Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gay Geeks

"God, I'm such a geek." (rolls eyes, posts Instagram near pile of comics, starts knowing online row about Captain America continuity before live-tweeting gym visit)

The Gay Geek has become a cliche. Such a cliche that the phrase gets slapped at random into articles about getting jobs in insurance. It makes it sound as though companies are cool by wanting to recruit "gay geeks", when really it just means that employers have cottoned on to the idea that young, single gay men are likely to spend more time at work.

Is this even true? I mean:

  • Less likely to spend 4 months at work planning wedding? I bet the next decade will see the rise of the Gay Bridezilla. Gayzilla?
  • Less likely to have childcare crises? Well, probably. But one knock-on of equality is going to be fussy gay Dads firing the manny for non-organic lunchboxes or finding a Scooch playlist on their iphone.
  • More reliable? Isn't your single gay more likely to ring in sick due to murderous hangovers/unexpected Bralizians?
I do find the whole "gay geek" thing baffling. Where have all these gays who like rubbish telly come from? Where were you when I was in my 20s? Or did they exist all the time, just waiting for Twitter to turn up and give them a chance to say "#OMGBUFFYMARATHON"?

It's tempting to cry fake about Gay Geeks. After all, a few years ago we had the "Fake Nerd Girl" meme:

It seemed a reasonable meme (what does that even mean?), but it fairly soon got quite rightly hijacked:


It was easy to mock "Fake Nerd Girl". I'm sure there were/are Fake Nerd Girls. But... remember when Doctor Who came back in 2005 and suddenly it wasn't "our little thing" but was watched by "normal" people with waistlines and lifestyles and hair? Well, that, really.
We're suspicious of outsiders. Especially outsiders who seem, well, better at living than us. I wonder if the stereotype of gay geeks and my sneering suspicion of them is slightly to do with their ability to love stupid things AND go to the gym?






Gay film festival bingo card


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

My hardworking flat

When I was young, I wanted a time machine so I could save the universe. Now I want a time machine so I can nip back and buy property.

I went to school with Rich People and a few of them are Facebook friends. One of them is a banker. It was fairly inevitable, given the laws of probability. He's also a Tory. Also inevitable. He's also, if you ever meet him, lovely and rather sweet.  And yet... and yet... he's just talked about "hardworking homeowners" on Facebook. As in "Great to see the economic growth we should be proud of in this country delivering profits to hard working homeowners".

He's talking about London's current property boom. Otherwise known as "you think this flat is worth HOW MUCH???". I find the whole thing nuts.

Obviously, Banker is going to have an opposite viewpoint to me. He's. A. Banker. But it's that he used the "hard working" thing. That laughable mantra that David Cameron uses as an excuse-all. I thought we all knew that was silly. I genuinely thought not even Tory voters were fooled by that. The whole idea that the insanity of London's latest property bang is due to "hardworking homeowners" is horrid. Horrid. Horrid.

I live on a housing estate in Camden. My flat is nearly worth half-a-million (don't burgle it, it's mostly cat hair and lego). The point is, I'm delighted that that's the value, but it's not worth half a million. It's a flat on a social housing estate in Camden. When I had a proper career with a rather nice salary, it was worth a fraction of that, and still all that I could afford.

If you want to buy my flat, you're now going to need to be earning over a 100 grand a year. I try and imagine the kind of person who earns a 100 grand. Then I try and imagine them living in my slightly shabby shoebox full of cat hair. And I laugh.

I think we can roughly agree that someone who earns 100 grand thinks they're pretty hardworking. I think, at the end of a hardworking day, they want to come back to something nicer than my flat. I think there's a difference between the Tory idea of hardworking (Daddy gives you a hand up to get you started to your first mill) and the social housing tenants on this estate. The ones with jobs are hardworking. So hardworking they have at least one job. I see them leaving for it at about 5am when I'm walking the cat.

Those who aren't holding down three jobs to pay their rent, have, in the government's eyes, won the poverty lottery and been given a free flat on housing benefit. Well done them, I say. They get to share their postcode with all us fake demi-millionaires in our plush mansions.

