Thursday, January 03, 2013

A date?

After dismantling my apartment earlier this year and moving into a smaller place, I had a few items of furniture and equipment left over.  I'd managed to sell on a few things but decided to keep a couple of the more expensive ones in the hope that I could get a decent price for them at a later date. There is one thing I can't bring myself to part with however, a nice, new, shiny oven - my single biggest (most expensive) 'grown up' purchase I'd ever made in my life.  For this reason only could I not bear the thought of selling it for a mere fraction of the purchase price.  As per normal, I don't really go around admitting things like this and normally joke that;

"Some French girl might bat her eyelids at me and lure me in to living with her, then I'd need an oven again".

Due to me repeating this statement frequently, close friends are on red alert whenever they see me talking to a French girl which, living not much more than 5km (3 miles) from the border with France, happens quite regularly.  Some people assume I'm smiling because the French girl happens to be pretty, but my friends who are in on the joke can see the hope in my eyes when they see the conversation going well - maybe, just maybe I won't have to lose any money on the oven.

Having officially taken myself 'off the market' since the summer and wanting to concentrate on other things instead,  I was surprised by and slightly intrigued with a French girl who managed to coax me into going for a drink with her shortly before Christmas.  We had met at a party and after spending a few hours talking to her that night, I gallantly walked her home and was nothing but a gentleman about it.  Perhaps she was impressed with my ability to find bottles of wine when everyone else thought the alcohol had run out, perhaps it was the fact that I was being silent and mysterious in the run up to us meeting.  I wasn't being mysterious of course, I was being lazy and didn't really want to speak any German, it was English or nothing.

A week or so later we went out for a drink.  I wasn't entirely sure if I could call it a date, I hadn't been on date for about 3.5 years and infamously didn't really go on dates in my 20's anyhow.  Despite being unsure as to what I was doing,  we chatted, drank beer, laughed a lot and went to our respective houses at the end of the evening.  I had had the most fun night I'd had in a while and she told me she had a great time too.

A couple of male friends mulled over my predicament a couple of days later, sitting around a fireplace in a bar decked out in the style of Sherlock Holmes' house.  One friend asked if we kissed;

"No, only the two kisses on the cheek, as the French love doing"

He assured me that it wasn't a date because we didn't kiss. This particular friend has been with his girlfriend since he was sixteen so I doubted his wisdom this time.  The other asked what we talked about;

"Oh.. family, religion, stupid stories"

He claimed it wasn't a date because we told stupid stories and that was something that only friends did.  They both admitted that it definitely did sound like a date, but that something wasn't right about it.  They asked what I thought;

"Well, I personally didn't think it was a date because she has a boyfriend, in Paris".

The punchline was delivered with impeccable timing, we laughed heartily like men, sipped our beers and reclined back into our leather chairs in front of the fire - if we had been smoking pipes we would have all had a puff.

If it had been a date, I would have called it a very good one.  If it wasn't a date at all, then I had just made a good friend in town and I'd have to keep the oven in the cellar for a bit longer.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A new lease of life

Having ended a relationship all the way back in March, my first obstacle was to avoid the temptation to cut all ties with the small city in which I'd been based for the previous two and a half years.  A small city with a small-town feeling that had  frustrated me with its inability to surprise or even to keep a decent conversation going. We had not tried hard to get along with each other, I was open with my disdainful opinions of the buildings, the attitude of the residents and the lack of energy emanating from within.  While this small city treated me with equal contempt,  uncompromising when I attempted to perform what should be straight-forward processes such as banking, shopping or visiting the doctor.  Punches were never thrown at me but I was injured slowly and subtly, a broken ankle healed in 8 weeks but the complications not detected by anyone other than myself are still causing trouble two years later. A tweak of a work schedule changed a fifteen minute commute to work with a friend into a 1 hour trip on a train on my own.  A tweak to the train schedule meant I now watch my station whizz past (we literally stop everywhere else) in the mornings, I wait on a cold, dark platform to catch the train back from the next station.  My commute is elongated by another 20 minutes and in my heart I hope that just for today, by some freak chain of circumstances, the train driver forgets protocol and stops where he has been instructed not to.  Only in recent weeks the train has taken to slowing down just before the station, as though it's finally felt sorry for me and will let me out, but at the last second it speeds off again and I can almost hear the small city laughing at me as my heart sinks again. Every morning.

You can see how great the temptation was to leave.  But I couldn't do that, my pride wouldn't let me.  I was determined to stay and enjoy the summer. I found a new doctor who identified exactly the problem with my ankle, I was told to avoid any team sports, not to go running on tarmac and there was to be no dancing (booooo).  But I was also told not to get fat.... due to the extra strain that a few extra kg's would put through the joint.  Almost mercifully the doctor allowed me to continue to run in the forest and to ride bikes or go swimming.  This delighted me no end, the forests in the area are never-ending and quite impressive.  The trees offered a cool respite from the hot days of summer and are now providing some pretty spectacular scenery by turning all sorts of sexy colours.  I persuaded a Kiwi friend to run with me too, the dry-humoured conversations in English provide a tremendous respite from the drudgery and pain of speaking in (and listening to) German.

