Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Well Connected Life

Years ago I heard someone complain that she never had a chance to miss her husband since they both worked together and lived together. I wish he'd go away for a little while so I can miss him properly, she said. I had a chance to recall her words earlier this week. 

I have never been very good at keeping in touch. I have a tendency to make friends and then move on, leaving it to them to remain in contact. If they do, I am delighted that they have and if they don't then that is fine too. And perhaps this was the reason why I found Facebook and suchlike overwhelming. It thrust people and their lives crammed with detail on to me and the noise left me drowning. I unplugged from it one Tuesday morning several years ago and have not gone back to it since.

When Watsapp made an appearance on the scene some time ago, I bought into it but when I found its demands unable to keep up with, I uninstalled it. But a dear friend insisted that I reinstall it when the free phone call facility was introduced and this way, we could chat more for free. Soon enough I enrolled into a few groups of old school friends and gradually grew accustomed to the noise from everyday interactions.

The ubiquity of a life too connected has meant that I never have a chance to miss anyone. Barring the case when someone really close passes away, nearly everyone is readily available everywhere at the tap of a button. And therefore not really missed that much. The downside to such instant access is that I do end up seeing people rather more than I would like to - and they of me. This fact was brought to my attention a few days following an interaction on that wretched Watsapp. An unsolicited rude message was my awakening to pull away and to remain that way.

Back in the day when I used to meet with old friends, we would bid each other goodbye and promise to remain in touch. A promise I would promptly forget and be chided for later at the next reunion. I felt no need to know the birthdays of old classmates or indeed wish them or be kept abreast on their children's well being. These were minutiae that I simply had no headspace for and on those warm summer evenings when it was just that bit too hot to sleep, I would find myself wondering whatever happened to an old friend. And upon finding no satisfactory answer, I would invent them a life, throw in a career, imagine a partner, some children and drift off to sleep. That was enough for me.

Lately, after all the exercises in being social, I have come to the conclusion that if you really want to keep a friend, unfriend them on social media. Don't know too much about their lives, keep somethings a mystery, save some for conversations to be had when you do meet them. And whatever you do, do make an effort to miss them. Miss them properly, wholly and let them miss you too. And when you have had enough of missingness, pick up a phone. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Full Year In Germany

Me: Sprechen Sie Englisch?
Call centre lady: Nein
Me: Okay...leider mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut aber Ich versuche...

Normally we coast along for a few minutes conversing like this before invariably hitting a technical snag word like 'leakage' or 'confirmation'. And then I have to begin apologising again for my lack of fluency in German before beginning the arduous task of explaining the whole thing. This usually involves breaking the problem down into small words like water, fall, little by little and bathroom before I succumb and say it again in English slowly and loudly. And somehow hope that the volume and pace of my English would make a difference to her comprehension. At times it works, often it doesn't.

On my good days I resolve to get better at German but on those days when I long for some simplicity and don't want to feel like I am wading through a sea of bafflement and incomprehension, I curse this place and all its people. Bloody Germans! With a language so complicated that few countries in the world dare speak it.

Have you had the joy of interacting with a German noun? They are staggeringly long, often made up of smaller words and have a gender. They are like a group of children who have climbed on top of each other to form a pyramid of some sort and then covered themselves up with a cloak and given themselves a mask and demand that you call them by a neutral gender. You want to give them a clip around the ears, ask them to quit horsing around and behave. The nouns are most silly!

Pictorial representation of German nouns 

Yes, it is hard but I have to be grateful to be given an opportunity to be challenged as an adult. Bizarrely enough, we never once thought to visit Germany earlier, always choosing to go holidaying in its neighbouring countries instead. Yet it's only upon living here, that my family and I see how beautiful this country is. We live in a stunning part of the world and on clear days, can see the Alps from near our house. It's also a very affluent region with plenty of nature and good food to offer. We experience distinct seasons through the year and live within driving distance of some of the best ski slopes in Western Europe. And yet there are days when I long to just be understood without needing to say, 'wie, bitte?' time and time again.

Perhaps it is in my nature to not be content with my lot but to constantly yearn for something else. That said, on those days when I do successfully manage to communicate or understand what is being said without needing to google translate or look up the dictionary, I am overcome with a genuine sense of achievement. I find myself picking up German books to read and actually managing to understand parts of it - I deliberately choose books in those subjects which I don't understand in the first place. This way, in case I don't understand something, I can just say, 'never got the point of management books. So much jargon!'

It has been a year of enormous learning. My children have adapted to this country way better than I have as I constantly fear transgressing some immutable, invisible social norm and be told off by some stern German person (as it happened early on when sneezing on the underground train made someone tell us that we were "disgusting"). It still feels very alien and have yet to find the warmth and the feeling of 'at homeness' that I found instantly in Britain. I miss the easy access to culture and art that I so took for granted while in Britain and find the provincial attitude of several Germans many of whom live and work not far from where they grew up, incomprehensible. 

