Tag Archives: edinburgh

Isn’t grey hair just the first light of a new dawn?

To make sure I got to Tegel on time, I set my alarm for 6:45am, attempting to grab a few hours of sleep on the sofa in Ursula’s kitchen after my leaving party. I had, predictably, reached that point of the night known as Oh Fuck It, Sure I’ll Drink Some Vodka Now, Because I Am Invincible. I had already Tetris-ed most of my stuff into my rucksack; now I just needed to put on clothes, brush my teeth and say a quick goodbye to Ursula and Franzi, too bleary to convey sufficient gratitude to them for making me feel so welcome. Trams rumbled past the open window, sounding like low-flying aeroplanes.

I got a lift to Berlin with a German, a Hungarian and two Iranians. Wind turbines sped by as we talked travel and life. Two of them reckoned they could maybe use my help editing their academic work, and I handed out my new home-made business cards. (As close to home as I’ve been in a long time, anyway; I can say now that I live in Leipzig twice a year.)

The last time I flew out of Tegel airport, I was basically a wreck. On the outside I was keeping it together – I maybe looked physically drained, but at least I wasn’t a sobbing heap, which was what I felt like and what I had been for most of the preceding week or so. I was actually on the brink of a big adventure, except I didn’t have the energy at the time to even consider things from that perspective.

Yesterday Tegel airport was just another place I was passing through, except there were hundreds of police around it, which turned out to be because the Pope was on his way and not, as I had somehow decided, because someone was filming a music video. But I bypassed all the action to queue up at the check-in desk. I was listening to I Am Nothing by Withered Hand.

it’s a victory just seeing out today

And suddenly I was thinking back to a Withered Hand gig in an art gallery in 2009. While the rest of the audience stood dutifully to attention, Neill was sitting on the floor eating beans and complaining loudly about every band that wasn’t Withered Hand. He was accompanied by his sidekick, who he referred to as The French, a notoriously wretched twentysomething with low standards of hygiene. The French didn’t think much of me for a while until I offered to break a drug dealer’s legs for him, which apparently scored me some points. There was the time, also, when the three of us went to the Edinburgh Mela and I watched The French absent-mindedly take out his pocket knife and hack away at some dead skin on his thumb, while he reminisced about the time he didn’t wash for two weeks and got the most action he’d ever had. He was last heard of taking an excess of drugs at Roslin and chasing people around with a dead goat or some such, before running away into the hills. At least that’s how Neill tells it.

Edinburgh had its moments, you know? Before I had to get out. I want to see Neill again, and others too, but I can no longer comprehend going back to a place that’s so familiar. Why settle when I can keep moving? For all I know I could change my mind two months from now, but at the moment I can’t see it.

I’m insignificant, that’s my size
in the greater scheme of things I am nothing

play Withered Hand – I Am Nothing

The greater scheme of things makes it so much easier to bear everything: the petty, transient bullshit that bugs me for an afternoon, or the genuine pain, whatever its source. Maybe the song wasn’t intended to be uplifting, but it works for me.

On the plane, I sat next to a Puerto Rican living in Berlin (“yet another artist,” he said) and reluctantly paid five euros for a glass of orange juice and a box of vegetable chips with excessive packaging. We circled Barcelona several times before landing.

play Withered Hand – New Dawn

Repurposed

January to March
The snow at the beginning of the year increasingly struck me as artificial, like it was really icing sugar, or maybe talcum powder. I went out and got drunk a lot, but I mostly abandoned weekends and saved my adventures for midweek instead. I was opportunistic, but frustrated. I frequently woke up with the hangover of the soul; it was like I was looking for something but not finding it. The previous night would come back to me in flashes and mainly it would look like a pointless exercise. I behaved badly. I was just waiting to leave. Correction: in order to leave I was waiting for term to end so I could get my money’s worth from the Polish classes that I got at a discount on account of my low income. Still, in between the many nights full of bad ideas I managed to make a couple of zines, do a couple of readings, DJ a few times.

I went to Anglesey with La Glitch for my mum’s birthday. We rented a cottage and I lit a candle in a church on the day. Hard to tell whether I’d just gotten used to her absence, or whether I hadn’t given myself sufficient time on this trip to reflect. Four and a half years, though, that was a fuck of a long time. By now it just got reduced to brief moments when I was lying in bed hungover and I’d find myself sobbing hard for five seconds and then I’d stop.

We drank in the pub next to the cottage and an old woman with Parkinson’s disease talked to us and somehow, something about her reminded me of my mother, even though the similarities were subtle. She told us about the time she took a bunch of kids to the zoo and one of them stole a penguin. I’d heard this story before, but without the excuse he provided: My mum won’t let me have a cat, he’d explained. When I got back to Edinburgh, I printed out the Snopes discussion and sent it with a card to the pub, addressed to The Nice Woman Who Drinks Whisky And Lemonade. She wrote back.