The idea that this property boom is somehow all because the Tories have decided to reward people who work hard is silly. A lot of the people who work do so for the minimum wage. They don't get rewarded. They get ground into the dirt. That's the Tory motto and I refuse to believe they've changed it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

P-p-p-leasing

I've really no idea where my stutter came from, but it turned up during my second year at University. Right from the start it was suspiciously convenient. For a start, it didn't look like a real stutter, but like someone with one IMDB credit to their name hired to play "Man With Stutter" on an episode of Chucklevision. For another thing it had a habit of only turning up when things Didn't Go My Way.

During my second year at University I was an editor on a student newspaper. My co-editors were two achingly cool women who took the all-night shifts and staff complexities in their stride like they thought Lynda Day in Press Gang was a hopeless amateur. I didn't. I liked bumbling along at my own pace. Actually, I really missed editing the drama section. That was actually kind of fun. This was grown-up. And tiring. Always, at about 3am, people would start asking you really difficult questions. Lots of them. And suddenly, when there was just one question too many, out would come my thoroughly convincing stutter.

To make it worse, it was accompanied by a twitch and a Hitler salute. As my friend Rick said "you've basically nailed Dr Strangelove". It was hopelessly, utterly appalling made-up and put on. The first time it was wheeled out, everyone ignored it like a toddler playing up for guests. The second time, my co-editor Jess said "Stop that, it's ridiculous."

Then she saw the look on my face. "Oh my god," she said. "It's real, isn't it?"
I nodded glumly.

I was hopelessly baffled by the stutter. At exactly the same time, curiously, I became allergic to milk in tea. Properly "I think I'll just go and throw this up now" allergic. Basically, I was a bit of a tired mess, and the only way my body had of expressing it was by turning me into a bag of nerves. That leaked tea.

My co-editors were brilliant. I no longer had to work the whole night - I could go home at 1am, get some sleep, and then come back at dawn to finish the paper while everyone else drifted off to bed. It worked really well. And my stutter drifted away.

It came back a few years later. When I had my first proper job at the BBC I had a lovely team and we were pottering around making sites about nice nonsense for pence. The thing about being a manager is that people ask your questions. Fine. But sometimes everyone would ask a question at the same time, all about conflicting things, and then MSNs would pop up from my Lazy Susan of managers... and then back came the stutter. It was my body's way of saying "I can't cope. Just one thing at a time, please". It was sort of effective. It was also deeply embarrassing. I think I'd have been fine if I'd installed one of those Waitrose deli "take a ticket form a queue" machines. Especially when I had 17 managers. Shortly before I went properly bonkers.

Curiously, there was no sign of my stutter at all at Channel 4. Possibly because it was a brilliant place to work. And since then I've been at home, you know, pretty much just pottering around with my cat, and it's been fine.

But recently, I've had a boyfriend. A real proper love-of-my-life-stealer-of-my-crisps boyfriend. Boyfriends ask you a lot of questions. In the early days it's "Would you like another glass of wine, darling?" but as time wears on it's "Have you done x? Have you booked y? Where have you put z? And why the kettle been moved from The Newly Agreed Place?". I'm not, by the way, going out with a nagging fishwife. My boyfriend is terribly understanding. And you'd like to think that, in the two decades since it first turned up, I'd have evolved a better coping strategy.

But no. If my boyfriend asks me one too many questions, even would I like another glass of wine while I'm immersed in something else, out comes the stutter. I can't do anything about it. It's hopeless and absolute - and still utterly over-the-top. Worse, it's started spreading. My lovely parents are now quite doddery and have a tendency to ask lots of confusing questions. Luckily my terribly convenient stutter soon puts a stop to that.

Mostly, I can keep it under control. It's basically a nasty little gremlin that sits inside me and picks on pensioners and boyfriends, which is unpleasant. But it's clearly just my brain's way of saying "Bandwidth's a bit congested, could you come back in a moment?". It's buffering. Like YouTube.

