Sauerkrautpfanne and Mid Year’s resolutions

I can’t believe that my last blog post was in February. Where has the time gone? The tomato soup stains have dried by now and I’m still busy. Weather wise, things have changed a bit. It still rains, but we now see the sun more often and we can occasionally be seen to leave the house without an umbrella.

Why is it that other people are such prolific bloggers and I manage just about one post every four months? Uh, I know. It’s the way I work. Which goes a bit like this: I have an idea. Which I turn over in my head for a while until it feels right, then I let it rest. Then I perceive myself to be too busy with work or too tired or too busy with other things to pursue it further. Eventually I get it done – IF the idea I had back then is still worth writing up. If not, I drop it. Some really great blog posts never got written that way…

So I hereby decide to change my attitude and allow myself more time to develop ideas and write them down while they are still fresh. Bit like New Year’s resolutions, only mid-year. There. We’ll see how that works.

Last time I wrote about Bournemouth’s architecture. This time round I had initially planned to write about Bournemouth’s markets – or the lack thereof. There is definitely no market in the town centre. I’m sure, because I’m there nearly every day. The only thing that I have seen on the central square is a lone fruit and veg stall. But there are apparently a couple of farmers’ markets around and according to the official Bournemouth tourism website there’s a market in Boscombe every Thursday and Saturday throughout the year.

I thought it might be nice to take a little market round trip on one of the weekends I wasn’t going back home. Unfortunately, so far I spent every single weekend I stayed here in Bournemouth either working or ill or both, so I didn’t have anything to write about. But then this past weekend provided me with the chance to pick up on my previous theme – architecture – as well as to write about a market. Result!

Bodies in Urban SpacesTogether with about 60 other audience members I spent an hour on Saturday following a human sculpture trail trough Bournemouth.  “Bodies in Urban Spaces”, organised by Pavilion Dance South West, is the brainchild of Austrian choreographer Willi Dorner, who has been showing this production since 2007 all over the world.

His intention is to offer an alternative interpretation of urban architecture, to “point out the urban functional structure and to uncover the restricted movement possibilities and behaviour as well as rules and limitations.”

Das StraßenschildIt certainly offered an unusual, hour-long entertainment and some unexpected views of Bournemouth. The performers were drawn from the local community, as in any city where “Bodies in Urban Spaces” is being shown. They performed four times over the weekend and showed extraordinary strength and stamina. I’ll probably never look at an unassuming street sign in the same way…

After this very uplifting experience I decided to pop over to the international food market, part of a ten-day Food & Drink Festival. An “Authentic Pan and Grill” hut had caught my eye, as they were offering “authentic” German fare such as Schaschlik, Gulasch and Sauerkrautpfanne. Confidently I ordered the latter and was answered with a puzzled look and an “Excuse me?”.

Authentic German Pan and GrillAfter I had repeated my order loudly and clearly and thrown in a bit of English-sounding pronunciation I got my Sauerkrautpfanne – and very nice it was, too. Pronunciation is important. Earlier this year we hosted a performance with the German title “Erhebung”. It proved very hard to pronounce for my English colleagues, mostly because they placed the emphasis on the first syllable instead of the second, which made it sound more like “Ärebung”. Well, it isn’t easy. I, for example, never get the pronunciation of “Wordsworth” right. And did I mention my unsuccessful attempts at speaking with a Scottish accent (because I love listening to it)?

When I walked away with my food, the guy who had served me started a conversation with his colleague – in Polish.

An international food market indeed and a great day out. Only the fruit and veg stall remained shut.

Fruit and veg


Tomato soup and Mary Shelley

The reason I am writing this blog entry is a bowl of soup. Or better, the reason I am finally taking the time to write this blog entry is a bowl of tomato soup that was accidentally poured over me yesterday.

I am on annual leave since yesterday. Nothing special, no get away holiday, just a few days off. I wasn’t happy about it. I felt I had too much to do to take lots of time (three days!) off. I am only here for a limited period of time; my contract is only for a year and I have a big project to finish, so annual leave is something that almost gets in the way and has to be squeezed into the gaps where my calendar isn’t already full with meetings or to-do lists.

I was working frantically to get everything sorted before leaving the office. I didn’t quite succeed, so I took some of it home with me to work on it in the morning. Not at my desk, though. I did at least want to feel like ‘being on holiday’. The plan was to go to one of my favourite places, have a coffee and something nice to eat while working. I really enjoy what I do and it would only have been proofreading some stuff and reading through a few articles – research for a feature that is due soon – anyway. I’d hardly call it work, more a pleasant way to spend time alone in a café.

But it wasn’t meant to be. I had just settled down nicely, with my papers on the table, placed my order and waited for my food, which arrived within a few minutes. Unfortunately, the waitress was also carrying a bowl of tomato soup, and when placing my plate in front of me, the soup bowl slid of the tray and its contents splashed onto the table. A bit of it landed on me. But most of it landed on my papers. Hot. Tomato. Soup. Which I hadn’t even ordered.

I’m not angry. Why should I be? It was an accident and was dealt with swiftly. Staff was charming and a little mishap like this will certainly not keep me from going there again. But I most definitely took it as a sign. A sign to stop working and to REALLY have a few days off. To REALLY switch off, which is hard for me in any situation. But this was too clear a sign to ignore.

