Postcard from Amsterdam

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The city is gleaming and I can hardly keep my eyes open for fear of the searing sunlight. The canals around most street corners are more like grand mirrors, upon which the rays hit, dance and blossom. Our refuge from this mighty star is found only between the skinny buildings, in the hose-pipe alleyways. We walk often on the road, for the pavement is thinned downed for one car to squeeze through, and we have fattened ourselves with violins and rucksacks on our shoulders.

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A Fortnight of Chocolate Sprinkles

At last! A winter that has the guts to eat away my skin, give me my first cold sore in years and push tears into my eyes as I move through the air. December, you were comfortable and tepid, but truly disappointing. I visited the Christmas Markets in a blazer jacket and scarf. There was neither ice nor snow, nor hail nor sleet. Not a shade of white in sight. The streets settled in bog-standard grey.

And look at Apeldoorn this morning…

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A Letter from Strasbourg

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I want to congeal in a glass case a piece of paralysed Time. In this Time, I will freeze more time, and continue diving into its heart to unearth more sparkling seconds. I want to keep all the milliseconds of taste, emotion and movement, to preserve textures, smells, the angles of the cobbled streets and to dance the rise and fall of the road ahead.

Looking at this glass, admiring it like my own little taxidermic creature, I’d also like to glitter it with something called Joy and Freedom, which I’d describe as a warm weightlessness that overcomes me when I grasp the rhythmic, tonal complexity of a perfectly pronounced French word, fluid and honest in its execution, watch it grace my mouth and tongue and transport a fragment of ‘me’ into the atmosphere that will, at last, be understood and appreciated. Or when the humour and sweetness of friends combines with the delights of French food, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet and a fruity coffee. Or when, on the way to class, you suddenly can’t help but stand up on the pedals of your bike and sing to yourself, and imagine the old bicycle wheels spinning in a stereo like a cassette tape. Continue reading

Thursday 15th October 2015 – Madame K

Madame K belongs in a French children’s book as angelic teacher and fairy godmother to the children. She speaks slow and articulate French, with an air of romance and gentle pride, that draws you into the language and her classical universe. Behind her rimless glasses her eyes shine wisdom and the mystery of a beautiful bygone era. None of us would question it if she procured from her leather briefcase a fabulous magic wand of ivory and gold.  Continue reading

C’est chaud

Nina is keeping me company this fine evening.


People ask me how I am getting on here. It has been a month and the initial jitters have disappeared. I am no longer terrified of finding the right ‘Amphi’ (l’amphithéâtre’ = lecture hall) in campus. I have made friendships from a range of different situations, on my corridor, meeting ERASMUS students, organised language tandem nights and classes. In lectures I can understand 50%, sometimes 70% of what the teacher is saying, which is often at such supersonic speed not even the French students can keep up, reassuring for me to some degree. But at least the lecturers I have this semester are decent oralists, all thoroughly engaging and rigorous. I record all of my classes and re-listen at home, which takes hours and is incredibly boring. Finally I am in France and I want to go out and meet the world but in fact I must do this in order to survive the year and enjoy any hope of passing my exams. Oh God.  Continue reading

Life in a Suitcase: Postcard from Trinidad and Tobago

I am in a place where it is difficult to distinguish between a party, a bus journey and breakfast time. Everything feels like a tropical nightclub, but without the excessive booze, lights and hormones. The music of the Caribbean is its very heartbeat, and through it I am finding a real joy of life. The rhythms travel through every cell of your body and command movement in your muscles and bones. All the songs I have heard have been in Major keys and have very energetic music videos – to non-musicians this means tunes that ‘sound happy’. Everybody is dancing, like carnival dancing, with manic hip rotations and inexplicable bumps and grinds. How can they do that with their bums? we ask ourselves everyday. The bum has a life of its own it seems.

The subject matter is often about dancing, partying, letting go, self-discovery and like all pop music much of it is about sex. But I feel like Caribbean songs take it one step in another direction, and not necessarily ‘further’ either. For example, in Trinidad there are a lot of words and phrases that are euphemisms for sexual things. One song that is on our bus playlist is about a ‘salt fish’. And we thought, how peculiar to devote an entire song to salt fish and to ‘soak it good’ and to ‘heat it up with some firewood’. Still, we danced along, had fun with the song. Continue reading

Trouble in Beijing

Date: 7th August 2015
Local time: unknown
Location: A380 Airbus

It all began when I woke up in my auntie’s flat to a rainstorm. The time was 17:05, and I had overslept thanks to my grandmother who thought it better to let me sleep than be back at the hotel in time. A week had passed since the orchestra touched down in China, and somehow it was time to go, even though nobody wished it. A fourth concert please, we begged in our sleep.

In auntie’s car we drove up and out of the car park, beeping people out of the entrance who were hiding from the rain. A little girl under a link umbrella shouted “It’s hailing, it’s hailing!” And so it was, my auntie whispered, bemused and confused. How sweet of her to warn us. Continue reading