Part One: “Always look on the bright side of life”
Eric Idle 1979
First, a thank you to a blogger friend in USA, Haoyan Do, who asked me about Zoom classes, and how they differed from the physical classroom or, in plain English, real life. I had already decided to put a positive spin (more neologisms) on the current situation but, in the interests of fairness, I shall also explore the other side of that metaphorical coin in a future blog.
Now, without further ado, the benefits of teaching on Zoom
“If the rain comes, they go and hide their heads …”
The Beatles ‘Rain’ 1966
Not easy to capture a monsoon on a cheap mobile (cellphone) but you can see the grey sky, the clouds and the mournful trees trying to shelter from the storm. So, advantage number 1 …
1: Avoid going out in the rainy season
My IELTS students, not to mention my Top Cats from younger classes, will know the idiom ‘it’s raining cats and dogs,’ and then some ! When it rains here, the heavens open and streets get flooded. I’ve had to wade, knee-high, in swampy rain water to get to my campus. I lost an iPhone in the rain, and nearly get my foot stuck in a pothole in the middle of the main road. Now, I can watch the rain from inside, safe and dry.
Moving on, I haven’t posted many teaching blogs recently, leading to advantage number 2 …
2: No lesson planning
I only have Young Learner classes, students aged from 7 – 11, which are two-hour classes. We work from the set text books, but my manager prepares all the warm up activities, games and vocabulary reviews on ppt slides. I present them and conduct the lesson.
Some students may be rather vocal, and twelve enthusiastic youngsters can be, as we say in London, GBH of the ear’ole, meaning pain from so much noise or excessive talking (GBH stands for grievous bodily harm in English criminal law). Thus, advantage number 3 …
3: MUTE & MUTE ALL buttons
I love these options, the teacher’s friend. A student who is sitting by a blaring TV, a mummy and daddy having a shouting match, someone who wants to disturb the lesson by humming into the mic … just hit the MUTE button … bliss. Furthermore, we have a Waiting Room facility. Any student who is disrespectful or does now meet my standards of behaviour can be kicked out of the class for five minutes. This action can be repeated. I also have the option to permanently remove them from the class (though I have yet to use that feature).
Thay Paul, can you give us an example ?
Can I ? Oh, yeah, in spades ! Just last weekend, I was going through the online class rules, one of which was not to play with the Zoom features, and not to use a Zoom filter background. No sooner said, then one student began playing with Zoom, flashing said background. In my class, that got him a BLACK STAR. Student, typically, denied the accusation, although everyone had seen, and thereafter was in a bad mood, not answering when the TA called and refusing to take part in a game. Therefore, I put the student in the Waiting Room. Upon return, the student began taking part very enthusiastically, even earning stars for good work.
Next advantage is more indirect but ultimately beneficial to us all
Schools closed, traffic greatly reduced leading to less pollution. Naturally people are using more electricity at home, but in many cases, lights, computers and A/C would be on anyway. Additionally, I spend more on electricity but this is offset by not spending money on petrol (gas) or Grabbike (similar to an Uber service).
So there you have it, four benefits although nothing of real pedagogic value. The Zoom classes are a way of providing some level of education during this lockdown period, to make sure students are exposed to English: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Teachers need to be extra patient and calm, understanding and compassionate. However, we also have a job to do, and I endeavour to make sure all the students have had an opportunity to practice English, leaving the class having learnt something of lasting value.
Johanna brushed her short blonde hair and checked her watch. She hated being late, and she hated waiting. Richard, her date, waited nervously outside the cinema. Chain smoking. Throwing away cigarettes half smoked. Lighting up fresh ones. Walking up and down, battling the cold, battling his anxiety. Johanna arrived sheltered by a scarf. She removed it and smiled at her date. She took his arm and they went inside.
A movie followed by drinks in a bar. Predictable. Safe. Richard was a safe and predictable man. Johanna had chosen the film, after she took him to a light and lively bar. This spacious corner Kneipe was popular with students, bench seats and large tables where they could count out their small coins hoping it amounted to the price of a beer. Music played, old-time waltzes. People sang, laughed, shouted. Sometimes Johanna had to move closer to Richard to be heard. The chilling night walk to the station, a shared journey as far as Alexanderplatz. Richard insisted on waiting with her for her connection. She found that sweet. She kissed his cheek goodbye, held his hand before she got onto the train. Smiled and waved as the train pulled away.
Johanna thought about how pleasant the evening had been. She would certainly see Richard again. If he called. After that, she thought no more, not wanting to expect anything. She didn’t want one more disappointment, one more man who seemed so different, so ideal, only to have all her illusions painfully shattered, be left permanently damaged. It had happened too often. The chances of finding someone who would love, respect and look after her were zero. So Johanna believed.
‘A cry for help’. Johanna hated that expression. A meaningless banality uttered by those who could never conceive pain. Real physical pain. Real emotional pain. A rationalisation, a way of tying up with one neat thread, the thousands of multiplying loose ends. The psychologically scarring, unanswerable questions. Johanna tried to kill herself. She wasn’t crying for help. She was crying for death. The cry was from her own demons imploring her. The agony she was in would never end, the crying, the calling was never going to end.
While her family asked the ‘why ?’ question, Johanna had one of her own; why was she alive ? Worse than ‘the cry for help’ was the, ‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ dictum, as if someone was watching over her. She spat on that fallacy. If anyone was watching, it was with a sadistic grin, not a protecting hand. Failure. She was alive and would have to account to her inconsolable parents and clueless doctors if she were to regain the freedom she needed. The freedom to try again. The freedom to succeed.
A list of easily acceptable motives; boyfriend trouble, pressure of work, lack of fulfilment in her life. Easily remedied. As quickly as she had been admitted, she was discharged, returned to her parent’s suburban house. Searching for university courses. Her parents were sure she’d meet a nice man at college, and all would be well. Johanna’s placid smile always dropped when the subject of men came up. She believed that had she confessed the real reason behind her suicide attempt, she would have sickened and repulsed the doctors, who would thereafter treat her as filth, too contemptible and contaminating for their sanitised wards, sanitised words, sanitised world.
Teenage dramas common to many pretty girls. Suddenly being very popular with boys, who wanted one thing from her. She had once been cornered by three teenage boys who had succeeded in removing and keeping her panties as ‘proof’ of their conquest. She was just grateful that they hadn’t gone any further. Her first serious boyfriend had been sleeping around with her other friends. When discovered, claimed it was a test to see if he really loved her. A confused inexperienced teenager, Johanna knew this was no test of love. The boyfriends that followed were faceless. They pressured her for sex, then dropped her after their few minutes of glory.
Word had gotten around that she was anyone’s for the asking. Time to leave school, look for work. The adult world. Shops were always hiring pretty young girls. Her parents knew she had more independence than academic ability. They felt proud, chose to feel proud, of their daughter making her own life. They arranged for her to stay in a shared house in Wilmersdorf that belonged to an old family friend, Herr Schulz. He appeared very friendly to Johanna, very attentive, offering to drive her wherever she needed to go. She found his slits of eyes and joined eyebrows charming, as if he were a creature from a fairy tale. But it wasn’t long before that tale took a very adult twist.
Still being very young and inexperienced, Johanna had difficulty managing her money. Buying clothes without making sure she had covered her rent. The first time, Herr Schultz smiled, patted her knee and told her not to worry. The next time he playfully spanked her, but she wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Knowing that she would not be able to pay on time, Herr Schultz took Johanna to her room and screamed at her. He told her how much money she was costing him, how many bills he had, how she was destroying his business, endless abuse that paralysed her with fear. He then calmly, in a professional way, offered her a choice of services that she could perform to pay her debts.
Frustrated at her lack of response, he grabbed her hand, used it to open his fly and showed her what to do. Grotesque sounds and expressions as his pleasure increased. The smell. She was sick when it was over. Repeatedly washing, scrubbing her hand. That was just the start. Johanna was still on the lowest wages. Herr Schultz began improving the house, all of which added expense to the rent. When he threatened her with sending her home and telling her parents that she had been bringing too many boys back, she went along with his next demand. She stripped, got into bed, and after preparing him for the condom, allowed him to do what he wanted. Emotionally, she felt nothing, barely blinked, didn’t move. She refused to cry out in pain, to shed tears, to show any life. As soon as he was satisfied, she left the bed, locking herself in the bathroom until he was gone. This was the way it was going to be. And it was. Until she met Marcus.
