Thursday, 23 September 2010

Berlin Blues

I had no thoughts of falling in love with Berlin, I am already in love and that is quite enough for me. Like many people of my age who remember the war and the pictures of Belsen that were shown to us as children, I had very mixed feelings about the Germans. So, as I climbed the stairs to the flat we had borrowed I had jackboots in mind.

Then I met some Germans and the first thing that occurred to me was the fact that they looked exactly  like the British, but with less preoccupation with fashion.  In fact there were few bum revealing boys and midriff bare girls  (a relief for me because my kidneys begin to twitch in sympathy) perhaps the cold there has something to do with this though I doubt it. I have very clear memories of wearing pelmet skirts and boots with bare legs in the sixties in snow or gale and feeling no cold - or not admitting I did anyway.

Also there seem to be far more extremely good looking people about, and tall too .It was the time of the Christmas markets, gluwine, marvellous snacks and everybody stuffing their faces with crepes and similar gorgeous stuff, but  I  noticed a curious lack of obese people. I am a people watcher and stare so I tend to assume a benign look for the safety factor and to smile kindly at people I don't know. In Berlin this worked well and I got lots of smiles back.  

On the metro they read newspapers that are not like the Sun as far as I can see. They have no barriers on their metro and while the stations are nowhere near as astounding as the ones in Moscow, there is a curious freedom about them with characters carrying their bicycles down the escalators.I grew up reading Isherwood and longed to find Cabaret and decadence, in fact there was a 'Swingers club' within yards of our flat but we didn't fancy it. And that's the thing about Berlin, there is no pretence. what you see is what you get. We decided against a cabaret as neither of us speaks German but we did a pretty extensive tour of pubs all over the city. We were welcomed everywhere we went with a nice enthusiasm that is curiously lacking when it comes to a couple of old birds in London!

I had another agenda too, I wanted to see a guy who I had a dalliance with in 1962 - before sex was invented according to a poet (fortunately we didn't know about this!)  Last seen sharing acid, now a successful artist of sterling apparent respectability. And me? What do I look like to him? Would he recognise me? I have grown appreciably - horizontally and all the long hair is gone along with my bare feet. and white lipstick  so I doubt it. Stout sensible shoes are the order of the day now and a nice warm coat. And both of us old. But we are both in there somewhere and during our conversation we peep out, slyly, briefly, while his formidable wife offers cake carefully. And talks to my girl friend almost exclusively. An old flame become an ember with hardly any life at all.  My guru become dull, all his originality taken up with warnings of ice slips and fear of broken bones. I hadn't expected him to look the same, in fact I would have recognised him but his fierce energy has gone and mine has not - my physical energy is certainly diminished but my joy and anger seem intact, his wife clearly has him on tight rein and they are happy and what do I know? I envy him his peace but am quite glad that I haven't succumbed. I wanted to play 'do you remember' and I think he may have quite liked that but it was not possible and they were hectic years so perhaps that was for the best. What I would really like to have done is take acid again with this old man and find the parts of us that still believe that life is wonderful because it is.

And now I am going back and I hope I like it as much as that first time. I know we were only there for a month and can't know it properly and when I speak to some Germans who hate Berlin I wonder if I got it wrong but it was right for me and I will stay in Krietzburg again and have wonderful breakfasts at the bar and eat Turkish food again and my work will be part of a visual show at a gallery and my words exposed in a bookshop so it won't be all bad. 
No, it will be good to be back.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


It is patently obvious that my house gets the five star rating from the local mice. The Ritz of the rodents! I reckon it is very probably ideal. I am away most weekends for four days so they have the house to themselves and it must be a shock when this great lumbering creature re-occupies with her dog. I understand their point of view. However my point of view is that I don't want to share my home with a lot of highly incontinent mice. The smell is foul and it increases the housework load and my cleaner threatens to defect if I don't get rid of them. Besides they are cheeky little buggers and after meeting one eye to eye on my draining board I brought a zeal to my anti mouse purge.

I got the pest control people in and killed some with poison, they died and festered under my white goods, rotted and stank. They were removed and I had seen none of the tell -tale signs of mice for more than a week. 'Hooray!' I thought, they are gone. I was wrong.

On Tuesday evening I came back from a lovely day out with friends I hadn't seen for fifteen years and I was cooking quietly thinking nice thoughts, going over conversations we had had earlier in the day, smiling at our memories of trying to join a group of pagans who greeted us with a phalanx of hostile backs, speaking of our first meeting and genrally indulging in deja vu of the best class. It is always slightly odd rejoining friends you haven't seen for this long, will we still like one another? have they changed ? have I? But it had all worked wonderfully well as we sat and drank milk shakes and talked and talked. I liked them even more than before or I had forgotten this easy closeness. I smiled to myself feeling mellow.

This silence is rare for me, a radio 4 addict. Usually I arrange to cook when I listen to the Archers or when Moral Maze is on and I yell at the ghastly Melanie. Or listen to Any Questions and take an active part, one of the advantages of living the freedom to listen to annoying people and shriek. In fact I seek out the Atkinses of this world to give me a nice rush of fury, and when, as sometimes happens I agree with her, I worry about my integrity.

