Category Archives: Rant

Wine, words and wankers

Every now and then, an event comes along that you think is going to be right up your street. In my case this was “Wine and Words”, which took place last Friday.

It looked fantastic on paper (or on screen, rather):

“Wine lovers and word fanatics, you are in for a treat!”

All good so far…

“Together with Wine Club Berlin you will be able to ask all the questions you have about the magic grape juice while tasting a range of carefully selected treasures.”

Yes to that…

“Followed by brave readers and their stories, there will be live music with a range of ukulele, violin and live-looping combined with soulful harmonies – what better way is there to start your weekend?”

Damned if I could think of one.

I arranged to meet my English friend Bea there, and she brought along her German friend, Gerlinde. We were all set for a wonderful, cultural (if slightly boozy) start to the weekend. The free wine tasting started at 7pm and I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for the scrum that ensued. However, being the hardy Irish chick that I am, I managed to shove my way in. I discovered that there’s also something quite satisfying about hip-checking hipsters.

The barman proceeded to pour a dribble of wine into the glasses of the lucky few who had battled to the bar, all the while extolling the virtues of the drop that had barely wet my mouth. Still, I could taste enough to know that it was awful.

Round two.

Gerlinde: Hmm.

Me: Hmm. I’m sensing undertones of vinegar.

Gerlinde: It smells a bit like pineapple. But the canned kind, not the good stuff.

Me: Hmm. It smells a bit like paint-stripper. 

Poor Bea hadn’t had the heart to ram her way through hipster-hell so she missed out.

She didn't miss much, to be fair.
She didn’t miss much, to be fair.

 

I managed to taste a drop of rosé and a drop of red before giving up and paying for a proper glass of wine. €4.50 for 125ml – utterly outrageous. I could get 23 bottles at LIDL for the price of one bottle there; it’s debatable which is preferable – dying of shock at the price of one bottle or dying from drinking 23 of them.

We managed to find a table and people-watching commenced. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many tossers in one place. I wondered if all of these people who try so hard to look so different from everyone else, with their craaaaaaaazy hair and craaaaaaaazy clothes, realise that they simply look the same as everyone else who’s trying to look so different. Deep, right?

Needless to say, it was a total selfie-fest but special mention has to go to “the wookie in the wife-beater”. First of all, anyone who wears a wife-beater in January can’t have all of their cups in the cupboard (as we say in German). Secondly, any man who aims to draw attention to himself by displaying his mammoth amount of back and shoulder hair in public should be sent to a galaxy far, far away.

It was almost enough to put a girl off her wine, but not quite. I got another glass.

Me: Where are the words? It’s after 8.30 and not one word! 

Bea: Hmm, not sure. Maybe they’re getting organised. 

Me: Well, I’m not sitting here drinking overpriced plonk all night. There’d better be some words soon.

Bea: We could just leave. Go to a normal bar? 

Me: NO! I came to hear words and hear words I will! 

Finally, a girl got on stage and introduced the first act – a violinist. Everyone clapped uproariously now that things were finally getting started and we settled in to enjoy the show. After a pretentious nod to the audience, he commenced to play the most mournful dirge I think I’ve ever heard in my life. Way to get the party started.

As I squirmed with boredom, I chanced a look around me at the other guests. Slack-jawed and glassy-eyed would be a fairly accurate description. One guy poured the rest of a bottle into his glass as another fell asleep. After around three minutes, the caterwauling ended and someone started clapping enthusiastically – probably in relief. But no, it was just a brief pause; he played on for another six hours, or maybe it just felt that way.

Me: Jesus. 

Bea and Gerlinde: …

The next act was introduced – a reader, finally. Now, I know how hard it is to get up in front of a roomful of people so I’ll be charitable.

I have never, EVER, heard such unadulterated, self-involved drivel in my life.

Me: Right, that’s it. I’m done. 

We put on our coats and walked out.

Bea: Never invite me to anything again. 

Me: But it sounded so good on paper! 

This was actually the inaugural “Wine and Words” evening. Next time, if there is a next time, I’d suggest that they call the event “Self-obsessed twats listening to self-obsessed twats talking twaddle and drinking dribbles of crap wine” – it would save people getting their hopes up.

 

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More German efficiency

In a bid to make a bit of extra cash before Christmas, last week I applied to a school that is approximately 30 seconds from my house; perfect for these cold, dark, winter days. I got a reply and dutifully trotted across the road at 14.50. I rang the bell. No answer. I rang the bell again. No answer. I called the number and was routed to some central messaging service where, surprise, nobody answered. Slipping in behind a woman who had a key, I made it to the front door of the school, rang several more times and then gave up.

