Song: “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear.”
As usual, divide the class into teams, give points to make the games more exciting.
First up: feelings
Choose some top cat students, one by one. Outside of the class, show them a flashcard (happy, sad, thirsty etc). The student has to mime or act the emotion.
Have a small group of students hold the flashcards. Model a question e.g. “Is Tina thirsty ?” Students reply, “Yes, she is,” or “No, she isn’t,” depending on whether she is holding that card. Appoint a new teacher (thay in Viet) to ask the next question.
Moving on up: Pronunciation, intonation and stress
Thay Paul loves coffee so does his friend Agent Cooper: Students can act out the scene. Not only does it require stress and emotion, but also pacing.
No time to lose: Run ‘n’ write
What are the five senses ? One student from each team writes a sense on the board. Then say a noun – one student from each team will tick which sense applies e.g. ‘Pizza.’ Students can tick ‘see,’ ‘taste,’ ‘smell’ & ‘touch.’ ‘Guitar‘ (‘see,’ ‘hear,’ ‘touch.’)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge awoke from a dream with the words of Kubla Khan flowing, demanding to be transcribed and he immediately collected his ink and paper, no less his thoughts, which were racing through those ancient, mythical, mysterious lands.
His hand, desperate to record those indescribably, wondrous images, not knowing where they would lead him, his mind, knowing he mustn’t a moment waste, compelled him to write, write, write …
And then the wretched Man from Purlock.
A matter of pressing business, must be attended to, forthwith. Coleridge tried to dissuade him, entreating him to return at a later time, but requests and pleas wouldn’t move this persistent Man from Purlock. He decreed that Pleasure Domes, stately or otherwise, could wait, they would still be there after satisfactory conclusion of matter at hand, which must be gone into with the greatest care.
Still The Poet attempted swift conclusion of conversation, but unlike the distorted, other-world time of the vision, the minutes now dragged heavy-weighted, Xanadu receding, shapes blurring, demands to be left in peace to regain the inspiration holding no truck with this intractable Man from Purlock.
And when finally The Poet could return to his desk and thoughts, try as he might, no further impression was vouchsafed him. The poem remained unfinished.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart increasingly felt unable to trust a soul. His genius which had promised so much, had proved to be a curse, a Faustian pact that was rapidly drawing to its inevitable, diabolical finale.
He had hoped the spirituality of his music would elevate him and his audience. Instead he was rooted amongst worldly pettiness, of insidious jealousy and bitter hatred. Far from reaching the Parthenon of the gods, he would sink as surely as his Don Giovanni.
There was no doubt that there was a conspiracy against him. Would he meet his end by swift blade, or slow poison, left to die like a dog.
Just as he was obsessing over such thoughts, he was startled by a heavy pounding of his door. Opening, he was confronted by a tall, dark, masked man who held out the commission.
Mozart was to write a Requiem.
Not only would he die, they would humiliate him, make him know exactly what fate had in store. And in such a fitting way, make him compose music for his own death.
For there was no question. Death had paid him a visit and Mozart knew it wouldn’t be long before they were to meet again.
Ludwig van Beethoven, it is said, was starting work on his fifth symphony, when his landlady knocked on his door, one, two three, four, which gave him the immortal opening that heralded the piece and which, many years later, was broadcast over occupied Europe, four notes that proclaimed that the Allies were on their way, the darkness was over.
Let’s kick off with an old friend: Peter from England.
Age 24 // MA in Business Studies Born in Surrey, close to London Unemployed // Single //
Enjoys pubs, tennis and movies Wants to run his own company
From that information, build a complex sentence – basically combine two, three or more facts and connect them with relative pronouns and discourse markers:
Peter, who has a MA in Business studies, wants to run his own company.
Peter, who is from Surrey, enjoys pubs, tennis and movies.
From this point, the sky is the limit.
Despite being unemployed, Peter, who has a Master’s Degree in Business Studies, has entrepreneurial dreams of owning his own company.
Although he has an MA and is actively seeking employment Peter, who is from Surrey which is close to London, still finds time to indulge his passion for tennis, even becoming a member of an exclusive sporting clubs, whose membership fees are sky-high.
NOW …YOUR TURN
Write and then present a complex sentence about your partner. Gather some basic information, such as:
Age (if they are willing to say) // where they are from
Job or Study // Where they work or study //
What they like doing// What they dislike // Plans for the future
For Speaking Class level 2, I expect at least one relative pronoun (who, where, which, whose).
For IELTS, try for two relative pronouns, two L-FWs and at least one expression or idiom.
You should be familiar and able to use these words at the drop of a hat:
“Richard … hey, I’m so sorry,” laughed Chris. “This is Ute.”
She put her hand out, and Richard quickly sat up, automatically patted down his hair, and said ‘Hello’. He attempted to rise, but was weighed down by blankets and clothes. He was the one who had been waiting all day, yet it was he that felt he had to apologise, for his appearance.