In my ruminative quiet state I heard a metallic noise I listened intently and there it was again a rustling against metal located in my balanced flu water heater. The sound unbalanced me totally . Mice! I gave it a whack. Nothing. I remembered once before that mice had set up residence and fortified themselves with eating the plastic round the electric wires, dangerous this and could cost me a lot of money. I opened the bottom part of the heater and a confetti of chewed bedding and the ever present mouse turds descended on to the counter beneath. They are back in force. A new crew ready to take advantage of the superior facilities and my sloppy housekeeping. I put bleach in water and wash all the counters. I had had all holes cemented after their last incursion . It was mouse-proof I thought. The mice thought otherwise and now that I am away again I try not to worry. And I feel feeble about the mice because I don't even dislike them and when they are dead they are cute little creatures.with sweet wee faces that would soften the hardest heart but when they scuttle under my feet and startle me with a sudden impromptu appearance, then it's me or them and its got to be me! So watch it next time I'm home.
The guy next door tells me he is getting the mouse worriers in on Monday and I only hope they don't all trot in retreat into my house again.
PS This blog got caught in the works was supposed to go up last week, since then no mice are apparent but I am not entirely reassured they are crafty little varmints!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Dogs Glorious Dogs

Now that I have a connection with Woofbark on Twitter I feel that I can give myself licence to get really doggy. My Border Terrier Saffron is the first female dog I ever had and by far the nicest, which is only to be expected. She has a sweet nature, is extremely pretty, gathers fans about her on the train when we travel and if I leave her outside a shop she draws a group of concerned citizens who reproach me.

I acquired her from some friends who bought her for their daughter just about that time of pubescence when she found the poop scoop deeply embarrassing and boys totally fascinating, so poor Saffie was not getting much exercise.

I was grieving for my last dog, Zit, more of whom later. I had mostly had rescue dogs before and this enchanting little creature was a totally new experience for me,a civilised girl, the arrangement initially was that I had her during the week and took her back weekends but I found excuses to keep her with me and finally, when she began to pine for me and go into ecstasies when I arrived they said I could keep her.She does of course have her own vices, a passion for rolling, in fox spraint main among them and I have become accustoned to perfume of fox as accompaninment to life with her and only bathe her when she rolls in a dead toad, old fish or if I expect fastidious friends to visit.( oddly they seem to have fallen by the wayside over the years!)

She is a great contrast to my last dog, Zit who was a rogue of the first order whose main aim in life was escape and who would slither away low to the ground, in imitation of Muttly whose grin he could do, between car and door looking over his shoulder with what looked like a gotcha grin to me. He was sly and endearingly funny. He also had hideous breath and stupendous farts . I got him from a friend whose boyfriend swore he would leave if she didn't get rid of him, predictably he left anyway. I felt that she should have chosen the dog but was glad to have the pup who was a few months old and already an escape artist.

His mother Daisy was a Jack Russell mixed with something indefinable and even after being spayed she had a distinct taste for lusty adventures with the local dogs. Zit was a further variation on the mutt theme. He would bounce four feet into the air at the hint of walkies reduced to a mere two feet before he died at twenty. He was never spayed and now that I have a bitch I realise that he was a pest, at the time I felt it was the unkindest cut and when he was seventeen we tried to mate him with a similar bitch called Libbie. They were enthusiastic and went off for a weekend sojourn together, which they enjoyed but no progeny resulted.

When he was twenty his back legs quite suddenly were paralysed. He dragged himself around for a day or two looking thoroughly miserable, he was a dog who lived to roam and now he couldn't walk. I made up my mind, took him to his favourite place: Mudeford where he attempted to jump from the car and landed in a heap on the ground dragged himself along the beach a few feet and collapsed looking reproachful. I had seen dogs with wheelie things for back legs but he was twenty had a heart murmur and arthritis I decided to put us both out of our misery. I made him a bowl of his favourite Boulognaise which he gobbled up and then I took him to the vet, a long term admirer of his. I held him as he died my face alongside his and he wagged his tail as he went, the death of a reprobate. I spread his ashes on Hegistbury Head one day in the Spring. I swore I would never have another dog.

I missed him dreadfully and realised that apart from our life together it was a case of a social life that had gone. Those conversations about dogs, the mutual admiration of our dogs. The instant comradeship of fellow dog owners, the routine conversations that go on fairly set lines, they never nag you or reproach you (a downright lie this - Zit could cut me to the core and ignore me for an entire day if I curtailed his freedom)I know many people by the name of their dog and they call me Saffie's mum.

This may sound trivial to the non doggie among us,I expect it is but it precludes the usual judgements that colour my own relationships and limit me. So I had a great friendship with a Labrador's mum who, one day shook me rigid by voicing an admiration for Mrs. Thatcher. I caught my words before they got out into the atmosphere and we are still 'friends.'

My partner is not English and finds the whole business of dog talk bizarre and threatens to make a video record of the routine 'sharings' with other dog admirers, not a bad idea!