I am a doughnut…

…visiting Berlin then and now.

Trust me, if you’re a fan of Eddie Izzard that subject line is hilarious.

Anyway, in September as part of my jolly back to Europe while I waited for my visa and new contract, I went to Berlin for a week and roamed around having a lovely time with Asad:

These defensive camera moves happened a lot.

These defensive camera moves happened a lot.

It was a very different experience to the first time I made it to Germany’s capital which, while still lovely, was rather more impoverished and involved a lot more very sketch situations, all brushed off as good fun by 18-year-old me.

It was the tail-end of my gap year (darling) when I arrived in Berlin, bleary eyed and incredibly poor.

I had been on a sleeper train from somewhere in eastern Europe (where my rail pass was valid) to Germany (where it was not but hey ho, I got away with it.) I took sleepers a lot during that trip as it meant I got transport and accommodation in one.

By that point I had beach bummed and sofa-surfed my way around the Greek islands, had a minor heart attack at how expensive Italy was (we camped to save money, even in Venice. VENICE. It was damp), and mooched my way through eastern Europe, largely pretending to be Australian as it was the football world cup.

Battered by boats, trains and random bongo-playing Russians (that’s a different story), by the time I got to Berlin I was living on about €15-€20 a day, including accommodation.

This had been a trip when I had slept on beaches so I could afford to go to historical monuments and my diet consisted of bread and things people from whatever country I was in dipped bread into. And peanut butter.

So I arrived, an 18-year-old with a pack, a smaller pack, and shoes that were nearly worn through after nine months of walking everywhere that was less than a few miles away.

Walking past me on that platform in Berlin were three glorious-looking men in stilettos and sequinned dresses. Oh yeah, I accidentally arrived during Berlin Pride. An eye opener for a Yorkshire girl who had never travelled by herself before.

The Heart of Gold did not disappoint, also, I can't find my version of this picture so this one is from their website.

The Heart of Gold did not disappoint, also, I can’t find my version of this picture so this one is from their website.

A tallied forth to the Heart of Gold youth hostel (a place I chose purely for the name, aided by the fact it was a snip at €8 a night and there was HOT WATER you guys) lugging my bags with me and making sure my hand-drawn map, copied from the screen of a computer in a dingy internet cafe was to hand.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Fast-forward ten years (and get over the fact that was a decade ago – I find alcohol helps with this) and we landed at a civilised hour after flying BA (something I never did for European flights ever – who needs food when your flight is less than four hours??) we took a taxi from the airport, using googlemaps and the guy’s satnav to make sure we ended up at our delightful, airy flat in Mitte.

IMG_9077

We had found the place on air BnB and chosen it for its amazing decor, central location, good reviews and the fact that it had all this while still not topping what we were willing to spend – a sum reached in about 5 minutes without the use of a calculator and copies of our bank statements.

There were no transvestites (I was a bit sad about this) and our suitcases had wheels.

After a leisurely breakfast with the guy renting us the flat, I napped in a comfortable bed before preparing to see the sites, DSLR in tow.

Berlin wall

Berlin wall

Day one was spent walking and walking, we walked along the remains of the Berlin Wall, and around the old Stasi headquarters and the Hamburger Bahnhof museum, accidentally seeing some Andy Warhols on the way round. (Also a giant gold statue of Michael Jackson and Bubbles the monkey, which was weird.)

This totally makes sense. Totally.

This totally makes sense. Totally.

We walked across bridges and down side streets and watched the sun set and then walked to find somewhere to eat before realising it was getting really and we live in the desert. Then we got a metro home.

Not having to worry obsessively over how much I am spending on holiday is a liberating and relatively new experience. I know that, as long as I don’t stay in ridiculously expensive places, or eat at excessively pricey restaurants, I will pretty much be okay.

It is a good feeling, but it is made better by the fact that I know I can, and have, done it on practically nothing, having to count as I go, and sometimes choosing between food and culture.

Obligatory lovely sunset picture.

Obligatory lovely sunset picture.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

From what I remember of my first visit to Berlin there was a lot of walking then as well, and considerably less metro. As in none. If I couldn’t walk it I didn’t go.

It turned out to be a very fun experience, made all the better as those months often were by the weird and the wonderful folk you meet at places that charge you €8 a night.

In this instance it was two Northern Irish boys who I can remember very little about, including their names, although the main thing you need to know is that they didn’t steal anything or hit on me so they are better than 70% of people in the universe.

