dimanche 30 novembre 2008

Who's that girl?

It's funny how sometimes friends become colleagues and colleagues become friends. Either way, it can be difficult to manage.

We all see job opportunities at our places of 'work' and think "that'd be perfect for X". But then, hopefully, we take a minute and think "but do I really want to work with X?". 9 times out of 10 the answer should be no. Working with friends can be great but it's generally a recipe for disaster.

One Christmas, when I was a student, I had a holiday job cutting letters out of floristry foam and making words from them - words like 'grandma', 'dad', 'mom' and 'son'. Words that would form the basis for floral tributes to recently deceased loved ones. A real jolly job, as you can imagine...."we need three more grandma's , an 'open book' and an 'empty chair' please". Lord, it was depressing.

This job was supposed to be fun. Me and a friend from Uni had both been 'successful' and had both been employed for the holidays by this company. Alas, it turned out to be less than fun, as my friend turned out to be lazy, lacking attention to detail and, frankly, a bit of a slut. As she spent her break times flirting with the factory supervisor - who then ignored her lack of production or her occasional 'mohter' or 'fhater' - I'd spend mine wishing that she was someone I didn't know and would never see again.

We never really got our friendship back on line when we returned to school after the break. She just wasn't the same person to me.

So, with this in mind, I've always shied away from getting too friendly with colleagues. Sometimes, however, you get on so well with someone that you want to know more about them than whether or not they wash their coffee cups before going home.

And that's where my newly-christened 'Lovely English Friend' comes in. A great girl that I've worked with for six years. She stuns me with her intelligence as much as she makes me laugh with her classic put-downs and one-liners. We were talking about a colleague recently and she said "oh her? I don't have anything to do with her. She's just a 'half-person'." Beautiful.

So, breaking my rules about friends at work, I invited my Lovely English Friend to come visit me in Paris this weekend.

We had a great weekend - wandering the streets in search of entertainment, food and a good gin and tonic. I even introduced her to my Lovely French Friend.

One of the highlights was the Patrick Demarchelier exhibition at the Petit Palais. Absolutely amazing, iconic photographs of Gianni Versace, Diana, Madonna and little Tommy Cruise amongst others, all mixed in with the permanent collection of old masters to make an amazing and unique show.

We spent saturday night dancing at the silliest of gay clubs in Paris - le Tango - and generally laughing a lot at the crappy music, the bad dancing and the Frenchness of the whole thing. As we danced along to American Boy, I realised that my colleague had become a good friend. A friend first, a colleague second. After all, I don't dance to American Boy with just anyone, you know.

I guess the goal of all this rambling is to say that sometimes being brave, taking a chance on a friendship is a good thing. While I still worry about working with friends, I know that me and my LEF would probably not be friends had we not met at work.

I maintain that my 'no friends at work' rule is a good one. But rules are meant to be broken, no?

vendredi 28 novembre 2008

The shock of the new

In the office we listen to RTL2. It's our compromise. Debbie wants classic rock. I'm happy with classic rock, but would prefer a bit of pop thrown in. I at least want to hear American Boy once a day.

So RTL2 gives us a bit of rock, a bit of pop and lots of 'old' stuff. By 'old', I mean 80's and 90's. Not old at all really.

However, we had a moment yesterday afternoon. I was happily singing along to 'Sweet Dreams' by the Eurythmics - quite the vision I was too, as you can well imagine - and Debbie said she didn't know the song.

"How do you not know this song? It's a classic 80's track"

"Well, I think my dad likes it" said Debbie. She sure knows how to hurt, that one.

It turns out that the song wasn't released when she was a small child, as I imagined. It was actually released before she was born.

The song was released in 1983 and Debbie was born in 1985. This really stunned me. It made me feel every one of my thirtysomething years.

What I don't understand is how someone born in 1985 is already at work, holding down a decent job?

Surely she should still be at school?

mercredi 26 novembre 2008

Welcome to Mali

I've been thinking about Mali today. When I first went there, nearly ten years ago, I'd travelled quite a bit already but never to Africa. I had no idea of what to expect - no concept of how the city would look, what the villages would be like, how the desert would be. I guess I had a few clues from photo's and books, but really for me this was a trip into the unknown.

Arriving at Orly for my flight south, the news wasn't good. The flight to Bamako had been cancelled and had been combined with the flight to Abidjan, in Cote d'Ivoire. Now this is fine - at least I would still be flying - but Abidjan was to be the first stop. Now to get to Abidjan, you fly over Bamako, then keep flying south for another 90 minutes. This wasn't ideal.

