Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The interest payments alone will amount to 20 per cent of the total Irish tax take over the next few years. This even before thoughts turn to actually paying back the €85 billion so graciously donated – as Welt would have the German public believe – to the Irish, of which €17.5 billion is being provided by the Irish themselves, including €12.5 billion from the previously untouchable National Pension Reserve Fund. The fucking pension fund! Enough. Enough, enough.
The government announced last week how it proposes screwing the people who put it in power in the first place. Talking to friends and family since, it is clear the burden will be an unbearably heavy one. Pay cuts, increased taxes, pensions raided, water charges, property taxes, reduction in the minimum wage, increasing the age of retirement, redundancies across the board and vital public services – which were shameful in the first place – being cut. Everyone I know is affected.
Meanwhile, those responsible are bearing the least brunt. The politicians will continue to receive their pensions after they’re ousted from power. Crooks like Ahern and Cowen will, however, go down in history as the men who ruined the country, the men who made hard-fought independence from the British look like a folly. We’re our own worst enemies now.
Of course, the people were stupid enough to put them in power; they bought the lies and vested interests which kept them there. But those vested interests have reached a higher Niveau now, with European banks and politicians forcing this loan on Ireland in a bid to stop the rot spreading across the continent. It’s too late.
The banks owed money by Ireland are the same which were happy (or stupid enough) to take the risks in the first place. That’s the point of interest. This ‘bailout’ is just another loan with interest to make sure the original loans (and their interest) are paid back. All in the (vested) interest of the rich.
It is obvious that a system which allows the loaning of vast sums of non-existent money is fatally flawed in the first place, built on lies, and Ireland is now being asked to pay the price to prevent the whole shithouse simply exploding.
I’ve never been more ashamed to be Irish, and I will curse the fuckers responsible for making me feel like that forever. Conversely however, I’ve never felt more patriotic. Ireland is a country worth fighting for despite itself. Why bail out the banks? Why keep the rich rich? Why make the people suffer further? As someone wrote in response to the New York Times article below: "There is more shame in owing money than stealing it."
It’s time to default.
Monday, November 29, 2010
I looked around at the belly parade around me and the padded doors. I wondered why they needed them. Then your wan started. Blather blather blather blather – neverending blather for the first four hours. Lunch.
She resumed afterwards with scary stories of birth and hysterics. She may as well have dimmed the lights and put a torch under her face to emphasize her theatrics. But then they really started. Padded door mystery solved. An ominous performance of what’s to come in which she screamed and panted and postulated before reverting back to blather. Then it was over; end of day one. Actual information learned: negligible.
Sunday morning resumed with more blather and scary preludes, then demonstrations of positions for the birth – most only realistic for bodybuilders or sadists – before it was mercifully time for lunch again.
Then a relaxation exercise; more ineffective calming music and we were all to lie down, close our eyes and “allow your limbs get heavy, relax your legs and arms, relax your arse...” Relax your arse! I guffawed, no doubt much to your wan’s annoyance, before she continued: “Imagine you’re at the beach, you’re looking for a place to lie, you find a place to lie, it’s warm...” Warm! It was fucking freezing outside, and I still hadn’t thawed out after lunch. I guffawed again.
Breastfeeding techniques followed, then baby-clothing strategies, before some of the problems babies can experience after birth. Nostrils might be too small making it difficult for them to breastfeed – no air while they’re slurping up milk. It ain’t easy being a baby.
However, there’s very little I can do about little nostrils – Jaysus nose there's enough to worry about already – and it sums up the fruits of listening to your wan drone on and on and on for 15 and a half hours: sackfuls of information neither relevant nor useful. Certainly nothing you don't automatically learn on becoming a parent.
The whole thing ended with everyone sitting around in a circle, eyes closed, humming "mmmmmmm", then "eeeeeee", "uuuuuuu", "aaaaaaa", and "ooooooo". I kid (ha!) you not.