My German... it's comically bad for someone that has now been here for 3 years.  I am now able to deal with the unhelpful and rude people who work in the banks or the city hall, previous encounters were mainly me getting eyeballed and virtually spat upon for being another fucking foreigner that can't speak the unnecessarily complicated local lingo and it's almost lunchtime so we have to close for two hours.  It still requires tremendous patience not to grab their faces, insert my fingers into their mouths and force those lips into a shape resembling a smile - but we now seem to conduct our business in a relatively painless manner which doesn't require violence to resolve.  I still do not like using German, if only because I hate hearing myself trip and make obvious mistakes again and again.  My lonely commute on the train was significantly brightened up in August when a pretty blonde started travelling to the same station.  The day I first saw her standing on the normally empty platform I ignored it, someone was teasing me.  No-one else catches this train and certainly no-one attractive does.  The second day she was there I panicked - this was not a drill, there was actually someone else using this platform and they had lovely hair!  My joy must have been evident as I was the recipient of a smile and a wave that day.  Suddenly I didn't mind speaking German.  I said hello and then stuttered and spluttered as I cobbled a few words together.  Things went well, she was talking back and I was understanding what she said.  I got adventurous and tried out some crappy jokes and self-deprecating comments, she laughed in the right places and seemed to be almost charmed.  Three months later and my main motivation for getting out of bed in the mornings or finishing all my work in the evenings is so I can tell jokes to this girl and to try out new words or phrases I have learnt or recently translated.  She has no idea how much she is appreciated just by being there and putting up with me for that journey.

So my life is slowly changing again, there are still some darker moments but the summer has been eventful and a few weekends out of the small city have been great and have made me realise that you just can't get on with everyone and it's probably about time to go now.

The question is simply, where?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Singledom

Ah, Singledom.  I have returned to your shores after a three year round-the-world cruise on a relation-ship.  The weather here is tumultuous, the six weeks back on familiar territory has seen frequent rain showers followed by wildly optimistic sunny spells, the nights have been dark and hazy to say the least.  Today it's still heavily overcast - around 7 Oktas if we're being finicky - but the sun is trying its hardest to penetrate the thick layers of damp, gloomy despondency.  One thinks that it could take a while, but the sun is a pretty powerful celestial body.

People are very nice here, I had lost contact with a few of them since being away and it's warming to see that they still remember who I am, despite the heavily fortified privacy settings on my facebook profile page.  My old friends are enquiring about the voyage and giving me plenty of re-patriation advice.  Everyone now approaches me with a new demeanour, I am considered a whole of a person again rather than the half of another.  A comment from a couple of friends girlfriends mentioning that I am actually "Quite a chill guy" took me aback, I thought I had always been chill, but I guess they had only got to know me when I was away.

After a couple of weeks of Mal de débarquement taking hold, I decided to steady myself by heading to the local drinking establishment on the quayside, still not having ventured too far inland.  I have got to know the pub very well on the weekends. Along with friends just there for the company, the pub was awash with all sort of people from old sea-dogs with wild stories of the high seas to young maidens wanting to take overnight boat tours of the bay.  They seem like attractive opportunities at the time but in the mornings I am glad I didn't take them up, I am nowhere near being able to face the water again, my gaze has instead been fixed on the top of the mountains in the distance.  It'll be a tough old climb to get up there but energy levels are returning as injuries sustained heal sluggishly.  The journey will be exciting.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Moving

Despite being geographically rather close to my native Britain, Germany has enough cultural foibles and nuances to throw even the most western of Europeans completely off track.  Germany is the butt of an incredibly large volume of jokes in the UK and while still partial to make a few of them myself, I have had enough experience on the 'other side of the fence' to put most of them down to a lack of understanding between the two countries.   I'll defend the "Germans have no sense of humour" jibe to the hilt, realistically this sentence can be altered slightly to read "Germans have a different sense of humour to the British", I find this far more preferable even if it's still a horrendous stereotype. 

However, there are a handful of things for which I continue to have a complete lack of understanding or patience. (Warning: 1st world problem approaching). The number one 'foible', or as I like to call this one 'huge fucking, non-sensical pain in the arse' is one that I am currently going through. When you move between rented  houses/apartments in Germany (which is the norm) - you have to take everything with you.  Everything.  Along with the furniture, you take the kitchen units, the sink, the curtain rails, the lightbulbs, the light fittings and even the plug sockets. The apartment you move into is literally the walls, doors and the bathroom.  When I came to Germany, I had nothing bar my clothes, laptop and a sense of adventure - not ideal space-fillers.  It goes without saying that when I moved into my apartment I had to buy the whole lot.  The largest item I had previously owned was a surfboard, suddenly I found myself with a kitchen worktop, washing machine, oven and cupboards (Cupboards!! - What self-respecting free-spirit owns cupboards?) - it all stung my wallet and I swear even took a little of my youth away.  The commitment of owning an oven frightened the bejeesus out of me.  I didn't even bother to buy light fittings, I simply attached the lightbulbs to the wires dangling from the ceiling, designer style.  Once everything was installed however, it was a very comfortable place and a huge relief.

