Back in the….East Midlands. For 60ish hours

So I’m going to this tomorrow.

For me, it’s mainly an excuse to feel like a Mouthy Poet and see other Mouthy Poets one last time but PLEASE don’t think it’s a Mouthies-only love fest, these workshops are totally open to everybody and if you want to meet some folk from the East Midlands publishing scene (including Nottingham’s new young laureate, Georgina Wilding) then come along 🙂

 

Advertisements

Recent poetic activity

*I started this blog post a week ago but then life happened so I’m posting it now*

Mummy and Daddy bought me a really pretty notebook 💗

I began to fill the notebook with my early drafts, brain dumps and lists, all written with handwriting that would make a bramble bush look tidy 💔

Sorry Mummy and Daddy. Creative expression does not wait for an elegantly dotted ‘i’ 😂

I haven’t been dedicating quite so much time to writing as I would like (in terms of developing a daily writing habit it’s been 3 steps forward, 2.75 steps back for the past year) nevertheless, new poems are germinating, one of which I even shared the latest draft of at Berlin Spoken Word last week.

So here’s my garden, and selected cuttings from it: (let’s see how pretentiously far I can stretch the horticultural metaphors, eh? 😜 )

20170923_203234
So so pretty

Mostly when I’ve been writing recently I’ve been following Debris Stevenson’s writing exercises but adapting them for my laziness. The last time I wrote was this lovely spontaneous thing where it was dawn and I reached for my phone and just typed the words that came into my head like my life depended on it. But that was on Tuesday. It’s now the arse-end of Saturday.

What do you call a writer who doesn’t write?

A teacher, hahaha.

So now I’m flicking through trying to decide which poem to share and I just feel self conscious. So you know what, I’m going to sign off now and screw up my courage to do that another time 😉

But look, there ARE drafts in the notebook. Promise.

20170923_203248

Nicht nur Berlin*

Two weeks ago I decided it was high time I saw somewhere in Germany other than Berlin. Actually, that was a decision I made some months ago — but two weeks ago I actually downloaded the little Flixbus app and booked myself a coach ticket for Dresden.

Since even a night’s accommodation would have doubled the price, I made it a day trip. The logical thing to do with only six hours in a city would be to thoroughly research and plan the trip in order to maximise time, so of course I booked my tickets, briefly googled nice things to do in Dresden and then went to sleep.

Bright and early  Feeling a little groggy having deprived myself of more sleep than was strictly neccesary for a 9.15 bus, I was eagerly waiting at the bus stop…only to be told by a fellow passenger that the bus was 50 minutes late.  This will confuse many of my British readers: ‘But Germans are never late! EVERYTHING is on time in Germany!’ Well…. jein (yes and no). Lateness does happen in Germany, sorry to burst that bubble. However, the stereotype has a satisfying grain of truth: if a German bus is going to be 50 minutes late, it will not be an hour, or 55, or 52 minutes late….it will roll up at 10.05, in our case at the same time as another bus heading in the same direction, resulting in a lot of confusion, angrily shouting bus conducters and angrily muttering passengers that made me question whether I was in Germany or had in fact tripped through a wormhole and landed back in Vietnam.

DSC01002

DSC01023
The sun came out — right before I went home. Of course.

Wormhole or not, the cloudy skies and flamboyant architecture that surrounded me on arrival could only belong to Germany — specifically, Dresden’s Altstadt or ‘old town’

I headed straight for  Zwinger Palace, the plan being to take a look there first as it was furthest from the bus station, before gawping at some churches, having coffee and heading slowly back to the bus station.

The plan didn’t work, because Zwinger is a fascinating place. Imagine entering into an archway, suddenly plunged into darkness as your eyes adjust, the echoes of footsteps and voices of the other tourists letting you know you’re not alone but you sort of don’t care, you’ve got that holding-your-breath feeling like when you’re underwater but about to break back into the noisy, bright world above the surface? (Architects are a clever bunch. They do the archway thing on purpose, I swear. The Louvre. The Taj Mahal. Chatsworth. They know humans are suckers for a wee bit of mystery so they plonk archways everywhere.  Could be an industrial estate behind an archway and we’d probably all coo about it.)