“What happened to you? Been bashing people?”
“No, not yet,” he replied with a little too much acid in the voice. He continued, toning down his manner, “Some idiot knocked me with his bag at Stadmitte. Hey, good to see you. At last. Hi Ute, vie gehts ?”
“Oh, you can German ?”
“Yeah. I know, ’Vie gehts ?’, ‘Geschlossen’, ‘Eine Turkische Pizza, bitte.’ All the important words.”
Ute spoke with genuine concern,
“And what is with your eye ? You need something for it ?”
“No, no, it’ll be all right.”
Chris stood there, hiding his guilt behind a wide smile that strained his jaw muscles. He suggested that they all go to Kinski’s, and after Richard gathered himself together, they left the flat.
Chris had woken late that morning in Ute’s Mitte flat, the Ofen still radiating heat. He was in a warm bed, next to a hot woman and was going to make the most of it.
After making love again, Ute rolled a joint, sparked up and passed it over to Chris.
“Don’t you have to go and meet Richard ? What time is his flight ?”
For Chris to be on time, he would have had to get up and leave immediately which he felt, considering his surrounding, was a ludicrous thing to do.
“No, he has keys. He knows his way around Berlin.”
“You sure ? I can drive you there. I’m free all day ?”
“No, don’t worry, he’ll be OK, my Darling ! You are so sweeeeetttt.”
They finished the joint and went back to sleep. When they eventually woke, dressed and got into Ute’s car, it was already late evening.
Jens was working the bar, and the Café was half full, but not with anyone Richard recognised. The music was some generic sub Sonic Youth guitar noise, played too loudly to make conversation easy.
Chris, still with his embarrassed smile, got the drinks while Richard sat and made small talk with Ute. She was small, with dark blonde hair, tied back in a ponytail.
After a beer, she got up to leave, and Richard discretely averted his eyes, while they kissed.
She left the bar, and Chris turned to Richard,
“Wow, what a girl ! I can’t believe I’m with her. Really ! Hey, was it OK, to get to the flat ? It’s just been crazy the last couple of weeks”
“Yeah, it was … if I’d have known, it would have been better. “
“Sorry, sorry. Tonight, the drinks are on me.’
“Oh, you better believe it. If we’re allowed to drink here with that bastard working. Don’t think he likes us.”
“Yeah, bit of a prick, isn’t he ? We’ll be OK. If, not, there’s plenty more bars. Quite a few down the end of this street.”
“Been exploring ?”
“In the interests of science. Gaptooth took me to one, run by Russians. The Czar Bar. Pretty rough in there.”
“What, fights ?”
“No, everyone’s too pissed to fight. It’s just … oh, you’ll see. Pretty basic. You don’t want to go to the toilet in there.”
“Well, I might.”
“No, trust me, you wouldn’t. So, Ute … what do you think ?”
“Yeah, she’s all right.”
“ ‘All right ‘ ? Are you blind ?”
“Half blind ! I’m joking with you. Getting my own back for waiting in a cold flat all day. Hey, what is with the weather ? It’s bloody freezing.”
“No, it’s not.”
“It fucking well is !”
“No, don’t say that. I used to and everyone says, ‘no, wait until it gets really cold.’”
“It’s going to get colder ?” Chris just nodded. “Shit. What do we do ? I only have a few jumpers.”
“Don’t worry about that, got it covered. You can borrow my stuff.”
“That army coat’s good. Fur lining.”
“Going to need it.”
“Because this isn’t cold, wait until it gets really cold.”
“It’s like some kind of pride thing with them, ‘we can survive the cold’. How was Tempelhof ? Did you see the eagles ? And the Luftbrucke ?”
“On the corners ? Yeah. Looks like something out of a war movie.”
“Yeah, the Nazis built it, it’s one of the few Nazi buildings still in Berlin. Speer designed it. The Americans took it over and then had a problem about the eagles, because apart from the Nazi connotations, the eagle is also an American symbol, so they left them. Then they used Tempelhof for the airlift, dropping food and fuel over Berlin.”
“Someone’s been reading up.”
“Too cold to do anything else. Well, nearly anything else.”
“By which we segue way back into Ute. So, what’s the story ?”
“First … more drinks.”
Chris knew how to set up dramatic tension and took his time, going to the toilet, buying cigarettes from the machine and getting two more beers, creating sufficient expectation for the story, which was known to Richard only in barest outline. Chris had the stage and knew how to keep it.
He began filling in the background. Marina now worked at a bar in Schöneberg, the co-owner was her aunt, not really an aunt, but, well, it was complex, and the Spüler (the washer-uper), had quit, or been asked to leave, because he had fought with one of the cooks, threatening to put his head into the deep-fat fryer, so there was an immediate opening and the job paid cash, every night, 12 Marks per hour, working from seven till round about midnight. With the studio in the afternoon, and then five days a week at the Bar Biberkopf, Chris was making the best money of his life. Richard commended him then tried to steer him back on course.
