Thursday, 31 December 2015

My Year in Books: 2015

My target this year was 45 books, which I exceeded by two! It's fewer than the 83 books I read last year (taking into account I was unemployed for most of that year), but still quite a lot. Reading is damn important to me. It feels wrong if I go out somewhere for the day and don't have a book in my bag. I use my commute time to read, I read before I go to sleep.

With one exception, I've given the books ratings out of 5, sometimes with a link to the review/reasoning for my rating. A friend pointed out recently that it was easier to review books if you didn't like them much, because humans love to criticise.

If you'd like to keep up-to-date with what's currently sitting on my nightstand - or just want to judge each other's book taste - add me on Goodreads!

  1. Emma Donoghue - Stir-Fry (2/5)
  2. Shane Jones - Light Boxes (3/5)
  3. Joan Didion - The Year of Magical Thinking (1/5)
  4. A.S. King - Ask the Passengers (2/5)
  5. Wolfgang Herrndorf - Tschick (3/5)
  6. Jason Lee Norman - Beautiful Girls & Famous Men (4/5)
  7. Djuna Barnes - Nightwood (4/5)
  8. Julia Engelmann - Eines Tages, Baby (4/5)
  9. Hannah Kent - Burial Rites (4/5)
  10. Juan Pablo Villalobos - Down the Rabbit Hole (3/5)
  11. Adi Alsaid - Let's Get Lost (3/5)
  12. Siri Hustvedt - The Blindfold (4/5)
  13. Paula Hawkins - The Girl on the Train (3/5)
  14. Warsan Shire - Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (4/5)
  15. Kathrin Weßling - Drüberleben: Depressionen sind doch kein Grund, traurig zu sein (5/5)
  16. Leigh Matthews - Don't Bang the Barista! (4/5)
  17. Anna Friedrich - Holly: Die verschwundene Chefredakteurin (1/5)
  18. Catherine Lacey - Nobody Is Ever Missing (2/5)
  19. David Wagner - Berlin Triptych (3/5)
  20. Hélène Kohl - Une vie de pintade à Berlin (3/5)
  21. Jonathan Franzen - How To Be Alone (2/5)
  22. Marina Keegan - The Opposite of Loneliness (3/5)
  23. Cristina Henriquez - The Book of Unknown Americans (4/5)
  24. Raymond Queneau - Zazie in the Metro (2/5)
  25. Aliza Licht - Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill it in Your Career. Rock Social Media. (3/5)
  26. Gaston Dorren - Lingo: A Language Spotter's Guide to Europe (2/5)
  27. Tiina Walsh - Fine-Tuning Hanna (3/5)
  28. Anna Winger - This Must Be the Place (1/5)
  29. Lydia Davis - Can't and Won't (4/5)
  30. Rory MacLean - Berlin: Imagine a City (3/5)
  31. Kate Zambreno - Green Girl (3/5)
  32. Sophie Senoner - Nachtaktiv (4/5)
  33. Louise Erdrich - Four Souls (3/5)
  34. Máire T. Robinson - Your Mixtape Unravels My Heart (4/5)
  35. Erica Fischer - Aimée & Jaguar: Eine Liebesgeschichte, Berlin 1943 (3/5)
  36. Haruki Murakami - Kafka on the Shore (2/5)
  37. Jana Frey - Schwarze Zeit (3/5)
  38. John Darnielle - Wolf in White Van (5/5)
  39. Máire T. Robinson - Skin Paper Stone (4/5)
  40. Kim Thúy - Mãn (3/5)
  41. Patricia Highsmith - Carol (3/5)
  42. Maxine Beneba Clarke - Foreign Soil (3/5)
  43. Patti Smith - Just Kids (4/5)
  44. Rut Hillarp - The Black Curve (no rating)
  45. Rachel Hills - The Sex Myth (4/5)
  46. Carrie Brownstein - Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl (3/5)
  47. Dean Garlick - Chloes (4/5)

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas, home

I hadn't spent Christmas in the UK since 2012. In contrast to the stress of last year, the Vorweihnachtszeit (Christmas run-up - though that's hardly an elegant translation) in Berlin has been really nice; I visited four markets and enjoyed the general warm spirit around the city, although I wasn't exempt from that tiring end-of-year-rush feeling that comes with it.

