On rage against ridiculous rules

It’s the last day of my holiday and I’m on a train back home. Just one (three counting the local trains at each end) with no changes between Düsseldorf and Berlin (which is a very good thing considering how much luggage I have* and how often the lifts are broken).

Besides being tired and achy and looking forward to getting home and having a bath, I am currently incredibly smug and incredibly angry in fairly equal parts.

***

I booked a ticket for myself and my bike in advance. For unknown and uninteresting reasons, the train carriages are in a different order today and the space I booked doesn’t exist at all. There is still a fairly large bike compartment though, so I set up camp here in the corner.

I have a seat, my bike and luggage was on the train and out of the way and there was enough space for multiple people with suitcases to get on at the same station and wait until they find a seat.

So far so good.

When the ticket lady checked my ticket a couple of hours into the journey she told me that I had to hang my bike on one of the allocated bike hooks. I told her it was less in the way as it was and she just repeated that I had to and added that there would be stress if I didn’t.

After a while she went away and I went back to what I was reading.

Cue the next ticket lady’s entrance.

Ticket lady 2: What did my colleague ask you to do?

Me: *shrugs*

TL2: She told you to hang your bike up on the hooks, didn’t she.

Me: Mm. It would be in the way if I did that.

TL2: We will need the space if other people with bikes get on the train.

Me: Mhmm.

TL2: Hang your bike on the bike hooks, now.

Me: Whatever. *hangs bike on hook*

We now have the following situation:

My bike is now on a hook. It is officially conforming to all the rules and regulations concerning bikes on trains.

However.

The hooks are arranged in such a manner that you can fit the maximum number of bikes into the minimum amount of space with access to each of them separately. The theory is good, in practice it only works if there are no people in the area at the same time.

Unfortunately the train before this one was cancelled so there are a lot of extra people on board. It’s not bursting at the seams but there are a lot of people who haven’t found seats in the main passenger areas and are sitting in the bike section.

My bike is now perpendicular to the windows. It is about two thirds of the width of the carriage and there is a fold-down seat directly behind it. That leaves approximately 30cm between the back wheel and the-smallish-kid-on-the-fold-down-seat’s knees. Everyone who wants to walk along the train has to squeeze through the gap. After already squeezing past the smallish-kid’s family, and before squeezing between a foolishly placed dividing wall/electricity box and a lady with a large suitcase.

I feel sorry for everyone getting on or off the train with a suitcase or a buggy, and for the smallish kid who has to stand up to let them through, BUT, I take great pleasure in watching the (large :)) ticket lady squeeze past. If anyone complains I will refer them back to her too.

***

Just to clarify, I don’t think rules (and their enforcement) are automatically unnecessary, but I am 100% against enforcing rules purely for the sake of it, to the detriment of other good things like comfort.

Not that I am personally affected one way or the other. My seat is protected by the electrical box. At least until all the bike hooks are taken. I’d have to move then. It’s unlikely though – no new bikes have arrived in the compartment since I moved mine and I doubt any will. It’s November. The chances of five more bikes needing space on this train is remote.

🙂

* I’ve been back to my friend’s house and picked up all the things she brought back from England for me.

On being a good photographer (or maybe just on taking lots of pictures)

I was recently in Girona on my way from Murcia towards Berlin.

Girona is a really pretty city, at least what I saw in the 17 or so hours I was there. Much friendlier than Barcelona and much less scary to walk around at night.

I wandered between the old old houses and shops, admiring the art nouveau balconies and door handles, stopping ever few hundred metres to take photos of things people probably mostly ignore. Missing bricks, the compass worked into the street, the street signs and the people on the traffic lights.

I visited the ancient Arabic baths and tried to visit the cathedral (but decided the entrance fee was unjustified). I was on my way to the remains of the tall wall that originally enclosed the city when I met Amanda.

