Category Archives: Perception

Corset wearing Berlin

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Here’s a little column I wrote for DW recently. About Berlin, natürlich!

Berlin has a reputation as a city where anything goes, day or night. But does it really? Tamsin Walker is willing to risk the wrath of the Szene set, and beg to differ. Just a little.

It was a decade ago that the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, famously declared his city to be poor yet nonetheless sexy. His words were immortalized on the very breath which gave them life, and have since served to attract a flow of sexily impoverished stragglers and strugglers looking for a cheap new home and preventing the slogan – and by extension perhaps themselves – from going out of fashion.

Wowereit’s statement was prompted by a question about the relationship between sexiness and money. He held Berlin up as an example of how the two things need not necessarily be mutually inclusive. But what exactly constitutes a sexy city?

I’m told it’s all about “cheap rents” and an “anything goes” way of life. The latter includes the freedom to sunbathe naked in public places, croon karaoke on the former East German death strip, tango on rooftops, trip out to techno everywhere, or watch impenetrable performance art in the cellars of un-gentrified buildings where the only thing stopping anyone smoking is moisture dripping atmospherically from low-hung ceilings. Read more…

The man with the death wish

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Picture this: It is early morning in a major European capital. It is snowing and the roads, the pavements are slippery. Treacherously so. You are standing at a major intersection trying to warm your hands by blowing into them – because again you forgot your gloves – when the lights change. Eager to be wrapped in the arms of the indoors, you cross as quickly as the ice underfoot will allow. As you walk, thinking of that warmth, yet feeling none of it, a man coming towards you catches your attention.

He does this by crossing himself and saying something you cannot discern beneath the roar of the passing traffic. You think it is an unusual thing to do in this part of this city, where religion is considered more slippery than the ground on which you currently stand. In the split second you are granted to learn as much as your own experience of life can tell you about this man, you acknowledge that his black tracksuit, purple hat, and briefcase are not a common combination.

When you have crossed half of the six lanes of cars and buses, you turn back to look at the man who crossed himself. What you see makes your heart beat fast enough to thaw your freezing blood. He is walking, this man, diagonally through the traffic to which he appears frighteningly oblivious. He is walking on very thin ice, and you want to tell him so. You want to save him from himself, because you now understand that his religious gesture of a moment ago was in prelude to this, his final act.

You want to close your eyes, because you cannot bear to witness what will be an ugly, messy death. But you don’t. You keep them open, as if that alone will prevent the inevitable. You watch him intently, and in that you are alone. Nobody else saw him cross himself and then walk headlong into the motorised fray. Nobody else is aware of what he is doing. You do not want to be party to his plot, but you suspect you are.

So you continue to watch. You might prey yourself if that were the kind of thing you do in such situations. Instead you cross your fingers. And it works. Haltingly, miraculously, the traffic grants him the extended stay of welcome you suspect he does not really want. He reaches the other side unscathed, and you allow yourself to consider the possibility that you were wrong in your surmise. Perhaps he does not have a death wish, this man. Perhaps he is just a fool. Now he really has your attention. He carries it into a cobbled side street, and you feel some relief because this path appears to be one of normality.

But he gives it a twist, this man. He does not make use of the broad pavement, which come the summer will play host to tables and chairs and people who may or may not care about this man’s follies as you now do. He sticks to the road. To its very centre, where his presence has no purpose but to be a hazard to drivers and to itself. You wince as a car screeches to a halt near him. You are too far away to hear the driver’s rebuke, but you are certain that her car is filling with the angry relief she feels at having saved herself from claiming an unwanted life.

You are beginning to feel that this man is too much of a responsibility for you alone. But you cannot leave him now. Can you? He marches on, and although he does not look round, he veers slightly to the left, giving you the sense that he is about to relinquish his place in the middle of the road. You are right. He is walking towards the pavement. He is on the pavement. He is safe. You relax the muscles you did not realise you were tensing. But you do not leave your spot. Not yet. After the journey you have had with this man, you want to accompany him safely into a shop or a café, to deliver him into someone else’s hands.

You do not have to wait for long. He opens the door to a small establishment that sells antiques and offers a photocopying service. You know the place, and have always considered it a clumsy combination. A mismatch of china and copiers, ink and must. But that is not on your mind today. Today you are glad of that shop, because he is in it, and you can go on your way.

