Love and Chaos Part 9(D) Julie 1

30th July 2021

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Julie gravely wanted the run to be over, doubting if the cast would hold together for the projected three nights. There were times when she doubted the cast would even hold it together for the first night. She thought of an expression that Alan had taught her; Brecht would be ‘turning over in his grave,’ and smiled, calmly applying make-up in a vortex of disorder.

The actor playing Baal was walking in diagonal paths up and down the room, bellowing out his vocal exercises. Another actor, playing Johannes, was in a side room, running around in circles, reciting all his lines as quickly as possible. He first tried this without shoes, but had slid into a wall, and had almost broken his hand. An older woman, playing Emilie had found an old, out-of-tune piano, and was irritating everyone by singing in an equally out-of-tune voice.

Most of the other men were simply in the bar, half-in or half-out of costume, drinking beer and speaking loudly, half-sober or half-drunk. One proclaimed to the young barmaid, that he would go straight from the bar to the stage as, (here implication) he had so much talent, he didn’t need to warm-up. The part was beneath him, anyway.

The Assistant Director was desperately trying to get the lighting man to focus on the job, giving him the cues when the lights should go on and off, but instead, the technician was brusquely dismissive, as the week before there had been a performance with thirty-seven light changes, executed perfectly. The A.D. looked at the desk which was a mass of wires and sockets and beer cans and ash and Rizlas, and visibly abandoned all hope.

The Director was everywhere, shouting at everyone, making elaborate theatrical gestures of what he presumed were indications of artistic genius. He held the script as a weapon, thumping it on occasion, clutching it to his breast on others. He was angry at the cast, some of who still hadn’t appeared. The theatre manager kept coming in, asking them when they would be going on, but really to catch a look at Julie.

The Director was now making a laboured display of appearing to remain calm under insurmountable pressure, and asked the manager if the bar staff could change the music from Portishead to the Kurt Weill tape, to set the mood. The manager said he would, immediately. Nothing changed. Portishead prevailed.

The theatre was on the top floor of the third Hof of a backstreet off Warschauer Str. Alan was glad to have Vincent as guide because he would never have found it. Vincent was very dismissive of the whole project, mainly because he couldn’t believe he hadn’t been asked, and had already decided it was a doomed production, but he was going, magnanimously, to support Julie.

Alan enjoyed being with Vincent in that it got him noticed and introduced to all the creative people in east Berlin, and many attractive women, who warmed to him when they heard he was a director. Yet he resisted all the subtle and blatant temptations of Berlin, remaining focused and sober.

In the bar, Vincent was performing, ordering beers, running his hand through his hair, calling out to people he recognised, explaining that he was here to see Julie, to support this little effort, no, he wouldn’t be performing tonight, yes, he knew what a massive disappointment that was for everyone.

Alan looked through the crudely photocopied program and saw Julie’s photo. He tried reading, but the German was too hard for him. He had asked his sister to send over an English translation of the play, which he had read and re-read, in preparation.

He had wanted to take a seat in the front row but, being with Vincent, had to sit in the back. That helped him decide to return, alone, which he did. Every night.

The play was unbalanced; some of the actors were quite good, some appalling, and at times there appeared to be no direction at all. Some of the minor characters forgot their lines, or spoke over each other, and decided to turn this into part of the show, turning to the audience and laughing. Vincent translated;

“He said he was being, ‘Very Brechtian.’ Verdammt Arschloch.”

But even with little German, and without bias, it was obvious to Alan that Julie was the only one on stage who merited being there. The difference between her and the rest of the cast was simply embarrassing.

Afterwards, a crowd of people had commandeered a corner of the bar, actors, their friends and various people on the fringes of the Berlin scene. Some girls were taking photographs of the cast, and a greasy young man was interviewing the director for a local paper, circulation in double figures.

Alan was elated when Julie sat next to him. Despite her well-founded reservations, she knew she had performed well, and was glowing with a natural high. She even allowed herself to be photographed and took several glasses of Sekt. She got up to kiss various people and waved and smiled. Alan found everything enchanting. Yet he was very uncomfortable when Vincent approached and, after embracing and complimenting, sat with his arm around her. It was uncomfortable that she let him keep it there.

Julie waved to one of the actors who was just leaving. She explained to Alan;

“We call him Matthäus, after some footballer. It is because on the first day, he arrived in a tracksuit, and thought we were all going to do lots of exercises. He started stretching and everything. It was so funny.”

