Friday, December 31, 2010

Double line

OK, 2010. Get thee behind me. Line yourself up over my shoulder and watch stalkerishly, fire flares over my head of the moments of joy that you offered, pinpricking my pupils and tripping me over against the loose cobbles of the just-about-to-happen, fold your sweaty dog-eared lesson-pages into the pocket at the back of the Moleskine, tug my diaphragm with my failures and broken promises and long aimless reaching, but Please Stand Behind The Yellow Line.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tail end

Snow, graupel so small it blows in coils of impossible wind-mocking vectors like stomped polystyrene. A family walks the other way, kids in snow-suits with reinforced knees and banana-bunch gloves. More families. Where are they going? Something is happening, as it often is. I don't know what it is. As I often don't. At the supermarket there are tall pyramids of beer on display and peanut-flavoured snack foods. Chocolate Weihnachtsmänner on sale at the back. Shops are selling fireworks for tomorrow, the snow outside dredged with foil confetti hearts and stars. And hats. Tall striped caricature top hats. Sombrero-type things with boa trims. Ones with bells. Hats are a thing.

I abandon the shopping in the hall and curl my frozen red-violet hands into the sheepskin on the living room floor, ow god ow ow while my fingernails stubbornly wrest the blood back from the ice. I pack away the oats, the smoked trout. The fillet of pork, the noodles and split peas and the vegetables that fix me with their Proper Meal gazes. The year trails in after me with the cold, rapid-fire edits, Saarlacc. Triffid. Dead Hyacinth. Castaway, Lost in Translation, sheets of the masterpiece blown in the wind, the crunch of warm ashes underfoot, birds in the wrong clothes. I lean forward against the pull, hem of the coat in the doorjamb, and close my eyes but it has the advantage, damn it and its physics-of-my-mind, and I am afraid because the leaning is a comfort, somehow, like being on a train so crowded you no longer have to hold yourself up.

In the morning I talk to my brother, wit and warmth and dangerous perspicacity like hot glass just in reach, popcorn eyebrows and diegetic chords for DRAMA from the keyboard to his left. So real, for the love of god, so real the snap-chilled windows seem like fictions.

Later I make blueberry muffins out of a cookbook with muffin-shaped pages. The bell rings and they are kitsch-defying, golden purple-stained munch-fests, nutmeg-scented and smug in their satisfaction of the archetype. They look at me butterishly. I arrange them in a dish.

The blueberries were from Guatemala.

Friday, December 03, 2010


I slept most of the day, hiding in and out of the shadowy watercolour of daytime unconsciousness with my nose pulled under the quilt. I put out water and seed for the tits and sparrows, settling half-cup soufflé dishes into the snow in the balcony planter. They don't like the tiny black ones, sprinkled delicately around the birdily-stomped snow later in the afternoon. I wash my hair and twiddle suds idly between my toes as though it matters that they are clean, which I suppose it does really. Malt toast and vegemite, a cup of hot fennel tea, two pairs of socks. I look at the snow in the clefts of the wet black chestnut outside the kitchen window, as though it is collecting it on purpose, gathering up the strange exploded ice-popcorn with the sly expression of a prankster snowball-bandit. My hair dries slowly. The tea is good. Nothing happens. It is a cold day.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


The snow came last night, piling into windscreen-wiper blades of frost on my balcony railings, white-on-white winter blaze through the window at dawn, jumping on your eyelids with a handful or three of unexpected lux. People tug wooden sleds with backpacks or kinder perched on them, everyone a pair of eyes superheroed with scarves and hats. The inside of my skull blows on its hands. Isn't it cold, isn't it cold, it's so COLD. Mum sent a parcel of Vegemite and biscuits, Australian chocolate macadamias and her wonderful mad scrawl, passed on to me by my next-door neighbour, utterly St Nickly in his bonny Deutsch roundness. His name is Herr Birth.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


I've been and I've come back, been and come back, lungs full of salt and kelp from riding the precarious lip of the wave of boxes and suitcases, loss and history, things and no-things. The legion trite baggage metaphors lounge around under the legs of chairs like smug marmalade cats with double-cream bellies. I scrabbled against the chaos for a sick, irritable week-and-a-half, moodily eating toast and winding string, silencing bat-winged badnesses with cups of coffee. It is calm now, settling into its orbits and heat sinks, entropic corners and tidal tabletops.

The winter came suddenly, earsplitting white cold like yesterday's overboiled milk saucepan. I iron pillowslips to keep my hands warm, casting myself into the pull of these things, my things, sort of, and watch old Christmas movies.

Monday, October 11, 2010


My mind has been curiously blank this past week, a fat white expanse of plane-smoothed chalk mattely pin-pricking thoughtful pupils and coating curious palms with calc dust. Which might be calming, perhaps, if not for the unsettling half-heard sound of a thought or two, not one of those little caltrop-shaped ones that might drop out of the subsidence cracks if you shake your skull just so, but staggering, towering, silent ones like walking a corridor of ice and realising that for hours you have been staring at a mammoth, ear-splitting in its frozen forever.

Tomorrow I am on a plane for a week in England, breaking out the brand-new visa, to celebrate Pluvialis' birthday. We are going to see Hamlet. I will breathe English autumn, and drink terrible English coffee, banking around dodgem emotional corners with glee.

I'll send a postcard.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Ten things I found out this week

1. The most money you can make on Plants vs. Zombies is $999,900.

2. Nicole Richie's second novel has been published, and it apparently contains the lines:

It felt incredibly loud and hot in the club. The pulsing bass lines could be physically felt in every pair of panties ...

3. I did actually break my nose.

4. Advent is a big deal in Germany.

5. Some women call their lala 'sixpence'.

6. I don't call it either of these things.

7. The German vernacular for fellatio is Presidentensex.

8. Gotye's Like Drawing Blood is all award-winning and blah-de-blah, but the underappreciated gem of the album is 'Night Drive'.

9. My day can be made by the gift of a Kaiser's Einkaufswagen chip keyring with the Berlin bear on one side.

10. I really can't believe the whole Jonathan Franzen thing.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


Today I have poached damsons with spoonsful of sugar, sliced celeriac into unnecessarily pretty slices for stock, put the bedding out to air in the sunshine, wandered the floorboards with my soles close, pressing my feet to the wood as if traces will someday be found in the grain, in the chocolatey-swirl knots. Berlin is outlandishly dusty as though it is the moon, fine greyish white dandery film covering everything, shiny cameos of book or tea cup lifted off the bedside table. Bladerunner bought two dozen brace or so of different safety pins for various rarified long-distance running purposes, and I find them about the place, wheedled in between the sofa cushions, in the kitchen drawers and one deep in the grey sheepskin rug, hibernating like a ladybird.

Last night I drank tequila and danced, and wondered.

Friday, October 01, 2010


Some days I do nothing but talk myself off ledges; dusty, cracked and narrow with stonework slipping like shale, peeling windowframes at my shoulderblades and the balls of my feet jacked to 90 degrees, madness lying disinterestedly between the paving slabs on the street below. Ledge-logic shears away from the face of stability in gritty, burning scatters of brimstone like fireworks that got mocked a lot at school.

Hostage-negotiator voice. Outside the mental door in a bulletproof vest and the marriage-on-the-rocks eyes. Give her the pizza and tell her that we're working on the helicopter.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

< blank >

Saw Bladerunner off yesterday morning and the house seems quiet and blank on the ebb of last week's tide of boyish backpack and biohazards. He ran 3'15 on Sunday, in spite of a mild case of whatever the hell it was that I had steeped him in every morning over coffee.

I'm blinking and sleepy and eating Lebkuchen in the shape of little behatted Clauses -- the sainted kind, not the one you have in a contract. They strike a variety of oddly emphatic festive poses. Lined up they look like sugar-glazed Village People. YMCA, cinnamon-style. Chocolate on the bottom, what are you looking at, VOGUE. Stale crumbs of pumpkin-seed bread in one of the balcony planters, and a great tit hops in gingerly. And then a sparrow. My mind is full of tissue paper. New, clean tissue paper, to be sure, which is an improvement on the grody scum two days ago. Still muffly in there. The thoughts are all like hostages gagged with duct-tape in the boot of the getaway car. Mmfmmfmmmfff. MMMMmFFFF!