At around 15.10, an unkempt woman with greasy hair and rumpled clothing appeared.

Frau Sau: How did you get in? 

Me: A woman had the key. 

Frau Sau: Huh.

She opened the door and instructed me to sit down in the hall. No apology then. She went into her office and reappeared with part of her coffee machine, went into the bathroom, filled it with water and went back into her office, all the while looking at me like I was some sort of curious exhibit in a museum.

Finally, I was called in. After the oddest interview ever –

Frau Sau: Do you have the right to work in the EU?

Me: I’m Irish. We’re EU citizens. 

Frau Sau: For now…

Frau Sau: This school has been going for years. I don’t know how many.

Me: 28.

Frau Sau: Oh. You know more than I do.

– she offered me a group of 5-year-olds as a cover lesson at the end of the week. Now, I have taught kids before but it’s been a long time and even they were 7 or 8.

Me: Hmm. OK…

Frau Sau: Great. So, 15.30 on Friday.

Me: Well, OK but what am I supposed to do with them? Did the regular teacher leave any notes? 

Frau Sau: (Blank look)

Me: Or is there a book that they normally use? 

Frau Sau: I guess you could try this. It’s in German but pictures are pictures.

Argh, my eyes, my eyes!
Argh, my eyes, my eyes!

Me: Um, OK. What if I want to make copies? Is there another photocopier here? Your office will be locked. (She works from 15.00 – 18.30 every day – poor woman must be exhausted.)

Frau Sau: You’ll just have to make your copies now.

Me: But I don’t know what I’m doing with them yet.

Frau Sau: (Blank look)

Me: Which classroom should I use? 

Frau Sau: Any of them.

Me: Huh.

Frau Sau: Can you sing? 

Me: Uh… (putting the book in my bag)

Frau Sau: You can’t take that with you. I’ll leave it out in the hall for you for Friday. 

Me: …

She then proceeded to fill out forms on her computer, making me say everything out loud, despite all of the information being in front of her in my freshly-printed CV and certificates. After that, she took me through the “student database” – a box filled with alphabetically-filed cards. Instead of there being one card for the group with all of the students’ names on it, each student had an individual card which would have to be filled in after the lesson. Sigh.

As I would want to get there earlier than 15.00 having had no tour of the school or any clue what I was doing, she gave me the key to the building – this seemed a bit strange as she really didn’t know me from Adam. Stranger still was that I didn’t need any sort of police background check before working with young children. Then again, maybe German law is different?

I went home and got on Facebook to tell Han how it had gone.

Me: Ugh, I don’t even know what a 5-year-old looks like…

Han: They look awful.

Me: They can smell fear, right? 

Han: Yup.

Me: Gulp.

On Friday at 14.45, I let myself in. I had a wander around the rooms and chose the biggest one. I had planned on doing a lesson on food but changed my mind and decided on parts of the body, mainly because I didn’t want to sing this:

Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.
Even for 5-year-olds, this seems retarded.

“Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” I could get on board with. I located the one CD player and got set up. At around 15.05, Frau Sau showed up.

Frau Sau: What are you doing with that book? 

Me: That’s the book you left out for me.

Frau Sau: But that’s a book for kids.

Me: I’m teaching kids. 

Frau Sau: No, you’re teaching school children. 

Me: But you said 5-year-olds. 

Frau Sau: Must have been a misunderstanding. 

Me: (panic) OK, so how old are these kids? 

Frau Sau: Oh, from grade blah blah to blah blah. 

German grades don’t make much sense to me but this sounded like a big range of ages and levels.

Me: Riiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? Is there a book?

Frau Sau: No. 

Me: Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? 

Frau Sau: I don’t know. Their homework I guess. 

Me: Christ. 

I went back into my room and had a moment of ARRRRGGGGHHHHH. The floor looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” was written.

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The “kids” started to show up. I guess they were between 9 and 16, with wildly varying abilities. Some of them had English homework, some didn’t. Some of them had English books, some didn’t. Three of them were actually there to study German.

Me: Gulp.

I got the ones who had English homework started on that and set the others a simple writing task. After about 30 minutes, they were all done.

Me: Gulp.

Wolff: Where are you from?

Me: Ireland. 

Wolff: Coooooooooooooooool! 

Gerlinde: Where’s that? 

Wolff: (with much eye-rolling) It’s an island near Great Britain. (Sigh. Eye-roll.)

