Monday, 31 May 2010

Without worry

Sanssouci, the park and palace in Potsdam, is appropriately named, being loosely translated into the title of this post. I was only aware in a very sketchy sense of the history of the place, and wasn't sure if I'd even find my way to it.

I'd gone to Potsdam on the last full day of my stay in Berlin, not sure what to expect, but feeling that I'd be disappointed if I didn't visit. The weak December sun didn't make an appearance on the cold, bleak morning that I boarded the S-Bahn train, which headed west through Tiergarten, turning southwest after Charlottenburg and out of the city via Grunewald and Wannsee.

I was by now reasonably fluent with the routine of train journeys across the city.

Aussteig, rechts. Doors open on the right.

Aussteig, links. Doors open on the left.

As the train took on new passengers and the doors closed again, the loudspeakers would announce the final destination, the next stations, and where to get off for connecting lines. I came to understand more of these announcements the more I travelled. However, I was less than adequate with my responses when a fellow passenger would ask, in German, is this the train to/ how can I get to... and so on and so forth - which was fine, but I was asked with more regularity than I was prepared for.

I loved hopping across the city on the S Bahn.

Potsdam was a longer journey than the previous ones I had taken, given that it's beyond the city of Berlin itself, though falls within the metropolitan area of Berlin/Brandenberg.

After exiting the train station and heading over a bridge to the central area, I wondered if I'd made a big mistake. Though there were some interesting buildings and monuments (such as the old town hall, just out of shot), I felt like I'd wandered onto a building site, flanked also by dull Communist architecture.

Still, I'm here, I thought. I may as well have a wander.

Things took a turn for the better when I reached the far side of the town square (equally dull but at least not ravaged by bulldozers), tucked behind which were a charming network of cobbled streets and more traditional, prettier buildings. These hosted a huge Christmas market which engulfed the centre of the town. I spent an hour or two browsing idly, dining, warming myself with gluhwein mitt schuss, and soaking up the atmosphere.

The atmosphere. Yes, it was nice, very seasonal (so seasonal, in fact, that it would feel absurd to post pictures of a Christmas market at this time of year. You might venture that it's equally absurd to be writing about all this stuff now, and you may be right, but something compels me to do so). Something was missing though, something was nagging at me. I knew if I returned to the station and headed back to Berlin, I would feel unfulfilled. I was tempted to do so, however, since a week of spending many hours walking and exploring each day had taken their toll: a mere couple of hours on foot in Potsdam had left my feet and ankles aching badly.

Nonetheless, I exited the Christmas market and pressed further on. The aspect of the town changed once again, as even, cobbled streets slowly gave way to gorgeous, treelined avenues which took me uphill and down again. Voltaireweg was quiet and pleasant, and by now the December sunlight was gently making its presence felt. I strolled slowly along: due to the aforementioned fatigue, but also because it was the kind of place that demanded I take my time.

I eventually descended to a traffic island (yes, sounds lovely doesn't it), here were some of the main intersecting roads into the town: but on the other side, opposite me, was the entrance to Sanssouci.

Already, I knew I'd made the right decision to spend my day here, as I crossed over the island and walked up the slope and the steps. Sanssouci is one of the most beautiful, tranquil places I have ever been. In front of me at the top of the steps, was a palace stretching across the grounds, and overlooking a rather grand view onto the parklands below. I wandered and took many photos, and just allowed the serenity of the place to begin to seep its way into me.

I remember, as I slowly paced the length and breadth of the palace grounds, seeing an elderly couple stood on the gravel, embracing. The lady had tears falling down her cheeks, but was utterly calm - they both were. I felt like it would be intrusive to remain near them, but somehow they completed this particular scene, dignified and quietly emotional.

Just as the walk along Voltaireweg had served to dictate my pace, I felt no rush, but neither could I linger. The earlier fatigue was now almost forgotten, the splendour of the grounds stretching out magnificently all around. The way down into the park grounds was via an astonishing series of tiered walkways which I slowly negotiated, descending each level only after spending as much time as I could on each particular terrace.

This, really, was only the beginning.

Thursday, 27 May 2010


Striding Edge is a ridge on Helvellyn in the Lake District, over a mile long. It's a personal bête noire, given that I was half way across it one clear, icy January day a few years ago, when I suddenly realised how genuinely, truly terrified I was. Half way across is a tricky point at which to have such a realisation, it makes as much sense to continue onward as to turn back.

This feeling was perhaps surpassed only by the sheer relief when I got to the far side of it and was still alive - a feeling which lasted for several days. Which might be an exaggeration, but deaths do unfortunately occur there from time to time.

Today I was due back at work after a few very pleasant days off.

Last night I dreamt that I found myself with three friends who informed me that we were not only going to walk Striding Edge, we were going to camp there overnight too. The conditions, even at base level, were treacherous - and I felt a rising sense of unease: I didn't know we were coming here to do this, I don't have the gear, not even my walking boots, I have my battered pair of trainers which barely have any tread left. I'll slip. I don't have my thermals or my waterproofs, I'm not prepared, I'm going to be in trouble.