Then we had to pretend the course was useful, when she asked everyone in turn for their opinion. “Well, you bored me shitless for most of it, and just scared the wits out of me for the rest.” Perhaps that was the point, although if it was, then I don’t see the point of it.
Jenny was disappointed too (not that I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed). She’s been a sponge for the last few months, absorbing voraciously from books and people to the extent where the information is contradicting itself, and I guess because of that she learnt nothing either, despite paying respectful attention throughout the Geburtsvorbereitungskurs.
Now it's getting difficult. Her contractional obligations have already begun. The nipper’s gettin’ impatient and the ordeal of birth preparation is really no preparation for what lies ahead. I wish I could help somehow, share the burden of what she's going through, but – like your average Real Madrid fan – there’s very little I can do but wave flags and support as best as I can. I’m just a passenger. And it's time to fasten the seat belts.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Only Mr. Fahey himself, the world’s most little-known famous journalist, is more proud and excited.
“I’m fuckin’ deligh-red,” he said last night after agreement on terms and conditions was reached between both parties. The agreement marks the conclusion of a process which began with a tentative inquiry last January.
A wonderful journalist with a keen sense of write and wrong, the Irishman will be covering all sporting matters from the AP bureau in the German capital. Most of his work will focus on Fußball – primarily the Bundesliga and Champions League – but obscure sports such as tennis, boxing and racing will also feature. It is actually quite sporting of him to join.
Founded in 1846 and headquartered in New York, The Associated Press is, of course, quite simply the best news agency in the world. More than half the world’s population sees news from the prestigious not-for-profit cooperative on any given day and it has Pulitzer Prizes coming out of its ears; no doubt it is only a matter of time before Mr. Fahey earns another.
I’d better stop there before I ruin it. Suffice to say I’m happy as a pig in shit. Happier, in fact, than an easily-pleased pig in a pool of the most luxurious shit. Since I first made the decision – often questioned since – to be a journalist, this is all I’ve ever wanted.
I handed my notice into Wall Street today. It didn’t last long, but they wished me all the best and I them. As for Exberliner, my involvement will be restricted to features from now. Copy-editing was a short but Beautiful EXperience, but with the AP comes the promise of plenty more.
There’s heaps more I could write but it’s a day to give thanks. The rest is just turkey.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
(Picture is from last winter. I'm still recovering.)
Friday, November 19, 2010
So Tuesday was her last dealing with a class of monsters for a year at least. She now has the time she needs to prepare for the one inside her. Suddenly, it’s quite close. Developments inside the mountain indicate impending nipperdom is at hand. Officially there are eight weeks to go but it seems this one is raring to go and get out there. Obviously it doesn’t know any better yet.
It’s certainly making its presence felt, punching or kicking inside with impunity. Little earthquakes rumble across the surface at will, set off by little explosions beneath the surface. It’s mad looking: Jelly Belly. I don’t know how Jenny even sleeps at night. Even as she snoozes the explosions go off at a ferocious rate, to the extent where they actually wake me up! She just slumbers on regardless. Incredible.
“It’s obviously bored in there,” I told her. “It can’t wait to get out.”
“Not at all,” she disagreed. “It’s heaven in there for a baby.”
She’s evidently got a very high opinion of the accommodation she’s providing but I reckon there’s a struggle for freedom going on inside. Free a nipper!
So the final arrangements are being arranged. Next week I’m being dragged to a Geburtsvorbereitungskurs, literally “birth-preparation-course”. I’ve no idea what it’s about but I’ve a strong suspicion it’s some sort of course to prepare for the birth. All I know is I’ve to go for six hours on Saturday and then six hours again on Sunday. Apparently pregnant women forget how to breathe and it’s important for the men to remind them. I can just picture it now – me holding Jenny’s hand as the nipper’s making its grand entrance to the world. “Don’t forget to breathe, dear.”
I’ve told Jenny that in Ireland the man traditionally waits in the pub while the woman goes into labour. Pints to ease the nerves, and then more pints to celebrate after the news is delivered by phone. In a way, an Irishman’s whole life up to that point has been a Geburtsvorbereitungskurs.
