I always had the impression that you don’t need to understand the lyrics of a song to be able to enjoy it. Best example: tiny me (like, very tiny – three years at most) cheerfully singing along to “Hey Jude”, thinking it meant “Hey du” (“Hey you” in German) and that the singer just had trouble with his pronunciation. Or, later, no longer as tiny me inventing some weird fake English to imitate the actual lyrics of these weird foreign songs I liked to sing to myself – I still remember how impressed I was by the results. It sounded impeccable, more English than real English. Those were the days.
Maybe it’s just my experience growing up with songs I didn’t understand on a verbal level that made me reach that conclusion. But then, there are so many people bragging on about how music is the one universal language we all share – so I can’t be that far off, right?
I just don’t see much of that in the UK. The musical landscape here is great, without a doubt, but it’s very heavily focused on English-speaking artists. And artists from English-speaking countries. That’s not necessarily bad, and also not really surprising – it’s just a little weird from the perspective of someone who’s used to radio playlists (and also the charts) being made up of mostly music by foreign artists.
In Austria, the majority of songs played on local and national stations are from the UK and the US, and a bit from all around Europe (mostly Germany); home-grown music only makes up between 10 and 20 % of the daily output – mostly because it’s a small country with an equally small music scene (except for traditional and après-ski-style stuff, which I try to ignore as much as possible). You usually get a mix of songs from everywhere – and in different languages: a song in standard German might be followed by one in English, then a French one, again an English one, and maybe a bit of Spanish for variety and summer feeling. And, trust me, most people don’t even know English well enough to be able to follow the lyrics – they might even struggle with some of the stranger German dialects. Do they mind? Not at all. Because, in the end, it doesn’t matter if you sing Hey Jude or Hey du, or if you’re using fake English or made-up French to sing along in the car – it won’t make the music any worse, or the experience less fun.
I wonder if people here would mind that. How it would go down to introduce programmes focusing on artists singing in a foreign language or weird dialect, or at least coming from a non-English language background.
I’d really love to hear Brits singing in fake German.
Have you ever paid attention to the playlists at alternative club nights? If you have, you might have noticed that the music, great as it might be, is between 95 and 99% by male artists.
The fabulous Fan Club wants to change that: Kaylea, Rachel and Fran, the three masterminds behind the project, decided in 2014 that it’s time to provide a platform for the many under-represented women in music and arts. Ever since then, they are hosting monthly themed club nights, gigs and film screenings in Nottingham, all focusing on promoting female talent.
“Our club nights are a celebration of female creativity,” they say. There’s always space for female artist to showcase their work – from contributing illustrations to the fanzine to selling their products at the events. And, of course, there’s great music by female musicians played by Kaylea, Rachel and Fran, who take turns as DJs, playing songs selected to fit the theme of the night. “It’s amazing – we can play 6 hours of music solely by women and still can’t fit in everything we want to!”, they say, proving that there’s definitely no lack of female talent to be blamed for heavily male playlists and festival line-ups.
Fan Club events are usually free. “We do that for fun, and we want to keep them as accessible as possible. We sell fanzines, temporary tattoos, friendship bracelets and similar things, and there’s always the possibility to donate, but that’s it. We only ask for a small entry fee if it’s absolutely necessary, for example if we host a special live band,” Kaylea explains.
So far, Fan Club has been a huge success – not only because people seem to love the concept, but also because of the strict safe space policy at all events. “People regularly come up to us and tell us that they feel so much safer at our events than usual. A lot of the time, women just don’t say anything when they feel uncomfortable, and the policy empowers them to speak up. And it works – if something happens (e.g. if someone says mean and hurtful things) we hear about it and can react.”
If this sounds as good to you as it does to me, you should mark February 4th in your calendar: there’ll be a Galentines day club night (in honour of their idol and elected club president Leslie Knope from Parks & Recreation) to celebrate the power and beauty of female friendship. It takes place on the first floor of Rough Trade (7pm-3am), is free and everyone is welcome – young, old, female, male, LGBQT.
It was dark. It was cold. My bloody bags were fricking heavy. And I had no idea where I was going.
Did I mention that I knew I’d have to spend half the night on a train station? No?
Well. It was obviously destined to be a great night. Not.
Or maybe it was.
I had been shuffling through the streets of London for hours, just to get Christmas presents for my sister. It was only a few days before Christmas, so you can probably imagine how much fun that was – especially since I was armed with a huge travel bag and a backpack ready to burst open any moment and spill several notebooks, pens and pencils on Oxford Street. It wouldn’t have needed more than someone tipping me on the shoulder to make me fall over. From that point of view, I was glad it was so crowded – there simply wouldn’t have been any space for me to fall down and lie on the ground as helpless as Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
Unsurprisingly, I was quite happy when it was finally time to leave central London and head north. Because clever me had decided to treat herself to some fun after this: I’d (finally) go see a Sofar gig!