I can't hear you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Xtin v The Virus: Deuce

Better, thank all the small gods, thoughts barely managing to glance around the corner into clarity in time to S-Bahn it to Friedrichstraße and pick up Bladerunner from the marathon, smiling his curly-eyed smile and damp with rain, salty and bedazzled with exhaustion and a medal. I chomp huge breaths of cold, dropletty air, delighted to be able to breathe and I am outside, outside, outside! Noises and birds and buildings, voices and run-off in the gutters, people, people. They've all got leftover coughs, too. Still the velvety desire to sleep muffles me all day, tideline of tissues and ibuprofen around the bed and my god, I want to boil the sheets and take the kind of shower that washes off the dirt that plans to be on you next week.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tissue balls

Head still all biological hazard and not an untwisty thought. Blink slowly at fall premiere television and the spoonful of lentil soup, butter curling over the edges of a slice of pumpkin seed toast. Cup of coffee and crack throat nineteen to the dozen on the phone to generously patient mater about god knows what-have-you, music and abandonment and family and the gluey spidery sticky-fingers mythical level of competence that would stop the darts thrown blindfolded. Bladerunner returns from carb-loading and we discuss bullshit extended mind arguments nothing if not apropos, or perhaps not if you've naught to extend in the first place. Go to sleep, tiny dancer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Next, something or other

Fennel tea with honey and lime, because I forgot to buy lemons when I went to the shops earlier. I forgot other things. Some things ... I forget now. Boiled-egg sandwich. Check Google safe-browsing diagnostics. Blog not listed as malicious. Well, that's nice then. Internet banking. Pray stupid febrile brain pays relevant bills and does not transfer net worth to online poker system currently starring in today's pop-unders. Wash socks. Strepsil. Cuprofen. Did I have a cup of tea? Put kettle on. Check mailbox. Kennebunkport postcard from Pluvialis! Yay. Cough. Cough cough cough. Sniffle. What the hell is that sound? Like a really agitated whistling. What ... oh the kettle is boiling. I need a cup ... here's one. It has cold tea in it. I should make another cup.

Later ...

Where are all the cups?

Monday, September 20, 2010


The viruses are still running the party around here and my day has become a puzzling sequence of disconnected moments where I stand on the spot and try to remember why, by God, I am staring into the cutlery drawer, where usually my brain would be handily triaging and cueing up What Next while I'm thinking about more interesting things like ... those interesting things that I can't remember now.

An old philosophical friend of mine arrived today, he of the recently sharpened Japanese cleaver of a mind and plan to run the Berlin marathon on Saturday. Even squinting blearily through my mental service outages my voice eventually cracked on the muscular delight of talking in my own language, the larger one and the oh-so-many smaller ones, the watercolour hints of register and tone and gifts of the given that tenterhook the best of conversations. Bladerunner will be here another eight days.

Rejoice! And viruses: SILENCE! I KILL YOU.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


In best Lazarus fashion, my laptop staged a merciful recovery this morning and I have been hoppity-skip with the delight of the internets full-throttle. Possibly in minor Faustian bargain, hoppity-skippiness has been limited to fervid imagination, as I have been laid pathetically low with headcold hilariously incompatible with my run-in with Implacable Glass Door earlier in the week. Wield handkerchief, exclaim in surprised excruciation, wield handkerchief more gently. Rinse, repeat.

Made hot toddy just now upon tweet-suggestion of fabulous @doraexploring. There's a fuckton of viral RNA conducting a cinema discussion group in my skull right now so I have forgotten every adjective and um, all the other parts of speech but, hot. Whisky. Honey. Whisky. Hot whisky.


Saturday, September 18, 2010


My laptop has spent the last couple of weeks living a comfortable existence on the footstool which matches my new sofa. I've been curled up on its dunkelgrau splendiferousness with a couple of lambskins while I pluck jute-rug shedding from around the Macbook. I moved it today -- people for dinner, you know. Uncool to be sporting the laptop nestled among the soft furnishings. I lined it up in its nominal real home in the study, and later, full of trulli carbonara and bonhomie, I pressed the on-switch.

Idiot, thought I, into the deafening silence. You haven't even plugged it in. (Because, mais bien sur, its ability to draw power from the battery is long since a memory). I looked over the side of the desk and then I looked at the power cord firmly slotted into the wall. Then I looked at it some more. I looked at the laptop's irrevocable plugged-in-ness for a while. Then, because apparently our reptilian brains are unable to resist these dead-end impulses, I pressed the on-switch again.

I realise that laying my hands on a replacement power supply can't be a peak-scaling enterprise. And mercifully I am not cut off entirely -- I mean, I'm posting from my iPhone. How bad can things be? But looking at the dark once-glowed-friendly-and-green power lamp in my magnasafe powercord, I hear a small voice with nonetheless excellent projection saying,

Why must everything be broken?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Maiden bake

The first chocolate cake of the new house. A new box of peaty dark dutch cocoa, Deutsch on one side, Nederlands on the other and a recipe for Russian tea-cake on the back. German cooking chocolate outrageously called Schwarz Herren and the red cake tin I bought from Ikea. The smell as it bakes is like a memory of everything and nothing, mercifully absent sudden evocations of anything in particular but a stone path many-step-eroded in the middle for it has risen in every oven I've ever had, many times, große dinner party ones and kleine tea party ones, ones for birthdays and ones split through the middle because there are too many strawberries at the market.

Later I'll be carrying this one, smacked like my life with German-inflected sameness, to Mitte on the S-Bahn, covered with a striped tea towel. People will look, and they will smile shyly, because the smell is so good and because someone carrying something from their kitchen to someone else's is like a pregnant woman or someone drawing on the pavement in coloured chalk, ducklings crossing the street, fireworks suddenly visible over the trees and a bunch of strangers stand to look. And smile at one another.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Scouting nose

So there we are last night in the dark dancy flicker at NBI and on account of the Exile Wardrobe™, I am wearing the usual suspect which is black, basic and glues to me like mustard on steak, which is how it got into The One Suitcase in the first place. But, for the first time it was cold enough to forgo the black Lulu Guinness peep wedges with the toe-tufts and stomp the beats with my black Hobbs ankle-buckle knee boots, dubbed by Pluvialis The Stormtrooper Boot which I should probably not say too loudly here in the motherland.

This digression into footwear, dear reader, because I suspect that had I carefully and gracefully teetered in Lulu Guinness, I'd never have walked into a glass door, drunk on the leggy freedom of kick-ass boots, stable as sports bucket seats in spite of towering heels. There may also have been some drunk on tequila.

I have spent the day in a crumply duvet-and-codeine nest with an almost musical thrum in my head while my hangover duets with the crashed-and-burned aristocratic bridge of my nose.

In small mercies, it isn't broken, and the crowd of witnesses maintained resolutely straight faces. Germans are so civilised.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I have wandered the day with the wrench and screwdriver and scummy sandpaper of adulthood, sorting out yet more bank-related things, next-week related things, the vaguely benign orbit of today-tomorrow things, dishes and laundry and wet clean hair, punched sofa cushions and sorted recycling tanged lemony with the sadism of the everlasting and inexorable.

I am so dog-tired coasting the wash and pull of heartbreak, the most of me dragging the future flinty-eyed toward my chest, hauling stubbornly with my back to the coil of slack rope so I cannot be reminded how much remains, but the least of me tiny, fervent and vicious in not letting go, screaming doggedly at the top of its voice with unhysterical, single-minded resolve combing my insides with nails and carving out spoonsful of my lungs with technicolour scenes of reconciliation.

My shower leaks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Coffee pot

This is a corner of my kitchen. I love my house. Not this house in particular -- although my affair of the heart with this airy eyrie in Berlin unfolds fern-frondily -- but whatever house is the one I'm calling mine. The language of inside spaces is the only one I speak softly and with my eyes instead of loudly, presto and with my hands, which is how I speak of everything. Everything else. A tension pulls at me over my fervour, as though it's empty or misdirected somehow, only right for a backdrop to the Really Things.

I love shelves and floors, glasses and windows, door handles and light switches and the hum of the refrigerator, the personality of chairs and the soothing no-nonsense you get from tables, any table. Even the one whose leg needs a folded napkin under it. Mixing bowls, scissors, saucepans and cabinets on castors, painted pools of lamplight, a cushion, another cushion, a blanket, a curtain, a book wherever you've left one which is everywhere, soft rustle-rustle leaf-litter layers of textiles and paper.

