19 posts categorized "Stumbled onto While Drinking"

Tattooed on the Memory

Where is he gay today? Edinburgh
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Thirty years ago, I found myself wishing bagpipes had a snooze button. 

Those sleepy mornings—over two dozen of them—took place in Edinburgh in the summer of 1985.  Seeking cheap digs, my pals and I bunked out at the Leith Nautical College, on the Firth of Forth.  A visiting pipe band from Canada, in town for Royal Tattoo, had the same idea.  They used the sports field outside the window to rehearse their drill.  Every morning, promptly at six forty-five.  

We spoke to management.  We explained that we were a comedy troupe from Australia, playing the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Jet lag was eating our brains.  Lights went up for our show at midnight.  And we drank a lot after the curtain fell—in Scotland, we reasoned, such an argument held sway.  Could the Canadians please keep the noise down until lunchtime?  

The administrator replied in soft tones reminiscent of Gordon Jackson in Upstairs Downstairs.  "Now, you do realise you are in Scotland?"

Yes, we said.

"And you know that this college is an arm of the Royal Navy, and as such, is a military institution?"

Yes, we said.

"And you imagine that militia, in Scotland, might march to tunes played on a bagpipe?"

Um, yes, we said.

"Well..." he concluded, with a phrase that betrayed a schooling in classics not uncommon among east-coast Scots, "caveat emptor."

*     *     *     *     *   

Leith Nautical College closed its doors in 1987.  One of my fellow troupers quipped that had he known, he would have delayed his visit two years.  

But bagpipes before breakfast were a small price to pay for an extraordinary several weeks.  

Our band of undergrad comics regularly played the fringes of the festival in our native Adelaide, and sought to open our gills in a bigger pond.   We came as rubes from halfway across the world, and left as actual, minor-league almost-professionals.  (Up to a point. Only one of our troupe went on to earn a crust in showbiz.)  At the Fringe, both competition and opportunity ran hot.

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The Royal Mile.  As ever, packed with patrons of the arts

By the late seventies, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe had become the largest arts festival in the world, dwarfing the festival proper.  Every church, school, gym, pub, spare room and coat closet morphed into a theatre—though in 1985, we were still half a decade away from using the word morph.

Postcard_1985Millions crowded into a city which, under normal circumstances, held barely 350,000.  To squeeze the maximum number of butts on seats, most performances ran less than an hour.  Audiences sprinted from show to show, through as many as eight or nine in a day.  As you dashed to make the next curtain, performers plied their witty ways to get a playbill in your hand—a practice known as flyering.  It was chaos.  Energetic, inventive, brilliant chaos.

Billing ourselves haughtily as the Australian Comedic Revue, we touted that we were a hometown hit on the Adelaide Fringe—an exaggeration: we were less a hit, and more a mild slap.  

Several of us threw together a show called Wagga Wagga High High.  From memory, the blurb went something like the tale of a school so evil that it can turn children into accountants.  I played a character called Zeldor Fitzgerald, Teen from Another Planet. The costume included my own high school uniform, into which I still fitted. Yes, 1985 was a simpler time. 

We gave an even milder slap to the Edinburgh Fringe, but felt we acquitted ourselves well enough.  Thanks to a not-unkind review in The Scotsman, we sold out our season.  Russell Harty wanted to interview us, too.  But that fell through, because his phone at the BBC didn't allow Subscriber Trunk Dialling, or something.  

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Edinburgh has since grown to half a milllion souls, but can still barely contain the beast.  In the first three weeks of August 2014, the Fringe sold 2,183,591 tickets to 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in 299 venues.  

If you divide the number of tickets into the number of performances, one gets an average audience size of a little over forty.  Few impresarios count this as a real figure.  In 1985, rumour put the median audience size at twelve.  This year, word on the street tipped nine. 

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Better Together

In the decades since, I'd wanted to return, simply as an audience member. This year, encouraged by friends who now live in Edinburgh, we did.  The promise of some fine travelling companions clinched the deal.  

