When I visited Arakin in Berlin last November, the subject of his upcoming 40th birthday came up, and we both agreed it would be nice if I came over for that.
So on Thursday I found myself heading once again to Stansted (where Arakin's birthday present, a set of shot glasses, was flagged up at the security screening and had to go off for a special x-ray). Thanks to the free lounge passes I get with my bank account, I fortified myself with a meal and a gin & tonic in the lounge before joining the milling crowd at the gate for my Ryanair flight. A couple of comedy gate changes and some luggage-wrangling later, we were airborne.
(Ryanair, by the way, have a new cabin baggage policy whereby unless you pay for an upgrade, you can only take a handbag or equivalent into the cabin; your cabin baggage-sized suitcase goes in the hold. This is actually fine as it saves all that struggling to cram it into the overhead locker/under the seat in front.)
I enjoyed the flight as always, though it was too cloudy to see anything (as we approached Schönefeld, a panicky voice called out "We'll never land in this!", but seconds later we did just that), afterwards making my way to the Alexanderplatz and then onto a tram for Arakin's flat like a total Berlin pro. Drinks and snacks awaited, and boy was I ready for them.
Friday was Arakin's birthday, and he had taken the day off. We had breakfast with his friend Sandy, who afterwards showed us round the huge public library where she works. This was great and I was instantly distracted by a collection of children's books from the DDR.
Our next stop was the cafe at the Spy Museum for birthday Vesper Martinis, which I swear was Arakin's idea.
In the evening there was a birthday meal at a French creperie where they clip the menus inside old Tintin books. I had a raclette pancake containing cheese, ham and potatoes, and it was so good I am still thinking about it.
One of the party guests was an enormous German Shepherd named David, who spent his time walking about under the table.
My friend Marcy from the Modern Vespa forum, to whom I introduced Arakin on my last visit, came along too. As the only non-furry, she received an eye-opening crash course in what it's all about.
Afterwards everyone except Marcy, but including David the dog, came back to Arakin's flat, where I performed an important cultural mission by introducing our German friends to gin & tonic.