Hands off my private life! This is addressed to a certain person who knows that I refer to her! Is this clear enough! I hope so!
Hands off my private life! This is addressed to a certain person who knows that I refer to her! Is this clear enough! I hope so!
The last place I lived in was a neglected place, a house that slowly fell apart, full of mould, decay, dust, and broken promises.
I moved to a place in the docks, temporarily. This one is a sick place, slowly decaying. The floors emit fumes. The house smells of strange chemicals. Ladybirds nest in the kitchen, a plague, and they slowly die. They fall onto the worktop and shit on the plates. They leave little brown marks behind. One can so easily forget that beetles have a digestive system, too.
It is not a bad house. It seems to be part of the natural habitat, the river Thames and the Thames Lock, all the water, the land, the birds, the seagulls, the parakeets, and the pigeons. It decays in rhythm with the river, the woods, the grass, and the sky. It listens to the airplanes, as it is situated below the Heathrow flying path.
I can’t sleep here. It is too warm. I have switched the radiators off in most of the rooms. Still it is too warm. My mouth is always dry, and I long for the water in the bottle besides the bed, like somebody who is dying with thirst.
The place is polished on the surface, but there are cracks. The blue wall in the staircase is discoloured in places, near the radiators there is water damage, the floors in the bathrooms are wooden, they should be tiled with stone or ceramic tiles. The shower lead is too short. The balcony door only opens with gentle persuasion. I have realised that swearing at it does not help.
I am slowly growing into the house, like a piece of moving furniture, going from one room to another, avoiding the forbidden rooms, and finally sitting on the balcony with a cup of coffee and reading Umberto Eco’s novel about a man who has lost his memory. Slowly I am forgetting who I am. Am I a person or an accessory to the house near the river?
I am opening the balcony door and breathing in the clear air that sometimes is polluted by fog, exhaust fumes and burning oil. All the stressful times of the past are forgotten: working on my PhD, having to move out from my place, needing to find a job. All is forgotten.
Also the masses of ladybirds that have nested in the kitchen cannot irritate me any longer. Even if officially it has been acknowledged:
My dear landlords are old fashioned. They believe that it is sweet having masses of ladybirds in the kitchen, aggressive Chinese predators, as the article in the Independent (see link above) has stated. They think that these sweet little red bugs will live forever. While the homeowners are spending some time in warm and summery Australia, I am collecting bug corpses in my kitchen. Initially these bugs are mummified, then they fly for a few hours, circling around the kitchen light, more often crawling alongside the window frames, only to fall onto the floor or into the kitchen sink.
Who wants to associate red, black-dotted insects with death!
The big glass screens are decorated with bird shit. Noisy and green parakeets are sailing into and out of the balcony area, leaving greenish brown marks on the glass. Perhaps they hear the sounds of the little ladybirds, these bugs that seem to scream, “Eat me, drink me, kill me, oh parakeets!”
The seagulls are even louder than the parakeets. They observe their territory and aren’t interested in the dying ladybirds inside the house. The gulls are keeping their distance. Not so the grey pigeon that flies directly into the glass. Perhaps she wants some bug stew. Enough dead beetles are lying on the floor. Most of the time I use shovel and brush and throw the corpses into the waste bin, not into the biological but into the general household waste.
Kamikaze pigeon flies into the glass, is slightly confused, might have suffered a concussion, but she only leaves some feathers behind. Then she weaves, shakes her head in disbelief (or so I remember it), and off she flies into the big wild world of parakeets, seagulls, pigeons and imprisoned ladybirds that drive me mad as their corpses fall into the china and the cutlery displayed on the kitchen worktop.
There is death everywhere!
Music: Ladybird, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIPQVpw-zkk
Date: Friday, March 27th, 2015
Place: Bus stop in Richmond, Greater London, UK
An older woman (and I am not that young anymore) started to chat to me. Either she was bored or she felt benevolent and wanted to suss out other people’s opinions. Whatever had led her to be friendly changed when she heard my accent. I am Austrian. Sometimes people note a Dutch accent, if they are in a good mood they believe I am French. I never had a thick German accent.
So, after her sensitive ears had been offended by my foreign accent, and she had found out that I was not a tourist, her first question was “Do you work?”.
I was speechless. After 18 years as British resident, this was the first time I had been asked this question, a question that implies that either we foreigners are spongers and jobless or are taking away British jobs. She peppered me with this question. So I stuttered, but found my composure again and told her firmly that I worked in Higher Education and had helped and taught countless British and foreign students. I wanted to convince her that I was a valuable member of society, even as a foreigner who had invaded her little England.
During the short conversation her body language changed from friendly (when she did not realise that I was a foreigner) to defensive (foreigner alert!) to embarrassed/submissive when she realised that I was a valuable working member of society that educated the British youth.
During the last two or so years my status has changed from EU citizen to EU migrant. I do feel this. London is a bit different. It is multicultural and full of people from all over the UK, the former colonies, foreigners who work over here, EU citizens from the old and the new member countries, refugees, visitors.
My status as a migrant makes me into a third class citizen. As an EU citizen I was at least a second class one. First class is only for the indigenous people, preferably white and English (Anglo-Saxon, Norman). As a third class citizen, people assume I might be from a poorer EU country like Poland or Romania. They believe that I take away their livelihood and abuse Britain’s NHS resources. I must note here that countless English bathrooms would still be full of mould and carpets, if Polish craftsmen and builders had not changed the English bathroom and kitchen culture for the better.
The anti-migrant and anti-EU rhetorics of the Tory government and the rise of UKIP have made me, the (EU) migrant, feel less welcome and more uncomfortable. For the last 18 years Great Britain has been my home. The future will show, if the UK will expel me or I will leave voluntarily or I will stay in this still rather freedom loving, open and interesting country.