Piles of dishes and platters on the shelves and spoons and whisks leaning on their one foot against the edges of jugs, humming the sounds of your cooking and the chink and clatter and laughter of people, others always the happy token of massed plates and your motley crew of glassware. Quilts and too many pillows on the bed and something snug over a chair, the quietly euphoric sense of governed oversupply that launches your house, your small temperamental body and strange social customs half a step from satisfaction in the second drawer down on the left.

Twine and pencils in the study and postcards from not here, ziggly things to hold your paper, rugs that fight and marry and a reading lamp. The doors open to let the world in and when it gets late it folds its walls and floors and lets your world of idiosyncratic craziness be the only way things are.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Slippers would be better

It has rained today, and purred and growled with thunder as it usually does in Berlin when it rains; yet another of its unexpectedly cinematic charms. The thunder here has all the hammy appeal of an ageing British theatre luvvy, slowly but not-quite-methodically cresting into great splashes of corrugated-iron-wobbling No Really, It's Raining Now extravagance.

I've stayed inside with fluffy socks and toast, browsing design blogs and congratulating myself on yesterday's successful tangles with internet banking in three countries.

Well, you know. Achievement is underpinned by appreciating small victories everywhere. Or something.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Research assistance

I just trashed my wildly out of date blog roll and replaced it with a properly RSS-configured list of things I, you know, actually read and think are good.

There is not really enough there. If you're reading this (hello, five people! I love you!) and you know of smart, witty, brilliant stuff out there -- or if you're writing it -- then let me know. Please. There is too much shite to wade through to find this stuff myself. I need a committee.

I'll bake cake.

Where the wild things aren't

Some friends of mine are enjoying a project called 365 Things in My House. They take a picture of something each day, and they add whatever stories, associations, well-told anecdotes, bits of fractured family history or whatnot are built into them. Things and what we think they are are such fabulous, messy, pretty, crazy, layered, portable microcosmic cameos of their nearby people. It is a delightfully warm and fun game in telling people about oneself.

I considered my flat. Thing I bought last week from Ikea. Another thing I bought last week from Ikea. Thing I bought two weeks ago from Ikea. Thing Dr Heartbreak brought me last winter from England. Thing Dr Heartbreak brought me for my birthday. Thing from Ikea ...


Not so much with the things. I need my coat and my mixer and my Ravilious and my typography and the picture of my grandmother. I need my stories.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Indian summer

A startling late burst of summer today, hot pale chamomile sunshine washing the scrubby lawns at the Mauerpark and the lounging couples, families with a basket, a rug and someone running after the toddler, fire-twirling practise, angular street-chic boys pow-wowing around their campfire-piled cycles, dogs sniff-greeting other dogs warily while their owners exchange guten Tag with their eyes, sightseers with half a retina on the map and the other on their Canon EOS.

I was thoughtful when someone wanted me to be talkative, but I do not want to diffuse things today. I bought some basil, and some absurdly cheap Spanish nectarines, and a bunch of coriander from the AsiaMarkt which has nam pla for 0.99 and green bananas and taro in the fresh vegetables boxes and at the back a wild kitsch mosaic of more flavours of instant noodle than I thought there were things you could stick powdered into a little foil sachet.

Chicken stock is on the stove burbling as though it has Broadway dreams of being a potion with dramatic narrative possibilities. Tomorrow I will make it into chicken congee.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tales from an empty hallway

My flat is very clean, and very quiet. The sheets are washed, clean towels are folded and the Poetical Histories are stacked, rebelliously historical, neatly on the new Ikea cabinet next to the new Ikea sofa on the new Ikea rug on the newly sanded and sealed boards.

I love the boards. They are old and warm, the colours of summer and baking, just uneven enough to be appealing but not so much as to ruin the meditative soothe of their lines. Sometimes I put my hands to them in the hope that everything will stop seeming so absent of history, so ferociously new-in-box.

My kitchen is red, and fast friends with the boards. They talk together about red wine and bare feet and toast crumbs and while I wash the dishes I tell them my stories.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


One of my most basic terrors is that I have nothing to say. I don't even know what this fear really amounts to -- something about uniqueness, something about dilettantism, something about failure, mediocrity, immortality, worthiness, what?

The hope that phosphoresces gently in the damp complex of caves in there is that if I keep opening doors in my mind, if I sort of write myself notes like a trail of breadcrumbs to find my way back to forks in the labyrinth, then I might find something on the other side of one of the doors. Or I might find that the breadcrumbs say something themselves.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The ginchiest

77 Sunset Strip. Terminally cool hepcat detective telly of the fifties, and fertile fictional soil from whence sprang Gerald Lloyd "Kookie" Kookson, he of the comb and smouldering looks out from under eyebrows as perfectly coiffed as the, well, coiffure. Not that I mentioned that manicured thing about the eyebrows. That is not cool.

The Strip ran for 206 episodes and god knows how many of these I've seen, but apparently not the pilot. Or the second episode. In the first episode, ladies and germs, Kookie was cast as a serial killer, nabbed by our heroes the PIs and sent away to pay The Ultimate Price for his crimes. But the preview audiences loved Kookie.

So, what do you do? Well, duh. You pull the classic "Oh, For God's Sake" move. You come up with some anemically thin but marginally tenable narrative which explains ... whatever crazy thing you need explaining.

Christopher Lambert: There can be only ONE!

De- and re-capitated Sean Connery: Well, you know. Except for when there was this rebellion 500 years ago and there's a special magical bond between the two immortals whose lives were threatened by this other immortal and then there's a special bringing-back-to-life swordfight which is um, specially not like the other special swordfights where we die, and ... uh, you know, not.

Audience: OH, FOR GOD'S SAKE.

Right. The dog ate it. Whatever. We return to episode 2 of 77 Sunset Strip, where market forces are compelling us to pluck Kookie from the jaws of death. Hold your breath. Efram Zimbalist, Jr., who plays one of our pair of heroes, ex-secret agent PI Stu Bailey, appears on screen. As himself.

Zimbalist: We previewed this show, and because Edd Byrnes was such a hit we decided that Kookie and his comb had to be in our series. So this week, we'll just forget that in the pilot he went off to prison to be executed.


Absolutely magic. A balls-out, cards-on-the-table, red-handed, honest-to-god do-over. My faith in second chances is utterly restored. Let's peel from this gig.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

From the notebooks

Leipnizsee, August 21, 2010

The lake is vast and gleaming and improbably perfect, hypernaturally unsymmetrical, banks of reeds clustered just so opposite the shore, like a matt painting waiting for the green-screened hobbits. Germans of all shapes and sizes, every stage of undress, loll around with the superbly civilised nonchalance of unhungry lions watching wildebeeste at a watering hole. There is dirty, gritty sand. We came here through a beech wood. C floats in his green ring and A swims as if his life depended on it, always mistrustful of relaxation. Thoughts of the green-eyed doctor scrape past like underwater driftwood, away into something that happened once.

I'm too hot, and there is not enough shade, and in spite of myself and the startling beauty and the fervently welcome sense that I am Doing Something Today, I gird myself against the hours until I can go home and be in the cool flat and eat toast and tomatoes. Abandoning our shoreside encampment I sit under a tree clustered with bikes on the twiggy, butt-strewn sand and I am not loving it but it is cooler and suddenly I find myself less on edge. Tiny blond boys, browned like the top of a buttercake, dash around naked flexing their paper-crane shoulderblades, bearing their flotation devices aloft or slung around their hips like hunting trophies. Two boys perch on a nine-foot beech stump, its roots stripped to the wind. They lean together confidentially, sharing boyish observations, swinging their feet while the girls in jewelled bikinis below arrange themselves like ikebana, navel piercings catching the sun, pivoting this way and that over carefully braced and rebraced abdominals.

The sun is creeping in to my spot. I decamp to a shady stump near an extraordinary lone silver birch, towering overhead pitched rakishly toward the lake like it's looking for something just around the corner. Its roots clamber down the embankment, toggle-shaped seedheads hanging heavy ten or twelve feet above. A round man with sooty grey chest hair sleeps peacefully naked, with his straw hat over his face and his feet neatly crossed. The breeze picks up. A duck-footed snow of birch seeds floats into my hair. A pair of swimming trunks dries on a bush. A motorcycle helmet perches on a dead bough. The sun pulls over the other side of the lake, patinating the trees, kermit greens and candy-wrapper golds. People swat with ginger respect at wasps and dust the muddy-coloured sand from their calves and soles, shaking out blankets and towels with dracula-cape-snapping flourishes.