They also had a tendency to go “Oh, that looks interesting” and wander off in a random direction.

By this method of zen navigation (I am very much channelling the late, great Douglas Adams in this post) we found a super dodgy bar that was on the top floor of a derelict building, the other floors of which were being used as a kind of urban art gallery, with graffiti and bits of wall missing where people had literally knocked the bit of art they wanted out of the plaster and taken it home.

The outer wall of the bar was missing and art-house films were projected across a vacant square and on to the side of the building opposite. Drinks were cheap, strong, and quite possibly moonshine.

Unfortunately at that point in my life my camera was the film one my mum had bought me when I was about 12, so the pictures I did take came out as nothing more than blurs. Although that might not have been entirely the camera’s fault.

My first time in Berlin, then, was essentially one big walking tour, just looking at things that were out in the open and, more importantly, free. Brandendurg Gate? Check. Checkpoint Charlie? Check. Reichstag dome? Check. Berlin wall? Check. Bunch of other stuff I don’t really remember? Check. Lots of very friendly, possibly high homosexuals? Double check.

Brandenburg Gate, still there.

Brandenburg Gate, still there.

I walked through parks and round woodlands and into what used to be East Berlin and peaked in to the windows of things I wanted to visit but couldn’t afford.

I didn’t, on that visit, reflect much on the identity of the city or its cultural memory. The Jewish Museum had only been open a few years and was prohibitively expensive by my standards and the holocaust memorial was not yet complete.

I knew as much about the world as any average 18-year-old knows, basically nothing, and somehow didn’t connect the things I learnt about in history with the city I was in and the windows I was peaking through.

I was out in the real world on my own for the first time. I was on a self-involved voyage of discovery (read, being a slightly pretentious wannabe writer who was attempting to go through a phase of ‘not liking shoes’ but in reality didn’t like having dirty and sore feet more.)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This time around I am pleased to say my awareness of the world has extended beyond my own bubble and I spent a lot more time reflecting on the city, and the fact that many of the things we think of as ancient history, the division of the city, the poverty and austerity and spying, were actually within living memory.

Asad and I went to the Jewish museum, which is beautiful and stunning and thought-provoking and you should go there. Now.

I read letters from concentration camps, but also letters from people who survived and were leaving for Israel and that opened up another floodgate of emotion. I looked at those pages from history, full of hope, and felt a sinking sorrow for what was to come.

Hindsight is not always a wonderful thing.

Something that struck me is that Berlin’s cultural memory is still very much in the negative. We walked through the Topographie of Terror exhibition about the rise of the Nazis, and on the way out I saw a sign for a new installation. I forget the exact name but it may as well have said “Coming soon: Another look at all the terrible things we did.”

I know it is important not to forget. It is important for every country to remember its mistakes so it does not repeat them. I especially appreciate the Soviet War memorial, built in 1949, and one of the only memorials I have seen the properly manages to convey the sheer number of fatalities suffered by the Russians.

Imposing is the word.

Imposing is the word.

But I also think it is time for the people of Berlin to start the bit where they move on and don’t repeat them.

We met up with a few German friends, and they were all young and smart and dynamic and doing good work and I look forward to visiting Berlin in another decade, when they are the ones in charge.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom and Stasi museums. Anish Kapoor was exhibiting and we spent a glorious few hours wandering around the installations being perplexed at how they worked.

At this point, the number of modern art selfless I took was faintly ludicrous.

Anish Kapoor: At this point, the number of modern art selfless I took was faintly ludicrous.

The Modern Art Museum was a glory of colour, and our hunt for the best currywurst in Berlin (which turned out to be at Curry36) was a glory of slightly oddly flavoured tomato sauce.

We ate the best burger (at The Bird) and drank the best cocktails (which definitely were not moonshine or cheap, but they were strong.)

One afternoon we went with friends to a flea market in Mauerpark and watched karaoke from the bear pit, along with about 500 other people.

Breakfast. With flowers in vases. Fancy.

Breakfast. With flowers in vases. Fancy.

One of the last things we did was have breakfast in the Reichstag. The tours book up months in advance but you can book breakfast or lunch about a week ahead of time outside of tourist season, and once you are in the dome you can wander around at will.

It was that breakfast that made me realise how different my two visits had been. I have a memory of standing in the rain, looking up at the dome, and thinking “Holy crap that’s expensive to visit, I need to find a tree to shelter under or something.” (I was profound.)

This time it was still raining, but I was on the inside looking out.