But those good old days are gone. So I won’t be buying any pints. Not ‘til afterwards at least. I guess – just like the nipper – I have to learn to be patient.
Truthfully though, I know I have it ridiculously easy compared to what the mother is going through. I’ll throw myself into whatever Geburtsvorbereitung is necessary and look forward to practicing the celebratory pints afterwards.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
IT MAY seem strange to some that The Irish Times would ask whether this is what the men of 1916 died for: a bailout from the German chancellor with a few shillings of sympathy from the British chancellor on the side. There is the shame of it all. Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Their representatives ride into Merrion Street today.
Fianna Fáil has sometimes served Ireland very well, sometimes very badly. Even in its worst times, however, it retained some respect for its underlying commitment that the Irish should control their own destinies. It lists among its primary aims the commitment “to maintain the status of Ireland as a sovereign State”. Its founder, Eamon de Valera, in his inaugural address to his new party in 1926, spoke of “the inalienability of national sovereignty” as being fundamental to its beliefs. The Republican Party’s ideals are in tatters now.
The Irish people do not need to be told that, especially for small nations, there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty. We know very well that we have made our independence more meaningful by sharing it with our European neighbours. We are not naive enough to think that this State ever can, or ever could, take large decisions in isolation from the rest of the world. What we do expect, however, is that those decisions will still be our own. A nation’s independence is defined by the choices it can make for itself.
Irish history makes the loss of that sense of choice all the more shameful. The desire to be a sovereign people runs like a seam through all the struggles of the last 200 years. “Self-determination” is a phrase that echoes from the United Irishmen to the Belfast Agreement. It continues to have a genuine resonance for most Irish people today.
The true ignominy of our current situation is not that our sovereignty has been taken away from us, it is that we ourselves have squandered it. Let us not seek to assuage our sense of shame in the comforting illusion that powerful nations in Europe are conspiring to become our masters. We are, after all, no great prize for any would-be overlord now. No rational European would willingly take on the task of cleaning up the mess we have made. It is the incompetence of the governments we ourselves elected that has so deeply compromised our capacity to make our own decisions.
They did so, let us recall, from a period when Irish sovereignty had never been stronger. Our national debt was negligible. The mass emigration that had mocked our claims to be a people in control of our own destiny was reversed. A genuine act of national self-determination had occurred in 1998 when both parts of the island voted to accept the Belfast Agreement. The sense of failure and inferiority had been banished, we thought, for good.
To drag this State down from those heights and make it again subject to the decisions of others is an achievement that will not soon be forgiven. It must mark, surely, the ignominious end of a failed administration.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
What a hike! The never-ending U2 Schienenersatzverkehr foiled plans of simply collecting it and bringing it by train, so the only option really was for me to walk with the former Friedrich-Schiller-Universität table (don't ask me how I got it) exactly 5.4km (five and half kilometres to be approximate) home to Pankow. In the rain.
I brought Beeie the Bee with me for company, figuring we’d have something to talk about on the way considering how busy the past weeks have been.
Five minutes into the journey I was fed up already. Down four flights of stairs, banging the legs of every wall, and then an arm-aching walk towards Nordbahnhof, I realised that perhaps it wasn’t such a bright idea after all. But I’d started and so I’d to go on, past the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, past what was left of the Wall and past what they’re rebuilding. (The way they’re going they’ll have the whole thing rebuilt in time for the 50th anniversary celebrations next year. Anything for the tourists’ dollars.)
I was sweating: the arms were groaning and complaining, the heavens were opening and raining, it was getting dark and I was wondering if I really needed a desk at all, when all of a sudden an abandoned Baumarkt trolley mysteriously appeared right in front of me. It was the first abandoned Baumarkt trolley I’d seen in over two and a half years in Berlin!