Marcus was a driver at work. She only saw him two or three times a week, but he was so different to anyone else she had known. He was confident, strong, a real Alpha-male, always centre of attention. He noticed her and told her, rather than asked her, that he would take her out. She felt that someone so powerful could protect her. Johanna was determined to keep him interested, allowed him to sleep with her that first night. Her nightmare with Herr Schultz had at least taught her what men want. Marcus got the benefit of her unsentimental education. He was used to taking what he wanted, and wasn’t prepared for her, a wild sex-fiend in a demure body. Johanna began bringing him home when she knew the landlord would be there, and it worked. He collected the rent and left her in peace.
For a time, she was something close to happy, though she never was able to predict what mood Marcus would be in. He’d either be very rough with her, foregoing any sort of foreplay, and leaving her bruised and sore, or would be completely docile and indifferent to her body. Nothing surprised her about men. Her own moods altered from gregariousness to complete detachment, from contentment, to deepest depression. Why should men be any different ? Hindsight. In hindsight it was obvious. Erratic behaviour, nervousness, sweating. Johanna’s mental state was controlled by unpredictable internal forces. Marcus’ was dependent on external. She hadn’t even realised that her boyfriend was on drugs. Another reason to detest herself soon followed.
One Saturday morning, she was woken by Marcus who barged into her room, demanding money. She had just woken up and pointed to her bag, naively thinking that it was to pay a taxi. Marcus threw the bag down in disgust when he saw how little she had. He began rambling, muttering incoherent words to himself, walking up and down the room. He looked over at her, in bed, stopped his disturbing movements. He told her to wait. Two men came into the room. One took a look at her and seemed pleased, the other looked around, opening drawers, picking up her possessions. She looked at Marcus, who moved over to her and told her it was all right, before he grabbed her arms and pinned her down.
The first man pulled down his trousers, threw back the bedclothes and had her panties off before she could even think. He was finished very quickly. All the time, Marcus, with one hand over her mouth, the other holding her down, was telling her that everything was going to be OK. The second man’s turn. He made sure she saw him, made her see the hatred in his eyes. He preferred to bite and slap her, made sure he caused her as much pain as possible, her muffled cries only encouraging him. He stopped and demanded that she finish him off with her mouth, to the approving applause of his friend. Marcus assisted, grabbing her long hair and forcing her onto him. The man screamed out, grabbed her chin and made her look at him. He demanded, ‘Swallow, bitch !’ As an encore he slapped her face and spat on her.
She fell back on the bed. Lifeless, not physically there as if she were above the room, looking down on the shell of a body that she knew was her own, yet alien to her. She could hear distorted voices, the men talking. Something was exchanged. Marcus laughed. Why weren’t they leaving ? Marcus was offering them a drink ? After some time, minutes or hours, probably only seconds, they left. The second man gave Marcus a friendly slap on the face, telling him he was a lucky man, before acting out his recent conquest. They all laughed. All except Johanna. Marcus immediately began preparing himself, jumping on the bed next to the immobile Johanna. He relaxed, lay back, and was in his own world.
At some point, Johanna began moving. She knew she had to wash herself and painfully made her way to he bathroom. Only then did the first realisation crack the shock and soft tears flowed faster, as she tore at her hair, vomited in the sink and began throwing herself against the walls, a terror-stricken animal in a tiny cage. She saw the razor blade.
Johanna woke up in hospital, wrists restrained, tubes in her arm, the contemptuous eyes of a male nurse watching over her. His eyebrows reminded her of Herr Schultz and she tried crying out, but no sound came. She never knew how she got there. The police wanted to know about her boyfriend. One of them said that she should have just died. A total waste of their time looking after silly girls who make a big performance if their boyfriend forget to bring them flowers. Stupid bitches.
Johanna was kept on suicide watch. Couldn’t be left alone, couldn’t lock the bathroom, couldn’t take a bath without being observed. She would have to give a reason before she could leave. What could the doctors do, anyway ? Nothing could be undone. Ever. The only help she got was from Günther, a fellow patient and another failed suicide. It was obvious to her that he was gay, so was the only man she felt safe with. Her own father had led her to Herr Schultz and, in turn, to Marcus.
Günther explained how the system worked. The sessions with the psychiatrists, the group talks. The correct responses. Nobody really cared, anyway. The first time Johanna had heard someone else express her sentiments. She bonded with him. The only professional interest seemed to come from a young medical student who saw patterns in her behaviour that seemed to indicate a certain condition. He asked to be allowed to study her, but case studies on opposite-sex subjects were discouraged. No qualified doctor had time to listen to over-enthusiastic amateur speculations regurgitated from recently-read textbooks.
Johanna followed the advice. Back to the suburbs, with Günther’s phone number. Only the thought of seeing him again kept her from repeating the attempt, that and her mother’s pathetic act of finding reasons to come into her room to check up on her. Night and day. Externally, Johanna tried to alter as much as she could. Her hair, always long, was now cut into a boyish bob. She was obsessed with washing, showering several a day, in a room that now had no lock. No control over when the memories would come back. She became a different person, unrecognisable. She would scream abuse. She fell in hysterical crying fits. Once she grabbed the largest kitchen knife and spat demonically, stabbing an imaginary Marcus, over and over.
Johanna had to see two or three psychiatrists, neither of which inspired Johanna to open up. Her history of abuse was too painful and sickening for anyone else to hear. She would deal with it her own way. Her look already altered. She cut off all contact with everyone who knew her. Her parents encouraged her to go back to school, get some professional qualifications. There were several business courses that could be of practical use. And she choose denial. She tried to block out everything that had happened to her, to project it onto an imaginary friend. She wanted to believe it worked. Denial hadn’t a chance.
By the autumn of 1995 she had started on her course and was doing well. Living at home and travelling into Berlin. She became an avid reader, losing herself in long books. By studying. By spending so much time studying, she hoped to block out the past. But it always attacked her, especially when she was alone. She was generally alone. To protect herself from herself, she started accepting offers to go out. Invitations were constant. She gave nothing of herself, no encouragement. She always made sure that she never dated anyone more than twice. Avoid the implied sex after the third date. She only really felt comfortable with Günther, who was now living in Friedrichshain, not exactly the epicentre of gay Berlin. He was quite taken by a certain squat bar he had discovered, and his vivid description made Johanna curious to see it.
She felt quite relaxed there, and was amazed at the lack of sexual tension. She could just relax and drink with her friend, no one came up and tried to join them, or start trying to pick her up. One night she looked over and saw a tall young man who seemed both at home and totally out of place. She could sense something about him. When he looked over she smiled at him. It was no surprise that he looked away, not in arrogance, but out of nervousness. Johanna decided that she would like to meet him. Something about him told her that he was different.
“Errr, I don’t know what that cockney shit, ‘knackered’ means,” Jake interrupted.
Chris explained, both literal and general definitions; extremely tired, often after excessive sexual activity.
“Oh, haven’t been knackered for a long time, hahaha. What the fuck is ‘septic ?’ ”
“One of your lot, American; septic tank, Yank. Anyway, she said if I could get something to her by next Friday she’d see about publishing it in the next edition.”
“Any ideas, yet ?” asked Richard.
“Not your love life, that’s for sure. Fucking blank page, mate. What about her then ? Over at that table ?”
Daniel indicated a young girl with a Louise Brooks bob dressed in black sitting at a table next to a man who just looked out of place.
“Oh, she’s been in a few times. Nice. Pretty,” said Jake.
“Yeah, different man each time,” from Chris.
“Don’t mean nothing. Hey, she’s looking over.”
Richard had noticed her since she had first come in, but seeing as she was in company, dismissed any possibility of anything happening. Ever.
