On a Sunday that opened with sunshine, grew grey and grizzly then threw in a bit of snow and a lot of rain before closing with skies of blue and white, Silke and I drove to Metelen to see Cathy. Metelen is a small village very close to Holland and Cathy herself lives a mere stone’s throw from the border. This excites me. You all know how I feel about crossing borders. We ate homemade Nutella meringue cake, wildberry cheesecake and drank coffee with Cathy’s Australian Cattle Dog, Jack. Jack is amazing. He hails from the Blue Mountains. He is a little piece of home trotting about the German countryside. I did note his farm instincts have been blunted somewhat, but he is bilingual, so you can’t have everything.
On the way home, Silks and I pulled over to take a few shots of the wonderfully enigmatic landscape. Barely a soul passed us by as we stood snapping on the endless road.
The other day, I wrote about how, with two weeks left in Münster, I am trying to suck as much of it into my lungs as possible. How, suspended in this limbo, I am trying not to hurry time along so I can get on with things, but asking it to allow me enough of it, to truly appreciate the past 14 months. I am now about to completely contradict myself because there is another, loud, verbal, demanding part of me, one that is completely preoccupied with moving. Fixated on it. Willing it along. Placing the burden of expectation upon it, waiting for it to give, give, give … now, now, now.
One of the main reasons I based myself in Germany was because it is in the middle of Europe. Bang smack in the middle, with nine borders to boot. I would be able to experience living and working in a new culture as well as travel when time and money permitted. And travel I did; to Amsterdam by campervan, to Brussels by train and Dublin by plane. We drove to Denmark for a day trip and across to Bruges and Ghent for a weekend. I flew to London to visit my parents and Santorini was but a stone’s throw away for summer (as opposed to the first time I decided I was going to spend a summer in Santorini, when it took 24 hours and cost $3000 to get there). And then there was Germany itself. Münster, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Nürnberg, Fürth, Köln, Osnabrück, Kiel and the soon to be new home, Weiden. It was all trains, planes and the autobahn.
Quite obviously, I love to travel. It brings something out of me, something I feel is rather important. I love that thrill of being somewhere new, that bubbling in your stomach as you disembark somewhere completely unknown. I like standing in foreign supermarkets, drinking in foreign bars. I like sitting in cafes and lying in parks. I just like being in different places. I like having that difference to look forward to, to plan. Or to enjoy spontaneously because a weekend is free and tickets are cheap. This was the fuel that drove my Big Move to Germany. And after my Big Move to Germany, this fuel was going to drive me to Spain or China, where I would spend another year working and living in a different country, surrounded by different people and a different language. And after that, to London, perhaps, to finally give that whole Australian-living-in-London thing a go.
But then, someone happened. And then, after many months and three extraordinary weeks together on an extraordinary island, that someone and I decided long distance just wasn’t going to cut it. Cross country just wasn’t going to cut it. Add to this the fact that I was ready to plan my next adventure, ready to leave the cosy confines of Münster, and he was moving to the south-east of Germany, a whole different country, depending on who you ask. It made sense to move in together.
So everything changed, and in changing, many things ground to a halt, including travel plans. After a spontaneous Belgian stint in October last year, border crossing got bumped down a notch on the priorities ladder. Travel became weekend trips to visit SG in whatever city he was working, and then ten days in the north of Germany for Christmas. Money had to be put towards train tickets and petrol, commuting 8 hours to said place from Münster, for apartment viewings and job interviews, then furnishing a new place.
As a consequence of all of these things, I have stayed longer in one place than I planned. And those feet I thought may have slowed down a little, are beginning to tap again, with restlessness, with frustration. It makes me wonder if I will ever settle and with what amount of strength I will have to fight myself, when the first year has passed in Weiden. When I am knee deep in a Bavarian winter, staring out the window, dreaming of the south of France or Jamaica. It makes me feel a little sorry for just how much wanderlust harping SG is going to cop. Good thing he likes mini-breaks.
We have things planned, once we’re settled down there. And thank God, otherwise I would do my head in. A day trip to München for lunch and a gig, a train trip to Prague. SG wants to drive to Italy in April for a little sojourn and we will go to Santorini for two weeks in the summer. Moving, finally, 6 months after it was first discussed, will be an all consuming antidote to this extraordinary restlessness that currently pervades my days. Moving will be a new town and new borders. But ultimately, moving, when it finally happens, will be extremely satisfying because, it willfuse the reason I came here, with the reason I am staying.