Thing is, every now and then, my gremlin comes in handy in real life. Our local Co-Op is a cruel place, and not for the faint-hearted. I once made the mistake of trying to buy bread bread in there. It went horribly wrong and when the man behind the counter started shouting at me, I think he just assumed I could be belittled like any other customer. But, to the amazement of both of us, my gremlin appeared and was mighty. I'd like to say he was cowed into submission. Instead he went and got a colleague who treated me with the whole "Would it like a sweetie?" treacle.

And then this week, there was the incident of The Gym Receptionist. I turned up, laughing my head off at Cabin Pressure, to be greeted by a stern-faced woman with some forms. "Fill both of these in. And add your membership number and club code" My what? And where?" "Mem-Ber-Ship-Num-Ber, Club Code" she spelled out. There was nowhere on the form for them to go. I kept asking where I should put them, and she just got crosser. I began to get confused. And there was a muttering queue behind me, also trying to fill in the New Forms. The Receptionist got cross. I got more confused. The Receptionist got crosser.

And then the gremlin slipped out from a corner of my brain. "Don't worry," it said. "I'll take care of this." And it gave it to her in an explosive fountain of stuttering and gibbering. I may even have been speaking in tongues.

It was a deeply shameful experience. But also useful. From nowhere, the Receptionist produced a smile. "Why don't I just fill in these forms for you?" she said.

So that's where we are today. Some people have stutters that rule their every utterance. I don't. I just have a petulant little gremlin inside me that's started picking on bad customer service. Oh good grief. My stutter is Mary Portas, isn't it?



Saturday, March 08, 2014

Afjordable



We're standing in a frozen fjord, staring up at the Northern Lights when a woman's voice echoes off the nearby glacier:
"Oh, I'm glad I put on that pair of Janet's socks."

Iceland is all about the tours. Genuinely, since they blew up their banks, it's a massive source of income. And they do it very well. The Icelandic temperament is endlessly polite and patient, so they're very good at putting up with us. They're also excellent farmers, especially brilliant with cattle. And cattle's what we are.

People often refer to tourists as cattle, but in Iceland it's a perfect description. In order to "experience" the "real" "Iceland" you must "do" lots of trips. Coaches come, coaches go, and wheelie luggage trails through the snow. In a tell-talle moment, a tour guide says "The Icelandic horse is very friendly, very trusting, and very flavoursome". The idea of not spending a day on a tour of some sort is almost unthinkable. Why not spend an entire morning on a trip to a hydroponic garden? After all, it's what our hosts want us to do. The Icelandic horse is very friendly, very trusting, and very flavoursome.

Curiously, the Icelandic tomato is not flavoursome. They are the most lovingly grown tomatoes in the world (yes, we did go on the hydroponics trip). We learned that they are grown by a ridiculously beautiful family, kept warm by geothermal springs and doused in computer-controlled hydroelectric light. They are tended by bees and pest-eating insects. These tomatoes are loved. And they taste like... well, tomatoes that have never seen sunshine.

Tourists are as excellently tended as tomatoes. If the tomatoes could complain their grievances would be listened to and dealt with with the same endlessly patient determination that saw some Icelanders seize on the lunatic genius of growing tomatoes in the dark.

Tourists behave awfully in Iceland. It's almost like they know that the country has fallen on hard times and is taking in paying guests to make ends meet. We've come into your home and we're going to criticize the decor.

EXAMPLE 1: The Tourist Information Office
American Mom: "I want a private tour."
Icelander: "This is an excellent coach trip."
American Mom: "Well no. You see I must have a private tour for just me and the boys."
[As she speaks, one of her boys runs around the shop, licking lava. Icelander pushes forward a different coach trip leaflet with a patient smile.]

