Love and Chaos Part 4(D) The Concert of Grotesques

28th December 2020

Dance of Death | Medieval Wall
Dance of Death. Medieval church painting in Istria (Google Images)

Part Four

It was at the end of the day that they were first seen. The farm hands, their pitches and scythes, were gathering. Animals into their pens, herded. Backs were rubbed, and arms stretched. If only the day’s hardships and troubles could so easily alleviated, be. The House of Religion began it’s bells to chime and to its evening service, the villagers drew.

Little Lotte claimed it was her. Her brother asserted no, falsehood, it was he. The scrofulous old maid, desperate for recognition, said it was she, the crippled tinker, till his dying die, would brook no argument, for he was the one, the one who, on that cold, windy evening, did first, the strangers, see.

They appeared, no matter who first spied them, on the southern hill, overlooking the settlement, four curious figures, encumbered by implements ill defined.

First one, then two, then more and more, the villages, their tasks abandoned, looked towards the hill, following the little finger of Lotte and the crooked staff of the tinker.

A vision for the eyes, strange indeed, but now other senses assaulted, were. As if by accord, both common and rare, they took up their singular burdens and did, by bow and breathe, sounds quite unknown, make.

The entire village, motionless, were. Enraptured, captivated, held by forces both mysterious and mystic. All faced south, and tried to make rational, sounds so obscure. A melody at times hauntingly beautiful, at others, beautifully haunting, did the entire vale, fill, a music of such power, that even the beasts of the field were tamed into submission.

Then, with a solitary low note hanging in the air, the music faded.

But nobody dare move.

Slowly, did heads turn and the grey, bearded leader of religion his way to the hill, made. The younger men did their leader follow, picking up their tools as arms, because nothing inspires fear more than the unknown.

There they stood, four figures, framed against the greying clouds, holding shapes unearthly in appearance and sound.

Now they walked, as one creature, down the hill, in line, with calmness divine. Down they walked, showing no ill will, and discerning who was held in highest esteem, to the bearded one, words of introduction were made.

But mistrust was still in the air, their strange appearance did their strange sound, match.

Disconcerting were these concert makers, when as a quartet, taken, though, when up close, viewed, not one of the four was particularly abject to the eye.

The first, it was true, was of a height taller than most, the second was rotund, the third showing advance in years and the fourth, a leg impaired.

But, though disguised by accent harsh, the language was the same, and the hand proffered in good faith, was heartily, by the leader shook.

Weapons fell as smiles rose, as the men, as men do, clasped hands and patted shoulders, and the young maidens as maidens do, coyly peeked, then blushed and hid, only to return and peek once more.

To the House of Religion, did they move, where their story would be made known to all.

As could be told by their voices, without words, travelled long and far, these strangers had. The tall one began their tale.

When young, no taller than Little Lotte (who smiled so brightly at being singled out) they were summoned, from poor country homes, to the court of a cultured nobleman, with varied tastes and experience, but music, paramount to him, was.

From his distant journeys, he brought back masters of music of esoteric origin. It was his command that this music be reproduced at his court, for the glory of all, and due to the technical virtuosity involved, the only way was to find minds untainted and fresh, to instruct.

But, how cruel can Fate be ? Having spent their youth in study and practise, having acquired skill and ingenuity far beyond their years, having performed but a score of times, the nobleman did pass away and with him, was his court divided and impoverished. There was no place for the musicians who, to earn their bread, from town to town, village to village, forced to wander, were.

Though unsaid, all felt the cold winds of winter and the scorching heat of summer, the days of empty stomachs, the nights bereft of love. The whole village, by a wave of melancholy, infected, were.

Then the second man, of proud girth, did comment make, and all laughed as joy was restored. The Leader proclaimed, they were here and here they must stay. No ! No objections, harvest was good, water pure, houses warm and women … were they not the embodiment of all things Heavenly ? And, though he could not for certain say, if the Duke was made aware and approved of their art, then their future was surely safe.

That happy note struck, a feast was arranged, and though poor in substance, did in good spirit and cheer, abound.

And, indeed, it was within the passing of only three days, that messenger did appear, demanding acquaintance with the strangers of whom rumour did resound.

