Saturday 27 July 2019

How I Worked Against Stress This Week

Yesterday I skimmed a lawyer's cease-and-desist letter, said "Not my problem", sent it to my editors and went sailing out to exercise class. This is probably not what the author thought would happen. However, I had had a glorious week fighting the good fight against stress. Here's what I did:

1. I cut back to one cup of coffee a day.
2. I got up between 5:30 AM and 6 AM every day.
3. I went to 10 exercise classes (12 including the classes I went to after opening the lawyer's email).
4. I began reading L'Art de la Liste by Dominique Loreau.
5. I wrote a lot of lists, and they were very cathartic, just like the book promised.
6. I finished transferring my savings to my dad (a three day process) to wire to me here in the UK, so that I can (A) put down an annual overpayment on the mortgage and (B) pay my accountant his surprise fee.
7. I said the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament three days in a row.
8. I spent a few hours in the garden, weeding, mowing and chopping.
9. I had my blonde eyebrows weeded, mowed, chopped and dyed approximately the same colour as my hair.
10. I stayed off the internet before work, except to check emails. (A class was cancelled, and I didn't know because I hadn't checked my email.)
11. I began reading a book about puppy training. Thinking about puppies is tremendously relaxing.
12. I went with B.A. to the local famous ice-cream shop for ice-cream cones one evening.
13. I kept an eye on sugar--which means that I stuck to fruit and the occasional serving of ice-cream.
14. I enjoyed the very-rare-in-Scotland warm and sunny weather as much as I could.

This is not to say I had a stress-free week. I freaked out when I discovered I had to pay some taxes AT ONCE and also when I got a confusing and insulting surprise letter from my accountant's firm. ("We have been more than patient...") Anything combining paperwork and money sends me back to the depths of math class/piano practice hell, so that was very unpleasant. However, in general I had a very emotionally healthy week.

It helps that my spin class instructors launch into motivational speeches about how wonderful we are, how this time is for us, how there is no judgement in this room, how our strength begins in our minds, not our bodies, etc. "You are worthy," they yell. "You are enough!"

Saturday 20 July 2019

The Unflipped Switch & Soccer Speak

Can a cloth-eared, introverted native English-speaker who lives in the UK become fluent in a Slavic language?

Finding this out has been my principal hobby for seven years, and I still don't know the answer. I have learned a lot of Polish, though, as well as much information about memory training, bilingualism, cognition, and the imprecise definition of "fluent". 

There's a lot of unsettled science, so I feel free to believe that some people are born simply more talented than others in learning languages, possibly because the two sides of their brain "speak more quickly" to each other. Of course, early training is very important, too. When I think about the multi-lingual members of my family, the big stars are the ones who were put in French immersion schools as children. 

The biggest star, I suspect, is my sister Tertia, who is qualified to teach both French and Spanish, and is going to Italy in August for an Italian course. I am sure she will "smash it," as my Scottish spinning instructor would say. Tertia has everything going for her: early French immersion, a friendly disposition towards chatty strangers, years of experience teaching English abroad (mainly in Spanish-speaking countries), and God-given talent, whatever that is. 

Occasionally I ask fluent non-native speakers of English when they could understand it all, and the most vivid answer came from a gregarious Polish nurse who said that one day a switch just flipped in his brain. I am still waiting for the switch to flip, but I have made gains. 

The most astonishing gain is that I can now hear separate words in any foreign language, instead of just a mush of sounds. Somehow concentrating so much on Polish (and, to a much lesser extent, Italian) has vastly improved my ability to distinguish other foreign words, even when I don't understand what they mean.  

The most useful one is that I can now speak my less-than-standard Polish without feeling horribly self-conscious, which is very important, because "fear is the mind-killer," as says the "Litany Against Fear" in Dune.  This is thanks to my Polish tutor Anna, who says "Spokojnie" (Keep calm), whenever I am frantically searching my brain for some word I know I used to know. 

By the way, it is so much better to find a one-on-one conversation tutor than to take a night class once you have the basic grammar down. For one thing, you get in more speaking practise. For another, nobody laughs at your mistakes. Occasionally fellow students would laugh at my mistakes, and this wasn't helpful. Feeling strong emotion about a mistake does help you remember the correction, says the science, but I don't think this works when you begin to panic every time you try to speak in class. 

On Monday I was still in Poland and spoke almost as much Polish as I could, given that I was working in English on my computer much of the day. I didn't "have" to, of course, because Polish Pretend Son, Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law and their real family all speak varying degrees of charmingly accented English. (PPDIL says her English is so good because she began learning it at 7.) However, it was a brilliant opportunity to be immersed, and I was grateful that at supper PPS, Mrs PPS and PPS's Real Brother all chatted together po polsku, even  though I understood only about a third of what was said.

I did understand that PPS and his brother had plans to play football that evening, and that his wife was going to go along to watch and hoped I'd come with them. Naturally this was a cultural treasure not to be missed, so I toddled along.

"You'll hear a lot of bad words," warned PPS, and I certainly did, for about twenty Polish men gathered on the village green by the town's five-a-side pitch, and they had to play in shifts. Various words one hears on Edinburgh buses came floating over to where Mrs PPS and I sat admiring PPS and his brother as they ran about after the ball.  PPS's brother is a professional athlete, actually, so he can run a lot faster than PPS, who smokes and drinks, and I was edified to see PPS pass the ball to his brother as Mrs PPS squeaked encouragement from the seats. 

 "Is p****** a very bad word?" I asked PPS the next morning, trotting out one of the words I had learned during his game. 

PPS paused. 

"Yes," he replied austerely.

"Whoops," I said. "Sorry about that." 

This was rather amusing for it followed our discussion about dupa and kupa. My tutor Anna turned green when I once used the word "dupa" (roughly, arse), not being able to remember the proper word for "hips" (biodra, by the way), and when she discovered "kupa" (poo) in the children's story I was reading, she told me to stop reading it. 

PPS said this was puritanical, and I have to admit that it is limiting not to learn relatively off-coloured language because it makes up a certain amount of colloquial speech. For example, on Tuesday morning before driving me to the airport, PPS said that he had kupa pracy to do that day, which roughly translates to "a lot of work" or "a ****load of work," as Catholic lady journalists do not say. 

At the airport, I spoke Polish to all officials although I fell down a bit when I couldn't recall the words for "to the RyanAir desk" fast enough. (Note to self: "do kiosku RyanAir" would probably suffice.) As I stumbled, the young chap at the counter said in a cross tone that he spoke English, and I apologised in English, saying that I preferred to try to speak Polish in Poland.