As the screens showed the plane flying over the Malian capital, I thought there'd be a riot on the plane. The Malians on board (and me, to be truthful) couldn't understand why we couldn't be dropped off first. It took stern words from the captain to calm everyone down.

Eventually we arrived in Bamako.

The city was dusty, beige and smelled of smoke. Smoke is the smell that I have come to associate with Africa now - the smell of small fires burning all around, cooking food, heating homes, being used for roadside 'businesses'.

After a few days we left Bamako and headed north, through Segou and on to Djenne and Mopti. Djenne was spectacular, with the mosque made of mud that has to be rebuilt after the rainy season every year.

Mopti was just a big market, with 'poulet bicyclette' and mangoes as big as your head.

From Mopti we took an old (real old) plane north to Tomboctou - or Timbuktu, where we rode into the desert with Touareg tribesmen and ate goat killed and roasted just for us. We slept in the desert and woke to a breakfast of more goat, also especially killed for us. Being a goat in Mali is hard.

Back in Bamako one evening, we sat in a bar and chatted with a couple of locals we'd got to know. It was the time of their elections.

"I love democracy" said one of the Malian guys. "I love democracy so much that I voted three times today".

There's an African logic there that just makes sense.

We finished our drinks and headed to the nightclub, where we danced the night away to trashy europop with South African minerologists, French diplomats and Chinese traders. It was a fine old night and so bizarre in so many ways. To me, this is what travelling is all about.

Anyway, why am I thinking of this dusty old place today?

Well, a pair of Mali's finest, Amadou and Mariam were on my train to Brussels today. I was sat amongst their backing singers, who were having a fine old time. Goodness knows what they were doing in town - a bit of promo for their new album 'Welcome to Mali', I guess.

If you don't know who they are, then you should have a listen to their single Sabali - it's good stuff.

Even if it's not your kind of music, it will definitely get you thinking about sunshine and foreign parts. Both of which sound very appealing to me as the Paris winter gets colder and colder.

Pass me the phone, I need to call my agent.

My travel agent, that is.

mardi 25 novembre 2008

Ma femme préferée est un homme

"Do they speak Japanese in Korea?" This was the particularly stupid and insensitive question asked by the German teacher last night of Kwang Min, my study partner.

I think she was hoping that he would say "No, in Korea people speak Korean". It's a bit of a classic language learning thing, I guess - ask something that you know is incorrect in order to get the student to give the correct answer.

Alas, the teacher was no doubt ignorant of the fact that Korea was occupied by Japan for the first half of the 20th century, during which time the Japanese banned the Korean language and forced their 'subjects' to speak Japanese. It'd be like me asking her "are there Jewish people in Germany?". Red rag to a bull. Insensitive. Unnecessary.

Anyway, beyond this the German class is going well. Unfortunately I'm sandwiched between Kwang Min and Juliette - the girl who seems to have no idea of where she is or why she is there most of the time. A typical quote from her would be:

Teacher : "Juliette, what time do you start work in the morning?"

Juliette : "I enjoy shopping, listening to music and talking to my friends".

Truly, this is how it goes with her. To make matters worse I am sat opposite Pierre-Yves who just looks at me and laughs whenever she does this. P-Y is cute, with his boyband hair and his bobo chic thing going on. But his making me laugh is getting me some stern looks from teacher. I like it.

At break time, we seem to naturally split up into boys and girls. As per usual, the girls get to look moodily at each other, circling like siamese fighting fish waiting to go in for the kill. The boys chat, relaxed and easy with each other. Usually we talk football. I've started googling football stories before class so that I can keep up.

Anyway, last night Teacher took us down the "are you married" line of questioning. Even me, with my lack of sensibility, would realise that this is a road paved with disaster.

She looks me in the eye. "Are you married?"

"No. I am not married. I am single".

"Are you looking for a french wife?".

"No. I am looking for a husband".

"The word is wife. You are husband, she is wife".

"Yes, I understand. But I am looking for a husband. Ich bin schwul".

And as the gasp of shock rose from the audience (yeah, right) I outed myself in yet another language.

I have to wonder how many more times in my life I need to do this.

Should I just have it printed on a t-shirt?

lundi 24 novembre 2008

I kissed a girl and I liked it

Admittedly she was only six weeks old, and it was a peck on the cheek and a cuddle.