I just wish it hadn’t been tomato soup. It smells and the papers, although they have dried by now, look as if someone has been sick on them. Coffee would have been better. I am used to spilling coffee over myself, from years of carrying little take-away cups of coffee to work and some of the contents finding their way onto my clothing. (I am also quite skilled at pouring coffee down my cleavage, but that’s another story). From years of experience I know that coffee doesn’t leave any unpleasant smells and coffee stains do not really show on dark fabric. It is also easier to deal with coffee stains on paper. It almost looks bohemian, creative, arty. A hard argument to make for stains of tomato soup…

But I digress. After having made the decision to put work to one side and deal with it again on Monday, I suddenly have so much time! A whole long weekend stretching in front of me – and finally I feel I have the head space to sit down and write my next blog entry. The idea for it I have been carrying around for a long time, but thanks to the very reliably wet and unpleasant weather in Bournemouth so far it is still as current as two or three months ago.

Bournemouth's answer to NYs flatiron building

Bournemouth’s answer to NY’s flatiron building

Walking through Bournemouth, I am still trying to get a sense of the place. Bournemouth has many bits  of interesting looking architecture, a lot of it art deco, and quirky features, such as Bournemouth’s answer to the flatiron building in New York. I’d like to write about some of these buildings when I have learned more about them.

But there is also currently a sense of waiting about the place, maybe because as a seaside resort, Bournemouth will only truly come to life during the tourism season. If you look at some of the facades more closely, you’ll see a lot of them crumbling away. In combination with the wet weather that has been dominating more or less the entire time since I moved down here, Bournemouth to me exudes an air of crumbling decay of an almost Gothic quality.

It seems only fitting, then, that Mary Shelley, author of the ultimate Gothic novel, Frankenstein, is buried here, together with the remains of her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, her parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and her son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley and his wife Jane.

They have found their last resting place at St Peter’s Churchyard, which today is surrounded by nightclubs, the Mary Shelley pub and Beales department store. Not long before Mary Shelley’s death Sir Percy had bought a large manor in Boscombe, of which I will write more in a later post as it has an interesting little theatre attached to it. However, Mary never lived here. She died in London, after a long period of declining health, aged only 53, and was buried in Bournemouth a week later.

Mary Shelley's graveShe had wanted to be buried with her parents, so Mary Wollstonecraft’s and William Godwin’s remains were transferred from London to Bournemouth.

At some later point, Sir Percy also buried the ashes of his father’s heart here. Percy Bysshe Shelley had drowned in 1822 in Northern Italy. His body was cremated there, but the ashes of his heart were preserved by his friend Edward Trelawny (or – if you want to believe the more bashful version of the story – Trelawny snatched Shelley’s heart from the pyre before it burned).

Description of graves at St Peter's churchyard

Description of graves at St Peter’s churchyard

So the remains of the author of Frankenstein are laid to rest next to those of one of the most important early feminist writers (re-interred), the founder of political anarchism (re-interred)  and one of England’s major Romantic poets (heart only).

Thinking of them almost makes me feel reconciled with the weather. Almost. Atmospheric though it is, it could be a bit warmer. Sunshine more often would be nice as well. And I would love the rain to stop.

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Déjà vu

Recently in Bournemouth, while trying to find a bus going in the direction of my new home, I had a déjà vu moment. Having asked the driver of the first bus stopping which way he was going, I received an answer that to my ears sounded a bit like “Younehgghguhghgsghdfejnkhredfhuhdkljepsfhgddnwle, love!”

Now, that took me back almost eight years, to when I first tried to find my feet first in East London and later in the picturesque market town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. A lot of the English I heard then had nothing to do with the language they had tried to teach us at school. I used a lot of buses during that time, too, and got quite used to be called ‘love’ or even ‘sweetheart’ (German bus drivers don’t do that, which is a shame. I quite like it), and to thank the driver when getting off the bus (you don’t do that in Germany, either. It’s partly because we have so many bendy buses, and yelling ‘thank you’ towards the driver while getting off through the last set of doors doesn’t seem like a good idea).

Anyway. I encountered many accents and dialects in the last eight years, and some I have been able to understand more easily than others. Trying to also speak some of them is a different matter, though. Weirdly, although I lived in Bury St Edmunds for about five years, I never managed to get a handle on the local idiom even though, when you listen to it, the Suffolk accent is quite distinctive. I don’t know why that is. As a non-native speaker, I imitate what I hear anyway, so it shouldn’t matter whether it’s received pronunciation or anything else. For a while, I got it into my head that I wanted to learn how to speak with a Scottish accent, just because I like the way it sounds. I spent ages trying to pronounce ‘Carphone Warehouse’ in a Scottish accent (don’t ask – it just felt like a good phrase to practise on). Still can’t do it. I remember a car journey with my former boss, a writer-director and actor, who very patiently tried to teach me a few tricks how actors practise accents – to my great disappointment, I was quite hopeless.

But after eight years, I am at least able to understand most versions of English I encounter, so this was a bit unexpected – although it made me smile. It just means that there is always more to discover and to explore, and for the next year, this will be the South West of England. Can’t wait!

P.S.: I got on the bus despite having no idea where it was heading. It took me exactly where I wanted to go.