A tiny grasshopper sits on my toes and watches the dragonflies with me.


I just sent some emails which uncouple me from all the things which make me part of a story I once told about myself, unclipped like the safety chute and suspended in the freezing cold air and terminal-velocity roar of what I really wish. Holy shit, the terror is like metal and fire and the mind-altering moment between hammering your thumb and screaming blue murder and I am clasping my hands and curling my toes and eating a boiled egg sandwich as though it might contain salvation but oh, how good it feels to have torn the fist clutching my diaphragm into the wind, to be free of the crippling nausea of agreeing to things that I have convinced myself was bravery but is really another way of endorsing my perverse theory that if I forgo the thing I want, the sacrifice will save me from bad things.

Bring it, bitches. I know all kinds of fear.

Cleave II

Oh. And the UK government issued me with a visa.


Reader, he broke my heart. Broke it with those strange platitudes spoken in a language that seems like the one you speak, ordinary words askew turned in your head to see if they mean you're too much, you're not enough, I'm bored, restive, doubtful, sleeping with someone else, wish I was sleeping with someone else; but that's a tangle with a B-movie anaconda and behind the dubbed hissing and snapping it's just over, and you'll sit down tomorrow with your hands wrapped around a hot cup and this pain, this superbly everyday pain, toast and a litre of milk and some apricot yoghurt, buy one get one free, until one morning something else comes with your coffee.

It was worth it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I really need to find occasions to say "Holy smoke". And I need to practice it in the mirror so that my eyebrows don't make finger quotes on it.

It's good to have goals.


The latest in a series of found metaphors. Today's theme: This Is Your Life.

From Pynchon's Vineland:

The more she considered, the more thickly came the birds of creepiness to perch on her shoulders.

All by itself this fragment of the scarily apt would have put Vineland over the extremely irritable and capricious scratch-line of Worth Xtin's Time, but it is glutted with other reasons. It might actually annoy me with its fucking awesomeness. There's no pleasing me. It's a thing.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Two summers ago, I was about a week from closing on a little house in Lode, which is a village about six miles NNE of Cambridge. The eponymous lode runs around the back of Anglesey Abbey, which has a mill on it. You can buy flour. Two autumns before that my mother stood on the lodebank watching the glossy burnt sedge grasses earmuffing the meanders. She cocked her head to one side and told me, you should live in a place like this.

That was a big deal for her, she who dreams that I will come home.

The little house was made of the muddy grey fenland bricks on which Cambridgeshire had long imprinted me, herringbone bricks on the floor in the front room, charry untouched Victorian fireplace, a worker's cottage one, no mantel. A pocketful of garden outside with two apple trees and a snarly snarl of ivy over the back fences, a big bedroom and a little one, a mad galley study needling into the garden with french doors to the crookedly paved terrace, and in the middle the kitchen, the kitchen for my hearth's desire, wood and steel and black slate, gas burners and a double oven and a pantry, oh my god a pantry with the Victorian door still on it and the owner's kid's heights marked on the jamb.

The little house wrapped itself around the throats of my hydra-heads and choked them to death. Aspire, mean something, be someone, go somewhere. No, for I am the woman who lives in this house. Who are you? I was completely transported on the ecstasy of future endurance, there couldn't be too many years to live there, too many years to paint it different colours, change the shelves, one thing one weekend, twenty weekends, fifty, bring out the Christmas things for the places they were last year, watch the winter bare-twig, bake and roast and jam and pickle until the kitchen walls breathed, folded up into the corner of the sofa with too-hot cheeks listening to spit-snap in the fireplace. That was it. That was all. Repair to the arm-span study and look out onto my apple trees and write whatever came to me, because it would, because the house had found me, picked me up into itself and given the bouncer's implacable eye to the drunken instability of my history of places, planted its needs-some-work drainage right under my feet and slammed the door to the tune of I've Got You Babe.

I never got to live there. But remember, you things, you acrid, vicious things, that I can kill you with a house.

Friday, April 09, 2010


Dear CSI production,

You need a new dead dog. That stuffed alsatian you have has appeared three times in the last season-and-a-half and dudes, not only has it really been around the block, it was already truly lame. Pardon the pun. Seriously, it looks like one of those giant hairballs you yank out of the rollers in your vacuum cleaner head.

I know that there's A Thing with the fictional death of animals, especially dogs. People burst into tears and call their senators. So I'm getting that maybe your little hound of the taxiderm is terrible for a reason, in the same way that the animatronic preemies on medical dramas are all super-robotic, click-waving their tiny beige silicone arms in that hysteria-quelling It's OK I'm Not Really A Baby way.

Sure. But you're killing a dog because it makes people call senators, right? Killers who smoke dogs are truly evil, unfeeling bastards. Otherwise, you'd just stick with the banal psychos who stab whores to death, no?

This point would carry more smoothly if the soft, recently-alive fur of said dog say, waved in the wind. Or if it had visible paw pads. Or its limbs were, you know, in a plausibly dead posture.

Always happy to help,


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Frohe Ostern

The Green-Eyed Doctor showed up yesterday like a minor deity of plenty, M&S hot-cross buns in his left hand, dulce-de-leche truffles in his right, scent of London at his feet, his pockets tripping euros and sterling over one another.

Kollwitzstrasse Saturday market is less egregious when you are one of the obnoxious happy hand-holding couples.

Happy Easter everyone.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Or maybe not

I am just one of millions of overworrying anxious idiots. I'm at peace with the parade of minor-league holy-shits in my head. Or more than I was ten years ago, anyway. But then there is the Big Background Stuff.

My current BBS worry is:

Possibly, I am a loser.

I put this to my mother. She said:

Okay. So?

Which was a fucking good point. She is known for those.

But since that is the right way to be thinking about it, let's not. Saying that you're a loser, much less saying why, is precisely the kind of onanistic hairpat-baiting neurotic crap that makes you a loser in the first place. But we losers like to pretend that if you say it, you have to show some (loserish) balls by justifying your fervent loser dogma. The thing is that I have this habit of doing something until I might have to stop proving that I have the potential to be good at it and just goddamn get the hell on with being good at it, and then I bail. Dilettante, right. Pronounced loser.

So of course I'm involved with a doctor with all the saving lives and insane shifts and no sleep and forced on-demand justification of every freaking move you make and having to stand up gracefully and willingly under constant public critique without yelling stick it bitches what the hell would you know? Which I'm mentioning to make clear that the obvious fact that doctors get automatic not-a-loser passes is not an empty bit of hero worship, dickwad surgical consultant or three notwithstanding.

It's so textbook I could puke all over my shoes. If I had any shoes, which I don't, because of the whole enforced-exile-one-suitcase-life-in-storage painfest, so what I have is my North Face snow boots, a pair of Birk Arizonas and the black high heeled boots with the ankle buckles that Pluvialis calls my Stormtrooper boots which are in the collection because they happened to be in the first box of clothes that she and my friend Shiny Hair opened.

My kingdom for some chucks.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Today I went to the shiny garble-garble Easter to-and-fro plate-glassiness of the Galeria Kaufhof at Alexanderplatz. It was bright and full of colours and foiled rabbits and comforting in that way that giant consumerist temples always are, wrapping themselves around you with the vast and dubious maternal hug of capitalism.

Later I walked down Kollwitzstraße and bought bunches of daffodils at laughably inflated holiday prices but the flower seller spoke to me in English with a German accent like the smell of bread baking and the checkout chick at the BioMarkt said frohe Ostern and I said danke and wished I knew how to say you too and Berlin was beautiful in the sunshine and sparrows and great tits scooped over the roads and the cupboard is full of festive foods and I took a hot bath and tried to feel at home like I did yesterday when I vacuumed.

But Berlin in the spring didn't work like the floors.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Most every aspect of the sociocultural trade in [giant scare quote] Advice on Love and Sex [giant scare quote] is repellent, dredged like sticky turkish delight with arsenic instead of powdered sugar and just as poisonous, laced with the vicious metaphorical opacity of the language of hunting, subterfuge, camouflage, entrapment, espionage, political double-speak; everything silently, brutally, casually pinned to The Obvious Truth that no two people coming at one another with candour and a smile could ever end up in bed. Or in love. Or whatever.