“Right, yes, Ute. So I’m working one night, and I get there early, have a coffee, maybe ten, fifteen minutes before seven, create a good impression by my timekeeping, because my actual work isn’t going to impress anyone. Sitting along the bar are two girls. I kinda recognised one, she was one of the barman’s girlfriends, but the other one … wow !”
“You betcha ! Then they get up to play pool, and we’re making eye contact, she hits a great pot, OK, pure luck, but what the heck, gives me a chance to say, ‘great pot’. She smiled and did this curtsey … I was gone, daddy, gone, knocked out, loaded.”
Chris still seemed mesmerised by the memory of it, as he took a long drag on his cigarette and stared into the distance. Richard coughed.
“What ? Oh, yeah, so, just when I’m about to make my move, play it all cool, the cook comes out and shouts at me, ‘ain’t you working tonight ?’ because it’s like four seconds after seven. Then Ute looked up, made a gesture of pity, and smiled at me. She smiled at me.”
“Ah, I love it when women smile at me.”
“You know what I mean, then ?”
“You think I can work after that ? I’m putting old food in the sink, plates in the trash. I’m just thinking about Ute, and when I can take a break, so as to see her. And, of course, tonight’s really busy, restaurant’s filling up, plates piling up. Then the cook sends me to get some shit in the cellar, which means going back into the bar, so I see her, I play it all cool, she looks over and … another smile. So, that’s it, I’m beaming, Cheshire Cat smile, all night. Not so the cook.”
“Not happy ?”
“The German work ethic don’t apply to cooks, ’cause those fuckers hate having to do shit. He’s getting more and more orders, getting more and more angry, starts kicking the fridge, the pots …“
“I’ve learnt to get outter the way. Point is, I have to keep working, so I can’t mossey into the bar. Now I panic; what if she leaves and I never see her again ? Eventually, I get a break and get some food.”
“What’s it like ?”
“Well, it’s the same as customer food, so it’s pretty grim. But I eat it at the bar … next to Ute. And after I finish, she gives me a cigarette. Gauloise. Blue. Now I’m thinking what to do, should I stay after work and have a drink, or play it cool and leave, but I want her to know, without knowing too much … you follow ?”
“All the way.”
“So, later, I’m about to leave, when I see Ute sitting on the first bar stool, and I have to get my money, so I’m about to go up to her, make my move, when Georg comes over, and starts stroking her hair.”
“And Georg is … ?”
“Oh, yeah, he’s the barman that night. Now, Germans are more physical, they’re always touching each other, you know, it can be kind of, ‘Whoa, Nelly, this isn’t a petting zoo,’ so I don’t read too much into it, but then he whispered something in her ear, and she laughs.”
“That’s not good.”
“It’s a disaster. I mean, touch away, but making her laugh. I knew something was up.”
“So you … what ?”
“What could I do ? Hey, Johnny Cash, ‘what could I do ?’ Life’s a piece of piss for a Spüler named Chris. I got my money and left, hoping that Ute would follow me out with her eyes.”
“And did she ?”
“Well, how do I know ? I had my back to her. Anyway, I hit Kinski’s and I hit it hard that night. Probably why I had the fire and almost died.”
At this point, as Richard could have predicted, Chris broke off, ostensibly to take a drink and light a new cigarette, but really to build excitement. Richard refused to ask, waiting to see how long it would take Chris to follow up. Then Chris recognised some new people who had walked in, and began speaking to them. But if Richard was curious, he knew that Chris must be equally anxious to get to finish his ever-evolving tale.
It was Richard who put an end to the impasse, wanting to get the story out of the way, so that they could get on with the serious drinking, because after the day he had spent, he was in the mood to get seriously drunk. He also knew that his non-story with Claire was a pathetic non-starter and Chris had lived enough for the both of them.
“To recap, Ute is with Georg, you drown you sorrows and end up in a ring of fire. Tonight’s session is brought to you by the songs of Johnny Cash.”
“What do you want to hear first ? The Ute saga, how our hero killed the evil beast and saved the princess, or how I battled the all-consuming fire, representing the flames of my passion ? Pretty symbolic stuff, hey ?”
“Don’t get cocky ! Get on with it. Tell me in chronological order. So, you come here, get hammered, go home and … ?”
“And start a fire in the Ofen. You’ve seen all the wood in the flat ?”
“Couldn’t miss it, Noah. You building an ark or something ?”
“Hey, 5th of November, how about that ? Oh, we can look out for more wood, later.”