Julie thought that the first night mistakes could be addressed, but they just intensified over the next two nights. Some actors were not just late, they failed to appear at all, and the Director wanted to make changes to the script, almost leading to a fight between him and the main actor. Matthäus was now ignoring everyone but Julie, simply not willing to waste his time on anyone else. The Assistant Director had either been sacked, or had quit depending on what story one chose to believe, and the actress playing Johanna had gone home with the theatre manager, just to get away from the actor playing Johannes, who had been seen smashing empty beer bottles in the car park, the previous evening. And the bar staff still played Portishead.

Four days later, Julie met Alan for a coffee. He had a copy of the local paper with the review. Kelly had translated for him, and it was generally supportive, though only Julie, in the role of Sophie, received a namecheck. Only Matthäus sent her a congratulatory note.

She was still glowing, though now it was more from relief. She had changed her hairstyle, which Alan complimented her on.

“Yes, it was an experience, but I don’t think I would want to go through it again.”

Alan showed her the paper and was surprised that she covered her face when he pointed out her name. Instead, he asked her what was wrong and what she, as an actress would want from a theatre piece. He already had an idea.

“It was too big, too many people. We never had a full rehearsal. I often had to read lines with a stand-in. It is hard, it is impossible to build up the character and the . . . “

“Inter-action ?”

“Ja, danke, inter-action. The Director wanted a different actor for every part, but we could easily have played other small parts. Then with so many people, and many of them only having one scene …”

“They get bored and start drinking.”

“Genau ! (exactly). People try to rehearse, and I just hear other actors laughing in the background, sometimes speaking louder than the actors. When we say to be not so loud, they get angry, and leave. But, when it worked, it was . . . just wonderful.”

“So you would do some more theatre ?”

“Ja, of course. But not with so many. It is just too impossible.”

Richard put a copy of Rimbaud on the table.

“’A Season in Hell’. Do you know it ?”

“I know the name but I haven’t read it. OK, what part do I have ?” Julie asked as she took some coffee, hiding the smile.

When her office manager asked her why she was reading poetry, Julie explained that her boyfriend was taking a course and that she was reading it to keep him company. This of course backfired, as her manager made disparaging comments about students and their financial insecurity, and if he needed her to help him, maybe he wasn’t intelligent enough to be a student in the first place. He would look at her with a meaningful nod, then leave her to ponder his sage words.

The fictitious boyfriend was meant to serve two purposes; one to explain how she spent her free time, the other to deter the men in the office from hitting on her. Neither was successful. She still had to listen to the senior staff talk about how empty their lives were, before they asked her to take coffee with them, or found pretexts where she may have to stay behind after work.

Other people asked her what she and the boyfriend had done, where he had taken her, what their plans were. Julie did her unstimulating work, but didn’t feel close to anyone there, certainly didn’t want to share anything of her personal life. She couldn’t even think of anyone from the office coming to see her, or discussing rehearsing and acting.

Even though the new piece was to be in Friedrichshain, and she worked in Charlottenburg, west Berlin, she was still scared that someone may, just possibly, see her name on the handmade posters Kelly was making up for the new piece. The fact that they would only go up in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreutzberg didn’t really calm her. She insisted her name be much smaller than Vincent’s, justifying it as he had a larger role, but Alan over-ruled her, reminding her that she now was a name, referring to the newspaper piece. Vincent didn’t seem to appreciate that so much, but knew that if it generated interest, in would work out well for him, too.

Before rehearsals started, Julie has been quite forceful, saying that Alan was the director and that he would have final say, but that any mistakes would ultimately be down to him, if the actors followed his instructions. This was a notice to Vincent not to try taking over, and to boost Alan’s confidence. Of the two, it was Alan who, in her opinion, had a real future. He put the project first.

Alan had finished the script, adapting the poem for the two actors. Vincent would open and close the performance, but the central piece would be Julie’s, a monologue from the Ravings 1 section of the poem, ‘The Foolish Virgin / The Infernal Bridegroom’

Vincent had booked a space, the usual bar where he performed, for three nights in early January. There would be a week to rehearse, then a break, as both Alan and Julie would leave Berlin for Christmas.

Julie was excited by the part, and loved hearing Alan talk, watching how this normally quiet, almost withdrawn man suddenly became so animated, gesturing and almost falling over his words as idea stumbled over idea.