They needed no forced command, but with pleasure did take up instruments and begin to play. Performance proved, nay, surpassed all expectation, and back to court did messenger speed. Before nightfall, he did return, requesting their company by the grace of The Duke.

A quick farewell with shakes and pats and waves, and a tear or two from Little Lotte.

Then almost as quickly and suddenly as they had appeared, where they gone.

The court was no great distance hence, and to it did they travel by coach and liveried horse. Thundering across arched bridge, they raced to the castle, high on the hill, a commanding presence whose power was felt further than could even be seen from its summit on a clear day.

But no time to stop and admire, to work were they immediately put. A banquet, this time the genuine article, was taking place, and divers coaches filled the yard. Servants in rich attire lined corridors, rich, intricate tapestries hung off every wall, and laughter and talking rippled from the central room.

Tables of exquisite design were over-flowing with food and drink of every description, men and women dressed in such garments as defied all imagination. The poor itinerant musicians were ashamed to look up, dazed by such splendour. But their appearance provoked the same reaction. An immediate silence. All eyes upon the newcomers, unique.

From the top table, the grandest chair, the most elaborately dressed man, The Duke, himself, summoned them closer.

They walked, eyes still lowered, but, like all men, couldn’t help but be drawn towards the lady next to The Duke. She was young, with hair of honey gold, eyes of deepest, purest blue and lips like roses. She was perhaps, them most beautiful women any man had seen.

The Duke need merely clap, and the musicians knew their duty. With no consultation, the tall man took up his bow and played a note, then the others joined in.

And while they played, nobody spoke. And when they had finished, there was silence.

Everyone looked towards The Duke. He rose, majestically, raised his hands and with all magnanimity, did cause thunderous applause to echo around the stately room. His example followed and exceeded, all rose and cheered approval before The Duke spoke. By decree, the musicians will be staying as guests, then enter his service, where, for providing music for entertainment, they would be lavishly rewarded.

Cheers went up, applause, shouts and they even allowed themselves to raise their eyes from the ground and look at the eyes of all the young women devouring them, and even, though fleetingly, cast a furtive glance at the lady by The Duke, for she was the most beautiful of all.

So they lived, playing for parties and composing music in The Duke’s honour.

One day they were ordered to appear before him. They looked at each other, each one feeling the same palpitations, the cold sweet of pure fear. Slowly, to the chamber did they go, announced by court guard.

Within seconds did their fear subside. The Duke, in fact, did appear nervous and searched in vain for words correct. His wife, he explained, had decided she would like to add music to her list of accomplishments. Though he was an educated and sophisticated man, and knew that such talents came not overnight, but by lifetime of practise and devotion, loved his young wife more than life, so had consented to her wish, as he did to everything she, of him, asked.

The musicians, took no time to confer, the elder of them saying it would be a honour for them, and that they would do their best to instruct the young lady in all the skills she should desire.

The lady being young and impatient, the lessons began that very day.

But the lady, by her entourage of maidens, accompanied was. In the chamber, away from the guidance of the men, did give way to the foibles of their youth, giggling, whispering, pointing and, before end of lesson, in normal tones did speak.

Of progress was there but little. Nor was any made on subsequent days.

Back into the presence of The Duke, were the musicians ordered.

Now the elder virtuoso did venture to speak. ‘Twas such a pity that talent so evident should remain undeveloped. When asked to expand, the fourth, lame and bent, did make known the distracting influence of the young ladies who, not being of the same elegance, were not able to appreciate the art.

The tall and the rotund were forced to agree, and bemoan the waste of a gift so rare.

Then did The Duke think. With respect, did his cast his eye over the four. One tall and lean, awkward in co-ordination and protruding teeth. One over-weight and bearded, shining from sweet. Another old and toothless, perhaps lacking both desire and ability, and one who dragged a useless leg around. He could risk breaking court protocol, in the service of his wife’s advancement.

So it was arranged, the four would have the honour of private audience with the beautiful and gifted wife.

But The Duke, other troubles, did face. On the council of his young bride, who saw weakness and possibility in a neighbouring duchy, did The Duke an army raise.