"Of course that is very nice," he said in the same cheesed-off tone that doesn't necessarily match what the English-speaking Pole in Poland is feeling.

The fruit of this particular anecdote is that I didn't feel suicidal--as I certainly would have two years ago--but cheerfully went to the RyanAir kiosk to have my passport looked at and greeted the man there in Polish. 

"In maybe about seven more years I will be fluent," I had said to PPS.

"Maybe five," he said kindly.  

Friday 19 July 2019

"Feed My Sheep"

Neither Benedict Ambrose nor I emerged physically unscathed from his little cancer experience. B.A. has a long-term (if not permanent) bump on his head and I have two juicy rolls of belly fat, thanks to the stress and anxiety that B.A.'s tumour brought in its basket for little me. I have to say, though, that it's only fair that if he had to suffer damage, then I had to suffer damage, too, for we are married and therefore one flesh, etc.

However, I object to feeling sad all the time now that B.A. has mostly recovered, so I have cut my sugar intake, plan to get a puppy, and have taken up daily exercise classes.

Sometimes I take two exercise classes a day, and yesterday between one and the other I stopped into a   proper Catholic chapel to spend time with the Lord. My colleagues recommend that people in our line of work go to Mass every day, but the Mass nearest me is depressing, and the TLM is an hour away, and I have to get up before 6 AM even to catch the right train. But anyway I popped into the chapel and prayed my usually gloomy prayers, punctuated with "Lord have mercy." Then it occurred to me that I was wronging Our Lord by constantly addressing him as the Stern Judge. Thus I tried out, "Lord, I love you."

"Feed my sheep," was the response in my head, and then I remembered poor hapless St. Peter being asked three times if he loved the Lord and feeling a bit hurt even though, as we all know, there was reason for doubt.

This morning on my way to another exercise class, I thought that the instruction "Feed my sheep" might mean I am to write something other than The Worse News in the World, and that the one group of people I can really help today with my writing are other Catholic journalists, especially the ones who are fat because they are sad.

I checked this interpretation out with the Lord at the chapel this morning, and the image of a whale appeared in my head, which reminded me of Jonah, so I rushed home after class to get cracking instead of going to the library.

Right. So it has not escaped my notice that a significant number of Catholic journalists and bloggers are overweight, and although there is no doubt this is partly because we sit at a computer for eight hours a day or more, I believe it is also because we are terribly sad. We are terribly sad because we love the Church and the Church is in the middle of a civil war and we feel like the rug was pulled out from under us when Benedict XVI resigned.

It also feels like a hidden trap door opened before us, as we lay sprawling, and all kinds of  scary creatures came pouring out. I don't know if you remember this, but nobody was talking very much about communion-for-civilly-remarried or, heaven knows, celebrating in Church the "special gifts" that supposedly come along with same-sex attraction until October 2014. Here was Benedict, not even cold in his grave, having not actually died, and there were Archbishop Forte and Father Rosica making it up as they went along at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

That was well after "Who am I to judge?", which actually I survived pretty well, as I read what Pope Francis actually said, although when I was in Rome soon after that, most of my friends there went about squeaking "Who am I to judge? Who am I to judge?" in falsetto, and if life were Tosca, Scarpia would have shoved us all in a Vatican dungeon.

My little triumphalist Irish Catholic peasant heart didn't break until the mid-term relatio was given to the media, and had Archbishop Gądecki had not stomped over to Vatican Radio to tell the Poles it was all nonsense, I do not know what I would have done. As it was, I got super-drunk.

But we know all this. Ancient history. Since then McCarrick and Wuerl et cetera and et alia. It never ends, and so Catholic journalists--possibly even the ones who are trying to Sing a New Church into Being--are very sad. I am sure the anti-Catholic journalists are having a whale of a time.

So what to do? Well, first, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists not turn on our computers until we have done 45 minutes of exercise, gone outdoors and eaten breakfast. (This is where everyone says "I am not a doctor, talk to a doctor before beginning any exercise regimen, etc. etc.")

Second, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists give up booze, smokes, coffee, sugar and whatever else makes people more unhealthy and more depressed.

Third, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists fast from the internet before and after work hours. Yes, we are all addicts. Of course, we are addicts. Find something that isn't food that is just as interesting as the internet. Last night I decided it was sleep.

Fourth, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists make sure we balance our gloomy prayers with happy prayers. Thank God for the sunshine and the rain and the kids in the family and how good you feel having taken up 45 minutes of exercise for the day.

Fifth, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists return to fun activities they put aside when they took to their current job or blogging. For me, that would be actually blogging. I like blogging and giving advice and thinking about other people's romances. It's a lot more fun than writing about the latest homosexual bishop to be found covering up his favourite's homosexual sex abuse.

Sixth, I would recommend that all Catholic bloggers and journalists read and write about all the filth only when we have to--and we DO have to, since we are the fumigators of the Church, and nobody else will do the stinky job--and the rest of the time read and write about lovely things.

Seventh, set a timer and get up every 20 minutes to move around although NOT TO SNACK.

This last point is for me, since I find myself in the kitchen several times a day, usually while reading something particularly horrible I'm going to have to write about even though Christine Niles already did a fine job and I have nothing new to add.

Well, I hope this is helpful to someone. I am now now going to check my work email to see what new horrors have been unleashed on the Church and the world.

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Magaluf versus Milan

The one periodical that slips weekly through our letterbox is The Spectator, and so I was distressed this morning to read that James Delingpole, a personal hero, is allowing his daughter to go to a place known colloquially as "Shagaluf." The expensively-educated girl is 18, and so I am tempted into every parent's very favourite thing: the childless person's opinion of it all.

First, though, I should say that my distress is not untinged by envy because when I was 16 or 17, I very badly wanted to go to Italy to do an intensive course in Italian. My mother said no, and although this may have been partly because there was no money for this (which didn't really occur to me), I know it was because she had antiquated notions of what Italian men were like. 

Having recently read the reminiscences of a British woman her age about travelling to Italy with girls from her school in the 1960, I am more sympathetic now to her fears. Also, one of the first things that happened when I finally travelled alone to Florence at age 28 was that a complete stranger tried to pick me up using quite astonishingly bold lies. Finally, if I had had the gumption necessary for international social survival, I would have defied my mother, made all the arrangements, obtained a cheque book, paid for the term myself from my very hard-won earnings (if I had them), and then presented the permission slip after saying it was all paid for, so she had better sign. 

I did not have that kind of gumption, though. In fact, I may still have been too shy to call strangers on the phone--the reason why I never learned to drive, by the way, and now it is too late.