I decided that we may as well play games for the last hour so we whiled away the time with past simple Xs and Os, Hangman and Who Am I? I have no idea who the cool kids know these days but I figured it was a safe bet they’d heard of Donald Trump. I put Heribert standing with his back to the board and wrote Donald Trump on it.

Heribert: Am I a man? 

Wolff: I HATE YOU!!! 

Heribert: Donald Trump? 

5 o’clock rolled around.

Gerlinde: That was so much fun! Are you going to be here on Monday?

Me: No, sorry, it’s just for today. 

Wolff: Tuesday? 

Me: Nope, sorry! 

All: Awwwwwwwwwwwww!

Me: Yeah, I know. 

Hedde: I really like your hair…

They trundled out and I went to the office to find Frau Sau. Naturally, she’d chosen this exact time to disappear. I stood making idle chatter with a parent she’d also left sitting there waiting.

Mutter: (rather ominously) Yeah, I’ve had dealings with Frau Sau before…

Frau Sau reappeared, went into the bathroom without making eye contact with either of us, and then emerged to call me into her office. I started filling out my invoice.

Frau Sau: I need the key back. 

Me: (through gritted teeth) Yes, in a minute. 

Frau Sau: How did it go? 

Me: Yeah, fine. We did their homework and some writing practice and then played some games. 

Frau Sau: Oh, there are a load of games in that cupboard. You could have used those. 

So I grabbed her by her greasy hair, swung her around a few times and hurled her through the window.

Not really.

Needless to say, I won’t be going back there.

One of those “days”

On Tuesday morning, I opened up my laptop and was instantly hit by the vague feeling of dread that it was one of those “days”. You know the ones – International Mountain Day, International Day of the Girl Child, International Day of Yoga, World Toilet Day, International “We’re all just Awesome” Day*… For some reason, breastfeeding gets an entire week all to itself at the beginning of August. I guess squirting stuff out of your tits is considered very important in some circles.

Tuesday, however, was International Women’s Day. While I’ll never understand the people who think clicking “like” on a photo is somehow going to cure cancer, I mostly leave people to their delusions. I only ask that they leave me out of it. It seems that I was the delusional one on this occasion though – there was no escaping International Women’s Day.

Just as I was about to tuck into my breakfast, I was “tagged” in this monstrosity.

Appetite murderer
Appetite murderer

Now I know the person who tagged me meant well, but “precious”? “PRECIOUS”? My boiled egg bore the brunt of my fury as I wondered why “smart”, “educated”, “driven”, “ambitious”, “well-travelled”, or around a million other adjectives weren’t chosen instead. But I guess “SAWED” isn’t as catchy as “perfect”. I even had trouble taking in the porn star hair and revealing clothing as my retinas were too scarred by all the pink.

Vomit.

So, my day was off to a bad start. Yes, Tuesday was International Women’s Day, but do you know what else it was? It was a Tuesday, and this woman’s Tuesday typically goes a bit like this. Get up at the crack of dawn, teach lessons, go to meetings, squeeze in some proofreading work, pay bills, do some banking, answer emails and phone calls and try to eat something, that is, when I’m not on one of the eleven trains that I have to take that day.

Bleurgh
Bleurgh

If I don’t feel particularly beautiful, precious or radiant by the time I get home that night, it’s because I’ve been using what’s in my head all day, not worrying about what’s on it. Like most other women. Yes, this may come as a surprise to some, but we don’t sit around all day braiding each other’s hair, having pillow fights in our underwear, shopping, giggling  or dreaming of being princesses. We work our damn asses off.

You might be thinking, “Linda, what are you getting so worked up about? It’s just a couple of harmless memes!”, but it did get me worked up. It got me hopping mad, in fact. You see, International Women’s Day was actually started for a reason, to promote women’s rights. The theme for 2016 was “Pledge for Parity”, which somehow seems to have got lost in the sea of banal nonsense that was being puked out all over the internet.

12814349_1163642106979672_771188842187831703_n
Spew

In Lithuania, IWD is “celebrated” by having police officers pull over women drivers and give them bunches of flowers. Aw, gee, thanks. It’s not like I have anything more important to be doing. How would you like to be picking those pretty petals out of your teeth for the rest of the day, officer?

In China this year, Women’s Day was marked by the special treat of giving women some dried meat to chew on. Yum, yum. We all know women like nothing better than sucking on a bit of meat, right?

From jingdong.com. I kid you not.
From jingdong.com. I kid you not.