I am beginning to go quite mad. It happened around this time last year, as well. I remember looking out my hotel window in Hamburg and realising it had snowed over night – albeit sparsely and for about five minutes – and feeling a wave of utter, crashing disappointment. The disappointment was followed by a flash of something like lunacy, which, as it happens, is one step up from pure, unbridled disappointment. I didn’t want to see snow anymore. I didn’t want to be cold anymore. I had been cold, at that point, for 5 months. My skin had not known sunlight for five months*. One can get rickets from not seeing sunlight for 5 months. I was sick of wearing a jacket, I was sick of wearing boots, I was sick of wearing a fucking scarf and I thought, surely, surely, it is coming to an end. Surely this is the point the sun comes out and everything warms up and people start smiling again and living outdoors, once more, becomes a possibility. And as I was thinking of this, as I was assuming this, I looked out the window and saw this. And started a low, grief stricken wail.
And so it has come to pass, that twelve months later, a similar level of madness is being approached. My flat mate arrived home at 7.30 tonight, to find me tucked up in bed, wearing my pyjamas, applying eye cream, for all the world as if I was about to bed down for the night. She gently mentioned my attire and indeed my locale and I said, ‘quite honestly, I have been in my pyjamas since 6pm.’ Why? Because it feels natural to shower and put on pyjamas when it is dark, or as good as, outside. Just like it feels natural to be in bed when it is chilly and pitch black outside one’s bedroom window. And in pyjamas (or variants of) and in bed embarrassingly early have I been, for months now. Because I don’t want to be anywhere else. Because there is no reason to want to be outside. There is no reason to be outside, unless one’s idea of a good time is to get rained on, be uncomfortably damp, shivery, red faced, sweaty beneath layers of thick, unbecoming garments and icy of extremities.
Listen to you, you may say, you sound like such a Negative Nelly.
This is what hours and hours of fucking darkness does to people. Pillages them of motivation, of energy, of desire, of, as the Germans say, lust, to do anything. Sucks them dry of their vitamin stores. Ravages their stashes of positivity. Depletes their stocks of dopamine. This is what day after day of low, grey skies, malevolently plump with the ever-present threat of rain, does to people. Drives them around the bend. Makes them go completely and utterly mad. Turns them into snarling, complaining, vile, stroppy beasts who see no light in the world, no fun.
I want to have bare feet and legs. I want to wear a dress. I want to not be cold when I get out of bed.
I just want to feel warm again.
* This is a long time when you come from a country that really only has a winter that lasts 2 months. And it isn’t even that cold.
My days of being a Nord-Rhine Westphalian are coming to an end. This limbo I am in, hovering between saying goodbye to one story and hello to another, is shortening with every lengthening day. As restless as I am, anxious to pack everything into boxes and install it within the four walls of the new place, I can’t help but feel this almost overwhelming sense of sentimentalism. Münster has been … well, enormous. It has known great love and rage and worry. It has known mistakes and little triumphs, hangovers, thick, white snow and unseasonably sticky Spring days. It has patiently given me all that it needed to, to fill the pages and colour everything in. Friendships with like minds, acceptance of what I have grown into and what I cannot and should not change. Work and thus colleagues and students who have educated me as richly as anyone or anything else could. Love. It has flung me in a direction I never really thought I would go in.
And so, with our days together slowly coming to an end, I have found myself trying to suck as much of Münster into my lungs as possible. The cold snap has brought with it high, blue skies and cool, pale sunshine, the perfect framework for enjoying the city’s old, blackened church spires and pointed red roofs. The canal and the Aasee have frozen over, and I see kids slipping and sliding or poking at the ice, when I look out the bus window on the way home from work. The walk to work passes by a tiny little stream that is completely white now and, some mornings, rabbits use it as an icy bridge, hopping from one grassy hill to another.
As often as possible, I visit Silke and Hanne and Ella and we eat biscuits and cake and play games, or drink tea on the couch. Hanne, with the customary authority of a six year old, reminds me of noun endings and articles and Ella enjoys every single baked good I bring. It is always warm and comfortable on Silke’s couch and few things remind me more of the importance and loveliness of good, true connections.
On Friday afternoon, I got off the bus a few stops early and went to the bookshop before meeting a colleague and friend at the Krimphove, and old, creaky, cosy cafe of three levels. We drank cafe au lait and shot the breeze, two girls of the same age doing a very similar thing in the same German city. A comforting bond.
Having Dee here, gave me reason to do things. We had tea overlooking the main shopping street, dinner at the Portugese restaurant opposite my place, went to a wine bar in Kuhviertl, ate giant schnitzels at Das Blau Haus and gorged on tapas at La Corrida. We revelled in it being -2 degrees and therefore officially ‘Dee’s Coldest Day Ever’. Three days later we shivered in Nürnberg at -20, a day that officially became the coldest day yet for both of us.