“So, I’m getting the Ofen working, got to sit there, burning paper and small bits of wood, to get it started, then bigger pieces, but not too big, or it’ll just put out the flame, and I’m falling asleep, but got to get the Ofen working or I’ll die from exposure, so I keep putting more wood in, opening the vents slowly, let air in, more paper, wood, finally, it’s going, roaring fire and I can start to feel the heat. I load it up and put in a big piece of wood, so big it sticks half way out. I’m thinking that it’ll burn for an hour or so, and that’ll be enough. I just crash, clothes on, shoes on, the works. Next thing I know, I’m woken by the sound of cracking, like logs on a fire. There’s black smoke in the room. There’s a fucking fire outside of the Ofen.”
“What did you do ? Weren’t you still drunk ?”
“Not for long. Nothing like a forest fire in the house to sober a guy up. Well, I panicked, of course, then ran out of the house. I was fully clothed, so it was OK.”
“But the fire .. ?”
“Still raging, yeah. So I have to go back in and put it out, but I’ve got no bucket now, because it was full of purple vomit, so I pick up the log and try to get it into the Ofen.”
“Wasn’t it hot ?”
“Fucking burning ! I scorched my hands, so I put on the gloves, picked it up quickly and carefully and shoved it in, stamping out the flames on the floor … the log had fallen onto some wood and paper and ignited them. Then I had to open the windows, because the room’s full of black smoke, so all the heat goes in seconds and it’s Siberia in there. “
“Fucking Hell ! You were so lucky. The paper fire. Could have had a Django situation.”
“Which is ?”
“Django Reinhardt, the Gipsy guitarist. When he was young, he fell asleep in his caravan and a candle fell onto some paper flowers his wife had made. Whole thing goes up, he gets injured, gets burnt so badly that he’s unable to use two fingers of his left hand. Then he goes on to be one of the greatest guitar players the world’s ever known.”
“So … what’s your point ? ”
“That you were lucky.”
“I was lucky, yeah. The next day’s Saturday, which means that I’m not working, I won’t be back at Biberkopf until Monday and I don’t even know when or if I’ll ever see Ute’s again. Anyway, I close the windows in the morning, and just stay in bed, or couch to be precise, under blankets, because I’m really hung over. By evening, I’m up and decide to see a movie at Babylon, we’ll have to go, by the way, nice cinema, English films, you can get a beer, and I get there early and choose my place, middle row, middle seat. It’s Saturday, so it’s busy and it’s not so large, it’s filling up. I begin to notice that all seats are taken except the ones directly around me.”
“Very. And it’s only when there are absolutely no more seats available that people sit next to me, and even then, they’re on the edge of the seat, leaning away.’
“Well, living without a shower, you have to overcompensate with the deodorant. Just a tip.”
“It was the bloody coat. All my clothes in fact. My hair. I stank like an old bonfire.”
“Yeah, well, it’s only Berlin. Everyone stinks. After walking around for a day or two, the smell filtered out of the coat, and I tried to open the windows a bit, but it was too savage. Right fire story over, on to Ute. And, once again, Marina to the rescue.”
“That woman is your lifeline.”
“Yeah, I had a situation with Ross about that.”
“Oh, he found out about … or … what ?”
“No, he doesn’t know anything. How true. No, I mean, I was at the bar one night, before my shift and Marina’s working, so Ross pops in, and he sits there, with his beer, all pompous, all, ‘keeping an eye on my lassie’, when, just to have something to say to him as much as anything, I call Marina my fixer, you know, one who fixes things.”
“Well, he looks at me all blank. Says nothing. Then he goes all aggressive, and asks , ‘what ?’ So I repeat, repeat and clarify, two-pronged attack. ‘Oh’, he says, ‘I thought you said she was a Vixer.’ Which means ‘wanker’. If anyone was a wanker, it sure wasn’t Marina. Well, he fucks off, and I get a few seconds of Marina time and try to get the low-down on Ute. Marina saw through it immediately, all smiling and stroking my arm.”
“That petting zoo can stay open twenty-four hours.”
“Well, er … I’ve moved on from Marina. Lovely girl, but … I think it’s just seeing her with that arsehole. It’s killed the passion. Still lovely and great and all, but no romantic feelings.”
“And still great breasts.”
Chris wasn’t quite sure how to respond, having a faint recollection of a late night conversation about Marina’s attributes.
“Yeah, anyway, she’s my man on the inside. Here’s the deal. Ute’s an art student. Single. Georg … bit of a situation; he’s smitten, big time, he thinks he’s onto the real deal. No dice.”
“That’ll be the letter where you told me she’d dumped the boyfriend.”
“Right. Only they never were going out. Now, things are working in parallel. Walter, the owner, has made the schedule so that George now works mainly weekends. Ute comes in only on weekdays. I arrive early to spend time with Ute, because she sometimes comes with her friend after college. Sometimes without her friend.”