EXAMPLE 2: The Blue Lagoon Spa
American Lady: "Is there shade?"
Icelander: "This is an open-air spa."
American Lady: "But I must have shade. I cannot be in the sun."
Icelander: "Then of course there is shade."
[It is, I should point out, a cloudy winter's day. It is snowing]

EXAMPLE 3: The Northern Lights
Tour Guide: "Welcome to our Northern Lights trip. As you know, the Northern Lights are not a natural phenomena and we cannot guarantee that you will see them. Also, they rarely look as you would expect in the photographs. So tonight, we may very well see nothing. Finally, they are over 100 kilometers away and your flash works over a distance of 3 metres. So please do turn your flash off. You will simply spoil other people's ability to see."
[The tour bus decants in a dark field. People get off and take lots of photos of the darkness. With the flash on. Then complain that they can't see anything.]

Actually, the Northern Lights was a fascinating experience. Almost like being on a UFO spotting coach tour. Half of us came away convinced we had seen something. Half came away thinking they never existed. For the record, I saw some very slightly green dancing clouds. I got very excited at one point, but it turned out to be a lorry reversing. Considering a blizzard was coming on, it was amazing that we saw anything at all - even a distant lorry's headlamps.

I took a picture on my iPhone. This is a genuine photo:


And yes, I had my flash turned off.

Don't think I didn't have a wonderful time. The best thing about Iceland are its people. Seeing in them the Aryan ideal, Hitler sent a top Nazi to recruit the country, but he gave up in disgust, reporting that they preferred getting drunk, watching Sherlock Holmes and having a bath to conquering the world.

Reykjavik itself is a WEIRD capital city - kind of like a Milton Keynes industrial estate with the world's biggest Christmas Market. It snowed constantly and magically. Endless little cafes were everywhere offering warm, nutty coffee. If you're used to the London experience of cafes, it's worth going to Iceland just for the peace. You will be surrounded by immaculately-behaved toddlers. The children are amazingly brought up. Prams are neatly parked outside little art galleries, while inside mothers and museum attendants squat gossiping as children crawl curiously around exhibits.


All the notices politely asking parents not to let their children do things (like jump in geysers, lick the cakes or steal things) are written in English. With a puzzled tone of "But why would you do this?". Iceland has invited the world into its home, and is patiently baffled at how the world behaves. "Please do not put cheese in this toaster" reads one. "Please do not unplug this fridge for your laptop" read another in a cafe. But it will work out fine in the end. The Icelandic horse is very friendly, very trusting, and very flavoursome.

One final note: Icelandic men are both absurdly hot and have ludicrous names. One guide was called Bjarthur (pronounced "Bea Arthur"). And here's Iceland's top wrestler. Of course he's called Gunnar.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The All-U-Can Holiday


So, my parents decide to go on "one last foreign holiday". Due to their age, frailty and general uninsurability, they go with Saga. And, I decide to join them. I find a stupidly cheap deal, but the one thing I really hadn't noticed was that it was an "all-inclusive holiday".

It was actually a bit like being in a 5-star prison. It's the first hotel I've ever stayed at with a guard post. Because outside was a lot of desolation and hungry cats. When the boyfriend and I went to Turkey last year, we went on a bus that took us through a winding Russian beach resort. "Wow," we thought, "Who would go on holiday there?" Turns out, I was staying there. A lot of the hotels have themes. There's a giant version of the QE2 (the boat), a Parisian palace, a Georgian mansion, and... well, mine was just a luxury box with great views.
Inside, it was sort of brilliant, sort of horrible. The brilliant side was that I could finally get to do the thing that English graduates dream of doing - waking up early, sitting on the balcony, look at the sea and working on The Novel. I could also see my parents - they'd already been off backpacking, had led a revolution on a bus trip, and were keen to show me that my Turkish wasn't needed to get around as they could just smile and speak slowly (If you've ever wondered if people really do do that, my parents do).

The horrible side was the hell that is other people. I love an all-u-can-eat buffet, but I wouldn't want to stay in one. It was like a bootcamp for over-eaters. The daily schedule went:
6-10: Breakfast
10-11: Late breakfast
11-1: Sliders by the pool
1-2: Lunch
2-4: Late lunch
4-6: Coffee and cookies
6-10: Dinner
10-12: Cakes in the bar
12am: Midnight feast

You get the picture - just no end of food. I forgot what hunger meant as a concept. And yet, with the unending food, people would still pile their plates high like it was their last meal before hibernation. You'd see people stacking four bowls of cereal on top of each other. Even more mad, you'd see them stealing food to take back to their rooms. In case they somehow felt peckish.