Wine Time, always celebrated in our apartment, has taken on a nostalgic tinge now. This weekend, my flatmate and I extended Wine Time – usually a couple of hours in the kitchen talking, per week, her with a bottle of white, me with red – over Friday and Saturday night. Saturday night careered from conversation to story telling to makeshift chicken enchiladas and somehow evolved into a personal jam session which itself ended with a two hour dance off. It was hugely necessary. How often does one get to crump in one’s kitchen, wearing flannel pyjamas, with a kindred spirit? Not often enough.
I live, and have been in living, in a truly beautiful part of the world, one different in so many ways to what I grew up with and what I am used to. And I will leave it soon, for another town, different again in many ways. With 19 days to go, I suppose what I am really doing is walking a little more slowly. Taking as much of it in before it stops being my daily surroundings and starts being fodder for ‘I used to live in this city …’ conversations. Really looking out the bus window and noticing things I haven’t before. Like, for example, the recent reconstruction work on Münster’s glorious cathedral, St Paulus Dom, has finished. Looking at the thousands of little flags that have been strung up over Prinzipalmarkt for Rosenmontag. I want to visit the big food markets that cover the Domplatz every Wednesday and Saturday, one more time. I want to have one more freezing walk around the Aasee.
And of course, with 19 days to go, I want just one more night at the local, a pub that really has, over the past 15 months, seen it all. And will, most likely, see the last big night of them all.
SG cooked breakfast on the one-hob camping stove and we did the dishes in the bathroom sink. The kitchen is still a month off arriving and the TV is balancing on a bedside table. But the dining room, with its two chairs and outdoors table has been painted the colour of a Santorini sunrise and the matching ‘feature wall’ in the living room glows in the afternoon sun. Lights have been installed, the guest bathroom has a mirror and the study has acquired a new piece of work out equipment and now appears to be 90% home gym, 10% my home office. It’s getting there, our new home. In three weeks, it will be on the receiving end of everything I have collected in my 14 months here (and all the cups and mugs I keep buying because it soothes my feelings of apartment-helping impotency, being so far away). Then will come the furniture shop binges, the delivery of SG’s Monster Couch and bit by bit, we will settle in. New town, new jobs, new home.
I finally made it into the centre of Weiden last weekend. We live but a five minute trot from the shopping stretch and a seven minute stroll from the Altstadt. Which isn’t a hugely uncommon feature of an apartment in a town the size of Weiden. It was freezing, the sky was high and a brilliant blue, and I took about 700 photos of, as SG gently pointed out when I asked him to send them to me, ‘basically the same things but from a slightly different angle.’
But the town centre is cute. It is colourful and quaint and old, with a teeny Rathaus and plenty of cafes framing the cobbled platz. In the summer, the place must come alive with long wooden benches outside the restaurant and the late-setting sun warming the shiny stones. Sitting in The Black Bean, I said to SG, ‘I can do this. I can live here.’
I love words. I love stories. I love books. I love writing. I love creating opportunities for other writers. I love creating projects that enable me to wade even further into the English language and all its possibilities. I love the enthusiasm, vibrancy and voice of Sandi Sieger. And all of this love has been funneled into a new project, a Love Project. This new project, O&S Publishing, named for myself and Sandi and for its global, ‘overseas’ nature, is all about creating quality e-books and helping writers along the way. It is designed as both an informative, resourceful writer’s hub and an e-publishing platform, producing e-books for readers who are hungry for fresh, new voices.
It started, of course, with an idea. Quite a humble one, really. We wanted to gather together a handful of top notch writers and have them write a short story in the style of one of their key literary influences. The idea being to publish an anthology that was as much a homage to previous and enduring greatness as a display of undervalued talent. We duly gathered the writers, they duly wrote their stories and then something happened. A bigger idea took seed.
What if we didn’t stop at just one anthology? What if this anthology was just the beginning, the launch of something ongoing, innovative and nurturing? So we asked ourselves, over a flurry of across-the-seas emails – what can we do in order to be able to continually publish collections and titles? Create a publishing platform, naturally. And make it elecontric – everyone has an iSomething or a Kindle or a laptop. Publishing electronically would give us full control over each title – and would make the reach of each title so much further – e-books that can be accessed from India to Italy, Australia to America.
Fantastic. Wonderful. Perfect. Let’s do it.
But what if, we asked ourselves, what if that platform could also act as a hub for writers and readers alike? A place where one can not only buy brilliant, quality titles from original voices, but also read author interviews, industry news and expert advice. Where hungry readers could follow writing and publishing journeys? What if our publishing platform could act as a warm, cosy, inviting bookshop and provide the communal, shared atmosphere of a cafe? What if, what if.
So we did it. Or, perhaps better put, we are in the process of doing it. We aim to build a an e-library of quality literature from writers we believe in. Alongside publishing these titles – at a rate that reflects time, effort and quality, so not a particularly speedy one – we will feature interviews with writers, tips and advice, literary happenings around the globe and a blog that tracks each title’s progress.