In case you’ve never heard about it: Sofar Sounds was founded by a group of friends who were sick of not being able to enjoy concerts because of people talking, shouting, filming and throwing cups of beer all the time. They started organising intimate gigs at people’s homes or other small and unusual locations about six years ago, and it worked so well that Sofar gigs take place in 309 cities all over the world now. (Needless to say that Lincoln is not one of them.)
When I stumbled across Sofar Sounds and its credo Bringing the magic back to live music on Instagram, I was immediately hooked: Magic, you say? And live music? I’m on my way!!
Three years later, I finally got there. Yeah, I know – that took me quite a while. But if you live in a part of Austria that isn’t Vienna, you tend to miss out on a lot of the fun. You have mountains, they say, what else do you want?
Fortunately, it’s different here in England (you have to make up for the lack of mountains somehow), and London is basically the capital of the Sofar universe, so when I realised that I’d have a whole evening and half a night to kill there alone, I knew what I’d be doing.
Two weeks before that day, I applied for tickets without knowing who’d play – that’s only revealed at the gig (it’s always three artists, and any genre is possible – even spoken word). Luckily, I made it on the guest list at the first attempt, immediately feeling a little VIP.
A day before the gig, I was sent the exact address of the location. Somehow, I managed to spend 15 minutes walking around the area like a complete idiot because I couldn’t find the right place despite Google Maps (mental note: next time, google the location so you know what exactly you are looking for. That might help.).
But I made it, and, frankly, it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. There really is something magical about Sofar: it’s all about the music, and everybody respects that – no one is talking, no one is filming, everybody just listens, completely mesmerised by the performances. I can’t remember having been to a single gig where nobody was waving smartphones and selfie-sticks into the air, so this was quite a weird experience. Weird, but wonderful: everybody – the group of students celebrating a birthday, the hip couples in their late 20s, the old lady accompanying her teenaged granddaughter and the artists themselves – left the room with a wide smile, pledging to come back soon for another magical night.
What a contrast to that afternoon in the city centre. And what a contrast to the gigs I’m used to! I love festivals and concerts where you can sing along and jump around like an idiot, completely lose yourself in the moment and just be part of the crazy joyfulness around you, but there’s something really special about more intimate gigs – maybe it’s the connection with the artist, maybe it’s the laid-back atmosphere, maybe it’s the element of surprise. Very likely, it’s a combination of all that.
After the gig, I felt so cheerful and elevated that I didn’t even mind having to spend the next few hours at a train station. At least not until I was there and remembered how slowly time passes when you’re cold, bored and tired.
I sometimes wonder why I – priding myself to be an emancipated young woman – am so attracted to fairy tales (sexism and gender stereotyping, anyone?).
Maybe it’s the atmosphere of wonder and magic. Maybe it’s the illusion that anything – absolutely anything – is possible. Or maybe it’s just the presence of mysterious, dark forests full of ancient trees, strange beasts and deadly secrets.
Oh, I bloody love these forests. So much that when I dream, this funny space inside my head is covered in trees sometimes: I hear the rustling leaves, the whispering twigs, the wings of ravens and owls and whatever else might be hiding in there. I smell the earthy, green wilderness and feel the presence of thousands of eyes in there, making the whole forest seem like one big breathing entity more alive and much wiser than anything else on this planet.
And I wish I could be there for real, not just in my head.
Forests fire up my imagination unlike anything else. Somehow, this seems to be the case for most people, and it’s probably why they go together so well with fairy tales: Just try to imagine Little Red Riding Hood getting lost in a sweltering swamp or Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs on a sunny beach – the stories just wouldn’t be the same.
Not surprisingly, fairy tale forests are frequently interpreted to symbolise the human unconscious: both are mysterious places inhabited by beasts and secrets, and just like fairy tale heroines have to face what is hidden in the shadows of the trees, we have to come to terms with the beasts buried deep inside us – our fears, our desires, our dreams.
I should probably spend more time trying to find and tame the creatures inside me, but dreaming of unicorns and werewolves just seems a lot more fun.
Fairy tales let me fall in love with storytelling way before I could read or write a single word. Little Red Riding Hood, Briar Rose and Hansel and Gretel have been my friends long before I had real friends, and I remember only too well begging my mum to read me just one more story before it was time to sleep.
Looking at fairy tales now, as a grown-up (at least according to my ID) and a feminist, they appear very different to me. They’re no longer the innocent stories I remember. Yes, they promote perfectly innocent values: virtue, bravery, kindness. But also heteronormativity and sexism.