The President of India in his message issued on the eve of IWD said: “On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I extend warm greetings and good wishes to the women of India and thank them for their contributions over the years in the building of our nation.” On the day itself, a 15-year-old Indian girl was in critical condition after being raped and set on fire. Well, thank you for that, Mr President. I’m sure your trite twaddle means a lot to the women of India, and especially to that girl who’s fighting for her life in hospital.

So yes, I really have little to worry about. I’m lucky enough to come from a country, and now live in a country, where I have rights. I can choose to get an education, to live by myself, to work, to support myself, to travel freely, to stay single, to not have children (tempting as World Breastfeeding Week is…), to walk the streets without looking over my shoulder, and to pretty much do whatever the hell I like. And I appreciate that every day.

Other women are not so lucky and that’s what International Women’s Day is, and should be, about. Next year, chew on that (when you’re done with your meat sticks) before posting meaningless, frankly offensive imagery left, right and centre.

 

* OK, I made the last one up.

The meat sticks, however, are very real and you can read more about them here:  https://ladyofthecakes.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/ready-for-your-belated-womens-day-special-chew-on-that-bitches/

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner for One

As I’d got an apartment, registered my address, got a tax number, left the church, learned passable German, taken out health insurance, bought a bicycle… (takes breath)

…slept in a German bed, been to a German sauna, separated the rubbish, beaten the LIDL lady, seen the football, eaten the sausage, drunk the Glühwein and experienced the poo shelf, the next step in becoming German was obvious. It was time to watch “Dinner for One”, in keeping with the age-old German New Year’s Eve tradition.

Image taken from businessinsider.com
Image taken from businessinsider.com

Naturally, I was rather excited about this. What was this movie that had (allegedly) kept Germans enthralled and entertained for decades? It was time to find out. On New Year’s Eve (or Silvester, as it’s known here), I poured myself a nice, big glass of red wine and texted my friend.

Me: What time and channel is “Dinner for One” on? (OK, so I hadn’t done much research.)

Manfredas: Um, I think it was on at around nineteen hundred pm o’clock but I have no idea what channel.

Me: Shite. It’s ten now. Oh well. YouTube it is…

I had never heard of “Dinner for One” before moving to Germany, so I’ll assume you’re unfamiliar with it too. You can find information on how it came into existence here but the story is basically that of upper-class Englishwoman, Miss Sophie, and her servant, James. It’s Miss Sophie’s 90th birthday but the problem is that she has outlived all of her friends. Luckily, being 90 years old, she’s also a bit daft so James sets about moving around the table impersonating each of her (probably long-dead) friends in turn so she thinks they’re still with her on her big day. Sounds kind of sweet, right?

WRONG.

What follows is the most god-awful slapstick horror show you could ever imagine. Two minutes in saw me hitting the pause button and refilling my glass. Clearly I’d need more wine to get through this. I was only sorry I didn’t have anything stronger to hand.

Where’s the strong stuff when you need it?

As James impersonates the four other “guests”, he toasts Miss Sophie as each character at the beginning of every course – complete with German heel-click for Admiral von Schneider. Naturally, he gets steaming drunk as the night progresses.

The second time he tripped over the tiger’s head rug, I wanted to claw my own eyes out. The third time they slurred/chirped…

James: The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?

Miss Sophie: The same procedure as every year, James!

I wanted to glass my own ear drums.

By the time it got to the disgusting, lascivious wink in the last scene, I was wishing for my own tiger rug. Not because I’d developed a sudden taste for animal print, but because I would have deliberately tripped over it, cracked my head open on the counter top and ended it all.

The only saving grace of “Dinner for One” is that it’s just over 10 minutes long – any longer than that and I wouldn’t be here to write this post. If you’re wondering why it’s taken me until the 13th to write a New Year’s Eve post, I had to build up the fortitude to bring myself to watch it a second time. It actually got worse…

I mean, good God, what were the lovely Germans THINKING!?

Once I got back to Berlin, I asked all of my German students and friends if they had watched it.

NEIN.

Not one of them had. Not one. OK, so it might not be a representative sample of the entire German population, but not even ONE?

So, I’ve formulated a theory about this supposed German love for “Dinner for One”. Wait for it…

They don’t actually love it at all.

They tell foreigners that they love it. They convince said foreigners to watch it and then sit back and laugh uproariously when we fall for it. That’s what’s funny about “Dinner for One” to German people. Am I wrong?