It had been nine months since I'd last been in the UK and I hadn't even realised it. My life in Berlin has changed a lot since my last visit and there are many great people I know there now whom I didn't know back then.
All in all, Christmas has been rather good this year; this probably has a lot to do with the fact it's the first one where I've had a salary and therefore actually been able to get people gifts (which I really enjoy doing, by the way). In general, I am glad it comes once a year and lasts for one day. Feels about right.

When I was eight, I had a few pen pals. I had put an ad in Girl Talk magazine (now unrecognisable from what it used to be, btw) and got, no joke, 20 replies. I had to make that my after-school project for a couple of weeks - replying to all my letters. At the zenith of my pen pal career, I had about six regulars. By the age of 15 or so, the number had petered out to two or three. I'm no longer in contact with any of them, but I am pretty sure this set the ball rolling for hiding out on the internet, making friends on there and even meeting them in real life, long before this became more widespread and socially acceptable in the past couple of years.
Anyway, each year, I would of course send them all Christmas cards. In my early teens, after Christmas, I would follow up my cards with a letter listing all the presents I got. I'm not really sure why I did this, apart from to seek validation from faraway peers. It reached its peak when one pen pal and I, whom I felt a particular kinship with, swapped Bang On the Door for Emily the Strange, and got into pop-punk. We discussed how annoying people at school were and related our CD collections and wishlists to each other.

You know what? I don't know if I can quite say I am less materialistic now, 10 years later. For sure, I love stuff. Not the kind of stuff that's flashy, takes up a lot of physical space and that you need a warranty for, which I think is what most people are talking about when they say the word "materialistic", but bits and bobs that make me feel like home. Books, for example. I do have a Kindle, which I enjoy a lot, but I'm never going to fall out of love with books.
When I was moving about a lot in my first months of Berlin life, it was important to have things on hand that would help me maintain a sense of consistency and at least pretend to feel at home. I bought a lamp in the shape of an owl and my own duvet cover set that would help me feel settled no matter where I laid my head.

In the months since I had last been in the UK, I had been grappling with my feelings about this country whose latest developments I now basically only heard about over Twitter - things that felt surreal but also weren't exactly surprising (5p for plastic bags, Cameron and pig, floods). Berlin is an extraordinary place in several respects, so you can't really compare it to certain countries as a whole. My experience of Germany would be quite different if, say, I was somewhere in Saarland.

To quote a Neko Case song, 'I've lost my taste for home, and that's a dirty, fallow feeling'. I've no desire to return to live in the UK, but my connection to it can't exist without my family, and vice versa. There have been certain things that I have appreciated during my days here over the festive period: cooking with my mum; affordable and tasty hummus in supermarkets (sorry, but it's just not the same in Berlin); free cash withdrawals; cashiers greeting you while they're still scanning stuff from the person in front (this took me by surprise and I'm not even one who grumbles about the mythical rude German customer service).

More recently, I've begun to recognise aspects of Berlin that get on my nerves. I've discussed them with others at length and it has been validating to know that I'm not alone. Still, I realise I am the mistress of my own destiny and it's up to me to make changes that will make me feel less annoyed in the New Year.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Albums of 2015: part 2

(Curious about my favourite albums in the first half of the year? Here they are!)

Joanna Newsom - Divers

Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars

Majical Cloudz - Are You Alone?