This is a filthy lie, natch, with all sorts of stupendously shit gender and heteronormative consequences, but I am going to break every moral guideline in Xtin's List of Shit Not To Mess With (OK no I don't really have that list. But I should) by saying that there is one bit of the excruciating vernacular which I endorse, even though it will all become illegal under hate-speech legislation when I become Queen.

The Bit is:
He's just not that into you.

... where 'he', of course, is 'whomsoever you have your eye on right now'. This line is typically directed at women for the assclown gender and heteronormative reasons aforealluded. Also, like most of the Advice out there, along with the rest of its tasty toxicity, it is often invoked as a part of Some Theory of precisely how certain men or women do, will or ought to behave based on what happened when we were Cro-Magnon, which day of the week you call and whether or not he/she matches whatever story Advisor is peddling about the Right Kind of man and/or woman.

Forget this whackaloon baggage. The Bit works for the most idiosyncratic of views about what you want and what people are like, and in a pleasingly democratic manner. Pleasing for the neutral observer, that is. For the rest of us participant observers it sucks rocks, but, people: write that shit down. Because I'm over it, for real. I am over watching smart, superbly desirable people let themselves be pissed on from great heights by charismatic narcissistic sadists addicted to their role as star of the movie of their own lives. I am tired of all the emotional wastage poured into the yawning pit of people who suddenly (but consistently, because that's their fucking schtick right there) appear so that Someone Who's Patiently Waiting can be their fucktoy/manly chest/motherly shoulder/drama audience/arm-candy/literary-academic-high-cultural ego-boost.

No but no but there was this time when you made pasta together/had hot monkey sex/watched DVDs until 3AM! Uh huh. Sure. Are you waiting around for something else? You know what I'm talking about. Hot sex that you haven't had? A romantic smooch instead of the hot sex you always have? Holding hands walking down the street? A shared tub of popcorn at the movies? Telephone calls and text messages and quirky newsy emails that, you know, ask about you? Wild partying with slightly seedy making out in dark corners? Dinner with friends? Out in public for once? Not out in public for once?

Maybe patience is a virtue and the right person is worth waiting around for. Maybe that time you laughed a whole hell of a lot in the Tate Modern actually does justify the seemingly endless wait for the fabulous sex you just know you'd have. Or that crazy night with the twenty-five positions and mind-blowing orgasms really does mean that if you play your cards right, you can go out to the pub together sometime.

Or maybe you get into someone else. Or you're into the masochistic thrill of the constantly rejected emotionally anorexic. Or, if you're the historical me, you indulge in a self-flagellating orgy involving knowing that you should do the first thing and rejecting the idea that you're the second thing. Whatever floats your boat.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Green & eggs

I took this shot during Pluvialis' visit because I was delighted by the fact that his shoes & laces match the colour scheme of the table, with its baby-it's-still-cold-outside fleece rugs and little UFO sugar pot. Do you think his feet silently directed him there, flocking together with the matched plumage of the wild world of artifacts?

I thought of it today because I had a plan to go forth into the world and bring bags of colourful cornucopial comestibles back up the eleventy-fourteen stairs to the flat, but instead I didn't. So I have been eating boiled eggs, with four kiwi fruit for dessert, sitting on a green and navy tablecloth, a bolt of African print, I think. Green, white and yellow on blue, white and green, the last in my cupboard making a co-ordinated stand. The sun shone earlier in its best get-a-life tone, but it's cold and damp outside now. I can tell because my gimpy finger is telling me. I cut it open with a gorgeously blunt kitchen knife a couple of years back. I was in Pluvialis' kitchen trying to get the cable ties off a new ferret harness. As one does. I had the knife wedged under the little plastic fucker with a fair amount of force and at an operatically idiotic angle and I just had time to think this is a little bit stupid before I'd put the knife into my hand at the small, fond anatomical meeting-place between my fingers and my palm. Next finger along got off with minor injuries but I could see parts of the general workings of my left index finger that weren't designed for human eyes.

Now I have a scar and a humidity-detecting digit.

The Green-Eyed Doctor is arriving on Friday for Easter. He's working nights right now, that dark, odd, not-right time to be awake making everything more anxious, more relentless, more strained, sicker, harder, sadder, longer. He speaks of it in careful, soft tones as you would to keep someone calm and I know it fills his lungs with prickling, exhausting ice and the hope that nothing truly terrible happens. It is two, three, four in the morning and no-one with an alternative -- even a shitty alternative -- is at a hospital. Not even the doctors.

I have a shopping list, and I have learned that stamps are Briefmarken. Bring it on, Mittwoch.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Castor oil

I swore a minor oath to myself that I would post every day this week, and here I am at twenty to midnight on Monday in a slant of full moonshining with a pocketful of notes and a moody wet cat in my head where the thoughtful witticisms should be.

I've been mooching around the house like the fugitive I surely am, trapped with the superbly dull furniture of the mind, like the chipped kitchen chair you pretend you find adorably retro but really you know it's a smirking toxic space-sucking shin-barking little monster that long ago should have been appreciating the view of recycling bins from the side of the road. But somehow, instead, it's still here.

I went to a poetry reading last Thursday. Somewhere I have thoughts about that. Peter Riley was a thing of beauty as ever, crumply corduroy and rimless glasses and tufty snowy tufts, full of fun and words like flaky pastry and hilariously precious erudition worn with so patent an absence of the slightest pretension to anything that you long to go home with him and have him tell you stories for the rest of your life. He wrote with my pencil on my flyleaf. The room was full of ... the type of people who'd come to an English poetry reading in Berlin and I felt instantly dislocated. Pluvialis reminded me later that poetry readings, wherever, whoever, live to make you feel like you're not part of whatever SCENE with which the whole thing smugly implies it is involved. Mind you, Pluvialis gets to feel that way because she has major poetry chops and moreover pulls off the literary FUCK YOU with more humour and grace than anyone alive. I slunk away to ninjavideo and ... the V pilot.

I goddamn love television. I imprint on opening themes. I dream intertitles. I have decades of extremely high-end dialectical experience with which to defend my views about the no-scare-quotes, honest-to-god cultural masterpieces that go to air. But I am also a complete genre whore. I loves me some good TV cheese. And some good TV ham, for that matter. Hammy mysteries and cop shows! Cheesy sci-fi! Ham-and-cheesy action he-men!

I assure you that V is none of these. Aliens show up and attest to being for peace, dudes. Well, ahem. We were raised on War of the Worlds and Mars Attacks. And it's a remake. Their motives are sinister. Duh. The blowhard writers, however, decide that revelation of same and subsequent Narrative-Propelling Action belongs at minute forty-two of an interminably boring 46 minutes of expository talking-headitude dragging a damp cape of attempted Nameless Dread™. Anyway, in spite of mental bitch-slapping, I am placated by my fangirl delight at the presence of Firefly alumnus Alan Tudyk aka Wash, tragically lost to us by impalement on a Reaver harpoon in Serenity leading to internet underground availability of SAVE WASH lapel pins. Tudyk is your absolutely class A televisual drug. He's the sidekick of the scratchy-looking blonde FBI anti-terror agent! Awesome. He sidekicks some very serious ass.

In case you care, spoiler. So as aforementioned in minute 42 ~badoom flourish lots of brass~ the big reveal! ZOMG the aliens are Out to Get Us! But just as you are absorbing this monumental piece of not-news, ALAN IS AN ALIEN! Scratchy FBI chick grabs an iron pipe! She lays one on his temporal lobe! He's only momentarily stunned! She lays into the occipital! He's down, but she's got the red rage! She raises the bar over her head, stab-virgin-at-Stonehenge-style! And I'm all Dude they're going to impale Wash again!

No so fast! She's pushed aside at the very last heart-plunge-teetering moment by skull-crushingly boring priest character with doubts about God on account of you know, the appearance of homicidal aliens and shit. Wash is dead, but not impaled.

