A house is not a home


It sometimes seems strange to think I've spent my longest amount of time since I left the UK in Berlin; now over 2 years in a place I call home but of which I still seem to know so little. As I was travelling on the train on one of my loveliest journeys so far, I couldn't help looking up from my book to gaze out of the window at the landscapes around me. Further north there were golden stubbly fields of corn with shadows of the large heavy clouds above. We even went through Weimar which J. and I visited on our way to Berlin back in 2006 and where I've often longed to return.

Closer to Munich, raindrops started to fall, cars switched on their headlights and a damp mist was drifting over the trees. Fridays are meant to be about going home to warmth and light and evenings full of laughter and good food. I had a strange sense of belonging here although I can't really explain why. Many people ask me if I ever wish to return to the UK, if I don't long for British culture and miss my family. When I was growing up in my home town in the Midlands, I longed to leave for America or France, certain of finding people who would understand me, where no-one would find me too shy or my hair too dark and my skin too pale. I was certain such a place existed and when I started learning French after my very first visit to Paris in 2000, I also found that there's nothing I love more than speaking another language all day and being in a foreign place where you can observe people from the outside. It was so refreshing not to associate every word and object around me with things from my own life and after just moving to Lyon in 2005, I remember walking around Croix Rousse and feeling the freedom and space of a life elsewhere. In the evening. lights flickered softly on the Saône and from my apartment, I looked across to the Fourvière cathedral like a giant wedding cake on the hill and in the other direction over the roofs of Lyon to the Crayon. For the first three years, nothing else mattered except distancing myself from my old life, believing I could be someone different, yet over time I also realised that I'll probably always be an outsider wherever I go but perhaps that's not such a bad thing either.

The Fourvière in Lyon

Returning to Britain, those I knew before have left and I find myself able to appreciate things missing here which are important to me after all, even if that doesn't mean I want to go back there soon. At the same time though, there's a strangeness of seeing old places with new eyes. And Berlin? Perhaps it's my city because it was divided and it's still so new. I can't pretend to be like the real Berliners but then again there's not so many of them left. Yet there's a feeling of being able to do anything here which inspires and for the moment, I'm always happy to come back to it.

On Saturday, J. took me out to the Tegernsee close to Munich. There's a kind of coldness as so many rich people live in ugly mansions with high black gates guarded by dogs. Yet when we wandered down to the lakeside for one of the finest strudels and coffee, the sun came out and the lake appeared in all its loveliness as a boat pulled into the harbour. The water was clear and smooth and the colours seemed to come alive with the final rays of the most beautiful evening sun. Sometimes it seems difficult to connect with others and I understand so little, least of all about myself but at that moment, everything was of a perfect simplicity and you could just enjoy the experience for what it was.

Coming back, the sun cast long shadows on the greenest fields I've ever seen and I wanted the moment to last and last.

On Sunday, I decided to make a banana cake because it felt like the most comforting and homely cake there was. I hadn't made it for such a long time but felt inspired by Ju's delicious 5 banana cake. Normally, I'd have made it in a loaf tin and called it banana bread but there were none to be found in J.'s kitchen. It's perfect with crème fraîche and tea to accompany a long weekend film or at breakfast with a rich, frothy hot chocolate.

Banana cake/ bread

100g butter
120g sugar
200g plain flour
1 sachet baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 ripe bananas (the riper the better, even if you don't normally like them in this state!)
100 ml milk
4 large eggs

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.

1. Begin by creaming the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one but don't worry if you have one or two lumps - they'll disappear.
2. Mash the bananas in a bowl using a fork until smooth. Stir into the egg mixture.
3. Sift the remaining dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and cinnamon) together into a bowl. Alternate spoonfuls of the flour mixture with the milk, blending well with a balloon whisk until you have a nice smooth batter. Then pour into a greased and lined Springform or loaf tin and bake for 30-40 mins.


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