The weekend in Amsterdam with my friends, their 4 year-old and their newborn was lovely. We did nothing, achieved little and on Sunday we never left the house. Truly the relaxing weekend that I needed.

And the baby is just beautiful. Really quite gorgeous. I get this way with friends kids, I have to say. I fall totally in love with them and really enjoy the time I spend with them. Whenever I've taken a holiday with friends and their kids or with my brother and his kids, it is always the kids that end up making the trip special.

So getting to spend this time with my lovely friends and their beautiful daughters was a real treat. It was, as expected, the polar opposite of my weekend with Conortje in Den Haag, but nonetheless it was lovely.

It was with a heavy heart that I waved them goodbye at Schiphol.

On the flight home I got sat next to a leg presser.

Of all the people you don't want to sit next to on a plane, the leg presser is high up on the list. He's on the list somewhere next to the smelly person, the nursing mother, the vomiter, the unaccompanied minor, the chatty Cathy and the Eastern European hooker (I sat next to a pair of these once between Paris and Valencia. One of the worst flights of my life).

Anyway, I was on the aisle, he was in the middle. And no matter where I put my leg, he followed it a couple of seconds later with his. He pressed his leg up against mine for practically the whole flight.

Now, I'm not always one to complain about these things - I remember flying Alitalia from Bucharest to Milan MXP quite vividly (and I remember it quite often, he he) - but this guy was a pain. He was mid-forties, nerdy and he was 'reading' a very dull computer magazine. So, more Pee-Wee Herman than George Clooney, and a real effing nuisance.

To make it worse, when we were getting off the plane and the crowd was lining the aisle waiting to move forward, I swear I felt his hand cup my backside.

I turned to look at him and he winked. He winked. I mean really. Winked.

Now, I like being winked at and touched up by strange men as much as the next 'mo, but being touched up in economy? Non merci.

I have standards, you know.

vendredi 21 novembre 2008

Back to Holland

So I'm heading to Holland in, erm, 20 minutes time. Again. I was there last weekend too.

But I'm guessing the two weekends couldn't be more different. Last weekend I was with my lovely Irish Dutch Friend who took me out and we painted the town red. Well, actually it was more of a subtle shade of pink, but we certainly painted the town.

Friday night in Den Haag, followed by Saturday night in Rotterdam and both nights we managed to stagger home at 5am. We spent our waking hours dancing (yes, to American Boy, of course) and drinking fancy cocktails. We may or may not have chased dutchmen.

This weekend I'm going to Amsterdam to meet the newest addition to my family. My best friend and his wife have had a little girl and I get to meet her this weekend. I love babies, but I'm not so good with them. And I only really love them for a ten minute hold. But I really love these friends and so I'm incredibly excited about meeting their latest.

I'm guessing the weekend will involve late nights sat around the post-dinner table, chatting, reminiscing, sharing music and laughing lots.

So two weekends that are very different, but with one factor in common - the joy and pleasure of spending time with good friends, enjoying life and laughing.

Really, I am blessed.

Now, how do I get out of changing nappies?

jeudi 20 novembre 2008

Things you never wanted to know

OK, so this is stolen from Torny at Sticky Crows but I felt it just about suited my post-nausea mood. And let's face it, I needed all the prompts I could get to post something today.

And although it may be stolen, the answers are mine all mine. Feel free to copy it over at yours. We'd all LOVE to hear the answers...

1. Is there anyone on your blogroll you would have sex with?
Durr. Of course there is - have you seen the hotties on my blog roll?

2. Sex in the morning, afternoon or night?
Yes please. Oh sorry, was that an 'or'?

3. Have you ever had to pull over on the side of the road to puke?
The taxi driver had to stop on the motorway for me once - between Uppsala and Arlanda Airport. I then threw up in Business Class all the way to Brussels. That's Brandy for you (and no, I don't mean Monica's friend).

4. Have you ever taken your clothes off for money?
I haven't - but sometimes it's felt like I should have been paid...

5. Shower or bath while having sex?
Who has sex in the bath? Fool around maybe, but sex in the bath? OK, now you can all tell me that I'm Miss Priss.

6. Do you want someone aggressive or passive in bed?
One of each please.

7. Do you love someone on your blogroll?
I love you all. Just because you come visit me. Some I love more than others. But that's because you've bought me a drink.

8. Love or Money?
Let's say 'love' but I think I may be 'money-curious'.

9. Credit cards or cash?
Cash, baby. Stops me spending, spending, spending.

10. Have you ever wanted a best friend?
Like a dog? I've always had at least one or two of the human variety, so I feel pretty blessed.

