Tag Archives: gigs

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

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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Late nights in Neukölln

I had these disjointed, messy dreams last night and snippets of them keep coming back to me. My former boss with some new madcap schemes. A country road and a coastal path. Being stalked by some girl who wanted to collaborate with me, and getting off in an office with some other girl. Getting a message from a boy I kissed last summer and never contacted again; he told me he still liked me. I think I woke up feeling oddly guilty, and finding it hard to distinguish these memories from reality.

My guest from Belfast has been volcanoed, which means he is sticking around for another couple days. This means that tonight we are going to see Late Nights In Squat Bars at Monster Ronson’s.

Prior to Saturday, the largest number of people I had ever cooked for was probably about six. On Saturday night I decided to host a dinner party, given that I have a whole lot of space in this flat and have pretty much settled in now. Since I invited people with only a few days’ notice, I figured lots of them would be unavailable. Instead, half the New Zealand expat community descended upon my flat, along with a handful of other nationals and a token German, and the grand total of guests was seventeen. Preparing for the event was somewhat nervewracking, but I was fortunate that the Berlin Welcoming Committee and my Belfast guest were around to help.

I’d have taken pictures but I was too busy and distracted. But I know you care, internet, so here’s the specifics. Dinner consisted of:

  • Khobz with za’atar.
  • Salad of rocket, tomatoes and pine nuts, with parmesan shavings also available for the non-vegans.
  • Tortilla: so simple, and yet, so beautiful! I made several of them, so now I can officially cook it. I felt like a goddamned culinary genius for this one.
  • Leek, mushroom & lemon risotto, with added pine nuts. I regularly cook this, but making such an enormous quantity of it was daunting. I was relieved that an Italian arrived early and offered to take over risotto duties while I dealt with other stuff.
  • Vegan brownies, baked by a kind guest and served with strawberries and Black Forest gateau-flavoured ice cream.

I spent a while being awkward and nervous – many of the guests were people I’d only met once or twice, though it was hard to figure out what, if anything, I needed to actually worry about. It all turned out good, though, and the last guests left some time after 3am. Although there was drunkenness, it was way more civilised than the trainwreckery which was so characteristic of my life in Edinburgh. It’s like a whole new era! I had fun. I like talking to nice people. And I like not being a train wreck. Although, hosting visitors from Ireland and Scotland does, I’ve already discovered, tend to pose a threat to this new wholesome trend.

Lali Puna and me

I heard Lali Puna for the first time six years ago today.

2004 is significant to me because it was a turning point, the year I got my life back.

The relationship of doom had ended about two and a half months previously, and I was still adjusting to all this freedom. Not simply the freedom to get off with other people: the freedom to stay out late and get drunk and leave town at a moment’s notice and have friends round to visit and go on adventures and have no-one to answer to other than myself. Summer was coming and my freedom felt intoxicating. Some of what I was doing was pretty ordinary, but I was free of the vicious cycle I’d been trapped in for years, and I hadn’t been able to enjoy ordinary things for much of that time.

It was the day after I’d gotten my ƃuıʞuıs tattoo, and the Eurovision was on. I convinced a friend to let us watch it in his flat, because I didn’t have a TV and it was important. My American friends were new to it. I wanted Athena to win that year, from Turkey; they were these ska-tastic peaceniks who just yelled PEACE LOVE AND RESPECT!!!!!!!!! when the presenters tried to get a soundbite from them after the performance. My American friends, however, like everyone else, were distracted by the skimpy costumes of Ruslana’s wild dancers from Ukraine, and they were the ones who won. I met a cute boy, my friend’s bandmate, he came from Edinburgh but he somehow had the Belfast accent I myself was lacking. He had a homemade Miffy t-shirt bearing the message You will die. Later, I stumbled across his profile on a dating website and sent him a message headed So, wanna cyber?, and subsequently got kind of a po-faced response from him, and I thought oh shit, maybe he thought I meant that.

He brought along a Lali Puna CD and played it after the Eurovision had finished. It sounded kind of like a whole new world to me. He lent it to me and I copied it, copied it several times because everybody wanted it. I tried to describe the music to Ford Catríona but I didn’t know what I was talking about, I said something about it being electro and that was about as far as I got but Wikipedia says indietronic and that makes more sense.

My new flat was near the Meadows. My old flat had only been another five minutes up the road but I hadn’t gone outdoors much unless I was going to work or to the shops; I had often spent my three-day weekends holed up in the flat the whole time, smoking dope and trying to avoid sex and arguments. I guess in a nutshell that’s why ordinary life felt so amazing now. As the weather got warmer I’d cross the road to the Meadows, lie down on the grass in the sun, close my eyes and let the sounds of Faking The Books wash over me. It was beautiful. I don’t have words to describe the music in depth, partly because I’m no good at that but partly because, to me, that isn’t exactly the point. It’s more of a feeling that’s inextricably tied up with where I was at that point in my life.

It was the summer of the bizarre love triangle. We each listened to that album, and we each were to make our way to Berlin under different circumstances. It was hard to describe the relationships we had with one another, and when I tried to talk about what was going on in my life, people would look at me and not say anything. That summer I left Edinburgh a lot. Dublin, Belfast, Leeds, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Murcia, Valencia and more. That summer I bought my home. That summer was the last summer my mother was alive.