Wait. Was that ... was that a little joke there, V-writers? A little self-referential funny for us in-the-know sci-fi vultures? A little fourth-wall ho-ho hee-hee on the back of razor-sharp Whedon genius in your dire derivative hacky crap? Your hacky crap that makes a joke about Firefly but wastes 42 minutes of our time having all the characters earnestly/angrily/piously/angstily consider whether the aliens Really Come in Peace?

I hate you now. For you the very special hell.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Today in unrelated

Today I am in love with Tom Robbins, for a gleeful glut of reasons among which is that he recklessly peppers his text with the brazen simile sign-post LIKE, like this like that like whatever the hell I want, clunkiness be damned, repetition kiss my ass, who fucking cares if you stretch the analogy so tight over the face of the world that reality's cheekbones are about to breach its skin.

I have a little Australian flag pin on the lapel of my coat. I like seeing it there. Stamped smallishly on myself. A drop of water on the magic egg of the world's warmth toward Australians, the English-speaking not-English, Western not-American, globe-trotting, back-slapping, hey-mating, irony-getting, allies-allying Australians. I peep out from under my few German syllables with one hand on a eucalypt and one ear cocked to the only people in the world allowed to address me as "darl" because where I come from they make it sound like "ma'am". It would never have crossed my mind to wear my flag in England. Too colonial, parochial, apologist, passive-aggressive? Or maybe my big broad-vowelled mouth didn't need any help.

I'm watching the pilot of FlashForward, to which I suspect I will soon nurse a mild-slash-rabid addiction. It is a superbly Xtin-suckering cocktail of psychodramatic sci-fi laid trauma-sexily on the shoulders of buff, worried-looking men and women with sidearms and bulletproof vests. With subplots in hospital. In short, you can expect me to mainline this particular KoolAid. One thing though. One of Our Heroes has an AA sponsor who lost a daughter in Afghanistan. He's talking about it in A Meeting. Witness small pause while show congratulates itself upon dramatic-arc motivating grief being rooted in military daughter. She was "5'5, 118 pounds".

First of all, TF? Who the hell describes their dead kid this way? Nominally he does it to set up the tragic fact that he only got back 37 pounds of her, so, OK. I won't draw the parallels with newspaper openers like "Senator Jones, 47 and mother-of-two ..." More specifically, really? Those are the stats this show chooses to utter as plausible for a military woman? I'm not even going to get my gameface on for using them as pausible for a woman, period. That is at the Dude, Skinny end of the scale on pretty much whatever parameter you care to use, and even though I honestly don't know shit about what the military requires, and we don't know shit at this point about what Dead Daughter was doing for whatever branch of the DoD she worked for, come on, people. She'd surely have been ripped. I mean a very fit, muscled woman with serious standards of endurance. In which case, newsflash. She did not weigh 118 pounds. No she did not. Maybe there are Desperate Housewives starlets with ripped shoulders and quadriceps who linger around the please-god-have-a-fucking-sandwich end of the BMI, but, please. They are not equipped to run several clicks in the desert in fatigues with like half a gross of kit strapped to themselves. I have this vision of groups of army women laughing their gleaming muscly glutes off at the thought of weighing 118.

So um, yeah. Thank you for military women in your story, FlashForward. Also I hear that there is a gay policewoman in your show, so kudos, right. But please to oblige us with some Actual Woman Stats, mkay. I mean it's not like you had to actually show her.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Question hour

A continuing series borne of the onanistic wonders of keyword analysis! We puzzle and delight over the curiosities brought to us by those accidentally tripping over things I never talked about in the first place.

This week's Beautiful Insanity award goes to:

man faling ovet coofe his hand

Wow, it's like Gaelic imagist poetry or something. Maybe it is Gaelic imagist poetry.

The coveted Sorry I Wasted Your Time, Dude consolation prize to the superbly literal:

are gloing birds real?

Dude, yeah. Don't puncture the fantasy. Sometimes even the interwebs let you down.


I broke up with Minima Dark.

First, I finally caved to my fervent and semi-religious belief that block text should always be serif. Once screen-based text was a good and worthy exception to that rule but now rendering technologies laugh in your typeface.

Second, I thought that if the blog was lighter I would seem less dark. It's working, right? Right?


This is Pluvialis observing a melting lake at Volkspark Friedrichschain, just a little east of where I live. It seemed like the first day of proper spring sunshine and there was a twittery, delighted surfeit of birdsong and a tiny buff-coloured bat zoom-zoom-swooping around a statue of someone worthy-looking, which Pluvialis later found out was because sometimes just after hibernation they hunt during the day because they're really hungry. Bats, not worthy-people statues. Old people with crumply faces and carefully tucked-in rugs were being wheeled around, and so were tiny ear-flap-behatted kids in little red wagons, with slightly less tiny kids running around with sticks venting excitement in peep-peep-peep German like fast-paddling ducklings.

Not a leaf, though. The bleak frozen burnt brown everything, wrong under the sky, a Hawaiian shirt at a funeral in reverse. Pluvialis spies a hawfinch in the cold-scorched, deadly bare branches of the tree above us, instantly and breathlessly inarticulate except for the superb rhetoric of rarity unique to the truly devoted taxonomic zealot of anything at all. I like the tiny round-table fruit-salad of tits over there in the leaf litter, with the woodpidgeon bumbling at the edges. The leaves are all snow-dead, defrosted and floppy, no autumnal rustling as needle-like feet foof around among them, the tiniest tindery crackle and snap of the curled leading edges the sun has had time to dessicate. Soon there will be green, an expanding high-pressure leafy fireball putting these tiny feathered vistas into the shade again. But I'll be glad of the bloom.

In which Xtin drops in the ocean

Well, crap. It seems like gender-political rage is biting me on the ass every time I dare to turn around and think of something else, like polar bears. Or whether the terminal amateurishness with which English-language bars in Berlin are infected is a mannered we're-English-so-we're-adorably-shit thing, or just ... amateurishness.

Yesterday afternoon a guy with a pair of red-handled gardening shears trimmed the green roof of the Altbau-sized garden shed in the Hof opposite. ~shnick shnick shnick~ All by hand. This morning I drank my coffee out of the hilarious mug and watched the rain fall onto the bleary, winter-bleached, wiry shorn green stuff and you know, that is when you're supposed to have idle thoughts about ... well god, I don't know. Idle weekend thoughts about random stuff that is no doubt lousy with gender political dubiousness (eg: the laundry) and disgustingly informed by the Industrial Capitalist Complex (eg: I think I'd like a new cushion for the armchair) but it's the weekend, heaven help us. Let us pretend that there is nothing to be said about the fact that the world has conditioned me to plan absent-mindedly to shave my legs on Sunday night. And maybe my armpits, although this is Germany and ZOMG they have different standards for hotness in women's hairlessness and oh noes! *head explodes*

Yes, well. I wondered what was with the constant feminist chokehold. The awful banality. The repetitiveness. The fact that you know that brilliant, superbly educated and nuanced people have expressed your rage, subtly and punctiliously detailed the ethical and empirical atrocities again and again and again, and it doesn't matter, except insofar as it means that sexist pricks get to claim you're boring by saying it again.

So today, ladies and germs, the YES, AGAIN target is "that's for girls". As in, multi-purpose rationale for dude not doing/owning/valuing something-or-other. Here's my tip.

Don't say that. Don't. Say. That.

Don't say that as though it might have humour or irony value or demonstrates that you have a wittily retro take on gender. Don't talk as if you define your masculinity by being nothing that women are. Don't speak as if you own badassery, a love of duct tape and powertools, cars, technology, big dogs, risk-taking, extremes-seeking, firearms, co-ax cable, millions of orgasms, emotional repression and shame about tears. Don't engage the nauseating pseudo-backpedals about how women are too sensible or level-headed to fetishize any of that, yet again planting the over-entitled flag marked Y-CHROMOSOMES on stuff that isn't yours to claim.