It isn’t just about having disposable income. Eighteen-year-old me would probably have hated this trip, and somehow felt staying in a nice place was cheating. Twentyeight-year-old me (urgh) however, has stayed in enough crap holes to know that when a clean comfy bed with a bakery downstairs is available, you take it, because you don’t know when the next one is going to come along.

IMG_9344

Advertisements

Being a grown up…

…and how I am really bad at it.

First off, sorry it has been a month since I managed to put fingers to keys and write anything. A lot has happened in the past few weeks, mostly good, some bad, and nothing that I intend to dwell on for long.

The main news is that, after months of wrangling, foot stamping and form signing, I now have a job (woop) and the incredibly messed up sleep schedule that comes with shift work.

Hence the prolonged silence.

Not that I am complaining, I am loving work and I still walk in to the new office and think “wow, I work here, that’s amazing.”

There are various blog posts milling around my head at the moment, vying for attention like children trying to be picked first in class.

In my half befuddled state, however, I am incapable of putting most of the more complicated ones in to words.

Well, I could put them in to words, but those words probably wouldn’t make sense or be in the correct order.

I haven’t really been working long enough to write anything about that other than ‘ahhhhhhhh, why do people think I know what I’m doing?’ and another post which will come about as close to writing about politics as I am ever likely to get on here is probably best left until I can form sentences without having to check if I’ve used a verb or not.

As I write this, it is about 6.30pm, a thunderstorm is raging around my building, I have been up for slightly more than three hours, and I am wondering when it will be a reasonable time to go back to bed.

It reminds me so much of university that I have decided to finally come clean and write about a fraud I have been perpetuating since I graduated nearly five years ago.

Are you ready?

I am not a real adult and I have no idea what I am doing most of the time.

Seriously, I spend much of my day blagging my way through life and hoping no-one notices that I basically have no idea what is going on.

I am also constantly wondering when someone will catch me out and realise I don’t understand how tax works and I can’t tell the difference between types of wine and I would be perfectly happy building a pillow fort or climbing trees.

I think a major road block on my path to becoming a grown up is the fact that I don’t like muesli.

As a kid, I remember looking at the glass jar of muesli in our kitchen cupboard, with its heavy top that I couldn’t remove, and being vaguely aware that it was ‘for the grown ups.’

I would contentedly tuck in to Rice Crispies or Cornflakes (or their sugary alternatives Coco Pops and Frosties depending on how amenable my parents were feeling) and eye the jar of muesli with half a mind on my glorious future as an erudite adult. (I probably didn’t think the word erudite.)

Then I got to be an adult in the strictest, chronological, sense of the word and realised that muesli is basically bits of cardboard with fruit added in an attempt to fool people into thinking it is food and I would much rather be able to get away with eating something that makes the milk go chocolatey.

And yet I still buy it, just like I pay a mortgage and have boiler insurance and cook healthy meals. Because that’s what people do.

You remember at 10 or 11 when you started ‘big school’ and you looked at all the cool kids in sixth form who didn’t wear uniform and had a common room and were really together and smart and mature?

And then you got to be one of those kids and you wondered when you would start being really together and smart and mature? But you didn’t want anyone to know you weren’t so you just kind of acted cool and hoped no-one would notice.

That’s how I feel all the time.

And around me, everyone else seems to be taking growing up in their stride.

I look at my friends who are getting married and having children and doing all those things and genuinely marvel at the fact they are capable of looking after a whole other human when I occasionally lose my cat.

Somehow, though, I seem to be able to keep alive the myth that I am responsible.

So if you see me, suited and booted, carrying a handbag, wearing glasses and heading for the newsroom, be safe in the knowledge that not 20 minutes earlier I was dancing around my bedroom in flares and a superhero t-shirt, secretly craving coco pops.

A room of one’s own…

…or making a home in a city of hotels.

 

As a result of the latest in a long line of inexplicable visa rules that seem to be controlling my life at the moment, I was given about 48 hours notice to return to the UK.

One set of cancelled flights to Beirut, an afternoon of ‘throw stuff at bag, take whatever lands inside’, an eight hour flight, and a drop of 26 degrees later and I found myself wandering around outside Manchester airport at 7.30am trying to find my friend’s car and rapidly losing all feeling in my ungloved hands.

I have been back since Friday and will be mooching around my parents’ house until my work visa is finally granted.

This will allegedly take 3-5 working days, so I might see the Dohaze again in June.

Being back in Sheffield is excellent. There is cricket, a sofa, and a steady stream of cups of tea and bacon sandwiches, but it is always a little strange to come back.