Here Chris winked before continuing,
“So we’re hanging out, talking, smoking, drinking. She lives in Mitte, and one night, I stay behind to have a drink, all free, by the way, and she offers me a lift home, because Schöneberg is miles away, and I invite her for a drink. Not here, I thought I’d better suggest a normal bar, but she says, ‘no’, prefers these kind of joints, and takes me to one she knows, in some back street. We’re getting on really well. Then she invited me to a movie. She comes to pick me up and, ring those bells, she turns up in this stunning, black number. She meant business and was taking no prisoners. And so … unconditional surrender.”
“What was the movie ?”
“Ah, who cares ? Now, to go back a bit. Georg. Nice guy, I like him. He’s not so big, but he works out, does karate, I think, something that involves kicking people and breaking wood. We were in the changing room once, and we took his shirt off, and even his muscles had muscles. Not the guy you want to fuck with.”
“Or steal a girl from.”
“She never was his girl. But, smalltown Berlin, Georg’s found out about me and Ute … and that night, we’re working together.”
“Doesn’t sound good.”
“I get to work, and there’s just … this vibe, like an electric fence or one of those freaky, bug-zapping, blue lights they have in kitchens, normal kitchens that is, because what they use in Biberkopf is a roll of Sellotape, which gets encrusted with squirming flies. Georg’s looking mean and slamming people’s drinks down. Also, not entirely sober.“
This seemed a good point for fresh beers.
“Where was I ? Oh, right. I’m in the kitchen, and we have all the noise of my machine, water running, the cooker with eight rings a-blazing, soup a-boiling, chips a-frying, and so on, plus the radio’s always on. Plus background noise of a busy bar slash restaurant. Yet … yet, above all this din, I hear it. The cook hears it, even stops working and pokes his fat head out of the kitchen. Massive screaming match between Georg and Walter. Unfortunately, no subtitles. I’d have loved to pick up a carrot and nonchalantly chew on it, inquiring of a bilingual passer-by what was happening, but thought it best to keep working, because they’d find someway of blaming me. Bang, sound of door slamming. Georg went into the changing room. Puts his coat on, comes out, slams the door again and … that’s it … Haven’t seen him since.”
“Did you find out what they argued about ?”
“Georg blamed Walter for destroying his life, Walter accused him of being a no-good alcoholic. And so on. Couple of massive German customers stand up, gather around, but do nothing, just stand there, all serious, probably hoping for free drinks. Quite a night. So, that’s what you’ve missed. One more thing, Melanie’s coming over. Should be here in a couple of days and bringing a friend with her.”
Part Two. London & Berlin. September – November 1993
One of the surprises Richard received upon his return to London was an invitation to a dinner party at Melanie’s. She informed him that Nuno, the chef that had worked with Chris and Marina, was also coming and bringing his girlfriend, Raphaela.
It took place the following Saturday and Melanie seemed very interested in hearing about Chris and his new life. All about his new life, and kept asking about Marina, but seemed vexed with every answer, especially when Nuno eulogised about how wonderful and cute she was.
Among the other guests was a rather serious and intense man, some years older than Richard, called Will, who, like Chris and Melanie, was from the Midlands. After the dinner, which was a pretty indifferent affair, the party broke into small groups and Will sought out Richard to hear more about Berlin.
“Yeah, we’re thinking of passing through, Mel and me. Mel and I. Never know which to use.”
Instead of enlightening him, Richard asked:
“Oh, where are you headed ?”
“Russia, if we can get in. If not, Poland, tour around a bit, get the crack. Probably hang out in Berlin. Use it as homebase.”
“How are you getting there ? Train, or … ?”
“No, got my hog.” He pulled out some keys with a Suzuki fob. “Do the whole ‘On The Road’ thing. Are you going back there ?”
Richard explained how he planned to, soon as possible then Will explained how he had met Mel and Chris, both of whom were working in a café he would pose in [Richard mentally amended to ‘pose in’]. They saw the books he was reading and came over and talked to him, giving him free coffee refills. All three began hanging out, going to movies and gigs and laughing at the other students who were all so pretentious and opinionated. Richard admitted that he didn’t know too much about Chris’ life pre-London.
“Yeah,“ started Will, “I’ve been through the scenes with him. Mel, too, been there, done that, the whole fucking spectrum of emotions. Sorry, didn’t mean to lapse into the vernacular. Yeah, we’re been through it all.”
He didn’t elaborate, and Richard told him he’d probably see him in Berlin and went over to talk to Nuno.
The contrast was striking. Nuno was pure Latin, tall and dark-complexioned, thick eyebrows and large expressive eyes that appeared to be deep in thought, then sparkled into life, as he smiled. He seemed a bit lost here, not knowing anyone apart from his girlfriend and Melanie. Raphaela was simply gorgeous, also dark, but delicate and sensual.
Richard introduced himself, and they spoke, naturally, about Chris and Berlin. Nuno also expressed an interest in coming over. Richard looked at the wine and recognised the label as being from the store. He mentioned to Nuno that he thought it tasted familiar and then he saw the full extent of the Nuno smile, with a slap on his back for emphasis.