So now it occurs to me that Delingpole might know his daughter well enough to be certain she will come through a holiday in Shagaluf without harm. Still, I am of the opinion that an 18 year old girl should go nowhere near Majorca, and I am currently looking up excellent post-graduation Gap Year activities for former pupils to do in Rome. If they go, I will coach them very firmly about what to say to men in Italy who approach them with smiles, lies, and unwanted roses.

Monday 15 July 2019

Herring and Mead

The sun shone on Wrocław when I first arrived. I had had an uneventful journey, spent mostly in looking up words in my Polish dictionary. Amusingly, the excellent highway in East Germany abruptly went bumpy at the border, but after some kilometres inside Poland, it improved. Then it worsened. Then it improved. I could see the village of Legnickie Pole from the highway, which was a thrill, and the twin towers of St. Hedwig Church were very impressive.

Polish Pretend Son and Daughter-in-Law turned up in the Wroclawia mall's ground floor Etno Cafe to fetch me, and we had a good Polish conversation while we drank coffee, and then we went to the historic centre to walk around the beautiful, multi-coloured Rynek (Market), stopping for drinks and snacks before settling on a Georgian restaurant for lunch. My favourite drink-and-snack place in Wrocław is "Przedwojenna", which literally means "Pre-war" but practically means "Between 1919 and World War II."  Eugeniusz Bodo (1899-1943) was singing "Już Taki Jestem Zimny Drań" over the speakers, and Józef Piłsudskiej (1867-1935) glowered down from a wall. I had a beer and delicious herring fillets on bread. 

Berlin struck me as a little sad, although this may actually say more about me than Berlin. On the other hand, there are dozens of monuments commemorating very sad events in Berlin, so maybe not. Berlin 2019 is the kind of place where people strive to be anti-racist and super-welcoming and yet continue to use picturesque images of Africans and North American Indians to sell things--and stare daggers at foreigners who applaud at the end of a suite. 

In contrast, Wrocław struck me as cheerful, unpretentious, and unabashedly Catholic, in part because a public rosary was being held in front of a statue of St. John Paul II when PPS, PPDIL and I ducked, shamefully late, into the "Church of Most Blessed Virgin Mary on the Sand" for the Traditional Latin Mass. It wasn't our fault we were late: service was slow at the Georgian restaurant. Mass was said by this priest; he looked in good shape, I am happy to say.

PPS's first choices of restaurant were shut, by the way: Sunday closing is a big deal in Poland now. It's not just stores and other businesses; some Wroclawians decide to close their restaurants. This may be for the owners' summer holidays, of course.  

When Mass had ended, we discovered that rain was bucketing down. We hurried to the car, and then drove to PPS's home village, which was not too far away. Mr and Mrs PPS live in a little house,with a loo and an office on the ground floor and a bedroom and a massive salon on the first (i.e. top) floor, which resembles a luxurious attic. 

PPS, who always professed to hate hipsters, put a Glenn Miller record on the turntable and made some splendid coffee after grinding the beans himself. Glenn Miller was followed by Mieczysław Fogg (1901-1990) and then, the rain having paused, we went outside to the large garden to pick red currents, black currants and truly exquisite black cherries. When the rain began again we went back inside. 

PPS drank champagne and I drank mead at a round table in the middle of the big room, and Mrs PPS drank neither as she is having a baby in December. I admired a photo of PPS and PPDIL at the local races and risked the eternal wrath of PPS by bragging about the supremacy of British hats for women and encouraging PPDIL to look up Philip Treacy. As a matter of fact, though, PPDIL already has a splendid British-level pink hat.  

PPS put on Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, which the young couple saw in Wrocław not too long ago. PPS read, and told PPDIL, that in that modern production R and J would survive, but he had been misinformed, and PPDIL cried buckets when they died. (In contrast, I sighed with relief when R and J   perished in a super-hip Kraków production of the Shakespeare play because it seemed to go on forever and the declension of Romeo--especially the genitive, Romea--was dancing on my nerves in hobnailed boots.) 

PPS and PPDIL are particularly fond of the scene in the ballet where Lady Capulet dances her rage and grief at the death of Tybalt, so we heard it two or three times, and then PPDIL went to sleep and PPS and I went for a walk around the dark, damp village. We saw the greatest hits: the railway station, the pizza parlour where PPS had his bachelor party, the one bar, the parish church, the TB sanatorium, the fantastic restaurant with the glorious duck pierogi, and the building PPS lived in as a child. I also admired the various examples of native architecture, which includes high, steeply sloping rooves, jutting gables and quaint balconies. The streets are lined with trees, and if there is any bomb damage in the last war, it was certainly not obvious to me.   

So that was my day in Lower Silesia, which the Poles call Dolny Śląsk, and today I have been carted off to an even smaller village in the countryside to write while PPS carries out some family business. My vacation is over, and I am back at work today. Fortunately it is the kind of work that can be done anywhere where there is an internet connection although I am somewhat hampered by the lack of a phone.  

Alas, my strict linguistic fast from English only lasted a few hours. However, I don't think I did too badly, and we all go back to Polish from time to time. 

Sunday 14 July 2019

Breslau? Wrocław!

I am in Wrocław, having just alighted from the bus. It left Berlin at 8:05 AM, which is why there have been no updates.

There is not too much to say about yesterday as I had a massive headache and, after a late brunch at KaDeWe, which is really an astonishing department store and much nicer than Harrod's, went back to the flat.

B.A. and I went to the 6 PM Vigil Mass, and it was fine. Excellent organ, so-so organist, 40 people including priest, altar girl and female EMHC. The priest spoke good clear German, which we couldn't understand well, but we were edified all the same. One family, which appeared to be a set of grandparents, a dad and a boy. That was it for children in this genteel Berlin neighbourhood church.

We spent the evening babysitting (so to speak) Peanut and Popcorn, which included eating pizza and salad while watching and singing along to "Help".

Now B.A. is on his flight back to Edinburgh, and I am waiting in Etno Cafe (the ground floor one) in the Wroclawia mall, having spent a pleasant 3.5 hour bus ride trying not to think in English. And that is it for my English now, for I am going to attempt exclusive Polish for the next 26 hours.

Saturday 13 July 2019

Croissants and a Friendly Grave

Yesterday Benedict Ambrose and I decided to take it easier. We went back to Kreuzberg for coffee and croissants at Chapter One, and then we walked through the market hall to Bergmannstrasse to look for the Dreifaltigheitsfriedhof (cemetery). It was marked on the map only as a green space, but we found it easily--in fact, it was just down the street from Felix Austria, where we all ate on Monday night.

