Notes From a Fragile Island. 22

June 18 2018 (Berlin)

Three schoolgirls, skirted & shirted, each with a small rucksack across their white cottoned back, play a neat dance game in the carriage on the 7 u-bahn. They spin & clap the upturned soles of their smart shoes together, spin & slap palms. A pleated chorus of words & laughter accompanies the frenetic routine and the motion of the train is subsumed into the dance. The dark glass reflects. Occasionally, the laughter or the words or the movement of the trio, will draw momentary glances from other commuters. The world beyond the window suddenly bursts with colour; a blur of crimson & cream rapidly slows to become Rohrdamm station.

Sat, with one corduroy leg hooked over the other, a man with a long, ashen face & dark-blue eyelids, thumbs the pages of a book, first one way, then the other, beneath his black nostrils. He breathes in deeply, exhales, opens his eyes, looks around briefly, exchanges this leg for that, closes his eyes again & repeats the process.

At Bismarckstrasse, a woman steps from the platform onto the train. She glances up & down the carriage with a look of cool disdain. I assume that she is searching out a seat, but a young man close to her offers his by raising his thick eyebrows. She looks down at him, declines the offer (also with an eyebrow movement) and produces a paper napkin from her sleeve. As the train begins to move, she unfolds the napkin, places it carefully in her palm & then, with something akin to a sneer, takes hold of the strap swinging above her elegantly bobbed head.

Johanniterstrasse 8 is quiet but for the unseen, happy little birds in the trees & the occasional low rumble of the s-Bahn passing over Merringdamm. It is a warm evening & I have the window open. The vast voile curtain ghosts the pastel brown flats opposite, allows the aromas of Kreuzberg and deters bugs. I am drinking a Berliner Pilsner that I have chilled in the filled bathroom basin. What are the aromas of Kreuzberg? I want to say, straight off the cuff, oranges & copper. But are these truly present? They are, I suspect, latent, secondary, suggested perfumes. Kreuzberg, to my mind this hour, tastes of asphalt, almonds & alders, iron & urine, pastries & Pilsner, summer dusk…

…and then, suddenly, from one of the flats across the street, a trumpet sounds. Someone teases a slow & smiling version of Smoke On The Water from the instrument! And, this, this is the aroma of Kreuzberg this evening!

June 18 2019 (Surf Café)

Stand outside and smoke and drink my pint-for-playing and chat with Julie M about Berlin. She wears black leather gloves and her hair is chignon’d. She appears to study the way I smoke my cigarette. I like it.

Watch The Cornshacks. They are dressed, quite naturally, as if they have arrived from a 1947 Kansas. They play cowboys from Cullercoats country in moonshine.

It has developed into something of a joke that Vicky G always arrives just as I’m leaving and sometimes vice versa. It’s a something and nothing joke; heavy with poignancy, devoid of hope.

The coastline is particularly stunning tonight. I walk with The Cornshacks toward Cullercoats. I guess we live on neighbouring ranches. Mick Cornshack wears a Baker boy hat. We chat about Wimbledon and Lou Reed. Jill Cornshack wears dungarees. She plays the washboard as we walk and makes things that are said into song. She has a canine missing on the left side of her mouth. It is only noticeable when she smiles, which, thankfully, is often. I like it.

June 18 2021 (Cullercoats – Crystal Palace)

The quietest week at work in the north for some time. I wonder why? There is Iain H’s latest screw-up to consider. He is a prize idiot and his shenanigans will cause inevitable ripples throughout the locale – though he is too dense of skin and limited of brain and finesse to realise this. However, beyond my proximity to his idiocy I will, with luck, escape any repercussions that come his way.

I take a train south and wonder again, why so quiet? So much so that I have no work booked in for Sunday (20th), which is unusual. Still, there is no point in trying to figure out why – beyond accepting that plague life has altered reality to some extent. Having already booked my return journey I find that I can’t change my train north on Sunday evening. No worries. Perhaps it is in the cards? A cursory examination of the situation reveals that it is Fathers’ Day and being in the south and 2 miles from dad’s vicinity, I should take the opportunity to visit him (if possible). I try to remember the last time I saw him. The best answer I can come up with is that it is over a year ago. This is partly due to my location – distance brings removal – and also, the times that I am in the south are, though regular, brief (and usually very busy). But, beyond these physical restraints, there are the mental chains: I am in denial of his decline; it horrifies and saddens and, as I say, distance brings removal… and vice versa. Yes, it is in the cards. I shall endeavour to visit and face the future/the present/the past.

I have been pondering Mark Rothko for some reason this week and have a yen to stand before some of his pieces. I plan tomorrow to sleep-in, hang out with mum, visit dad, head into the city centre and to Millbank. I remember now that the Turner exhibition hangs at The Tate, too, and being able to stand before both of these giants will be just the tonic I need.

I am thankful for strangely quiet weeks at work!

9 thoughts on “Notes From a Fragile Island. 22

  1. Your story ends on a quiet note. Quite literally. The pandemic has slowed life down, taking away the subtle sounds, sights, and liberties that were most taken for granted. It may be a time to reflect and rekindle stagnant relations. You’ve put this across in such a subtle yet meaningful way.
    Wonderful writing, Nick! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s solstice tomorrow in the north, near lunch time for you I reckon, falls in the evening here on the Pacific. Moon in Scorpio. Too much light to bear it seems, just as how in six months time the darkness will be too heavy to bear. Standing before giants

    Liked by 1 person

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