Maybe you are familiar with the phrase, ‘Show me a boy at 7 and I will show you the man’. Flicking back through my old school reports it’s astonishing how well my old primary school teacher’s comments still describe me as an adult, apparently there are some foibles so deeply ingrained that they are nearly impossible to shake off. I was a very good child so the true comedy gold is missing, but here are some observations:
Quite a lot of my teachers commented on my artistic ability, here’s one from Mrs.J (reception, age 5): ‘Her observational skills are reflected in the artwork which she produces – pictures drawn from life and from memory are equally impressive’. I’m still pretty hot with the artwork, and when it came for me to choose my subject for university I was on a knife edge between going to art school and studying English. As if I didn’t know this anyway, my old school reports confirm it would have been a fair decision either way.
General comments . . . . ‘Her reading which caused initial concern has gone from strength to strength.’ No need to worry Mrs. R (year 1, age 6), I’ll go on to do a degree in English Literature, but that’s not to overshadow the real pinnacle of my literacy success; being the narrator at the end of year school play in year 6.
Maths . . . ‘She understands some aspects of probability, recognising that some events are certain, some impossible, and some uncertain’. Sounds like a key life skill Mrs.McP (year 2, age 7), I’m not sure where on that scale my current outcome for success might fall, but I’ll let you know what happens with Schrödinger’s cat.
General comments . . . . ‘Angela’s work and progress this year has been very pleasing. She does however seem to put herself under pressure and gets upset when she finds something difficult. She needs to realise that she will often find things hard but that she has the ability to succeed.’ Way to make my cry Mrs. S (year 3, age 8) this comment is right on the mark, and in terms of development into adult life someone could have made this observation about me yesterday. I’m still working on it Mrs. S!
English . . . . ‘She reads fluently and with expression and can predict the outcome of a story or answer questions about it. Her writing is developing an interesting style, using her imagination and increasingly wide vocabulary to good effect.’ Cheers Miss H (year 4, age 9) this was the year in which I remember really ‘discovering’ reading properly and started to read A LOT of my own accord, a habit which persists to this day. One year later Mr.G (below) put a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone into my hands (before the second one had even been published) and I became an enthusiastic first generation Potter fan.
Physical Education . . . . ‘Angela has enjoyed all aspects of P.E., always shows enthusiasm and works well individually and as a part of a team.’ Nice one Mr.G (year 5, age 10) little do you know that I’ll be using that phrase on pretty much every job application from 2008 onwards. Come to think of it I could use some hard evidence of my individualistic team working, mind if I take a copy of this report to my next interview as a reference?
Technology . . . . ‘Angela can load the “Paintshop Pro” programme and use it to alter and print out images.’ Thanks Miss N. (year 6, age 11) I might have been a whiz with the Paintshop Pro back in 1999 but I’m still struggling the ludicrous intricacies of Adobe Photoshop in 2013.
So, a lot of LIFE has happened since my last post. I left Berlin one mockingly beautiful and serene evening on an overnight train to Vienna. In the following weeks I travelled through Austria and then Italy, sometimes thinking about what I wanted to do in my life, mostly thinking about the wonderful places I was seeing, and enjoying the hilarious, cathartic, entertaining, and sometimes stressful-but-will-make-good-stories-later situations I was getting into. I met some truly lovely people, and I also met my fair share of creepy ones and lonely ones and everything else on the spectrum. My emotions were pretty wide ranging as well; from being smug and delightedly content when a wrong bus landed me in the heavy vined vinyards outside Vienna on a burnished autumnal afternoon, to sobbing in a hostel in Florence after 24 hours of travel delays and mosquito bites. I like the immediacy of problems when you travel, chances are they will be fixed one way or another in short space of time – the wheel of fortune spins faster than usual, bedbugs and calamity in one city aren’t far from sunsets and good wine in the next. Things change fast.