Music: Klumzy Tung and Beardyman “Little England”
The world hasn’t changed that much. Apparently we have become more selfish and more utilitarian. I remember the disgust in my mother’s eyes, when she told me that in the 1950s and 60s farmers in the rich parts of Upper Austria brought their ailing wives to hospital shortly before they were dying. When asked why they had not come earlier, they said, “I call the vet for my cows, because they are a valuable asset, but I can find a new wife and possibly gain some more land by marrying a rich one”.
I have heard of older men who don’t allow their wives to switch the light on when it is dark or use a fan when it is so hot that they might succumb to a heat stroke. For these people saving money, and believe me, they are well off, is more important than the wellbeing of their loved or shall I say hated ones. Yes, and there are mean and greedy women, too.
There is something that is called “Altersgeiz” in German; perhaps one could call it penny pinching in old age.
It could be one of the expressions of dementia. It could be plain nastiness or that these people had been mean well before they aged. It could be that fear of dying manifests itself in not letting go of valuables and money by hoarding them and not sharing them.
Having too many assets is valued in this society. Look at Rupert Murdoch, the octogenarian, who wants to swallow up Warner Brothers to become even richer and more powerful! So sycophants can become even more sycophantic. It is control and not being able of letting go, in Freudian terms an expression of being anally retentive, that is valued and celebrated. If people like Murdoch would eat too much, they would become immensely obese. They would be judged as unhealthy and anti-social in today’s society. But people who amass more and more assets, often by exploiting cheap labour or weak laws, or even by cheating, are seen as role models in a sick society. Though, society has been ill and money has been the main value for quite a while.
Austerity does idolise money. It has become a form of life itself. It has become so important that one sacrifices people, citizens and children under the pretence of having to reduce debt and refilling the treasure chest. Money is more important than people. The term “human capital” is telling. Everything is capital in a neoliberal society. All is material and all can be capitalised. Human capital is here in abundance, while oil and diamonds are rather rare. I’d like to refer to the dire working conditions on some oil rigs and in most diamond mines. In a neoliberal society human capital is not worth a lot with the exception of the crème de la crème, the self-nominated leaders, gang masters and masters of exploitation. They know how to run the show and keep the masses in the circuit of self-exploitation.
So many people are lonely when they age; and so many ageing people, who are lonely, have been so before and don’t share and don’t let go. Too many people value materialistic stuff, their houses, their cars, and their status symbols. They moan and groan about being lonely, but are still not willing to share, even if it is only a cup of tea or a smile.
I am not ageist. I am ageing myself and observing the world around me. I am not lonely, but alone sometimes. And I do not mind being alone. I still love life and people, not always, but most of the time. I still have a mission, and I have desires and targets. I am an artist. I have a life. Getting older does not mean that one has to succumb to loneliness; and it also doesn’t mean that one has the right to be nasty and bitter and angry (especially towards others), just because one has lived for quite a while.
Music: Money by Pink Floyd, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkhX5W7JoWI
Photo source: Central Park from the Mayflower on the Park Hotel, N.Y.C., © 2004 by Gudrun Bielz
Why did it take me so many years to find out that I am fine? I am an artist, not a kindergarten teacher. I am not here to bolster some insecure guy’s weak ego, only to be diminished and attacked for what I am and what I am not.
Music: Eminem, “The Way I am”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd6pRP081cs
Photo source: copyright Gudrun Bielz, 2014
My grand-aunt Rosa lived as a lodger with a rather scary old woman. I loved aunt Rosa. When I was a child she was already well in her late 60s or early 70s, a kind old woman with platinum blond hair, red fingernails and the face of a lovely little monkey. She had an unforgettable spirit, much energy and showed great generosity. Aunt Rosa took regularly the Orient Express to Bucharest visiting her friends and relatives there and in Sibiu, and smuggling stuff out of Romania in her apricot coloured big bustier. No customs officer dared controlling her bust or underwear. She frequently provided us children with colourful rahat or Turkish delight, hazelnut or chocolate halva, pan flutes, very dry figs and dates, oriental sweets and strangely dressed dolls and wooden toys. She provided us with a mixture of oriental and occidental culture and told us tales from the past, the beginning of the 20th and the end of the 19th century. She died when she was 97, after a rich and fulfilling live on her own and with a husband ten years her junior, a first violinist in a theatre orchestra, who had perished when she was sixty.
We did not go to our grand-aunt’s place very often. She regularly came to see us and had always a present for everybody. She brought cakes made with 10 duck eggs or rich chocolate tarts that contained enough butter and cream to feed a whole village. Only twice visited we her place, a separate part of the flat belonging (or not belonging) to the sinister elderly landlord. Aunt Rosa lived in a huge bedroom with a queen size bed displaying large embroidered cushions, handmade dolls and animal puppets. This room had to serve as bedroom, kitchen and living room; and I believe that there was a shared bathroom.
I remember that my mother remarked disapprovingly that the landlord was not really the owner of the apartment, as this was a dispossessed property that had belonged to a Jewish family before WWII. The story of dispossession and political persecution (to be precise, both the story of victim and perpetrator – a rather schizophrenic situation) also defines the history of my family. But this is another tale.
I will never forget the disgust and the shame expressed by my mother as well as the uncomfortable feelings arising, when we visited my lovely grand-aunt in this tainted flat that had belonged to a Jewish family, who was probably dead. If they had been fortunate, they had survived and escaped to a safe place. But nobody ever turned up to get back what had been theirs before the horrible war and still was rightfully their property.
Photo source: http://kitchenmason.com/
Information: Orient Express in Bucharest, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7V4HwySAw4, 2014-02-10
Video: Ustinov on the Orient Express, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgpmE5MtgkY, 2014-02-10