Now he looked over. The girl was looking slowly around, smiling at something her friend was saying, a kind of fixed smile, polite. Then she looked at Richard, and their eyes meet. They both held the look. It was Richard who looked away first, but when he looked back, she was still looking at him. Now she smiled and looked away.
Some time later, she stood up to leave, or so it appeared. Her friend left, but the girl walked to the toilet, passing behind Daniel. As she did so, she looked at Richard and gave a little, but wonderful smile. Again, they looked into each other’s eyes. Then she was gone.
Richard didn’t hear anything Daniel said. His heart raced, his breathing was erratic.
Daniel was speaking about authors, Dickens in particular, when the girl came back and stood next to Richard, to order a new drink.
Richard almost had to get up and walk away; she smelt incredible. How was that even possible in the Czar Bar ? She got her beer then looked over,
“Dickens ? Sorry, but I heard you talk about him. He’s one of my favourite authors. Hello, I’m Johanna.”
Daniel then performed a manoeuvre that was copied for many months afterwards. He stood up from his stool and, walking backwards, invited the girl to have his seat, as he disappeared into the mass of bodies.
Richard was glad he’d had some vodka, also glad he hadn’t had so much vodka. His first instinct was to order more, but Chris refused, saying it was too early. Richard understood. He had scared away Carla with his drunkenness. Let him spend at least one evening with this new woman.
From Dickens, they spoke about Berlin, London, (which she hadn’t visited but wanted to), life as a student in Germany (she studied business) and everything else.
Richard found her easy to speak to, and she found him interesting, funny and polite.
After an hour she had to go, but gave him her phone number and an invitation to call,
“Thank you. You are so kind. It was nice to just sit and talk to someone. Please call me.”
And she gave him a kiss. On the cheek.
She couldn’t have been gone more than two seconds before Daniel, Chris and Jake descended on Richard with a barrage of questions.
Richard, now able to drink vodka freely, which he did, merely held the phone number up, before putting it safely away.
Daniel pretended to write the number down, making Chris laugh, which in turn made Jake laugh, which had a knock-on effect on Richard.
Once he reached a certain level, Richard refused any more vodka. He also left as soon as the S-Bahns were running.
By the Friday deadline, Daniel had written a short story as he had been instructed.
Jeanette, the bored, middle-aged housewife who organised the magazine, welcomed him into her west Berlin apartment, the largest by far Daniel had yet seen. He was shown through several rooms, all with high ceilings and elaborate furnishings.
He waited in what appeared to have been a once elegant reception room while she prepared tea. One whole wall was a bookcase. He got up and looked at all the titles.
Jeanette carried the silver tea service and asked, ‘Lemon or cream ?’ Daniel resisted all temptation to be sarcastic or obnoxious. He liked his surroundings. Anyone that lived like this could do him a lot of good. He was charming and polite, the whole visit.
He left with a handshake and a promise that his work would be evaluated carefully, and a decision made by the time Daniel was invited to place a telephone call.
He thought back to a time in London. His east London office had a job in Hammersmith, west London. As he was driven from Stepney, through the City and towards the west, past Westminster and into Fulham, Daniel looked out of the window and couldn’t believe it was the same city. It was a class apart. It was a world apart.
He felt the same now, walking to the nearest U-Bahn station, looking around at the houses, going past the bistros and cocktail bars, watching the luxury cars gliding up and down the street.
He didn’t want to leave. He went into a café, with aproned waiters, and ordered a coffee. He couldn’t afford much more, so he made it last, and looked out onto the plush, swanky street.
Alan sat alone at the small desk, hunched over a tiny film viewer, watching and rewatching a section of film. The wall was covered with thin strips of film of varying length. The top of each one had a piece of white paper, giving information that anyone but Alan would find incomprehensible.
He turned the handle, watching magnified images pass through the tiny monitor. He consulted his notes and selected the best takes from each scene, then the exact frame to be cut. He marked the frame with the puncher on the monitor. Carefully, lovingly, he removed the film from the cog wheels and held it up to see the tiny indentation. He aligned this on the spokes of his film cutter and guillotined the end. The selected piece was then labelled and stuck on the wall, at a precise point, between the scenes coming immediately before and after it.
Alan picked up the film curled on the table, held it up against the light, squinting as he saw with his eye where the next scene began.
He ran this piece of film through the monitor to find the exact spot where it should begin.
So he spent the whole evening, editing his short film.
He loved everything about making films. He loved getting the initial idea, the casting and telling the actors about the story and the style he intended to use. He loved the filming, meeting up, drinking take-out coffee, preparing shots. Now he loved the end stage, the editing and splicing. He was alone, peaceful, and had complete control over the images.
He couldn’t wait to run the rough cut through the monitor, make the final micro cuts, then play it through the projector, and see his work on the cinemascope that was the bedroom wall.
He laughed to himself when he looked at the projector. He had told Vincent about needing a better quality one, and the actor had suggested the flea market by Tacheles.
Sure enough, on the muddy wasteland there were two or three tables that had old cine equipment. Alan asked one stall holder the price of an exquisite machine and was ignored. Vincent came over and winked at Alan. He picked up the projector and then put it down. He asked the price of a totally different item, appeared uninterested and seemed to wonder off. The Stall holder sat down, back to his wurst roll. Vincent walked away; clutching the projector. Alan saw and was shocked, but played along. He stayed looking at some bits, then slowly turned and walked away at a very casual pace, showing that his hands were clearly empty and that he had absolutely no connection whatsoever with that other gentleman.
This acting lark was really easy, he thought to himself. Procuring equipment apparently posed no problems. Now for presentation.
Vincent had said that the film could be shown in the bars all over east Berlin. It was no problem to organise movie nights, and he mentioned some bars in Friedrichshain where he was known. One named Kinski stood out.
Alan still couldn’t believe it; actors, equipment, a processing studio and venues in which to screen. An audience ready and open to new work.
Alan was spending a lot of time on the close-ups of Julie. He had deliberately shot more than was required. He slowly turned the handle, so that no individual frame would stay too long under the lamp and burn.
He told himself that he was just admiring her beauty. Looking for her best angles, and deciding that all angles were her best.
He had several new scripts ready. The money for film stock and processing could easily be earned and Vincent had introduced him to a number of actors, would-be actors and people who had agreed to take part in the no-budget films.
His plans began to get more elaborate, longer films, dialogue, screenings at festivals. All was possible. He simply had to make it happen, stay focused. Berlin was his.
He followed these thoughts with others of a more personal nature, until he remembered he was on a deadline. The film could get it’s premier next Friday, if it was ready.
Alan got back to work, passing over the image of Julie with a gentle sigh.
But Alan hadn’t been prepared for the nerves. He had always imagined this moment, the screening of his first film, showing his work, his ideas, to a public of strangers.
The experience was different.
The venue, an official bar, was run by a group of young people but looked and felt like some of the more organised squat bars.
Vincent enjoyed the attention, the hugs and slightly exaggerated greetings, and Alan tried to get some of his energy and confidence. More and more people were coming into the bar, a large cine screen already in place, the projector protected. When Alan made some tests for focus, there was always someone to make rabbit-ear shadows on the screen. It got a little tired after ten or eleven times.
The time approached, as far as bars like this kept to schedules, and Vincent looked at Alan and suggested they had better start soon, or everyone would be too drunk to care.
But no Julie.
“Ja, sometimes rehearsals go on longer, maybe they had to do some new scenes. It is next week, things need working on.” Vincent referred to a play that Julie was in, a radical reworking of Baal, as Julie had described it, with a hint that radical was a very polite and optimistic description.
“Come, we show it now, then later, if she comes.”
Vincent, without waiting for a response, whistled to the bar man, who turned off the music. He put in a tape that Alan had prepared. The lights went down, to sounds of claps, cheers and whoops.
Alan’s heart froze. He was almost paralysed with fear. He reached out for Vincent’s beer and took a swig that drained the bottle. Then he hit the switch. The sound of the motor turning, a beam of light hitting the large screen. He indicated to the bar man to play the cassette, and as the first image of Vincent, in Close-Up appeared, five foot tall on the screen, the melancholic notes of Debussy poured into the room.
