Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Free Chips for Free Love

First let me make one very important thing clear - in the islands where I come from a chip is what the Americans would call a "French Fry" and what the French would call a "Frite". I suppose it's not essential to the full comprehension of this blog entry to make you understand this, but I would like you to understand the depth of feeling conveyed in a portion of chips – it’s not just a bag of skinny crispy things, but the pinnacle of cuisine in the country in which I live.

For my sins (and really, I did not know I was that bad) I travel often on Ryanair. This irritates me no end, but to describe why would be pretty boring for you to have to endure. So I won't go into that. However, what is important to know is that until Ryanair (Europe's biggest low cost airline) came to the airport I have to use, it was a quiet backwater that only saw summer holiday flights and the odd rescue helicopter. Now it is very busy and new jobs have been created. I approve of that. The facilities at this airport are not great. There's one gate for intra-Shengen flights (perhaps you should look that up on Google - or ask me if you don't know about Shengen) and another for extra-Shengen flights. That's a grand total of TWO. There's a newsagents, a car hire stand and a cafe - which is where I start my story – finally!

The cafe is not up to much. There's a dish of the day, you can get an omlette, but I like to get a portion of chips. The chips are pretty darned good and they are just the right size to sate the appetite for the duration of the flight (there’s no free food or drink on Ryanair). There's a boy of Italian origin who works there. Some while ago he started to make it clear that he fancied me. Generally I'm pretty flattered when people like me - no matter who they are. I enjoy the attention and it's nice to be reminded that one is attractive and that one is responsible for creating sexual interest in other people.

So of course I enjoyed this guy's attention. And I have to admit I liked the fact that this guy had some balls (figuratively as well as literally). After all, he made his attraction clear to me right in front of my boyfriend! I think that was pretty brave, don't you? He eventually made his move. One evening when my boyfriend/partner of twelve years and I arrived to buy our chips, my boyfriend found a table whilst I paid for the chips. My not so secret admirer had come to the till at just the right moment to serve me. I handed over a fifty note and he handed me back two twenties and a ten... He had paid for my chips - and my boyfriend's!

Perhaps some of you may be wondering about how my boyfriend is feeling about this. Well, don't worry, he's not too bothered. I would not describe myself as a trophy wife, but I am tall (not by Dutch standards, maybe, but by the island standards I am - 1m87 or 6'2"), dark (I have brown hair, brown eyes and imposing black eyebrows) and handsome (I know because a very special two-year-old girl told me). I also have a good, muscular build and a cute, sexy smile (so I've been told). So my boyfriend expects me to be noticed and he takes pride in the fact that I'm committed to him when I could find accommodation in so many other places. And it comes in handy sometimes to use me as bait...

Yes, bait. My relationship with my partner is built on fidelity, but not a sexual fidelity generally understood in the straight world. Our fidelity allows us to enjoy sexual relations with other people - sometimes together and sometimes apart. We have rules, the most important of which is honesty, and we act with respect for each other and for our relationship. It's not always easy to have a relationship like this, but for us it has worked for a long time, and I feel that in many ways it benefits us as a couple and as individuals. I am sure I will write more about this in later entries, but we will leave it at that for the moment.

So my boyfriend is not jealous and in fact is amused. The poor cafe worker must really have it bad for me and that kind of thing amuses my boyfriend. I, however, am now in a quandary. It's one thing being admired, but paying for my chips is something else... I feel like I owe him something. I'm afraid that is the kind of person I am - one good turn deserves another - and so I wonder how I can return this guy's favour. Whilst I'm pondering this and enjoying my free chips my boyfriend is highly amused.

As I was born in 1968, I like to think that the hippy spirit of "Free Love" has always been part of my anatomy. I do pride myself on what I see as my sexual empathy. I can find something sexually attractive in many men and taking that empathy to its natural end has often led to moments of real transcendence. So as this guy has a pretty face and a pretty good body there's no question that I could have sex with him, if necessary. But perhaps that's a little much for a couple of portions of chips. In the end I settle for giving him my telephone number, which he gratefully receives and, by the way, he says, here's my number for you...