I called things a day in Venice and decided to go back to the UK to regroup and attempt to make a more solid plan for the future while my account still had enough money for this to be a reasonable possibility ie. enough to be able to move somewhere if I got an enticing job, or at least a good starting fund if I decided on further travels. I also wanted to absorb all the activity from the past few months, write up my adventures, send emails, edit my photos, make drawings and think it out while hopefully topping up the funds.
Then. My dad picked me up from the airport.
My mum has cancer.
I’m still processing this so I don’t have a lot to say about it right now, but I suspect that I will and I know that writing about it will help me (especially since in terms of actual talking I can barely open my mouth at the moment).
So. In the next few weeks I will be writing about: travel, being a struggling young person – specifically some more thoughts on this post: https://beautifullittlefool89.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/10-things-i-have-learnt-since-finishing-university-in-2011/ as it got a lot of responses (keep them coming guys, I like to hear from you!) hopefully some drawings, although I might post these on my portfolio page and . . . cancer. Maybe.
On the terrace by the lake the rain pours on a Saturday afternoon. A cold glass of wine, condensation dripping down the outside. Later when the rain stops we sit by the lake at sunset, mist rising off the water. ‘It doesn’t have to be this way’. You say. But the city pulls us back on her tendrils, pulls us down into the vortex. Parties that never end, wooden floors, echoes and ghosts. Night bleeding into dawn already, but you have barely arrived.
Fleeting glances of yourself in the mirror, a reflection you hate so much. A reflection you don’t recognise, pin prick pupils or a dark pool the covers your entire eyes. Pale and shaky and cut adrift. What happened? What paths brought me here?
A reflection that you try to seduce. When you look a certain way, when you smile, lower your eyes. Change your hair. Change your dress. Try to find a combination that will make him want to fuck you. That will make people like you. That will make the city accept you. But it’s all lost when you hate what you see. Shake your head. Shake your head. Walk away.
At 4am on a U-bahn platform he tries to explain. But we’ve heard it. Before. And –
Can’t take it now.
DROWN YOUR SORROWS
Berlin is not perfect, but a different form of not-perfect to the last thing. Maybe a better form. Maybe. Nothing is ever quite perfect as our perceptions and expectations are in constant flux. Always saving for tomorrow. Accept the imperfect nature of things as they are.
But the swans and the willows by the canal on this perfect August afternoon. Happiness is as fleeting as the image of it in your head.
Smoke that blows across the grass.
A goodbye party by candle-light. Standing on the edge of the circle, skirting the fringes, the darkness at your back. All the young, and talented, and beautiful, and drunk, and drugged, and lost. And sad. Sometimes. Libations in the moonlight, but you’ve lost your tongue at dawn.
Warm sunlight non-judgemental
Walk alone by the canal
Turn the handle
High ceiling and wooden floor
Silence in the courtyard
Her sleeping back, bare and smooth
Another day. Another night.
YESTERDAY WAS DRAMATIC – TODAY IS OK
Peace in this empty Berlin altbau on an early autumn evening. Low lights and houseplants, emails and wine. Neukölln night progresses around you as the clock on the kitchen wall ticks. Away.
Crying into coffee and scrambled eggs this morning. ‘Write it out’, you said. Draw out the poison. Time melts when we are together. Seconds and eternity hard to distinguish between.
Disclaimer: This is raw from my notebook, so, yeah.
Hi guys, sorry to have been somewhat AWOL recently. Reading of interesting books and quality films has been on the downhill slope, and that’s before I even get to anything that might require even the slightest bit of creative effort. I haven’t been feeling that motivated recently, and seem to have slipped into a sad little cycle of going to work, watching TV and getting lost in the vast depths of the internet – and then repeat. I don’t know if this is the daily grind getting me down or some wary Berlin tunnel vision kicking in, but recently I just don’t seem to have the energy – but even worse than that – the interest (!) in anything besides the afore mentioned depressing little things.