11. Camping or a 5 star hotel?
Are you mad? Five star all the way. But I do like waking up in a tent when it is raining, opening the door flap and lying there, happy that I'm dry. Always better if the tent also contains a hottie.

12. Where is the weirdest place you have had sex?
In the Gaza Strip. And that's not a euphemism.

13. Would you shave your entire body (including your head)?
Really - I'd look like an overgrown schoolboy. It'd be fugly. Real fugly. And the itching afterwards...

14. Have you ever been to a strip club?
Yes - both kinds, oddly enough. But when I went to one where it was all girls stripping I spent the entire time questioning the hygiene of the whole process. It was nasty.

15. Ever been to a bar?
Does this mean ever had sex in a bar? It seems like a pretty lame question.

16. Ever been kicked out of a bar or a club?
Oh yes. In an Auckland bar once, the doorman kicked me and my friends out for 'playing up' but I still got his number. He was from Raratonga and did a fine line in shotgun smoking....amongst other things.

17. Ever been so drunk someone else had to carry you?
Surprisingly only the once. Or is that twice?

18. Had sex in a movie theater?
Maybe. Please don't think worse of me.

19. Had sex in a bathroom?
Yes. Hasn't everyone?

20. Have you ever had sex at work?
See 19 above.

21. Ever been to an adult store?
See 19 above.

22. Bought something from an adult store?
See 19 above.

23. Have you been caught having sex ?
Only by people who didn't mind. It's more that they wanted to then join in that upset me.

24. Does anyone have naughty pics of you?
See 'the blogroll' attached. Some of them might have...

25. Ever had sex with someone and called them by the wrong name?
No. But I have had sex with someone and not known what name to call them. But then, see number 19 above...;-)

mardi 18 novembre 2008

If you can't stand the heat...

I'm writing this through a fog of painkillers, anti-nausea tablets and general vileness. Dear reader, your beloved TBNIL is sick. I think I realised this when I woke up on the floor of our meeting room at work.

I'd only lay down because my head was spinning, but I'd been there for three hours. Well done Debbie for being concerned and coming to check on me. She didn't, of course - I was left to sleep.

Having woken up with an imprint of the carpet tiles on my face, I bundled myself into a taxi and headed home.

Anyway, I've slept most of the afternoon, punctuated by an hour or so lay in the bath (it was the comfortablest place I could find - do you think I'm in labour?).

So, I was a little distressed when my mobile rang and woke me up, but it was my Mom and I figured she may have words of wisdom for me. Now, any of you who have been here before will know that expecting words of wisdom from my mother Is a lost cause. She's like Rose from the Golden Girls, only not so bright.

"Hello bab", she said. She always calls me 'bab' or 'the bab' or 'the babby', what with me being the youngest and she being a Brummie Mummy. You can imagine that I love this.

"Have you been trying to get hold of me, bab?"

"No, not today, why?" I said, leaving my 'I'm sick' announcement until she asks how I am.

"Well the phone has been ringing all day"

"Why didn't you answer it?" I asked, reasonably enough, I thought.

"Because I've been locked in the kitchen". She said this as if I should know.

"You've been locked in the kitchen? How long for?"

"Since 8.15 this morning - the locksmith just got me out". It was 3pm in the UK.

Now, it seems that my mother had got up, gone downstairs and made herself a morning cuppa. As usual. And as usual with old lady houses, hers is like Fort Knox. She has locks on every door. As she finished her drink and went to get a shower, she realised that the kitchen door had locked itself behind her and she was trapped with no keys, no phone and no way out.

She'd spent the day waiting for someone to walk up the street at the right angle to be able to see her frantically banging the window. Apparently, four people had seen her, waved and walked on by. They're off her christmas card list already.

Eventually the neighbour walked past. The neighbour has her front door key too - but her own key was in the other side, so his was no use. Which is where the locksmith came in.

"Why didn't you climb through the window?" I asked.

"Because I had no knickers on. I didn't want anyone looking at my fairy".

And I thought that I was the sick one today.

dimanche 16 novembre 2008

Say my name, say my name

Now, I’m all for originality, but let’s not screw up the kids, eh? I mean, being original is fine when it comes down to choosing to have a barcode tattooed onto your forehead (although it’s been done before) but when it means calling your child Barcode, then that’s a different thing altogether.

