So now, I just got back from another trip to Berlin, which has become my new favourite place to go for a weekend away from the soul destroying grind which is in danger of becoming everyday life. I took Geo the grandson, soon to take his GCSEs, and Josef my son. A good time was had by all, and among other things we took in the Reichstag, the Tiergarten, Panoramapunkt on Potsdamer Platz for the views, Friedrichstrasse, the Mauerpark at Bernauerstrasse, the Eastside Gallery and a brief walk past the Detlev Rohwedder building with all its monumental horror to the car park on the corner of In der Ministergarten so Geo could have his picture taken there with a Sid Vicious type snarl on his face. To crown it all Geo and I took an early Sunday morning stroll along Unter den Linden from the lovely Schlossbrucke back to the Brandenburger Tor, visiting the Lustgarten, Bebelplatz, the Neue Wache and passing the Berliner Dom, the museums and lots of building work. We met up again with my two favourite Berlin waitresses, Katje and Poppi; if they were here or I were there I’d have them both. Working in the shop. The city still holds so much more for me to make future visits, it kinda feels like home in some ways.
And then. Back to the world. In a coffee fuelled meeting with my landlord at an out of town cafe, neutral ground, I negotiated a year’s extension to the lease on the shop back in January rather than going for a full five or ten year renewal, as the future is shrouded in mists of uncertainty and I’ve suffered a crisis of commitment, of sorts. A way of saying who the fuck knows where we are or what we’ll be doing a year from now.
This morning my dearest friend Ian came in and we had a good long chat of the sort I so rarely enjoy now. He’s a writer, a real published writer and occasional broadcaster, and I observed that work for him often consists of sitting, thinking and weighing phrases and generally considering stuff, whereas for me it usually means running around after mad people, feeding them and watering them, and sometimes even cleaning up the noxious, disgraceful mess they leave in the lavs. But often with no thinking involved. That’s the big void in my life. Skid marks on the porcelain a-plenty but precious little opportunity for creative reflection. Hence this.
Just listened to Astronomy Domine in honour of my mate Doyley who was found dead shortly after Christmas. He was often to be found listening to the Floyd in his unguarded moments. Sad days. He died owing me £40, and the day after we heard the news, his mate Roo came in and said he knew D owed me the money, and if I could see him right for a tenner he’d make sure I got the full £50 next week. I told him no, partly because I knew he was broke with few prospects and a lying bastard to boot, but also because he didn’t look too healthy himself and I didn’t want to throw good money after bad. He shrugged and left without embarrassing himself too much.
Not long after Ian left, the shop was descended upon by a small grey haired gnome complete with tufty beard, almost unintelligible Irish accent, greasy spectacles and all his possessions in a JDSports carry all bag. He told me his name was Casanova and he came from France, all the while wearing an impossibly shiny plastic rain jacket. Fuck me I thought, life soon returns to normal. He told me he’d be sitting in the shop waiting for a friend who’d arranged to meet him at three o’clock. I served him a coffee and told him he was out of luck because I’d be closing at two today. It’s a cold wettish Saturday and I had lots to do at home.
Then Mathew came in, apologising because he was later than he’d hoped. Count yourself lucky, Mathew, there’s late and then there’s late. Know what I mean?
Against my better judgement, I asked him what had delayed him. Always a foolish act.
“My cat. She wouldn’t let me out.” You might picture a twenty stone, seven foot Siberian Tiger prowling Fretful Grange and shit your pants with fear that a man like Mathew shares living space with such a terrible beast. But no, it’s a little black and white sweetie with green eyes.
“Mathew, how did Twinkles stop you coming out? How does that happen?” I felt my soul withering.
“She wanted to be fed.” Was his brief answer, so I made him a pot of tea and hoped for silence. The cogs of the Universe were once again slotting together, engaging their teeth, turning one within the other to drive time and space ever onward to the grim inevitability which awaits.
“I’ve been trying to get the council to clear a dangerous tree. You haven’t been about much lately. I was thinking of taking a saw along the road to cut it up and take it home to use it.” He left all this hanging, as if there might be a connection somewhere, or even some sense. I didn’t ask. I didn’t explain. Instead I placed a small smooth tan coloured pebble, such as you might find on any shingle beach, on the table next to his teapot.
“I picked it up in Berlin, Mathew. To show you. It’s from a car park. Hitler died nearby. Nothing remains to mark the spot except an illustrated information board. Think on that, Mathew. Fifty million dead and nothing but an eight or nine foot square perspex covered sheet of printed board to mark the time’s passing.”
Next weekend I’m taking Sara one of my daughters and grandson Jack to London for a couple of days. We’re going to climb the Monument and cross the Tower Bridge walkway. We’ll do other stuff too, I’m sure. Then I have to go again sometime soon with my sister as she wants us to revisit the places where we grew up and started school. It will be the first time we’ve been in Finsbury together since the summer of 1967. She’ll cry, most probably. Future ghosts and all that.