There were immediate claps and wolf whistles, followed by a general hushing.
Julie was next up, but the sight of her, in a short dress, sitting on the grass, just caused more and more screams. But this was good. Alan felt Vincent put his arm around him. He kept it there for the entire film.
The entire film was little over five minutes and got a further two minutes of non-stop applause. Alan beamed. His nerves, totally gone, he knew he would never again be nervous, his ideas were good, his films would get better and better. He would be a film director. He was a film director.
By the next screening, demanded by the audience, Alan was too tipsy to gauge the reaction. He had been congratulated by friends and strangers. Others had come up and pleaded with him to be in his next film. Others asked where else he was screening, had he heard about certain festivals, other Berlin venues ? Until the beer hampered his senses, he made a note of everyone, very clear, with name and contact number or address.
When Julie finally appeared, very apologetic, he greeted her, and she was noticed and lauded by the drinkers, not allowed to pay for her Sekt.
She apologised for missing it, leading Alan to suggest that she come over tomorrow and have a private screening. To his amazement, she accepted the offer and they set a time.
Vincent asked about the play and they spoke about the director, who changed his mind scene to scene, demanded re-writes, re-casting, costume changes. The actors now came in holding out their hands for new instructions, an in-joke being, ‘what was wrong with the last re-write ?’
“Not like Alan,” she said, patting him on the shoulder and leaving her arm there. “So, tell me, how was the film, tonight ?”
Vincent spoke, but Julie was looking at Alan. They smiled at each other.
The following night, Julie appeared exactly on time, as if she had arrived early and was counting down to when she could knock on the door.
She really liked the film, the style and the camera work. She was a little shy about seeing herself, but viewed it professionally and made tiny criticisms, all of which Alan dismissed.
Over coffee, Julie was relaxed enough to speak openly about the play. She had considered it a breech of professional conduct to be critical of a production, but she felt it was going to be a disaster. When asked why, she took her time and chose her words carefully,
“For one thing, there are too many people. The cast should have been cut, and actors doubling up. We never have a rehearsal with everyone there, always someone having to stand-in, and it’s hard to work up an reaction to someone reading a script without emotion.
“Then the constant script changes. We learn a part overnight, and find it’s been cut. Most of the actors don’t accept this and half an hour gets wasted when everyone shouts out their opinion.
“And we all have to work as well, there is no way we will get anything out this, financially. Not that it matters. But most of us work and have to give up our spare time. Can’t bear to see it so un-productive. There, enough moaning.”
Alan told her it was OK, he liked to hear an actor’s perspective and asked for tips. Julie thought for a little while, then began, tentatively,
“If I can make one tiny suggestion, it would be . . . how ? OK, just to be more confident. You know what you want. The actors don’t. It is up to you to tell them, what to do, not to get their suggestions. Because most actors will just suggest endless Close-Ups of themselves.”
There was a slight pause before Alan and then Julie laughed
“So I should follow Mr Hitchcock’s advise and treat actors like cattle ?”
“I didn’t say that !”
The conversation continued effortlessly. Alan said that despite the weather getting colder, there was still enough light to film in October. Julie laughed and said,
“Not for much longer. You’ll have to start directing theatre, because you won’t be able to film outside until April or May.”
Alan had never thought of this, but, of course he had an immediate cinema reference point.
“Like Ingmar Bergman ?” he said referring to the Swedish film and theatre director. “He would keep the same group of actors for both. Must have helped to develop a close working experience. Well ? Would you like to do some theatre with me ?”
“You have something ?”
“Well . . . I just might.”
As autumn once again became winter, there were other changes over Berlin. Alan would start to study theatre from the books available to him. Julie would start to get more and more attention for her craft. Daniel would rethink what medium he should use for his artistic expression. Chris would be very careful about what women he would fall in love with. A lost music student would search for direction. A Philosophy student would find his first semester harder than he ever imagined and would consider changing courses. And Richard would fall in love with a German girl who would make him happier than he had ever been, until, that too, went horribly wrong.
A sign of a truly great film is how repeated viewings offer different and deeper perspectives. One such film is ‘Maborosi’ (1995) by Hirakazu Kore-eda.
Makiko Esumi’s performance is stunning. Her minimal movements convey the inner anguish, confusion and helplessness. Life, so tentative, has to continue. Peace comes not from knowing but from accepting that one will never know.
After several viewings, I still want to watch the film again … and again. I will write a blog about the film in the near future. In the meantime, here is a brief photo introduction to the lead actress, a former model.
Makiko is better known for her TV work but for me, she is the soul of this beautiful, delicate film.
Daniel knew the days of Sawhead The Bear were numbered. Their manager had disappeared. The guitarist was having an affair with the bass player’s girlfriend. The drummer was simply on another planet. Daniel was the only one taking it seriously and was now being held back by their lack of ambition, enthusiasm and professionalism.
Daniel had gone to The Russians one Saturday afternoon, only to be told that there was no gig that night. Or, maybe there was, but no one knew, and it hadn’t been advertised.
“Didn’t you see Jake ?” Daniel asked Andrei.
“For sure, but he too drunk to talk. He keep say me what I do wrong, so I don’t listen. I play music very loud.”
“Shall we go now and ask ?”.
But there was no answer from either Andrei or Sascha.
“Fucking hell, I come all this fucking way and . . . where’s Boris ? Another fucker gone AWOL ?” Daniel knew better than to ask where Olga was.
“What the fuck’s wrong ?” Daniel asked, sick of the apathy. Sascha answered that they were tired of playing the same bar and the same songs. The night in the new squat bar was good, but . . .
“Fucking hell, all we gotta do is find new places, then. As for new songs, we have to fucking write them. I’ve got a bunch of new lyrics, but we never get around to fucking working on them. Let’s do one, now, come on, get your fucking bass on.”
“I don’t have any new music,” Andrei said.
“Fuck all that shit, I’ve got a bass line. I’ve got this whole new song worked out. Listen,” and Daniel opened a notebook and read aloud,
The rat in the corner is my only guest ‘Cause the mice have split and the cat gone quit I guess you could say things ain’t at their best But things’ll be OK, they’ll be all right In the morning.
Oh, I can drink and pretend to be Content with life and happy Like any person in any bar But don’t look too deep, don’t peer too far Inside.
Silence. Finally Sascha asked,
“Ahhh, Dan, Daniel . . . what is ‘peer’ ?”
Andrei laughed, then Boris came into the room, looking anywhere but at his bass player. Daniel told Andrei what to play, humming a bass line, a simple jazzy pattern. Then he suggested some ideas for Sascha.
“Hey, Boris, I thought, instead of playing along, strumming, just play lead, crank up the distortion and riff away in the gaps. Come on, let’s give it a go.”
After two or three slow, half-hearted attempts, the song was getting into shape, Boris liking the total freedom, and understood exactly what Daniel wanted.
Daniel was really impressed by his guitarist and just wondered why he couldn’t always be so inspired. Then Olga came home. Andrei called out and she popped her head in, quickly spoke in Russian and went back to the kitchen to clean her teeth. Daniel suddenly understood why Boris was so relaxed.
Then he suggested a band meeting, in the Czar Bar, as he was hoping that there would be girls there who had come to see him, and as he wasn’t playing, he could spent more time with them.
Not so many girls tonight, however Daniel was very happy to see Richard.
“Where the fuck is Laughing Boy ?” he asked. Richard couldn’t believe he didn’t know the story. He couldn’t believe Andrei or Boris hadn’t told him. Once he was updated, Daniel explained that maybe Boris and Andrei were having their own version of the Chris – Johan – Veronica triangle.
“Oh, fuck !”
“Yes,” agreed Daniel, “Oh, fuck.”
“That’s why I’m here, see what’s going down. Gauge the depth of shit that Chris has plunged into. Head first. He thinks Johan’s gonna kill him. He’s absolutely fucking certain Claude is going to kill him. I want to speak with Jake before it gets too busy.”
“Or you pass out again. Fucking lightweight.”