There have been plenty of stories recently about people calling their kids stupid names – remember Tallulah Does The Hula From Hawaii, anyone? Or the twins, Benson and Hedges? But it is not these that concern me the most.

What worries me more than anything is the proliferation of totally made up names. Names that have come from nowhere and mean nothing.

Often it is just a single letter or part of the name that has been changed for effect – Latasha, Shanita, Jelissa, Jeswald, Natrick.

And then there are the names that have had a bit added to them – I give you LaDawn, ShaLisa, LaTanya. I’ve met a LaCorey and a DeJohn. Really. I have. And don’t get me started on D’Shaun.

But the crème de la crème – the totally made up names. Those that have truly been thought up on the spot by the parents. Let’s have a round of applause, ladies and gentlemen, for Quanesha, Tyaishia and Shalonna. For LaCrasha and Trinique and Keyair. And for my very favourite – ShaQueen. Beautiful and understated, I think.

Really, these are all names that we encountered during our big American road trip in ’07. It got to the point where we were so startled by some that we started to write them down.

But it’s not just in the United States that you find this. In the UK you don’t have to go far too find an Aimii, a Cydney or a Mishell. Bad spelling or innovation?

Whatever happened to George, Julie and Peter? Normal names for normal people.

I thank the Lord every day that my parents had the foresight to give me a normal name. They gave me a normal, everyday, easy-to-spell name.

I'd tell you what it is, but I prefer it if you just call me Sir.

vendredi 14 novembre 2008

Viva Viagra?

It was 4am and I lay in my hotel room in the US, wide awake, watching TV and waiting for a reasonable hour to get out of bed to arrive (flying west always means waking up incredibly early for me).

Now there are a lot of differences between the TV on opposite sides of the Atlantic. One of the most obvious is the way that ad breaks are scheduled – there are lots more of them during each programme than in the UK, for example, and they come at odd moments – like just after the titles and just before the credits. English people find that weird.

But the thing that stuck me as the weirdest of all was the type of products advertised on TV. In Europe it’s not likely that you’ll see prescription drugs advertised on TV – mainly because it’s banned under EU regulations. The EU feel that it is inappropriate for drug companies to ‘speak directly’ to the consumers, preferring doctors / qualified people to make drug recommendations to us based on our actual needs. The US feels that this advertising is acceptable practice.

Anyway, that looks set to change in the EU over the next few years, but meanwhile, regardless of which side is right or wrong, you can’t escape the fact that some of the ads are just downright bizarre.

What amazes me most is the way the companies list the side effects of the drugs:

“…..may cause depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts”

“users of …… have reported experiencing traumatic dreams”

“…..may cause impaired vision, loss of sight and shortness of breath”

I mean really, how bad does it have to get before you think, “well, it may be worth it, even if I do end up blind”?

But all of these adverts pale into insignificance when compared to my favourite ad of all time. The campaign is called “Viva Viagra” and yes, you guessed it, it’s targeted at guys who are struggling to raise their game.

It’s all set in the good old west, with roadside bars, burnt earth and blue skies. Guys on Harleys, wearing bandanas. Men enjoying a beer, a game of pool and a good old laugh at how they couldn’t get it up for love nor money.

The theme song to the campaign? Viva Viagra sung to the tune of Viva Las Vegas. I mean really. Come on. God bless the marketing boys at Pfizer.

But even with all this macho imagery and desert landscape, they still have to tell you about the negative side effects of the drug.

Apparently if your erection lasts longer than four hours, you should contact your physician.

Jesus wept. If it lasts longer than four hours then I think it’s your partner who’ll need to be seeking medical attention.

Something to reduce the bruising and an inflatable cushion, I’d suggest.

jeudi 13 novembre 2008

His cock-up? My arse!

How much of a ballache is this?

When you enter the US as a foreigner (or 'alien' as they like to call us in that friendly kind of way) and if you don't need a visa, you have to fill in an I94 form.

The entry part is taken off you by the lovely man at the fingerprinting desk, aka passport control. The exit part (officially now I94W) is stapled in your passport.

Upon leaving the US, the I94W is taken from your passport by the airline or the immigrations folks at the gate of your departing flight. This is your proof of leaving the country.

So guess what happened?

I ran for the Paris flight at Detroit, handed over boarding pass and passport to the gate official. He gave me them back and I ran on board. I didn't check that he'd taken the I94W.

He hadn't. He'd screwed up his - relatively easy - job and had left me with my exit form still in my passport. Fool.