But, I do hold out some hope because things are imminently about to change in a big way. This is a busy week for me as it happens to be my last week at work – and also my last week in the UK before I leave for Berlin. In anticipation for restored motivation for LIFE, but especially the arty side of things I have begun to finally create an online portfolio which I will doing the basic foundation work on over the course of the next few days (when I’m not packing/working/freaking out). I’m hoping to photograph my best pieces of work and then continue to add to it over time; hopefully it will be a good showcase of my technical skills, but also a nice thing for me personally as it’s a pleasure to see my work presented in such a nice way instead of languishing in drawers and folders under my bed.
You can access my new portfolio (currently still called ‘portfolio’ as I have yet to come up with a name both witty and sophisticated) here More work will be added in the coming days.
Happy Bloomsday everyone! As you know I went to university in Dublin, and today is a rather important date in Dublin’s calendar as 16th June 1904 was when the events of James Joyce’s most famous creation ‘Ulysses’ took place. ‘Bloomsday’ gets it’s name from the protagonist of the novel, Leopold Bloom, who takes an epic journey around Dublin mimicking Homer’s Odyssey. In real life 16th June was the day that James Joyce met his wife Nora Barnacle. Unfortunately I’m not apt to give a great summary of Ulysses because I have not read it (!) and I’m not a huge fan of Joyce or modernism in general. Unsurprisingly I had no particular wish to take a term long course on Ulysses where a chapter was painstakingly picked apart each week. I’d consider that a slow death indeed, although plenty of people thought this was pretty much the pinnacle of their Dublin English degree experience. Let’s just say my time for Joycean enjoyment has not yet arrived, maybe I’ll think Ulysses is the greatest thing ever in 20 years time. Maybe. In which case I’ll regret my time spent as a literature student in Dublin dilly dallying with other literary greats and cringing every time an extract from Finnegan’s Wake or a story from Dubliner’s would appear on a reading list. As an addendum to this I would like to add, incidentally, that I have read James Joyce’s love letters to Nora Barnacle (or rather, I had them read to me by a significant other who thought this was highly
romantic amusing) – and I can certainly vouch for their entertainment value, as much as they are in the literary gutter 😉
Anyway, I digress. ‘Before Sunrise’ directed by Richard Linklater is a film which takes place on the 16th June, and it is peppered with references to Ulysses. While on a train from Budapest American student Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Julie Delpy) on her way to Paris, and he talks her into getting off the train in Vienna to explore the city with him. The pair wander around the city as it begins to get dark and have a series of encounters with the locals. Over the course of the evening as the sun begins to set the pair get to know each other better and become close, gradually ending up in a park before they have to part at sunrise so that Jesse can catch his flight home. They vow to meet again at the train station in six months time, but do not exchange phone numbers or contact details. I was just about to watch this film again because I have been thinking a lot of my own summer travels. I would like to say ‘impending’ summer travels, but they still seem so far away . . . in reality, 7 weeks, depending on my work situation (unstable). I know that rationally speaking 7 weeks is nothing, but it might as well be 7 years – it seems like an eternity. I am going to Berlin for the long term, but I am planning several weeks of pre-Berlin travel with an open schedule. I would dearly love to go to Vienna, where this film is set, so it seemed like an appropriate teaser. I will also probably be travelling by train, so again this is a good film for stirring my imagination. Obviously ‘Before Sunrise’ is your ideal interrailing scenario. Meet an attractive foreigner on the train, get off in an appropriately romantic European city in the summertime, and let the adventure begin.
It is pure coincidence that I have decided to watch this film today of all days, in a weird and tenuous way I feel like my past (Dublin) and imminent future (trains, Europe, Vienna?) have come together here. Both stories involve exploring a city (Dublin/Vienna) over the 16th/17th of June. Both involve visits to a graveyard. Jesse’s real name is James and, like Joyce, he spent a long time wandering around Europe. I suspect there may be a few more links, but as I haven’t read the book and I’ve just lifted these facts from IMDb – you’ll have to spot them on your own.