The Dreifaltigheitsfriedhof is a delightful and typical Central European cemetery with lots of trees and impressive monuments--statues and Grecian temples, for example. Some of the gravestones had the profile of the deceased cast in bronze. Thanks to this feature, we easily found the grave we were looking for--that of Woldemar Bargiel, a composer and great-great-uncle of a good friend. Bargiel's grave is in the middle of the Friedhof under an oak tree and to the left of a great domed monument with a mosaic ceiling. A new pine bench right beside it doesn't add anything, but there is a proper dark bench at a distance, which serves for contemplation of Bargiel's profile.

We were very pleased that we had found Bargiel, for whom we prayed, and then we went back onto Bergmannstrasse for a relaxed ramble, being careful not to be hit by the bicycles flying down their special lane on the pavement. Bicycles are king in Berlin.

We got on the U-Bahn at Mehringdamm and went to Friedrichstrasse and Dussmann Das KulturKaufhous, a  splendid multi-story bookshop, to buy presents for Peanut and Popcorn. Peanut got a kids' English-language comic book of the Odyssey  and Popcorn got a Semikolon notebook as a journal. (I love, love, love Semikolon stuff, which I can't find anywhere now except Amazon and Germany.)

I was mildly offended that Dussmann's English and International section did not have any Polish books. They had French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Turkish, Arabic, and Chinese books, but nothing in Polish. To put this in perspective, there are over 100,000 Poles living in Berlin. However, I see that there is Buch Bund to fill the book gap.

We went back to Alt Tempelhof and bought some groceries. Back at the flat, we had a rest from all that shopping and then researched local Saturday Vigil masses. Tomorrow morning I leave for Wrocław and B.A. returns to Scotland for an academic conference. We found a local church with a vigil mass a 15 minute walk away and walked to it. It seems to have been built in the 1880s and was completely whitewashed at some point. It has really super Gothic altarpieces and statues, which B.A. thinks are excellent 19th century copies. There was also an elderly lady sitting in a pew reading  the newspaper: presumably she was keeping an eye on the place. When we went in there was a large man  in casual clothing and sporting a big beard smoking outside the parish house. We greeted him with "Guten Abend" and assumed he was the priest.

Back at the flat, we saved concert tickets onto a data stick and took Nulli with us to a print shop on Georgenstrasse and then the Berliner Dom to hear the concert. Berliner Dom had the biggest pipe organ in the world when it was first installed, and the concert featured Felix Hell playing it.  He played pieces by Reger, Von Rheinberger, and Healey Willan.

After the first piece by Reger, B.A. came a cropper by pulling his usual claque stunt. In Edinburgh, you can assume that a cathedral concert is filled with musical know-nothings (like me) who don't know when to applaud. B.A., therefore, cocks his head, raises his hands, and then hits them together to produce the sound of a gunshot. Sadly, it did not occur to me to warn him that Berlin is probably not like this and that even a cathedral concert in Germany is likely to be stuffed with Hochschule music teachers, not bored tourists. Anyway, after the first piece, B.A. made his gunshot noise, and there was a polite patter of applause, but not before a woman in a brown wig turned around, attempted to kill B.A. with her eyes and hissed something in German which none, and yet all, of us understood.

"We applaud each piece in Britain," B.A. loudly whispered to me, and later gave me the green light to blog that he said that. It cannot be too widely known (e.g. in Berlin) that we applaud each piece in Britain. But not in Germany, peoples.

After that there was no more applause for Felix Hell until the last note of Healey Willan died away.  Benedict Ambrose and Nulli enjoyed the concert in their knowledgable way--Nulli rather more knowledgeable than B.A. as he is an organist himself--and I put up with it and looked at the golden ornaments around and the statues of the Major Protestant Reformers and wondered if the Vatican was really as corrupt in Calvin's day as it appears to be in ours, etc. Your humble correspondent can appreciate "The World of the Organ" recorded by Simon Preston, but that's about it.

Afterwards B.A. and Nulli said things like "He made me like that "Adagio" until the last note" and "He really swooped into the Willan at the end." We made our way back over the Frederich Bruecke (bridge), on which a bearded man was still creating large flocks of bubbles with a long stick and children were still dancing among them.  Nulli then hurried home to his family, and B.A. and I attempted to eat sushi, but no waiter came to take our order so we went to a late-night grocery shop back on Bergmannstrasse, and went home to eat pasta and "grave lachs", which most readers will know better as grave lox.

I had dreams about Pope Benedict and then about spies.

Friday 12 July 2019

Coffee and the Kaiser's Bathtub

Benedict Ambrose is still asleep, and no wonder. We had a very tiring day.

Yesterday was lovely, warm and sunny. We parted company with our family and struck out for Kreuzberg on our own. Our goal was "Chapter One," the hipster cafe recommended by Polish Pretend Son. We found it without difficulty on one of the more leafy and genteel streets. The cafe didn't have tables, but it did have a few stools scattered around the edges of the dark-and-light grey room. Most customers sat outside under a tree in front of the shop, clearly enjoying the late morning sun. We sat inside looking out at them through the nine-light window, the fake-marble windowsill serving as our table.

A stuffed falcon or hawk perched on a branch over the door, as if to take flight. Three interesting siphons sat on the counter over portable burners: they looked very steampunk.  There were also baskets of delicious-looking pastries. The lemon-vanilla croissant was so delicious, B.A. had two. Our coffees were excellent also.

There was no loo, so we were directed to the nearby Marheinekehalle (a market hall), which wanted 50 Euro cents. I mention this because the traveller needs to know that Berlin is one of those places that constantly shakes you down for loo money. All Poland does, which is why my change purse is currently stuffed with groszy.

Next we popped into the Passionkirche, which is Lutheran, but B.A. is always interested in churches.    A food bank was being set up, and people who looked surprisingly well-dressed were queuing up to get their groceries. We beat a hasty retreat.

We then went straight to Potsdam, albeit in an untutored way: we transferred at Wannsee, buying another ticket because our weekly tickets don't cover Area C, where both Potsdam and the airport live. It would have been a nice day to sit by the lake at Wannsee, but we were determined to see the Neues Palais and then return in time to take a cruise along the Spree with our families.

To get to the Neues Palais without delay, you need to get off at the Park Sans-Souci stop or station. However, we were hungry, so we alighted at Potsdam Hauptbahnhof and made our way towards the pedestrian street with many restaurants. Along the way we visited an important Lutheran Church, which B.A. liked a lot, and also the Church of St. Peter and Paul, which was literally the first Catholic Church we had been inside since we got to Germany. Its wreckovations (or, given historical events, restorations) had preserved a high altar but naturally it had a Novus Ordo altar, too.