So now the US Immigration think that I am still in the US.

To overcome this, I have to write to some government department in Kentucky (run by the Colonel?) sending my I94W and proof that I am now out of the country. God help me. I'm sending them everything, including a photo of me holding today's Figaro in front of the Eiffel Tower. Well, maybe not.

And if they don't process this, or if it just sits on a shelf somewhere, or if it gets lost in the post? Or if I simply didn't know that I needed to do this and just left the slip in my passport, or even worse, threw it away? That's easy, I would be denied entry next time I try to go to the States, and sent back on the plane that I arrived on - at my expense.

So, the American government have screwed up and it has become my problem to solve.

Don't you just love that?

mercredi 12 novembre 2008

Meine Stadt heisst Seoul

Why am I spending three hours every Monday evening, learning to speak German? Or rather, learning to speak better German – I already have a bit of a base, but it’s not so good these days.

The question remains unanswered and, as I sat on the métro heading home after the class (at 10pm) I was really questioning my decision. I’m sure that jetlag was playing a part, but I was thoroughly exhausted and certainly too tired to remember the dativ / akkusativ / genetiv rules.

Anyway, let’s hope it gets better. And let’s hope that my language improves too. It’s really not that good. I should have used the two-week intensive language course that I went on last summer to learn to speak German rather than learning to chat up Germans. But hey, warum nicht? After all, any experience is good experience, nein?

In fact, within minutes of the course starting on Monday evening I got quite giddy. Learning German in Paris is quite the thing – I mean really, where else would you be able to learn the expression ‘der Eiffelturm is sehr bekannt’. Clap clap. How exciting.

My giddiness soon subsided as we were put into pairs for, what I thought would be the evening. It turns out that Eva Maria, our lovely teacher (I’m trying hard to look at her face and not the massive sweat patches under her arms) wants us – like swans – to pair up for life. At least for the duration of the course.

So who did I end up with? Chloé, the charming 18 year-old with the Amy Winehouse eyes? Kamal, the handsome and flirty Tunisian (meine Stadt heisst Sousse. Sousse hat eine grosse Stadtmauer)?

Or maybe one of the two sweet-enough-but-very-bookish Frenchmen?

Alas no. I’m partnered with Kwang Min. He’s from Seoul. I think. It’s not so clear. I know he is Korean. At least I hope he is. Calling a Japanese person Korean is never good (but better than the other way round – at least Korea never occupied Japan…)

We have to interrogate each other (yes, the German lady used this very word, much to my delight – I thought she may be bringing out the interrogation lamps, but no). We were to find out more about where we are each from, what our musical tastes are and whether or not we are married.

From what I can gather, Kwang Min isn’t married, is from Korea (he doesn’t like to say South Korea – it’s all one big kim-chee filled love-in as far as he’s concerned), likes ‘techno’ music and studies….erm, something.

Really, his accent is so strong that I have pretty much no idea what he is saying. When I look puzzled at him (i.e. all the time), he tells me the word in French. This is largely pointless as his accent in French is equally impenetrable.

It is only when we have to tell the rest of the class all about our “learning partners” that everyone else finally sees what I have been up against.

Truly, after Kwang Min has spoken to my classmates about me, in German, for three minutes, no-one is any the wiser about my name, age or marital status. They have no idea where I am from or what I do. I can see suppressed giggles on the faces of the girls, and a look of horror on the face of Eva Maria, who has the look of a woman with a challenge on her hands.

I corner EM after the class and ask if I can have a different partner next week.

“That would be no problem” she said, “but it doesn’t work like that. Rules are rules and the rule is that you stay together for the course”.

“Then I may be asking for my money back”

“Again, the rules are the rules. No money back after first class”.

“Then what do you suggest? I’m here to learn German, not Korean.”

“I suggest you work harder”, said she, helpfully. “No-one ever said that learning a language was easy, you know”.

Oh dear. Looks like there’ll be tears before bedtime….and they won’t be mine.

mardi 11 novembre 2008

Rock and rollers

I don't know what I did on my flight home - maybe I managed to piss off the check-in agent? Who knows. But I got to security at O'Hare and the security guy uttered those words that everyone loves to hear:

"You've been selected for extra security checks today, sir". And he said it like "You've been selected to win one million dollars today, sir". Great.

So once I'd gone through the ridiculousness of taking off shoes, belt, watch, harness, etc, I had to follow him to a small booth in the corner. Memories of Israel are coming back to me at this point.