Then you’re back out in the sunlight. You, and baroque masonry. You, and plinkly fountains which someone put a looooot of thought into. (Arguably  too much…)

DSC01010
It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Unless your insides are stone…

You basically feel like you’re Keira Knightly in a period drama, all elegance and come-hither-Mr. Darcy. or Herr Darcy, since this is Dresden. Then you remember that:

a) you arrived on a flourescent green bus with the backpack you’ve had since you were 17 and a peanut butter sandwich and

b) ten coaches of pensioners from Hamburg and Braunschwieg are also here, like the ghosts of Saturdays future in beige gilets and ergonomic footwear.

Sorry, got carried away there.

I wandered around the courtyard, marvelling at the detail of the stonework, before caving in and buying a 10 Euro ticket to the three museums housed in the palace buildings.

First I visited the The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister . It was at this point that I realised I probably wasn’t going to see anything else in Dresden. I could have spent the whole day just in the gallery if I’d had time. Trompe-l’oeil on the ceilings, richly painted walls showcasing the gleaming gilt of the frames and the older, religious paintings, the building was a work of art itself. Paintings swept with the tide of european history from religious, Medieval depictions of holy scenes to grand baroque portraits and classical landscapes. I was basically that emoji with heart-shaped eyes, for an hour. There was a huge collection of sculptures, too, collected by an art-loving aristocrat who apparently used to let students practise sketching from his sculptures, for free.

20170812_135403
The ceilings in the Gemäldegalerie — not carved, but painted into lifelike detail

20170812_140451

20170812_140658
They’re just wrestling. Honest.

Since my ticket also included the other Museums housed within Zwinger, I decided it’d be rude not to also go to the Mathematisch-Physikalishes Salon where a temporary exhibit was showing some old navigational tools as well as an incredibly decorative astrological clock.

20170812_143544

20170812_144200
Before the days of rubbers, they just used to scrape away pencil markings with these knives. That’ll come up in a pub quiz, any day. You’re welcome.

20170812_144526

The different faces of the clock show what different planets are up to and all that jazz. I’ll be brutally honest — I couldn’t actually tell if any of the faces showed, y’know, the time. It was a beautiful thing, but very confusing.

The last place I went was the Porzellansammlung/ porcelain collection. I feel like this one could divide people: it is essentially a room full of vases and teapots. But while I can’t imagine actually wanting all of this in your home, I surprised myself by enjoying this more than the science exhibit. There was nothing to work out or learn, no trajectories of planets to think about, just exquisite details to marvel over. Oh, and I’m pretty sure it was the Porzellansammlung which had the cafe upstairs. You could even sit out on a kind of balcony and admire Dresden from above.

 

20170812_15250420170812_15274920170812_15293520170812_15311020170812_153902

That basically left enough time for a little wander around the streets of Dresden with my camera before heading back for the bus which was, you guessed it, 50 minutes late. That did have the advantage of being able to watch the sun set from the coach window, though.

DSC01027
Picture-postcard Germany

20170812_201235

‘Nicht nur’ means ‘not only’ in German. I am planning to do a series of blog posts (as regularly as my budget allows!) to showcase the other lovely parts of this country, which definitely has a lot more to offer than just Berlin….although Berlin is my fave so far ;P

TLDR: Wanted to see something German that was not Berlin, went to Dresden, hung out in an old palace, it was very nice, came home.

Next time….a post about poemy things, coming soon.

Have a nice Wednesday xx

 

 

The alternative: clumsy thoughts on not keeping quiet

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” — Pastor Martin Niemöller

 

I’ve been keeping quiet about this. To be honest I’ve been trying to keep quiet about politics in general because it’s so easy to say something which is misinterpreted or else to be ineloquent and clumsy. Even if you get your point across, in the echo chamber of the internet, the people who I know will like this will ‘Like’ it, and those who think it’s a load of liberal nonsense will have decided that before they read any of it, if they even do that.