Grimes - Art Angels

Schnipo Schranke - Satt

Cœur de Pirate - Roses

Safia Nolin - Limoilou

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

John Grant - Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

You might notice that a lot of this stuff happens to be from Montreal/Quebec. Keep an eye out for a post I'll make about the coolest current artists from there!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

5 Things I’ve Learnt From Half a Year of Freelancing in Germany

I wrote a post about my experiences getting up and running as a freelancer in Germany:

My part-time editing job in an office pays my rent and keeps me insured, while also making sure I have regular contact with humans and stay up to date with my industry just by showing up to work. I specifically chose this part-time position because I wanted space to continue relationships with the freelance clients I’d been working with before.
As a foreigner in Germany, I’m very, very lucky to be a Festangestellte (employee) and Freiberuflerin (freelancer) at the same time. From the first one, I make enough €€€ for basic living costs and am health-insured. With the freelance stuff, I can justify splashing out on something nice every now and then. 
But what are the five biggest headaches I’ve come across since starting to manage my own workload and income?
read the rest on Medium... 

By the way, if you're generally interested in reading stuff written by me that's been published online - and not just on this blog! - click right here.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

How to leave the church in Germany

I'd been ignoring the letters that had accumulated over the last few months, hoping the situation would resolve itself. 'We don't have any information on your religious affiliation for tax purposes,' they said. That in itself wasn't strictly true. When I registered as a resident of the city - nay, Bundesland - of Berlin, I'd written "none" in the field pertaining to religion.
The final one, as if reading my mind, said that even if I'd been baptised in another country, being in the church was a "worldwide membership". This is a bit ridiculous, because in England there's no church tax.

Yes, in Germany, you sometimes have to leave the church, even if you are not part of the church.

Having heard a few horror stories - or perhaps urban myths is a better way to describe them - I wanted to exercise due diligence.

I went to the court serving my district (just Google your district name + "Amtsgericht" to find yours). There were a surprising number of security measures - I had to walk through a body scanner and get my bag searched.
It was actually the first time I've had a less-than-savoury bureaucratic experience in Berlin. It's a worn-down cliché by now that newcomers to the city will complain about the various governmental offices, usually having something to do with the officials only speaking German in... oh, Germany.
I'd never found anyone especially rude in these situations, but when I asked the security guys which way I needed to go, and didn't quite understand as one of them was mumbling, they treated me like I was an idiot. The ladies at the hatch where I then had to cough up my €30 were rolling their eyes and insulting the person who'd just gone before me.
Dude, I've worked with the general public. I know how it is. Vent in private.

I took a ticket and waited for my number to be called. This didn't take long, as it was just me waiting. I went in, said I'd like to leave the evangelisch church (the closest counterpart to the church I was baptised into) and presented my receipt for the €30. I signed a legal document and was instructed to guard it with my life, basically, as all records are destroyed after 10 years, so if I needed to prove any tax stuff in the future and had lost it, I'd be screwed.

Security were very cordial when I left the building, strangely. Smell ya later.

Just to be clear, I had only started receiving the letters from the Kirchenamt since getting a freelance tax number. Yes, I know I hadn't been paying any church tax at my contract jobs, but I wanted to just formally shirk any possible membership and clear things up to avoid problems that might pop up later down the line.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Berlin Zinefest 2015

It's my second time at the Berlin Zinefest and this year it's spread over two days. That's not the only thing that's different, though. Last time, I was pretty new in Berlin. I went all on my own, vaguely hoping that I would see some cool zines to buy and even meet some cool people. Now, a little more self-assured, I wasn't too concerned about those things. I just wanted to support events like this.

Zines, in case you're unfamiliar with the term, are basically homemade magazines that you make about anything you want. They tend to be linked with DIY/punk scenes and tackle topics like capitalism, identity and mental health (to be very, very general). You draw your zine, photocopy it and take responsibility for getting it out there; whether that means leaving it around in spaces that are into that kind of thing (co-op cafés, for example) or submitting it to a distro who will sell it and take care of the proceeds for you.