Alan knew he could trust both of them to learn their parts and to rehearse. He couldn’t even imagine how Julie had coped with the shambles of Baal. The only problem was the situation with Vincent, his actor, and Kelly, his flatmate. Vincent was a very attractive man, and got a lot of attention, but recently his indiscretions hadn’t been so discrete, and in such a small city like Berlin, it was only a matter of time before Kelly found out.

But, for the moment, Alan had the cast for his first play, Vincent had a new piece to talk about and Julie had another part she hoped to keep secret from the people in the office.

Book into Film: The Painted Bird

29th July 2021

9780553124606 - THE PAINTED BIRD by Jerzy Kosinski

Over twenty years ago I read ‘The Painted Bird’, by the Polish-born author Jerzy Kosinski and, as I was reading it, I knew the images, the emotional impact, would be indelible. Last night, I watched the 2019 film version, and now I hope this blog introduces the work to a new audience.

The book cover succinctly simmarises the tale. The setting is an unspecified area of eastern Europe during World War II. The Nazis are invading, bringing with them their ideology of racial superiority. The Communists are pushing back from the east, while brigands of bandits are attacking hamlets. Destruction, torture and violence. Mankind without the humanity, a return or regression to barbarity. There is – almost – no right or wrong, merely who is the strongest.

The film opens with a boy, Joska, running through some woods, clutching a pet stoat. We can tell he is being chased, although we do not see by whom. Inevitably, he is out-run and out-numbered and Joska is beaten by boys his own age, who take the animal. This is war time, maybe the animal will serve as food for starving villagers … but, no … the animal is gruesomely tortured. This scene encapsulates the theme: brutal violence for the sake of brutal violence. This is the world Joska was born into. No compassion, no empathy, no mercy; kill or be killed.

The Nazis, foreshadowed early in the film by a solitary plane observed by Joska, are just one of many threats. This world, this mid-C20th Europe, is dominated by ignorance, superstition and cruelty, it is the Bible of the Old Testament, animated by Bruegel and Bosch.

Already we have seen boys, children, symbols of innocence and purity, torturing for pleasure. Joska moves from place to place, at the mercy of adults, and cannot comprehend the brutality that is done to him or in his presence. He witnesses a miller, obsessively jealous of his young wife, rip the eyes out of a young apprentice because he dared look at the mistress. While the miller is beating his wife, Joska runs away, looking for the apprentice. The boy tries to help by giving the apprentice some round objects to replace his eyes, then continues his flight realising he has, inadvertently, caused more pain.

Each act of violence serves as an allegory of that world. Blindness, not knowing, not wanting to know. Genocide victims are numbered in hundreds of thousands, in millions. Such figures are beyond our comprehension, so the power of the story comes from seeing evil on an individual level. We become desensitised viewing death en masse. Watching a solitary act of brutality has a far more powerful effect. We feel the victim’s pain and fear, we abhor the evil personified by small groups of people. People who look the same as us.

The title is taken from an episode in which a seemingly pleasant older man collects small birds. He derives pleasure from painting one, then releasing it into the flock. The other birds sense something different and begin attacking. Just one of many incidents of cruelty, but a suitable metaphor, that justifies its prominence.

However, there are some glimpses of hope. A Nazi, expected to kill Joska because he is Jewish, allows him to run away, instead firing two shots into the air. Later a Russian sniper takes to Joska, protecting him. When four Russian soldiers are attacked by locals, the sniper calmly goes to the village and with a long-range rifle, kills four people. He teaches Joska the, “Eye for an eye,” policy.

Read as an allegory, we see all vices and perversions, the depravity that humans can sink to. Yet we also, fleetingly, see hope, warmth, friendship and compassion. We see how insidious intolerance and prejudice can be and what evils it can inspire.

‘The Painted Bird’ is intense in the extreme. For me, it is an unforgettable experience.

Zoom Classes: You cut my hours, you slash my wages and you give me these ?

27th July 2021

Teacher suspended after appearing topless during Zoom video lesson | Nestia
Google Images. A teacher was reported suspended after appearing shirtless on Zoom

In a previous blog I tried, against my nature, to show a positive side to Zoom teaching. Teachers, TAs, admin staff are kept in employment, albeit with significant pay cuts, while the students are able to practise their English skills … should they choose.