Success came swift, until first one, then another setback experienced were. Now both armies were entrenched with gain on neither side.

But rumour moved fast, and told of succour asked and received, another army marching forth and defeat looking certain. The Duke must, to other lands go, requesting help and offering spoil.

Thus, after but a week of private tutoring, The Duke, with retinue, left the castle, but the lessons did continue.

The young bride was in centre, sat, the Sun around which the satellites did wander. Hair of honey-gold, eyes blue as ocean, lips as red roses.

As honey is from bees who sting, oceans swallow and drown and roses have thorns that pierce flesh, so the young lady did shout at and berate her instructors.

Then did change occur. First one, then another, did their garments discard, and appearance alter. Protruding teeth were plucked, revealing a healthy set, padding around another’s middle part removed was, another shook off signs of his advanced years, the last stretched a leg and demonstrated an agility quite unsuspected.

Despite such a metamorphosis, still the young lady had no idea who they were or why they were here, but a cry, heart-rending did she let out. Yet, on the strict orders of The Duke, they was no one to hear it.

Then did cloudy fear and terror cross the sunny countenance, as colour drained from wilted lips.

She remembered.

She turned to the second of the group, a healthy man, fit and lean, no longer constrained by fat, but clean.

And she remembered.

It had begun, many years before, in a small, poor collection of huts, too small to be village, too poor to be of importance. The low-lying ditch seemed always covered in fog, to be. Out of the mist, one discernible sight, one distant beacon of hope. The Castle so far away, on the hill.

The girl had to get there, but how ? No background, no attributes except a radiant beauty that would all too soon, lost be, working the land, and giving birth.

She must cultivate skills and learning to get her out of her hopelessness. There, in her birthplace, was a man famed for his culinary skill. No matter what scant source, he could turn all into a feast, with flavour abundant. He had knowledge of plants and herbs and knew how the taste to extract.

To him, the girl went, wanting to learn, but sensed a reticence on his part. The secrets came from and must go to, his family. So, an easy answer, she would be his, offer herself, be his wife, if he would first divulge.

So he did, secrets old and new, the knowledge of the fields was hers. But, before they could be for eternity joined, did the girl disappear.

The man, lost his skill, his will and sickness could he not escape. No longer able to provide for the people, was he by them, chased out, like an animal, to roam the lands.

The girl, meanwhile, had moved on to the next settlement.

The people here were plentiful and able to hunt in all weathers, for one knew the secret of turning animal hide into warm, protective garment.

Now the lady turned to one before her, formerly old and withered, now young and with renewed energy, filled. A second recognition beheld her.

To this large settlement, did her services in food preparation, offer.

Received was she, well by one and all, promising to impart her knowledge, but looking for a partner, she made it known.

By now, had she start to bloom, and many an eye in her direction turned. With such a choice, she told the one gifted with material that it was he, she desired.

The man was overcome, emotions he had never known. But first, all she asked was a show of trust. How did he make clothes so fine and grand out of such base material ?

The answers gushed forth, as he thought of his new life, he clothing, his wife feeding the settlement, starting a family and making it into a village for the betterment of all.

Yet, once more, after learning all that she could, she vanished, destroying a heart so true. As the heart suffered, so did the fingers, no more able to sew and stitch, and his worth being no more, was forced to find abode anew.

The Lady now turned to a man who before could barely walk, but was reminded of a man who had rode as if he and animal were one.

The Girl was now able to progress to a small village where her skills were of such high value, that she had to turn suitors away. She made it clear that her virtue was of importance utmost, and could not be even seen with a man, unchaperoned. How awkward, therefore, to find herself come across a young man, whilst out in the field gathering herbs. Awkward enough that she felt compelled to flee, but, in so doing, did twist an ankle so pretty and delicate, that the youth gladly offered her his mount to carry her back.

Oh, how proudly he rode, such a skill would serve any lucky young lady in good stead. With his command over the animals, surely this was a sign, divine, that he was to be her master. If only he would teach her, then could they together, ride. But, of course, such a secret would surely be reserved for one who would share life and bed.

Upon that spot, did Youth propose and Girl accept. Lessons began at once, how to tame, to ride, to sport.