When I told people in Edinburgh that I'd performed on the Fringe thirty years ago, they grew curious.  It must have been very different back then, surely.

I shocked them with my reply.  No.

In my observation, here's what's changed.  

  • Lager drinkers can choose from a wide array of bottled craft beers.
  • American university students majoring in theatrical administration or arts publicity often work on the Fringe as a course requirement.  We met several flyering. 
  • Edinburgh's quality broadsheet, The Scotsman, once provided the most authoritative critiques. The paper remains an authority, but nowadays a mammoth website called Broadway Baby overshadows it.  Curious, since the Fringe is about as un-Broadway as you can get.

That's about it.  Here's what hasn't changed since 1985. 

  • Busking bagpipers on the Royal Mile love the theme from Star Wars.  
  • Tickets are pretty cheap, but dedicated cheapskates pick up bargains at the half-price box office.
  • Snooty, sensitive, arty types hate the atmosphere.  Australian acts thrive.  American and Japanese artists enjoy the looser rules.  
  • An act lives or dies by its reviews—if you get a decent review, you put it on your flyers and flog the hell out of it.  
  • Modern times have seen the rise of the professional publicist.  But still, the best way to get an audience is for an artist to wear out some shoe leather, press some flesh, and perform on the street.  
  • Never sit in the front row for a stand-up comic. When he asks "And where are you from?"—and he will—whatever your answer, he will mock you mercilessly.  He will mock you mercilessly, too, if you decline to answer at all. Too often, the where-are-you-froms displace actual jokes.  It's heckling in reverse.  Hey, buddy, I'm your audience, not your material.  Lookin' at you, Fred McAulay and Scott Capurro.  I repeat, never sit in the front row for a stand-up comic, unless you crave attention.
  • You can take your drinks into the theatre, or indeed, anywhere.  Restaurants in most parts of the world will bundle leftover food in a doggie bag; in Edinburgh, pubs decant leftover drink into a Starbucks-style doggie cup.  Have you ever sipped beer through a straw?  Not my preferred means of suckage.
  • Scots like to vomit.  Billy Connolly's most famous routine even jokes about it.  Drinking Scots should be required to carry airsickness bags, in the same way dog-owners must carry plastic bags as a measure against their pets fouling the pavement. 
  • The Fringe organisation does an awesome job of managing the herd of over 20,000 temperamental performers. Nowadays, it provides a cool mobile app that lets you squeeze more theatre into a given day than you thought humanly possible.  Their website pulls together a programme, ticketing system, reviews and social media seamlessly.  But the telephone-book sized Fringe programme remains the most popular means for visitors, literally, to get their acts together.
  • With 20,000 performers in a city the size of Edinburgh, the Fringe thrusts artists and audience together in ways you simply don't find elsewhere.  Many performers mingle before and after the show—given the set-up of most venues, it's unavoidable.  If you want to talk to your comedy heroes face-to-face, go to an Edinburgh pub. 

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Umbilical Brother Dave Collins clowns with the public in the foyer after his show
—which was superb, by the way.

I've changed.  But the Fringe hasn't.  Every year, it finds new sources of energy, originality, and outrage.  Perhaps I shouldn't leave thirty years between visits.  Nowadays, I can afford a quieter place to sleep. 


Always Wear a Conservative

My landlord, Roman, loves the good life.  Since he takes charge of the bottle recycling at our place, he can't help notice that we do, too.  

That led us to chat, in English, about beer.  Nowadays, I told him, I could scarcely manage three Weißbier at a time.  That amounts to about 1500 ml, which isn't even two of those giant Krug you see at Oktoberfest.  A mere sip for a true Bavarian.

Condom_advertisement_1918"That's because Weißbier isn't covered by the Reinheitsgebot,"  he began.  The Bavarian beer purity law—the 1516 Reinheitsgebot, or Cleanliness Order—forbade local beer to contain anything more than water, malt, barley and hops.  Weißbier, made with unmalted wheat, doesn't actually qualify as beer.  Brewers can put a modest number of chemicals inside.  "It has many conservatives," Romulus continued, "Like with California wine, the next day the conservatives make my head explode."