In true anarchist spirit, this Zinefest takes place annually at the SfE - a self-described alternative adult education centre - where the classrooms and corridors are scrawled with phrases like "Stay Queer and Rebel" and the bathrooms are gender-neutral. You'd be forgiven for thinking it's an arty performance space rather than a school.

This year, I also actually contributed to a zine, Träume (Dreams), with a few other people who I got to know through one of those posters where you tear off the phone numbers at the bottom. I drew a little cartoon about a dream I had concerning a pizza that cost €150. The cover page was screen-printed, the first and last pages made with translucent paper, the binding hand-sewn.

A few different cakes are being offered at the event by Minor Treat, who bake and distribute vegan baked goods. I get a slice of salted caramel and chocolate pretzel cake for a donation. No sooner have I done this than my friend K. informs me that a zine workshop is about to begin. It's all about rethinking the phrase "my body is a temple" and how this refers to very narrow standards of health, beauty and representation. There's a deep pleasure I feel in stuffing my face with the cake I just bought while contemplating what I'm going to put into my zine that's going to be about not giving a single fuck what you're supposed to be eating or looking like. The next couple of hours are spent cutting up magazines and colouring in (therapeutic activities within themselves) then showing the rest of the group what we've made.

My zine, The Unhealthy Vegan, about how my veganism isn't about #cleaneating or some shit

After pootling around a bit and buying a few things to take home (including from the fab Claire), we decide it's beginning to feel a little claustrophobic. It's about 5pm and people are swarming around, making it difficult to really spend more than a minute or two at a table. I'm also still feeling pretty ill and everything is getting a bit much.

'This is like an OKCupid convention,' quips K.; indeed, over the course of the day we've respectively bumped into people we met a couple of times from the site but with whom nothing had significant had really materialised. I'm sure people thought the same about me: they can't place where they've seen my face before (this happened in a certain Neukölln bar once, actually). If you're a chick dating chicks, Berlin doesn't feel like such a populous city after all.

But I leave the fest feeling renewed, creative and powerful. I wanted nothing else but to go home, listen to Mitski and write little bits and bobs that would fit onto eight A6 sheets and say everything I really needed to say. I felt simultaneously validated and okay as I am, yet also struck with the urge to prove myself. We'll see how that pans out when the 2016 Zinefest rolls around.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Eis, Eis Baby

In the past couple of weeks, the idea of leaving my local neighbourhood has become less and less appealing. I don't know exactly why this is, although I mentioned to someone that it felt like riding public transport was becoming more of a chore - turned out I wasn't alone in that sentiment.
When I first came to Berlin, I simply couldn't believe that within 30 minutes I could be pretty much anywhere I wanted to be to eat awesome food, so I didn't mind making the journey. Now it just feels ridiculous and time-consuming, especially given that all trains seem to be delayed these days. Sometimes I get stressed out just by leaving the house and thinking about what would be the quickest route to take.

This week I've been suffering from a number of ailments, not least a sore and scratchy throat - a good excuse for ice cream. However, all the vegan-friendly ice cream spots in Schöneberg have shut up shop, leaving me with limited choices. Despite my reservations about going all the way up to the other side of the city for only one, quick purpose, yesterday I journeyed to Prenzlauer Berg; specifically, to Kontor Eismanufaktur, Berlin's first 100% vegan ice cream parlour.

Pictured is a waffle with delicious Reese's Pieces ice cream and some Schlagsahne (whipped cream - one of my favourite German words!).

As I've said before, the wonderful Brammibal's Donuts are also available here, and yes, you can even have them with ice cream. Follow their Facebook page to find out where they will be sold this Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Kontor Eismanufaktur will be offering up their delights until Christmas. Not sure when they reopen for the new summer season, though.

