How to be a hit among your chosen demographic

If, like me, your natural disposition is ill-suited to the modern-day rat race, I would recommend infiltrating a group of seniors. After extensive exposure, I discovered age to be the single greatest factor affecting my personal popularity.

In fact, among the over-65s, I enjoy close-to-celebrity status.

Here’s how you could too.

1. Develop a permanently pleasant and attentive expression

For years I thought that when people said I was a good listener, they were being kind about me being a poor speaker. But it turns out that years of pretending to listen to people who bored me allowed me to develop a highly attentive expression and an uncanny ability to match my face to the appropriate tone of the conversation, despite not being consciously aware of the topic under discussion.

This makes you appear wholesome and respectful, two of the most coveted characteristics among the over-65s.

2. Use your nationality to your best advantage

After tricking seniors into liking me with my pleasant and attentive expression, I tell them that I’m Irish. They use this information to justify their positive first impression. “Oh, Ireland,” they say. “So lovely and green!” Once when I gave up my seat for an old lady on the train, she said “I bet you are not German! They have no manners any more.” When I confirmed that I was, in fact, Irish she said “I knew it!”

3. Start a blog and employ an unusual marketing strategy

As well as visiting Frau Bienkowski, I’ve started volunteering at a seniors’ club. It is an incredible place and I have started counting down the days until I am old enough to sign up to all the activities offered there, from herb-tasting and cooking classes to tango dancing and Chinese conversation. Along with four other lovely volunteers, I’ve set up a blog called Berlin ab 50 where there’ll be articles, podcasts, videos and more catering to the over-50’s living in Berlin. If you’re over 50 or German or reading this right now, you should check it out!

If you follow and adapt these handy tips, you too could become instantly popular among your chosen demographic.

“Getting an abortion in 1953 wasn’t that easy.”

In 1953 Frau Bienkowski’s friend, who was having an affair with a married man, got pregnant. Though she’d had abortions before, she couldn’t get one this time. She had a baby daughter.

The man left his wife. Frau Bienkowski advised her friend not to marry the man. But she did.

After a few years they moved from Berlin to the south of Germany, where his family was from. Frau Bienkowski didn’t like the man. He wasn’t very nice and he drank a lot. He had other children too. Frau Bienkowski and her friend fell out over him for a while.

A few weeks ago, when it was Frau Bienkowski’s birthday, the woman called her.

She’s 89 now and her husband is dead. But the daughter grew up to be a wonderful woman.

“I said to her,” said Frau Bienkowski, prodding her fork into her kiwi cake, “I said, you went through a terrible few years. But look what you’ve got now. A wonderful daughter.”

It all turned out for the best, Frau Bienkowski said. Now she has a diligent daughter – a medical assistant – to take care of her in old age.

Frau Bienkowski and I talked about abortion. I told her it was illegal in Ireland. She had heard about the case of Savita Halappanavar.

Even though her friend now has a lovely daughter to take care of her in old age and her own beloved son died, Frau Bienkowski, 94, and I, seventy years her junior, agreed that Ireland should legalise abortion, and not just if a woman tells three doctors she’s suicidal.

When Frau Bienkowski was young, the pill wasn’t available. “You had to be really careful,” she said.

I told her that when my mother came to Ireland, people went to Georgian houses where doctors illicitly provided them with condoms.

“Contraception is probably still forbidden in Ireland,” Frau Bienkowski said, laughing.

I assured her that, thankfully, it was not.

But I told her that women go to England to get abortions. “Oh, is it legal there?” Frau Bienkowski asked. For her, England and Ireland are pretty much one.

“I’m surprised there’s such a demand for abortion these days though,” Frau Bienkowski said. “With so much contraception available.”

Frau Bienkowski and I talked about men. She knew several who were serially unfaithful.

I said I didn’t like people who wanted to have an exclusive partner and also lots of secret ones. I said I could understand people wanting to have sex with lots of different people, and liking open relationships. But that deceit drove me up the wall.

Frau Bienkowski agreed.

Then she asked: “So how are things with Andrew? What’s the story with his plans?”

“I have good news,” I said.

She looked intently at me. “Yes?”

“He’s moving to Berlin!” I said.

“That’s to my advantage,” she said.

Here eyes were sparkling. “That means you’re staying!”

“It sure does,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere for a while.”

“That’s to my advantage,” she said again.

The wheelchair man

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was warm enough to wear the pretty party dress my sister gave me for my birthday.

I arranged an evening to go with my outfit.

LSB put on a shirt and tie. I squirted on some perfume and off we went.

We chased each other down the street. We got ice-cream that came in giant cones. We went to see a movie.

Afterwards I told LSB I was taking him to a bar in the east of the city called Madame Claude.

just before we encountered the man in the wheelchair

just before we encountered the man in the wheelchair

I didn’t tell him about Madame Claude’s alluring gimmick : the furniture there hangs upside down, fixed to the ceiling.

I’d seen pictures on the Internet and it made me think of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party or of the scene in Mary Poppins where everyone laughs so much they float up to the ceiling.

On our way up to the station platform, we passed a big, dirty man in a wheelchair with his trousers down, defecating.

I caught his smell. We went on up the stairs.

When we got to the top, we took a glance back down.

The man’s wheelchair had overturned.

It was a busy night. Some people were rushing for the train. The man lay on his side, his trousers still down.

LSB and I pushed back against the stream of people going the other way.

I moved towards to the man and said stupidly, “Are you okay?”

Another lady stopped.

She had round eyes and her lips were pursed.

She tugged the man on the arm and tried to haul him up. Then another man came along. He was a friend of the man on the ground. He had a grey beard and dark eyes.

The lady held the wheelchair steady while the man’s companion hoisted him back into his seat.

He landed in a lump. His friend bowed his head in thanks and ushered us away with a few polite waves of his hand.

He didn’t want our help.

On our way back up the stairs, I asked the lady if we should have called an ambulance.

She looked tired, her face was full of resignation. “No,” she said. “Not against his will.”

Madame Claude

Madame Claude

LSB and I went to the upside-down bar. A French band was performing an intimate gig in a dimly-lit basement back-room. They played long, instrumental songs that sounded like beautiful, sad landscapes. In between, they spoke to the little crowd in formal, polite English. After the show I bought their CD.

LSB and I got a drink. Above our heads, tables, chairs, vases, and a pair of slippers were glued firmly to the ceiling.

It was a novelty.

But if our perspective did shift that night, it was down to a big and dirty man, his proud friend and the still image of a wheelchair turned on its side.