Scholars call this linguistic interference.  In German, a preservative is Konservierungsstoff—literally, "conserving stuff".  No biggie.

"Yes, last week we went out to dinner, and the wine was full of preservatives," I replied. "We felt very sore the next day."

Perhaps I should have considered this sentence more closely.  In German, most people use the borrowed word Kondom, for a condom.  But that's slang.  The ever-wise Papa Scott tells us that his teenage son learned the high-falutin' term Präservativ in his sixth-grade sex-education class.

(One wonders what they teach in a German ninth-grade sex-education class. Cunnilingus technique?)

Roman looked at me quizzically.  Then he smiled.  "You gay guys and your parties!" he said.  He thought for a moment, and added "That's a very good idea, you know."  We bid each other a schönen Tag.

This post is part of the Awful German Language Blog Hop on Young GermanyServus to you, Nicolette Stewart!

Picture: Wikimedia Commons.  Links to source


Playing with Feuer

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Living in Munich, we enjoy high levels of peace, safety and public order. Which is why it's so surprising to witness the Silvester, or New Year's Eve, in action.

There's an awful lot of recklessness with fireworks, and many drunken revellers toss firecrackers around simply to cause mischief.
A fave trick, it seems, is to toss a string of crackers at someone's feet and tell them to dance.

On Monday night, I witnessed someone throw a string of crackers under the wheel of my neighbour's Porsche; luckily, it only smoked up the upholstery. (Was this a political statement, like the rash of car burnings in northern cities?)  The ever watchful Papa Scott assures us that the injury toll in his northern city of Hamburg has declined in recent years, but I suspect this may be more luck than management.

Our place is near the Friedensengel in Munich, where police close off the street to give tipsy pyromaniacs a free rein. Even today, we can smell the cordite in the air. I posted the photo above on New Year's day in 2008, and it gives a hint of how we face down the dangers of a festive occasion.  The überlin blog gives you a filmic taste of what it's like to be in the middle of a German public Silvester celebration.

Drunken assholes love to toss firecrackers into post-boxes. It's such a common problem, apparently, that the post office has worked out a procedure. The deliverable mail is dried out after the fire brigade's dousing, placed in a plastic sleeve, and delivered with a very, very obsequious letter of apology, asking the recipient still to trust Deutsche Post nonetheless.   It also asks one not to blame the sender for the condition of the article.  This kind New Year card arrived from Berlin damp and smoky, but legible.  

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Let me use that card as a segue.  Master Right and I belatedly wish you all a happy, bountiful, and above all, safe 2013.

The Christmas of Drinking Half-Decent Wine for a Change. Part Two.

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The social media was unanimous.  They recommended we drink the Mersault on Heiligabend.  So we did.  Twitter and Facebook had excellent taste.

Now the 1st Weinachtstag dilemma.  Which shiraz to have with the duck?  The choice is a bit more complex. One from the Barossa Valley, the capital of Shiraz.  And two from McLaren Vale, the grape's spiritual home. 

Let's start with the McLaren Vale shiraz.  D'Arenberg wine is dear to my heart, from the days when my pals and I would skive off lectures at the nearby University of Adelaide to go wine drinking tasting. 

There's an art to university drinking.  The undergrad imbiber must calculate, usually on the run, how to squeeze maximum merriment from minimum dough. 

In most parts of the world the math is easy—beer wins.  Especially so 'round these parts; beer is the Poland Spring of Bavaria.  Those poor students in England must resort to cider when skint, and I pity them. 

In the South Australia of my youth—home to about 60% of Australia's viticulture—the most cost-efficient booze was wine.  When wineries finished their run of bottling proper wine, they would often find some left over.  They decanted the leftovers into three-litre bottles, known as flagons or 'goons for short, and sold it cheap to the likes of us.  Depending on the luck of the draw, one's palate could become quite spoiled. 

