Tag Archives: Friendship

Waiter, There’s A Moral Dilemma In My Lunch!

I did a very bad thing. No, not recently. It must have been seven or eight years ago. It happened at the end of a shopping trip in Brent Cross, North London. After trudging through the aisles like two people who only ever go shopping when they absolutely have to, my friend and I decided to reward ourselves with a nice lunch at Wagamama, which, back then, was still quite a hip chain of Asian fusion cuisine.

I’d eaten there a few times before, but my friend hadn’t, so I recommended a tasty stir fry, which she duly ordered. I can’t remember what I had, but I do remember that I only enjoyed the first two forkfuls of it because of what ensued.

The food arrived, looking all fresh, healthy and delicious. We started to tuck in.

“Oooooh! Yummmmmm!” My friend’s eyes grew wide and then closed slowly as she slipped into a trance of eating pleasure. “This is just the best tofu I have ever tasted in my whole damn life!”

My cardiac activity seized for a few seconds.

This was not tofu.

I had forgotten to tell her to substitute the chicken.

My friend had been a faithful vegetarian for the past quarter of a century. Until 40 seconds ago. How could I have made such a terrible mistake?

She clearly had no inkling that there was anything amiss. And why would she? After all, she was having lunch with no other than moi, a professional nutritionist attuned to people’s special dietary requirements.

I kept smiling as convincingly as I could muster while trying to make all the right food appreciation noises – no easy feat when your airways are constricting.

What was I to do?! My panicked monkey mind went into overdrive. Coming clean about my oversight and apologising profusely would probably be the right thing to do. But what good could possibly come of it? Lunch would be ruined, a good meal wasted. Right now, at least one of us was still enjoying it.

In fact, I’d never seen anyone take such delight in their food. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how someone, who went that gaga over some run-of-the-mill strips of chicken breast would react to a juicy slab of beef teriyaki or a soft-as-butter, slow-roasted lamb shank.

Nobody was being harmed here, I reasoned to myself. This was not a case of food allergy. (If anyone was experiencing all the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, it was me!) And the chicken had already been very dead for quite some time. I was, in fact, not only saving my friend’s stellar lunch experience, but also an animal from having given its life in vain. And it could have been worse – that could have been pork there on that plate. (My friend was not only vegetarian, but also Jewish.)

At this point, she turned to one of the servers who was rushing by, balancing several steaming bowls of ramen on his tray. “Hey, I just loooooove your tofu! So chewy! How do you get it to have a texture like that? Could I talk to the chef? I need that recipe!” (My friend was not only vegetarian and Jewish, but also American).

The bed of coals I was sitting on had just got hotter by another thousand degrees.


The waiter, a pimply young man on the minimum wage, flashed a flattered smile in my friend’s direction, but he did not – to my infinite relief! – relay her request for a personal audience to the chef, who was up to his armpits assembling meals for the lunchtime crowd.

After what seemed like an eternity, during which I remained hell-bent on engaging my friend in spurious conversation to draw her attention away from both the “tofu” and the wait staff, we finally cleared our plates.

“Hey, how about dessert?”, I asked, staring longingly at the door. “But not here, you know what these Asian places are like – crap sweets.” A blatant lie, at least where Wagamama is concerned. But I had no intention of prolonging this torture.

We paid and I leapt into the neon lit mall, which, at that moment, appeared to me as welcoming as a fragrant spring meadow populated by purring kittens. We headed straight for Millie’s Cookies. And never has a box of hydrogenated fat, sugar and food colouring washed down with coffee from a paper cup tasted so good.

Jane, if you’re reading this, I’m really, really sorry!

I Hate Weddings. I Really Do.

“Everyone loves a wedding” – so went the first sentence of a post by one of my favourite bloggers, an intrepid self-sufficiency enthusiast braving the vagaries of the Lithuanian outback.  I guess I must be the only person in the world who can’t stand weddings.

Maybe weddings are a bit like cats – you either love them or you hate them. Or maybe weddings are like other people’s kids – if you want people to be nice to yours, you have to stop yourself from kicking theirs, however much you’re itching to test those steel-capped boots.

People certainly seem to be in love with their own weddings. Theirs are always superior to other people’s, because, so they will insist, “tacky component X” was omitted, and replaced by “über-unique” ingredient Y”.

This “tackiness factor” they so decidedly spurned could be just about anything: the much-maligned white meringue dress, garish flowers, crab cocktail appetisers, bubble-gum-pink bridesmaids’ outfits with puff sleeves, etc.

Same goes for ingredient Y. The only criteria is that the guests pretend to buy into Happy Couple’s assertions that nobody had ever thought of it before, and that they laud its originality forever after, whenever the topic of weddings comes up.

The whole thing reminds me of a German muesli company I came across some months ago, who lets its clients customise their own personal muesli from 80 different ingredients. According to the company, this results in 566 quadrillion possible product combination. Well, I don’t even know how many zeros are trailing behind that figure, but there’s one thing I do know: Muesli is muesli and a wedding is a wedding, whether you have orange lilies or pickled Scottish thistles as your table centrepiece.


This was once considered the cutting edge of fashion. As was the dress. Both were sustained by hot air.

The instigating couple will usually insist that their Big Day is all about “spending time with their loved ones”, rather than the bride gliding up the aisle in her decidedly-not-tacky outfit with all eyes on her.

Let’s do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation here. For the numerically challenged (and I wearily count myself among them), let’s assume there’s a total of 100 wedding guests. Half of these are the groom’s and half the bride’s, leaving each with 50.

But, let’s be honest – nobody really *loves*  all of the people they’ve invited to their wedding, do they? We are probably only fond of half of our family (and that’s being generous). As for friends, only about half attending a wedding will be actually be friends of the bride or groom, the remainder being made up of their friends’ other halves. In essence: 50% of the guests are just there to stop the other 50% from killing themselves.

Now we’re left with 25 “loved ones” on each side. But wait! Quite a few of these, maybe not half, but let’s say just over one third – are “political” guests, like bosses, work colleagues or other acquaintances, who’d be mortally offended if they hadn’t been invited and your life just wouldn’t  be worth living forever after.

The upshot is, any bride or groom will have warm fuzzy feelings for 15% of the people sipping their bubbly. But it’s not like they can spend any appreciable amounts of time with them. After all, they are duty-bound to “do the rounds” like a pair of frantic mayflies who’ve spent the last 23 hours idly sunning themselves on a lily pad.

I should, perhaps, mention at this point that I don’t just have an aversion to weddings – it’s big social gatherings in general. My wonkily engineered social skills circuits go into deep freeze mode when exposed to a stampeding multitude of more than four. You see, I don’t really have the standard-issue “group of friends” where everyone has known each other since they were knitting mittens in Mrs Meyer’s needlework class. And although some of my friendships go back decades, I don’t tend to know their other friends very well. Having moved towns and countries several times hasn’t helped.

This gets me into some abysmal situations. Some twelve years ago, I attended (under duress!!!) the wedding of a friend from Uni. It was a mercy mission – she was new to the UK, so her local social circle was very small, so I felt obliged to “make up the numbers”. I didn’t know anyone at the wedding but her. And – horror of horrors! – I ended up on the leper colony equivalent for social outcasts: The Singles Table. Oh Dear Lord. I found myself wedged between Dreary Banker and ER Doctor, who needed to broadcast his professional superhero status to all and sundry. If only the Happy Couple had known back then that their wedded bliss would last a mere smidgen longer than my Singles Table ordeal… but that’s another story.

I have to concede, from the average guest’s point of view, that, if the food is good (and that’s a big IF), if there’s a bunch of good old friends to chat to, and if they enjoy drinking as much as Rod Stewart is bound to enjoy an all-female nudist resort in Sweden, I can see how the event would go down as a fun day out.

But if ever you happen to spot me at a wedding – and the likelihood is about as high as Halley’s comet coinciding with a solar eclipse during the leap year when the Middle East Peace Treaty is signed – I just want you to know that I’m inwardly reciting to myself that “this, too, shall pass” 566 quadrillion times.

Honey, I’m Home!

Lola and leavesThis is Lola, my friend Gaynor’s cat, peering at me from the depths of the clematis. Although she looks a bit apprehensive in the pic, she was, in fact, very pleased to see me, when I wandered into her garden yesterday morning. I called her name, and almost immediately, she rocketed out from behind the garden shed and came bounding up to me, covered in sand and leaves. We’d not seen each other in three years, but it was quite clear that she remembered her old friend and neighbour.

So, the upshot is that I’m back in London, this great city which had been my home for a decade, for the first time since I left for Spain. Due to a fortuitous confluence of circumstances, I’m staying in “my” old flat in East Finchley. Everything’s the same, and everything’s different – a feeling most expats will be able to relate to.

Right now, I’m floating on a rose-tinted cloud of nostalgia and my diary is choc-a-bloc. Sadly, I won’t be able to catch up with everybody in the space of just a week, nor visit all of my favourite eateries… but I’ll have a damn good time trying 🙂


Swinging Into Spring

Yesterday was the first day that really felt like spring here in Toledo. The icy winds had finally abated, the sun was out, giving it all it could possibly muster. To celebrate the occasion, my chums Sofia, Reyes and I decided to go for a walk by the river. We didn’t need our woollen coats, bobble hats or any other tedious winter paraphernalia 🙂

It was a very civilised stroll, befitting of a middle aged posse… until we hit the playground…

Sofia was brave enough to get on first... will it hold??

Sofia was brave enough to get on first… will it hold??

Chains are creaking ominously, but I've decided to ignore it...

Chains are creaking rather ominously. I’ve decided to ignore it…

Swings 3

Reyes isn’t quite trusting it…

Now she's getting in the swing of it...

Now she’s getting into the swing of things…


Imbalanced? Not us!

Soon the trees will be as lush and green as the grass :)

Bank of the Tagus river gleaming in the sunshine. Soon the trees will be as lush as the grass 🙂

70’s Flashbacks: First Flirtations

Digging ever further into the piles of old family photos this summer, there he was: Robert Spiegel, my first childhood crush! Our mothers were good friends, we lived in the same village, and so we saw quite a lot of each other when we were kids.

Here we are on a visit to Munich zoo:

Robert and I

See how hard I'm working it...?!

See how hard I’m working it…?!

I also found this photo, taken at a kindergarten carnival party:

I'm either a princess or a fairy... how original...

I’m either a princess or a fairy… how original…

The boy in the picture, Siegfried Terpoorten (‘Sigi’), was my second crush, after it had dawned on me that Robert, although quite sweet, wasn’t… well… the sharpest tool in the box.

Sigi was sharp witted and charismatic, even at that age. He oozed confidence, without being (overly) cocky, and enjoyed universal popularity. I’m not sure I had paid him all that much heed at the time the above picture was taken. We must have been around 6 years old in that shot. Three years later, though, he did something that left a lasting impression.

It happened during carnival season. The Village used to lay on a children’s costume party every year, held in the local community centre. The fest was in full swing, when Sigi swished through the doors, in a bright green chiffon dress, a wig with strawberry blonde pleats and painted-on freckles splattered across his nose.

The crowd, composed of 50% princesses and 50% cowboys/Indians (this was before the age of the superheroes), let out a communal gasp. Everyone took the piss, of course, but he didn’t seem to care in the least. In fact, he wore the same outfit again a couple of days later for our primary school’s carnival do.

I don’t remember which kid showed off with his or her first Gameboy, but I do remember this; in fact, it’s my first conscious memory of being seriously impressed by someone. That Sigi had balls, and not even a big girl’s blouse could dent his street cred.

With hindsight, I’d say it was his first public demonstration that he wasn’t going to comply with other people’s expectations, and that he had the perseverance to see things through. Sigi was meant to become an electrician, like his father, and take over the small family business. He played along for a time, and so, despite being clearly very bright, he ended up stuck at a school that catered for the lower strata of academic ability, affording him the minimum educational standard required for entering an electrician’s apprenticeship, which he did complete.


Sigi grown up

His real passion, though, had always been acting, and he was the shining star of local community and school theatre performances. Fiddling with wiring wasn’t going to do it for him in the long run, that much was obvious. So he went back to school, and even managed to get a scholarship to a prestigious acting school. Today, he’s a successful German TV, film and theatre actor, and lives, as far as I know, in Switzerland with his wife and children.

So then, any juicy stories about your first crushes…? Spill, people, spill!

70’s Flashbacks: Meet My Best Friend. Ever.

Which one is it...?

Which one is it…? (I’m the one on the left, btw.)

No, it’s neither of those queer looking girls, heaven forbid! The one on the right I fell out with when we were 11, and we haven’t spoken since (sounds pathetic, which it is, and were we still living in the same country, we’d have fixed this by now). Her cousin, the one in the middle, who looks a bit like a mole, was totally insufferable. She always had to be the leader in every game, regardless of whether one was required or not. Even my mother only ever referred to her as “The Boss”. I’m by no means a natural-born leader, but equally untalented as a follower, so the three of us were doomed from the start.

But I digress. My bestest friend of all time, as you’ll probably have guessed by now, was the dog. My dad acquired him from a US airbase nearby. The owner was returning to the States and could not take him. His original name was Snoopy (yes, very original…!), but as this is awkward for Germans to pronounce, it was approximated to Schnuppi. My mum, terrified of all dogs, turned the poor animal’s arrival into a huge drama, and Schnuppi had to be tied up to the railings outside the front door.

This state of affairs didn’t last long – three hours at the most – before my mum was won over by his heartbreakingly sad eyes and rabbitty back legs. Schnuppi was as stubborn as dachshunds come, and just as loyal. He was not a yapper, but when he did decide to voice his excitement, his bark was sonorous, low pitched and slightly husky.

A pampered family pet, he lived to the ripe old age of 15 and was buried in the very centre of his kingdom that was my grandparents’ garden, beneath a voluptuous spruce.

You never laughed at me, even when they stuck me in the  most ridiculous outfits

Aw, my precious friend…you never took the piss, not even when they wrangled me into the most ridiculous outfits

hough your back may have been turned, you were looking out for me as I plodded wonkily through the garden, toppling over and grazing my knees every five stepsI

Though your back may have been turned, you were looking out for me as I plodded wonkily through the garden, toppling over and grazing my knees every five steps

I shared my toys with you, and what a good sport you were :)

I shared my toys with you, and what a good sport you were 🙂

Do you have any fond memories of a beloved childhood pet?

[I have posted a bunch of embarrassing childhood pictures before, here they are, if you want to see them]

Breakfast and Ice Cream Outings In My Birth Town

My friend Martina and I (we’ve been friends since we were four years old) always meet up when I’m on a home visit. Our perpetual mission is to hunt down good food in Fürstenfeldbruck, the town where I was born, which is less than three miles from ‘The Village‘. It’s not exactly a challenge 😉


Breakfast at Vierwasser, a very trendy restaurant by the river Amper.

Ice Cream

We’ve moved on to a fabulous ice cream place right next door to Vierwasser, called Al Ponte. It’s been there for well over 40 years. When we were kids, once a week, Martina and I used to get a scoop of vanilla ice cream each in a cone on our way from our primary school to the bus stop. Once, a pesky class mate of ours by the name of Manuel Krey, was hassling us. I lost my patience and cracked my precious treat over his head. I’m still pissed off about this today – he so wasn’t worth the monumental sacrifice! Should have kicked him in the nuts instead.

The view from our table

The view from our ‘Al Ponte’ table

A canoeing party came along while we were enjoying our ice creams

A few more pics from Fürstenfeldbruck town centre:

Leonhardi Kirche

Leonhardi Kirche

The Town Hall

The Town Hall


Schöngeisinger Str

Here is a brief post about my friend Martina and I, including an old photograph, if you’ve missed it. Just click here.

You Can’t Make Old Friends…

I’m lucky enough to have a collection of fabulous friends from many different epochs of my life. Kindergarten, school, college, different work places, projects, countries – usually, a lasting connection is forged with one or two people, and although we may not be in touch much of the time, somehow, we continue to be part of each other’s lives with varying degrees of intensity and frequency.

I enjoy these bonds immensely. A distinct constellation of reference points exists with each individual, which cannot be replicated with someone else. They’ve borne witness to a specific episode in your life that turned you into the person you are today. Once that person disappears from your life, you’ve also lost that touching stone to your past. Of course, a lasting friendship needs a bit more cement than just a shared stretch of the past, which is why we do not keep up with probably 99% of the people who were once a bit more than mere acquaintances.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this… Well, my ‘oldest’ friend Martina is coming to Toledo tomorrow to spend a long weekend with me, and I’m excited about it. Normally, I only see her once a year when I return to Germany for a family visit, and we may only speak to each other on the phone four or five times a year. You see, she has three children, a business (which involves baking and selling cakes!!!), a cattle farm and some high-powered part-time job in the German equivalent of the NHS, so it’s hard for her to get away.

Martina and I made friends in kindergarten at the tender age of four. We grew up in the same village, and we went to school together. Our younger brothers, incidentally, are also good friends, and I even remember her mother being pregnant with her brother. Although our lives over the last two decades could not have been any more different, our friendship has endured for 37 years.

We can go trawling, without a trace of reticence, through our most sordid of family scandals, and there’s no need for lengthy explanations. She’s seen my father in Tyrannosaurus Rex mode, and, boy, I know just how doolally her mother is. We each understand why the other one is so uniquely fucked up, and also why we are strong and driven in very different ways. And, most importantly, we can laugh about it all 🙂

I took a shot of an already terribly grainy, faded picture, but it's the only one I have of Martina and I. We're probably eight years old, and it must have been taken after school, as we've both got school bags strapped to our backs.

I took shot of an already terribly grainy, faded picture, but it’s the only one I have of Martina and I. We’re probably eight years old, and it must have been taken after school, as we’ve both got school bags strapped to our backs.

I should really not be sitting here and wasting time on writing this when I’ve got a flat to clean. A flat that’s not up to German standards of cleanliness, not by a veeeeeery long shot, and I’ve not got a cat in hell’s chance of covering up my domestic inadequacies in front of her. I’ve never cleaned the outside of a window in my life. And the bitch is bound to spill the beans to my mother…!