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Feb. 8th, 2016

Karate

Go Furries!

Claw the Way to Victory is an anthology centred around anthropomorphic animals in sports, and how their nature changes the way sports are played. As soon as the call for submissions came out, I knew what I wanted to write about.

Cats playing table tennis.

Also, spies.

So I wrote Ping-Pong Diplomacy. It's 1971, and all Tux the cat wants to do on the US team's tour of China is play, not get caught up in East/West politics...


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Feb. 2nd, 2016

Husky Airways

Berlin Game: 4

Arakin had negotiated a late start at his workplace, so there was time for a rematch with the pastry shop next door and a visit to the nearby supermarket (so I could buy Haribo for the office) before we said goodbye.

I had a last look around Alexanderplatz, then descended into the station to look for a train to the airport. Utterly confused by the many transport options available, I asked at the information desk, and at the touch of a button was given a printout detailing exactly which trains, platforms, stations and times I required.

Unfortunately, by the time I made it on to the Airport Express, my two-hour travel ticket had expired. The conductor listened to my attempts at an explanation before waving it away, leaving me to stew in embarrassment, relief and guilt for the rest of my journey.

At Schönefeld, I took advantage of one of the lounge passes issued with my smilemore account. On the way out, at Stansted, this had been fine, and I was welcomed with open arms. In the Hugo Junkers Lounge, however, the woman on the desk frowned at my digital pass, asked to see my boarding-card, and pronounced "Die Lounge ist nicht für Ryanair Passagiere!"

I was all "That's not what this LOUNGE PASS says", only of course more politely, and she made a phone call, and at length I was admitted. My coffee and cake were hard-won that time.

As usual, I had a fistful of postcards and had failed to find a postbox. I asked the lounge lady, without much hope, and sure enough she told me in sucks-to-be-you tones that, unfortunately, the postbox was before security.

I tried a bored-looking duty free salesman in a kilt, who indicated that he would post my cards for me, taking them in a dramatically secretive manner that gave the transaction a clandestine feel. So my last impression of Germany was my usual one of kindness, generosity and a sense of humour (although I don't think any cards have actually arrived yet, hmm).

Much queueing and sitting around at the gate, a flight with a lucky window seat right at the back at the plane, and I was disgorged into Stansted soon after 3pm. I took the bus to the long stay car park, put on all my cold damp bike gear that had been sitting in the top box for three days, sneaked round the exit barrier, and was home soon after 5.

I packed a lot into what was really only two full days and two extra bits, but there remains much still to do (going up the TV tower! The DDR museum!), and I hope I can return before too long.

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Some more photos on Flickr.
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Jan. 29th, 2016

Casino Royale

Berlin Game: 3

Sunday was the day I got to indulge my interest in Cold War espionage. At Arakin's suggestion, we broke our tram journey into the city with a stop at Bornholmer Straße, where East Berliners flowed through to the West on the night of 9 November, 1989.



Next we returned to Checkpoint Charlie, because on my first visit I had spotted a café with a James Bond theme. The checkpoint appears in Octopussy, and this particular branch of the Back-Factory chain had put up a nice display of props and ephemera.

Excellent pastries, too.



I had a special request, which was to see the memorial to the Berlin Airlift, located near Tempelhof Airport. I was not disappointed by the massive monument, nor by the abandoned airport buildings with their brooding eagles.



The afternoon had been earmarked for the recently opened Spy Museum. There's a whizz through the espionage timeline, from biblical references and ancient Greek ciphers to the First World War, and some musings on current issues like password security and WikiLeaks, but the bulk of the information and exhibits relate to the Second World War and the Cold War. There are miniature cameras, including one designed to fit in a bra; cigarette packets that spray cyanide gas; a Trabant with infrared photography capabilities; an example of the notorious poison umbrella.



We continued the theme of the day by visiting a friend of Arakin's to play Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and watch Octopussy in German with English subtitles.

Jan. 28th, 2016

Monocle Husky

Berlin Game: 2

Snow had been promised for Saturday morning, and I eagerly opened the curtains onto grey and white streets with flakes still falling; in short, exactly what I needed to fuel my Spy Who Came In From The Cold fantasies.

Arakin and I walked to the bakery next door and brought back pastries for breakfast, after which we caught the tram into town and met Cleo at the huge KaDeWe department store. We marvelled at the goodies on offer (I bought a cookie cutter shaped like a scooter) before getting down to the real purpose of our visit: the café.