There was also no end to the drink. The hotel's two rules were "No alcoholic beverages shall be served at breakfast" and "No flip flops in the restaurant". Clearly this means that someone had tried both. But still, once breakfast was over, the boozing began. At about 10am the gins and tonics would be beckoned over.

As I was heading out one morning, I passed a man sat in the courtyard drinking beer and playing with his iphone. He was still there at lunch. And still there at sunset. I stopped admiring his ability to hold his booze and instead marvelled at his iphone battery.

With this unending cornucopia came a strange sense of entitlement. I don't think any of us staying in the hotel were nice people. One morning, a woman rushed passed me out of her room, standing on tiptoe on the landing to look at the sunset. For a few moments I thought this delightful, until she turned away with a disgusted "augh". Then I realised. She had been checking to see if her room had the sunrise view the brochure had promised.

If the people were bad, the cats were worse. The hotel had a clutch of cats, theoretically there to control vermin, but in practice stationed on guard outside the restaurant. Why bother hunting when there's an unlimited supply of food just beckoning to you. I'm used to the behaviour of cats outside Turkish restaurants. You sit on a terrace, and a cat will approach, tap your leg, and then wait. It's fair enough. But not at this hotel. Venture onto the terrace with a plate of food and it was like a feline remake of The Birds.

The first day I tried it I lost an omelette and the skin on one arm. I was saved by a chain-smoking German. "You need to shoo them," he told me, and then demonstrated. His definition of "shoo" was punching. He was genuinely punching kittens in the head. It was both appalling and kind of idiotic. But it didn't deter them from trying to get at the food.

The German turned to me, "You have to show them who is boss," he told me. "This is disgusting for a 5 star hotel." And then strode away. The next morning there were posters on the terrace "Please do no feed the cats. They receive special food." There were also noticeably less cats. I imagine they'd been drowned in one of the swimming pools.

The German gave me a little smile whenever I saw him in the hotel. I sort of smiled back. He actually wasn't the worst guest. That honour goes to the travelling English coach party who decanted one day. Within two hours of their arrival, the lobby was filled with tightly-coiled grey haired ladies saying "I'm not one to complain..."

The best guests were definitely the German Youth Football team. They wrestled, they sunbathed topless, they had water fights, they did headstands in the courtyard, and, like they were auditioning for a Wes Anderson film, they jogged everywhere in tracksuits.

The Saga element of it all was a little different. Imagine a hotel with beautifully decorated rooms in all sorts of styles, from Ottoman to English Library (one evening, looking for a late drink, I even found a proper nightclub, where a DJ played pounding music to people just like me in their pyjamas, looking for a nightcap). But... then there was the Saga Lounge. Somehow decorated in the ruthless bleakness of an Old People's Home. My mother would tell me with pitying glee of the bunfight whenever the rep uncorked a fresh jigsaw.

For me, the evenings were idyllic. I could trot off to the bar, collect some booze, and sit in bed, reading Perry Mason and listening to the roar of the sea. Only on my last night did I realise it was the roar of the laundry pump. But there we go.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

This week's Tube Strike

Say what you like about the Tube Strikes (and let's face it, thanks to Twitter we're now expected to each have a definitive opinion on that, Woody Allen and dredging the Somerset Levels. It's the new Renaissance), but one thing about the last week has been that a lot of people have been cycling or driving who perhaps don't have the necessary road skills.

On Wenesday, a female cyclist in front of me was nearly forced off the road by a petrified wobbly male cyclist coming the other way.
 "Bitch!" he snapped at her.
And, out of nowhere, I turned and roared, "Oi! She was right and you were wrong, you fat fuck."
The female cyclist turned to me. "Thank you," she said. We then spent the next couple of junctions not quite making eye contact with each other.