But, once again, after she had learned all she could, into the very air did she disappear. The poor Youth, refusing all food and kind word, lay himself down to die. ‘Twas only the sound of his grieving horse that restored him, but no better would he get. No riding now, to deliver news, but to towns to procure alcohol and drink himself into stupor. So his life continued, till he was replaced and forced to leave the village, never to return.

Finally, The Lady, to the last one, looked.

A girl, so talented in providing food, warmth and riding was now able to have her choice among the bachelors of the town she had come to. But he heart was still in one place; The Castle whose shadow now extended over her new home, a town so close, that The Duke frequently passed through, and who would surely notice one so new and fair.

Yet her manners were not up to court standard, nor could she yet read. But there was a young teacher.

Once more, she chanced advances that advanced her chances. First, did she learn to read and with the tall young man, whose shyness was quite painful to see, did great progress make.

Now to other purposes. He was special adviser to the court, in matters of translation. She decided she would be his secretary. She asked, over and over, adjusting her dress, shaking out her hair, but could not break down his defences. A fortress around his heart, had he constructed, unable to believe that any woman, let alone a beauty, could ever want him.

The Castle was a hallowed building, admittance through it’s doors, a rare privilege. But not to a wife ? The Girl asked, reaching for a volume of romance verse, suggesting they read together, and their fingers touched, underlining words of love. One more fortress down.

Promising to be his and his alone, for evermore, she made him make her a lover’s promise: to bring her along to the next Castle visit. It would be the correct move, for The Duke to be informed of any changes in the life of so valued a servant.

The visit followed shortly after, some vernacular text needing translation. The Girl went along and The Youth listened to his assignment. No suspicions were aroused when he was allowed to retire to a study and his bride to be asked to remain, only pride that The Duke approved of his choice.

The unfortunate Youth had no idea what transpired between them, only that The Girl remained in The Castle after he was sent home, and that the next morning, scarcely after sunrise, was he awoken by armed guard and banished. No books was he allowed, just the clothes he wore, some bread, and a warning was he given that dare he ever to show his face again, it would be removed from the rest of his body.

Now that face was before her, hatred in his and all the other eyes.

And she had brought her downfall on herself.

She was aware that there was a Prince allied to the next Duchy. Any conflict there would bring The Prince into the fray, a Prince with such an army at his command, that he could not but help prove victorious. A Prince, as of yet, unwed. A Prince, destined to become King of a great land, in need of a Queen with knowledge of cooking, sewing, sportsmanship, reading, writing and his special weakness, music.

But as she mused on these thwarted plans, the Musicians began, in one movement, to disassemble their singular instruments, and reveal sharp knives, blades that glistened in the sunlight that poured through the stained glass windows which were soon to be stained with the blood of the treacherous Lady.

Although she was powerless, not once did she ask for mercy, but, they said, with a sly smile accepted her fate. It was over very quickly. None of the four had the heart for the kill, nor considered her death justifying damnation. Instead, four slashes across her face were traced, not fatal, but causing permanent scar and rendering a once beautiful face, hideous.

As she covered her wounds, she had another memory. She recalled the first man, the one with the art of cooking. He also could create music, from the finely worked bone of an animal, from blades of grass between his lips, from a piece of string, pulled taut, from horse hair over tight wire.

She let out a scream, but it was covered by a general Pandemonium. Trumpets blasted, messengers screamed, The Castle was in uproar. There had been a terrible battle, forces of another Prince had entered the fray. It was slaughter. The beloved Duke had fallen on the field. All was lost.

In such confusion, the Musicians could their escape, easily make. They simply vanished, as mysteriously as they had arrived. There are no records of any of them ever being seen again.

As for The Lady ? She was imprisoned in a remote tower in the north of the country, prey to the elements of that harsh climate, freezing in winter, burning in summer, empty of belly and alone both night and day.

After a time, she was forgotten completely, and it wasn’t until some years later that her skeleton was discovered. It is said that the skull appeared to be smiling, as if planning one final scheme …

Love and Chaos Part 3(F) Chris 2

13th December 2020

Image by Harald Ansorge from the music video ‘dwot’. Watch, like and subscribe on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxJBbyKLlp0

Part Three. Berlin. Summer 1994

Monika let out an exclamation of happiness. There was a parking space outside of Chris’ street door. She gathered her bag, and a carefully selected handful of tapes from the car’s floor.