Unfortunately I'm still ill (which has caused me to miss three social engagements today, frustratingly!) but hoping to get a smooth start into November, my new job and my personal projects.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Vilnius, Lithuania

I did already write a post about the food in Vilnius, Lithuania, but my general report is only coming up only now. The summer has all but fallen out of reach so it's not so fresh in my mind. I also don't really enjoy blogging about travel anymore, so I'm not gonna lie: this was a bit of a chore to write. However, I still feel it would be a shame if I didn't have a summary of my trip up on here.

Was there any special reason I was going to Lithuania? No, not really. I hadn't been on a long-distance bus trip since 2013... and I hadn't been on any in Europe since 2012. I'm now not keen to go on another one again, but that's quite a different story that has little to do with the destination itself.

I had completely forgotten that Lithuania had joined the Euro zone at the start of this year, so that took away the hassle of getting travel money. However, since the bus would be traversing Poland, I did make sure I got some Polish złoty. I'm glad I did, too, as it turns out Poland is massive and I must have spent about 12 hours of the whole journey in that country.

Vilnius is a very aesthetically pleasing city. Even if you were just passing through it for a day, I think you would become pretty enamoured in it. Although it's clearly not as tourist-ridden as a bigger, famous more "accessible" city like Paris, there were definitely a lot of tourists.

The hostel I stayed at was called B&B&B&B&B, located inside a big neoclassical building - I think maybe a former gallery. Although huge, there was a lot of unused space. The bottom floor was a bar/restaurant and even a skate park, while the top floor was dorms.

I was reminded of how universal hostel experiences actually are - I mean this in both good and bad ways (let's not forget I worked in a hostel for five months).
The people you meet in such circumstances are not always ones you'd necessarily want to see again. These brief companionships tend to be pretty superficial, but at the time you might feel they mean more because you have the shared experience of being far from home.
On my first evening in Vilnius, a couple of hours after arriving, I went for dinner with a woman in my dorm. On the way there she told me some interesting things about the city - she did, of course, have the advantage of having been here for three days longer than me. But when we got to the restaurant, she was very rude to the staff. I felt embarrassed, giving them apologetic glances, and was relieved that she would be leaving at 4am the next day. I hoped this wasn't going to set the tone for all interpersonal interactions during the trip, as I'd already spent all my energy avoiding gross, aggressive men on the bus.

I hung out a lot at Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories, as it was on the street of the hostel. This is a great little place, bringing a real passion for coffee to the city ("the coffee scene",  so to speak). It could so easily have been pretentious and uninviting, but the people there were really friendly. Each week, they have five guest coffees from different places in the Americas. Some are more chocolatey, some are more bitter. I think I tried just about each one during my stay.

I observed everyday conventions in this country that I'd never seen before, like simply putting an upturned triangle to indicate the ladies' loos, a downturned triangle for the gents'. (In Poland, it's a triangle for the gents' and a circle for the ladies'.)
There was also the common practice of listing days of the week in Roman numerals - Monday being I, Sunday being VII.

I communicated in basic Russian with older Lithuanians, although I didn't feel good about forcing them to use the language of the oppressors. Still, it seemed to be the "second" language and there were a lot of signs in Russian, as well as quite a few Russian magazines available in shops.
On the other side of the coin, younger Lithuanians could speak some English, but again, I just didn't feel good about making them do so as most of them didn't look confident doing so.

Walking around the town, I soon discovered which part was "for show" and which part was where residents of Vilnius conducted their social and business lives. On Gedimino Prospektas, which appeared to be the main shopping mile, I even went to Marks & Spencer and bought some sweets that I miss very much from the UK.

I was actually on my way to visit the Museum of Genocide Victims, on the same street. Unfortunately, it was closed due to it being Assumption Day.
The museum commemorates victims tortured and murdered by the KGB, and before that, by the Nazis. This part of history gets erased so often; we tend to think that "it was all over" by 1945, but this just wasn't the case in all parts of Europe.