But if shouting into an echo chamber achieves nothing, then silence achieves less. My thoughts on this are about as coherent as a box full of kittens and craft equipment, but I will attempt to iron them out now. Why? I refer you to the words of Pastor Niemöller, above. Replace Communists with, for example, Refugees. Replace Trade Unionists with Muslims. Replace Jews with LGBTQI* people. It isn’t really the point that you or I may be comfortable now, or even that we may not be in the future. The point is that people are being oppressed, maybe not ‘your kind’ of people, but we are all just variations on a theme of DNA, so yes, I would argue that that makes it your business. My business. Our business.

As the world tips ever further into the crazy dystopian fiction mode of politics, it is becoming worryingly obvious that it’s not just going to go away if we just ignore it — those of us who are lucky enough to be able to do so. I want to be clear that, recent events notwithstanding, I’m not pointing the finger solely at America (as a Brit, how could I?) rather, all over the world, those who have power seem to be those determined to use it to harm others. Syria. Venuzuela. North Korea. Russia. Saudi Arabia; this is obviously not an exhaustive list.

I’m currently living in a very diverse part of probably the most diverse city in Germany. Germany has general elections coming up in the Autumn, and so while I was on holiday in the UK, party placards mushroomed around my neighbourhood, and so far for me they have simply been a source of useful reading practise.  But when I ventured from my haven on the Tempelhof/Neukölln border to the Western neighbourhood where I teach, I saw ones which made my blood boil:

 

1st picture: ‘”New Germans?” We’ll make them ourselves’

2nd picture translation: Unsure of precise translation, but it’s basically like ‘Burka? No thanks’ (Um…no one’s saying you have to wear it, love…)

I literally stopped in my tracks when I saw these. First I assumed my German was at fault, or that they were spoofs and I was missing some little subtext. Nope. They were for the party ‘Alternativ für Deutschland’. I think you can work out What that means. Just like Brexit was the alternative for Britain, just like soldiering on with oil and coal is the alternative to developing renewable energy technologies, just like having an itch some place you can’t reach is the alternative to, you know, not.

Klingt gut! Oh no wait, AFD, it doesn’t sound good. It sounds unspeakably awful. Know what else I think it sounds like?

poster-women-save-family

(Image c/o https://www.ushmm.org/propaganda/archive/poster-women-save-family “Save the future of the family!!! Vote Adolf Hitler!!!”)

According to this article the AFD won more than 20% of the vote in some states in 2016. I mentioned earlier that I don’t think we can just ignore this. But, if we’re not racist, surely that’s enough? We’re not the ones holding torches and marching in Charlottesville, so how can we stop it? We are Good People™

The trouble is, disagreeing with racism doesn’t just seep out into the wider community as if by osmosis (sadly). While the clamour to say ‘but we’re not racist!!’ after such awful events as the ones a couple of weeks ago is a natural initial reaction, it actually deflects the discussion from the issues that are causing the problem.