“Not tonight. Got work to do. And you ? You playing or what ?”
“Thought I was, ah, fuck it, long story. I tried calling your number, but the line’s dead.”
Richard passed over the number of Biberkopf.
“Yeah, that’s gone, didn’t want to keep paying for it, so got rid,” he explained, apologetically, the implication being that no one called him anyway. He also gave Daniel his address.
“No intercom, or funny business, just walk in, through to the Hof and up the stairs, Mister. You’ll get some old Krauts stare at you, but I’m sure you’re used to that.”
“Not yet. Those fuckers really gawk, don’t they ? Still have to stop myself from asking them, ‘What the fuck’s your problem ?’ Apart from being a German cunt, that is.”
Daniel them began losing interest in Richard as he saw a couple of girl fans and went over, putting an arm around each one.
Jake wandered over to Richard, between customers, asking when Chris was coming back.
“Johan’s not going to do anything. He’s pissed, he’s real pissed, but he won’t touch Chris. He’s not violent, never even seen him angry.”
“Yeah, Claude’s gonna fucking kill him !” then Jake let out a splutter of laughter that amused and confused Richard who was further confused when Jake had a suggestion,
“Hey, Rich, you wanna give me a hand here ?”
“Yeah, need someone I can trust. You know the prices, don’t you ? Then go gather glasses, wash a few . . .”
“Fuck, Jake, more washing up ?”
“Ah, not too fancy, just get the dregs out, wet them. Come on, get your arse behind the bar.”
Richard left as the sun was already up and doing it’s best to shed some hope and colour. He got a commitment from the band to play any new gig that Chris could organise. He got word directly from Johan (who had come in looking wrecked, but had done a very amusing double take seeing Richard pouring vodkas behind the bar) that Chris was in no physical danger. He got an unexpected wage from Jake. And he was sober. He had considered this work and approached it seriously. He had refused each and every vodka. He had, however, accepted every vodka-inspired kiss, though ‘every’ was actually just one. One more than usual.
On the way home, he went into a bakery and picked up different sorts of croissants and rolls and two take-out coffees. Whatever else was wrong with Berlin, rather with his life in Berlin, the smell of fresh croissants and take out coffee in polystyrene cups was one of life’s genuine pleasures. Walking home in the early morning in a straight line was not only a novelty but a further pleasure. It was October, another malicious Berlin winter was coming. But not today.
Chris woke up when Richard opened the door, despite efforts to be quiet.
The real shock for Chris was seeing Richard, after all night in the bar, hair straight, eyes focused, looking well, not spouting nonsense or laughing at everything.
They breakfasted together and Richard filled him in.
“So, it’s cool with Johan ?”
“No, not by a long chalk, Mush. He’s really torn up. But he’ll be all right. You’ll be OK.”
“So . . . do you think I can go back ?”
“I’d still give it a week or two. Now, the band. You’re gonna have to get them work, before hell breaks loose.”
“That bad ? What’s wrong now ?”
And Richard told him all the gossip along with a few conjectures of his own. Chris laughed, but he was using the funny anecdotes as a cover. He was relieved that Richard seemed to be staying sober.
At the earliest acceptable time, Chris called Arizona Al. He was hoping for some leads. Arizona was glad to repay him. He was taking part in another concert night in some back room club in a back street in the back of Mitte. He’d have to check, but was sure that Sawhead could get on the bill. They even had a bit of a name. A bit.
When Chris returned to the flat, he was surprised to see Daniel outside, looking up and down the street.
“I forgot the fucking number. Had it written down, but lost the paper. And that work number.”
When he entered the flat with Chris, Richard recognized, and smelt, that Daniel had on the same clothes as last night, and within five minutes, Daniel was telling them of his latest sexual conquest.
Chris was glad to change the subject and mentioned that there could be a new gig in Mitte next Saturday.
“Fucking Aces. We getting paid ?”
This lead Daniel to talk about his job. He had been missing work; first the odd day, then two days, now he regularly worked only three days a week. He was on his last warning. It was only due to a sympathetic foreman, also from London, that he was able to keep the job. Daniel didn’t really care, imagining that he could move in with the Russians, work in a bar and play more gigs, maybe three a week, and start getting money that way.
Chris looked at Daniel and nodded in a vague, non-committal way but felt Richard staring at him. He said that it was all possible, what Daniel had projected. But then Daniel said something else,
“Can’t expect someone of my talent to work that shit for much longer. I need time to work on my lyrics. Need energy for my girls. Know what I mean ? No, don’t suppose you two do.”
After Daniel had left, explaining how he needed a shower because his whole body stank of pussy, Richard and Chris looked at each other, wordless. When they did speak, after minutes or head-shaking and intakes of breathe, many references were made to Dr Frankenstein and his creation.
The gig was confirmed. Chris went over to the Russians, giving them all the details. This time they had use of a van to transport their equipment.
Daniel had also arranged his own transport, deciding that he should be driven to and from the concert. He had convinced a workmate, with a car, to drive him, boasting of the amount of women he always attracted.
The Russians would make their own way there, while Richard and Chris would be picked up on Karl-Liebknecht Straße, by the bus stop outside the Marienkirche.
The following Saturday, to get some air and kill some time, Richard and Chris walked to the open air crafts street market by the Bode Museum. They checked out the films being shown by the Zeughaus cinema, and wandered up Unter Den Linden. Chris was dreading Richard suggesting that they go for a drink, and was relieved when they walked past bar after bar without being dragged in.
Chris brought two cheap and quite awful coffees from an Imbiss and they made their way to the pick-up point.
Crossing the main road by subway, they heard a solo busker at the end of the tunnel, his voice and guitar echoing against the tiles and making them smile as they recognized the piece; ‘Swan Swan H’ by R.E.M. which was played well.
Chris, as he approached, began nodding his head, and Richard quietly joined in with the lyrics, getting louder as the busker smiled to encourage him. Chris then began lifting his arms and suddenly, twirling around, he did a waltz with an imaginary partner.
When he obstructed an elderly couple with his artistic expression, the Busker laughed and blew his words, but Richard only gained in confidence.
They gave him all their loose change and went to wait for their ride.
The good feeling soon dispersed when the car pulled over. Daniel was in the passenger seat, wearing sunglasses, and didn’t even look or speak to them as they climbed in the back seat. The driver introduced himself as Martin and asked for directions. Chris made a joke about not being exactly sure, and Daniel let out an expression of frustration and anger. Richard made a sign to Chris to let it go and they headed to Rosenthaler Platz.
Chris had a street map unfolded before him and was trying to follow the route. He found the street, but not the club. The whole area looked nondescript, residential. Then Richard spotted a familiar face,
“Look, there’s Bryan. Pull over and ask him.”
They called to him and as Daniel wound down his window, Bryan thrust his head in, making the driver recoil in terror. They got directions. It was the right street, but the entrance to the club was around the corner, through some doors. Of course. This was Berlin, why should anything be straightforward ?
Martin was still in shock,
“What the fuck was that for a thing ?”
“Does have rather a large bonce, doesn’t he ?” stated Richard.
“Did you see that head ?” asked Martin, “It filled the whole window.”
Chris was just giggling. He was sick of this bloody band, and was in the mood for dancing and drinking.
There followed the usual madness of dozens of musicians coming and going and demanding and asking and singing and showing off and smoking and drinking and sitting around and jumping about and hugging and greeting and kissing and joking and posing and posing and posing.
Arizona Al turned a corner, a keyboard over his back. Richard and Chris looked at each other and their hearts sank. Daniel went up to him, arms outstretched and kissed him on the cheek. Arizona took some time before he recognized him. “Oh, yeah, right, Sawhead, right, yeah, I remember, wow, how you doing, man ?”
The night was actually well organised and well attended. The main band was an electronic trio from Norway, a band who had released some records and a couple of CDs that were displayed by the entrance.
Some local media moguls were there, journalists from newspapers nobody knew existed, people from local radio, and some professional musicians whom Arizona Al recognized by sight and was slightly in awe of, one being a Russian guitarist who had, allegedly, jammed with Keith Richards. He pointed him out to Chris, saying that Sawhead could really make some good contacts tonight.
