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Jul. 22nd, 2019

Cat Air

The Berlin Memorandum 5: Tuesday

I'd booked a flight late in the day, so I had time to wander round on my own and say a leisurely farewell to Berlin. I walked north to the Weissensee and had a coffee while I wrote postcards, which is exactly what I like to do on holiday, then took a tram to the town centre for a Vietnamese meal with Arakin and Ben.

The afternoon took me to the area around the zoo, where I admired the animal sculptures. (I have never been inside the Berlin Zoo; I suspect it would remind me of Onkel Julius in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and make me depressed.) I finished my day by drinking a beer with raspberry syrup, which is apparently a Berlin thing. (There's a green version, too. Next time.)

I collected my property from Arakin's flat, Ben and Arakin waved me off from the tram stop and I set out for the airport, my rucksack bulging with sweets 'for the office' and snacks to see me through the flight.

I got home at 1am, got myself to work for 9, and got sent home at 11 because a water main had burst outside the office and there was no water.

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Jul. 21st, 2019

Orange Vespa Huskyteer

The Berlin Memorandum 4: Monday

Marcy had suggested on several previous visits that I should come in summer and hire a scooter, so she could take me on a guided tour. This was the occasion I finally did it, booking from scooter2go. I met Marcy at the hire shop, and was delighted to be given a 125cc Peugeot Django in orange and cream.

We set off into the mid-morning traffic, Marcy leading so all I had to do was get used to my unfamiliar steed and riding in a foreign city.

"Look!" said Marcy as we waited for the lights to change near the Brandenburg Gate. She pointed to her wheels, which were resting on a line of brickwork. "I'm parked on the Berlin Wall!"

Our first stop was the Olympic Stadium, an imposing chunk of 1930s architecture and also another Quiller Memorandum location for my collection.



Next was the Bridge of Spies, where captured agents were exchanged during the Cold War. This had been on my list for a long time but always slightly too far to go.



At this point we discovered that the day's main objective, the air museum at the former RAF Gatow, was closed on Mondays. We crossed the bridge and settled in to a Potsdam café to drink coffee and regroup.

The café was themed around vintage motoring, and I admired the old Citroën parked outside.

"Oh, you like classic cars?" Marcy said. "We'll go to Classic Remise."

There was time on the way for me to get a look at the Teufelsberg listening station, another important piece of Cold War history. I had to climb a lot of steps for this view, but it was worth it.



Then on to Classic Remise. This is where you go to get your classic car serviced/sold/stored, but it's also basically a free museum - you can just walk in and check out whatever's on display. The two cars I most wanted to take home: a Citroën DS in orange, and of course the Aston Martin Volante, as seen in The Living Daylights.





All too soon it was time to return the scooter. I met my friend Rob at the hire place, and we travelled back to Arakin's together so we could all enjoy a meal at Knofel, a garlic-themed restaurant.

We tried all the novelty items on offer (garlic beer, garlic liqueur, garlic and mint ice cream), and they were OK, but the more sensible garlic-based dishes were fantastic, especially the garlic cloves fried in breadcrumbs and served with garlic dip ('Knobidip', hurr hurr).

The health benefits of the garlic were probably outweighed by all the cheese and potatoes we consumed with it, but you don't go to Berlin for the healthy eating.

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Jul. 19th, 2019

Cross stitch

The Berlin Memorandum 3: Sunday

After a slow start which involved eating a lot of toast, Arakin, Ben and I set off for the Stasi Museum.

Housed in the former headquarters of the Stasi, or Ministeriums für Staatssicherheit as it was formally called (see, we learned something), it's a sobering memorial to a time when every block of flats had its paid informer, children were encouraged to report suspicious behaviour by adults, and all letters might be intercepted and steamed open.

There was also a lot of old tech and ridiculous spy gadgets (they got most of their cameras from the West, incidentally, because they were better). These appealed to me a great deal, as did the 'everything is brown' 1970s aesthetic.

We took the free guided tour in English, which was very good and delivered a lot of facts and stories we wouldn't otherwise have found out.

We learned that there was just as much mistrust and surveillance within the organistion as outside it, making the Ministry a far from happy workplace, and that one room had once housed a huge computer, but nobody will admit to having any idea what it was like; it was destroyed and no photos survive.

In the evening, we watched Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.





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Cat Air

The Berlin Memorandum 2: Saturday

The excuse, if I needed one, for this particular visit was Marcy's suggestion that I bring Arakin round to her place for an international round of Get Drunk & Shout At Pierce Brosnan Movie Night. (This is a thing I talk about on Twitter a lot, and fairly self-explanatory.)

Saturday evening was earmarked for this great event. Beforehand, I had time for two essential Berlin experiences: currywurst at Konnopke's Imbiss under the U-bahn line at Eberswalder Strasse, and chocolate at Rausch.

We spent the evening eating Chinese takeaway, drinking gin and tonic, and playing the Pierce Brosnan Drinking Game, as devised by me and printed out with accompanying imagery by Arakin. Point-scoring actions include noisy kissing, Resting Smug Face, bizarre wandering accent, and any display of Pierce's astonishingly hairy man-cleavage.

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Marcy's cat disapproves of these goings-on.

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Jul. 18th, 2019

Mini Max

The Berlin Memorandum 1: Friday

Greetings! I have returned from Berlin, where my friend Arakin was once again kind enough to lend me his sofa.

Before I went I got a lot of dire warnings about how hot Berlin gets in the summer, so I felt a little cheated when I disembarked into light drizzle and it remained overcast for most of my trip, and more than usual like an idiot tourist in my shorts and sandals. Probably for the best given how much walking I ended up doing, mind.