Our 'goons of choice came form D'Arenberg, and to boot, their tasting room showed great tolerance of freeloaders.  D'Arrys curls up in a special corner of my heart.   The wine on the table today bears the name of a highly successful racehorse owned by the founder of the winery.  Historians credit Footbolt as the first true backer of the business. 

The Barossa Valley, though big and tempting, lay a little bit too far from city for convenient wine-hookey.  But the Barossa shiraz shows promise.  

The Burge Family Draycott Shiraz comes from another long-established family winery.  It contains about 30% Grenache, a light, sweet fruity grape that doesn't age so well.  That makes it front-runner for tonight's cork-pop, since we must drink it urgently.  The last bottle of this we opened was corked, so there will be tension in the air as we plunge in the screw. 

The Beresford Shiraz—well, the winery is a comparative newcomer, established in 1985 in Langhorne Creek.  I've not tasted any of their wines before.  A dark horse, but if the blogosphere/twittersphere/facebookworms tell us to drink it, drink it we shall.  And happily. 

Let us know what you think.


Photo Friday: Walk

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This week's Photo Friday theme is Walk, but in truth, the pictures sort of show a march.  We arrived in Hakone on a festival day in the summer of 2003.  The mountain town celebrated with a parade.  Her streets, though, are barely wide enough for a single car to pass: bands could march, at the most, three abreast.  And spectators got up close and personal with the musicians.

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The Fifty Most Annoying Germans, as Judged by Experts

Screen shot 2011-12-30 at 14.52.32It is not a part of German culture to withold one's disapproval.  Many foreigners who live here can recount tales of being told off for anything, anything at all, which a passer-by deems improper.

Haughty matrons tell off the Heidelbergerin for not packing her groceries fast enough at the Aldi.  Ian in Hamburg gets the stink-eye for riding his bike in the afternoon on a work day.  Phone operators chastise me for not having the serial number of my washing machine handy when I call for a repairman.  And customs officers assure everyone that no matter how the form is filled out, it's wrong.

Yes, we like to point out each other's faults, here in Germany.  So it shouldn't surprise us that among the highlights of last month's viewing, we find Pro Sieben's Most Annoying Germans of 2011.  

If you open the list of fifty most annoying Germans, one sees the smiling face of Boris Becker.  This shocked me.  Not that Becker made the list, but rather, that there were 49 others in front of him.

The Odd Men Out

Television viewers selcted the Die Nervigsten Deutschen, and they showed quite specific tastes in their distaste.  They filled the top five slots with tabloid glitterati, except for one. 

The Pope (#4), technically qualifies as a German, and a Bavarian at that.  But to call His Holiness annoying is to call Dick Cheney a little haughty, or Bernie Madoff an inconvenience.  

Two of this year's Nervigstern filed in joint names, those cooing turtledoves Pietro Lombardi and Sarah Engels. The pair fell in bed love when they placed first and second on Deutschland Sucht den Superstar, part of the Pop Idol franchise.  They got engaged soon after, and many smelled a cynical PR opportunity.  The pair drips with starry-eyed goo.  Each wears a silver ID bracelet that reads Sarah and Pietro, and have been seen, in public, sharing a lollipop.  They are so romantic, they are rarely seen outside each other's mouths.

And you know what?  Good for them.  Public displays of affection annoy only the cynical, the miserable and the loveless. Yes, voting public, that obviously means you.

The panel of TV commenters weren't far behind the mob, baying for blood and public humiliation. 

Comedian Simon-Gosejohann chided Pietro for having no self-awareness or interior life.  Rapper Sido trotted out the old chestnut that dumme Menschen sind glücklich, or stupid people are happy, to wild applause from the studio audience.  Comedienne Carolin Kebekus just kind of sneered. 

A Bunch of Boobs

What annoys the public more than romance?  Breasts, it would appear.  The remaining three finalists sport boobs like zeppelins, as the professionally annoyed panel reminded us.