Later on in the week, I went to the NTLive to see Coriolanus. The audience was mostly the kind of person who delights in over-pronouncing the flavours of ice cream ("doll-cheee-la-tay"). My row was terrorised by a loudly racist old lady ("The cast speak very well. Apart from the little Jew. A mumbler."). I finally snapped at her in the interval when she turned to her friend and told her the entire plot of the second half. I've not read it for twenty years and was kind of looking forward to finding out. The Sherlock fan next to me looked equally distraught. I explained this to her, politely but firmly. Nasty Biddy's response to declare to her friend, "Well! some people..."

There's a woman at the bottom of our street who stands outside a cafe screaming about Nazi Experiments with Electricity that The Government Don't Want You To Know About. I worry this will be me soon.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Jarman Academe

My boyfriend is currently obsessed with Derek Jarman. He's devoured the diaries, he's dug out his old DVDs, and he's been very excited by a series of events to celebtrate Jarman's 72nd birthday. Things kicked off with a documentary in an old Anatomy Museum and a talk in a tulip-strewn chapel. All very Jarman. All it was missing was Sean Bean being given a slow sponge bath by Tilda Swinton with bad hair.

Caught up in the excitement, he booked us onto a one-day celebration of Jarmania. We were expecting a Saturday screenings and gossip. Actually, it turned out to be a serious academic conference. A really serious academic conference. Once we got over our initial shock, we actually had a good time. One scholar explained how he'd recently found a first edition of Marlowe's Edward II by accident, another that Jarman cast Adam Ant in a film after seeing him wandering down the King's Road with "FUCK" carved into his back and bleeding through his t-shirt. All good fun. And then...

Back at university, I studied English Literature. It was going through a period where everyone involved felt guilty about spending their days reading books and so invented a lot of words to make it sound like science. Ironically, at exactly the same time, science was learning to use words to make itself sound like good fun. But English Literature lectures always had earnest people in earnest glasses in the front row, ready to pounce like Puritans on anything that looked suspiciously like enjoyment. "But what about Derrida?" demanded one hotly. The lecturer rolled her eyes wearily. "What about him?" she sighed, guaranteeing I went to all of her lectures ever.

Anyway, if you ever wondered what happened to those earnest pebble-glasses-wearers with their long words and forbidding demeanours - well, they've grown up and secured tenure and one of them had flown all the way from Sydney to be rude about Derek Jarman with vocab. I think the substance of her lecture was that, feeling guilty for making The Angelic Conversation without any women in, Jarman had hastily hired Judi Dench to intone some sonnets over the spongebaths. But here's how she expressed it:
  • prolepsis
  • analepsis
  • catachrestic
  • alterity
  • binary calculus
  • wholesale diacrhronic change
  • teleological
  • contrapuntal overlay
  • chiasmic logic 
  • tropological
  • patrolineal obligation
  • heterotopuan oxymoronic  miscegenated cross-coupling
My boyfriend and I spent the hour noting these down and speculating what she named her cat. He suggested "Binary Ganymede IV". The lecture pressed on. Academics around us stabbed away at their ipads, reordering their iTunes playlists, which is I guess the modern equivalent of playing solitaire. At the end of the lecture, there was a pause for questions. There were no questions, the academic equivalent of the Cut Absolute.

At lunchtime we went round the beautiful Jarman exhibition at Kings College. We noticed Dr Long Words trailing moodily behind us and hid behind a projection of a nude man spinnins slowly. On the way back in we got talking to a slightly gossipy old don. Who then won the afternoon with a gossipy, joyful talk about Jarman's The Tempest, and, in a demolishing aside, said of The Angelic Conversation, "Of course, he originally asked John Gielgud to do the voiceover, but he let him down at the last minute."

Friday, January 03, 2014

New Year's Thieve



Scottee's Camp was the most entertaining piece of theatre I went to last year, combining modern cabaret with old time music hall - but on a housing estate. OAP hip-hop, Dickie Beau and hula-hoop dancing.