Brandenburger Strasse stretched between the Catholic church and the Brandenburger Gate, and we walked along it, looking at the shops and restaurants. At this point we were so hungry, currywurst and bratwurst with chips sounded like a good idea, so we got some from Curry Wolf which, although a chain, is at least a German chain. I enjoyed the currywurst but the chips sat on my stomach like a fleet of torpedoed U-Boats. It is sad to come on holiday and eat bad unhealthy food I never eat at home, but without advance planning, that's what happens. By the way, you can get a bottle of Dom Perignon and four currywurst at Curry Wolf for 225€ although I cannot imagine why you would want to.

We went through the Brandenburger Tor (Gate) in the direction of the Park Sans Souci, and passed another fancy Lutheran Church, which turned out to be in the Park itself. We found the gate to the Park and were charmed to see, two kilometres away, the Neues Palais straight ahead.  If I had been Frederick the Great, I too would have put my grandest palace at the end of a 2 Km drive, the better to impress people. On both sides of the drive were gardens and forests and it was all very lovely and I reapplied sunscreen.

We had been advised to skip the Sans Souci party palace for the Neues Palais to truly appreciate that grandeur that was Royal Prussia, so we gave the Sans Souci building a look in passing and toddled ever onward to the Neues Palais. When we got there, B.A. was professionally delighted by the architecture and I was aghast as it was already 2:20 PM and we were supposed to meet our family back in Berlin at 4:30 PM. (By the way, one whole Euro for the loo in the ticket building for the Neue Palais.) I sent a sad little text saying we couldn't do it.

Onward, into the Neues Palais with its views and massive shell-covered room (very unusual) and its... actually, I cannot remember anything  except the shell-covered room, the turn-of-the-century elevator, and, upstairs, the Kaiser's little bathroom with blue tiles B.A. said were Delft and then the massive marble hall. Oh, I remember the Kaiser's bedroom furniture, and the audioguide mentioning that the Soviets had looted the joint and still had over 3,000 pieces belonging to the Prussian Palaces and Gardens association.

There was a lot of Rococo ornamentation (there, it's coming back).

"I understand Rococo so much better now," cried B.A. when we left.

He was absolutely delighted and charmed with the Neues Palais and thought it both worth seeing and worth going to see, unlike Samuel Johnson re: Fingal's Cave, a story B.A. is wont to retell.

"What did you like best in Potsdam?" he later asked me.

"I liked the Kaiser's bathtub," I said and this is true because, really, Prussian palaces are wasted on me, and my idea of a nice place to visit is the Hotel Adlon when it is cold and rainy and I want some hot chocolate. Although I do not think I will ever like Kaiser Wilhelm II, I do like that he put then-modern plumbing in his Potsdam Palace.

In fact, I would very much have liked to lived in the late Victorian and the Edwardian periods (as a middle-class to upper-middle-class person, naturally) and died the day war was declared. I should have (hopefully) gone to my Eternal Reward confident that the war would be over by Christmas, by which time we would have sent Jerry homeward to think again.

As a matter of fact, we didn't miss the 5:15 PM Spree cruise after all. We got off at the Maerkisches Museum U-Bahn and ran to the boat. There our family was waiting, and as I sat on top of the boat drinking a much-needed cup of coffee, I discovered that this is the kind of sightseeing I liked best. All  Berlin seemed to pass by--the Berliner Dom and the other monumental buildings on the Museum Island, the Reichstag--which we reminded ourselves we are supposed to call the Bundestag, the various new buildings, sprawling parks.... It was very lovely.

The cruise ended after the Moabiter Bruecke, a bridge with amusing contemporary figures of bears. We crossed the bridge to reach "Fischerdorf", a small children's playground beside the Spree. After watching my relations gambol in the gravel, I went for a walk and discovered, just above, the Strasse der Erinnerung (Street of Memory), which was two rows of busts of famous modern Germans known for their defence of human rights and dignity. However, I found that out later. At first all I knew was that for some reason St. Edith Stein's bust had been placed between those of Albert Einstein and Helmut Kohl, across from Thomas Mann. As a great devotee of St. Teresa Benedetta a Cruce, I was delighted. The only other woman featured along this avenue was Kaethe Kollwitz,  an artist whom the guide books say Berliners revere.

From there we walked to the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and saw the memorial, also, to the victims of the 2016 Berlin truck attack. That was rather sad, and I was aggrieved that the terrorist had picked a site dedicated to world peace--that I hadn't known before. (Before I was just furious that it had happened at all although somewhat comforted by reports that victim Łukasz Urban had fought back.)

Then we were very near the KaDeWe department store, and Nulli ran off to by Birkenstocks and MBS went with the children to the Lego outlet Peanut seemed prepared to throw himself in the street to get to, and B.A. and I stood outside KaDeWe, which was closing, thinking only about our stomachs. These were finally filled at an Italian restaurant somewhere around Sevignyplatz because the German pub NS and MBS remembered wouldn't let the children in.

Tonight we are going to an organ concert in the Berliner Dom, and soon we will look for good coffee and pastries, but we have no plans yet other than those.

Update: Apologies for all and any "creative" spellings.

Thursday 11 July 2019

The Kaiser's Bathtub

We went to Potsdam. Elaborations tomorrow.


The state rooms in the old wing of  Schloss Charlottenburg reminded us of the Historical House, an assertion that may fill the minds of those who know both with doubt. Naturally the Historical House is a lot smaller and both its  front courtyard and its grounds are not as extensive. Nevertheless, the small-to-modern-eyes rooms and the Chinese porcelain collection felt familiar, and we pondered the difficulties of "collection care", which at the Historical House includes brushing things very, very softly with a plethora of museum-grade brushes.

The eye-openers were upstairs. They included the crowd jewels and swords and, especially,  the tableware of the 19th and early 20th century Hohenzollerns. It was a little bit creepy to be looking at the Kaiser's china plates and silverware. On the one hand, it made me think of my great-grandfather,  the mud of Flanders, millions of deaths, the end of Christendom, etc. On the other hand, I felt like part of a never-ending army of enemies gawking at a refugee family's stolen things.  They are glorious, beautiful things, but they carry a lot of baggage.

We bought tickets to see everything, but B.A. was hungry for lunch, and we had scheduled only 3 hours or so, so we ourselves didn't see the New Wing.

