Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's always nice being pleasantly surprised by something differing from ones expectations. I have to confess to having a slight tendency towards preconceived opinions, particularly with regards to art or literature which is associated with a particular cultural movement or scene. I know this isn't the best approach and it is something I try to challenge myself about when I catch myself doing so - but of course we aren't always aware of our own flaws except through the benefit of hindsight, and so, on more than one occasion I have found myself marvelling that I almost deprived myself of the pleasure of a work of art, a story or a poem because I had blindly, in my ignorance, decided that I wouldn't like it without truly knowing what it was.

One such recent example of this is the work of Charles Olson. There is something in the work of the Beat poets that is a lot more raw and unprocessed, but also philosophical and.. hmm, how can I put this? There is an untangible energy about the work that I didn't expect - no, not that. Perhaps the only way to explain it is that I have found myself able to relate to the ideologies of beat poets far more than I had expected myself to. I feel like I have more common ground with them than I had ever considered... they are cut from the same cloth as other counter culture movements, which I foolishly hadn't really expected. There is still a familiar yearning buried in somewhere, that I know all to well and have seen in various other movements in various different disguises - it crops up regularly, in different eras and entirely different contexts, although sometimes it is dulled by money or drugs or institutionalised cultural ennui, but it endures. It's reassuring to see this familiar face reflected back at me from times passed - pages span time and I have the deep reassurance that we are not alone, but part of a long infinite succession of others that stretches on eternally.

I will post some Olson work at some point, some of it is really cool :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ladies, Gentlemen and the rest...

.. I present the following for your consideration:

Exhibit A-
- short but important (just like me)

Exhibit B-

William Shakespeare - Sonnet #146

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
My sinful earth these rebel powers array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this the body's end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:

So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
And death once dead, there's no more dying then.

Please consider all the evidence before drawing a conclusion.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Since I moved to Germany back in August, I have been following what could be described as a pescatarian diet - and (except for some chicken with a roast dinner superbly cooked by some friends, and an unfortunate zwiebelkuchen incident)it's going great! I have had a few stabs at going veggie in the past, including an entire year when I was 13 or so, but this time I decided that it would be sensible to reassess my diet entirely rather than merely eliminating meat. Moving to a new place where I would be eating lots of new foods anyway seemed like the perfect time to try, although in retrospect I should probably have considered the fact that Germans eat meat with EVERYTHING.

However, I actually haven't found it too difficult at all! I was never the biggest meat eater in the world, and although I have very occasional cravings for a burger they are nowhere near troublesome. I have been eating a lot of vegetables and taking care to vary my diet a lot, and also have been trying to eat more raw veg and salad, which is giving me loads more energy. I'm also having to get a bit more inventive when I cook, but this is really as a result of having two hobs to cook on and that's pretty much it - so I've been making soups a lot, and the odd curry. I made the transition to soya milk with my last carton, primarily because I was getting a little concerned about the amount of crap that ends up in dairy milk due to modern farming practises. It's fine in tea but it's taking a little getting used to on my cereal!

It amuses me a little that quite a few people have asked me if I feel less healthy/more tired since cutting meat out of my diet. I suppose the assumption is that, without the goodness meat provides, ones body will suffer - perhaps this would be the case if we were all eating only the finest choicest cuts of organically reared meat, but so much of the stuff people eat today is such crap! Minging sausages with 20% pork, McDonalds' burgers (1% of which on average is/has been in contact with fecal matter) and recompressed scrapings from factory floors? No, I don't feel less healthy having replaced those with wintergreen soups, avocado salads and vegetable curries!

I know it would be appropriate at this juncture to say something about my reasons for going (sort of) veggie, but to be honest I really can't be bothered right now, so that can wait for another day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bildungs Streik!

So I have just regretfully torn myself away from a protest march that was clamouring, chanting and dancing it`s way down Hauptstraße (the main shopping street\main street of die aldstadt in HD).

Basically, one of the main University buildings in Heidelberg has been occupied for a couple of weeks now. This occupation was done in solidarity with a number of other Universities throughout Europe as part of a wider movement - so at the same time in a number of different cities, other students and protesters were raising their voices to make their views heard. What they are saying is ostensibly challenging the 500 Euro per semester tuition fees that German students have to pay, but also essentially is tackling the wider issue of the commercialisation of education - and indeed, the destructive invasive capitalist direction our societies are taking.

What really struck me about this protest was just how many people were there, and passionately involved. Heidelberg is not a big city. For those of you looking for a British equivalent, it is rather like York, only smaller - or Chester. Furthermore, it is in an area of Germany known for its affluence and conservative politics. Yet hundreds of people turned up, despite the grim weather, and took part in the march that is just one part of a long day of planned events - including workshops. Further more, this was obviously a cross platform effort - with the usual socialist and protest groups that you would expect taking part, but also lots and lots of students that didnt seem to be what we might term "overly politicised." The march consisted, as I have said, of several hundred people snaking their way down the main street - there were so many of us that stood to watch and people applauded, took photos and even joined in. People watched and cheered from first story windows, including a young mother and a little boy, who we smiled and waved at.

Just to give a little context here, this is the equivalent of a student march right down the pedestrianised high street in Leeds, a protest so long and broad that all around it slowed to a stop, and that took ten minutes for itś participants to weave past, with bright banners and home made t shirts and songs and drums. Difficult to visualise? Thats probably because it would never ever happen in Leeds as it is now; it is an eternal source of mystery to me why we all just lie down and accept the horrific millstone of debt incurred by our 3 grand a year tuition fees - an amount far more obscene and crippling than the 500 euros a semester charge which has gotten German students so irate.

