped her up and left her body to dissolve in sulphuric acid – or is it folic? Though isn’t that the one that stops you getting Alzheimer’s? A shame to waste it on murderous pursuits – in a bath. But, then, if he hadn’t had time to get her home, logically, I suppose he couldn’t have had time to commit the perfect crime either. All such a worry. But better safe than sorry.

“Murderer, murderer,” I screamed, pointing hysterically at the very likely cold-blooded killer. A few blonde-haired ladies interrupted their gossiping for a moment or two but chose not to get involved. The Turkish greengrocer continued announcing reductions in a holler. The freshly-orphaned very likely cold-blooded killer turned his head to face me very slowly, his expression unchanging, and turned away calmly, not even quickening his step to escape.

I was being as socially useless as ever. Not only wasn’t I helping a disabled relative have a more comfortable life, I couldn’t even help detain the most recent very likely cold-blooded killer of our times and region. I dashed for the street, hoping I’d find a trusty German bobby, recount the whole grisly tale – I’d stop off in an internet café first, I thought, my ideas racing, and check German for sulphuric on an online dictionary – before fainting helplessly into his arms.

I hurtled out into the autumn, barging bag-laden consumers aggressively and refusing to answer their facial indignation with so much as an apology. I saw a police car and rolled over its bonnet which brought me face-to-face with a pot-bellied Berliner whose disdain for me was growing by the nanosecond. I noticed that my attempts to detain a killer had, at long last, begun to cause a ripple of interest. I surveyed the scene and prepared to launch into my spiel. When I saw the son reappear on the scene laden down with shopping bags and walking towards his mother whom he’d seated at the outdoor café.

“Sorry. Falscher Alarm,” I whispered to the policeman and rolled off the other side of the bonnet and crawled along the road to the next junction.

“You kopink vizout me?” asked the Russian by text, presently.

“Yes, very well, darling. Very well.”