I couldn’t believe it; Beeie couldn’t beelive it. But the table practically hopped on without a second invitation and we all set off down the road, past Bernauer Straße on to Eberswalder Straße where a passer-by excitedly asked me if there was a Baumarkt in der Nahe. (Germans are never happier than when in Baumarkts – they just love DIY.)
I’d been making a tremendous racket as I pushed my cart and table along, every pothole or break in the pavement producing a clattering and banging to wake the dead. And then I unwisely turned up Pappelallee where the cobbled pavement set the volume to unholy. BANG BANG BANG!!! Jesus, the noise was incredible! I tried keep the head down so no one would notice me, but of course it was pointless – heads were turned and windows were opened as residents stuck their noses out to see what the hullabaloo was about.
But I made it! Beeie was delighted – I was knackered. And now I’m typing on the damn thing. It’s a terrible desk – pockmarked, stained, burnt and dirty, but feck it, it’s got legs, doesn’t wobble like the markets right now, and unlike the passengers of Brianair, it doesn’t need to rely on EU bailouts.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
To bring the rubbish out, I have to bring the bags down three flights of stairs, enter a passageway under the building, unlock a door, enter another hallway, pass through another door (sometimes unlock that too), walk about 30 metres outside to where they store the bins, and then unlock a flippin’ gate to get in at them.
Each time I get to a door or gate to be unlocked it takes me ages to open it because the keys are always in the last pocket I look. Sometimes (like today) they’re not even in the last pocket I look the first time around, so I’ve to go through them all again before they reluctantly make themselves available.
I can understand their reluctance – they’re krank und müde of opening doors which have no business being locked in the first place. I mean who in the name of sufferin’ succotash is going to steal rubbish? And locks won’t keep the rats out – Berlin’s rats are adept at having keys cut.
I’ve been leaving the gate unlocked on my way back out. Can’t be arsed going through all that rigmarole with the keys all over again for such rubbish. No doubt one of our neighbours is doing his/her nut in because of it: “Mein Gott! Our precious rubbish!” They’re probably sitting up every night in a rocking chair, rifle across their knees, muttering with eyes fixated on the bins below. A waste of time or a time of waste? Only the rats decide.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Not only was it business as normal as we played in Neukölln at some ungodly hour on Hallowe’en morning, but we won! We actually won! Four-nil against our first opponents, Golden Devils! (So I guess it wasn’t really business as usual after all.)
We didn’t have jerseys because they’d all been distributed after the Mütters’ “last game” in September, but that didn’t stop us as we produced a simply stunning performance to blow our opponents away. I didn’t score, but at least I didn‘t embarrass myself in front of goal. Funny how my sights have been somewhat lowered...
Theresas Mütter 2.0 are still homeless I'm afraid. Our first training session had been the previous Thursday when we were shunted from one pitch to another by the increasingly pissed-off groundskeepers. We ended up playing on three different pitches in the end, in the dark, when you couldn’t see the ball, never mind the jumpers for goalposts.
No matter. From such humble efforts come laudable achievements and getting the league campaign off to a winning start has injected a sense of determination and confidence I’d never seen before. Probably because I’d never seen most of the players before – there are very few original team survivors in Theresas Mütter 2.0 and the new players are actually quite good.
There’s talk now of finding a permanent training ground, and I’ve also heard rumblings about getting a new strip. A new strip! I’m not sure I like that idea. Surely a team’s strip is sacred and can’t be changed willy nilly. Not the home strip anyway, but then we don’t have a home so I guess it’s okay. As long as it’s snazzy...
I wasn’t able to play last weekend due to work commitments, but next up in the league are the Mighty Dux in Schöneberg on Sunday! It’s another ungodly early start so one way or the other there’ll be quacks, either mine of the Dux.
It's just her latest miracle – Theresas Mütter are back from the dead!
Thursday, November 11, 2010
What kind of country has an Unhappy Peoples’ Day? Jaysus, things are bad enough already – we don’t need a whole bloody day dedicated to celebrating misery. I suppose Dead Sunday is for those for whom the prospect of another Unhappy Peoples’ Day in a year’s time is just too much.
