Everyone – and I mean everyone – warned me about the cold. The Brits at home before I left: “Berlin! Ooh, they’ve got proper cold winters, you know”; the Berliners themselves when I arrived: “Only last week, a fierce Siberian wind carried away most of the city’s children”; even the internet-at-large joined in: “You’re going to need a killer winter wardrobe of fur, capes, long johns and serious boots…” Well, okay. I bought and packed extra jumpers, fleece and fur-lined tights, and thermal leggings and long johns. I packed three pairs of boots (jettisoning the velvet pair at the airport thanks to an overweight suitcase) and 15 pairs of socks. I bought a new hat, and rolled seven scarves into my hand luggage. I got to Berlin and I… sweated like Seabiscuit after a hard day at the racetrack. It was all blue skies and fluffy white clouds. A couple of days at 18-20°C, even. The Germans in the office cheerfully told me I was experiencing a blip: “This sunshine is very unseasonal,” they said. “It will soon go back, don’t you worry.” But it didn’t.
And then after a couple of weeks of walking around with my coat wide open and my emergency scarf jauntily tied around my bag strap, winter descended very suddenly. I felt it all the way through my layers, clear to my bones. The rain felt icy, the drops as sharp as tiny Nazgul fingers. “Ah, shit,” I thought as I jammed my hands into my pockets. “Winter is here.” Also: “I should’ve worn my gloves this morning.”
A few days into my Berlin sojourn, over-confident with the initial navigational successes of the previous couple of days, I took a wrong turn out of the station and got briefly but not scarily lost. Like many Londoners, I am an enthusiastic but non-professional walker – like piano players who can’t read sheet music, but know all the keys, I often know exactly where I’m going without being able to tell you if that’s north or southwest. The confidence I feel when walking is unmatched in any other form of transportation. My mum in the kitchen is the same way. Her recipes are basic – lists of ingredients, really; what you really need is the years of accumulated experience she has. She has an ease in every kitchen she ends up in, and incomplete recipes pose no threat to her. That’s me and walking. I hate when a friend gives me directions like, “get the bus for seven stops…” because what the hell is “seven stops”, especially in the hands of a London bus driver? I can’t drive, so that’s all the way out, and I don’t cycle – something which so profoundly dismayed the two Berliners I told that I’ve now taken to saying “Oh, I’m just not very confident on a bike”. It’s being creative with the truth, sure, but it garners concern for my safety on Berlin’s streets, rather than uncomprehending, blind disgust that I have not mastered the skills a child could.
Walking implies a kind of certainty, is what I’m saying. And in this ever-changing world, I find I need that.
This morning on the way to work, I saw a tiny brown mouse at Mehringdamm station. I thought it was a smooth brown stone at first, one of the millions of brown rocks that sit around the tracks up and down the U-Bahn network. But then, like the little grey ones (darting around the grey steel and grey stones) in London, this rock moved. I warmed to Berlin just a little more – over a stupid arbitrary thing like this, yes. This city and my city have small rodents that make a good-enough life in the transport systems. Tenuous at best, but there you go. Being away from home reveals layers, and they’re not all deep or profound.
Just a few observations after more than a few days of being here.
1. Your bogs. What is up with your weird ‘shelf’-toilets, Berlin? Who needs a tray mechanism in the loo? Is it there to survey the contents of one’s bladder in closer detail? Or the other thing, even? You may have windows that close properly (good for you, Germany!) but this toilet thing? Unpleasant. Honestly – shelf-loos! What will you think of next? Stirrups for arms at sinks?
Yesterday was my full first day in Berlin. I discovered that I have a cold, that I am woefully unfit (ssshhh – this is not exactly breaking news), and that I did not pack an umbrella, having left mine at the fancy London restaurant where we had our farewell dinner. I bought that basic black umbrella for 12 quid in Boots. Today I replaced it with a snazzy (basic) red one for 2.90€. So I can sum up my 24 hours in Berlin as follows: up your game, London!
I am packing.
Will it ever end? I do not know.
Well, I got it.
I GOT THE JOURNALISM FELLOWSHIP I APPLIED FOR LAST MONTH!
I’m off to Germany for a coupla months, friends, and I am dead chuffed. Thanks to the lovely people who wished me luck on here, and thanks to the selection panel who saw in my application what I hoped they would see, and thank God and all the ancestors who made it all come to pass.
Bratwurst: my (stereotypical) reality from October
Last week, I applied for a journalism programme in Germany.
I’ve never been to Germany, not even to visit my sister who lived there for a few months many years ago. My German vocabulary extends to “schadenfreude”, “bitte” and “bratwurst”, but luckily, I don’t need to be fluent for this position. If I get it, off I go for three months. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m in a purple patch at the moment career-wise, but it feels exciting to be this excited about the possibility of living and working abroad. The last time I did that I was a teenager, pre-university and with few burdens, going off to work and live in California. Nowadays the burdens are a bit more pronounced, even if they are still relatively tiny.
Here’s the thing: it was easy as hell to apply for. I never stopped to doubt myself, or to think too closely about what the hell would happen to my flat/bills/London life if I actually got the bursary and went to Germany. Is this a perk of getting older, of being more settled in a career, of ‘letting go’? Whatever it is, I like it. It can stay.
