vendredi 26 octobre 2007


Mark's visit to Lyon was postponed and he arrived in town this morning. So there's me thinking I'd be in Berlin when he visited, and so saying he can sleep at my place.

Anyway, he spent all day in meetings, which was fine by me. Whenever I'm here I'm speaking to people who are elsewhere. Today I've been trying to sort out the sale of my UK house. It's so strange, but I feel no sentimental attachment to that house - to me it's just walls and windows.

So the house is being sold, and I'm not sad. It's where I was living when my father died, when I lost my job, when nephews and nieces were born. It's where lovers came and lovers went; friends came and friends went.

I look at it now and feel nothing. I just wish it was sold, end of part one. Let's get the adverts over and move on with part two - after all, the scene has been set, it's about time we had some action.

The working day over, I go to the bar to meet Mark. He's had a bad day too, I can tell. We have a drink, we eat some dinner.

We make our way across the bridge to my place. I love this river, this view of Fourviere at night. We're both quiet, introspective. Neither of us wants to talk much. Both of us want to sleep.

I get the feeling that two people will walk away from this with broken hearts. Mark isn't one of them.

mercredi 24 octobre 2007

Visiting rights

Geneva Airport, being the regional low-cost hub, is the accepted point of arrival and departure for visiting friends and family members. They all like to visit, but no-one likes to go to the expense of flying to the airport that is on my doorstep. They like me to work for their company, by flying into an airport that is an hour and half’s drive across the mountains. And then when they arrive, I spend the whole time worrying that they’re not having a great time and taking personally anything negative they say about anywhere I take them to. As you can imagine, I love it when friends and family come to stay….

And this week has seen an almost textbook family visit.

Step one. I rush around my apartment removing anything likely to offend the sensibility of junior, senior or just-plain-sensitive family members. I make sure photo’s of visiting relatives are prominently on display and that any artwork previously provided by children of visitors is attached to fridge.

Step two. I take the train to the airport and rent a bigger car. My own car is great - perfectly sized for almost any parking space that your average European city can throw at it. It also has enough va va voom to get it up and over medium sized mountains but, alas, is too small to carry anyone but me, a very close friend and enough bags for a weekend away. So my visitors get the treat of a rental car (usually at my expense, can I point out).

Step three. I wait at the arrivals area where I invariably have to stop myself from shedding a few tears at the emotional welcome a complete stranger has received from his/her own family. This is the kind of welcome everyone should get when they come through customs. I, naturally, never get such an outpouring of emotion – if there ever is anyone to meet me, it’s a sartorial disaster-zone of a taxi driver with my name spelt incorrectly on a piece of A4.

Step four. We head home en famille, usually for a few days in Lyon, where I send them out shopping and sightseeing whilst I get on with work. Often this ‘work’ involves me taking a long bath or reading a book in peace. This is almost always followed by a weekend away in a rented apartment or cottage somewhere not too far away where we cook cottage pie, drink lots of cheap red and generally stay up late reminiscing.

Step five. We all pretend to be having a great time, yet when we retire to our individual sleeping areas it is considered acceptable ring ‘best friend’ to bitch about the people who are visiting. To go into drunken detail about why they are the worst people on earth and why it would be so much better if it was ‘best friend’ visiting instead. OK, so it’s just me who does this….

Step six. I spend the last two days wishing I had some time to myself. Wishing I didn’t have to translate every menu, be the only person capable of ordering in French and being the one who goes into shops and asks for ‘that one, there’ because no-one else is brave enough.

Step seven. I drop them all off at the airport, breathe a huge sigh of relief, text best friend to say ‘they’ve gone, hooray!’ and then cry all the way home, feeling bereft of company and desperate to move back to the UK and be closer to these people.

Step eight. I phone a ‘sure thing’ from the train home and arrange a date for that evening. I go on said date, get some gins inside us both, take him home and wake up the next morning as if it had all been a dream…

And so life goes on. Back to normal, back to routine. I’m heading home on the train now and have already called Robert, my Lyon ‘sure thing’ and set up this evening’s entertainment.

I’m not saying I don’t miss my family and friends – I do. But do I really want to live next door to any of them? Next question, please…..

jeudi 18 octobre 2007


I think I like this place because, deep down, the city is a slut.

This morning, on the U2 from Schonhauser Allee into Mitte I looked around me and was comforted by the way that, in Germany, I could pass for attractive. I'm not saying it's an ugly country, it's just not full of waiflike beauties. And everyone looks like they'd be more than happy to sleep with you, they're just waiting to be asked. That said, I'd insist that most of them had a good bath first...