Unfortunately, the tensions within the band came out onstage and it was to be their last ever gig.
They were put on early which Daniel complained about, even threatening to pull out completely. The organisers told him OK, leave, and he had to back down. Andrei and Boris simply couldn’t look at each other, and Richard was glad he came with Daniel, as that short journey was Mardi Gras compared to what the ride from Ostkreuz must have been.
Again, Daniel wanted to make an entrance and had instructed the band to start playing before he walked on, expecting to get his own applause. Boris and Andrei were past caring, but Sascha, supposed to count them in, just sat behind his kit, waiting for Daniel. Daniel gestured to him but Sascha seemed to think that he was waving, and kept waving back. Again, Daniel had to come on and wait for the band to start.
One of Daniel’s main concerns was the music. He was aiming for a Rock, Indie-Pop sound and encouraged Boris to use his effect pedals to fill out and make his guitar heavier. But Boris preferred a clear, pure sound. Usually. Tonight, he was being more . . . experimental.
And it began immediately. While Daniel was trying to introduce the first song, and speaking a lot more than was necessary, Boris began playing, his overdrive pedal switched to the max and it screamed out of every speaker and made the audience jump back, cover their ears, leave. Sascha found a point to join in and Andrei, clearly relishing a pissing contest with his rival, turned up his bass and began playing. He was aiming simply for volume, not for rhythm and it threw Sascha, who now began trying to follow his bass player. Daniel was completely lost and had no idea what song his band were playing. All his ideas about changing the name to Daniel Roth and Sawhead The Bear vanished, as he believed his backing band were deliberately trying to sabotage him.
Boris and Andrei were standing on opposite sides of the stage, looking away. Sascha was looking at everybody for some kind of indication or instruction. Daniel sang any lyrics he thought would fit, but couldn’t be heard, anyway.
Chris looked at Richard who looked at Arizona Al who looked at Bryan Moonface. People who didn’t know the band walked away, dismissing them as first timers at best, a joke band, at worse.
Daniel could see people leave en mass. Some girls he had winked at earlier, telling them how great his band were, just laughed at him as they turned to talk to other musicians.
Throwing down his mic, Daniel went up to Boris, to shake him, but was shrugged off. When he tried again, the look of absolute hate in Boris’ eyes made him step back. Daniel then went over to Andrei and began shouting. The bass player simply ignored him. But Daniel had to find a target, and when Sascha smiled at him like this was a great, rocking band, Daniel dived across the drum kit to strangle him.
There was a sound of a bass crashing to the floor, then deafening feedback. Daniel was lifted up, one-handed, by Andrei who looked him in the eye, wagged his finger ‘No!’ then half pushed, half threw him off the stage.
Daniel walked out. Sascha began shouting at Andrei, who packed up his bass. Boris kept on playing until the sound guys cut his amp.
Chris didn’t care. Daniel had left. The Russians were going their separate ways. But the bar was well stocked, the women were gorgeous and, as he said to Richard,
“Just when you think things can’t get any worse, we still have to listen to Arizona Al.”
In tandem, Richard and Chris delivered the by now obligatory,
“We’re gonna need a bigger bar,” line.
They stayed until the Norwegian band came on, and after five minutes of electronic music that didn’t appeal to them at all, they left.
They walked home, deciding to break the monotony of the walk by going into one or two bars along the way. Richard only drank, only seemed to want to drink, beer, but these were conventional, local bars, no truck with vodka madness, leg-cocking canines and, “Shit on a stick.” Being away from the Czar Bar was having a positive effect. Chris just wished it had been a better evening. But he also realised, through all the fear and worry, he hadn’t once thought about Veronica.
Richard decided to go straight home after work, a rare event, as he usually took two night buses to get to Friedrichshain, to get to the Czar Bar, to get blind drunk.
As he entered the Hof, he looked up and saw his lights on. Chris was there.
He came in, expecting warm greetings, shouts of, “Hey, how ya doin’ ?” and such like. The odds were against Richard returning home early and sober, so it was quite an event.
But Chris was sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea and looking nervous, even scared. Richard also noticed Chris’ bag in the room, full of clothes.
He didn’t wait for Richard to ask, but offered two words that explained everything,
It had begun at the Sawhead concert. Playing a different bar with different bands had created a festival feeling amongst the band members and their entourage.
Chris had been telling everyone about the concert. He had asked Arizona Al to appear, and to bring his own posse.
Another new person was Carla, Veronica’s friend, who had just arrived in Berlin.
Chris and Richard went to the Russian’s house mid afternoon on the Saturday to help them move the equipment. This time, it was only the drum kit and guitars, as the bar had their own P.A. System and amps.
The drinking began early, but it was controlled, just beers to maintain the natural high.
As they were setting up, they could sense that it was going to be special; a lot of people were milling around, either bar workers, their friends, other bands, their friends, other squatters, passers-by, those who were curious about the event, those who themselves were merely curious.
One such was a man who was very tall, slightly cross-eyed, and wore a suit of fluffy fabric with a pattern that resembled a Dalmatian dog. He had bits of coloured paper tied to strands of his hair, and wanted to play. Apparently, he was a one-man band named Necrophilia, and played Goth-Death-Experimental-Electronics.
The bill was a little light and he was told that if he could get his equipment here within an hour, he could go on, after Arizona Al and before Perry Coma. Chris had insisted that Sawhead The Bear close the show. They were the main event.
Daniel now dressed the part. He had a long black leather coat, more like a cloak, and wore large sunglasses, always. He had spent a lot of time with Arizona Al, gathering tips. Daniel appreciated that Arizona was the kind of guy who could throw on any old thing, and look so naturally cool. Daniel mentioned this to Richard,
“Undoubtedly, but you have heard him ?” came the uncharacteristically cynical reply.
The bar had a front room, long and deep, but the stage area, much larger and square, was reached by a corridor, guarded by two squatters acting as security. It was decided to charge 2 Marks entrance, to be split between the acts. The bar was expecting to make a killing.
Jake allowed Chris to go on the understanding that after Sawhead played, he would bring the entire audience back to the Czar Bar so they too could make a killing, in the name of vodka.
There was the usual controlled and semi-controlled and completely uncontrolled anarchy when it came to sound checking. The man on the controls was part of the Heidelberg contingent that had descended on east Berlin, a group of ten or so young men from that western university town. His name was Thomas, a sensible-looking young man with a real job and career, working as an audio engineer for a radio station.
Thomas approached this gig with the same level of professionalism as to his normal work. Unfortunately, the bands didn’t and it proved impossible to assemble all members of a band at the same time.
Daniel was too busy talking to some women who had arrived, and even suggested that Chris should stand in to test the mic level. Thomas said no to Pavel, who told Chris, who told Andrei who marched out to get Daniel to rehearse, to drag him by force, if necessary. Daniel tore himself away, predicting that tonight would be his first Berlin three-some.
The only one who matched Thomas for professionalism was Arizona Al, who turned up early, with just his acoustic guitar. He was told he’d only have time for two numbers, and he was happy with that.
Necrophilia appeared, a large keyboard under his arm and began setting up while Arizona played. The sounds he produced made everyone listening think that the mics were set too high and were feeding back, but Thomas nodded his head and understood that this was part of the act. Thomas also seemed to be the only one who appreciated it, as well.
Perry Coma swaggered in, acting as if they owned the place and, being the local band, they kind of did.
Boris listened to them for a while, checking out the guitarist, but soon walked away, seeing no competition there.
He conferred with Andrei and Sascha then asked Daniel if he could do an extended solo in one of the songs, but Daniel wasn’t too happy, and said that they can’t start messing around with the songs now. Boris knew that Daniel just didn’t want anyone else getting any attention, and was not going to be told how and when to play.
Both complained to Chris,
“Fucking hell,” he moaned to Richard, “all I get are problems. Not one fucking thank you for getting the gig, for bringing in people, making sure they get paid, go on last . . . Veronica ! Bella !”
