Jobless in Liverpool but legless in Leipzig

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The Independent Online
I HAVE just spent a delightful week in Germany making an advertisement for Deutsche Bahn, the German railway system. Apart from the seven-Brit film crew everyone was German and, without exception, charming, polite, efficient, and very jolly. We British like to think of the Germans as having no sense of humour, but we chuckled away to each other all day, although many of their lighter comments lost something in translation. You need a lot of words to say anything in German. For instance, you might pass an electrician who has been running up and down station platforms all day, and he'll want to say "Phew, I'm knackered now!" but it will come out as "Phew! I am feeling the sensation of not a little fatigue from time to time and my legs are quite resembling jelly. Ta ha ha!"

For four days we were on Leipzig station in what was until recently East Germany. The camera, lights and general film paraphernalia were cordoned off from the rest of the station, and the East Germans would stand behind us watching for hours with the resignation of a lost people. One group of young men who had been watching us for half an hour or so caught my eye. They were in their thirties and forties and looked sad and badly treated. I smiled at them and they smiled back, and one of them said, "All right `H'! Worra you doing here?" It turned out they were from Liverpool and Newcastle, and they were construction workers. They claimed there were about 10,000 British workers there, along with similar numbers of Czechs and Poles. The British, Czechs and Poles, the poor men of Europe, stuffed together in Soviet housing blocks and involved in the reconstruction of East Germany. Auf Wiedersehen, tovarich.

Over the next few days I met scores of British guest workers. They were all from the North, had all given up hope of Britain having any hope in them, but had somehow retained enough pride to get themselves to Germany. They all desperately missed their families, and I wanted to feel sorry for them but they would have none of it.

Why, with 30 per cent unemployment in the East, were local people not working? "They're all too pissed," I was told. "We start work at 6am, and that's when the Germans start on the beer. Our foreman has to be carried home legless by lunch time every day." For 40 years a society with no respect for the individual, it has now become a society of individuals with no self-respect.

"ALL publicity is good publicity" said Tony Benn, and many of us in the public eye cling to his words for comfort in the face of bad press. We are not sure they are true, but we hope they are, as the poor Christian hopes for the truth of "blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth".

But Martin Amis really believes. He uses the theory to his advantage. Some months ago there was a big stink when we learnt he'd been paid a £500,000 advance for his forthcoming novel. We also learnt that he was going through a mid-life crisis and had left his wife and children. More bad publicity followed - had Amis gone off his rocker? Now the book is out. It is about, surprise, surprise, a mid-life crisis.

Amis is the great self-publicist. In Money there is a character called Martin Amis, a writer who lives in Notting Hill. He leaves home in the early morning and goes to his work flat, where he writes until 2pm. He then plays tennis for two hours, goes back to the flat and reads books until seven, when he returns home to watch television with his children.

I met him once, while filming at his work flat, and at 2pm he went off to play tennis, returning at four to find us still there. His book reading had to wait for half an hour and Amis was irritated.

Amis claims to be mystified by the publicity his advance has attracted - Jeffrey Archer gets £3m and no one bats an eyelid. But Amis knows Jeffrey Archer sells books regardless while Amis may need a bit of help. What better way to attract an audience than to get everyone to shout "Outrage!" at the size of your advance?

Now we all want to read the book so that we can all pontificate at dinner parties about whether it is worth £10 per word (or as my father would probably say, £50 per swear word).

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