As an expat I live in a bubble and little idea of what is going on in the local area. Listening to the news, I can gather snippets of what is going on but then find myself going on the Guardian or the BBC to gather more detail. So this is how it is. There are days when I am awestruck by this place and days when I find it small and stifling and cannot bear to remain. It is pretty but dull. Pretty dull, pretty boring, pretty cold. But where do I go? With each passing year, the places I come from and where I have lived recede further and further that I had better unpack my bags and plan to stay here for a while. Willkommen in Deutschland. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Ed Fringe 2017 - Reviews

Porridge with fruit, paper version of the Grauniad and dull, wet
weather - it was good to be back in Edinburgh
There is nothing quite like theatre to make you feel quite so alive. And nowhere is this more evident than in the corpulent overdose of theatre that is Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As with every year, this year too I attended the Festival for my annual dip into the madness. And for three and a half days, I rolled with the punches and tumbled in its excess. What a glorious ride it was. I ate, drank and indulged in a lot of diverse forms of theatre. Personal and metaphorical journeys. Scripted and improvised storytelling. Technical marvels and pared down theatre.

And now that I am back, I am left wishing that I had watched more, stayed out later, braved the cold (yes, even in August, it's Edinbrrrgh) and thrown myself unresistingly into its artful melee. But I rest in the knowledge that I will be back next year and the year after and the one thereafter. For now though, here are brief reviews of  nearly every show I watched.

A Super Happy Story About Feeling Super Sad - Can you make a musical about depression and make it light and frothy while delving into darkness? This show gets the balance just right. 8/10

Eggs Collective: Get A Round - Dark side of a night out with friends. They are soon to be on BBC. Great energy but I didn't quite feel the pull. 3/10

Instructions For Border Crossing - Technical issues hampered this play. Lots of audience interaction but didn't like the actor. Was confused about what he wanted from us or what his stance was. 1/10

salt. - A searing, powerful exploration of identity. Selina Thompson, an adoptee of Afro-Carribean origin who grew up in Birmingham, went on a cargo ship tracing the journey her ancestors would have taken on a slave ship and has written a play about it. As she smashes a large rock of salt ("salt of the seas, salt of the tears"), it splinters and shatters across the stage and into the audience like the lives of those enslaved, resonating across continents, across ages. We were given a rock to take with us as we left. It weighed heavy in my hands. 10/10

Seance - Spooky twenty minutes in a pitch dark shipping container. A long table runs down the length  of the container with chairs laid out quite tight on either side of the table. The participants are advised to wear headphones, place their hands on the table, lights go out dramatically and the Seance begins. Brilliant sound design that unsettles and challenges every rational notion you have. Is this theatre? Is this art? Brilliant entertainment. 10/10

How To Act - This play by Scottish National Theatre meant its posters were plastered on buses. Pity such publicity could not save the lacklustre play. It's set as a masterclass with an acclaimed actor and whose dramatic exercise with one of the participants forms the length of the play. Gradually, the lines between reality and retelling blurs and there's a moment when something dramatic is revealed but it flops and we are urged to "speak the truth". Whatever. 1/10

Out Of Love - Writing that scorched and scalded and soared from the pages. Beautifully acted and realised. The power of female friendship, fierce, convoluted and glorious - all laid out in just over an hour's time. Oh, to be able to write like this! 10/10

Man Watching - An anonymous woman has written about her sex life and each night a male comic reads it out cold, for the first time in front of an audience. Interesting, funny, gimmicky. 5/10

Kafka And Son - Based on the letters that Franz Kafka wrote to his father that were later published as a book. Kafka was bullied by his overbearing father and this appears to have had a lasting influence on his life and his writing. The play was sensitively told by the actor playing both the father and the son to great effect. 8/10

Shape Of The Pain - What is it like to live with chronic pain? What does it look like? How does it sound? What triggers it? What worsens it? How do you live with it every breathing minute? Shape Of The Pain attempts to articulate chronic pain syndrome - something one of its creators suffers from. Its a visual, aural, technical and verbal description what must be indescribable. At the end like many in the audience left with my limbs aching, my head throbbing and my eyes stinging. 9/10

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything - A boy and a girl are born in Hull and their lives are traced over three decades - from New Labour to Brexit Britain - via plenty of live music. The evening of my show, the actor who played the narrator was given a special award by The Stage for being one of the best at the Fringe. His high octane, high energy performance was certainly a highlight but the rest was glittery and loud and distracting. 3/10

Cosmic Scallies - Skelmersdale in Lancashire is a monument to all things tried in failed. It was a town where, in the 1960s planner attempted to create a utopian housing scheme and didn't succeed. It's the setting for an unlikely friendship between two friends who go all the way back to primary school. It is tender, funny and at times brutally honest but the play is shy of going just that bit further. 7/10

EntryNoEntry - A performance art piece by a Srilankan artist who invites you into a dark cave, dances with you, asks gently probing questions of you about who you are and where you come from and leaves you bewildered and blinking into the lights. 6/10

The Road That Wasn't There - A trigger happy old woman, her concerned son, a half-torn map, a graveyard, a young girl in far away New Zealand and some puppets are among this rather Neil Gaimanesque story for children. The kids in the audience seemed riveted. 5/10
Blurrie with Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner 

All shows (bar one) were booked on recommendations by Guardian's theatre critic Lyn Gardner. You can read about my experience and my Primer To The Fringe here.