Even though it was closed, I could still admire the handmade murals outside about what Lithuania means to its individual citizens.
I was suddenly really empathetic with the fact that this ancient and rich culture, traceable from the first century AD, has been warped by the various invasions and acts of brutality.
In around 2007 - or perhaps even before but I didn't notice - a wave of Lithuanians and Latvians migrated to my hometown. It is not the most cosmopolitan place, but this was when I first became acutely aware of the concept of xenophobia; people started complaining about the "foreigners" and lazily referring to them as "Russians".
The interesting thing about these countries is that their residents get indignant about being called "Eastern European"; they would rather be part of Northern Europe, or simply be referred to as the Baltic States. Once you adopt that view, rather than preconceived stereotypes about Eastern Europe and Eastern Europeans (yes, all 120 million of them), everything begins to seem rather different.

I spent an afternoon at Trakai, a town just outside Vilnius. A minibus departed every hour from the bus station, taking me and five other people down the motorway into some countryside, before stopping at a small bus stop.
For some reason, I'd expected Trakai to be an off-the-beaten-track type of deal that only Lithuanians knew about - in fact, I'd say that it is even more touristy than its neighbour.
Trakai's main attraction is the castle, sitting on an island accessible by a footbridge. It dates from *goes to Wikipedia* 1409 and was inhabited by Gediminas, who founded the nation of Lithuania.
I decided not to pay the 6€ to go inside - if you have parents who had an English Heritage membership and you were dragged to castles every weekend as a kid, I guess you get a bit allergic to them.

Trakai town was small and walkable. There was no transport from the bus station to the castle, so I had to walk. On the way, I stopped by little coves as the whole town is surrounded by lakes. It was lovely.

The other "big" thing I did was ascend Vilnius' TV Tower, which is about 40 metres shorter than Berlin's. I travelled in a very stuffy trolleybus to get there. I got off at Karoliniškės on the 11 route and had to walk along a ring road to get to the actual tower - there were no directions. I had to climb over a (small) wall to get there as the entrance point wasn't entirely clear. You had to enter the tower's reception from underground, where you paid a fee, dropped your bags and were given a ticket to ascend the lift.

It was my first time in a revolving restaurant, which was fun. I didn't eat anything but just had fun admiring the views which, of course, resembled some of Berlin's eastern districts.

The part of the televizijos bokštas where people actually work

All that forest in the distance is Belarus!

I admired more concrete architecture from the Soviet era and the 1990s.

Finally, it was time to go home.

The journey back always seems to take longer, perhaps because on the way there you're full of excitement and anticipation, whereas the way back is a means to an end. Indeed, we did get held up in several Polish villages but I knew that the worst was behind me.
Once we crossed back in Germany via Frankfurt an der Oder (and I could once again use my phone as I pleased) I was overcome by a sense of relief. The journey back from ZOB (Berlin's main international bus station - if you ever get the choice, do not travel from here) while in dire need of a shower and toothbrush was pretty grim, but I managed to get home, freshen up and take a nap before going to a client's office. #likeaboss

Takeaways from this trip:

1. Avoid bus journeys exceeding eight hours if you possibly can.
2. Convince someone else to go somewhere with you if you do not know anyone at your destination.
3. Commit to learning Russian properly!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Writing group

If it's flattery you're looking for, don't join a writing group.

A few ladies and I have formed an "accidentally Commonwealth" writing group (together, we hail from the UK, Australia and New Zealand). We meet once a month and have had two meetings so far. This post is about our second meeting, which took place at the home of one of the members.

All in all, I feel safe in the group because I know these are people who have similar interests, goals and motivations when it comes to writing. Yet there's a definite sense of vulnerability, too; I know that sooner or later, parts of me that even I have trouble accepting are going to be exposed to the group via the medium of my writing.

I had very quickly written a piece clocking up at roughly 2,000 words about an ongoing experience that had unleashed my opinionated wrath. I sent it round on our home-grown submission system (replying all on email, with a document attached).
Honestly, I felt uneasy as I did so. I hated my piece. It's the first time I have really hated something I've written that I then let other people take a look at (academic essays don't count here). In fact, I was dreading the feedback.