“And this one,” added Chris, “Husker Du,” then began singing ‘Could You Be The One ?’.

They got out, Monika checking the locks on her beloved, yellow Toyota and Chris entered the block, getting out his keys to unlock the Briefkaste. He mimicked her exclamation, pulling out a letter with its distinctive handwriting and British stamps.

Chris’ flat was on the second floor of the back block, or Hinterhof. Ute had organised it for Chris, as it had belonged to a friend of hers who was moving in with her boyfriend. Ute had left some bits of hers there, a source of constant irritation to Monika. It implied that she would be back and when she returned, Chris would go back to her.

Inside, the second ceiling was immediately above the door, an improvised storage space,overflowing with Ute’s belongings and general junk. Monika rarely failed to make at least one allusions to this, per visit.

The small hallway had a door, to the left, which was the bathroom. A toilet with old-style chain, but a normal sized sink and a bath with shower attachment. There was also a small gas heater. A quantum leap from the previous flat.

The main room was larger, as well, and the windows received more light from the small courtyard. There was the Ofen in one corner and the door to the kitchen in the corner diagonally opposite.

The kitchen was smaller, but big enough for a table and could easily sit two and cosily sit three.

Chris played the tape that had Husker Du on one side and Jane’s Addiction on the other. Monika had introduced him to both bands and now he couldn’t hear enough of them. There were the soundtrack to his new life.

Richard’s letter was also full of enthusiasm, and Chris let out a series of whoops and ut-oh’s periodically.

Monika busied herself, allowing him space. She knew he would tell her everything, anyway, in great detail, some of which she may even understand. As soon as Chris had finished the last word, he called Monika over.

“He’s in love, too.”

“Ah, that’s nice.”

“Nein, not nice.”

“It’s not nice your friend is in love ?”

“Yes, I mean, no, it’s not nice, not nice. Nice is a bad word, very weak, it doesn’t mean anything. If you go somewhere and watch someone, I don’t know, act, or play a song and you have to say something, you say,’ it was nice’.”

“So, it is … great ? Great he’s in love ? Super !”

“Yes. Except, no, it’s not.”

“And why ?” A very strong demand from Monika.

“It’s Richard. Nothing ever seems to work out for him in that department. OK, he’s in love with this girl called Käthe. Yes, a German girl.”

“Ah-ha! And where did he meet her ? In Berlin ?”

“No, at work, in London. She and her boyfriend work at the same place. Seems Richard got offered a permanent position, so it means more money. Still shit, but better. Let’s see … “

“But … boyfriend ?”

“That’s all you need to know about Richard. Always falls in love with girls who are in committed relationships. Never mind, we’ll find him a girl here. You got any single friends ?”

“What about Ully at Biberkopf ?”

“What about her ?”

“She’s single, no ?”

“Yeah, I’m sure of it. Are you surprised ? She’s got … the thing.”


“She’s got a lovely smile.”

“And the … thing. No, we can do better than that.”

Monika looked out of the window.

“Ah, it looks a nice day, no, a great day. I don’t want to go to work.”

“What would you like to do instead ?”

Later that afternoon, Chris re-read the letter. In it, Richard had mentioned his routine; seeing films on Mondays, when there are cheaper, maybe drinking with Melanie, then getting home and heating up a pizza slice and watching some American shows, something called ‘NYPD Blue’, or ‘Northern Exposure’. Richard also exalted a book called ‘Generation X’ that everybody was reading and told him to look out for a film about slackers which had Winona Ryder dancing in a convenience store. They all sounded fantastic.

Chris had been in Berlin for over a year. He had two jobs, his own flat, a great new girlfriend and enough money to live comfortable on.

However, he realized from the letter how out of touch he was. He hadn’t read an English newspaper or a new book since being here. He could just about fumble through a German paper, but it was either too complex or too boring. The new bands he was listening to had all been around for a while, but had it not been for Monika, he wouldn’t have had any way of knowing about them.