The night finished with Melanie making Richard promise to call her, to go for a drink, or see a movie.
Back at work, Richard had a slight problem getting more time off. He was only allowed a further two weeks but wanted four, so decided to book the two he could have and then deal with the consequences when he got back. A new girl started, Claire, and they got on well, sometimes even taking lunch together, and then one day she casually dropped ‘the boyfriend’ into the conversation. The next day, Richard used his lunch break to go to a travel agent and book a ticket to Berlin … for four weeks.
He reduced expenses as best he could, only occasionally buying a bottle of wine to drink at home. He somehow kept putting off the call to Melanie.
After buying a packet of air-mail letters, Richard would write to Chris two or three times a week. It came as no surprise that of the two, Chris was the one with the news, of developments, of things happening.
First, he had a new, part-time job in the bar where Marina worked, doing the washing up. He underlined how much he earned, and the fact that he was allowed, even encouraged, to drink on duty. The studio work was patchy, and it was rumoured that the whole operation might close down.
He had met a German girl at work, then, a week later, he wrote that things were looking good, but she had a boyfriend, (of course), then, later that week, that she had dumped the boyfriend, then, the following week, that they were going to a movie, then, finally, that they were together. Oh, and that there had been a fire in the flat, but everything’s OK.
The second flight to Berlin was from London’s City Airport, to Berlin’s Tempelhof, just south of the centre. This airport was even smaller, being mostly used for inland flights, and he cleared passport control and picked up his bag remarkably quickly, which he took as a good sign for the visit. He had written to Chris that the arrival time would coincide with lunch, so they could go to the Cinema Café, a bar they had seen but not gone into, at Hackerscher Markt, and drink their way home before having a reunion bash at Kinski’s.
He thought over these ideas as he waited for Chris. And waited. He walked around the airport which was basically one large open space, with check-in desks around the side, mostly closed, then walked outside, looking around the car park for any sign of his friend.
And he waited. Eventually, after half an hour, he decided to go the the flat alone. Chris had cut him a set of keys, so that was no problem. Still, it was disconcerting. He surmised that Chris had been called into work and had no way of contacting him.
Richard took the U-Bahn, and as he left one train, to change lines, he got a knock in the eye from a bag that a man had slung over his shoulders. The man didn’t even look back, let alone apologise.
He continued his journey, frequently wiping his weeping eye with his handkerchief, and this time, when he left the station, at Rathaus Friedrichshain, the late blue of summer had been replaced by the unrelenting grey of winter. It was several degrees colder than London and even though he was dressed in coat and jumpers, he felt a sharp chill.
At the flat, there was no note, but it showed more signs of life, more clothes, tapes, a lot more wood next to the Ofen, an extra chair and the kitchen now had two large cooking pots. But there was still no light.
Richard waited for an hour, then left to get some lunch at the Imbiss, taking his time and expecting to see the wide, apologetic smile of Chris when he returned, but as the door was double-locked, he knew he would still have to wait.
By late afternoon it was dark and the lights had to go on. He went out again, to eat, but it was now so cold, that he got back inside as quickly as he could. By mid evening he was tired from his early start, so thought he’d try and get a rest, but it was too cold to sleep. He put a blanket over him , but it had no effect. He got up, put on a jumper that was lying on a chair, and tried again, but still the cold pierced through. Finally, he put on a green, army-style coat that was hanging in the hall. He threw the blanket over his head and, cold and angry, fell into a light, disturbed sleep. He thought he heard some rumblings and poked his head out from the blanket. And that was how, confused by sleep, contorted by the cold, hair amiss and eye bruised and streaming, Richard made his first impression on Ute.
It became very clear, as the evening wore on, that Steffi was here to do Chris, and if Richard happened to be in the same room, so be it. As he later summarised, he could have been sitting there, stark-bollock naked and she still wouldn’t have acknowledged him. Her position, it may be discerned, was that of a woman on a mission, part of which may well have involved the missionary position.
Steffi, who also worked at the studio and was reasonably new to Berlin, followed Chris, and introductions were made. She threw herself into the room, entirely at home, and sat on the floor, removing her light denim jacket and revealing a charming, loose blouse that in turn revealed more than was decent. She shouted out, in her whiney, Australian accent,
“Got anything to drink ?”
Chris returned with a bottle of cheap vodka drink, a 20% blend of the spirit with blackcurrant, and three glasses. He poured, passed them around and they clinked. In a flash, Steffi had downed her drink. The two men looked at each other.
“Hey, steady on, it’s still early.”
“Ah, you Poms, all wimps, c’mon, drink up.”
They did, and poured the second round. A Repetition. Steffi was quite small, but hardly delicate, she filled out her jeans to straining point and sometimes her top rose up, showing a series of stomachs that appeared to have sampled the delights of German cuisine. Chris spoke up, wanting to leave a bit of time between the second and imminent third round.
