The writing on the wall

on

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The stars are the gleaming eyes of velvet mice
The moon is the eye of heaven
The moon is a silver pool reflecting dreams
The moon is a silver snowball frozen in a dark sky
The moon is a bowl of custard in a dark cupboard.
The moon is a silver football kicked into the sky

My mother found those lines in a text we wrote together about the moon when I was around seven years old and I cannot help thinking it's a much more original description (especially the bit about the custard) than anything I could come up with today. Writing back then was a pleasure for me, brought on from all those books about laundries that didn't wash babies or the little dog that couldn't sleep. In school assembly one day, many of my classmates were given prizes for their achievements and at the end the headmistress started to read out a story which became more and more familiar to me because it was my own. It felt strange to listen to my words on someone else's lips and at the end when she asked the author to come forward I felt too uncomfortable and then later disappointed not to also get a prize.

Perhaps if I'd kept on writing I'd find it easier today. For a long time, I somehow believed it was my chosen path in life which I would eventually come around to and many of you have encouraged me to work on some stories or a book but try as I might, I just can't get the different elements together. I often wondered how it was that I could live in Berlin and know so many interesting people yet still have nothing to write about, convinced that I must be another Barton Fink. Recently I bought a book on creative writing and found it fun to do the exercises; listing all the places that I've lived, the jobs that I've done, the hobbies of my closest friends; starting the day with some free writing to make the words flow; collecting clippings from newspapers with interesting stories and looking at photographs for ideas. Still, there remains the intimidating, empty sheet of white paper in front of me. Perhaps it's because I can't sit still for very long and already know that being glued to my chair while I find the right words or the endless rewriting would drive me crazy; perhaps it's because I have too much respect for the printed word that everything I seem to produce seems pointless in comparison but it might also be the fact that whenever I try to write fiction that authenticity I value so much is missing and everything sounds pretentious which I can't stand. I've read so many texts by people that I know which follow this pattern and it simply makes me sad to hear their natural voice drowned out for the sake of style or sounding intellectual.

I often think of Truman Capote's words in the introduction to Music for Chameleons:

"Then one day I started writing, not knowing that I had chained myself for life to a noble but merciless master. When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended solely for self-flagellation."

I lack the courage to pick up the whip. Strangely though since I've abandoned the idea (or let's say put it to one side for the moment), there's no impression of being a failure but instead a liberation. That instead of forcing myself to sit for an hour I can be outside with my camera, the pressure and frustration that came over me seeing a bestseller by an author younger than me or the same age is gone and there simply remains the enjoyment of reading other people's words, of admiring all the hard work that goes into producing a book. Maybe in the future I'll find a way of putting the words and images together, of letting my natural voice be heard in a story and find the words that do justice to the people and things around me but if not, I'm no longer afraid of being ordinary, of staying in the background or walking alone.

Below are some photos from my walk round Kreuzberg, Mitte and Charlottenburg last Friday when the glacial wind made me feel as if someone had slapped my face and which left my fingers numb and raw whenever I took my gloves off. But the light was simply too good to miss. Afterwards, there was a reward of a hot chocolate in charming little café on Großbeerenstraße and an afternoon screening of the King's Speech which left me inspired. I'd also like to tell you that I have started a new blog called Pictures in the Smoke, based mainly around the films that I watch. Reading the lovely Hila's blog and her wonderful reviews has made me keen to also write a little about them, although I'm still finding my way and hope to get better.

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My view from work

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One of the most popular places for Currywurst in Berlin on Mehringdamm

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In the Viktoria Park

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The Tempodrom

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In the Regierungsviertel

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Ice on the river Spree

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Huskies on Potsdamer Platz

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Evening on the Ku'damm

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One of my favourite English language bookshops

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At Zoologischer Garten; on the left you can see the old Zoo Palast cinema, soon to be demolished

Sunday mornings should be special. If you're lucky you wake up to sunshine but I always love the calmness of Berlin with the shops closed and the bells chiming around 10am. It's the day when I like to take my time and prepare something special for breakfast.

You could make Clothilde's wonderful granola which I eat with yoghurt and fruit.

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You could also make these fresh cinnamon rolls from the Moomins cookbook. I made them first with only sugar and cinnamon as a filling but found this a little dull so used to filling Nigella Lawson suggests in How to be a Domestic Goddess.

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Cinnamon rolls

3 sachets of instant yeast (yes, really) or 1 cube of fresh yeast
100g butter
350ml warm milk (not too hot or this will kill the yeast)
80g sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cardomon
1 egg
300 - 500g plain flour
65g raisins, optional

For the filling

150g soft, unsalted butter
150g sugar
1.5 tsp cinnamon

1 egg to glaze
some sugar

1. Melt the butter in the microwave or a small saucepan.
2. Pour the milk into a ixing bowl and either pour in the instant yeast or crumble the fresh stuff. Fold in the sugar, salt, cardomom, egg and flour. Add as much flour as you need until the dough begins to come away from the side of the bowl and then pour in the melted butter. Add more flour (and the raisins if you like) until you can knead the dough but avoid making it too dry. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for around 30 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
3. Roll out the dough until you have a thin sheet.
4. In another bowl, mix the filling ingredients together then spread it across the dough in an even layer then begin rolling up your dough into a large sausage. Cut the dough into even sized slices and press your thumb into one end to make a deep hole.
5. Place the rolls on a baking sheet not too close together and brush some beaten egg over the tops as a glaze followed by a sprinkling of sugar.
Bake at 200°C for around 10-12 minutes.


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