But now I must go as we are going to a hipster cafe in Kreuzberg recommended by Polish Pretend Son. Then we are going to Potsdam. Today is sunny, and tomorrow there will be rain, so today is the day to see Potsdam.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Charlottenburg & Prendzlauer Berg

I've very tired so this is just a very short note to say Charlottenburg in the early afternoon to see the Palace and then Prendzlauer Berg in the late afternoon to drop off the young fry in a children-only play area on Kollwitzstrasse, where the adults strolled down the street for coffee and cheesecake. Then there was a walk to Oderbergerstrasse for (ultimately) hamburgers although Popcorn and I wandered off to the somewhat undeveloped, still very No-Man's-Land-looking Mauerpark before the food arrived. Finally we all walked along Bernauer Strasse to see where the Berlin Wall was and to read the memorials, and the children found this very dull.

Not Just Another Brick in the Wall

Tuesday was Nulli and Family's first proper day in Berlin, so there was lots of sightseeing in the afternoon. (For various reasons, they didn't stir from the house in the morning. Benedict Ambrose and  I, however, made a visit to the "Cafe/Backerei Kirsch und Karamell" for coffee and buns.)

The first port of call was a ballet clothing store in Kreuzberg (Gneisenau Strasse), where I bought my niece a belated birthday present: her choice. Her choices of pointe shoes and a doll being rejected, she chose a fuchsia wrap-around cardigan and pink leg warmers. Compared to Edinburgh, prices were quite good. 

My brother and nephew gave the ballet shop a miss and went instead to the comic book store next door, where the shopkeeper shouted at poor Peanut for sitting on the floor with a comic. Exeunt menfolk. Beside this shop there was a bakery, and it was a friendlier place, so we all had a light lunch. (B.A. and I were very hungry indeed.) 

We then took a bus through eastern Kreuzberg to Ostbahnhof and looked out the windows at all the interesting Turkish and Vietnamese bars, cafes, and restaurants. There were many ladies in colourful headscarves, and the exciting businesses were a vast improvement on the often very ugly apartment and office buildings. Old or new, plain or Baroque, these edifices were built along large lines. 

At Ostbahnhof our party divided in two. Nulli took the children to the computer game museum on Karl-Marx-Allee and Ma Belle Soeur took B.A. and me to the "East Side Gallery" which is the official name for a stretch of the Berlin Wall preserved in situ and covered on the east side with paintings by international artists and on the west side by a lot of graffiti. Sadly, the graffiti is all from the past 10 years or so, the old graffiti being presumably under thick coats of cream paint.
My favourite Berlin Wall graffito.

Several foreign tourists like ourselves were taking photos of themselves in front of the Wall, and one limber young bearded man was filmed doing an interpretive dance. There are many new buildings on the east side of this part of the Wall; on the west side there is a park and the Spree river. 

Instead of going to the Mauer (Wall) Museum (expensive), we then walked up the Strasse der Parisser Kommune to Karl-Marx-Allee and sat at a table outside the Computerspielemuseum waiting for the others. Ma Belle Soeur told us about post-war life in her (Iron Curtain) birth country, and I fell asleep. (I was up very early.) 

The children loved the Computerspielemuseum, so that was a great success, and then we went to Alexanderplatz, which wasn't a great success with me. The walk from the East Side Gallery to Karl-Marx-Allee still retained an intriguing if dour socialist look whereas Alexanderplatz screamed praise to the tyranny of the multinationals. The iconic East Berlin TV tower now has a Starbucks chewing at  its roots. A nearby sign advertises Disney's new version of "The Lion King". The air is scented with products from Lush. Naturally there is a McDonald's nearby, and there is an enormous Vapiano restaurant in the same building as Shoe City.
Victory of multinational chains.

We went, as I mentioned, to the Vapiano, where we stood in queues to various stations and then watched the short-order cooks make our suppers. Desperate for caffeine, I had my first bottle of Coke (albeit Diet) in decades. I took it along with me when the fire alarm went off and a recorded polite female German voice began to say "Achtung! Achtung!" 

Vapiano calculates the bill with electronic cards you place on the counters of the cooking stations, and you hand them in on the way out. My hunch is that someone pulled the alarm to avoid having to pay for their meal, and I am sure the Alexanderplatz Vapiano lost a lot of money yesterday-- although not from us as my brother went back indoors to pay even while the recorded polite German voice was now saying in English "Attention! Attention! Please leave the building. Do not use the loo." 

"For you English, the war is over," said B.A., thrilled by the unexpected repetitions of "Achtung!", and I felt rather more cheerful about Alexanderplatz.  I felt even more cheerful when we walked to the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicolas's Church), which was itself shut, but was in a bright little neighbourhood of German shops and rescued statues, e.g. St. George about to kill the dragon mauling his furious horse. 

Probable victory of anarchy over multinational chain.
That was nice. And then we walked along to Spree to investigate the tour boat schedule, and although  we had missed the last for the day, it was very nice to sit by it and admire the East Berlin skyline. 

Our next port of call was Potsdamer Place, where the Canadian Embassy is rather comic in its ugliness, and where I bounced along the brick path showing where the Wall was. Potsdamer Place is cheerfully hideous, but undoubtedly nicer than it was in 1989, and we walked through it to a signboard explanation of the Wall, where MBS explained Soviet-style communism to her children. She stressed that everyone was supposed to be faceless and the same as everybody else, which was a pretty good description of Alexanderplatz but I obsess. 

We had dessert in an "Australian" restaurant in the Sony Centre across from the Museum of Film and Television, which (sadly) shut at 6 PM but did have an interesting bookshop still open.

Next we walked through the Tiergarten, which has lovely marble monuments to Goethe et alia, towards the Brandenberg Gate and came upon the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe. This is, famously, a collection of concrete slabs of different height all set in a grid. The children were intrigued, and B.A. and I told them about the Holocaust and I ordered them not to run through, shout among, or climb on the slabs, as they might sadden visiting relations of the dead. When a cheerful young couple climbed on a slab and took widely grinning selfies, subverting my narrative, I informed my own relations that the grinners' mothers would be ashamed. 

"Do you think they are anti-Semites?" I asked B.A.

"I think they don't know what it is," said B.A., the soul of charity. 

We reached the Brandenberg Gate, and the other adults chatted with an American woman who hadn't seen it in person since 1961 and needed to talk about it. The sky was darkening, and the Gate certainly looked dramatic against the clouds. 

