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.