I spent my first day in the city hunting locations from 1960s spy flick The Quiller Memorandum with the help of this website. I highly recommend this as a way to see some parts of the city you might not otherwise have visited, especially if you enjoy postwar German architecture, as I do. (See below.)

I had lunch on the Kurfürstendamm with Marcy, a friend from the Vespa forum, and met my host and his boyfriend, Ben, for dinner. It wouldn't be a holiday without a strange flavour of ice cream, and this trip's was Kinder Bueno.





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Jul. 5th, 2019

Cross stitch

Analogue Cats and Drunken Rabbits

This week is Anthrocon, one of the world's largest furry conventions, so it's not surprising there's a lot going on in the furry world currently.

As well as the aforementioned ROAR 10, the convention will see the launch of The Cóyotl Awards Anthology, a collection of winners and runners-up for the Cóyotl Awards.

This features not one but two of my works, 'The Analogue Cat' and '400 Rabbits'. They're both stories I'm very proud of, and I'm delighted that they won an award in the first place and are getting a reprint because of it. And I'm over the moon that my drunken Aztec rabbit god has made it onto the gorgeous cover.

The anthology is the last to be edited by the late Fred Patten, stalwart editor, reviewer and friend of the furry scene, before his unexpected death last year. Fred championed my work from my very first published furry story. Both I and the fandom owe him a great deal.

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Jul. 4th, 2019

Karate

Squeaks In Space

Yesterday, I mentioned that ROAR volume 10 was on its way; today I learned that it's available for preorder at FurPlanet.

ROAR is an annual, general audience anthology of furry fiction. Each year's volume has a theme, and this time it's Community.

My story, Once We Were Meerkats, is a short sci-fi piece about a colony of genetically-engineered meerkats terraforming a desert planet who come up against an alien menace. Simples.

I've wanted to write something in first person plural ever since I read Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris, which I loved to bits, and this is it.

Here's an extract:

Once we were meerkats. We’ve seen pictures in the database.

They made us human-sized, so we can build human-sized homes for them, and we lost our tails. We still have the fur that keeps us warm in the cold nights and cool in the heat of the day, with a dark mask to protect our eyes from the sun. We still have strong hands and nails designed for burrowing, even though we also have tools. We’re still tough enough to deal with predators, and immune to some types of venom. We need little water, and we can eat almost anything. Most of all, we still look out for each other. That’s how we survive.

We used to be cute.


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Jul. 3rd, 2019

Cross stitch

2019 Writing Challenge

2018 was a lousy year for writing around here. I had trouble starting projects, and, once started, finished very few. I began to wonder if perhaps I'd reached the end of all the writing that was in me.

This year I've written 6 stories in 6 months, which was a small challenge I set myself. Some of them were very short, not all of them have been edited yet, and, full disclosure, I finished writing the last one yesterday. But I am still pretty pleased with myself.

Three have been submitted, of which one has been accepted and will appear in ROAR volume 10 later this year, while two appear to have vanished into the void.

I'm not sure what's changed, but I've written more words in the first half of 2019 than I managed in all of 2018, and I hope this continues.
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Jun. 20th, 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me

Spy Vs Spybrary

Hey, remember when I took part in a podcast on Helen MacInnes? It turns out that once you've done one podcast, they just keep coming.

I suggested to Shane of Spybrary that he do an episode on James Bond continuation author John Gardner. His response was "Great idea, why don't you host it?"

The reason why not is that Gardner is my least favourite Bond author, his characterisation and dialogue make me cringe and I'm not comfortable with his depictions of women. But I did it anyway and managed to be reasonably diplomatic about it.

You can hear me chatting Gardner with Brian McKaig and Edward Biddulph here, or search for 'spybrary' wherever you source your podcast action.

Jun. 17th, 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me

If You Asked Me To

I took Friday afternoon off to enjoy some unfettered nerdiness.

My first stop was Green Park to meet my friend M, who had travelled down from Peterborough for the occasion, and Ed Biddulph of James Bond Food.

The three of us headed to Jack Barclay Bentley, just off Berkeley Square, for an exhibition of Flemingiana courtesy of Peter Harrington Rare Books.

The display was a thing of joy, featuring first editions, limited Bentley editions and items from Ian Fleming's personal library (e.g. a Boys' Own annual, which explains a lot) alongside a Blower Bentley and a Mark VI, as driven by Bond in the novels.

We were obviously not about to buy the book collection (sold as a single lot, yours for £2.5 million), a car or even a Bentley USB stick (£45) but the showroom staff were very nice to us and gave us exhibition catalogues. We tried not to get under the feet of serious purchasers.





In the evening, the Price Charles Cinema was showing Licence to Kill as part of its 007 Anniversary Screenings season (LTK is 30 this year).

As a bonus, the cinema provided an intro by special guest Alan Church, who had worked on the opening titles with Maurice Binder and showed us some previously unseen behind the scenes VHS footage.

We learned that the sexy girl-behind-water effect was achieved, in those pre-CGI days, with a a watering-can, a sheet of glass and a paddling-pool from the Uxbridge branch of Argos, and that Timothy Dalton got spun round in an office chair to do that at-his-most-dangerous turn from the teaser trailer (I would kill to see outtakes of this).



Obviously I've seen the film plenty of times on TV and DVD, but there's something special about a big screen and the presence of an appreciative audience, and we had a lovely night.

Just to cap it all off, a book I'd won in a giveaway on Twitter arrived in the post.

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