I haven’t really lived in my parents’ house since I was about 20. Summers at university were normally spent, at least in part, working in Durham. I did my journalism training in Newcastle and then went to work in Lincoln before hopping on a Qatar Airways flight to Doha for the first time.

Having said that, I have never really moved out either. Student accommodation didn’t exactly lend itself to holding an entire life and while the house I own has an attic full of the paraphernalia of my adult life, I did not live in it long enough to make it my home.

The remnants of childhood and teenage years are still very present in my Sheffield bedroom. The same posters adorn the walls (Shaolin Monks, Bruce Lee, Star Wars – what else would a teenage girl have on her walls?), the giant Taz I won at a theme park still sits in a green, high-backed armchair that used to belong to my grandmother, and the werebear I’ve had since I was five is as battered and hugged as I remember, but cleaner, I suspect he has been through the washing machine since I left.

As children, my sister and I shared a room, but she was older than me and very neat and I was (and am) one of the messiest humans who ever existed so eventually I was shuftied up into the attic, previously the play room, and the toys we had outgrown were hidden under the eaves.

Now those toys litter the floor once more, either to be thrown away (finally) or to be played with when my nieces and nephew come to visit.

Swords won at competitions hang from purple-painted beams while questionable teen fashion choices still hang from clothes rails.

It is a hotch-potch of my youth, a testament to my ever-changing identity from toddler to teenager, and it is a reminder that I don’t really have a home that displays any part of my adult identity.

My house is another couple’s home, and the rest of my adult life has been spent in a dusty city that everyone leaves eventually.

All the flats in my building are carbon copies of each other (apart from the ones that are mirror images, which leads to some very confused hangovers when you wake up on a friend’s sofa and can’t work out why there’s a wall where the kitchen should be), and so everyone tries to make little changes, little nods to who they are and how they live. Posters, plants, pots, anything that means you know you are in 2101 and not 2503.

We all try to make a home without buying anything that could be a pain to move to a different flat/building/country.

Bucking this ‘easy-to-move’ trend, my flatmates came with a piano, a drum kit, and a cat in tow and so our living area has a distinctive feel and the flat does speak of ‘us’ as flatmates, which I like because not everyone has the good fortune to find flatmates who are more than people to share the bills, but are people with whom you end up sharing your life.

For me though, apart from some photos, postcards, and a cricket poster, there is nothing in the flat that that makes my feel as though I have stamped my identity on the place in which I live.

Part of this is because I moved so much when I first arrived, and as wonderful and welcoming as my flatmates were, I always felt like I was renting a room in their flat rather than actually living there.

The new set up is different as we all moved in at the same time and have developed a shared history within the social hub of our living areas.

Still, there doesn’t seem any point in buying a lot of stuff when in a month, or a year, or two years, I could be moving house or moving country yet again, no-one wants to store, or ship, or sell a flat worth of furniture and artwork.

It might be different, I suppose, if I was with a family, or knew that I would be here for the next six years, let alone the next six months, but right now putting down roots only to have to rip them up again in a year or two, seems like an exercise in futility.

 

 

Archived post the first…

…a few words about my father.

The evaporation of my old blog was not an ideal situation, but I have quickly come to love the format offered here and so I have decided to re-post a few of my previous entries, rather than attempt to salvage the entire site.

After a momentary panic when I realised some of the posts I wanted to upload were nowhere to be found, a friend of mine sent me all my old drafts, that had by some technological wizardry been saved to his Google reader (Hooray for Kian, king among men.)

As Mum was the subject of my last post, I felt it only fair to kick off the archives with a post about my dad.

The below was originally posted on Fathers’ Day (Sunday, 17 June) 2012.

______________________________________________________________

A while ago, I wrote a post about my mum in celebration of Mothers’ Day.

It got some attention and some kind comments and, most importantly to me, my mum liked it.

Then someone said “I can’t wait to read your Fathers’ Day post” and I had a moment of panic.

To me, my parents are the most important people on the planet, but part of what defines our relationship is that we rarely feel the need to express this. It’s just there, as obvious and constant as the baking sun that currently beats down on me everyday (I’m aware this simile doesn’t actually translate to the UK but the sun is very much at the forefront of my mind right now.)

I wrote a list of great things my mum has done and said, and included some of her more obviously wonderful qualities, and it made a surprising number of people happy.

