July is turning out to be a bit of a cruddy one this year. The sky looks permanently like a huge blanket of grey felt has been spread over it, and the rain fluctuates between ‘gentle drizzle’ and ‘downpour so intense that you’d be drier submerged in the sea’. But that doesn’t mean you have to have a lame summer! Here are my top tips for making the most of your 2016 summer months even when skies are dreary!
Once again, I am in an airport, waiting for a flight back to Berlin. Usually I am excited, calmed, relieved to be going back. But this time I am embarrassed. I have to go back to wonderful Germany and become another unwilling representative of what my home country has done over the last week and a bit. I have to join the ranks of British expats living in Berlin, palms superglued to their faces as they try to digest the constantly spiralling idiocy that is taking place.
What happened as a result of the referendum was a calamity. Hearing the news, and watching it unfold day by day, has been like a person watching their middle-aged father make a series of ill-advised and insane decisions as the result of a sudden mid-life crisis. Dad has quit his job to try to set up a ska band with his friends. Now he has spent much of his savings on an autographed Stratocaster. Now he has left Mum to shack up with a 39-year-old groupie who runs a cattery. Oh god. What will we say to him at Christmas?
I’d like to tell you about a referendum.
For those of you who don’t live in the UK, this is what it’s like going to the doctors’ there:
You: Hello, I’m here to see Dr Frimbly.
Receptionist: Great, take a seat and she’ll call you through shortly.
For those of you who don’t live in Germany, this is what it’s like going to the doctors’ here:
You: Hello, I’m here to see Dr Schlampitz.
Receptionist: OK, and what is wrong with you?
In case it’s not clear, there is a key difference between the two scenarios. In Germany, the receptionist expects you to DESCRIBE YOUR HEALTH ISSUE IN PUBLIC. Yes. In front of the waiting room full of annoyed grannies and pregnant ladies, who have been waiting for a while and have nothing better to do than to eavesdrop, your not-medically-qualified receptionist requires you to describe your raging hemorrhoids/sixth bout of chlamydia/gout-related halitosis.
The first time this happened, I could scarcely believe my ears. It’s not like my reason for going to the doctor’s was particularly embarrassing, but I wasn’t in the mood to share it with this roomful of strangers. Things got worse when I first had to go to the ‘Frauenarzt’ (for a blood test – because evidently female blood is different to male blood) and the receptionist wanted me to declare the last time I had had my period. I half expected her to also ask what I’d had for lunch and what colour my knickers were.
Today, as I quite often do on a Sunday, I went for a jog. Once a week I like to do something exercise-y that doesn’t involve being in the grey, technopop confines of the gym – but for a very long time I was too anxious to go running or do any exercise outdoors. I was too ashamed and worried about what people would do and say to me as a female runner out in public; particularly as one who was neither athletic-looking nor adult-looking at all.
These days I just don’t care as much about what people might think of me, which frees me up for the unspeakable luxury of running outdoors, but my fears and anxieties were far from unfounded. Running outdoors while being female seems to arouse impulsive, uncontrollable behaviours from onlookers and passers-by. Behaviours which, as my experience today proved, are exacerbated manyfold when you are running while being female in the snow. Now, it may not be untrue to say that anyone who runs in the snow is a maniac to begin with, but the anthropological fallout of this action is fascinating. Let’s take a look at some of the main experiences you can enjoy if you too would like to have a go at Running While Female.
To my shock, I have started 2016 with over 1000 followers on my Facebook page. Granted, the majority of those will be bots and fake accounts ‘like’-ing everything indiscriminately, from personal blogs to violent pornography to artisanal mustard. Nonetheless, I like looking at that number.
I’ve been thinking for a long time about what the point is of writing this blog anymore. When I started writing in 2010, it was to journal my year abroad as a gift for my future self, who would surely want to look back at the photos and stories from that manic year which made me the person I am now. Over time, it has become a repository for unsorted experiences, thoughts and outrages, as well as my one opportunity to write; because in truth, creating texts for websites doesn’t feel like writing so much as delivering a low-budget daytime infomercial though the medium of type.