I’m trying to keep this light-hearted, but all anecdotes are true, based on my experiences of Zoom. CUT TO last year, our first period of lockdown.

I can’t turn my light on, I’ve got no power

First up, back in the early days, teachers went to campus and used laptops to hold Zoom classes. The first five or ten minutes were spent waiting for late-comers, asking people to put their cameras on, then to KEEP their cameras on, ditto mics. One character, a teenage boy was sitting in darkness … this was a daytime class and Sai Gon in the day in bright, big time. Said teenager claimed that he had no electricity in his house, therefore could not put on the lights.

Do you sense a ‘however’ coming on ?

However … his laptop was working (sure, maybe it was running on battery). His wifi was working, but, the smoking gun … a slither of bright light from the corner of the room. Yes, said young gentleman had drawn his curtain and was ‘claiming’ he had no power.

Do you sense another ‘however’ coming on ?

However … I had an ace up my sleeve for, off-screen but next to me was my manager. I updated Mr No-Power on this development. A native teenager lying to an English teacher is not so unique. But would he lie to his Vietnamese manager. Damn right he would.

Just the tip of the iceberg. My camera’s not working

The teacher asks, politely requests, a student to put the camera on. This is after the class has seen a slide giving class rules AND a video in Vietnamese explaining what is expected. It is expected that students will put on their cameras. CUT TO a black screen, and yet another (here is where a teacher needs the patient of a whole temple of Buddhas) invitation to turn on the camera. Student claims camera is not working. Unfortunately, student had turned ON the camera and we could all see, in glorious Technicolor, the student, bold as brass (but thick as a brick). The mistake was then realised, and the student could be seen reaching for the lower corner of the laptop, and camera fades to black.

But that’s just one or two rotten apples, right ?

Are you kidding ? I teach IELTS which is the serious subject; a good grade here is a passport to a different country, to study, to live, maybe get exposed to different points of views, philosophies and outlooks. So you would think the students would be really motivated, right ?

Think again, pucko !

I had one IELTS class with about eight or nine students, including professional people and even a doctor. Guess what … despite the rules being reiterated, the Vietnamese-language video, I end up speaking to eight or nine black screens. Every lesson.

Doesn’t your campus kick ass ?

Kiss ass rather than kick ass. They go, half-heartedly through the motions, make rules but lack the balls to enforce them.

The reasons are clear. Firstly, this is not a state school, the students are CUSTOMERS … they generate revenue. It is a business axiom that the customer is always right. A business needs to keep and expand its customer base. My campus wants customers to return, to tell their friends, schoolmates, family members, each and everybody, they produce Disneyesque promotional films of photogenic children saying how they love learning here, and how they love their teachers (ya never see the fat ugly kids with buck teeth do ya).

Oh, man, you must be puttin’ me on ?

I wish ! You can look for yourself on YouTube, though not too soon after eating; there are stomach-churningly nauseating. Furthermore, the punters are locals, they are Vietnamese. I’ve seen some YouTube videos of a South African man explaining a similar situation in China. When push comes to shove, the natives support each other. Always. Teachers are a dime a dozen, they come ‘n’ go, and who can blame them ? Customers are more valued, they will always take precedence over a foreigner (that is how we are designated). Ready for one or two final delicacies ?


But teenagers are famous for their good behaviour

Haha, yeah good one. Just a brief entrance here. I had one class, back at campus, with some teens. I began saying hello to each student. Some would just stare at me, refusing to say a word. Then they initiated a new game; I would call a customer and rather than answer immediately, the teen would say, “Me ?” with terrible over-acting, faux surprise. This carried on with every subsequent teen. Finally, a teen, let’s called her Mary, copied her classmates, to wit:

Me: Mary, what’s number 3, please ?

Mary: Me ?

Cue the Beethoven

Beethoven as a Child and His Father's Alcoholism - MagellanTV

Me: Is your name Mary ?

Mary: Yes.

Me: Then answer the question and stop wasting my time.

I went on to explain that I will do everything to help anyone who really wants to learn. However, those who just want to insult me and disturb my lesson … well, let’s Samuel L. explain:

GIF jules winnfield and i will strike down upon thee with great vengeance  and furious anger ezekiel 25 17 - animated GIF on GIFER - by Grilace

Finally, (though you can guess this one could run and run), another IELTS class. I was given a real motley crew of unmotivated, unanimated, lifeless schlimels (if you don’t know what that means, look it up, I ain’t doing all the work for you). One schliemel was a teenage boy, a poster-boy for gormlessness. He informed me, by chat box, that his mic wasn’t working. Now, IELTS is all about speaking and practising, it ain’t just watching the teacher, it ain’t TV, dig ? You’ve gotta join in or you are wasting your (parents’) money.