There wasn't much in the way of politeness as he went through my pockets, opened my bag, fanned his way through my books - all without asking permission. Then he opened up my laptop and turned it on.

"Shouldn't you be asking if I mind you doing this?" I said. I was pretty outraged by the way he was going through all of my things without a please, thank you or may I. I was thinking that - if I wasn't onto a promise in Phoenix - I'd never be darkening these shores again.

He ignored my question - mute? - and took swabs from all available surfaces - including my hands, my shirt and the soles of my shoes. he processed them through his little explosive/drug detector machine. Nothing came up, obviously - although, I was a bit worried about what I may have trodden on in the night club last night.

Finally I got away and had to run to my gate for the flight to Detroit. In Detroit I had no time again and had to run to the gate for the Paris flight. Luckily I had time to stop and buy some 'night time' extra strength cough medicine (I'm suffering, folks. I'm suffering).

On the way out - the daylight flight - NWA had put me in Business Class, which was lovely. Alas, they never upgrade me when I most want it and so the overnight flight back to CDG was in coach. Which is absolutely fine, but Business would have been nicer.

I flop into my seat and say a quick 'howdy' to the person sat next to me. I do a double take. She's possibly the most glamourous person I've ever sat next to on an aeroplane (and I've sat next to Antoine de Caunes from LAX to CDG once. It was all I could to stop myself licking his cheek while he was asleep).

She was aged about sixty five, a lady of color and quite, quite beautiful. She had the kind of skin that I wanted to touch to see if it was real. She had this amazing long (I mean LONG) grey hair that was straight as a die, and she was wearing a scarlet trouser suit. There was, admittedly, an element of Mrs Claus to the ensemble, but hey, I was in the glamour row, what did I care if I looked like Santa's helper?

So, we settled in for our journey home. Me on the aisle, Mrs Claus in the window seat. Before eating dinner I took my cough medicine and very quickly (before the tray had been cleared) I found my head nodding. Slumber beckoned.

I woke up and looked at the screen. 1 hour and 15 minutes to go before Paris. I'd slept for six hours. And I'd blocked this poor woman in her seat for six hours too. I turned to apologise to her and nearly jumped out of my skin. it was all I could do to not scream.

During the flight she'd taken all of her lovely long hair and put it into rollers. Hair curlers. All of it. A full head of plastic bobbins. And she'd taken off her make up.

It was like waking up next to one of Marge Simpson's sisters.

But what amazed me more than anything wasn't how this ageing supermodel had turned into my Grandmother, but more the fact that she had put in a WHOLE HEAD of rollers without waking me up. And without leaving her seat.

As they took away our 'breakfast' trays, she got out a big, ugly bag. She started to apply her war paint. And then, one by one, the rollers came out.

With a shake of the head and a bit of a ruffle of the hand through her locks, she was transformed.

I was sat next to Madonna. At least, that's how good she looked.

Trust me, that's the last time I take drugs on a plane. Even if it is only cough medicine.

lundi 10 novembre 2008

You tell me...

OK, so here's the thing folks. I have loads of posts going round my head at the moment and I don't want to be posting three times a day.

So I thought I'd give you some headlines and let you tell me which ones you want to hear - if you want to hear any of them...let's face it, I do go on a bit.

So here's the list. Tell me what tickles your fancy (from the list below, thank you Lewis):

1. Made up names. My favourite? ShaQueen.

2. My obsession / fascination with the Viva Viagra ad campaign.

3. My new classmates at the German school, including my 'learning partner' Kwang Min.

4. My brother's recent (and somewhat shocking) conversion to racism.

5. Is Debbie a slut or is she just friendly with men?

6. The woman next to me on the flight home....and her hair.

And an old one that I've promising for ages....

7. How an old lady saved me from the Romanian gutter children.

Ok, so it's up to you now....really, you decide.

I'm done with making all the decisions around here.

dimanche 9 novembre 2008

Good head

So, Chicago. It's been a week and what a week it's been.

Really, how great is this city? Everything a boy could ever wish for, wrapped up in good old fashioned midwestern hospitality. Truly, it was hard to leave. Except for the family thing. Boy did that get old quickly.

The only good thing about taking this trip en famille is that none of them can say that I never gave it a go. So, when they announce the destination for next year I can back out gracefully without being accused of 'never wanting to do family stuff'. Paying it forward, folks, I'm paying it forward.