Kaffee und Kuchen at the KaDeWe is something of an institution, and I found out why. The others laughed at the suffusion of bliss that overwhelmed my face when I bit into my raspberry and meringue tart, but it was quite probably the best cake I have ever tasted. We savoured, luxuriated, lingered; then, refreshed, headed for further shopping.

We visited C&A at my request, since they've been extinct in the UK for about twenty years. Then I was introduced to the big Humana secondhand clothes shop, where I demonstrated my superpower of looking good in hats, somehow resisted buying a red jumpsuit, and appointed Cleo my personal shopper and stylist in perpetuity (I have been waiting all my life for someone to tell me I'd look really good in jumbo cords and a plaid waistcoat).

In a sudden burst of tourism, we visited the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial, both imposing in the snowy darkness, before heading back to the flat, bread and cheese, conversation, and collapse.

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Jan. 26th, 2016

Secret Agent Dog

Berlin Game: 1

Visiting Berlin has been on The List for some time, so when Ryanair sent me an email offering flights for £10 each way I jumped on them. arakinuk, currently working in the city, was kind enough to offer me his sofa, and I was all set.

My Ryanair flight suffered a two-hour delay while they tried to fix a broken radio, discovered it was unfixable, and transferred us to another plane, but I had the best kind of seat neighbour - chatty without being invasive - and Funeral in Berlin, which I must have read in my teens but of which I remembered nothing, so I didn’t mind.

Once the flight got under way it was smooth and fast, with icy rivers and snowy fields to look at. Soon we had landed and I was on a train heading to the Hauptbahnhof, gazing out at a golden evening and an undeniably foreign cityscape of blocky buildings and steel bridges.

Arakin had put me in touch with a friend of his who suggested we meet in town after I arrived so she could show me round a bit while he finished his working day. Thus I met Cleo, who was one of the best things to happen to me in a weekend of many great things. We enjoyed a restorative Starbucks before checking out Checkpoint Charlie and the tethered World Balloon, sadly closed for the night and destined to be unavailable due to poor weather for the rest of my stay.

Shivering through -8° temperatures, we headed for Arakin’s flat, so I could drop off my bag, then to a nearby Chinese restaurant, where we met my furry writer friend Rob, who also works in Berlin, three other local furries, and finally Arakin himself.

I was somewhat concerned by the number of jiaozi dumplings ordered, which exceeded a hundred, but we ate them all, washed down with several bottles of the mysteriously-named Schankwein, which turned out, of course, to be house wine.

Jan. 5th, 2016

south park

Utterly Unlike My Actual Life

Last night I dreamed that I was about to walk away from an awkward situation with dignity and grace, when I was distracted by a large plate of cheese.

What is my subconscious trying to tell me?

Jan. 4th, 2016

Ace

East is East

Channel 4 has been hawking Deutschland 83 on bus posters round my way, and got me all hyped up for it, but somehow neglected to mention that it was a German series in actual German with English subtitles.

This made it slightly hard work, but enjoyable nonetheless. I tend to think of the Cold War as a monochrome thing of the 1950s and '60s, and here it is happening within my lifetime, soundtracked by Eurythmics and 99 Luftballons.

I spent much of the episode shouting at the unwilling 24-year-old East German spy who, poor little chap, can hardly help not being much good at a job he's been unexpectedly forced into, and I'm greatly looking forward to the next instalment.
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Dec. 31st, 2015

This IS me (by schwitters)Default

2015 in books

Goodreads provides a handy chart depicting everything* I've read this year, which you should be able to see too:

https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2015/268220

My book of the year was The Last Pilot by Ben Johncock. I read other good books, but he wins because he did an ace author talk at my local bookshop. Honourable mention to The Bees, which made me cry, and Expo 58, which I read on the way to and in the location - Brussels - where it's set.

* except re-reads, children's books sneakily read in Waterstones, terrible 1920s aviation adventure novels too obscure to be listed, and no doubt other stuff.
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This IS me (by schwitters)Default

2016 minus 1 hour

I hope everyone is having a lovely New Year's Eve. I've just eaten most of a Stilton with Grand Marnier Extract and Dried Fruit, which was reduced to 45p in Tesco the other day, so it's all good here.

2015 has been a mixed bag. Collapse )

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2016 bring great things to us all, for we are awesome.

Dec. 24th, 2015

This IS me (by schwitters)Default

Merry Christmas!

Have an Advent Stick, from my entirely made up tradition, now in its 2nd glorious year.

Here it is on December 1:


And this morning:


I hope you all have a smashing Christmas, or, if that's not your bag, an above-average Friday.

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