I woke up afterwards and thought - this is telling me I need to be ready for a whole bucketload of shit when I'm back at work today - I can't allow myself to be caught unawares.

Thank goodness for that dream.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Why I like cycling (2)

Because, for a few hours, it comprehensively deletes my capacity to give a damn.

For the record, and for the most part, I like to give a damn. But it's a luxury not to.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Like Bees To Honey

I've been following Caroline Smailes' blog since before I set up The trouser Press, and since before she published her first novel, In Search Of Adam. Her blog has always been a very friendly, welcoming and thoughtful place (and is one of the sites that inspired me to start blogging in the first place).

I've found her novels, meanwhile, to be highly affecting - at times tremendously poignant and unflinchingly dark - as well as compelling and cleverly-constructed (you can find my review of her second novel, Black Boxes, here).

So it's very exciting to play a small part in the launch of her new (third) novel. Oh yes.

Like Bees To Honey is about to be published in a few days' time - but just before it becomes available, it's going on a blog tour, with different sites hosting each chapter. I'm hosting chapter 21 (see below): if you want to follow the whole thing from the beginning then click this link to Caroline's blog.

Without further ado (i.e. to stop me from waffling on any longer), here is chapter 21:

To find chapter 22, follow the link here:

Like Bees To Honey is also available to order here.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Tidying up

A final rehearsal and now all my music gear is packed away ready. Ready, in the first instance, to be unpacked and checked again (in an OCD kind of way) before I head to the venue tomorrow.

I like the silence, following the last run-through of my set (a 20 minute piece and a 3 minute piece) - a silence which is represented by all my noise-making stuff being hidden from view in bags and protective covers.

In my late teens and early twenties I would be nervous to the point of paralysis in the couple of days before a gig. Couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, could barely relax for any period of time. I still get moments of anxiety and nerves these days, but nothing more than that.

Tomorrow looks set to be hectic for all sorts of reasons, but then I've got a few days off work, and a change of scenery. Nothing too exotic this time though: I would have liked to have flown away somewhere once again, but it's probably just as well I didn't plan anything, what with all the flights being screwed up by forecasts (accurate or otherwise) of more clouds of volcanic ash.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

A round-up of nothing in particular

(1) It's amazing how you learn (not necessarily in a conscious way) how to incorporate. Last year the neighbours upstairs were driving me quietly - well no, not quietly - mad with their incessant stomping.

Not least the fact that they seemed to feel the need to stomp when getting up for work a good hour or so before my own alarm is set to rouse me from slumber and to utter my first word of the day (usually, "bollocks").

At the time, as annoyed as it made me, I was sure that they just weren't aware of how disturbing this stomping was, and I did my best not to amplify or personalise it. It was difficult though, particularly when 5.30 or 6am came along and *stomp stomp STOMP stompstomp Stomp STOMP*.

I was also aware that they've never complained about my music, which I'm sure can sound very tedious and repetitious when I'm working on a small segment of it for an hour or two (at the moment I'm working on a 20 minute track which uses the same repeating riff throughout), though I always make sure that I'm done by 10pm.

Anyway in recent months I've found that not only am I mostly used to the stomping but, in the case of the early morning stompage, there's something oddly comforting about it. I wake up, hear *stomp stomp STOMP stompstomp Stomp STOMP* and think, "ah, another hour before I have to get up", and usually fall back to sleep until my alarm goes and I utter the inevitable "bollocks!"

It reminds me of someone I knew who slept in a room which faced out onto the main road and thus was continually graced by the noise of traffic and other goings-on. She was relieved to be able to move into a spare room at the back of the house, and then couldn't sleep because the peace and quiet unsettled her.

(2) Sometimes it amazes me how much we carry. How much it's easier to juggle more batons, so to speak, because although there's less respite, there's less time to worry about the individual batons. I occasionally feel like I should panic, but just don't.

(3) One pint of beer feels like two when you're eating healthy food as opposed to stodge.

(4) I'm listening to The Fall. I seem to do that rather a lot.

(5) I play a gig next week. It's 5 months since the last time I played and, while I know precisely where those 5 months have gone, they didn't half go quickly.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Bathroom cleaner

I castigate my own use of the word "should", which is just about to appear (wait for it...), but: I really feel as though I should be blogging the upheaval that's going on at the moment. Personal upheaval, not the post-election hung parliament uncertainties.

But I wouldn't even know where to start. I'll just say for now that my working week last week took place between Tuesday and Friday, and I feel as though I had no choice but to pack about ten days (should there be an apostrophe there?) worth of work into those four days. Some of it exhilarating, some of it scary and a lot of it stressful. Who knows what next week will bring.

I'm just grateful that over this weekend, for the first time in a long time, I was able to sleep beyond the time that I would normally get up for work. I've needed to.

I've spent some time today writing a post about the surrealist poet Jacques Rigaut, but it's going no further than my drafts folder right now, I just don't feel comfortable with posting it.