In a bid to get some free time/some me time I decided I'd go get a haircut. This is on the basis that a) I didn't get one before going to Chi-town and b) I'm off visiting next weekend and don't have time in the week for a cut either and I do want to look my best for my Irish Dutch friend.

The haircut decision was also based on the fact that I couldn't imagine either of the two other grown men in the party wanting to spend the morning 'dans le salon'.

I was wrong. My brother and my cousin's husband both decided that they too would like a haircut, and so the die was cast. Did I know anywhere to get a cut, was the question.

Well, I had spotted a coiffeur whilst speeding my way home from Boystown in a taxi at 4a.m. the previous morning (I'm not going to say where I'd been other than this - Condi Rice watch out, there's a new name at the middle east peace table, baby).

Anyway, I do digress. I'd passed this place which was all lit up with neon and looked like a classy barbers shop type joint.

The Barber Shop was called 'Good Head'. I'm not sure why I was drawn to it.

But hey, the joy of arriving outside the place with Brother and Cousin-in-law, and seeing their faces when they noticed the big neon sign?


jeudi 6 novembre 2008

My ring is darkening

My mood ring, that is. It's turning from a happy go lucky shade of pink, to a desperate, driven to the edge of madness shade of black.

Why? It's simple. I'm here in Chicago with 8 members of my family and they are driving me crazy. The fact that I ever agreed to come on this trip surprises me no end, but it hasn't all been bad.

I wouldn't have missed being here for the Obama rally for anything, but really - do we absolutely have to eat in the same chain restaurant 2 nights in a row? Am I really the only one who has any kind of a plan for the day - every day?

I'm stuck with an aunt who apologises for everything and who is constantly worried that someone is having a bad time; a mother who is largely bewildered by the whole experience and who can't decide whether or not she wants a cup of tea with her breakfast (I have to make the decision for her); a brother who is an absolute control freak and who only agrees to do things if he can be convinced that doing it was his idea; a cousin and husband who are lovely and are proving to be the saving grace; and a nephew and niece who play nicely with everyone else, but who like to beat shit out of me, their loving uncle.

You can imagine that I'm having a lovely time, can't you?

Today I left them to their own devices and headed off for a spot of retail therapy and time to myself. Calvin Klein and Kenneth Cole were both soothing my wounded soul when my cellphone rang.

"Hello son, it's me, Mom"

"What's happened?"

"We've just left the Gap and we're lost. How do we get home?". My Mother truly sounded like she was calling from beyond the edge of reason.

"Which branch of Gap is it?" I asked, not unreasonably.

"I don't know. There are a lot of tall buildings and a park".

Is it any wonder that my mood ring is black?

mercredi 5 novembre 2008

Tuesday in the park with Barack

I just got back from the Obama victory rally in Grant Park. Really, I did.

It's another moment where I wonder how I end up in these places, but hey, this isn't about me (for once...).

As the results came in and it became increasingly obvious that vistory was Obama's, the crowd swelled and the atmosphere became amazing. With McCain conceding defeat, it became magical.

The man himself came on stage and that was it - the crowd went wild.

Truly, I've never seen so many people in one place in my life (and I've been to a Take That concert) and I've never seen so many people so inspired by a figure on a stage (apart from maybe at that Cher gig I went to, tee hee).

But really, the crowd was young, old, black, white, gay straight and everything in between. Everyone was smiling, everyone was happy. It was a big old love-fest and we were loving it. I can't imagine British (or French) politics ever having the same impact on the population.

It was a moment in history, and I was thrilled to be there.

America, you did good tonight.

Now can I please go to bed?

mardi 4 novembre 2008

Travelling, but not in luck...

So, I got to Chicago.

Alas, my luggage stayed in Paris.

As I waited (and waited) for my bags in Detroit, it became more and more obvious that they weren't on their way. I looked for a representative of the airline (thank you, Northwest) but no luck. they were hiding.

After annoying a customs guy into helping me, a NWA person found me and said that I was one of thirty bags that had been left in Paris. They could have got the bags on board, but that would have made for a late departure, so the Captain took the decision to leave the bags behind. Great.

On the flight from Detroit to O'Hare, I was sat in First, next to a pilot.

"Where have you flown in from?" asked the steward of the pilot.

"I just captained the flight from Paris" said the pilot.

It was too good to be true. This was the very person who had decided to leave my bag behind.

"Excuse me Sir", said I. "I wonder if you can lend me some underpants...?"

He looked very uncomfortable.