Sadly it’s obvious that The Blog qua Blog is dying out. Understandably so. No-one wants to read rambling prose by a nobody about nothing. Especially not if it isn’t in listicle form – though for the record, I am a great supporter of listicles and my only complaint about them is that the portmanteau sounds less like a mashup of list + article and more like a mashup of listerine + testicle.
There are a few blog genres that will survive The Great Unfollowing. Cooking blogs are the obvious ones; people love to look at good photos of delicious-looking food, and it’s an instinct that won’t wear out anytime soon. Cooking blogs are not about cooking. They are about the pleasure and thrill of looking at gorgeous food in aspirational settings, in a time when we are all being told that what we eat, whatever we eat and in whatever quantity, is wrong. Also, they are about food porn, and about people’s high-octane health obsessions, and about looking at pleasing photographic art which does not presume to make existential statements.
Travel blogs will probably be fine for a while, because travel is a thing people do rarely, and when they do it, they want to do it right. No-one under the age of 40 really trusts printed travel guides anymore; it is like getting clubbing recommendations from your gran. It feels better to turn to bloggers, who are adventurous young travellers, never tourists, and who somehow manage to pay for their travel by writing about their travel to pay for their travel. Travel bloggers give you something by sharing the best side of a destination with you. And, although I am just guessing here, I suspect that travel bloggers all have admirable facial hair and never need a wingman in bars.
Mothering blogs will survive, because mums have a mafia-like grip on the internet which is acknowledged by no-one and felt by everyone. Health and exercise blogs will continue to thrive because there is no limit to how much people will read if they think they will find the definitive secret to getting bodacious thighs. And specialist blogs documenting things like steam locomotive trainspotting or exotic bird rearing will persist on a low hum for the time being thanks to their small but avid readerships of fellow trainspotters and bird fanciers who read and comment with the kind of heartfelt gusto every single blogger on the planet would kill for from their readers.
Formless blogs like this one just exist for themselves. Guten Morgen Berlin is just my online workbench where I can try things out, with a stack of disoranised papers in the corner, empty tea mugs dotted around the peripheries and a selection of wood shavings and bits of receipts scattered in between the things I am trying to cobble together.
2016 is going to be my year of trying things out. I’m going to try projects I have wanted to do for years and see if I can go further doing the things that I never thought I could do. I’m going to help the campaign for the Berlin bike safety government petition. I’m going to try writing a script and a series of books for kids. I’m going to build websites and create a new home for Guten Morgen Grammar with downloadable teaching resources to be used in schools. I’m going to learn to animate and finish figuring out what the hell MySQL is all about. I shall make things with silver, glass, wood and fabric. I shall see if anyone wants to pay me to write things. I will practise my guitar more. I will figure out what the deal is with vanishing points. I will grow back the fingertip which I sliced off earlier while making salad. I will go months at a time without falling off my bike.
And if I don’t manage any of that, at least I will have fun writing about it all here.
You know that guy who lives down the road and always parks his car across the zebra crossing? The car which has a lovely vinyl sticker of a soft-pornographic silhouette on its bumper? Well it doesn’t matter whether you know him or not, the second clause in each of those previous sentences were relative clauses: clauses which refer back to a noun which was mentioned in the previous clause, i.e. ‘..who lives down the road…’ (the guy), ‘which has a lovely sticker…’ (the car).
We use them in English and German all the time; if you don’t believe me, try to keep an ear out next time you have a conversation with someone for the number of times you or your friend refer to ‘the something who/which…’. It’s a extremely useful construction and, if you hadn’t already guessed, it’s got a few important rules in German in order to get it right.
One of my beloved regular readers requested a lesson on using the simple past in everyday conversation, so hold on to your jimjams because HERE WE GO.