Did you strike down upon him with great vengeance and furious anger ?

I farmed out that hit. Stopped the lesson and let everyone see that I was contacting Customer Care who, in turn, phoned gormless schliemel. Lo and behold, the mic miraculously started working. The guy would have been happy to sit and listen for an hour or two without contributing anything. After, he could go away and laugh that he hadn’t done any work.

If the job sucks, why d’you do it ?

Good question. I’ve spoken to many teachers, in various countries, and the answer is generally, ‘What else can I do ? It’s my profession’. And, at the moment, I don’t need to tell you, travel just ain’t as easy as it used to be.

Is there anything good about it ?

No. OK, I’m pulling your leg. A minority of students are sweet, respectful and polite. They really want to learn, and I can see the progress week by week. Occasionally, very occasionally, an adult student can become a friend, while the younger kids provoke avuncular feelings. Very rarely, one gets to meet a Princess. But these, as stated, are the minority.

“What a piece of work is man ?” What indeed

These situations are hardly isolated.

I saw an interesting site that highlighted some deplorable behaviour by participants. Read the full page here: https://skierscribbler.com/9307/news/inappropriate-behavior-in-zooms/

A new set of guidelines, according to the article, has been set following recent misbehaviors:


Camera’s must be on during online classes, students that fail to comply with this rule may be marked absent (unless there are extenuating circumstances).


In all zoom calls there is now a mandatory waiting room.


Students are no longer allowed to change their names.

Backgrounds must be one of the default zoom backgrounds or a solid color.


If students have a profile photo, it has to be of themselves.


In some classes, chat restrictions have also been implemented.

The teachers are all taking a massive financial hit to keep these lessons going. ‘T’is a pity the customers display contempt and disrespect. C’est la vie.

Love and Chaos Part 9(C) Sergei 1

26th July 2021

Berlin winter. Photo by Martin O’Shea.

Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995

Richard hadn’t really spent much time with either of Jake’s Russian flatmates, Sergei and Micha, so wasn’t sure what to expect when Chris told him that Serge wanted a meeting with them.

When they ran the Czar Bar, their choice of unlistenable music and uncharismatic service deterred all but the hardcore. They also closed very early, and often Richard would arrive after work, only to find Jake making an ad hoc bar to cater for the drinkers who were, in many cases, only just waking up. Squatting a squat bar, as Jake put it. Ad nauseam.

Yet they were both friendly and had a reasonable command of English, certainly not learnt from their Death Metal bands. Micha was small, tiny in fact, but was quite solid, with a rather unexpected quirk of suddenly breaking into a breakdance routine. Sergei was of a more serious demeanour, being something of a musician, classically trained on the clarinet, which he refused to play in front of anybody, but whose tones could occasionally be heard in the Hof of the squat house. He would also alternate between a bushy, almost religious zealot-like beard with curly locks, and a completely shaven head. At this moment, in the Berlin winter, he opted for the later, a decision that lead Richard to consider him crazy. But, they had something in common; after being alone for a long time, they both now had girlfriends.

Johanna was known, at least by sight, by a few people, though she had yet to return to the bar. Serge’s girlfriend, however, had made a more ostentatious arrival.

It had been mid week, Andrei making the bar alone, though Boris lent a hand when needed. Andrei also had a new girlfriend, German, and there seemed to be no animosity over the Olga situation. Richard arrived some time before two. There were only about fifteen people in the bar, all men, except one small dark-haired girl who was clearly drunk, or something. She began jumping onto the tables and dancing, enticing some of the men to tell her to strip. She didn’t understand the words, being, as Richard later learned, Spanish, but understood the meaning, and began to comply. Sergie rushed up and tried to stop her, making her put her clothes back on, and pleading with her to step down. No sooner had he succeeded in this, than she began again, different table, same routine, same applause from the clientele.

Eventually, Sergei managed to get her upstairs, to his flat, which impressed Richard. He naively believed Serge only wanted to get her out of the bar for her own protection.