That evening, before the feedback part began, everyone was treating me normally. Okay, so at least I didn't piss anyone off with my writing, I thought. We chatted over our potluck meal, featuring tasty dishes ranging from a sweet potato ratatouille to peanut butter triangles with salted chocolate. Then it was time to go over our pieces.

'I liked it,' started the first person, when it came to mine. She then went on to give her reservations about what I had written, while I listened diligently and made notes that I hoped would make sense when I later looked over them during the revision process. This question, though, is what really stood out to me:

'So I now know your situation. But what's the story?'

What I learnt at this month's session is that it's simply not enough to describe your truth. You have to put a twist on it, too, whether that means making it anecdotal, making aspects of the experience into stories themselves or focusing on two or three aspects of the experience rather than the collective thing.
Even if there is the pleasant side-effect of your own catharsis - that is, simply getting it all out on the page - that still doesn't mean much. People find throwing plates at a wall cathartic, or screaming. If your writing is hollow, you're just screaming. Maybe someone out there will relate to your experience because they went through something similar, but again: that's not enough. You may as well just get together and chat about your mutual experience over a beer. Relatability isn't enough because if you're writing about a topic that millions of people go through, what makes your take on it special?

The remarks on my piece were generally unanimous within the group. On this occasion, the point for me wasn't that I had hated my piece yet submitted it anyway, but that I had thrown it out into the air to be hung, drawn and quartered. (Alright, that did sound unnecessarily violent, since we formed this group out of goodwill.)
As the evening's focus shifted to other people's work, I moved on too: I enjoyed giving feedback, I loved hearing different things that had stood out to different people, I was intrigued to learn about the background or inspiration for each piece.

When I got home, though, I didn't want to look at my piece ever again. This was a couple of nights ago now and that feeling has thankfully dissipated (although I don't doubt that it is a totally normal and natural feeling). I do have other writing priorities at the moment, ones that I've already been toiling over for a while, and so I am going to forget it for the time being. Besides, the nature of that particular piece is such that its direction is going to become much clearer with the benefit of hindsight. Then I'll add, delete and rewrite parts, I'll let someone look over it again.

I'll make myself vulnerable again because I want to, because the essence of a writing group is tough love.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Lush essentials

After nearly six months, I've left my part-time job at Lush. While I'm a bit sad because it was a lot of fun and I got to know the best team ever, I am of course so excited about my new in-house editing role.

I thought I would mark the occasion by going into beauty blogger mode and naming five products I'll be returning to buy...

All the products here are self-preserving, and aside from the face mask (which contains honey), are all vegan. Links to the products lead to the UK site, as info will be in English.

Obvious note, just in case: although I was once employed by Lush, I'm not being paid to write this and everything here is my honest opinion!

This photo features Wojtek, who oversaw the making of this product.

Through working at Lush, I can say it's a common misconception that you need to keep all their face masks in the fridge. This is one of the two masks currently available in Germany that don't need to be chilled, and can be used up within three months rather than three weeks.

The smell of Magnaminty reminds me of a delicious tub of mint choc ice cream. It gives you a lovely tingly feeling while declogging the pores. As you rinse it off after the standard 10-15 minute soaking time, you also get a little bit of exfoliation in.

My skin is on the oily side and bows to my hormones, making Magnaminty the perfect go-to whenever things get tough.

I was initially sceptical of this thing, but it's now become my favourite moisturiser of all time. It's chock-full of vitamins and is very nourishing, so I feel great about putting it on my face. It also costs less than any of the Lush moisturisers that come in pots.

It's ideal for use at night, as its appearance is quite slick before it completely sets in. Grace is also recommended as the base to a face mask, as it opens up your pores, allowing the mask to cleanse and detox more deeply.

