Category Archives: travel

A villainous brew

I ordered a cappuccino for my Mum on a recent visit to England, and she was presented with this baby’s potty of suds. It wasn’t unlike the coffee that Francis ordered in the following extract from An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity. The narrator is Thea.

megachhino

I pointed to a coffee shop and we went in. He ordered what looked to be a litre of coffee foam, a supermegaccino I think it was called. I had Earl Grey. I waited for him to speak.

“I never forgot you Thea.”

“Why did you pick on me all those years ago? You did target me, didn’t you? It wasn’t just random?”

“I did. I picked on you on purpose. I wanted what Jack had. What they owed me.”

“You wanted me as part of his chattels?”

“No, it wasn’t like that. First of all I just wanted a life like his, wife, children, some kind of future. But when I saw you I …” He faltered. “I fancied you.”

“Fancied me? What, fancied me like a greyhound? Fancied me like a set of golf clubs? Anyway, there was no money in those days. Jack’s parents were still alive. You couldn’t have had his life or his future. You couldn’t just bundle his life up and put it in a van.”

“There wasn’t any money, sure, but there was you, but you’re not getting my meaning. I really fancied you.”

“I see,” I said. “I think we might be talking about lurv, like in the pop songs … you wanted me to be your lurv. You lurv me. I fall in lurv with you. It’s all lurvely. Stop messing me around.”

Francis sucked on the huge coffee cup. He wiped a foam moustache away with a napkin and looked at me balefully. “Don’t take the piss. I mean it. It’s you I wanted all the time. I do love you.”

 

Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing

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A half of bitter and a bit of solace

half of bitterThis delicious half of bitter that I enjoyed at a pub in Kings Langley put me in mind of the verger in An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity:

I wandered through cobbled yards and across muddy playgrounds, replaying the ghastly scenes, and rehearsing what I should tell Thea. After an hour I found myself back near the shop and on the doorstep of the Bear and Fox. I slipped in, ordered a double Scotch, and found a seat half hidden behind a timber beam. My meditation was broken by the verger, who had his half of bitter at the bar each evening before going home.

“Not poorly are we?” he asked in social workerish tones.

“Just a little overwrought.”

” I say. Don’t think I’m being pushy, but you know that even if you aren’t a friend of Jesus, the cathedral is a splendid place to just sit and reflect …”

I could have kissed the verger. The certainty of his faith shone from his little currant bun face, and I saw at once that I had to go home and tell Thea everything. Well, almost everything. I swigged off the Scotch, thanked him and went home.

 

Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing

Places of terror that we must never forget

kdw sign2This large sign greets passers-by as they walk from the KaDeWe, Berlin’s top department store, into the Wittenberg Platz U-Bahn.

That’s more or less equivalent to outside Selfridges in London or Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

The words at the top say ‘Places of terror that we must never forget’.

Berlin confronts its history boldly and openly, from the memorials to murdered Jews and Gypsies, to the carefully preserved sites of Stasi terror during the division of Germany.

Tram ride to evil

tram2The M13 tram snakes its way from Warschauerstrasse station through the uninspiring suburb of Lichtenberg. There are no signs for the Stasi Museum when you get off at the town hall. We had to ask directions in a bakery, and had almost given up when I spotted the modest sign.

The headquarters of the Stasi secret police – now a museum – is in a dull office block at the back of a medical centre where old folks have their knees and hips fixed.

The interior of the museum seems fixed in time, expect that the spookiness is tempered by the almost apologetic air of the staff – are they volunteers, perhaps? There’s no fancy till or flash tickets. In the café, a kindly lady serves filter coffee and marble cake as if at a church craft market.

In the entrance is a Stasi prison van, a people mover containing tiny cells, each with a hook for the prisoner to hang their jacket. Banal detail seems to have been the hallmark of the Stasi.

The middle floor comprises the offices of Stasi boss Erich Mielke and his senior staff, all fitted out in blonde timber and woolly seated chairs. The office technology looks dated even for 1989, when the Stasi was disbanded; it reminded me of the huge vanished wood radiograms I was proudly shown in Moscow in 1974.

The last exhibit we saw before walking back to the tram was a file card with a sketch showing how the monstrous Erich Mielke’s breakfast egg and coffee were to be set out each morning at his desk.

 

Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing

Shoes under a bridge, Kreuzberg

shoes under bridge 3We took a river trip through the centre of Berlin today, and somewhere near Monbijou Park I watched a troupe of young people – puppetry students? – in black hats and white faces, following a floppy orange skeleton plodding along the river bank, controlled by long sticks manipulated by the students. There was an earnestness about the performance that I suspect might lie behind a lot of the seemingly spontaneousness art you see in Berlin.

The sponge skeleton and its disciples reminded me of our early morning walk across the quaint Oberbaumbrücke bridge, with its fairy tale towers and vaulted ceilings. The shoes hanging from the ceiling are bright and apparently new. In Australia, shoes hanging from a power line are supposed to mark a drug deal location, but are more likely the spot where a drunk had his shoes pulled off by his mates.

So what happened here? An art school assignment? A short film for a competition? Site of a spectacular drug transaction? Or did fifteen drunk people have their coloured shoes pulled off by their mates?

 

Find out about Stuart Campbell’s novels here.

 

Micro drama at Warschauer Strasse

warschauer strasse 2A day with Australian friends in gentle Charlottenburg: Saturday morning market, asparagus in season, cake, coffee, a walk to the Schloss, wine and chat in their flat.

When we leave for home, police are massed at the S-Bahn watching the soccer supporters disembark. We take the train east, and at Warschauer Strasse station the evening hordes are streaming over the bridge to the clubs and bars in gritty Friedrichshain.

London voices behind us, a girl and boy:

“Laura said she’d love her dog as much as her child.”

“She really said that?”

“Yeah.  And Ben said he’d love his dog as much as his child.”

“Naah.”

“Yeah, Ben said that.”

“That’s so f*cked up.”

 

Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing

 

Late afternoon drinks in Friedrichshain, Berlin

friedrichshainThe last of the sun glints through the lime tree canopy and lights up the straw-coloured Riesling in our glasses. There’s a parade past our bench on the cobblestones of Simon-Dach Strasse – a procession of defiantly liberal weirdness, no two people alike, as if each person belongs to their own tribe: A nut brown man in an Alpine hat and peculiar shorts, girls in meticulously studied scruffiness, an elaborately tattooed man in a short sleeved linen shirt with suit lapels, an angular faced woman, pale and wearing clownish tights. Tipsy on our Riesling, we wonder if the defiance of authority here – the graffiti, the public urinating, the ostentatious beer drinking on the trains – is a reaction to the city’s past oppressions. But what do we know?

Yesterday on a train I eavesdropped on two American boys, hotel management students, cranking up their campness. “I hate America,” one of them said, overdoing things a bit, perhaps wanting too hard to be a piece of Berlin.

On the way back to our flat, the same ginger bearded rapper is pounding out poetry at the Warschauer Strasse U-Bahn. It’s seven in the evening and the hordes, the tribe of tribes, flow out of the U-Bahn, pressing against us in the rush to join the parade in Simon-Dach Strasse.

 

Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing