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Sunday, 9 November 2014

We have ways of making you wince

Jürgen Goertz sculpture at Berlin Hauptbahnhof 
When Al catches sight of me in the mirror that lines one wall of the gym, so you can admire your own gorgeous body as you pump iron, he grins, turns quickly, extends his right hand to shake mine and grasps my shoulder firmly with his left.

"Good to see you, man," he says. "You don't look bad for someone who's had all his internal organs removed."

"They left a couple," I say, reaching for my shirt buttons. "Heart, lungs, giant brain. Can I show you my war wounds?"

"Put them away," he says. "C'mon, I'll buy you a beer."

"How did you get on with the Germans then?" he says, when we're comfortably seated at the little table by the fire in the Burnbrae Hotel. 

"I liked them," I say. "Only spoke to 50 or so, mind you, out of 80 million. So it's maybe a daft thing to say."

"You never been there before?" he says. 

"Walked across the Rhine in Strasbourg once," I say. "But my only other experience of Germans en masse is groups of research physicists over the years - who are pretty much physicists, wherever they come from. So I went there speaking not a word of German and had to start every conversation with, 'Do you speak English?'"

"That's just rude in someone else's country," Al says, ordering the macaroni cheese from the white-smocked waiter, while I go for a light, do-it-yourself lunch of chips and green veg, and instantly regret it when the aroma of roasted cheese wafts towards me from the next table.

"Wouldn't have done it if I'd had more time to prepare," I say. "But virtually everyone I spoke to was smiley and helpful." 

"And efficient?" he says.

"Not so much," I say. "Went for two trains when I was there. One never appeared and the other was 15 minutes late." 

"So are you back to work now?" he says.

"Doing a bit but I get tired. So I'm pottering around the house, fixing things. Got a man coming to put blinds on my big front window. Those vertical, fabric jobs. Thought they might help keep the heat in, but the ones he showed me were kinda thin and flimsy."

His macaroni arrives, all brown and sizzling, and my mouth starts to water. "I'm sure you can get thermal blinds," he says. "Made of the same material they use for thermal underwear." 

He shoves a large forkful into his mouth and goes "Mmmm" with obvious pleasure while I study my stringy beans with far less. "Or," he says, waggling his empty fork at me. "You could just staple several sets of long johns to the outside of your curtains. That would be cosy in the winter.

"I did tell you about my own wee problem in the groinal region?" he adds. 

"The expanding testicles?"

"Testicle," he says. "Just the one. It would have been less frightening, the first time, if it was both. Well it's back."

"You don't seem bothered," I say. 

"Fear comes from ignorance," he says. "I know what it is now. Fluid retention - hydrocele. It's harmless."

"You not getting any treatment then?" I say.

"I could but I'm in no hurry. They use a big needle and a syringe to suck the fluid out." 

I wince. "Exactly," he says. "So I figure I'll leave it alone until it starts to get in the way."

"In the way of what?" I say.

"Traffic," he says.

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