I should have seen that all along, but of course, you only see what your eyes have been opened to. As a little girl, you hardly ever question why every female’s goal is to marry a prince they’ve never met, why every ambitious woman is a cruel witch or a spinster, why it’s usually the men who go on adventures and save the world.
A study from 1990 shows just how much this gender stereotyping influences children: when 2.500 pupils were asked to write their own fairy tales based on a given introduction, almost all chose a female protagonist if the first line indicated victimization and oppression; if the sentence promised adventure and autonomy, on the other hand, they chose a male protagonist.
Sure, fairy tales can have a positive effect on children: they boost their imagination, show them how to tell right from wrong, and teach them that life isn’t always easy or fair.
But if we don’t address the underlying sexism and stereotyping, they believe that’s normal – just look at all the girls still thinking it’s enough to be beautiful and to wait for a prince to come along and save them.
Screw the princes, ladies. Be brave and save yourself.
Ever since I went to Nottingham two weeks ago I tend to believe the second option. I saw a Robin Hood food truck in the city centre, and there was a small exhibition about him at the castle, but that was all; compared to the mass of stylish little shops full of bearded men, that’s nothing. Robin Hood, make place for the true symbol of Nottingham: the well-groomed, bearded gentleman. (I don’t want to claim that facial hair and gentleman-like behaviour are related in any specific way; “bearded gentleman” just has a much nicer ring to it than “bearded bastard”, although the alliteration certainly has its appeal…)
Anyway, enough about beards.
I honestly didn’t know much about Nottingham before I went there, and if it hadn’t been for a concert I desperately wanted to see I probably wouldn’t have gone there any time soon. People tell you to go to London, Liverpool, Manchester, York, but no one ever seems to recommend Nottingham. That’s a shame — it’s a fun city with lots of really cool places to discover.
For example, 200 Degrees Coffee Shop. My Couchsurfing host Jake (a bearded barber, by the way) suggested this as a meeting point, and since I could really do with some caffeine and a croissant after the rather tiresome train and bus ride, I gladly let Google Maps take me there. The café is housed in a gorgeous 17th century coaching inn, and it’s just about as cool as a coffee shop can get. There’s dark wood panelling on the walls and a massive old fireplace, and there are a lot of simple wooden tables all over the place where hipsters and a few normal people sit around with their laptops or simply enjoy a cup of coffee with friends. And the coffee and the food are absolutely delicious.
Anyone who likes pancakes should stop by at The Pudding Pantry. It’s a cute, bright café with white and pastel coloured interiors that serves amazing pancakes in every variation you can think of: Classic with maple syrup and butter, with blueberry compote, with peanut butter and banana, with bacon, with chocolate, with cream and fresh fruit. The scrambled eggs and zucchini fritters also looked great, and everything is prepared freshly and with love.
There are also some pretty amazing art galleries. The fabulous P Spowage Art Gallery is — surprise! — next door to a barbershop on Byard Lane. It spreads over several floors and 10 rooms, each of them with a different style or theme: one room is full of simple, powerful paintings showing silhouettes of people on white canvas, the next one shows bright, colourful animal portraits, and another one showcases impressionistic watercolour cityscapes. Most paintings are by Pete Spowage, but he also rents out rooms to other artists. That day, two of them were just working on their latest pieces and told me about their art while letting me watch them, which was really fascinating.
Nottingham Contemporaryis another great gallery. At the moment, it shows Marguerite Humeau’s brilliant exhibition FOXP2. In a way, it is one of the strangest art installations I’ve seen so far: the first part is a sound installation in a dark corridor simulating the moment when the gene FOXP2 mutated and triggered the development of language, while the second part can be described as a luminous “biological showroom” full of huge white sculptures of mourning elephants, the only colour in the room being a pastel shade of pink here and there to make it feel a bit less sterile and laboratory-like. That sounds weird, I know, but it doesn’t feel weird at all when you hear and see it.
Hockley, the creative and “hip” part of Nottingham, is great for strolling around without a plan. There are loads of brilliant vintage shops, small galleries, lovely cafés and weird pubs. Additionally, there’s Broadway Cinema, one of the best independent cinemas in the region (I wish we had something like that in Lincoln). And, just a few steps down the road, there’s Rough Trade, the legendary independent record store originally from London. I don’t even have a record player, but there’s something about record stores that magically pulls me towards them. Rough Trade is especially dangerous because they’ve got a tremendously nice selection of books there, too.
Since I’ve already mentioned books: There’s a multi-storey Waterstones in the city centre, but even better isFive Leaves Bookshop, a small and charming independent shop specialising in politics, psychology, LGBT and international literature. You’ll find classics and bestsellers there alongside carefully selected quirky and little-known fiction and non-fiction works, and it’s by far too easy to forget the time in there while browsing through the shelves.