The show over, Richard took a beer and began speaking to Boris about music and women. Boris was happy with Olga, and could see how happy Richard was, now he had met a German girl. They took another beer together, and a vodka, and Richard asked about Chris and Jake. They were off to another squat bar, checking out some band.

Then the back door opened and the Spanish girl rushed in, naked, and began running around the bar, jumping on the chairs and tables, dancing away to the music. When she tired of that, she began walking around the room, sitting on men’s laps, kissing them. Sergei appeared, looking very distraught, totally at a loss. She moved over to Boris, kissed him, then another man and then another, before dancing again. Richard felt uncomfortable and asked Andrei if he shouldn’t do something, but Andrei just shrugged. Suddenly, the girl began crying and making loud, high-pitched screams. A couple of the drunken men began imitating her and laughing but Richard and Boris told them to shut up, and, with Andrei backing them, their commands were heeded. Sergei came over, covered her with his long coat, and, putting his arm around her, led her away again.

Some time later, Chris and Jake arrived.

“Did we miss anything ?” asked Chris.

“No, usual night in the Czar Bar,” was the reply.

The next week, at Biberkopf, Josef came in to the kitchen, and with a scowl slammed the phone down. Richard didn’t care; he had friends and a girlfriend. Chris on the line,

“Hey, you ain’t got nothing on tomorrow, right ? Daytime ?”

“What’s on yer mind ?”

“Sergie wants a meeting with us ?”

“Sergei ? What about ?”

“Well, he’s kinda got this, idea, kinda . . . thing he wants us to, you know, like . . . “

“You don’t know, do ya ?”

“Yeah, but it’s . . . you’ll see.”

“What kinda meeting ? Do we need suits ? Should we take minutes ? Where is it ?“

“Your place. Around one, one-thirty ?”

Next morning, Richard went to to the local Spar, picked up some water, tea-bags, fruit juice, then went to the baker to get some Berliners, or doughnuts. Then he waited.

Sometime after two, there was a knock.

Sergie’s idea, which he expressed in a straightforward manner, was to stage a play in one of the spaces in Rigaer Strasse. Richard nodded, looking over at Chris, wondering how it affecting them, when Sergie delivered the punchline;

“And I want you to write it,” he said, pointing between the two of them, “as it is in English.”

Chris just held a wide grin, enjoying seeing Richard trying to hold a polite smile amidst his confusion, not to say utter panic. He managed to splurt out that he, they, had never written anything, had no idea how to write or what to write about about. They had studied Physics, Science, they wrote in equations.

“Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter,” said Sergei with a dismissive wave of his hand. Chris clarified;

“He has the idea, ideas, just needs us to put it into a script.”

“Yes, exactly, exactly.”

Richard made coffee and offered the cakes, to buy time, but there was no stopping Sergei, and in between mouthfuls of pastry, washed down by large gulps of burning coffee, he did his best to explain.

Every so often, Richard would look over at Chris, but most times Chris just shrugged his shoulders, or nodded encouragingly at the Russian.

It seemed to be a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and an American Indie film. Peter, the old squatter, who did indeed look like a classical actor gone to seed, would be some kind of Greek God, looking down on proceedings. Richard mentioned that with Peter’s alleged nautical background (no one really knew anything about him, but the received wisdom was that he had been a sailor of the ‘girl in every port’ variety), he could be Poseidon, complete with trident and conch shell. Chris already had a pad and pencil ready. Sergei rocked back and forth, slapping his thigh, crying out;

“Yes, write it down, write it down.”

He repeated this order, accompanied by laughs and slaps, every time he liked a suggestion, which seemed to happen every time a suggestion was made.

It was decided that Peter would be Poseidon, with a shirtless Robert of the, “Shit on a stick,” as a kind of cup-bearer, though a vodka bottle-bearer would be more apt. The idea of getting these two together, outside of the Czar Bar, for rehearsals was so far beyond the realms of possibility that it wasn’t even funny, but Richard went along with it, as Sergei described even more elaborate scenarios, with an apparently endless cast.

Chris made various suggestions about who could play what part, all of which elicited the same response of laughing and slapping.

It seemed to Richard that the plot went something like this: Peter, or Poseidon, would make an opening speech about the nature of love and life, maybe with a song (a sea-shanty, Richard offered, which caused Sergei to clutch his sides with mirth) before being lured back to sleep by the vodka bottle. He would be on a platform above the main stage, decorated with sea motifs.