I didn’t know she was called Amanda and I wasn’t out to meet anyone. Especially someone as glamorous as Amanda. I wanted to know how to get onto the wall and she was the only person around to ask. If there’d been anyone else I would have asked them instead.

“I think there’s a staircase along here next to the tower, let’s go and find out.”

She set off and I followed at a distance, leaving her some space – space it turned out she wasn’t really all that interested in.

***

“Do you think you could take a picture of me?”

She’d been fighting her phone for a while, trying to find a way to fit herself, the wall and the cathedral onto one photo.

“Yeah, sure, if you show me how your phone works..”

She handed it over (“Just press here”) and started posing, adjusting her hair and sunglasses, shuffling her position, arranging and rearranging herself, letting the sun dance on her face and make her earrings sparkle – obviously this is something she’s used to doing.

Click.

“Hey, give me your bag and your water bottle – they don’t need to be in the picture, and I’ll move my bag out of the way too. There.”

Click click click.

“The wind keeps messing my hair up..”

“I think if you turn just a bit more to the left.. Perfect.. Hold that…”

Click. Click. Click click click.

“Here, have a look to see if you’re happy with them. I can take more if you don’t like them.” I hand her phone back.

“Wow! You took loads! Thank you! I love this one, and this one. And this one’s good with the cathedral – you’re a really good photographer. Thank you so much!” She smiled as she flicked through the pictures. “Can you take another one of me in close up? From over there..”

Click. Click click. Shuffle. Rearrange. Click.

“There you go.”

“Thanks ever so much. That’s brilliant. Thank you!” she gushes. “Most people just take one and don’t check if you have your eyes shut or if you’re smiling. They don’t even make sure that the scenery fits on the photo. You’re lucky if they don’t cut part of your head off..” She paused. “Do you want me to take some of you?”

*panic* “Uh…” My mind races. Me? No way. Why not? I can’t. Just because you don’t usually. You can’t always hide behind the camera.. Ugh. “Ok. Go ahead. Please.”

My phone beeps as I hand it over – less than 10% battery life left. I hope it lasts until I’ve found my way back to the station. I hope there are plugs on the train. I hope I’m there in time to catch the train. I hope..

Click.

I stop thinking about the rest of the journey for a minute and try and act a fraction as cool as Amanda while she takes pictures. I think I need more practice at this posing lark.

Then it’s over (“Is that ok? Want any more?” “No, that’s more than enough, I have to get back to the station..”). I jump down off the wall, get my phone back, pick up my bags, start to leave.

Halfway down the steps I remember the other lady who’d been sitting by herself and who’d watched us taking pictures of each other for a few seconds before turning back to stare across the city. I go back up to the platform and ask her if she wants her photo taken too. She looks up, shy, and tells me she was going to take a selfie, but if I’m offering.. She stops mid-sentence, reminding me more of myself than of Amanda. I put down my bags and take her phone. She looks like she feels even more awkward than me as she balances on the wall, hugging her knees. I take a couple of pictures and ask her if she wants to move along the wall a bit – the sun’s behind her and I can only take pictures of her silhouette. She laughs, moves, resettles. “Better?” “Much.”

Click click. Click. Click click click.

I move too, trying to get her and the cathedral and the wall and the clouds onto a picture without anything getting in the way of anything else.

“This is like a proper photo shoot!”

I doubt it but we laugh anyway. She’s finally relaxed enough to sit naturally.

Click. Click.

Click.

Beep! My phone is still in the process of dying, reminding me that I have a train to catch. I hand her phone back and say I have to go. She thanks me and goes back to her original position, looks across the city, looks at the pictures I’ve taken. Smiles.

I catch up with Amanda at the bottom of the tower, she’s been waiting for me. She wants me to take more photos of her along the next section of the wall.