Before my flight is airbourne and I have to switch my phone off, we have exchanged a number of text messages. He knows I have a boyfriend. Despite this he still aches for me and so it isn't a problem... to him. He tells me just to tell him when and where, and he will meet me. I have had this kind of attention before and I get very wary - it's one thing to express a sexual attraction - and indeed to act on it - but quite another to lead someone on who has genuine feelings of affection. Ironically it's these people I avoid and reject. I do it on the basis that they are investing in something that is not available - in that they can enjoy my body but my enduring love belongs to my boyfriend. Anyone who plays too emotionally at the beginning generally gets a swift rejection. And Mr Free Chips is showing a lot of emotion. I think I am going to have to drop him - for his own sake - before he gets hurt.

Of course no further action is required for a while. I get on my flight, a few days later I come home and I don't go to that cafe for a couple of weeks. Again he's there to pay for my chips (at least I think he's paying for them - I hope he not stealing them for me!) and sending me text messages whilst I wait at the gate for the flight. Then Christmas comes and the people I am usually visiting when I fly through that airport are now visiting me. Instead of the usual bi-weekly trips through the airport I don't go there for nearly six weeks and I more or less forget about all those free chips I've had...

After New Year I’m in the café, on the way to Ireland and the guy that fancies me is working the coffee machine. We exchange pleasantries and it’s a little awkward, but not too bad. As he’s not on the till I get my money out to pay for my chips… but what’s this? I still don’t have to pay! I ask this new guy for an explanation (in his own language) and he replies in English – “you boyfriend pay it!” And he was not talking about my real boyfriend. The humiliation is instant. How many co-workers has this guy told that he fancies me? Is everyone smiling and commenting behind my back when I come in for my chips? There are a number of questions I want answered!

I text my new ‘boyfriend’ to thank him for the chips. He presses me for a meeting. As my real boyfriend is going to be away the next week I offer a couple of dates. He confirms one over the other and then says I don’t sound like I’m really into him! Despite the warning bells going off in my head I tell him no, I’m good about this – I would like to meet him and let’s see what happens. After all my confirmations and arrangements he doesn’t show up for our date! Was I right? Does he realize he’s in too deep and is only going to be hurt? More importantly, will I still get free chips at the airport? I will let you know!

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year Resolutions

As I am a good-for-nothing layabout unemployed person, I figured it might be a good idea to have some New Year Resolutions. I ahve not really gone in for these things in the past. I think that may have been down to a certain ignorance, believing there was little I could do to improve myself or my life. Now I'm much older I understand my ignorance a little better and if the beginning of a new year can provide some kind of motivation for life change then I'm willing to give it a chance - especially this year.

2005 was not great for me. It's the first time in my career that I've had a whole year without a job. It's depressing, and naturally, I got depressed. Not just because of the unemployment, though. There's other shit going on in my life and it all came out this year. In just two weeks it will be the third anniversary of my mother's death. She was just 61 and it has taken me that long to handle the loss. I feel like I have turned a corner now, so I am really hoping 2006 is going to be a healthy and happy one for me.

So the resolutions:

1. Do some abs every day. My gym buddy has fabulous abs. He has them because he does some abs every day and has done ever since he was 16 or so. As I can do nothing about the missing ab exercises of the last 20 years, I can do some abs every days from now on. I have recently made quite a lot of progress at the gym, thanks to the bitchiness of my gym buddy, and so I figure I have a chance to get some visible ab muscles before it's too late. And as I'm unemployed, what else have I got to do apart from finding a job?

2. Which brings me to the second resolution - find a good job. I was going to say find a good job that I like and that pays well, but finding a good job is enough, I think. Perhaps if I am still unemployed in a couple of months I will change this resolution to simply "Find A job"... To any potential employers who may be reading and enjoying my blog, I'd like to tell you I'm quite a renaissance man - a career in TV production, another in fund accounting and an MBA from a very prestigious local Business School. I can speak almost three languages (the third one needs some more work. I guess the second does, too, but that is easily done) and I'm attractive, versatile, adaptive and pretty good at most things I turn my hand to. What more do you need?

3. Find a yoga class. Before I moved to this city I lived in another country on the Continent. There I went to a yoga school and did two different kinds of yoga every week. I began to have more patience, be generally happier in my outlook and found a spiritual understanding that managed to unite my disperate beliefs. Doing yoga turned me into a vegetarian and I really miss it in my life. As I haven't the will power to do it myself, at home, I am making a resolution to find another yoga class here so that I can begin my practice once more and hopefully benefit from the blessings of yoga that I experienced before.