For those of you in Dublin, or otherwise Ulysses enthusiasts I hope you enjoyed your day and celebrated appropriately!
Apologies for being AWOL recently, I realise that it’s been a while. The reason for this is that I’ve dropped rather lucky with another temp agency job so I’m no longer free to fritter away my days watching obscure films, the obligatory amount of Jeremy Kyle, crafting, drinking tea in bed . . . and updating my blog. And when I get home I’m obviously too tired to concentrate on anything more taxing than wine and internet shopping (always a winning combination).
I’m being super well paid at the moment to do something super boring, and this has caused me to reflect on what I was doing around this time last year. At the moment I spend all day making complicated spreadsheets and having awkward phone exchanges with people in Finland whose names I can’t pronounce. It’s all cool in the world of my bank balance and self esteem – as in I’m actually (astonishingly!) doing that rare thing: a well paid graduate level job. Remember those? Unfortunately this is only a temporary position, but what a revelation to see what the world could be like . . .
This time last year I was doing something entirely pleasurable and immensely rewarding, not to mention degree related – but I wasn’t getting paid. I was working on the restoration of some 19th century statues which were being returned to a Grade II listed building. I saw the project right through to the end with statues being put back up, appearing on the local evening news, and even the benefit to dinner to celebrate completion and raise money for the next restoration project – and to top it all off the project even received an award for work in the heritage sector. At the end of my working day I could see exactly what I had done, and at the end of a project I could see what a difference my personal contribution had made.
At the moment a sense of satisfaction, alas! comes from finally completing those pesky unending spreadsheets . . . and yes, the money of course. I suspect with this job the sense of satisfaction will come from the knowledge that I worked hard for the money that I will spend on summer travels – rather than satisfaction at having created something I think is beautiful. As you may have noticed I tend to lean towards the creative industries where possible, but I’ll do whatever comes my way in present circumstances. I suppose a trade off between money and doing something you actually like is more commonly referred to as the real world.
It so happens that I do. Just a little bit. Which means not to any extent that might actually useful besides ordering food and reading signs. However, I am currently learning in a slow but fairly determined way.
I studied German for five years in high school, and though quite a diligent student I wasn’t really very adept at languages. We had textbooks which dated from before the fall of the Berlin Wall, which even then (I started high school in 2000) seemed like a bad footing. The exercises would refer to prices Deutsch Marks and Ostmarks, and we were still using these dated books when Germany switched to the Euro in 2002 . . . and still using this set of books when I took my German GCSE in 2005!
To me Germany as a country was wrapped up in those well-thumbed pages, old fashioned, boring. At the time when I took my GCSEs it was compulsory to take a language (this was subsequently dropped – at least for a while – not sure what the stance is now). As I had only studied French for two years and had studied German for three, I figured that Deutsch was the better option. I had never been to Germany or met any German people besides our assistant exchange tutors. German to me meant vocabulary tests on a Monday morning, genders I could never remember and crackling tapes of people talking about the Ost. No wonder I didn’t take German at A-Level.
Skip to seven years later and I’m in a punk bar in old East Berlin on a Friday night, and it’s fair to say I’ve had a glass or two of Riesling. I’m sitting in the middle of a group of native Germans, four of whom happen to be in a band – a band on the eve of their first record launch. All of a sudden German is useful, interesting, necessary, urgent, a good investment of time. It’s embarrassing to be another English person who only speaks English: how uncool.
In the past I would have argued that languages should be taught in schools from reception age, but now I think it needs to go further than that. In an increasingly globalized society our education should encourage an interest and awareness of other countries, cultures and languages from a young age (what would be wrong with a classroom extension of Dora the Explorer?) Why would I want to learn the language of a country I know nothing about? It is true that English is widely spoken (360 million native speakers, up to 750 million have English as a second language), but this is no excuse for laziness. English people fall behind Europeans who can speak at least two languages, and this is to our detriment both socially and career wise.