Then those who survive Dead Sunday face the prospect of Advent the following Sunday and we all know what that means – the big C. I dunno which is more depressing.
The fucking chain on my bicycle snapped again today. Chain reaction after the unprovoked attack on the bike lock and self-perpetuating punctures. It never ends. And Ireland is going down the toilet. But my phone’s back in action! And my photos are reaching a wider audience. Swings and roundabouts. Things have been absolutely crazy lately and I apologise for not getting back to your comments and emails and so on. I will in due course. But I’m just so tired now I don’t know if I can even finish this sent
Monday, November 08, 2010
The latest three wonders of wordery – I’m running out of self-serving superlatives – bring my total to date to 20, a score I’m as proud to achieve as I am relived to have scored it.
They feature a taquería I discovered at the weekend which really is Ta’ Cabrón! One day I’ll return to México, but for now it’s probably safer to eat its food in Kreuzberg. Thanks to the cycling dog for literally showing me the light on Saturday.
The other articles feature Templehof and Alexanderplatz, with its fountain of shite. I guess the unfortunate “Friendship Between Peoples Fountain” never really stood a chance.
Sunday, November 07, 2010
I’d been admiring her from afar all this time, but it was only last week I decided to visit in the name of duty for Spotted by Locals.
Journalistic privileges meant I didn’t have to wait with the commoners in the queues and I was whisked quicker than a hot snot at six metres per second up to the viewing deck at 203.78 metres. Hot snot, as everyone knows, can “only” reach speeds of 3.5 metres per second, and even then, just at weekends.
The view was stupendous even if the setting sun blocked out anything to the west (nothin’ to see there anyway) and all the flippin’ tourists did their best to get in my way as I looked to the east. Jaysus, you’d think they were never in the Fernsehtum before. Italian tourists with lipstick and gold and shiny black leather they should have left in Italy – you know the ones I mean. Pushing and shoving like they owned the thing.
In the end I was relieved to be whisked back down away from them, and happy to be able to survey my beloved Fernsehturm from the ground, as the Fernsehturm gods intend her to be. Damn I miss that TV tower... As soon as my first decent wage comes in I’ll be getting that poster to put on the balcony, even if it’s quietly been getting too cold to be venturing out there.
The Fernsehturm report is just one of my latest batch to be published on Spotted by Locals, all wonderfully insightful and informative of course – including the story of Thin Hermann and Fat Hermann, the importance of Fußball and Tatort, and a top secret report into those investigating the existence of a UFO under the Fernsehturm. You read it here first.
I've just realised an unfortunate consequence of such engaging writing could be even more Italian tourists visiting Berlin. Oh the irony...
Friday, November 05, 2010
Meanwhile my phone is out of action. I was cut off this morning, just as I was awaiting one of the most-anticipated phonecalls of my life. Blau suspended the account without warning because my last €15 top-up bounced. I’ve to pay an additional €9.50 “fine” to release the account. To cut a long story short, the soonest they'll release it again is “three to four working days” after I organise a €24.50 bank transfer by physically walking into a bank. Paying over the phone then and there was “leider nicht möglich”. So es ist in diese Land...
That’s just one of the things afoot. The rest of the feet are good I’m relieved to say, and the best feat of all I hope to be able to share with you next week.
Thursday, November 04, 2010
If you remember, I first went to the Agentur für Arbeit to see if they’d pay my compulsory health insurance on the basis of me not wanting it but them insisting it was compulsory. To date it hasn’t been paid. If you remember, I was told I’d get Hartz IV, the bottom level unemployment benefit available to every park-dwelling hobo in Berlin. To date I’ve not received a cent.
I didn’t want their money, but after jumping their hoops, filling in their wheelbarrows of forms and providing more information than exists, I’d come to feel I deserved it for my efforts at least.