Let’s take white supremacy, and the marches in Charlottesville, as an example. When the perceptions of racial discrimination in a country are so disparate (as shown here) it really begs the question whether those of us who do not experience racism really know the full extent of it. The torch-bearers and the slogan chanters are unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst, but they are certainly easy to spot. The perniciousness of racism is that it is built into the fabric of countries like America and the UK. Let’s use the example quoted in article I linked above, where 22% of white respondents and 64% of their black counterparts thought that black people were more likely to be treated unfairly in the workplace. That’s a heck of a difference, I would argue enough to assume that both groups can’t be right. Now, some of you will be jumping in here with: ‘But Beccy, my mate Keith is the only white person in his department, and he’s always being bullied; they’re racist to HIM!’ Obviously, bullying and prejudice are obviously always shit, but when I’m talking about racism here, what I mean is the bias towards white people and against People of Colour (POC) which is embedded in the values of not just individuals but the whole of society. (If you don’t believe that this is even a thing, then I refer you to this article, which mentions some of the studies carried carried out in recent years to find more robust data than the scientifically flawed but very thought provoking ‘doll test.’) These biases are very much at play in our society. That being the case, is it really enough to simply not hold torches? Often what it feels like we’re saying, when we say we’re not racist, is ‘I’m a good person’. Well, you probably are: but not because you’re not racist. Being not racist shouldn’t be elevated to some special status of good behaviour, it should simply be part of the standard behaviour that is expected of all of us — along with a lack of prejudice against any sex, gender identity, nationality….against any group of people. Society generally frowns on stealing, for example. Not stealing might be deemed to be the behaviour of a ‘good’ citizen, but really it’s simply what society expects of us. If you wanted to go above and beyond, you’d raise money for victims of theft, or try to work out why people felt the need to steal, and find a way to prevent it from happening. Imagine the rate of theft suddenly rose.  Imagine people no longer had a sense of shame about stealing, but bragged about it on social media — not just a few, but whole groups of people, thousands of people. If you simply carried on not stealing then you wouldn’t make a whole lot of impact in these circumstances, even though that’s what’s expected of you. You would need to go above and beyond. When your uncle laughed about stealing someone’s wallet, you would need to point out to them why that’s not a good thing to do. You would need to add your voice to the voices of the victims of theft, demanding justice.

I am not saying this because I am doing all of the above, because I think I’m a good person. I’m not. I’m saying it because thinking that I need to be perfect before I encourage other people to do the decent thing isn’t working. Racism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, political and religious oppression are all still happening. You might think that they may never ‘come for’ you, just like Pastor Niemöller probably did. But I say that if they’re coming for our fellow humans, then they already have.

Let’s not wait to be miraculously perfect. Let’s just be decent humans, let’s start now, and let’s be really bloody vocal about it.

 

In which I attempt to sum up 5 months of life

January

Above: The gorgeousness of Sapa in January. I went on a trekking trip with Sapa Sisters to escape from the real world, before the delightful experience which was a 26 hour, 3 leg flight.

I actually didn’t mind the flight. I’m one of those weirdos who loves flying and airports and I was excited to be going home 🙂

Takeaways from the experience:

  1. Abu Dhabi airport has a library.
  2. Inflatable neck pillows are a gift from the angels
  3. Being able to interline luggage (on connecting flights) is a gift from the angels. But you need to pick your airlines carefully, and be prepared to turn up early for bag drop and be politely insistent with the front desk people :’)

Upon arrival in Heathrow, I should probably have been knackered. Darling parents, who had been up since obscene o’clock, probably hoped I was knackered. But I wasn’t. I ate two breakfasts (might have been three, actually), at their expense, and proceeded to give them a run down of my entire learned impressions on the TEFL industry in Vietnam.

Parenting is so rewarding.

February

Much grammar learning. The novelty of cold weather rapidly wore off, then just as rapidly, my nervous system remembered it was British and I got used to it again. Snowdrops came out. I passed the one month mark of landing back in the UK and wondered if Vietnam had all been a dream. I joked about my single status to my brother and sister in law — and they came back from their Valentine’s day date with a gift from Lush #pityplayforthewin

March

Suddenly realised I only had 2 weeks left in the country. Last few friend dates. Read my teenage diaries. Occasionally laughed, mostly felt horrified. Plotted the best way to destroy said diaries. Crocuses came out. Realised that I really don’t travel light. Ever.

Moved to Berlin. Colder than the UK. Started the CELTA course, stopped doing everything else.

April

Officially registered as resident in Berlin. Finished and passed CELTA. Stayed out til 4am with coursemates and had to leave the school’s accommodation the next day. Moved through three different flats and started taking German classes. Started working as a cleaner in a fetching black t-shirt.

20170314_103635
Fun with phonemes

May 

First visit from a UK friend. Finally moved into an apartment where I can stay for more than a month. Started teaching my first class since the CELTA course. My old colleagues/interns from Vietnam who stayed on another semester started posting pictures of goodbye parties with their classes and their next adventures…felt even more like my Vietnam had been a dream.

Aaaand…June

Here were are. Where are we? What happened?