I might not get it, of course. In which case, this was a nothing more than a fine and needed exercise in “why the hell not?” And that’s the core of this whole thing. I am becoming my mother in the best possible way – my mother, whose response to most things in life is “but what’s the worst that could happen here?” Well, the worst thing would be a “no”. Not a “no and now, a public flogging”. Think about it like that, and you realise that ‘no’ is not so bad. ‘No’ is bearable, eventually. ‘No’, in this case, means: “try again some other time”. No is fine (now).
I’m glad I applied at least.
Posted in Career, Work
Earlier this week a friend and I went to the cinema. We were there early, so we sat in the bar, catching up on our respective weeks: among other things, we had both become adherents of ‘clean eating’ (mostly wanky smoothies and lots more veg, as far as I can see). There was a lot to talk about. We were in a little bubble of friendship: happy, comfortable and relaxed.
And then we were not.
One table over sat a lone man – younger than my me and my friend, I reckon (he had that slight goofiness of youth around his eyes, still) – with a bottle of water and a small plastic bag containing something else. I did not notice him until my peripheral vision picked him up, rising. A few seconds later he was at our table. “Is this seat taken?” he gestured at the chair that had my bag and scarf on it. “Um, no?” we answered in unison. He sat down. Friend and I continued to have a chat, our voices lowered, our backs a little straighter, conversation a little stilted. It’s hard to talk about a guy you think you might fancy or your upcoming dental surgery, when a stranger – an uninvited one at that – is sitting literally inches away.
Last Thursday night I finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. If you follow me on Twitter, you would have seen an outpouring of emotion of the most sickening sort; a kind of fawning that one can only ever get away with once or twice a year, max. If I have only two opportunities to do this sort of thing in 2013, then I’m glad I chose Americanah for one of them. It is a beast of a book: by turns achingly subtle and then sledgehammer obtuse, funny and warm and witty and devastating in small and large ways. I loved it, utterly and completely.
TODAY’S FORECAST: HIGH INCIDENCES OF RAMBLING AFTER THE JUMP.
Hey, blog-friends. How’s tricks?
It’s just over a month since I was last on these pages, and I can only apologise. What caused this unplanned hiatus? Nothing special, not really. I’ve had a lot of work (paid-for, demanding) on, plus I’ve tried to be a more social creature, trying to touch other 3-D human beings from time to time as well. I tried to blog, honest. But then I realised how tired I was at the end of most working days, and then I thought about how much effort was required of me to try and be funny about handsome dudes, or not be boring about a London encounter and I grew weary. So I became later and later. And prioritised fun (but paid) work over writing fun (but voluntary) work. End result is blog neglect. Soz.
Is this the worst summer ever? Let me summarise all your angry, inarticulate thoughts: it is, yes. I am the ‘palest’ I’ve been for May in my life, and I have forgotten what my bare legs looks like. I am constantly tense. I have not sneakily perved on boys from behind the safe space of my sunglasses. I have not sat in a park of an afternoon, aimlessly gazing at squirrels and happy dogs and excitable children. I have taken to painting my nails in the most garish of colours to try and incorporate some vim and pep into my existence. I am (extra) angry that Britian colonised Nigeria, thus making London the obvious choice for my parents back in the early ’70s. I have cursed both my umbrellas like they are sentient beings. My scarf is a constant companio,n and last week I wore 100 denier tights. I am cold. I am miserable, and I hate everything.
Naturally, music calms the beast.
It’s been kind of a great few months for solid singles. Across the genres I naturally favour, I have heard stuff to make the spirit soar, to excite, to really make you forget that it was hailing (!) in May. So I decided to make a handy playlist and try and summon this bloody summer. It’s quite a good playlist, if I do say so myself: a mix of (lucky?) thirteen quality tracks with solid, interesting vocalists, group and solo efforts, remixes and samples, old and newish. I’ve called it If Summer Never Comes because I have a poet’s soul and nobody can stand all this grey wetness and not become even a little maudlin. Be aware: it’s super-chilled out, so if you’re looking for straight up hard bangers, then you need to move on, right damn-diddly now.
Here’s a photo of how I feel when I listen to these songs (photo from two weeks ago, when the sun came out but it was still only 17°C. This life is a long-term trending hashtag called “#LoweredExpectations”. Apologies for hashtagging outside of Twitter.):
Will this playlist manage to induce summer? Who knows, man. But even if it doesn’t, well, let’s put on our Classics and have a little dance, shall we? Playlist after the jump.
My sister is contemplating ‘going natural’ with her hair. I did my Big Chop about 30 months ago, and tried not to be that natural girl, you know the one: she feels the beautiful coils and kinks growing out of her head and starts singing about “touching Africa and coming back darker” and generally being a pain in the arse. I am by nature a fangirl, prone to bouts of outlandish excitement, but cutting off all of my relaxed hair at a particularly enjoyable, confident and comfortable time in my life means that I genuinely consider it to be one of the most important decisions in my life – emphasis on the word ‘consider’. It’s not quite up there with, I don’t know, deciding to study journalism at university, but definitely not on the same level as choosing to try Sainsbury’s maple and pecan crunch cereal one day last year. Both decisions have enhanced my life, you understand, but in very different ways.