4. Finish the DIY jobs in the house before I get a job. I have a long list of things that need to be fixed up in the house, or finished or revamped. I attend to this list very slowly as I'm afraid that when it runs out I will be even more depressed because I have no job and no DIY to do. This is a very silly notion. Things are always breaking or having to be adjusted. As soon as the list is finished I should be able, with a little imagination, to come up with yet more DIY jobs to do and therefore avoid depression. But for now I will just attend to the stuff that's listed on my PDA...

5. Talk to my family more. We've all found it difficult to stay in touch since my mother died. She was the glue that held our HUGE family together (I have ten siblings and 17 nieces and nephews... Unfortunately I'm also going to become a great-uncle in 2006... Cheap White trash is not just an American concept). I think she would have been very disappointed with how little we talk to each other now, and I think I would like to change this - I'm not sure, I will talk to my therapist about it, but I'm coming to this conclusion.

Five resolutions is enough I think. Of all my resolutions I hope I can fufil number two first, but I'd rather like a six-pack, too. I guess it would look good on my CV?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Vegetarian's Christmas Present Dilemma

In the city in which I live there is a rather wonderful Christmas market and assorted winter activities. This year features the Finnish regions of Oulu and Lapland, where I imagine there are not many vegetarians. Living in harmony with Nature that far north means eating reindeer kebabs (available this Christmas at our Christmas market) and smoked salmon made on the fire in front of you. One of the stalls was selling reindeer skins, and this is the cause of my Christmas present dilemma...

In my house we have two fake fur blankets - we fondly refer to them as "flankets". The first was a gift to me from my partner. It is excellent quality; soft, warm, realistic and backed with cashmire. The second was a gift to my partner from my step-mother, at my instigation. Looking back it was inevitable that I would eventually want to graduate to the real thing. So one evening when I was wondering through our city-centre Winter Wonderland I was drawn to the beautiful young Finnish woman selling reindeer pelts. A few days later I asked my partner to get me one as my main Christmas present.

I managed to justify my desire for a reindeer skin thus: although I am a vegetarian I do wear leather shoes. In fact I wear plenty of leather "clothes"... I am hoping there is a karmic difference between eating animals and wearing them... Can anyone clear this up for me?

The worst thing, of course, was that I was highly embarassed Christmas morning. All our guests know I'm a vegetarian. Two of our guests were children and we went to great lengths on Christmas Eve to leave out whisky and mince pies for Santa, carrots and water for his reindeer. Then we all wake up in the morning to find one of the reindeer lying in front of my fire - well, at least his skin, anyway! I have to admit I lied to the children about exactly what it was and they were too busy opening their presents to grill me any further. But whatever about reindeer skins, lying is bad, I know...

The reindeer skin looks fabulous in front of my fire - I hope you will agree - and it is very beautiful and so warm and soft to lie on. Did you know you have to clean them with snow? And the damn thing has been moulting since Christmas morning, too. I do love it, and that perhaps is the most important thing. I still won't get a proper fur blanket - I have to draw the line somewhere and I won't be having any of those reindeer kebabs, either!

Island Cooking for Christmas on the Continent

As a child I enjoyed watching and helping my mother with the Christmas cooking preparations. The cake was made a few weeks in advance. This practice was utilised in order to "feed" the cake, which meant making holes in the cooked rich fruit mixture with a darning needle and pouring as many tablespoons of brandy as the cake would handle without leaking. This was done once a week for four to six weeks. After being fed in this manner the cake would last a VERY long time (and bring more Christmas cheer, too). As I grew up in a teetotal family I had no idea why we needed the cake to be made so early if we were not going to lace it with brandy. That is until I grew up and started making Christmas cakes of my own... Even if you don't feed the cake it tastes much better when it has had time to mature and plenty of time is needed for the marzipan icing to dry (so the almond oil doesn't leak through the next layer, the Royal icing). Then in our house my mother indulged one of my sisters who did not like Christmas cake by building a hill on top of the cake out of marzipan, down which a little model of Santa would be travelling through the Royal icing "snow". My sister got to eat the marzipan mountain in place of a piece of cake.