Don't speak as if it is natural for you to aim for a broad and flinty-minded competence but quite unusual for anyone who has a vagina to do so -- because they don't care about that stuff, don't you know. Women care about the stuff that is for girls, which you just noted is whatever you couldn't possibly aspire to. Just spend a single second thinking about that. Ignore the head-desking vacuity of asserting someting about an entire gender. If it's the kind of thing that I, a woman, would do, then it is a thing that you, a man, not just would not, but ought not. You should --- my god, the butt-clenching paranoia! --- concentrate hard on making sure you never do. Because your masculinity depends on it! No kidding, take a minute to imagine someone systematically invoking your identity to explain why something isn't worth countenancing. Are you feeling it? Are you bathing in the overpowering woman-hating steam rising from this? Do you hear the rhetoric making sure that the only way a man might dare to aspire to something a woman does is if she is doing something which by repellent white-male lights is already something a man does? Are you really excited about what it's like to be a woman yet? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Watch your speech implicitly informed by a respectful understanding that there are many men out there who kick your butt in their mastery of both the everyday and the specialist, but heaven fucking forfend that there might be women who do so. And not just the vaunted "some" women ("Oh, yes! There are some truly exceptional women BASE-jumpers!") but thousands and thousands of the damn things. God, how embarrassing. How humiliating. Let us all speak as if that isn't really a possibility, while carefully burnishing our bullshit politico-social skills on such a point if ever challenged explicitly on the existence of Women Who Kick Your Sorry Sexist Ass into Next Bloody Tuesday. ("Oh yes! There are some amazing ...") Of course, no barrier on me aspiring to do the things that are for boys, since anything that boys aspire to is ex hypothesis a good thing for anyone to aspire to. Bonus points if I do it in a cute jumpsuit and/or with adorable incompetence.

And, continuting my stellar, sledge-hammer-inspired Saturday-morning attempts at grappling massive and complex issues with a few ungrammatical words: Everything I just said, ditto-goes-double for "that's gay".

I'm kind of appalled at myself that I'm not overly concerned whether or not anyone buys this or the planet-sized corpus of vastly more perspicuous expressions of same. Just everyone please fucking learn not to say these things. Please. I'm being interrupted in my imagining that I cannot live a fulfilled life while my four different kinds of glassware are in storage.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday haiku

At the zoo, Knut
heavy with once-was-little
mein Herr der Eisbär.

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's my party

Last night on the phone to The Green-Eyed Doctor I fell apart, semi-predictably. As in didn't see it coming, 20-20 hindsight. Wandering my alien city cushioned by the weather-smoothed grooves of long friendship and the heartbreaking unseen relief of facility with language I felt ordinary and me-ish. As it turns out, I hadn't felt that way for some time. Which is both duh-worthy and meta-duh-worthy, because duh that I'm not in an emotional place where the Bleeding Fucking Obvious even approaches ... well, bleeding fucking obviousness.

So I'm lying there in the dark with the phone between the pillow and my ear believing that half-truth that it makes a difference to the person listening whether you cry quietly but unmistakably or give in and bawl your eyes out. According to the cracked-out logic attending this theory, quietly-but-unmistakably wins you partial Keeping It Together points; bawling 0 points.

Plus, no doubt, the fact that there's something farcically ego-bruising about the person who is the raison d'étre for your collection of joyously unutilitarian underthings listening to your nose fill with mucus. Which thought is also a gender-political nightmare and just another thing to punish yourself with while you worry vaguely about the phone shorting out because the earpiece is filling with tears. Saline-liquefied mascara climbs under my eyelids and burns gently there while I pretend like Completely Emotionally Together is a line on my CV under "Other Accomplishments".

I can hear The Doctor containing his withering opinion of my lachrimal token economy, incredulous that I thwart him in our mutual desire that my brokenness be unbroke. With hard-won and superbly neurotic mastery I butter on another gratuitous layer of irony by being able simultaneously to endorse his scorn and be humiliated that he is silent about it because I'm crying like a goddamn girl.

After I've dried the phone I read David Foster Wallace on lobsters and the adult movie industry until envious writerly desires take over my damp, dog-eared shame and I fall asleep to blackbirds greeting the dawn with German accents.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Pluvialis arrived last night, like a new bird at your kitchen window that makes the world different. Snow started blowing out of the sky in car-coating quantities just as we got in from coffee on Kollwitzstrasse in a place which sold posh butter, cherry jam and Swiss Army blankets. Today we have established that I am a writhing knotty tangle of mad supergo issues, bizarre where-did-that-come-from neuroses, and a few contextual raisins of fuckedupitude to add texture.

It is surely the mark of the truly great friendship that I now feel Intriguing and Complex instead of like a complete twat.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blood transgression

For complicated and banal reasons I'm not getting into, I am all up in a righteous gender-political rage today. I am also (possibly as a result, possibly not) indulging in one of my drugs of choice: police procedurals aka Cops on Telly. They must be a drug at least in part because holy heaven on a triscuit, only legit mind-altering properties account for the fact that I am addicted to these things which are Truly Special in their systematic pornulation and hatred of women and reification of the righteousness, power and dignity of all things male. But you know, it's fine, because women are usually in charge. Whatever. I have a bug much more satisfyingly trivial up my butt.

Being the kind of process-obsessed dork that I am, my particular favourite is CSI: Original Flavour. Shows that are into Evidence (Empiricism LIVES, dudes) have a serious hard-on for BLOOD. They have awesome sprays and test-tubes with niftily incorporated Q-tips and little pregnancy-test-looking things with which they set up dramatic lines such as:


flinty pause

We have blood.

Tiny bits of it, often. And of course, don't you know, the only way traces of blood are around, especially if it's cleaned up, is if someone got dead. Bled everywhere and DIED! I mean, the only alternative is that the Obvious Criminal is telling the truth when he says he must have cut himself, and dude, we all know that is just the lamest and most embarrassingly post-hoc story ever.

Every time this little Dying People Bleed trope gets trotted out my mind is vaguely blown by the fact that 50% of the world's sexually mature population bleeds. Quite a lot, sometimes. When they're not dying, yo. And sometimes at very inopportune moments, like in the kitchen or while sleeping. Millions of women are right now, today, saying Goddammit! and breaking out their cleaning agent of choice. And not because there is someone lying on the floor with blunt-force trauma leading to contusion of the brain and dramatically important trace evidence under their fingernails.

Best of all is when our forensics team get into spraying the Luminol in the bathroom. Bwahahahaha! Guys, you wanna do that in my bathroom?

Sarah Sidle: My god, something happened in here.

Of course, I'm sure the real cops have a perfectly straightforward way of ruling this out in the real world. Or even if they don't, in plausible cases, which must be really quite a few, they raise the possibility that blood-trace is from a perfectly healthy woman. They do, right?

But not our telly CSIs. Their viewers are busy being titillated by serial killers/rape/autopsies of naked hotties/graphic CGI representations of bullets destroying human hearts! Don't upset them. Menstruation is gross.

The everywhere bird

The Green-Eyed Doctor took this shot outside a cafe in Melbourne. There the real pigeons were handling the skull-crushing summer weather with the usual pigeony cockroachish adaptability, loafing in the shade and wetting their feet in the gutters. Sparrows danced under the cafe tables picking up sugary, buttery overspray and I saved my shower water to put on the tomato plants in the garden.

There are pigeons here, too. Slotted snugly against tree trunks, round with foofy insulating feathers, watching the weather warming up. Not for the them the cold just-uncovered cobbles or the slushy puddles. Distant shapes in der Linden out my kitchen window. Coffee-making wallpaper.

Cambridge had pigeons. Of course. Fat grey strutters hanging out in slitty-eyed posses on Great St Mary's lawn. Rearranging their wings like a hair-flick lined up on whatever plasterwork wasn't spiked or netted. Every now and then a spectacularly built racer with day-glo ankle rings gang-bossing the yard. A white dove from King's, or one of the many King's bastards with almost all the right gunmetal street-pigeon livery.

The everywhere bird. But German pigeons know how to be themselves and not other things. German pigeons.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I am hopelessly, fervently hearth-bound. Five minutes anywhere and I will be nesting, arranging some talisman brought in my pocket, sanding off the rough disordered edges left by those for whom places to live are just places, places which trap and bore them, filled with distasteful responsibilities and cringeworthy capital-M-middle-class aspiration, choking blockades built of bricks and books and spare lightbulbs in the cupboard under the stairs rising up implacably between them and escape velocity, exotic locales, anything-might-happen.

God, give me some bricks, dodgy guttering and a chimney that has to be swept twice a year. I love my apron. I don't wish I was in a train station in Hungary buying a sleeper ticket to Istanbul. I need butter for a dozen friand, stepping the kitchen accompanied by the wooden-metallic tap-click-whirr of the familiar pattern of tools and spoons, knobs and doors, the startling, never-gets-old smell of I Made Food! galloping arrogantly into all the airspace.