If you’re feeling brave, you can watch the entire monstrosity here:

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On yer bike

Part of being a good Berliner, as anyone will tell you, is owning a bicycle. And since I’m now in a living arrangement where I can look at a bicycle as a bicycle (rather than just one more thing that will have to be moved in a month’s time), this seemed like the perfect moment to take the leap. Sheila, the half-naked Aussie, had generously offered me hers because she has to go back to Oz for a bit. But then, she’d also fallen off it into the back of a convertible as it was too heavy for her. I politely declined.

Fortunately, my Irish friend, Séamus, builds bikes for a living and (rather conveniently) was working on a nice petite model that might just be ideal for me. Unfortunately, he lives on the other side of the city. This wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but with Berlin’s transport system up to its old tricks again, it took a bus and three trains to get there. Not to worry, I took one look at the shiny red beauty and instantly decided that it would be mine.

You will be mine, oh yes...
You will be mine, oh yes…

While Séamus rattled on about tubes and wires and oil and other important stuff, I was thinking “pretty, red, pretty”. But, being a professional, instead of just letting me ride off into the sunset, he insisted that we go down to his backyard and give it a couple of test runs to make sure it was a good fit for me. After a few precarious moments, I was off on a wobbly circuit of the yard and amazingly managed not to crash into any of the cars or fall off. A quick height adjustment of the handlebars and I was good to go.

Me: It’s going to be a bit of a nightmare getting it back to mine on public transport. 

Séamus: (giving it a manly kick) Ha, don’t worry. Parts of this thing are over thirty years old. I don’t think you’ll manage to destroy it in an hour. 

Little did he know.

He offered to ride with me to the station but, as a good law-abiding German, I refused as the one thing the bike didn’t have was lights. It’s only about a two-minute ride but rules are rules, you know. Plus, I just knew I’d be the unlucky bugger that got caught.

When we got there, people were streaming out of the station as the S-Bahn had shut down three hours early. So now, instead of two trains which would leave me a 5-minute walk from my door, we would have to walk for 15 minutes, and I’d have to take two trains and a bus. With Séamus practically wheeling the bike for me, and me impractically bitching and moaning the whole way, we made it to the next station. I got (and validated) a ticket for the bike and then I was on my own.

I’d thought moving my worldly belongings by public transport was tough until I tried to get a bicycle up and down escalators. Still, despite almost falling on several people and ramming an old lady in the shins, I made it to the bus-stop. The bus came bang on time and I hefted the bike through the middle doors.

“NEIN!” came a cry from the front of the bus. “NEIN!”

I figured he was probably talking to me, so I elegantly alighted and wheeled the bike to the front door to see what all the fuss was about.

Bus driver: No bikes. 

Me: But, but, I don’t have a choice. I just bought it and it has no lights so I can’t ride it. 

Bus driver: NEIN!

Me: But I bought a bike ticket! It’s only a few stops and there’s so much room and…

Bus driver: NEINNNNNNNNN! 

And then he closed the door on me. The fact that I’d managed to have this “conversation” in German gave me some small satisfaction, but not enough that I didn’t pause to give him the finger and call him a pedantic prick. (I used English for that one.)

So, there I was, stranded at the side of the road, facing a good 45-minute walk. It was almost 11.30pm at this stage and I just thought, “You know what, Germany? Stick your rules. If one set of rules means that I have to break another, then so be it”. And I got on the bike. It had reflectors and there was nobody on the footpaths, apart from (comfortingly) other cyclists riding without lights. About five minutes down the road, my cardigan got stuck in the wheel, which required a dismount, a good deal of swearing and some tricky extrication.

I got on again, sheer fury driving me forwards. Bloody mothers can wheel their jeep-sized buggies filled with their squealing brats onto buses. The bus driver will even make the bus “kneel” for them so they can more conveniently torture a busload of people’s eardrums for god knows how long. How am I, standing silently in the middle of an empty bus holding my bike, more unacceptable than that? Just because I didn’t push the bike out of my lady orifice doesn’t make it any less my new baby… And then I looked up and I was home. Huh, I was only a couple of minutes later than if I’d taken the bus. Good old rage.

Today, I decided to take Red Beauty out on a spin to a nearby park. The first thing I was faced with was a sign saying there was no cycling in the park.

Grrrr...
Grrrr…

Followed by a sign saying that you actually could cycle in the park.

It seems mothers and squealing brats are allowed too.
It seems mothers and squealing brats are allowed too.

Jesus, Germany, make up your mind…

Still, it was all worth it in the end.

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That bus driver can still kiss my (newly-toned) white Irish ass, though…