Category Archives: In the park

From the arctic to the vernal

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So the snow is back. And with it, a very grouchy public. Too easily were we seduced by the prettily coloured primroses and pansies suddenly on sale on every other street corner. Too willing were we to believe that global warming was drawing winter to an early close. What fools we are, because people – this is Berlin!

This is the city where the winters are long and longer by far than the longest of its speciality long nights (next one is museums this weekend). The city where spring often doesn’t turn up in earnest until days and even weeks after the vernal equinox that officially heralds the start of everyone’s favourite season. But it is also a city that can, when it so chooses, wear winter well. A little like spring with icing.



Category: Berlin, In the park, Seasons | Tags: , ,

Der Man im roten Pulli, or the man in the red jumper

I saw him again yesterday – der Man im roten Pulli. Actually I heard him before I saw him. I was out for a run, bracing some pretty unforgiving elements, when a high-pitched male singing voice reached me. The words were too battered by the wind and the rain for me to make them out, but their accompanying tune sounded very much like this.

I strained to listen, hoping, oddly I admit, that he was indeed singing “Now the harbour light is calling, this will be our last goodbye, though the carnival is over, I will love you till I die.” But just as we see what we want to see, we hear what we want to hear. And I evidently wanted to hear some sort of melancholy romance come out of this man’s mouth.

That, however, was not what I got. As he levelled with me, he paused to offer me a jolly smile and a line about the weather. “Tough conditions,” he said before jogging on again while crooning fragments of what, it turned out, was not The Seekers, but quite probably a German folk song, into the wet winter air. “Ja-ja-ja- aaaaaaa.” Silence. “Ein A-a-a-a-bend. La-la-la.”

He bounded towards the park exit, taking his red jumper, his singing and his general cheer with him. Although I could no longer see him, he stayed with me for the rest of my run, the happy man who sometimes sings and sometimes dances his way around the jogger’s circuit. He is with me again today. Making me smile.

Snow graffiti

I had been going to write something else about snow today, but as I stumbled through it on my run this morning, I saw this image. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Happy winter.

Dappy, happy or…

More years ago than seem real, I was spending the evening with friends in a Soho pub, when one of them said I was being “dappy”. Another told said friend that he’d be closer to the mark if he were to replace the “d” with an “h”. In terms of the letters themselves, there’s not much in it. Just a spin and a stroke. By the same token, the two states are no more than one degree apart.

I saw someone today who reminded me of that fine line. A man – late sixties – wearing big round glasses, headphones, and a bright red sweatshirt was part- running, part-dancing his way through the park, arms flailing and eyes smiling as he went. I watched people watch him with expressions suggestive of blandly imperceptive thoughts. They may, of course, have got the man’s measure, and he may have been utterly dappy, doolally even. But then again, they may have been way off.

From the outside: A man of advancing years, sporting the type of specs and headphones the cool kids wear, and running a strange jog-dance through the trees, waving his arms around as if he were trying to take off.

From the inside: Music flooding into his ears through the headphones his grandson left on his kitchen table. Bach. A chorus of angelic voices that, heard in the fresh cold of the park air, render him weightless, unwilling to bridle his joy, and unable to keep his body from expressing what he feels. He knows his glasses are out-of-date (and doesn’t know that in fact they are not), but he loves them because they were chosen for him very many years ago by the love of his life, the woman who is waiting for him to return home, to wash, change, and take her out to lunch on what happens to be their 49th wedding anniversary.

Dappy, happy, doolally or married for almost five decades… we see what we want to.


I walked past a flock of ducks this morning, swimming and waddling their way into the days, and they reminded me not only of how much I have always loved them and their comical essence, but of hearing the actor Samuel West talking about them on the radio recently. He referred to the days in which there was regular talk of “a three-minute warning”, and explained how in the event of such, he had decided he would like to spend his 180 seconds feeding ducks. As I listened, I was transported back to my own childhood – not only the ducks in it – but to Raymond Briggs and the terrifying prospect that nuclear attack and its consequences could be as close as just three-minutes away.

Had there ever been an attack, an announcement such as this would have followed:

“This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known. We shall bring you further information as soon as possible. Meanwhile, stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own house. Remember there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away. By leaving your homes you could be exposing yourself to greater danger…”

Thankfully we never had to adhere to the advice, which goes on to warn against flushing toilets and only using water for “essential drinking and cooking.” One can only imagine, given the gravity of the scenario, that feeding the ducks might not have been the best course of action. That said, I can fully understand why Samuel West might have wanted to.