On the main stage, which would resemble an American diner, a bunch of young characters would enter. They were all in relationships with each other and would talk about love. Already Richard was concerned, but politely listened.

It soon became apparent that there was no plot, and that Sergei had merely disconnected ideas, partly developed, at best. Not only would they have to write the dialogue, they would have to come up with the story as well.

Richard felt himself losing patience. He was listening to Chris mention people as possible actors, knowing that even if they did agree, they would never actually learn their parts, rehearse or even remember agreeing to it in the first place. He also found it hard to concentrate as he was thinking about Johanna. They were going out again on the weekend, and he felt, rather he hoped, that the relationship was about to turn more intimate. So far he had to be content with hand-holding and kisses on the cheek.

Still Sergei continued, but then a twist occurred that made Richard want to stop the meeting, which he could tell was a waste of time.

The idea for the second act was that a group of totally new actors come on stage, and pretty much repeat all that had happened in the first.

“And what about the other characters ?” asked Richard, “where are they ?”

“They gone.”

“And they come back later ?”

“No, they gone. Now, we have the new people.”

“But . . . “ Richard was at a loss, and even Chris, who had been strangely enthusiastic was quiet.


Chris was hoping that Sergei would come up with a better explanation than just simply, ‘they gone’, but was losing hope, nor could he quickly think of a feasible solution. But he really wanted this to work, and had already planned to ignore all of Sergei’s half-arsed nonsense and make his own play. With help from Richard.

The catalyst was hearing that Daniel would be having a piece published in ‘Savage Revolt’, thanks to a suggestion from Chris, credit for which he was not shy in proclaiming.

Chris had enjoyed his spell as band manager, but was resentful that it had only brought him stress, while Daniel had lived the rock star life. At least for the few weeks of the band’s existence. Daniel had become a local star, impressing the women, while Chris remained just a barman, always to be in Jake’s yawing shadow. Sergei was offering Chris his chance to move centre stage. He had even thought about taking a part, as well as directing. But he was genuinely shocked at Richard’s reaction.

“You can’t introduce characters, get the audience interested in them, then never show or mention them again.”

“Yes,” corrected Sergei, “we have new characters, now the audience interest in them.”

Chris tried to smooth things over;

“We can talk about this later.”

Richard continued arguing with Sergei, neither giving in. Then Richard asked where would all the new actors come from.

“Inez knows people. She is actress.” Sergei told them about his girlfriend’s acting experience and Richard resisted the temptation to say that he had caught one of her performances. It was obvious Sergei was only doing this as a way to provide an opportunity for her, so Richard, in love himself, understood, and kept his thoughts private.

Chris took this as a good sign and was already thinking about ways to simplify the script, believing the play was going to happen as much as Richard new it never would.

And Richard was right. Inez left Sergei before the week was out. Rumour had it that Sergei caught her in bed, or sleeping bag on the floor, with Micha, and she, like the play, was never heard of or mentioned again.

Zoom Classes: A dream or a nightmare ?

21st July 2021

Zoom booking system: Taking your fitness classes online with TeamUp's new  Zoom integration and On Demand feature | TeamUp
Zoom exercise class with a motivated student. This bears absolutely no resemblance to my classes. Taken from Google Images

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.

Have a look at Haoyan’s blogs which you may access here: https://haoyando.net/

Now, without further ado, the benefits of teaching on Zoom

“If the rain comes, they go and hide their heads …”

The Beatles ‘Rain’ 1966

Rainy Season in Sai Gon

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

4: Environmental

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.

Love and Chaos Part 9(B) Johanna 1

19th July 2021

Part Nine. Berlin.

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.

Young Learners: Zoom Class Rules

15th July 2021

Should Students Have the Option to Turn Their Cameras Off During Zoom? –  The Rampage
A familiar scene from my ADULT IELTS class – no one switching on their camera. THIS IS FROM GOOGLE IMAGES

Hello everyone

Please have pens, pencils and paper ready.

If you have a project, you will need crayons and colour pencils, an eraser, a ruler.

Furthermore, please have your Student Book and Work Book ready.