Talking about baths, my German colleague took me out to Cabaret last night. It largely involved a cigar smoking dwarf, blowing smoke filled bubble-sculptures whilst fey young men and sturdy girls cavorted in a stage full of baths. It was quite odd and not the Kit Kat Klub that I was hoping for. I guess there's no accounting for what is classed as entertainment in other countries. I once went to see an Edith Piaf tribute show in Bucharest. I'm not sure how the little sparrow would feel at being portrayed by a Romanian bruiser who systematically murdered song after song, whilst rolling around on a bed with a man who looked like he'd shag you, then steal your wallet on the way out. But hey, god bless Romania. I was mugged within ten minutes of stepping out of the cab and have vowed never to return.

Back in Berlin, Me and Stefan get dropped off at Tegel to catch our respective flights home. As the taxi fades into the distance I realise that, while he was paying the driver, I've taken my bag, Stefan's bag and the taxi driver's bag out of the boot.

I really should concentrate more.

lundi 15 octobre 2007


As I check out of the hotel and head to my car, I realise that sometimes I enjoy my life a lot.

I've taken a 24 hour break from visiting my mother - where I'm living under the threat of home cooked food and visits from various family members. The break allows me to check into a nice hotel, eat good food and go out and hit some of the nightclubs of my youth. Neither I nor they are recognisable from those days, but hey, that's progress (or aging, in my case). The fact that the hotel is less than 3 miles from her house is, admittedly, a bit strange but hey, it suits my mood.

Heading up Hurst Street at 3 o'clock this morning, I was happy. I'd had a couple of drinks, a bit of a laugh and an innocent fumble with Dan, a tiler from Kitts Green. Waiting for me at the hotel was a big bed with 300 count sheets and a good breakfast that's all set to be delivered at 9.30. What more does a boy need out of life?

In the hotel lobby my telephone beeps. "Where R U? Did U leave? Call me I don't want 2 go home 2nite. Danx".

I send a reply and get in the lift, thinking 'I must remember to order an extra breakfast'.

mercredi 10 octobre 2007

Where can I get a cup of coffee?

The poster at the airport says ‘where can I get a cup of coffee?’

I’m on the two-mile hike from the check in desk to the gate, wondering why the poster doesn’t tell me where I can get coffee from, rather than ask me for directions. The advert, with its weird question, isn’t out of place here. As airports go, Brussels is about as bi-polar as they get. Someone has insisted that the two terminals will share common areas like check in and baggage claim. This is despite the fact that this clearly doesn’t work for either of them, and is inconvenient for anyone who finds themselves travelling through. As a concept, it’s not unlike Belgium itself.

Today’s meetings with the sales team have all gone well, although I could do without the constant dick-measuring contest that these things turn into. I’ve never felt the need to (metaphorically speaking) wallop mine out on the table and compare the length and girth. I’ve always felt confident that it would be the biggest in the room. The sales boys are constantly trying to out perform their colleagues, to be the one who gets the praise. At the moment they’re fighting for a promotion, so the dick measuring is getting out of hand.

As I leave the last meeting of the day, Mark phones me and asks me how I’m doing. He’s heading to Lyon next week and is wondering if I can recommend a hotel. ‘Why don’t you stay at my place’ I suggest. I tell him where I’ll leave the keys, as I’ll be in Berlin. I like to think he looked disappointed.

At Zaventem, I call my boss, check my emails, sms a couple of friends who are desk bound and get on the plane towards Lyon, home.

I wake mid-flight with an overwhelming feeling that I’m without a direction, that this life is heading nowhere.

The thing is, my life exists in so many places that it doesn’t actually exist anywhere in full. A meeting here, a few drinks there, the odd conference and a bit of sex thrown in for good measure. I’m on the edge of so much but central to nothing and to no one.

Where to get a cup of coffee is the least of my worries.

mardi 9 octobre 2007


I drive down the Avenue Louise in my rented BMW, heading back to my hotel with its mini-bar and room service, its uniformed doormen who know my name and receptionists who make sure I always get a good room. And I wonder what it’s all for.

Does a falling tree make a noise if there’s no one in the forest to hear it?

samedi 6 octobre 2007


How did this become my life?

I’m speaking at a conference today, at a fancy Government run conference centre in London. I feel mildly stunned that these people have travelled from the US, from Canada, from South Africa and from across Europe to hear me speak. Admittedly I’m not the only show in town, but here they are, sat in front of me, waiting for my words of wisdom.

If they’d seen me last night they wouldn’t be hanging on my every word, taking notes so studiously.

Mark was also in town last night and we caught up over cocktails at the Dial bar. What can I say? He’s a different person when a: his wife is in another country, b: he’s got a few drinks inside him and c: he's with me. He never asked me not to mention it to Josja. He just got showered, got dressed and got into a cab.

My speech over, I work my way through the hand-shakers and back-patters, out of the conference centre and onto Victoria Street. It’s all been a bit too much for my poor hangover to cope with. I grab a latte and hail a cab. City airport, here I come. Get me out of here.

jeudi 4 octobre 2007


As I wake up, it takes me a while to work out where I am. This is normal.