However, there are many potential pitfalls with this plan. The most glaring problem I can see is that the majority of teachers, unless they studied a language at degree level, would be teaching themselves along with the children. I went to university in Ireland and discovered that even though Irish is compulsory from a young age very few people spoke it fluently by age 18. A lot of my Irish friends complained that Irish was badly taught, and many didn’t put in a lot of effort because they didn’t think Irish was useful or relevant. Clearly establishing a second language at primary school level is only the half battle; but at least it would be a start.
Labyrinths. There’s something about labyrinths that I find endlessly (no pun intended) fascinating. I think it must the element of danger or the excitement of the unknown. Something beautiful, intricate, deadly – always alluring and yet sure to hold something nasty.
Maybe when you think of labyrinths you are transported first to ancient Greece. On the island of Crete King Minos would periodically chose seven boys and seven girls to be sent into his labyrinth. Inside they would be hunted and eaten by ‘Asterion’ – the Minotaur, a mythical creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull. So the legend goes, when the third sacrifice approached Theseus volunteered to slay the monster. Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos fell madly in love with Theseus and offered him a ball of thread to help him to find his way out of the labyrinth. Theseus successfully killed the Minotaur and was able to lead the surviving youths out of the labyrinth with the help of Ariadne’s thread.
Skipping forward to more modern times the labyrinth has proved popular fodder for creative types.
Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges imagines the labyrinth at Knossos (Crete) from the point of view of the Minotaur. Lonely and bored he plays games, imagines meeting another Minotaur and reflects on the labyrinth itself,
‘All parts of the house are repeated many times, any place is like another place. There is no one pool, courtyard, drinking trough, manger; the mangers, drinking troughs, courtyards, pools are infinite in number. The house is the same size as the world; or rather, it is the world.’ ~ The House of Asterion, 1947
Another Argentinian writer, Ernesto Sabato drew upon the image of the labyrinth in his short story The Tunnel. The Tunnel is a tale of the dark psychological distress of painter Juan Pablo Castel and his obsession and subsequent murder of Maria Iribarne. Sabato uses the dark twisted pathways of the labyrinth to reflect the state of Castel’s mind. The painter muses that;
‘And it was as if the two of us had been living in parallel passageways or tunnels, never knowing that we were moving side by side, like souls in like times, finally to meet at the end of those passageways before a scene I had painted as a kind of key meant for her alone, as a kind of secret sign that i was there ahead of her and that the passageways finally had joined and the hour for our meeting had come.’
But eventually Castel comes to realise that:
‘ . . . the whole story of the passageways was my own ridiculous invention, and that after all there was only one tunnel, dark and solitary: mine, the tunnel in which I had spent my childhood , my youth, my entire life.’ ~The Tunnel, 1948
Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth explores the idea of a mythical labyrinth as imagined by a little girl named Ofelia. Despite appearances Pan’s Labyrinth is not really a suitable film for young children, the real life drama will give you nightmares if the mythical monsters don’t do the trick. Ofelia is going through some tough times. The story is set in Spain in 1944, and Ofelia and her pregnant mother have come to live with Captain Vidal who is to be Ofelia’s new father. It’s post civil war era and Captain Vidal is busy rooting out anti-Franco rebels and being generally unpleasant. Ofelia finds a labyrinth in the woods nearby, and it here that she meets a faun who recognises her as the long lost Princess Moanna. As things become more difficult at home, her mother is ill and Vidal reveals himself be bloodthirsty in his pursuit of the rebels; Ofelia increasingly escapes into the world of the faun, completing a number of tasks for him. When everything really begins to fall apart at the end Ofelia runs into the woods and is drawn back to the labyrinth.