You start to walk, the cold reclaiming you as you go. You move quickly, dimly aware that you want to put the shop out of sight before that man, who is no longer this man, emerges. In your mind you try to picture him buying the blue rimmed china you know they sell. But the image is more fragile than the antiques in involves. The one that fills your thoughts is of him, briefcase open by his side, making copies of all his important documents. Not least his will. Because you know what you saw. At least you think you did.

A defining moment

“I would like a pregnancy test please.”

The words, spoken by a voice entirely foreign to me, immediately drew me out of my world and into that of their issuer, who stood not two feet away at the chemist counter. It wasn’t just that the request came from a man that caught my attention, but that it was delivered with such steady, almost loud assuredness, and didn’t betray even a hint of the emotions so intrinsic to testing for pregnancy.

When the pharmacist slid a box over the counter and asked in a whispery tone if he would like a “little bag” to put his purchase in, he gave her a resolute “no.” She took his money, he pocketed the pregnancy test, they wished one another a pleasant evening, and off he went into the dusky night. All this, I saw out of the corner of my eye, as if a close up in a film. But it wasn’t the close up that interested me; it was the man. It was what would happen next in his story.

I left the chemist a minute or two later only to find myself walking behind the same man, whose right arm hung awkwardly over the slight bulge created by the pregnancy test box in his coat pocket. It was a cold night, and it wasn’t long before the need to keep warm outdid any reasons for not wanting his hand to share his pocket with the stick that would determine his fate. At that moment, I would have like to go back to the close-up, to see how his fingers interacted with the box. Did they touch it softly, hopefully? Did they flick it? Did his nails score into it?

I imagined his partner at home, waiting for him to arrive so they could move beyond the uncertainty which was currently a part of their lives. I hoped for them that whatever the news – a first baby, a welcome negative for an already overstretched mother of four – it was what they wanted it to be. I hoped that the evening would be one of celebration.

As I was hoping on his behalf, the man began veering to towards the mouth of an upcoming snicket. Our paths were about to diverge. But before they did, and before he disappeared, he slowed right down and cast a glance over his shoulder. It was a shifty look – a million miles from his assured presence in the pharmacy – that appeared to be checking that nobody had seen him. And it was a look that changed the story unfolding in my head. No longer was he going home to his partner, but to visit the other woman in his life, the one he knew he should not be going to see, the one he could not resist, but was now secretly wishing he had.



Reinventing the self

As far as I can tell, drawing up lists of New Year’s resolutions is a stab at reinvention. I sometimes do one, sometimes don’t. 2011 was one of the “do” years. The other day, I revisited said list which after a long search I eventually found scrawled in the back of a notebook, fully expecting to find a whole host of things I had failed to do. Not so. For once, the opposite was the case. Motivated by that little triumph, I have made a new list for 2012. I have already forgotten where, but I know that it contained an entry that would have me turn away from the 1980s rural northern England upbringing that keeps me to myself, and makes the kind of exposition involved in activities such as writing a blog, a personal challenge. I don’t imagine I will be posting clips of myself singing and dancing anytime soon, but I will get the ball rolling with a trailer, yes a trailer, for my novel Impersonation. It was put together by John Lynch Digital Publishing House, although the wobbly camera work can only be blamed on yours truly! Click here to see it for yourself.

PS. Off to Würzburg today for Molly Eyre premiere…

Publication day

Yep, that’s right, today is publication day. Ruth Morton has stepped out into the world via the pages of Impersonation. But what awaits her?

“I caught a glimpse of myself today…I saw my description in the pages of a book, in the words of a man I have never met.”

When Ruth receives a new novel from her book club, she is immediately intrigued. ‘The Ruthlessness of One Man’ claims to be about a real-life London commuter and, as Ruth delves further into the dark tale, she makes a sinister discovery.

She is that commuter.

As Ruth reads on and becomes convinced that the author, Mr Walden, intends her to be more than just his muse, she must unravel the story to uncover just what he has in store for her, both on paper and in reality. Ultimately, she only has the book itself to piece together Mr Walden’s identity and motive. But can she do it in time to stop herself from becoming the victim of a twisted literary plot?

Impersonation is available in Amazon’s Kindle store, and as a paperback later this month.