We align clouds, walls, towers, roofs, trees as we make our way towards the end of the wall, sharing fragments of our lives – and the current moment – with each other. It appears we’re not so different after all, our reasons for being in Girona, our opinion of Barcelona, our travel plans for the next few days. Not identical, but similar enough to feel more than coincidental. The realisation that there’s a person under all that make-up is a surprise. Especially a person I can relate to. I am always surprised by this; in my mind at least, I still associate heavily made up people with the “cool” girls in my class at school. The ones who would rather do anything than talk to me and risk losing their coolness. The ones I had less than nothing in common with. The ones I still ‘see’ despite the years and miles between us.

At the end of the wall she thanks me again, profusely, for all the photos I took along the way, telling me again that I’m a great photographer. She ignore my protests that I just take lots of pictures and occasionally some work well, and instead wishes me a good time travelling. She insists we take a selfie together. One each. To remember.

Together. Me and Amanda. The laid back, perfectly made up, glamorous Amanda from Brazil, with her pearl earrings and flowing hair, who wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine or on one of those huge roadside posters advertising sunglasses or perfume, and me. In one picture. On purpose. Despite my messy bun and crumpled skirt and bag lady luggage. My word.

One day, I decide, I will lose some of my shallowness. Some of my prejudice. And maybe, maybe also some of my reluctance to talk to [makeup wearing] strangers.

***

This is me, sitting at the top of a tower on Girona’s city wall in November, taken by Amanda from Brazil:

On memory

My phone is striking.

Apps stop working mid-process, the map doesn’t know where I am, messages don’t send, emails don’t load, the camera won’t take pictures. It’s a pain.

Especially when I still have a weekend left on the road (/rails) and a million photo opportunities. The sun’s out, autumn is well and truly here and it’s golden and crunchy and beautiful. And I want to catch it, preserve it for grey days when I can’t remember what the sun feels like.

Memory full.

Please delete everything to continue.

Ok. Maybe not quite everything. But lots.

I don’t want to delete anything at all. I want to keep everything. Always. Almost always. Even the blurry photos are keys to memories of train rides, bike rides, cold hands, rushing to be somewhere else but desperate to get a picture of where I am as I go. The picture itself is often meaningless, but it reminds me to remember something else.

It’s true of my life as much as my phone. I don’t like getting rid of memories. Mostly. Sometimes I try and they refuse. Much like the photos on my colleague’s phone that kept reappearing no matter how often he deleted them.

On the other hand..my memory strikes too, sometimes. Remembering things seems hard, harder than it should be. Or maybe I’m running too many programmes at once. Hard to say.

For instance, I don’t remember when I last manually backed up my pictures. More accurately, I remember joining my phone to my computer and starting the import, I just don’t remember when it was relative to now and if it worked or not. Sometimes my computer strikes too. If it did work, I could delete the pictures I already have on the computer and make space on my phone. But I don’t remember.

Various clouds have my name on but I don’t trust them enough to just delete everything and hope for the best. My colleague asked me for help with his disappearing and reappearing photos. In the process of finding out what was going on, we discovered that his cloud is only accessible from his phone, since then, my already low view of virtual memory has sunk further.

Memory full.

Please delete everything to continue.

I won’t. I’m spending time during the boring bits of train journeys, going through the masses of old pictures and deleting the ones I probably wouldn’t miss if I really don’t already have them. It’s long-winded so it’s a good thing I’m travelling so far in the dark and/or in trains with windows so dirty I can’t see out.

On the first night in a new city

I moved to Germany to be an AuPair a couple of months over 13 years ago.

I set out by myself with a suitcase and a backpack, flew a few hundred kilometres and got a bus and a train across Germany, in order to live with a family I hadn’t even heard of a week before.

Afterwards, people asked me if I’d been scared, or told me that I was brave or crazy or that they couldn’t have done that. I didn’t understand them, I was just doing what was necessary for the next step. You can’t learn a language better than if you fully immerse yourself in it after all.

I can’t claim I wasn’t at all nervous, but I had so much more to do than concentrate on it.

***

Today, I got a train from Murcia (and K) to Barcelona (via Alicante but that’s another story).