Now, upon moving out again to an apartment-share (already furnished) I'm trying desperately to offload everything.  I am trying to sell most things on to the guy that'll be moving in next month, he doesn't need most of it as he has his own, like most Germans do.  They move from apartment to apartment taking the same kitchen with them.  So this leaves me with a dilemma, how do I sell an entire kitchen to someone?  It fits my apartment perfectly. Not only do I have to find someone that needs an entire kitchen, but I need to find somone to sell it to that has a room with similar dimensions to mine.  It's a nightmare, especially considering my inability to effectively communicate in these situations with the native language.

If I had one piece of advice for Germans, it would be "When you install a kitchen, just leave it there", if just a handful of people started doing this then you wouldn't need to buy/bring another one when you moved.  Imagine that, a country full of houses with pre-installed, functioning kitchens that take a large amount of pain out of moving house - like Britian.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Juggling

The majority of my time here in Germany has been spent wondering if I was happy or not.  The challenge of living in a new town in a new country with a new language and with a new girl was always going to be a big one.  I knew this from the start and tried my very best to keep all the balls in the air, as it were.  I have made some good friends, come to grips with the basics of the language and found myself employment which may not inspire the brain but at least puts a roof over my head, feeds me delicious food and buys me lots of tasty beer.  I moved in with the girl and had to learn many things such as how to completely relax with someone, how to support and comfort someone when they hurt and most importantly, how to manipulate the same someone to get a cup of tea made exactly to my liking and placed in my hands whenever I wanted.

Some higher power decided however, that I was getting a bit too good and cocky with my juggling skills.  From the easy-to-manage practice balls, the town upgraded itself to a pineapple, the job transformed into a chainsaw, the language to a hedgehog and the relationship to a water balloon.  This happened over a long period of time and I had recently been struggling to keep everything in the air.

On Monday I eventually tired,  lost concentration and let one drop to the ground.  I had been watching the water balloon fall in slow motion for well over a month and at the beginning of this week it impacted on the floor and burst in spectacular fashion.  What was once fun and colourful became a soggy mess of broken, coloured rubber.

My world has been turned upside down, I am still trying to come to terms with what I had inflicted on myself and on another person that I had once cared for deeply.  I am suddenly alone to face the might of the German machine and it's overwhelming.  Something had to give and now I'm left with a pineapple, a chainsaw and a hedgehog.  The thinking was that at least three things are easier to juggle than four.  I hope I was right.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Employment

You know the choice, work to live or live to work - what happens to the people that want to live and not to work in fact, at all?

Since the days of being driven to school by a friend of my mother's when I was a little'un (since the daily agony of weekday mornings in the eighties where I stared out of the rear window of an off-brown Citroën 2CV and bawled my eyes out at the sight of my waving mother disappearing around a corner as we drove off*) I have had a real distaste for regulary attending any buliding and being told to work.

At the age of 8, before that place scarred me completely for life, we moved house and I started at a new school which was far more fun.  I recall going outside for lessons more often, field trips to muddy places and far more sports which didn't involve eggs on spoons.  I learnt a wonderful new game called 'Rugby' and even took part in my first ever pre-arrraged fight in the playground, we slapped eachother a few times, got detention and later shook hands and laughed about it.  As planned, we grew up a little and became old enough to attend a Secondary school at the age of 11 - things were great until a certain point, particularly until the early summer when we sat our important GCSE exams.  I was of the mindset that I had absolutely no need to be studying chemistry, physics, welsh or whatever when it was so sunny outside and my friend Alex lived near the school, he had a full size snooker table in his conservatory.  I promptly went outside and did anything other than revising, previously good grades turned into distinctly average grades and by the time we sat the even more important A-level exams at 18, not very good grades at all. If only I had been awarded grades for having a great time outside of school, I would have been a straight-A student with specialist subjects including mountain biking, listening to music and trespassing all over farmers land.

My very first place of employment was at the school swimming pool when I was 16, I proudly called myself a lifeguard where in actual fact I sat on the side of the heavily chlorinated pool whilst reading, occasionally swimming, chatting to old ladies and blowing a whistle from time to time.  Eventually the pool closed due to a crocodile living in it (or something similar that I can't recall). I had reached 18 and before long I had finished school before starting as a full-time lifeguard at a slighty better quality pool with equally nice old ladies to chat to.  These are possibly the only jobs I have ever truly enjoyed - I cycled 12 miles to the pool, chatted to all the old ladies, swam, taught kids how to swim and then cycled the 12miles home through the scenic and peaceful Welsh hills.

The next move was to spend all the money I had saved from these exhausting places of employment.  I spent most of 2001 at the beach in Australia, at the beach in Wales and in Southampton for university. (See: Compton Beach) and had pretty much the time of my life, deciding pretty quickly never to ever get a 'normal' job.

I have spent a large portion of the 11 years since moaning that I sit too long in front of a computer screen while staring vacantly outside and wishing I was somewhere else.  Preferably somewhere sandy.





*I wrote that sentence and then googled my old school, even the picture from outside was enough to send shivers down my spine.