Even some English students I have met who are fairly progressive and political dont seem to see any particular problem with paying extortionate fees. The only conclusion I can draw from this (and believe me, I have given it a lot of thought, and research) is that the British higher education system has successfully transformed itś image and "Brand" to such an extent that most students now see their degree as a "product." Go to and, at the top of the page, splashed across the image that confronts you immediately when the page has loaded, is the tagline "Life on campus - Our single campus is a ten minute walk away from Leeds city centre." Increasingly, English students are being sold University as a "life experience" rather than an educational one - a finishing school for the middle classes. So why would they object to what might to some seem to be a reasonable cost for a product, rather than a choice? They fail to grasp the deeper ethical implications of applying a price tag to the pursuit of knowledge.

Finally, when you consider that over the next 5 or so years it is looking increasingly more certain that the Government intend to raise the cap on tuition fees, allowing unis like Leeds and other redbricks to charge what is conservatively estimated at around ten grand a year, it says a lot about the student population in England that collectively we dont seem to feel there is much point in protesting it. Were aligning ourselves more and more with the American model - where you get what you pay for, and if you cant then you dont - we are so quick to judge them on their healthcare system; do you really want our education system to go the exact same way?

(I hope I dont need to point out the necessary ramifications too much - save to say that I couldnt have afforded to go to Leeds if these were the fees, and I am not the only person I know who would be in the same position, and we have every single bit as much right to be there as any other student from a more affluent background. We already have a two tier primary and secondary education system in England - in this day and age it makes me very sad that we are even considering allowing this archaic mentality to spread to University level education, where people really should know better.)

But, while the apathy of UK students feeds my cynicism and gives me the feeling that the battle - maybe even the war - has already been won, the vibrance and the energy and the willingness to engage of our German cousins fills me with hope. Maybe there is still a chance for British society to stand up and let its voices fill our city streets with songs of dissent; but please, do hurry up before they put a price tag on that too.

More info:

PS please excuse poor grammar, Iḿ on a German keyboard in the library, will fix later

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

So I am getting on the train last night at twenty two minutes past ten in Berlin, to return to Heidelberg. Sitting down and preparing myself for a long journey (rocking in to HD at 5am, to be precise) when of course, naturally, who should sit down next to me but Talkative Weirdo. I don't know if you're familiar with this particular train passenger, but he is more or less the worst possible person to have sat beside you at the beginning of a long night train - even worse than, say, Hungry Weirdo (now with rustling plastic sweet wrappers included!) or Weirdo with Sticky Outy Albows, or even Weirdo with Slight Facial Tic (this guy is actually pretty okay and even sometimes adds a note of irreverant humour to proceedings.)Talkative Weirdo or his equivalent have also sat next to me on pretty much every journey over 5 hours long I have ever been on.
I sigh and stare longingly at one of the numerous empty seats surrounding us, tantalisingly close but kept far out of reach by the large and wittering man beside me, who has left me hemmed up against the side of the train carriage. Using my coat as a make shift pillow, I squash my head up against the window and prepare for a long night.

While I am sitting wedged up against the glass with a man jabbering away incomprehensively to my left, I cast my mind back over the events of the previous few days. Too disparate to cover in this blog (although I am sure I will write something about the mauerfall at some point) but nevertheless, worth commenting on. For some reason, I am reminded of a scene I witnessed in Kreuzberg, Berlin's hippy-yuppie district (think bong shops and expensive daycare centres) which I spent an enjoyable few hours exploring earlier. A trendy hippy-yuppie father and son combo and a lady who was clearly no relation to the child were stuck in a pavement deadlock scenario, with tears and tantrums clearly only seconds away. As I endeavoured to get past and out of the blastzone postehaste without exacerbating the situation, I heard this little snippet of interaction:

"Don't you want to go to the record store with Donna?" The father bleated in a baleful American accent, to his miniscule son complete with adorable miniscule brown leather jacket. I at first assumed he was just asking his child this in that way that parents do to disguise what is actually a statement as a question in order to make the child feel more autonomous in their actions, but as he began to repeat it with the same note of desperate cajole in his voice I realised that, no, this man was actually asking his tiny son whether he wanted to go check out the record store over the road with Donna (who wasn't the mother and remained passively uninvolved, looking desperately uninterested) and, furthermore, actually expecting a response.

I think at this juncture I need to highlight just how small this little boy was. He can't have been more than 3 - he was walking on his own, just about, so probably talking a bit, but despite his rather natty little leather jacket and tiny converse I sincerely doubt he was able to fathom that particular concept of vinyl as an aspirational accessory for the hipster elite. Furthermore, even if he DID have the desire to go over to try and track down a limited edition pressing of Robert Hood's Minimal Nation, it would probably be only for the purposes of chewing on it. Now, I don't have kids and so therefore that technically renders any opinions I might have on the matter legally irrelevant, but surely it's not healthy to be giving a 3 year old the burden of responsibility for making decisions about things he neither understands or cares about? And come on, a vinyl shop has got to be pretty fucking boring for someone under 6, at least if it's one of the brightly lit, sterile, surgical school of which this one was. F*cking yuppies

Returning to Heidelberg at 5 am, I am heartened, despite my sleep deprived and travel-sick zombification, to find there is a maverick homeless man outside the station playing slightly manic 80s cheese (which incidence of, sadly escapes me) on a portable stereo.

Moral of story: we can find our own spaces everywhere. Not always where we would think, and sometimes they are full of assholes

Sunday, November 01, 2009