And that was almost it. We got on the S-Bahn but went the wrong way, so got off at Friedrichstrasse and began to look for the U-Bahn. We found ourselves in a small grassy area with food stalls, a rainbow sign reading "WC ->" and a bearded torch-juggler in a leotard and tutu who referred to himself as Marilina Ballerina, if I have that correctly. After of few minutes of admiring the skills of Marilina Ballerina, we got on the U-Bahn and went back to Alt-Tempelhof.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, "Mrs McL doesn't like socialism, but she doesn't like multinational chain stores either. Does she like anything?" And I say, Yes! I like particularity, which is a grad school word for unique stuff that appears and grows or develops in one place and not necessarily another.  The Berlin Wall is particular. The comic book shop where Peanut got reprimanded is, despite all the Tintin stuff, particular. Marilina Ballerina is particular. The bullet holes in the walls of the Pergamon museum are pretty darn particular.  

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Achtung in Alexanderplatz

A long day made rather exciting by a fire alarm in the "Vapiano" chain restaurant in Alexanderplatz. The recorded voice said, "Achtung! Achtung!" which B.A. found very thrilling, as he didn't know Germans say that outside of war movies. Everyone, including the chefs, had to go outside. Fire trucks appeared.

More tomorrow. I am dead tired. I found the horrible multinational chain stores and restaurants all around Alexanderplatz terribly depressing, but the Commies wanted everything international, so I suppose it serves Alexanderplatz right. And when I say multinational, I'm talking not only Disney and  Starbucks, I'm talking Decathlon and Lush. Photos tomorrow.

Really, it is the weirdest thing emerging from the Alexanderplatz U-Bahn, sniffing the air, and knowing at once that a Lush is nearby. Same smell outside the Lush in Toronto. Same smell outside the Lush in Edinburgh. Same smell outside the Lush in Berlin.

I liked Potsdamer Platz better, and enjoyed bouncing back and forth over the strip of bricks marking where the Berlin Wall once divided it in half.

Update: I've had a message from someone saying "Well, at least it's not like this."

Children in Kreuzberg

Peanut, 11, and his sister Popcorn, 9, turned up at the door yesterday evening with their parents, having flown from Paris. I put out a bowl of what Peanut called "peanut-butter Cheetos" and some flatbread and hummus left over from our Turkish halal take-out chicken feast. 

This was just enough to keep body and soul together, and within a couple of hours we were all on our way to Bergmannstrasse in Kreuzberg because it is lined with restaurants. It also has a sandy play park, where P&P were sent by their parents after we sat at some tables outside Felix Austria, just within sight. Thanks to my job and all the reading about Kreuzberg I did 10 years ago, I was in agonies over the kids' safety (Kreuzberg!), but they were fine. 

We ate schnitzel and sausages, potato salad and cucumber salad, and drank much white Austrian wine. The children played a game where they attempted to whack my brother on his bald spot, which is not a game I, personally, would play with someone who has a brown belt in karate. My sister-in-law asked us what we would like to do in Berlin, as they have already been to Berlin, and I refrained from saying what I would really like to do, which is to go to Poland and eat kotlet schabowy there instead. 

Then we went to an all-night grocery store where Nulli and Ma Belle Soeur loaded up on breakfast foods, and I examined some very weird and unhealthy spreads. One appeared to be made of crushed caramel biscuits. Others purported to be made out of chocolate bars. This was a whole new level of Nutella, I must say. 

Finally we found the Mehringdamm U-Bahn station and travelled back to Alt-Tempelhof. The children sang a rousing patter song about bananas as we walked down the darkened street, which possibly made a nice change from whatever adults sing when they come back from a night out in Kreuzberg.

Our plans are not firm although Nulli has mentioned wanting to drive all the way to the Baltic Sea to see castles and the adults are agreed that we want to go to Potsdam. Sadly both our ancestral town and the town our Canadian grandfather was put in charge of in 1945 are a long way west. 

We may pop over the border to Poland, or we may not. Ma Belle Soeur and therefore the children are actually partly Polish, thanks to the wounded soldier who turned up at their Eastern European ancestress' farmhouse door in 1940 or thereabouts. Well, I suppose I should now have a look at what joys Swinoujscie has to offer, as it is the Polish Baltic town closest to the border. 

Monday 8 July 2019

Eating in Berlin

More Monday news

I am pleased to report that Benedict Ambrose has had a bratwurst mit pommes und sauerkraut although he left most of his sauerkraut on the plate because--sauer.

Meanwhile I am toying with founding a small scholarship for deserving Edinburgh Uni Classics students to go to Berlin for three days to tour the Museum Insel in Berlin because, like money and travel, it is wasted on the old. B.A. and I queued up for 45 minutes outside the Pergamon before we were allowed indoors where, while waiting in another queue, we realised we were too hungry and tired to see the Gates of Miletus, etc., etc., and went to the cafe in the Zeughaus (German History Museum) instead.

I had a "Veggie Bowl" so as to have room for a big supper, but then we came back to the beautiful flat in Tempelhof where I ate a bowl and a half of Erdnuss flips. It's so sad that of all the things that have stuck with me for the 13 years since my summer in Frankfurt, it's my fondness for cheezies made not with cheese but with peanut-butter. Yes.

What else? We began the day with Milchkaffee and pastries (a croissant for me, some apple pastry for B.A.) at a local bakery and openly read our tour guides. Then we went to the U-Bahn and bought 2 7-day-tickets at 30€ each, which is undoubtedly a good deal. Next we went to the Friedrichstrasse U-Bahn, supposedly to start our touring with Unter Den Linden, but really so B.A. could go pray at St. Hedwig's, which is right near where all the Jewish books got burnt by the university students from across Unter Den Linden.

St. Hedwig's was, however, closed for a new wreckovation, so we walked to the Brandenburg Gates, stopping on the way at the Hotel Adlon because I was freezing. We have friends who go every July and come back mahogany brown, so I am very disappointed--although not with the Adlon. I saw the bar where my character Catriona caroused with other journalists, so that was great, as was the hot chocolate with whipped cream.

I also liked the Russian Embassy, by the way. There were Russians outside trying to get in, which was moderately entertaining. Meanwhile the Russian Embassy looks fantastic compared to the British (which looks like a po-mo library), the French (which looks like a post office), and the American (which looks intensely dull).

We went through the Brandenburg Gate, thinking our Children of the 1980s thoughts, and then we went back through to former East Germany (we think) to find Museum Island.

There is a "Silent Room" right inside the Brandenburg Gate, which sounded interesting, and so we went in and found ourselves chatting with a doorkeeper, a German lady who loves Scotland and was mildly disappointed we weren't from Bridge of Allan. Then we found ourselves in the actual Silent Room, which is a chapel for all religions and none to sit in silence and pray for peace in the world. It has a lovely wall-hanging in wool.