If you happen to live on the Continent and want to make your own Christmas Cake then there are a couple of things you need to bear in mind. Where I live on the Continent you cannot buy currants for love nor money (in fact there's very little here you can buy for love... I've tried :-) ). For those not in the know, currants are very small, sweet raisins made from a particular grape that grows on just one Greek Island. I guess that so few are produced that the market cannot expand further than the British Isles and I don't know why we got to have them - perhaps something to do with the British colonial past? Anyway. If you try replacing currants with an equal weight of more raisins (Christmas cake contains three different dried vine fruit - currants, sultanas and raisins) you do end up with a different, more voluminous cake... So it seems that size is important, but bigger is not necessarily better - at least in this case. Despite the lack of currants and the slightly odd consistency of my cake, it was fed long enough to be palatable to my family visiting this year... Afterall, I did feed it with the very best brandy (it was the only one we had in the bar!). Most of my family is no longer teetotal, hence the need for a well-fed cake.

Glycerine is another essential Christmas ingredient for the Christmas cake from the islands that cannot be bought in the average supermarket where I live. When I asked my gym buddy where I might be able to buy some, he wondered what on earth I was up to. When I cut the cake this Christmas and the icing shattered, sending shards of hard icing all over the floor my stepmother told me I had not put enough glycerine in it. I told her that she was right as there was none available and therefore none included. So I finally discovered what it's for: to keep the icing soft enough to be cut, yet hard enough to retain its snow-like texture. So when you happen to visit home sometime before Christmas, make sure you pick up some currants and some glycerine.

Another ingredient you may need is suet. Suet is yet another thing you don't find easily here on the Continent. Suet is the grated fat from around a cow's kidneys (yuck, I hear you say). It is essential for making mincemeat for mince pies (you cannot buy ready-made mincement here, either) and for making Christmas Pudding. It is so essential, in fact, that in the UK you can buy vegetarian suet, which I would normally use (as I am a vegetarian). Presumably it is made from the grated fat found around the kidneys of a carrot or other root vegetable... When making my own mincemeat I had to resort to baking margarine, but it worked very well, in fact. My boyfriend declared that my homemade mincement tasted just like "shop-bought". There was no higher compliment when I was a young man!

Despite missing some vital ingredients, Christmas pudding, cake and mince pies were all gratefully received, and indeed feted. My partner and I have gained a reputation for making everything from scratch when entertaining guests and it takes a lot of work to maintain the high standard. As we were nine for Christmas here this year, all from the islands, I was very pleased that everything went down so well. So if you're having family from the islands for Christmas next year, take my advice and buy your ingredients from the homeland to generate that authentic Christmas flavour.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Guide to Continental Living

In many ways I'm quite a fatalist and that's how this blog started. I wanted to post a comment on a friend's blog - Bored Dominatrix. However, I discovered that it's impossible to leave a comment without starting a blog of your own. So hey-ho, here it is. It would seem a shame to waste all the time spent filling out the bloody forms and not blog something at the end.

What are my intentions with this blog? Well, my friend Bored Dominatrix uses this blogspace to talk about stuff that cannot be discussed on her other blogs - rude stuff, odd stuff, that kind of thing - check her out to see what she posts as alternative stuff. As I quite like talking about rude and odd stuff myself, I intend to think about some of those things, too. As I've no fear that my mother will be able to read this (she's dead) I will be pretty open and frank - you have been warned!

Now a note on the name of the blog. To any person from the USA reading this you might be confused in thinking that most of you live on a continent, which you do. The Continent to which I refer is Continental EUROPE. I am from one of Europe's many islands, but for one reason or another I have moved onto the continent and have been here since May 1997. Life is different on the Continent - different to living on the islands, where the mentality is very... well - different. (See how difficult it is to describe other cultures without making a negative judgment?) So for others like me, from the islands, or other continents, a handy guide to behaviour and customs could be a useful thing. I'm not sure I'm the best qualified to write such a guide as I have a number of hang-ups that may cloud my judgement... but I will do my best.

Just to let you know the angle from where I see things, I'm a thirty-something (late thirty-something, in fact) gay man who has a partner of many years. I'm pretty well educated - I have a Masters Degree - but I'm currently unemployed (and have been for too long). I have two previous careers - I was a TV producer back on my island, and a banker on the Continent. My favourite past-times are playing "housewife" (I am briliant at homemaking - there are dozens and dozens of jars of jam, marmalade and chutney in our basement), sex (I'm pretty good at that, too, but I'll talk about that later), dope (where I live on the Continent we have pretty liberal laws regarding weed and I'm happy to say I don't think I do anything illegal) and playing the lottery (my favourite is the pan-european EURO MILLIONS where you can, oddly enough, win millions of Euros).

So until I do win those millions of Euros, I will occasionally be writing things here so that when you, dear reader, eventually come to visit the European Continent you will know what to expect and how to behave.