The booth announcer commented that fifth place mononame Indira had just been reassessed by ratings agencies, and "upgraded from a D+ to a DD+".  Amid many shots of second place Gina-Lisa Lohfink's ample bustline, Sido cattily christened her Vagina-Lisa, and moderator Micky Beisenherz changed her last name to Lohfick.  For those of you who don't know: ficken, in German, means to fuck.   It takes real class to be that annoyed.

Katzenberger kindle biography(An aside: According to , the Langenscheidt youthspeak dictionary, young German men call such a rack a docking station.  They don't seem to be terribly nervig.)

Die Siegerin

So, who is the most annoying German for 2011?  It's the pneumatic Daniela Katzenberger, an actress/model/singer/personality/author.  At first glance, she might seem like a celebrity in the Gabor or Kardashian mold—or as we say in German, she has no hobbies.  But like the cat after which she is named, her cunning hides her genius.  Her autobiography confirms it: it's titled Be Crafty, Play Dumb.

She is truly a child of the media, with an unerring sense for publicity.   As a teenager, she auditioned for a spot on Auf und Davon – Mein Auslandstagebuch, one of the several popular reality shows which document the tales of Germans who set out for a new life abroad. 

Daniela set her eyes on Chicago, and scored an internship with Hooters.  When Hooters learned that their new intern would be bringing a TV crew, they rather wisely demurred.  But that didn't stop Katzi, and she delivered her application to become a Playboy Bunny to Hugh Hefner himself.  I understand he offered to marry her, before someone reminded him that he was married already.

From there, no-one could stop her.

Who's Annoying Whom?

I think it's fair to ask a question of the people behind The Most Annoying Germans of 2011. 

That question is not what will people think of Germany with all these programmes about Germans getting on each other's nerves and wanting to leave the country?  

No, the question is who the hell do you think you are?

The gracious Miss Katzenberger has not responded to this taunt on her highly-professional, multilingual website.  (I notice that none of the panel of commenters has a goddamn multilingual website, BTW.) 

But if she should wish to tell these TV sorts where to get off, I invite her to do it this Friday, January 13.  It, of course, is the fourth annual Deutschland über Elvis International Day to Bite Me.

Bite me, bitte!

Snarl at them, Katzi.  You can read all about the history of The International Day to Bite Me at its homepage on Deutschland über Elvis, join in the fun on our Facebook event page, or follow the hashtag #bitemeday.  

DüE declared the day in response to the annual Clean Off Your Desk Day, and it celebrates, with a hearty bite me!, a deserved riposte to all those busybodies who will tell you how to live your life.

Daniela, you can let those puppies loose anywhere you want.  Ignore what people say!

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Fest Fatigue

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The
Wies'n under construction, August 2011

This is our fifth Oktoberfest in Munich.  It's a light one.  Only two lots of visitors from abroad.  In the past, our poor spare room scarcely had time to draw breath before getting stuffed to its rafters with the next mob of thirsty AusländerMany a foreigner who lives in Munich knows the feeling.

On the other hand, 2011 has thrown up a punishing schedule of work events on the Wies'n.  It's impossible to do business in Munich without schmoozing away much of September.   Our office lies, literally, across the street from the festival grounds; both clients and colleagues from out-of-town take good advantage of this.   As it sits on my desk, my phone buzzes with faceboock check-ins over the road.  

I don't want to sound like a wet blanket, but frankly, Oktoberfest is hard work.  You need energy and stamina.  Beer provides both of these, but takes its toll on brain-cells, waistlines and the social reputation of the drinker.  

As I sit here at my desk, I can tell you that I'm well-and-truly over it.  But put a beer in my hand, and I might just find some enthusiasm.   Beer...it's magic!


Quainter

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About thirty miles from St. Moritz, in the Swiss Alps, we stumbled on a quiet village.  It had everything; a picturesque town square, great restaurants, a beautiful church, plenty of  ski lifts, and ice-skating on a frozen lake.  But even at the height of the ski season, we saw few crowds.  Master Right and I felt the town could attract many more visitors.  It just has a small marketing problem to solve.

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