First things first: let’s decide on our terminology. Lots of people call this tense the ‘past historic’, presumably alluding to the ‘passé historique’ in French whose sole purpose is to create lingering acidic hatred in secondary schoolkids. I don’t really think this name is very helpful as it just sounds poncey and doesn’t enlighten us at all about what the tense is actually doing. Others call it the ‘imperfect past tense’, which is a terrible idea because this tense doesn’t suggest any ‘imperfect’ meaning, as we’ll see in a second. The other name for this tense is the ‘simple past’, and that’s my preferred nomenclature because it says it like it is: this is a form of the past tense which is simpler than the other form (“ich habe gesehen”) because it only uses one word rather than two (“ich sah”).
So what’s the main difference between the simple past and the non-simple past (usually called the present perfect)? In terms of meaning, none at all. A past-tense sentence written in the present perfect means exactly the same as a past-tense sentence written in the simple past:
Ich habe ihm meine Telefonnummer gegeben.
Ich gab ihm meine Telefonnummer.
Both of these sentences mean ‘I gave him my phone number’. There is no difference in meaning; they are the same sentence to all intents and purposes. The present perfect is formed with a present-tense form of ‘haben’ or ‘sein’ plus a past-participle, which is why we call it the ‘present perfect’ in the first place, while the simple past is just formed with one word which, in all its simple and unified glory, encapsulates the whole idea of past-ness by itself.
The craft community has a great many factions. Of course, you always start off with the hordes of grandmas knitting and stitching lovely things for people who can’t wait to wear them ironically outside a pulled-pork food truck somewhere. Then there are the cutesy crafters who insist on making things covered with emblems of cupcakes and owls, and pretend to ‘upcycle’ by using brand-new mason jars for non-jar-related purposes, and fashion cozies for everything and anything which actually manages to stay at a completely acceptable temperature by itself. There are the grunge-crafters, who like old pallets (a coffee table!) and worn-out jeans (a hammock for onions!) and enjoy making wallets and even wedding dresses out of duct tape. There are crafters who become craftsmen, making glorious leatherwares or carpentry which sell for thousands of pounds. There are the nerdcore crafters, whose hearts are lifted by the sight of the triforce and who still have their embroidered ‘The cake is a lie’ and Doge cushion covers proudly adorning their sofas. There are thousands of us, in our different schools of craftery – a spectrum of makers, gluing and burnishing and felting all across the globe.
And yet there seems only to be one kind of publication on the newsstands for crafters. They are called mind-shrivellingly uninspiring titles like ‘Country Craftz’ or ‘You can craft it!’, with some blonde smiling bint on the cover, showing off a cheeky nautical-themed bathroom door decoration, or an Easter card with a garish felted chick. They feature projects where you ruin perfectly good wine glasses by pointlessly gluing rhinestones onto them, or you ‘make’ a set of wedding invitations by sticking pre-bought decorations onto pre-made card bases from SimplyStylin(R) card supplies (full catalogue overleaf!). They use gnarly cursive fonts or pathetic faux handwritten text which looks like Comic Sans’ leprotic cousin. And they are saturated with oestrogen, bloated with ads and sponsored articles, monuments to trashy writing. Such uninspiring fodder for legions of the inspired.
Thankfully, the internet exists, and it is now full of joyfully mental craft blogs for every different kind of crafter. But the big mummy and daddy of them all are Make:zine and Craft:zine, two online and (I believe subsequently) print publications which have quality, well-curate content. I started out reading Craft:zine’s online blog every single day when I was younger, but gradually started to lose interest as the posts became less about awesome DIY crafting tips and more about new iterations of utterly needless cozies. At that point I found myself drifting towards Make:zine, which is more focused towards DIY tech, amateur circuitry and other such fascinating homespun hacks (my favourite, which I will always remember, was a guy who had built an automatic catfood bowl built to only open for certain cats, founded on the mechanism of an old computer CD tray). Not long after that they completely buggered up their web design such that browsing the site these days is like trying to read a book where the back 200 pages are stuck together and the front 50 pages have been torn out and thrown around by an angry gibbon. But that never stopped me longing to go to their Maker Faire convention, where makers and techers of the world get together to show off their shizz. And then, this weekend, for the first time, it came to Berlin.