So, when Scottee announced he was putting Camp on for New Year's Eve, we jumped at the chance. It was a great line-up to see the new year in with, and immediately solved the night - no need to invite friends round, no need to stand in a club telling each other What Fun We Are Having while reaching for another drink.

We got there at 9.30 to find things hadn't kicked off yet. There were a lot of balloons and Bourgeois and Maurice DJing. We sat down and waited for things to start.

By 11pm, there were even more balloons. And that was it.

"I'm bored," said the people next to us. They drank a bottle of cava glumly and left. Some of us were passing the time throwing balloons at each other. Other people were taking What Fun We Are Having selfies to reassure themselves (Reasselfies?). We were thoroughly bored. It was like being at a wedding with strangers and no sugared almonds. But, surely, at any moment...

A woman materialised at our table. "Hi. Are you having a great evening?"
"Yes," we replied politely.
"Oh that's great, great," she said. And then a tiny pause. "Thing is, I've got some emergency VIPs, so I'm going to need your table."
Being nice, and British, we stood up without a murmur. But we were furious. There were so many ways of handling that. But that was basically "Fuck off plebs" with a smile.

So, we were standing. In a room full of balloons. With nothing happening.

We left. Given that the cloakroom was somewhere in Narnia we didn't storm out. We sort of progressed. Like Gloriana. If she was having a really bad night and Essex hadn't texted her back.

As we left, we passed a man in an office. I wondered about quietly telling him what a disappointing time it had been. But as I did, an "I Work In PR And Events" Woman swished up to him.
"How's it going?" he asked.
"Oh gawd," she rolled her eyes. "You know. People."

We went home and saw in the new year watching 30 Rock and getting very drunk. It was marvellous.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Return to Bolgoslavia

8 years ago I went to Budapest. It was a holiday after a fairly exciting/gruelling few months of work. I had an interesting time - especially waking up one morning to discover I'd been copied in to an email from the person I'd left in charge of my project: "So everyone, this has happened. I'm ccing James who'll deal with it asap."

I was in the curious and delightful position of having to apologise for something that had happened while I was on holiday. And sort it out. Asap. From a hotel lobby using very slow internet. Ah well.

Eight years later, and I really was there on holiday, and it was actually lovely fun. There are two kinds of places that you visit on holiday. Firstly, the places where you immediately imagine living there. Secondly, the places that you go "oh, yes, this is fun, but that's fine."

Budapest is a probably a very exciting place to work. But, a bit like Amsterdam, a tourist can have a great weekend there and not feel they need to go back in a hurry.

I did find myself in an Aldi. People who mutter that Aldi is like a third world supermarket haven't lived till they've visited one in Budapest. There wasn't quite a turnip on a plinth saying "this week's star prize", but my god it was dreary.


I came away with a delightful looking salami with sliced mushrooms in it, but my friend Tim refused to let me open it till he'd waved google translate on it. Turned out it was pressed pig brain, and the mushrooms were the spirally bits of... bits of... *retches*. If it had turned up in a posh London restaurant we'd all have applauded. As it was, we left it at the back of the fridge for the cleaner.

One delightful Communist hangover was the service in the delightfully named "Marquis du Salade". Your waiter would take your order. A few minutes later, the owner would appear. "I see you have ordered Number 13. A wonderful choice. Very wise. However, I would recommend Number 15."

"I'd really like Number 13."

"Number 15 is much the better option. I'll bring you that."

Number 15 was, of course, marvellous. And I suspect what anyone walking through the door would have got.

Slightly decrepit elegance clings to Budapest like the mist from the rivers (and yes, that is the river that the Viking River Cruises Sponsors Mystery Drama On ITV floats along). We were staying in a flat that was like a small stately home, with a vast chandelier in every room. Even the bathroom. We made it to the outdoor baths, where, after a barefoot run on subzero marble past ancient statues, you got to plunge into water warmer than a washing machine tackling tough stains. Carved fish blew steam at you. Men with the bodies of trained killers frolicked. Yes, it was marvellous.

Also notable was the RyanAir "departure lounge":

Yes, that really is a shed. With grills, no frills. Your plane awaits you, cattle.