This month, another lovely friend and my lovely parents will be visiting, the UK will be having a general election (yes, I am voting, don’t panic), and I will be turning 27 the day after the Myslexia Women’s Pamphlet Competition deadline — and I’ve sort of made myself promise to enter.

Along with doing lesson plans… wish me luck!

But I’ve decided to start blogging here again, because the lack of writing in my life has been bothering me. Writing is just something I need to do, the way some people practice yoga or do basket weaving or paragliding. I need to write to maintain a semblance of sanity so here, my blog, is where you can keep an eye on me, and tell me off if I’m not writing enough 🙂 I am drowning in German homework and job applications and all the things I need to do to legally be here…but I just need to write. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and have notebooks full of scribbles but no poems that I’ve laboured on and crafted to the best they can be.

Hoping you have time for the things that keep you, you

x

20170523_060129
It’s not indulgent to buy yourself flowers if they came from Aldi…
20170603_234131
The Mother of all to do lists
20170603_195516
50% of my tired feet
Screenshot_20170603-195525
Saving on a gym membership by distributing flyers 😉

 

How many seashells does it take to build a home?

1. A twentysomething girl stares out of bus windows in countries far from her home and daydreams about stopping and living in one. About the specific kind of grit it would take, like trying to take root in sand, and yet how completely possible it seemed once she had imagined it. How people really had no more cause to stay in one place than a sycamore seed pod.

2. A girl in single digits, on a beach, filling a carrier bag to breaking point with pebbles and shells because they all seemed too unbearably beautiful to leave behind.

*

I started this morning feeling sad for a bunch of reasons and as the sadness cooled it turned to anger and irritability.

At 3.40 I was fantasising about being the kind of person who can just grab their passport and walk away without a backward glance.

Then as 1 500 children began filing back to their classrooms, I began to hear high-pitched English words.

‘Hello teacher! Hello!’

These weren’t the students who I was about to teach; they were my Tuesday students who only yesterday I subjected to the charade that is my employer’s testing system. They had absolutely no reason to remember or acknowledge me and yet they noticed me and greeted me as if I were someone wonderful. Their ‘hellos’ chirruped across the courtyard like birds and I no longer had to feign smiles, they were genuine. I am aware that a 6-year-olds standards for ‘person who makes me happy’ are probably not terribly high but those kids reminded me why I do not walk out, why I chose to do this in the first place and I will be grateful for that long after my face has blurred into the endless rounds of foreign teachers they will encounter over the next (hopefully) 12 years of school.

I walked past that school again tonight. It’s at the opposite end of the street to a vegan restaurant; not a drinks-in-jam-jars, cheeseless pizza vegan restaurant, a real no frills Vietnamese buffet where you can gorge yourself on lovely, healthy food for 20k đ (about 80p), a place where families and students come for dinner. Walking around Hanoi at night — and I mean my little neighbourhood as much as the bustling centre, is such a treat I often invent errands at night, and I fritter 1000’s đ drinking juices and coffees in the evening. Shops and cafes are draped with bright lights, friends sit at street kitchens and bier hois and park benches just passing the time of day, people power walk and play badminton and meditate, toddlers wobble their first steps. It probably seems odd to Asians how obsessed with their street life Westerners are, but we mostly come from cold countries where the outdoors is a route and not a destination (except for that one week in September, or May, or June, where it hits 25°C!) so it never ceases to delight me. It also gives me a feeling of independence; I don’t need to worry about ‘is this the kind of place where a woman can walk on her own?’ because most places are the kind of place anyone can walk, from dawn until about midnight.

And I was walking home, belly full of good food and a teasing thought reminded me how easily this could feel like home, jarring as it sometimes is. With a bit of effort, I could make this a home.

I won’t of course. At least, not now (never say never). It probably only seems doable in the way that living in India or Cambodia or, erm, here seemed doable 2 years ago — because it was just a daydream, I’d never be stupid enough to actually DO it, right?

Whether I come back or not, I think I’d have been stupid not to.

Home is where you make it