Ofelia’s labyrinth is very much one that is linked to her emotions and her mind; a psychological retreat. I’m never quite sure what to make of the faun, as at times he is creepy and cold and although he ultimately helps Ofelia I wouldn’t exactly describe him as a benign influence. Interestingly enough the word ‘pan’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘all’ – like the all encompassing nature of the labyrinth perhaps? Pan was the Greek god of the wild, and in Roman mythology appeared as a faun.
If you haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth then it’s definitely worth a look as it’s an incredibly beautiful piece of cinematography and actually deals with some very difficult themes. (I also highly recommend The Orphanage, 2007, which del Toro worked on as executive producer).
I’m a long time fan of Neil Gaiman’s Death and Sandman, and they’re probably amongst a small pile of books that I’d describe as ‘comfort reading’. Easily my favourite out of the lot is the seventh book in the series; Brief Lives. Brooding and miserable after being ditched by his girlfriend, Dream is drawn into Delirium’s hunt for their missing brother Destruction while harbouring his own ulterior motives. After a series of mishaps and arguments Delirium and Dream eventually decide to consult their brother Destiny for help in finding their missing sibling. They decide to walk to the garden of Destiny, and there’s only one way there: through a labyrinth.
As Dream and Delirium walk through the labyrinth it twists and changes until they finally emerge into the Garden of Destiny. It is interesting that this should be the route to Destiny and is a thoughtful reflection on the course of our lives. No matter what paths we take are we always ‘destined’ to end up at the same place? Are all paths really the same path? I have mixed thoughts on the concept of ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’ so my answer to this is that I just don’t know.
The indisputable beginning of my obsession with labyrinths was Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, one of my all time favourite books. This book is quite long and complex so I’m only going to give a very abbreviated summary. An average American family moves into an average American house in what is supposed to be a dream move to the country. Shortly after moving in the family discover that the house is larger on the inside than on the outside, something which the father – Will Navidson is determined to get to the bottom of. One day a doorway appears in the living room, the doorway leads into a cold dark corridor that seems to extend impossibly beyond the dimensions of the house. Navidson is eventually moved to assemble a team of professional explorers to plumb the depths of the labyrinth he has discovered. The story has several different narrators, each calling into question the accuracy of the next. The entire book is a semioticians dream – if you’re into that sort thing. And if not, well it’s still pretty addictive.
The labyrinths in House of Leaves are varied and many. First of all it is possible to get lost in the text itself which twists and turns according to the story:
The house is often linked to the mental state of those exploring it. If they are frightened or lost then it expands, if they are sure of the way then they paths become shorter and easier to navigate. All those who come into contact with the house are moved to explore the depths and pathways of own their mind, forcing them to reflect on the things that have shaped them and the things that are important.
The final labyrinth on my list is one that I have actually been to at The Salon zur Wilden Renate in Berlin. This labyrinth is inside a very cool club, and for 10 euros you are given a gold coin and a message of welcome:
After waiting in the bar for a while I was blindfolded and taken to the entrance of labyrinth. Once there I deposited my gold coin in the the door and entered. Although I’d heard people talking about this place and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore a real labyrinth I have to say I was a little bit nervous – anything could have been inside. What I actually discovered was a womb or heart like chamber with a number of ‘corridors’ leading off it. Some of the corridors became crawlspaces, some were dead ends, and when I finally did want to leave pretty much all of them seemed to lead back to the same place! The most terrifying part was a door that lead into a completely pitch black brick corridor. However old you are there is always something terrifying about being unexpectedly alone in the pitch black in an unfamiliar place, and I could hear my heart beating. As I felt my way along the corridor a bright light would flash every few seconds, and I am now reminded of Ernesto Sabato’s words, ‘My mind is dark as a labyrinth. Sometimes there are flashes, like lightening, that illuminate some of the passageways . . .‘ When I finally did find the exit and was talking to my friend afterwards he suggested that it wasn’t scary in there unless you made it that way – what you find in there is yourself.