“You hair looks good, now.”
He was referring to her dye-job. Her hair, hanging limply past her shoulders, was a deep-purple, mauve, brown concoction. When Richard looked closely, he was sure that her forehead, as it met the hairline, was also purple-mauve. Chris later confirmed this. He had seen her the morning after her unaided attempt, and she had, indeed, managed to dye most of her forehead, neck and ears.
“Yeah, thanks. Seen any more good films ? Chris took me to a French film. It was great. Real intellectual stuff. Where’s the drinks ? What’s wrong with you ?”
“Just need more ice.”
Chris excused himself and went into the kitchen, clearly meaning Richard to follow. The hint was taken and the two conversed by the fridge. Chris spoke,
“What are we going to do ?” He indicated the bottle that was rapidly emptying.
“I don’t know, but I can’t keep up with her. I’ll be dead.”
“Me too !”
“You went out with her ?”
“No ! Well, yes, yes, we went … out, but I didn’t go … out with her.”
“Does she know that ?”
“Yes, when we were in bed, I told her … “
“You went to bed with her ?”
“No ! Well, yes, yes, I went to bed, no, we were in the same bed together, but I made it clear, the Berlin Wall exists down the centre.”
“Looks like that Wall’s also fallen.”
“What are you two up to ? I’m dying of thirst out here. Where’s my drink ?”
“She’s from the Outback where it’s bold and brash … just like her.”
“Yeah, you couldn’t have left her out back ?”
The third round was duly poured and consumed. Richard felt that he had to recuse himself, citing his flight the following day.
“Oh, you’re leaving tomorrow. Good.”
Then something happened. At first, Steffi became very quiet. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, opposite the men who were on the coach. They were having a little private conversation and listening to the radio playing some request show. Slowly, Steffi began tilting to her right, then toppled right over, and, adopting the foetal position, fell asleep on the floor. Snoring followed.
The men let out a relieved laugh, and went into the kitchen to slowly finish the bottle before turning to the beers, drinking away, very respectfully, by candle-light, with the faint background of 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll hits. Over an hour passed, pleasantly enough, and it was decided that Richard would come back, as soon as he’d saved enough. They did basic costings and realised that the biggest expense would be the airfare. He could stay rent-free, just help out on food and the beer money. Richard predicted that he could make it back in early November, but that they should look into the possibility of his moving here, as well. Chris would ask about a job at the studio …
Then it happened.
The first rumblings were ominous enough, so much so, that they rose from the kitchen and caught the whole performance live.
On the floor, a little way in front of the sofa, was a pallet, the kind used in factories to transport goods. It served as a table, of sorts, maybe in the Japanese style, with imagination, or maybe Shoulder could have viewed it as a perfect accompaniment to his conceptual chair, ‘a table ? What do you want a table for ?’
Chris had put various everyday items on it, and Richard had taken one side for his passport and airline ticket. In the very centre of the pallet was a large blue-painted metal bucket, to be used for carrying coal, or briquettes from the cellar to put in the Ofen. Chris had used this for collecting all his small coins, bronze Pfennings and silver Marks.
Steffi had begun to make sounds of demonic intensity, a bastard hybrid of belch and hiccup, as she raised herself, resting on her knees and knuckles. In this dignified position, she crawled over to the bucket, put her head in and emptied her stomach.
“This is so far outside my frame of experience,” said Richard.
“I had a lot of money in that bucket. Let’s have a beer.”
It was another hour before Steffi emerged, and they could hear her cleaning up in the toilet. She came into the kitchen, with a lack of self-consciousness that they could only applaud, and asked for a beer.
“I don’t think that’s the best thing for you. Have some water.”
Steffi clearly liked being looked after by Chris and allowed herself to be taken back inside, where they sat and passed the evening, Steffi drinking tea while the men finished off the beers. They decided to stay in and anyway, Jens was working the bar tonight, or ‘Geschlossen’ as they called him due to the fact that the once or twice they had gone there around One in the morning, the bleached-blonde barman had barked out, “Geschlossen !” or ‘closed’ at them, despite the bar being half full and other people seemingly having no difficulty in procuring drinks.
One small incident occurred as they were getting ready to sleep. It was decided, by Chris, that he would take the floor and leave the other two on the couch. While Richard was next to Steffi with very little breathing space, she called out to Chris to join them, as there was plenty of room. Chris declined and gave a very poor impression of a man already asleep and not to be disturbed.
The packing took no time at all, and all three went out for a breakfast in a normal-looking, locals bar. They ordered refills of coffee as they started on the plates of meat and cheese and rolls. It seemed as if Steffi was also going to come to the airport, but, to the delight of the men, she changed her mind and decided to go home instead. She asked Chris what he was doing that evening. He made up a story about helping a friend in Steglitz, a Bezirk in the South West of the city.
They travelled with her as far as Alex, where she changed for the line to Kreutzberg, and they for the S-Bahn.