It did take me a while to warm up to this as a perfume, but now whenever I wear it, I could eat my whole arm. There's something just so delicious and sexy about it.

As Karma is one of the company's signature scents, you can buy it in many other formats. I'm overcome with nostalgia every time I sniff the Karma bubble bar as it was one of the things I bought on my first trip to Lush as a teen, at the now-closed store in Covent Garden, London!

Let's face it, part of my fondness for the Buffy body butter may lie in the name - at one point, the product copy contained wonderful puns relating to "slaying dead skin cells" and "Angel-soft skin". But really... I think skin exfoliators (and the feeling of having exfoliated skin) are underrated. Especially when they rub you up as well as Buffy does!

I like to wash with a shower gel first, then use Buffy in circular movements all over my body. It's also great for softening up the hairs on your legs before shaving, if that's your thing.

When I first took R&B away as a sample a while ago, I wasn't impressed at all and wondered why it was a bestseller - it just made my Hermione hair very greasy.

Turns out I hadn't been using it properly. Although R&B looks pricey from the outside, you actually need only very, very little, making it worth the investment. A quick swab of the custard-resembling, jasmine-scented stuff between my fingertips is enough, then I just massage it into my hair (everywhere below the tops of my ears, for an even look).

Friday, 2 October 2015

September photos

In September, I had a lot going on. To make up for my lack of a blog post, here are a few photos I took during the month (including a few from my Instagram).

Zitadelle Spandau, 16th-century fortress

Cute watering can, near Südstern

Flamingoes at the hotel bar where Fiona and I had a drink after the amazing Sufjan Stevens concert at Admiralspalast

I learnt a polite way to say "Don't let your dog shit here" in German.

Hamburger Bahnhof museum


fuckin' Karl-Marx-Allee

New reads from Curious Fox

Best food discovery this month: Brammibal's. They sell their wares (vegan doughnuts) at different fairs and cafés all over the city, usually on Sundays. So I diligently follow them on social media to find out where they'll be. And I go there.

Ach ja.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Vegan in Vilnius

My previous trip to the Baltic states - in 2011, to the Latvian capital of Riga - didn't yield many vegan dining options. So, when I visited Vilnius, Lithuania a couple of weeks ago, I was curious about the food that awaited me. I found mostly very good things; I hadn't really done any research beforehand and instead just let myself be surprised.

What you see above are raw Thai rolls - rice paper stuffed with various veggies and, of course, drizzled in peanut sauce. It's so easy to feel gross and scurvy-like when you're travelling, so while I'm not a raw food person, I really appreciated the onslaught of green, additive-free things here.

I returned to Raw42 for lunch just before I caught my bus home. I had been intending to try the borscht but instead opted for the raw lasagne, craving something that I knew would sustain me for the long way back. This was by far the priciest restaurant I went to Vilnius - I paid about 12€ for a meal including a drink - but that's not more than I'd shell out for a good dinner in Berlin.

Lithuanian for "place", Vieta appeared to be primarily a bar that also offered vegetarian food. I got the tofu steak and salad, as well as a vegan strawberry milkshake. A very filling little lunch spot nestled right into the Old Town!

I can't say I was thrilled with my experience here... the vibe was just quite weird and impersonal. There was also a lot of stuff that they were out of when I asked about it, which was disappointing. In the end, I went for the momos, which tasted good enough and were presented very nicely.

Jurgis ir drakonas
I went to "George and the Dragon" on my last night for what I'd heard would be a wonderful pizza experience, and that's exactly what it was. There were at least two pizza options on the menu where if you paid 1€ extra, you'd get vegan cheese. And I mean, just look at that pizza: Romaine lettuce, walnuts, sundried tomatoes, perfect puffy dough.

In addition, the service was very friendly and the atmosphere warm, The owner offered me a complimentary scoop of ice cream and when I said I was vegan, she brought me a really tasty sorbet. This place is not to be missed!