This is basically uncool. Sometimes I'm over the uncoolness. Other times I like some veneer. At the moment I am disguised by the fact that I'm holed up writing in an Altbau in Berlin. But really I'm nesting with this Bialetti stovetop espresso maker. Hot milk in the one saucepan, old school. Gurgle. Ropes of oily coffee steam. Hilariously bad mug. It's almost my house while the Bialetti is still hot.

The coffee's in the fridge, sealed with a peg in the shape of a bird that my brother gave me for Christmas.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Six months and a week ago

I had to talk myself into going to this party. It's for my friend S, who is bugging out of Cambridge in a robust grab at a normal life with his girlfriend. I tend to think that moving will be the death of his PhD, so I'm not sure I'm behind this move, even though I get the whole Cambridge whackjob toxicity factor. On the other hand letting his PhD die a natural death might be no bad thing. Or maybe I'm just bitter. In short, I'm conflicted all over the damn place and anyway I have a paper to write and I don't feel like getting into party gear.

Ultimately I reason that I can sit at my desk feeling snarky and conflicted and bitter and full of shame, as per the usual cocktail when faced with the recalcitrant empty text-window, or I can go give my friend a send-off with cheap red at a party. Where, you know, there'll be music and stuff.

It is noisy and dark. Coloured lights on the bannisters. Pupil-bashing fluorescence in the kitchen. I manage to eat some incongruent Dutch ginger biscuits in the living room, shuffle up a bit of smalltalk and mix myself something borderline toxic from the serried alchoholic ranks before I come across my friend B, whose heart just got broken. His woundedness is almost palpable, like he is actually bloody. We sit outside in the dark on the edge of S's fading vegetable patch. B holds my hands and cries and I watch the light glancing off the copper tape that the slugs don't like.

We're interrupted by a cheer-up-old-fellow posse. Back in the kitchen there are strangers, boys standing in the poses of men unknown to one another. I shake their hands and mix drinks. Here.

I'm sentimental about this house. All sorts of long late nights with cheap red wine and Batman Begins on DVD and people eating my baked goods out of brown paper parcels tied with striped butcher's twine. The tiny bathroom in the cupboard under the stairs with the pocket-sized sink and the loo-roll perched on the foot of the ironing board leaning against it. Checking my mascara in the miniature mirror with the silvering failing at the edges. But tonight the house is crackly with the percussive novelty of many strangers and the familiar hum of people about whose lives I know almost every detail.

One of these strangers is a boy who's slightly behind me on our way out of the living room. I poured him a drink earlier. We have exchanged scraps of conversation, cross-legged on the floor. But mainly he has wandered the house saying surprisingly little, watching the party with thoughtful, considering eyes which he hides under very dark lashes when you notice that he is looking. He speaks very quietly, too quietly for the glee-fuelled cacophany in here, but I discover that when we talk he laughs, a gorgeously throaty and melodious laugh so unforced that I find myself wondering about the contrast. I will wonder again, but I don't know that yet.

For some reason, or hundreds of reasons, or no reason at all, he fills me with delight. I can feel my eyes crinkling up at the edges while we talk. I angle to hear the laugh again. He sees that I am doing this and arches his eyebrows with the slightest of mockery. He looks at his hands -- nimble, deft hands which make shapes as he forms thoughts -- and then at me. Unhurried green-eyed gaze. Suddenly I think, how do I get to kiss this man? I've completely forgotten how this works.

He's behind me, following me around the corner. I'm leaving because he asked, because he came into the room and somehow we're leaving it. Some pretext or other. Thank god, for there was some other male attention going on that was the kind of sooty, acrid blend of exasperating and boring that was making me rub the curling soles of my Converse together in frustration. This man with the eyes and the laugh is saving me.

I turn to track his progress round the familiar corner. I think I expect him to pass me down the corridor, but he doesn't. He just stops walking. He smiles from under the lashes and I'm struck again by how delighted I am just to be standing here. I wonder what time it is, how many hours I can reasonably spend seeing if I can be in the same room with him.

The lashes come up and he puts a hand to my elbow. This startling, liquid gaze, as direct as anything I've ever seen, and I realise that it's already happening, he's already there, he's going to kiss me.

We sit on the turn in the staircase and the party goes up and down and past us. In three weeks' time I will be watching him smoke a cigarette on a windowseat in Wales. Tobacco and sea-salt and the sound of the sea. But I don't know this yet.

He wears his belt buckle over his left-hand pocket.

Six months ago

A tiny interview room in Parkville Police Station in Cambridge, and I'm being thrown out of the country. I'm pretty calm, which is either what you'd expect or very odd. I still don't know. The Border Control officer is taking my fingerprints and I'm watching my dark blue whorls and ridges appear with what ought to be stunned detachment, and I guess it might have been. The cops use infrared machines now to take your prints, but Border Control hasn't quite caught up to that. She has a plate of glass in a crumpled, inky bag along with the pad. She gives me a wet-wipe to clean my hands. She is of minute proportions, smaller than me. Mascara, I-don't-care hairdo. A distant part of my mind is amazed that she is not bent by the weight of the explosion of ID swipecards and keys she has around her neck on a Border Control lanyard like a colony of mussels. She has the name of one of my fictional childhood heroines, which is flicking metallic smears of overkill onto the bright colours of farce already drenching the place. Her pen doesn't work.

There's a fan on the table. Seventies laminate. Ringbinder like a guy who took a too-big bite of burger. Forms. She tells me I have 28 days to leave the country. Not the usual 14, because she appreciates my honesty, don't you know. There is a new paintjob in here. Another layer of magnolia right over the top, the layers of paint reaching in toward you, slow interior drift. My new shoes wore the skin off my feet on the way in here. She asks me if I am pregnant. If I have a history of harming myself. If I am taking any medications. A little blood crusting slowly where my shoe meets my foot. Soon she's going to let me out of here, and it will break. Walking to exile on bloody feet. But she has no sense of humour, so I'd better not laugh.

Fear and loathing in Berlin

The snow has melted now, and for a couple of hours in the afternoon buttery, hopeful sunshine rolls over the windowsill. People walk their dogs without the frozen step-focused overvigilance brought by ice on cobbles.

When first I arrived, there were piles in twenty colours -- today's foofy, crunchy flakes of pale sky on the top of yesterday's grubby, last week's sooty, like photocopier 60gsm spilled onto newsprint. The cabbie carried The One Suitcase, not alpine-rated, over the snow onto the grit outside the apartment door, towering overhead in case you wanted to drive your horse and carriage inside. We'd bonded over deciphering the address written in my diary -- neatly, I thought, but not to German eyes apparently -- and over my tip, which I didn't know yet was copious for this town. He put my case down and his hands into his pockets. It was fucking freezing. Bye! he said, icing the one syllable with a more lush Germanic carillon than I'd have thought possible.

Most of the time I look out of my windows, out to the Strasse through a pair of heart-soaring double-casements with brass handles and headed with matching smaller windows like a Dutch door. I watch the snow melt, fall, melt again. People walking their dogs, lights-on/lights-off diurnal of the apartments across the way. Through the ceiling, the pattering of the feet of the small person I met on my first journey up the four flights of stairs to these windows, rendered jointless like all children in insulated clothing, like an overstuffed toy. Back and forth, back and forth. I wonder what it is like to be three and live five floors up.

Sometimes I venture outside and peep shyly into the windows of shops and cafes, listening to dopplered half-bars of German conversation passing me in the snow.

Bunches of tulips and daffodils stand outside in aluminium buckets. Cafes have rugs on chairs outside, and people sit there with their scarves over their noses and their hands wrapped around things that steam. A-frame blackboards with today's specials on them. I don't know what they mean. My instant, effortless powers with text and voice belong in another place and it is a noisy, colourful, overwhelming world of silence and I am in love with it, passionately, wildly in love with it, with every exotic, I-Am-International-Woman-of-Mystery cliché, with the bullet-holes in the buildings, the careful restoration of the sugarcraft plasterwork, the graffiti, the smell of currywurst. The fact that I can't understand, wedging my fingernails into cracks in meaning with long-ago Latin, fragments of Italian, a lifetime of idle etymological fetishism.

Brought all my fear and loathing with me. But they don't speak German.