I stand in the shower and will myself into life. Into action. Ok, maybe not into action, but certainly into life.

On the train last night I saw an American guy get his wallet stolen. He lost lots – dollars, euros, cards and I.D. No doubt there’s someone in Dordrecht who’s waking up with his new Illinois driving licence.

The thing that struck me was that no-one cared. And to be honest, neither did I. But he wasn’t travelling alone – he was with his brother – yet even the brother didn’t care. The guard told him to report it when the train got to Brussels, and I can only imagine how well that went down with the Belgian police.

Anyway, it seemed to me that the American was a bit of a nuisance, and that his brother felt that he got what he deserved. It reminded me of someone I knew a while ago. A grown man with a serious job who cried, inconsolably, for twenty minutes at Bristol temple Meads station because his train had been cancelled and he would miss his connection at New Street.

I couldn’t look him in the eye for the whole journey northwards, and conversation was limited.

He got off the train at Birmingham New Street and I stayed on. A passenger tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘there’s someone waving at you out there – do you know him?’.

‘I used to’ I replied.

mardi 2 octobre 2007


I sit in the hotel bar and I’m struck by how much I really love this city. The big grey river that matches the big grey sky, the sky that in itself promises an exit route when it all goes wrong. I love the way that the people embrace fashion, yet do it all in a way that can’t last, too extreme, too fashionable, so of the moment that it’s out before it’s in. The way the city has dressed itself in the same way – architecture that is so modern, so extreme, maybe trying too hard. Both the people and the buildings will be passé in a fortnight. But for the brief moment that they were in fashion, they were the cutting edge.

The bar is fine. It gives me a view of the city from the other side of the grey mass. I see the skyscrapers and the old merchants’ houses. The water taxis and the sailing ships. The omnipresent tower that surveys all that we do. The view makes my heart sing and tells me that this is where I should be. I don’t know why but I knew this the first time I visited the city.

Anyway, here’s Mark. We talk profit and loss, bottom lines and end of trimester results; sales projections and marketing campaigns; competitors and customers. He’s building a house an hour out of town and is distracted by the need to look at bathroom fittings while he’s in the city. To be honest, I’d rather be choosing taps and tiles with him, than sat here discussing year on year results. As it turns out, he’s meeting Josja after our meeting and they’re off to choose fittings together. She’s a hard working girl, born to succeed - educated, cultured, well put together, heading towards a partnership at the top law firm in town. She’s everything I am, but she’s everything I’m not.

Mark is a solid guy, typical of his countrymen – tall, blond, handsome. Under the business suit he’s got something pretty athletic going on. A born leader and a born winner. Josja is the female equivalent, but I always like to imagine the daily battle she has with her inner slut.

‘Eat with us tonight’ Mark said, draining his coffee and pulling on his overcoat. ‘We’re staying in town for dinner and Josja hasn’t seen you in ages – she keeps asking after you’.

‘Maybe’, I say. In that happily coupled way, Mark thinks I’m going to just stay in my room, order room service and watch a bad movie. In my single and proud way, I’m thinking that I’ll go into the city, get some dinner alone, have a drink and maybe see if I can get a bit of action. Obviously, Mark is much closer to what will happen in reality than I am, so I accept. ‘But I need to call the states, get a shower, you know’.

‘Eight thirty, we’ll wait for you at the water taxi’.

lundi 1 octobre 2007


The thing is, no matter which way I look at my life, I’m fucking up. Of this there is no doubt. When I actually try and look at it, it’s amazing how fucked up a normal person can be. But trust me, I don’t look at my life that often. But maybe that’s the problem.

My life is full of bars that I can’t go into, banks that make me feel sick if I walk past (to the point that I don’t walk past anymore), colleagues that I have to avoid on a social level. Internet sites I can’t visit, telephone calls that I avoid and mail that I don’t/won’t/can’t open. People, places, dates and conversations that I have to avoid because they are attached to an overwhelming sense of embarrassment and have been the source, scene, subject or result of one of my fuck ups.

Last week I spent the best part of two hours on the verge of vomiting and / or running away from a group of, actually very ordinary and pleasant, colleagues. Why? Because one of them had been present at a less than satisfactory moment in my life and I passed the two hours in fear that this would become the subject of conversation. As you have probably guessed, I am not only prone to fucking up, but as a human, I myself am actually pretty fucked up.

I have a great job with an excellent salary. I am blessed with great friends and a family that love me. Or at least they all love the ‘me’ that I present to them. They don’t really love me because they don’t know me. Of this I am sure. If they really knew me, really knew me, they wouldn’t like me, let alone love me. Although I guess you don’t have to like someone to love them.