Last but not least, there’s Nottingham Castle, easily the most famous attraction of the city — and that even though the castle no longer exists! The original castle (built on orders of William the Conqueror in 1067) was destroyed in the 17th century, but shortly afterwards the Duke of Newcastle had the Ducal Palace built on the site. This then was set on fire during riots in 1837 and later remodelled into a museum for fine art.
The permanent exhibition of portraits and landscapes shows a beautiful selection of artworks from local, national and international artists living and working between the 12th and the 20th century. Additionally, there’s an exhibition about Robin Hood and one about the riots, and there are a number of temporary exhibitions displaying contemporary art and historical artefacts. It might not be a real, big, Game-of-Thrones-like castle, but it’s a lovely place nonetheless.
All these things easily filled my two days in Nottingham, and from everything I’ve heard and seen, there’s a lot more to see and do there. Watching ice hockey or taking a tour down to the caves below the castle, for example. And Nottingham is supposed to have some amazing clubs, bars and live venues.
If I’ve learned anything about Nottingham, it’s this: there’s a whole lot more to this city than Robin Hood. Or even beards.
Some time ago, a friend told me to check out a place called Coffee Aroma, in her opinion the best place to—you guess it—get coffee here in Lincoln. Or to enjoy a relaxed music night. Or just hang out.
Probably lured there by the smell of freshly ground coffee and the prospect of being able to warm myself up after almost losing my nose to frostbite in the library, I somehow ended up before the open doors of the café just a few days later. Naturally, I had to go in and find out whether she was right.
Well… I think I haven’t seen enough of Lincoln and its coffee places yet to be qualified to give a verdict. But, honestly, it will be very hard to beat this place. Coffee Aroma is amazing: great coffee, great atmosphere, great staff. And great music, too.
It is spread over three floors, with the bar and a few seats downstairs and the main seating area upstairs. Once you manage not to fall down the horribly narrow and steep stairs they seem to love so much here in England, you reach a room full of cosy sofas, armchairs, and a few tables with normal chairs.
I walked in with the intention of just having a coffee and then going back to the library. Instead, I ended up wasting two hours with doodling in one of the numerous notebooks I always carry around with me and looking at all the little messages and drawings stuck on one of the walls, all little souvenirs left behind by visitors.
These range from a simple “Thank you for the coffee” to intricate portraits of strangers, from confessions like “I hate my friends but it’s just too hard to find new ones” and “I shot John Lennon!” to the odd “Java the Hutt”-sketch. Some of them make you wonder a little about the mental state of these people, but mostly it’s just hilarious to read which stories and messages people choose to leave behind.
It was quite full that day, so I had to take whichever seat was free, but I spotted a few tables in the back of the room that seemed to have “Take all your notebooks, your pens, and your laptop, it’s much better to work here than in that library!” written all over them.
So today, here I am, sitting on one of those tables with an army of pens, a notebook and my laptop spread out in front of me, enjoying a Flat White and a Pain au Chocolat and writing this blog post. It might not be as quiet as the library, but the noise of people chatting is weirdly relaxing—the place is just so alive, you almost feel it vibrate with stories.
And my nose feels comfortably warm.
I have the feeling that I will spend quite a lot of time here, sipping coffee (or tea) and writing stories.
England and Austria are less than 2 flight hours away. 2 hours isn’t much. How different can 2 countries this close actually be? Vastly different. For all I know they could be on different continents.
Obviously, the first big difference is the language. This is not dramatic, though: I’m used to that. I’ve had so many English lessons in my life that I almost feel more comfortable with English than with standard German, so no issues here.
The more important difference is the traffic. The damned hell-yes-we’ll-just-drive-on-the-wrong-side traffic that almost killed me on my first day here. No joke. If my flatmate hadn’t pulled me back, I’d now be a rather pitiable red stain on Lincoln High Street. The good thing about this near-death experience: I definitely learned my lesson.
And then there’s all the other, smaller things: The different sockets. The weird food (pizza with chicken tikka, anyone? Or rather Toad in a Hole?). The habit of putting milk in your tea. The weird coin system. The abundance of pubs (there’s even one on campus!). The cashiers in supermarkets calling you ‘my love’. The train system with different fares depending not only on the time you want to travel but also on the time you book the ticket (that almost makes me think fondly of the ÖBB, the national railway company in Austria – yes, they like to be late, and yes, they can be quite expensive, but at least the fares are standardised).
It’s a lot to get used to. Now, after almost 4 weeks here, it all already seems a little less strange. I feel a little less strange. In a couple of weeks, it will all feel totally normal.
This blog is about everything and nothing: It will chronicle my time in England – what I do, what I think, what I feel, what I see. It will be about adventures, dreams, books, people, silly thoughts, awkward moments and whatever else needs to be put into words. Will it be good? Bad? Funny? Weird? I don’t know.