Then we went to Museum Island, stopping in the Zeughaus, which was once the armoury, to look at its foyer and covered courtyard for free. After a great delay taken up in wandering about the renovation works, we found the queue for the Pergamon.

Meanwhile it was cold and occasionally it rained. I sneezed and B.A. sang to himself. After our late lunch, I thought about Polish words and how amused my tutor was when she discovered I thought "Niemiec" was Polish for "enemy" because it actually just means "German."  It took me a long time before I remembered it was "wróg", which I said aloud very suddenly as we waited for the bill.

It isn't Poland. It isn't Rome. However, it is itself and my brother and his family will be here in less than an hour.

We are in Berlin

Benedict Ambrose and I have managed to get from the airport to this leafy neighbourhood in south-west Berlin and, even more impressive, obtain the keys from the non-English-speaking neighbour of this apartment. Next time we're going to Spain, and B.A. is doing all the talking.

The apartment is, so far, the best part of Berlin. We watch travel videos about the city and marvel at the almost unrelieved ugliness. The "almost" are the stretches of green grass and the occasional building that was repaired or rebuilt after the Allies dropped bombs near or on it. That said, there is what promises to be a beautiful park right near us. 

Last night we also watched an eating video about the city and gleaned from the Turkish Berliner that the food of Berlin is Turkish, Vietnamese and Korean-Arab fusion. We had just demolished halal chicken and chips from a corner shop packed with Turkish-Germans, so we were inclined to believe the Turkish-Berliner youtube host, whose video was sponsored by the German government. 

I didn't completely believe him, however, as a large number of people on our plane-to-terminal shutter bus were speaking Polish, and so I suspect there must be a Polish-Turkish-Arab fusion pierogi joint somewhere. 

"Pork knuckle?" says B.A. wistfully. "Pork knuckle?" 

Anyway, the first thing we were warned by our youtube travel videos was that Berlin is short on things tourists think are "German", and for those one goes to Bavaria.  Berlin is, however, the techno capital of the world, and if I were 10 years younger,  I would be pondering how to convince B.A. to come with me for a 36 hour dance club binge. 

Meanwhile, the number one reason we are here is Nulli Secondus, Ma Belle Soeur, Peanut and Popcorn, which is to say, my older brother (of the two, I am the oldest of all) and his family. They have swapped their sprawling bungalow in the Quebec countryside with this lovely apartment deluxe in Tempelhof for two weeks, and I can't wait to see them. (They broke their journey in Paris, as they do.)

In the meantime, it is just possible that there are graduates of German pastry schools in the neighbourhood, so we will be going out shortly to find them and taste their wares alongside some Milchkaffee.  

Tuesday 2 July 2019

Why I Stopped Watching Football

Last week the married folk of Britain were temporarily distracted from their problems by the news that a married woman had been arrested and kept in the cells for nagging her husband.

The Daily Mail did not inform its extensive readership whether or not the woman was forced into the Scold's Bridle, but it did tell us that the husband was a keen bodybuilder and a former prison guard who had a job at a gym and was, thanks to the nagging, suicidally depressed. It also said that his wife harangued him to spend less time working out, to help out more around the house, and to stop shopping at Aldi and Lidl.

This last point suggests she was a snob as well as a nag because, insanely, where you buy your groceries is a so-called Class Indicator here in the UK. At any rate, the husband told the folks at the Job Centre that he was depressed because of his wife's incessant nagging, and they called the police. It was a second marriage for both, and it unofficially ended when the wife was arrested.

Incidentally, the woman (58) is now seeing a chap 25 years younger than herself, a newly discovered detail that has made me laugh aloud.

However, domestic abuse itself is not funny, and there are definitely non-physical ways of abusing someone, some of which are now illegal in the UK. The "nagging wife" was charged with "controlling behaviour." Well, I was once involved with someone who did his level best to control me, and that was not funny, either.

But this is not about me-as-victim/survivor, but about me as potential abuser because of one of my habits that got out of control. The habit was football, and this is not a story I'm proud of. I used to wonder what kind of person would hit his wife because "his" team lost the Super Bowl, and now I'm pretty sure I know.

In short, I started watching football (which means soccer if you live in North America) in 2006, the summer I was studying German in Frankfurt-am-Main. Germany was hosting the FIFA World Cup, and everyone in the seminary where I was living watched all the German (DFB) games and quite a few of the others. To this day I still think of the German words first when I think about football.  (Surely a Tormann is not called a goalie in Scotland? Keeper? Netminder?)

It was a great way to be introduced to the Beautiful Game.  I watched some matches on giant screens set up in the Main River  for the vast crowds watching on the banks and others in the seminary Fernseherraum. When I got back to Boston I barely passed the departmental German exam; it was a passage about Karl Rahner, who was not a footballer.

I bought a DFB shirt and tried to watch any DFB game that occurred after that, wherever I was, and I was the sort of DFB fan who would walk down to Toronto's Little Portugal, in her DFB shirt, to see how the Portugal fans were taking their defeat at the hands (or, to be precise, feet) of Klose, Schweinie and the gang. (Badly.)

But this all ended on July 7, 2010 when Argentina beat Germany 1-0, knocking them out of the FIFA Weltmeisterschaft. To make a long and confused story short and simple, I realised that my blinding rage at both my husband and my visiting mother for not properly understanding how truly terrible this event was, was even worse. Watching DFB games turned me into a potential monster, and I had to quit. With the exception of one or two Edinburgh Hibernians games and one incident of Dundee vs Wrocław, I quit watching football altogether.

This means, of course, that I missed the emotional pinnacle of the DFB's FIFA 2014 win, which must have been simply amazing. However, alcoholics have to pass up on endless jollifications, so the DFB's new star was a small price to pay for not becoming the kind of person who hits his/her spouse because the spouse knows nothing about football and pretends to care when your team loses.

I asked Benedict Ambrose what he has given up since getting married and he only slightly dolefully pointed out that we no longer have a television. He doesn't really mind, though, as we watch shows over my computer instead. (We certainly watch fewer than we did.)

B.A. is also giving up not-having-a-dog, he pointed out. Originally he really did not want a dog, but by this April I was so utterly frantic about being childless, pet less and having nothing and no-one small to take care of and be loved by, I said we had to have one. Now, thank goodness, he is looking forward to dog ownership, mainly because he likes Border Terriers. (So badly did I want a dog, I left up breed and choice of name to him, which is why we are not getting a Bichon Frise named Bernie.) In the meantime I have Horace, who is a parlour palm.