Part of me thinks I could just do that again, but with my dad as the subject. A larger part of me thinks that would be cheating, and that I should do something different in deference to the fact that, right down to the way they put lavatory paper on the holder, my parents are very different people. (Seriously wall side or not – after more than 30 years how have you not agreed on this…)

So on to Fathers’ Day, an event I don’t think I have ever acknowledged with more than a phone call, more often with a text and, far more often than that, with nothing at all. Yes, I’m rubbish.

I think maybe the best thing about my dad is that I know if I didn’t write this, he wouldn’t mind, he wouldn’t feel short changed, he probably wouldn’t notice. I’m really not sure how he is going to react to the fact I am writing it, but then, I don’t really know what I’m writing yet. Let’s find out.

I have a very hazy memory of a TV show or book or some other medium, when someone said the only man a girl can rely on is her father. It was probably in the context of some romantic maelstrom in which the male protagonist was being rubbish in a way that, at what I think was about seven, I didn’t understand or care about.

Despite not really paying attention to the reasons for the statement, the truth behind it seemed to me so obvious I was surprised anyone needed to say it out loud. Obviously my dad is the most reliable human on the planet, why is that even under debate?

At the time of hearing it I could still fit, albeit awkwardly (I was a lanky kid,) into the crook Dad’s legs formed when he fell asleep on the sofa watching Sunday sports.

When I was there, in that nook between his faded blue jeans and the back of our old, brown sofa, I never felt safer. In later years, when I was stressed, or sad, or vulnerable, that was the part of my childhood I retreated to. You know your “happy place?” That’s it.

I don’t think it is that unusual to believe your dad is superman. The fact he used to be able to lift all three of us at once seemed to me like a feat of strength to rival the World’s Strongest Man competition we used to watch together each year. I’m sure I’m not the only person to have this memory.

What my dad always did was protect me.

I vividly remember the time I came off my scooter into a ninja tree (the thing just jumped out) and broke my wrist. At first I was in shock, by the time Dad arrived at where I was lying in the street I was bawling uncontrollably. I can’t remember him saying anything, but I remember the instant feeling of safety that came with his arrival and that stayed with me while he lifted me effortlessly, carried me home, placed me in the back seat of our Cavalier and drove me to the children’s hospital.

As I got older, that protectiveness never turned into “you’re not going out dressed like that.” He was always good at letting me live my life. In fact, in 2009 when I told him I was going to Afghanistan one of his initial questions was “I’m not going to have to look after your cat am I?”

This was followed by a certain degree of paternal concern, but the cat was the thing.

It wasn’t until I was well into my teens that I realised some people didn’t have this uncomplicated relationship with their fathers, that there were stresses and strains way beyond the teenage tantrums and rows over mess and back chat and general ungratefulness that we battled through.

No matter how furiously or how frequently we argued, as I became the centre of my adolescent universe and he became increasingly keen to not have teenage children anymore (as the youngest of three I think by the time my 20th came around we had put our parents through the ringer several times,) there was never a time when I thought Dad wouldn’t be there if I needed him.

It wasn’t even a conscious thought that he would be there. It was just a fact, underpinning my life and keeping it so securely on track I didn’t even need to acknowledge its existence.

And through all this, he still found time to be my dad.

To read the Hobbit, the Three Musketeers and PG Wodehouse to me while our tent was being hammered by rain in France.

To teach me the rules of cricket and rugby and to scream and shout with me as catches were dropped and as Johnny Wilkinson kicked a World Cup-winning drop goal.

To write a meal plan at the start of each week so we knew what we were having for tea and to get something different for lunch at school, to cook our meals, and to write the shopping list in the order we’d come to it in Sainsbury’s.

To bake cakes in the shape of elephants and to put up basketball hoops, football goals and to sacrifice his garden to our sports.

To get up every Saturday to take me to Judo, and to pick me up again with various broken limbs.

To endure 5am drives, having dragged me out of bed, to various backwaters, hell holes and cities around Britain so I could fence, dealing with service station sausage and beans on the way and having to sit in the car listening to 5Live once we got there because I was too nervous to let him watch me fight.

Perhaps most importantly, to never once let me win the University Challenge challenge during the 15 or so years we have been playing.

And so to my dad, the most intelligent man I know, the other reason I am as I am, someone who I would never want to let down, but who would never ask anything of me anyway, a man I hope many of you have had the pleasure of meeting, and the one man I can truly rely on, thank you.

dad recovering from the aftermath of my 17th birthday - as exhausted as he looks.

Dad recovering in the aftermath of my 17th birthday.