The journey was slightly melancholic, but they only had to think of the previous night to raise a smile. Anyway, Richard would work and save to fly back. Chris parted from him at the airport gate with a:
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bucket of vomit to deal with.”
He waved and walked away. Richard kept his word, he worked and booked his ticket for early November. Only six weeks had passed since he left, but when he returned, the whole situation was different and he next left, not planning an immediate return, but convinced that he would never come back ever again.
Shoulder sat down next to Richard, turning the chair around, striding it like a horse, arms waving, fingers pointing, head constantly turning. Richard realised that the metal figure hanging outside could well be a self-portrait.
Both Chris and Silvio, who were also sitting around the table, had trouble containing their laughter. It was Chris who finally had to interrupt the artist as he was half-way through a monologue, the subject of which hadn’t yet made itself known,
“Hey, Shoulder, this is Richard, from London.”
“Yes, I know, I was speaking to him last week.”
“No, you haven’t met him. You were speaking to me last week.”
Shoulder screwed up his eyes, in an expression of pantomime incredulity. He turned to Richard and stared at him.
“Is that true ?”
“Yeah. So, how are you ?”
“Ah, a philosopher. I studied philosophy. I saw another student on the U-Bahn once and I said to him, like you just did, ‘how are you ?’ and he said ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Hey ! Philipp, come and join us.”
Shoulder, of course, wasn’t his real name, but Chris wasn’t able to catch the correct appellation and felt that while asking for a name to be repeated once was acceptable, twice was too much. He was, what may be termed, ‘a character’, or ‘a force of nature’. He dominated every conversation with the sheer power of his enthusiasm, his never-ending gestures and ever-changing expressions.
He called for Philipp to join them, but Philipp preferred to stand alone, looking on, leaning against a wall and swaying slightly, eyes off into the distance. Shoulder clearly decided that Richard was a long-lost friend he had never actually met, and focused all his attention on him, for the rest of the evening. He explained about Philipp,
“He misses the old east, yeah, we’re all Ossies, all from the DDR. Now I work in, you know the Schloss at Charlottenburg, yeah, nice building, yeah, you been there ? No ? You must, or maybe not, I don’t care, I have a studio near there. Many friends have moved to the west and so we don’t see each other so much. I come here, but it’s a long way. We all used to meet three times a week, drink, smoke, joke. Now … “
He made a gesture of hopelessness,
“So I have a joke for you that you will like. A man comes home, you like Surrealism, yes ?”
“after a holiday and he looks around. And can’t believe it … everything in his house, everything, the light bulbs, the windows, the toilet paper, the stains on the walls, the walls, everything, has been stolen. And replaced by an exact replica. The man’s flatmate comes home. The man says to him, in panic, ‘what has happened. Everything has been stolen but replaced by an exact replica ?’ And the flatmate says …… ‘who are you ?’ Hahahahahaaha!”
Shoulder told endless stories, leaning first on Richard, then alternating and leaning on Silvio, to his other side. Eventually Philipp came and sat down, pulling his chair a little distance apart, but clinking his bottle against everybody’s. Richard saw this as a sign that he, too, was accepted. It felt very good.
Shoulder began describing his new work, a kind of psychological chair. Rather than being a mere piece of furniture, it represented a challenge, a philosophical proposition to man: ‘why do you want to sit down ? Do you want to sit down ? A symbol of all the poor people in the world who have nothing to sit down upon. It was rather hard to follow, but the tagline stayed in Richard’s mind:
“Most people sit down to think. But with this chair, you have to think how to sit down”.
When Richard was back in London, he went to the Tate Gallery, and bought a postcard of a Vorticist painting by Wyndham Lewis; geometric lines, bold colours, force, power and energy. He sent it to Shoulder in Berlin. He knew he’d appreciate it.
They had been a number of girls he had spoken to in the Cafe, either up at the bar, or people who had shared their table when it was busy. Being English was a great bonus, as people were interested in why he was in this part of Berlin and what he thought of the city. He tried a few flirty moves, but nothing panned out. For either of them. Chris still had vague hopes of Marina or Claudia, or, when he had taken a few shots of Bourbon, both. Richard was curious as to the extent of his relationship with Marina, but was, as he reminded himself, ‘ too British to ask.’ Yet one night, Chris, in Kinski, did say that she had beautiful breasts. That told Richard all he needed to know, and was happy for whatever conquest Chris had made, yet puzzled as to why women like Marina always stayed with men like Ross.
But the person that left the biggest impression was the young lady he met on his final night.
Chris and Richard had just finished eating and were about to have a mellow drink before the farewell bash at the Cafe, when there was a heart stopping thump on the door. Both had visions of a middle-aged, German woman with a beefy bastard in tow, ready to beat them to the proverbial pulp. The reality was far worse. Chris left the room and as he opened the front door, Richard could hear,