SCHOOL RULES:

Listen to teachers

Answer when we call your name

No shouting // No noise // Sit in a quiet place

Do not play with Zoom // White background

Listen when your friends are speaking

Tell Daddy to put a shirt on if he is going to be on camera

Say ‘please,’ and ‘thank you’

5 words: Dear teacher, I am finished

REWARDS

Good work will get you a sticker. Collect stickers for a special prize.

However

If you break the rules and disturb my class, you will get a …

David Bowie - Blackstar - mxdwn Music

Three black stars and you will not get any stickers.

Furthermore, Student Care will phone your parents.

Now let’s go to work and learn some English

Qu’est-ce que le cinema ? Belmondo & Delon

12th July 2021

Jean-Paul Belmondo – CINEBEATS
Jean-Paul Belmondo
Alain Delon | The Great Acting Blog —
Alain Delon

Two icons of French Cinema, reunited for a Paris Match anniversary, back in 2019:

Jean-Paul Belmondo has his place in the Cinema Parthenon for his work with Jean-Luc Godard in the early 1960s

1960
1961
Blu-ray Review: Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou on the Criterion  Collection - Slant Magazine
1965

Belmondo also worked with Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Pierre Melville and Alain Resnais.

Bande à part & Pierrot le fou : critiques

Alain Delon has worked with Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Pierre Melville and one film, in 1990, with Jean-Luc Godard.

Nouvelle Vague 1990
Rocco and his Brothers 1960
L’ Eclisse 1962
Le Samourai 1967

The actors worked together in 1970 in ‘Borsalino’ (Dir. Jacques Deray)

Borsalino (W9) Delon / Belmondo : la guerre des egos

Vive le cinéma!

Love and Chaos Part 9(A) Daniel 1

11th July 2021

An alternative travel guide to Charlottenburg, Berlin: discover hidden,  quirky and unique sights and experiences
Charlottenburg District in west Berlin. Google Images

Part Nine

Berlin. November 1995

Daniel was pleased to see Chris back, working with Jake, but he was not going to let the chance for some serious winding-up slip by.

Chris had seen Johan once or twice. The meetings on the street were frosty, but as Jake had predicted, Johan was not the sort to hit anyone, even if they had stolen his girlfriend.

“Well, more like you borrowed her, not stole,” clarified Daniel, with a blatant lack of sensitivity. “Least you got some action.”

“And reaction.”

“What’s wrong with Richard ? Not gay, is he ?”

“No, he’s not gay.”

“Why ain’t I ever seen him with a girl then ?”

“He’s just unlucky, that’s all. Or, I’m starting to think, very lucky.”

Daniel laughed.

“You know what ? You could be a comedian. Really. You’re a funny geezer.”

“Yeah, right. Anyway, what you up to now ? Band getting back together ?” Chris asked ironically.

“Somehow can’t see that happening. You heard the latest ?”

“Hey, I work here. I get extra shifts because Boris isn’t here, a-haha. I see Andrei working alone, a-haha. I put two and two together, a-haha. I put Boris and Olga together. A-haha.”

“Yeah, official. They fucked off to Russia, and came back married.”

“Married ?”

“Yeah, rings and all. Andrei perplexed and pole-axed. Sascha just finds it all very funny. Charley George was best man, apparently.”

“No more Sawhead, I take it ?”

“Thank fuck ! Turned into a right pig’s ear. Last concert, fucking hell !”

“Yeah, were you really gonna hit Sascha ?”

“Well I weren’t gonna fucking hit Andrei ! No, think I’ll start writing, don’t have to depend on other people. Pen, paper, bingo !”

“Interesting, interesting. There was a friend of Arizona’s who writes for some magazine. Ex-pat thing. What’s it called ? Something quite cool. Ah, yeah, ‘Savage Revolt’. You should try them.”

“Yeah, all right. You got a copy ?”

“No, but can probably get one. Anyway, something to think about.”

On the following Saturday, both Daniel and Richard were there early and, along with Jake, had a long talk about Berlin, bands and booze. And women.

Daniel had found the magazine and had called the editor,

“Some knackered old septic. Bored, middle-aged, housewife type. Rich housewife type.”

“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.

Love and Chaos Part 8(H) Alan 2

6th July 2021

CAFE CINEMA, Berlin - Mitte (Borough) - Restaurant Reviews, Photos & Phone  Number - Tripadvisor
A typical Berlin art bar, showing films, staging poetry slams etc. This one is in Berlin Mitte, from Google Images

Part Eight. Berlin. October 1995

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.

And Julie.

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.