Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 24 October 2014
This is the avatar I have chosen for H.I. when I write on a forum pretending to be her and not Tom Stephenson. It's rather charming (as my German friend, T1, would say) don't you think?
It doesn't fool anyone because they all know it is me, and when I write as myself, my avatar is Father Jack so there is definitely no confusion.
Both images encapsulate the essence of me and H.I. - one being the quintessence of femininity and the other a stark reminder of what can happen to a man when he lets himself go.
The other dear German friend arrives from Bremerhaven this weekend to stay for a while, and this will be about the 15th visit to Bath he has made over the last 20 years or so.
The first time he came, I was living in a tiny cottage in a small village just outside Bath, and we all had to sleep in the same room.
This was the first time I met him and I - understandably - thought he was T1's latest boyfriend, so I put them in the same bed. Both of them didn't sleep at all, because we had all gone to the local pub to eat and drink, then drink some more and, although I have no recollection of it, they told me that I snored louder than anyone else they had ever heard - all night.
In the morning, T2 took me to one side and quietly informed me that he was not - like T1 - Gay, and requested his own bed for the next night.
T2 spent about 15 years studying to be a dentist, not because this is how long it takes in Germany (though it is quite a long time), but because he kept failing one particular exam due to running out of money. He was supported by his 'extreme-rich aunt' for the whole of this period, and is now a very good and popular dentist in Bremerhaven.
T1 has been a graphic artist for many years, starting off as a Marxist and eventually graduating to a Catholic lay-priest, doing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela on the way. Outwardly, he doesn't seem to have changed at all, other than wearing a small, silver Coquille St Jacques around his neck in the place of the Hammer and Sickle.
He is still as obsessed with the Eastern Block as he was before the wall came down, but now you can buy all those Russian sub-mariner's watches for peanuts, whereas before they were exotic and mysterious.
T1 lives in Hamburg, where I first met him when he was assigned as my helper for the theatre company I worked for at the time. Occasionally, a Soviet Navy ship would berth in the harbour there, but the sailors were not allowed to leave the ship and visit the Reeperbahn as generations of sailors had before them, so T1 would have to hire a rowboat and pull up alongside them to exchange gifts and trinkets, all the transactions carried out in broken Russian. How he lusted after those sailors.
The salt water laps up against both of their lives - T1's access to it is down the broad beginning of the Elba river to the Nordsee, and T2's practice is right on the docks of the old Fish Harbour.
The U-Boat bunkers in Hamburg still stick out of the water like jagged islands, having been bombed out of existence in WW2, but - like the Flak-Towers - are too solid to completely demolish and forget.
The 100 year-old fish-packing factories in Bremerhaven were the only buildings not to receive direct hits in 1943, but now they are all restaurants that specialise in fish, rather than processing and packing them. All that is done on board the factory ships these days, so is already packed in ice when it comes back to the ice-factory. The ice factory is still working though, and it is amazing to watch it disgorge tons of white slush into the boats via a huge overhead conveyor.
T2 used to live in a small apartment over his practice next to the harbour, and one day he had T1 around for lunch on the open-air balcony.
T2 took the plate of seafood to the table where T1 was gently sleeping in a chair, then went inside to fetch his own. In the few seconds he turned his back, T1 had woken up, eaten the entire plate of food, then gone back to sleep again.
He woke him up, astounded at the speed he finished it off before returning to his nap, but T1 had no recollection of having eaten anything.
They looked up to the roof to see a huge Gull staring greedily at T2's full plate...