Mostly, I felt like my mind was never where I was. Penguin had been picking up on it, she said that it was like I wasn’t really there, wasn’t really focused. I didn’t mean anything bad by it, but it left me without much to say for myself.

Term ended. I got drunk one last time in the Wayside and felt mild regret that I would miss the Bon Jovi tribute band playing at the weekend. I went round to Penguin’s and we made badges together, and the next day I left Edinburgh and flew to Brussels, feeling not a whole lot other than numb.

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Turbulence and missed connections

I sat at the gate at Tegel airport listening to The Golden Hour by Firewater while I waited to board my flight to Heathrow. I think I had bags under my eyes. I was breaking my own no-flying-into-London rule because I was too distraught to care. I was eating grapes for breakfast, lunch and dinner because I’d lost interest in food. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, I just knew that I was leaving, that it was the only good option available to me.

It doesn’t really start with the break-up. It starts a year and a half ago when I joined the redundancy club. I was no longer tied to a place. I could go anywhere at any time. I registered as self-employed and earned a third of my former salary. I struggled to deal with the instability of not knowing when I’d next get a well-paid project. I traded financial security for freedom, and decided it was worth it. I started drifting, taking off places. At first it was the trip to Hong Kong, Macau and Australia, which began six days after I said goodbye to my old job, while my colleagues were busy trying to find new ones. Later it was rural Wales, to recover from punishing my liver with free alcohol throughout the film festival, and because I got a couple of free lifts. In the autumn, frustrated by my sort-of girlfriend’s failed attempts to make it to Edinburgh, I found myself a cheap flight to Barcelona and was there the next day.

But now, with this whole Berlin thing … three and a half months there, living rent-free, being generally happy, and now I felt like I’d taken a holiday from reality. What was going on, really? I left, and few people were going to care that I’d left: not that that is a measurement worth looking at. The night before I flew to Heathrow, I raided the bathroom cabinet and gathered my findings together for a game of What The Fuck Is This. Pills labelled in Czech, Danish and Spanish. I wasn’t looking to do anything drastic, I was just desperate for something to help me sleep: the prospect of going through another night like the previous one filled me with dread. I fed the brand names into a search program, used an online translator. Nothing useful. My friends in Edinburgh and Belfast authorised me to have a glass of wine. Just one; okay, maybe two. And it really did take the edge off things, it calmed me down, I stopped crying and was able to sleep for more than two hours at a time.

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Brussels

The day before I left, Edinburgh was all about the haar, something I’m unlikely to get much of in Berlin. I took crappy pictures to try and convey how difficult it was to see ahead of me.

The day I left, it was grey and rainy. I caught the cheapo number 35 bus to the airport. I pondered the fact that I didn’t know when I would be back in town, and concluded: oh. I watched as someone walked into a field with a shopping bag, wearing a cardboard box on his head. I thought: oh.

The Brussels flight was mostly populated by businessmen. The one opposite me in the departure lounge looked me up and down, didn’t seem to approve of what he saw. Another one tried to barge ahead of me in the queue. I sat in my window seat hoping the one next to me would stay unoccupied, but eventually a middle-aged Belgian banker sat down in it. Hello, he said, nice to travel with you.

Likewise, I replied.

Thank you, he said.

I thought it was a pretty nice opening remark. We spent most of the flight talking about travel and languages. He was good company, and I meant to wish him all the best when we disembarked, but instead I kept moving while he located his luggage, unsure if I should hang around.

I keep feeling tempted to write ‘Brustles’, but I should banish such awful ideas from my head. Belgium is my first new country this year, and my first French-speaking destination since Quebec in the mid-nineties. Today I wandered the streets with My Mysterious Friend Germán, took in the Moomin exhibition at the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, went for mint tea. Tonight I cooked mushroom, lemon & leek risotto for three Czechs and a Spaniard. Minus the leek. Also minus some of the other stuff that usually goes into it. I had my ladle, though. I can’t believe, observed My Mysterious Friend Germán, that not only have you packed less than 15 kilos of stuff to cover your needs for the next several months, but you’ve included cooking utensils. Yes. If I can bring it it means I don’t have to buy it when I get there.

Here is all I’ve got:

From top to bottom and left to right:

  • Cheap second-hand jacket, with lining completely falling apart
  • Cardigan donated by friend
  • Rucksack given to me by kind boss when I left on my first solo trip aged eighteen; it’s been everywhere with me since, and shows no signs of falling apart. Still bears Jetstar luggage tag from last year’s Australia trip (a redundancy gift to myself)
  • Shoulderbag with handy compartments for discperson and camera
  • Canvas bag containing laptop, which actually fits into shoulderbag, but I needed to create some more space to accommodate the extra complimentary sandwich I scrounged on the flight.

Next stop: Amsterdam.