Category Archives: Seasons

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.

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: , ,

Cold days and eternity

It is cold cialis outside. The kind of cold that feels heavy and all-consuming and entirely out of tune with the pretty perfection of the tiny snow flakes sent as its visual marker. I am watching them fall, and they are so light that they can’t follow a straight path from the sky, but are blown about every which way and then back again. Even when they land, they cannot settle.

They remind me, these snow flakes, of the internet and the endless possibilities it offers for learning, contributing, exploring and just being. Taken further, the train of thought delivers me to the pages of The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, to the passage in which Joyce describes eternity as the time it would take for a bird to move every grain of sand in a mountain a million miles high and a million more wide.

I remember the feelings of hopelessness his description stirred in me on first reading. It made me shudder as it crawled under my skin. And it makes me shudder still. For although eternity will never be mine, the infinite nature of the mountain that is the internet will.

I hear the cries of “long live the digital age”, and “life without the internet is unimaginable”, but today I am inclined (besides posting this of course) to imagine that unimaginable, and just sit back and watch the snow flit and flurry.

Category: Berlin, Seasons, Writing | Tags: , ,

Unwelcome tristesse

There’s something about the first days and weeks of January that always throws me. The festivities of December past are exactly that, yet (in Berlin at least) the pavements are heavy with their reminder in the shape of discarded Christmas trees. Some 400,000 of them. 400,000! Which makes them equal in number to the entire tree stock of the city. I happen to know that, not because I am a wealth of random facts, but because I recently wrote a column for DW on the subject of Berliners and their trees.

To return to the Tannenbäume, as they are known locally. They will, in the shortness of time, be collected up and taken either to the city’s zoos where they serve as elephant breakfast or to cialis online a power station where recycled, they should provide 700 households with electricity and warm water for the next 12 months.

But until the trucks come to take them their respective ways, the trees lie on top of each other looking bare and so very sad. It is a sadness that all too often seems to be reflected in the faces of people out and about. It is as if the vibrancy of their excited wishes and hopes for the New Year, many expressed beside those now unwanted trees, have been packed away with the tinsel and baubles.

A couple of days ago, I wished someone a happy New Year, and his response was to look at me aghast. “New Year?” We were not two weeks into it at the time of the exchange, but already my words, the very sentiment, seemed – even sounded – outdated. The newness already forgotten as the grind of daily life reasserts itself as the matriarch and patriarch of society.

I have decided, as my grandfather might have flippantly said, to opt out. I plan to reign supreme over my 2013. To treat every day as if it were something new. Which of course, it is.

Category: Berlin, Christmas, Seasons | Tags: , ,

Bad blogger, distracted jogger

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I have been a bad blogger. I am tempted to blame it on the holidays and family festivites in England, but that would be too easy. Truth is, I was struck by a touch of blogger’s block. I tried to encourage ideas in my usual way, but running doesn’t seem to have the same effect in rural Yorkshire as it does in Berlin. It might be sleepier, but its distractions are more… distracting.

For one thing, the uphill, down dale-ness of the experience makes it hard to hit the steady, meditative pace that subtly provokes thought; then there’s the rain, the gale force winds, and the ankle deep mud to contend with. But the greatest distraction of all is the sheer beauty of the panoramic moorland views, and the big skies that shift and drift above them.

I’m back in Berlin now though, where the skies are currently their usual January pale grey. If past years are anything to go by, they will stay like this until the end of February at least. So watch this space. There should be plenty of blogging coming up.

Category: Berlin, Running, Seasons | Tags: , ,