I saw Lali Puna for the first time last night, in the Lido with John from Belfast. We drank red wine and stood near the back and for the most part I could see okay. There seemed to be a pretty even gender ratio at the gig, which was maybe kind of novel; I remembered playing spot-the-woman with Marc at a Withered Hand gig last year. The band played newer stuff but they also played several tracks from Faking The Books and they fucking killed me. Two encores, I think, unless the wine interfered with my memory. I thought about how this music was the soundtrack to the changes I had undergone. After the gig, we went to a café across the road and John sensibly drank coffee and I got another glass of wine and started to scrawl things in my notebook to jog my memory so I could write about this today, but I wrote things that I don’t even understand now.

Everything you believe is a lie

It’s four weeks today since I moved to Berlin. It’s also May Day, but I have no-one to go to the riots with. I was in Friedrichshain last night, where gutterpunks roamed drunk and vanloads of police made their presence known. There was a feeling in the air, a tension that was more than a normal Friday night. People come from all over Germany to demonstrate on May Day, and police come from all over Germany to deal with it. This is the striving-to-be-nonpartisan summary, anyway; other summaries vary from “nobody cares about politics and they just want to smash things” to “everything was peaceful until those pesky cops showed up”. You know the drill.

Nobody I know is taking part in the festivities; everyone seems to have been devising complex strategies to avoid the hell out of the action. I’ve been trying to filter the scare stories and figure out whether it’s really going to be the apocalypse that everyone’s predicted (every year, there’s some soundbite about expecting “the worst violence in years”). I can’t really picture myself haplessly stumbling into the middle of a stand-off, anyway, but I guess I’m sitting this one out simply due to lack of any plans. I’m generally too jaded to go to demonstrations these days anyway – I know, I know, bad activist etc – but there’s an added thing here about being new in town and not being sure what’s going on, not to mention not speaking the language. Still, I feel like a bit of a copout. So to speak.

Travel news
I went back to Belfast for five days. It would’ve been a week only the volcano got in the way. This was fine by me; having arrived in Berlin such a short time ago, I was wondering what possessed me to book a whole week in Ireland. I cheered when I saw my initial flight had been cancelled. Anyway, being back in Belfast is always kind of weird for me and so it was kind of weird this time too. It’s not to say I didn’t have a nice time, it’s just that it was weird also. I am only mentioning it here for the sake of reporting that I’ve been away.

Gig news
On Thursday night I went to Schokoladen to see The Burning Hell from Canada. Hell yeah! I didn’t know what to expect beforehand, but really enjoyed the gig, as did my guests. I prefer to avoid writing about music for the most part, due to general cluelessness, but there is a man with a beard and a ukulele and entertaining lyrics and I think you should check them out. Also my new friend Ariel is playing clarinet with them on their European tour (and saxophone before it broke). And she is super. So.

Culinary notes

  • This is the sort of thing I have for breakfast/brunch each day.

    Stuffed vine leaves, sundried tomatoes with garlic, halloumi cheese, fried aubergine.
  • Also simits. Bread is generally more exciting over here than it is in the UK, with the exception of cranberry & rosemary bread, an occasional treat that I miss.

Goddamn writer’s block
You may have noticed that I am totally failing to update my other blog. This is in part due to deadlines and travel, which have also gotten in the way of this one, although clearly not to the same extent. And it is in part due to standard-grade writer’s block, whereby I am still searching for the right way to tell the next story; when this happens I generally just sit back and wait for inspiration to come (or rush something through and then resent it because I don’t like the way it was written). But I am beginning to wonder how long I am going to continue not being in the right headspace for it. And then I wonder whether that’s because I’m in a new relationship and don’t feel like analysing previous encounters right now? I do not know. I am just saying. I’m not actually planning to abandon the project or anything; who knows, maybe I will wake up tomorrow and the next post will write itself.

Speaking of waking up
I woke up in a panic yesterday morning, heart thumping, because I dreamed I missed the boarding call for a flight to Amsterdam because I was busy cooking a vegetarian sausage.

A couple of turns of phrase

  • When I was ten I went to visit this rich kid who I thought I was maybe going to be friends with. (This did not turn out to be the case.) I came home and reported to my mother: they had this big house, and a tennis court, and all these animals, and all this land. I added that the rich kid explained that they didn’t have a swimming pool because of the cost of heating it.

    Well, said my mother wryly. That’s a problem we don’t have.

    Lately I’ve taken to complaining that I can’t afford to heat my swimming pool, any time I catch myself whining about anything that isn’t, in the grand scheme of things, a big deal. See: having an unstable income yet still a fair way to fall before I wind up in desperate poverty; not having a clue where my life is going yet having the luxury of living rent-free in Berlin for the summer; etc.

  • On a similar note: IT’S LIKE LIVING IN RUSSIA. Which is what my brother informed me when he sent my Polish books and noted that the post office had no padded bags of any size. Yes. EXACTLY like living in Russia.