Jenny went back to the Agentur für Arbeit today to see what the story was. She was told she had been waiting in the wrong queue and that she should have been in another due to my surname having a different letter to hers.
Never mind. Just the first strike for pedanticality.
She learned they were actually paying our rent, and had transferred it already to the landlord. Credit to the Agentur für Arbeit. Thanks*. Despite all their correspondence, their latest being an 18-page letter – front and back – of figures, terms, conditions and utter ráméis which even a German native couldn’t understand, there was no mention of paying the rent, and Jenny had already paid it as well for the last couple of months. The landlords must be delighted.
She also learned they are paying her health insurance. She hadn’t asked them to but they are.
They are still not paying my health insurance, the original reason for my going to them, due to some obscure form being missing. From all their correspondence, it is actually not possible to determine which or what class of a mysterious form this is, but it’s missing nevertheless.
Nor are they, she learned, going to actually give me any money, despite them asking for my bank details in one of the first rounds of ‘Bureaucracy or Bust’.
Instead they have assumed that Jenny will effectively feed me from the bread she earns from her job. A bread they deemed insufficient to pay her own health insurance.
“They calculate that I will be buying food to feed you,” she explained.
And if she suddenly takes a dislike to me?
“Then you’ll have to go back down to the Agentur für Arbeit and explain it all to them.”
And fill in more forms.
It has taken seven weeks to find out all their bullshit was for little more than belittlement and to ensure dependence on another. Maybe that’s the real “German efficiency”. Binding you to the mercy of someone else. If I suddenly found myself homeless, I’m sure there’s at least a soup kitchen somewhere but as for assistance from the state – forget it.
Thankfully I’ve since found work and plenty of it. I’ve been working like a donkey lately, albeit for a donkey’s wages. The efforts will pay off in the long run, but in the short run this systematic systemisation is the one thing which really boils my blood about this country. It would be enough to make you leave. But then again, that’s probably what they want.
*I don’t mean that in an ironic way. I am actually grateful to be receiving anything, but it’s not what I asked for.
Monday, November 01, 2010
The company is opening a spanking-new call centre in Berlin and I’m part of the very first customer service team, charged with dealing with some of the issues arising from more than 150,000 worldwide bookings per day. We’ll only be dealing with the German-speaking market (Jaysus help me if I’ve to talk to anyone from Bayern, Switzerland or Austria) so I’ll get to practice my Deutsch on them when they ring. I’m hoping my “niedlich” Irish lilt will assuage whatever hotel-booking issues they may be ringing with. Provided I understand them of course. Otherwise I’ll just have to sing down the phone and hope that placates them.
Thankfully it won’t be anything like the phone-terrorism job I had before. This time around I’ll actually be helping people and I presume I’ll be left with a warm glow at the end of each day for having done so.
The Wall Street (I’m going to keep calling it that) offices are incredibly stylish – shiny wood and fancy lamps everywhere, and one of those lifts with the see-through sides so you can watch the peasants disappear below you as you soar up to the third floor. I know. I’ll take the stairs from tomorrow.
Even more impressive however, is the kitchen. As me and my new telebuddies were standing at the space-age coffee machine waiting for our latte macchiatoes (don’t step on them), a delivery guy arrived with more fruit than you’d find at the zoo – crates of oranges and apples, stacks of bananas, nets of mandarins and boxes of grapes... There were even stacks of fresh ginger and lemon to make tea!
Not only that, but at lunchtime a buffet was provided for everyone to help themselves. Free grub! I had chicken with a potato and cheese bake and salad but there was soup available too. And juices! And other stuff. Mad. I had made sandwiches in the morning and brought them in with me. Of course if I hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been any grub at all.
So we were well-fed during our first day of training and apparently warm meals are provided every lunchtime. We’ll be fat as fools by the time we finish training in two weeks. (Three weeks if we’re particularly stupid, in which case we’ll be even fatter.) Fat but happy which is, after all, the way to be. (The latter rather than the fatter.) Especially for the customers.