I am currently staying with people I don’t know in a city I’d never been to until last week (and even then only for a matter of minutes). I say ‘staying with’, but I actually mean I am staying in a room they’ve made free for me. Our paths hardly cross besides exchanging pleasantries and the keys.

As I lie in this tiny room, sprawled out across this bed that is mine for one night only, I realise that I haven’t ever been on holiday by myself. I’ve moved house multiple times, I was an AuPair for 3 families in 3 different places, I’ve been to conferences and seminars and schools and last year to a fish meeting. But I’ve never been anywhere by myself just because.

Purely for the fun of it.

Without a good raison d’etre.

Without a plan or a purpose or anyone I know coming along for the ride.

It feels frivolous – I’m spending money on myself without any kind of visible or tangible or describable payback. There are no course notes, no minutes. Nothing I can show to anyone else afterwards, nothing for a CV or an interview. Nothing I can point at and say, “Look. It was worth the money and effort and time off”.

I’m not spending time with anyone, not helping anyone, not listening to anyone, not filling anyone’s ears with my words. (Your eyes don’t count ;p)

There’s no one else who benefits from it, except maybe my hosts. Just me. Anything that happens, or doesn’t happen, pretty much only affects me.

It feels really weird, and unexpectedly more scary than it has any right to be.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet it also feels good.

And kind of addictive. Like a kick from a drug I haven’t let myself have for a long time, reawakening the urge to just do things without so many millions of thoughts.

I might have to do this more often.

But first I have to find something something to eat.

🙂

Barcelona here I come!

😛

On mysterious markets and frustrating pastries

There was an “antique” market held here today.

When I think of antiques I usually think of expensive furniture. In this case the antiques were a mixture of things without any obvious age limit or theme. It was more like a sale of anything old enough and/or bizarre enough not to be wanted by the original owner.

After wandering through the market and back we needed sustenance.

Luckily, Murcia is full of bakeries.

Unfortunately, not all pastries are as tasty as they look. These are filled with overly sweetened strings of an unidentifiable fruit.

Later this evening, I tried yet another good looking pastry and it was disappointingly dry and unremarkable.

In the last few days, on the walk to the sanctuary and on trips around the city, we tried various different sweet and savoury pasties. All of them had the potential to be delicious. Most of them failed. I probably use more herbs and spices and less sugar in my cooking than K does, but we both agreed that the savoury pasties are mostly bland and the sweet pastries often too sweet or too sticky or too dry or too oily.

Considering how attractive they are, it’s very frustrating not being satisfied with the taste/texture.

On having Murcian Churros for breakfast

Lots of Murcians (and possibly lots of other Spaniards) have Churros for breakfast.

Churros are like pieces of deepfried (oozing) doughnut-dough rings. Here, you dip them into thick, custard-like, rich hot chocolate.

When in Murcia, do as the Murcians do.

So I did. And here they are:

On being a late starter

I signed up for Ra’s nanopoblano gig and promptly missed the first day. (ironically because I was deeply involved in a conversation about being late until the early hours of today).

Here’s to starting late and talking later 🙂

On looking out of the window

I’m taking my bike to France by train..

I thought I could spend the 15 hour journey writing and catching up with myself and re-working my website etcetcetc.

Instead I’m looking out of the window and taking numerous blurry pictures of the rivers and mountains I’m going past.

The writing will have to wait.

On vegetable shopping

Train station, half past 6.

Smallish kid: “Mum! Mum! Mum! Can we stop and buy vegetables?!”

Kid’s brother: ” No!”

Smallish kid: “Mum! Can we buy vegetables, please!”

Kid’s mum: “No. We’re in a hurry to get to <Somewhere>. Wait, what?”

Smallish kid: “Can we buy vegetables?”

Kid’s mum: “What do you want to buy vegetables for?”

… And then they were out of earshot. They didn’t buy anything.