Veronica and a friend walked in, nervously looking around. She saw Chris and walked over, taking a kiss on the cheek. She introduced Carla, and Richard ordered drinks. Suddenly the evening took an almighty upswing.
The concert began with Arizona Al, who commanded the stage, made two or three thumps on the floor for a time beat and launched into Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’. He had the crowd from the first strum. He followed it by an original number, but the good feeling initiated kept up. As he walked off, he was patted and cheered, and there were unanimous calls for an encore.
Chris and Richard were amazed. Why hadn’t he played like that before ? They were going to have to reassess their whole opinion of him. He was simply amazing, and to improve things further, Arizona came over to them, which raised the profile of Chris and Richard in the eyes of everyone. Especially two very beautiful Italian girls.
Necrophilia played next. And it was bad. So bad and so noisy that it was funny. Both girls laughed, charming the men.
Thankfully, the performance was over in ten minutes, as the entire room had cleared. The bar made good business.
Next up were Angry Black Men, an attempt at hip hop, some Germans dressed as they thought angry black men dressed in the hoods of New York. They got the crowd going, had some good beats, but the pretend accents caused laughter from the native English speakers.
After a small intermission, Perry Coma played and their fans marched down the front, and began jumping up and down, pogoing, throwing beer and spitting as the band played a distorted hybrid of punk and Death Metal.
A couple of singer-songwriters did an unplugged set that nobody pain much attention to, then it was time for Sawhead The Bear.
The Czar Bar contingent screamed and shouted out. Daniel made sure he entered the stage last, wanting the band to be playing, but they just stood around, lost, waiting for their singer.
Daniel stood, back to the audience, then thumped his foot, twice. Richard looked over at Chris and mouthed ‘Arizona Al !’ and Chris nodded.
They got a great reception and their set was getting tighter, but they played such a wide selection of music, it weakened their impact. One song was pure Indie Pop, the next, a country song, followed by Boris playing a funky guitar pattern. It was their covers that got the best response.
They played an encore which was a much looser version of a song played earlier. Now Boris wasn’t going to be restrained, and launched into a lengthy solo, turning his back to Daniel. But it was shit hot. He was on fire. He allowed himself one look into the audience and focused on Olga. Andrei finished the song early and unplugged his bass. He walked off the stage and took a fresh beer. Daniel stayed behind to get all the applause.
Chris pulled himself away from Veronica, saying he had to see to, “My band.” There was stress on, “My band.”
After their equipment was packed up, there was a little spat. Daniel wanted to go straight up to the bar, where he had two women waiting. The band said they needed help to get the drums and guitars home. Daniel said that they could do it without his help, it was their stuff, not his.
Chris didn’t want anything to spoil the evening. He found a solution. Everything could be stored upstairs, in Pavel’s room, where it would be safe. They could collect it tomorrow afternoon. All they had to do now was wait for the money, then go to the Czar Bar.
Agreement and fresh beers.
The reason Chris was so happy was a piece of news Veronica had let slip; Johan had left that day. He wasn’t in Berlin.
The girls had another effect on them; they steadied the drinking. Despite being in a bar most of the evening, they were tipsy but no more. The walk in the cold air to the Czar Bar took fifteen minutes, and sobered them further. The girls walked slowly, but that wasn’t a problem.
The Czar Bar was in full swing and got renewed energy from the influx of new people. Chris had to work but spent every spare second looking at or talking to Veronica.
The girls finally got tired long before the night was anywhere close to ending. Richard held Carla’s hand and told her how happy he was to meet her, desperately playing up the polite Englishman angle. He gave her two kisses on the cheek, and their hands remained touching until she walked away, with a wave.
Chris also got an innocent kiss on the cheek, but there was a little whisper between them.
After the girls had gone, Chris smiled, shook Richard’s hand, and poured them and Jake a well-deserved vodka. Then the night began to fade to blackout.
The next night, with Carla sleeping, Veronica went to Chris’ room, to borrow a book. She stayed for an hour.
This was repeated several times over the next two weeks.
On the Wednesday following the gig, Richard got a call at work. Chris reminded him that he and Jake had the bar that night and that he should come over. Carla had been asking about him.
The worst of the Summer was over and although the garden was still open, it was quiet, the people there drinking rather than ordering food; less food, less washing up.
The new chef appeared to be much better, albeit very messy. He made Richard a special dinner every night, on a giant plate, and would return from the cellar with a glint in his eye. He carried a large bucket full of onions and packets of spice and milk and put this in a far corner of the kitchen. He then got two ice cream glasses. He went back to the corner and there was the unmistakable hiss of a bottle of gassy alcohol being opened. He made a ‘pssss’ sound to Richard and beckoned him over, handing him a glass of expensive Sekt. After they had drunk, the chef, Jürgen, hid the piccolo bottle deep in the trash bin.
But there was a delay in getting paid, as giving the Spüler his money was the lowest priority of the staff, so much so that he missed a connection and had to wait nearly half an hour for the next night bus.
When he got to the bar, he was in the mood for drinking and drinking hard. He took three vodkas in the first ten minutes. Carla joined him for one, looked surprised at his second and horrified at his third. Chris laughed, and jokingly mentioned that he should perhaps slow down.
So Richard asked Jake instead.
He next memory was waking up, semi-undressed at home. Half of his money was gone, spent in the bar. He couldn’t sleep but couldn’t move either. He stayed in bed, hoping to get some sleep. After this proved impossible, he made coffee after coffee and smoked the remainder of his cigarettes.
Tonight it was the east German chef. And the staff he hated. He felt like having a drink before going into work, but didn’t want a Nuremberg Part II. Then a blurred flashback; he had a vague recollection of Carla tapping him on the shoulder, telling him he drank too much.
Carla, witnessing Richard’s drunken transformation, was no longer interested in even seeing him again, let alone starting any kind of relationship.
Veronica was unhappy with Johan, had been for a long time, was sure he was seeing other women, but was still in love with him. She was fond of Chris, and tried convincing herself that he could be the new man. But she was unwilling to listen; she knew herself too well.
Chris was also having misgivings. He was in love with Veronica and now had her. He told himself that Johan would understand, and that he and Veronica could be together. But . . .
One Friday afternoon, going to visit Richard and bumping into him on Schönhauser Allee, as he was returning with two bottles of wine, he opened up.
Richard’s main priority was getting the wine open, and Chris knew better than to start his story before Richard had taken a drink.
“Just one or two, set me up for work,” Richard explained.
“Oh, I hear that,” replied Chris before speaking about Veronica,
“I just don’t know. I love her. Really, I’m crazy about her. Been wanting her for . . . ever. “
“I don’t know. Something’s not right.”
“The sex ?”
Chris was surprised by Richard’s bluntness, but saw that he was already well into his second glass. And he had got the point. Chris finished his wine, poured some more and began,
“I’m not even sure if I . . . I mean, if she . . . you know ?”
“Pop goes the weasel ?” Richard confused Chris further by launching into an exaggerated Bob Dylan voice and saying, “Ya mean she’s a slow train coming ?”
Chris laughed, then followed it up,
“She says she does, but . . . “
“You mean you asked her ?”
“Why ‘of course’ ? You got some kinda satisfaction guarantee ?”
“Well, yeah, pretty much. No complaints so far. I used to blow Monika’s mind. And she would blow my mind.”
“Well, come on, there’s a lot of pressure. You’re not able to be relaxed, right ? She’s your friend’s girl. Lucky you can get it up at all.”
“Hey, it’s up, man, I’m the fucking TV Tower, I’m the Siegessäule. Nothing wrong with . . . that end of things. No collapsing new building there.”
“Glad to hear it. But she must have a lot of stress. She obviously needs things to be sorted. Away from Rigaer Str . . . Oh, I get it. You want to borrow my flat.”
“I’ll wash the sheets.”
“Oh, fuck, man, I don’t want the details. Damn right you will though. So when do you want to . . . you want to tonight, don’t you ?”
“I want to right now, man !”
“Can’t help you there, Mush. Another drink, or will it interfere with your TV Tower reception ?”
Richard then got the giggles and went to work in a good mood. It lasted about twenty minutes in the nine circles of Biberkopf’s Kitchen.
Chris borrowed the flat twice more over the next week.
Richard had no idea what had deterred Carla. He was in the bar one night, Andrei working alone, when she came in, saw Richard, avoided eye contact and left. Richard kept drinking, asking, perhaps too much, where Olga was.
The next time Andrei saw him, the Russian was worried,
“Hey, Richard what happen to you ? You were . . . “ and he waved a hand in front of his face. “I don’t know if you get home.”
Sascha joined in,
“Yes, you got a taxi home.”
“You were there ?” he asked Sascha. “I got a taxi home ? No, that doesn’t sound right.”
“And you were trying to kiss that girl,” Sascha broke out into uncontrollable laughter.
But Richard had no idea what had happened in the bar, whom he had seen, or talked to, or tried to kiss, or anything.
But he was back the next night, drinking until he passed out on the bar. This time Chris and Jake were working. He woke up sometime after six and Jake gave him a lot of ice tea to drink.
After he had staggered out, refusing the offer of crashing over, Jake spoke to Chris, also very concerned, as to his mind, there was no question; Richard was an alcoholic and heading for a different sort of crash.
Chris thought he should do something, but had no idea what.
Two days later, Chris was going to work the bar again. He walked along Rigaer Str, thinking how to approach Richard, when a violent scream made his heart stop. It was Claude, shouting at him from across the street and pointing a finger like a loaded gun,
“You ! You fucking boy ! You fucking boy !”
Chris, totally pale and sweating, ran into Carla, outside of the street door to the squat. She told him. Johan was back and was having a serious talk with Veronica. It was nasty. Carla was afraid to go inside.
Jake walked past, on his way to the beer shop. Chris told him what had happened. Jake just nodded and said,
Chris ran upstairs and packed as much as he could, then ran out, ran all the way to the Storkower S-Bahn, looking back all the time.
Meanwhile, Richard, confronted with a never-ending pile of plates and work, accepted that getting drunk wasn’t helping the workload, it only made it infinitely worse. He was feeling truly awful, all the time.
If he carried on he would end up like the drunks prowling Berlin’s streets, looking in bins, smoking old dog ends, huddling around Imbisses to buy cheap grain alcohol and asking people, “Kleingeld, bitte.”
Not how he wanted to be.
He decided to go straight home, waiting at Zoo Station for a later bus, destination Prenzlauer Berg, not Friedrichshain, sobriety not stupor.
That was when he saw the lights on in his flat, and hoped that Chris had brought some wine with him.
Russell and I met many years ago in London, when he was an aspiring actor. His career, in this notoriously fickle business, is really taking off but I’ll let Russell present himself, and share his journey.
Hi Russell. How’s it going ?
It’s a good day actually because I’ve just been cast in this feature film called ‘Witch’. I’m one of the leads. It’s probably going to the biggest movie that I’ve been in. We start shooting in the first two weeks of October, so that is very, very exciting.
Could you describe your hometown
I’m from Halifax in West Yorkshire. It’s a lovely place in the valleys, surrounded by countryside. Halifax is a small town near Leeds and Huddersfield, and about thirty miles from Manchester. It’s got a lovely place called the Peace Hall which is incredible … but the football team’s not doing too well.
At what point did you decide that you had to be an actor ?
There was no deciding. I was working as a welder at the time, doing sixty hours in a factory and I used to go home at Christmas to be with my mum and my sister and my brother. I was also going out with this girl who lived in London. I think her life, and being around her university friends, influenced me, how she was doing what she wanted to do.
I really struggled. At Christmas I would speak to my mum and ask, ‘What do I want to do ? I don’t want to do what I do anymore’. And she just said, ‘What did you like to do at school ?’ I mentioned acting, so we decided that I would get into performing arts, do a course in acting, just to find out what I wanted.
I did a two-year diploma at Arden school of acting in Manchester, and I ended up with six distinctions. I got in at Leicester and did four years in Performing Arts. I got a BA (Hons), ended up with a 2:2 for my dissertation.
For me, the real acting, the real work starts when you’re not in that bubble anymore, when you’re just out there, getting the experience, getting your showreel together, getting an Equity card, getting headshots. Getting your first professional credit. Finding out what you want to do; is it film, is it TV, is it musicals, is it theatre, is it commercials ? Is it music videos, murder mysteries ? I did them all !
There was a lot involved and I struggled a lot when I first started getting into acting, I was seeing a counsellor, one-to-one sessions, and I continued to do a lot of work by myself. I work on myself all the time, reading books. I’m a graduate in ‘More to Life’, I’m a graduate in ‘Landmark Worldwide’ which is all about how language creates your world and how the mind can run your life.
So, it’s not just a case of changing your career, it’s not easy. But I did it and I don’t give myself enough credit and I’m aware of that.
What were your influences ?
My mum and my sister. They said do what you want to do, what makes you happy. I had two cars and a motorbike when I was twenty-one but it wasn’t about the money, it was about what made me happy.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to work in the Arts ?
Believe in yourself and be aware there’s lots of negativity out there as well as positivity, and for people that haven’t had much success, it’s very easy for them to say that it’s really tough out there, and it’s this and it’s that. But if you listen to that, then you’re taking on their journey, not your own journey. For me, everybody’s journey is different, no matter where you are in life, in your career.
Be strong, always keep thinking outside the box. Develop your skill sets, keep getting the experience. Keep saying yes to opportunities and never stop learning. You’ll be learning for the rest of your life, there’s always something new to learn.
As an artist, one is inevitably going to face disappointment. How do you deal with this ?
One of the things I do, which fits into the Landmark Worldwide, is when you have a disappointment rather than say, ‘It’s me, I’m not good enough,’ what I say is that I wasn’t right for that particular part … but there will be a part that I am right for.
Always be amiable, go into everything with an open mind, like you’re learning for the first time. Don’t assume that you know everything.
Where can my readers see you ?
I have my own website, I’m on Spotlight, IMDb, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m also on YouTube, so I’m everywhere, really.
I also did an eight-part TV series for TV called ‘Unexplained: Caught on Camera’, which was incredible. Look out for a monologue called ‘Borys the Rottweiler’ on Sky Arts, in which I play a dog.
Additionally, you can also see me in the Arctic Monkey Video, ‘When the Sun Goes Down – Scummy Man’.
The biggest things have been ‘Adventure Boyz’ & ‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ but the biggest thing is going to be ‘Witch’.
I’ve done loads of radio and commercials including one for Halifax Banking, which is on TV still.
What does the future hold ? Any exciting news ?
Yes, I’ve just been cast for a commercial. It’s on hold for TV and cinema but, I’ve been told, it’s going to be out on the 14th July. It’s a commercial for National Rail, and I play a father who wants to take a shortcut home to be with his wife and child. I walk across a rail track … and get zapped ! It’s basically National Rail safety. My wife is played by Miranda Nolan, Christopher Nolan’s (‘Dunkirk’, ‘Inception’, ‘Batman Begins’) cousin, so I’m looking forward to that.
The exciting news for me is that ‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ is actually being shown in Singapore, right at this very moment, at the Shaw Theatre, which is really beautiful. I’m thinking it’s going to have an American release soon.
The other big thing for me, just confirmed yesterday, is that I’ve been confirmed as one of the leads in ‘Witch’, directed by Marc Zammit and written by Craig Hines.
The film will be coming out in 2022, and it’s getting a lot of exposure. Marc Zammit is connected with Universal, Lionsgate and Paramount, so it’s definitely going to be the biggest movie that I’ve been involved in. I play a character called Thomas. It’s a 16th Century supernatural horror film.
I’m also doing a Radio 4 play next week as well as a voice-over for Medtronic which will be heard all over Europe. I seem to be doing a lot of feature films. This year I’ve got ‘Six Years Gone’ in which I play a detective. That’s coming out end of September. I’m also in another film, a black comedy called ‘Psycho List’, and I’m also in a short film which we’re shooting next week.
So, that just about wraps it up. Believe in your dreams, believe in your own path. Stay away from any negativity. More than anything, believe in yourself.