Chris needed Richard to be here as much as Richard needed to be out of London. He felt that he had a lot of catching up to do.

Love and Chaos Part 3(A) Richard 1

5th December 2020

Photo by Pete Flatwound. Follow Pete on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flatwoundonfilm/

Part Three. London. Spring 1994

“So one of the chefs tells me to clean out the large, vegetable freezer and I’m in there, scraping frozen crap off the shelves and sweeping up lumps of … I don’t know what. Then, this other chef appears, young guy, tall and gormless, carrying a clipboard. It’s part of his job to make routine checks on the temperatures, every day, same time. Now, the door’s open because, right, I’m in there, doing their shitty work. Gormless looks at the temperature gauge and, naturally, it’s way up, and he freaks out. This has never happened before, it’s an anomaly, except, of course, he wouldn’t know what an anomaly was, because he’s a chef, and of all the qualifications needed for that job, intelligence ain’t one of them. “

“So,” asked Melanie, unaccustomed to keeping quiet for long, “you’re saying he’s not too bright ?”

“As two short planks. Now, here’s the rub; he has to think.”

“Ouch !”

“In spades, and he really does, no bullshit, man, stand there, gob wide-open, dribble trickling down, you can hear the spokes turning, slow, slow, then … light bulb above the head, he comes up with a solution, though he’s probably more used to sniffing solutions that in coming up with them. Be that as it may, he says, proud as Punch, ‘I’ve gotta closer door, Mate.’ And proceeds to do same.”

“What did you do ?”

“I objected, of course. I’m in a bloody freezer, in just a T-shirt, and he wants to close the door on me. Apart from the fact that the temperature is going to go down to minus Twenty-Five or whatever, the perishing light will go out ! They’ll go back to get some peas, and find me frozen like Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’.”

“The situations you find yourself in,” joked Melanie as Richard once again got the sense that she was laughing explicitly at him, not his anecdote.

“But he wouldn’t be told. I tried to explain the law of manslaughter to him, and that being a fucking moron was no defence. No avail. So I just left it. I mean, the freezer’s working, everything is stone cold and the only reason the gauge is up is because the door’s open. Use some initiative; fake the temperature. But no, he can’t do that, has to carry out his orders, do his duty. Then his girlfriend walked past and gave one of those, ’look what I have to put up with’ expressions, deep intake off breathe, then followed by the,’But I love him all the same, the big lumock’ look.”

“What’s she like ?”

“Not bad, kinda cute. OK, bit on the chubby side, but good features. Lovely eyes. Too good for him. What I should have done was to hit him on the head with a bag of frozen cauliflower. We got time for one more, or shall we go ?”

For the past month or so, Richard had been meeting up with Melanie and seeing movies or just having a drink. This evening, they were in a small pub by Leicester Square, before going to see a film based in post-war Berlin. It was a disappointing mess of a co-production, with a British actor giving a one-dimensional portrayal of an American, an American actor giving an unconvincing, stiff-upper lipped rendition of a Englishman and an Italian beauty attempting to be an ugly German. But, at one point during the film, there was an interior scene showing a room with an Ofen. Richard and Melanie poked each other on the leg and laughed. They left as soon as the film finished, heading straight back to the pub. They covered the usual topics: Richard’s awful job, awful love-life, awful everything. It seemed to cheer Melanie up.

“No regrets about leaving the record store ? I mean, it was regular work.”

“Not really. Couldn’t go back there, anyway, they would have sacked me for taking off too much time. And for what ? Berlin in Winter. Barely even saw Chris.”

This was the link Melanie was waiting for, and she barely listened to the rest of his speach.

“I can understand what Will meant, now, about not being able to work with people. I mean, my job really is shit, but at least I don’t have to deal with … the public. Book shops and classical music, sounds like ‘green and pleasant land’ material, but it’s the Mean Streets. In Fordham’s I devised a theory. People were in a bad mood because they came in to buy books that they couldn’t find, couldn’t afford and didn’t want. As for the Classical Music lot … I tell you, you won’t find a more arrogant bunch of self-loving Arschlochs than music students. Makes me miss my old physics gang. “

If Richard hoped Melanie would take up this cue, he was mistaken.

“Speaking of Chris, I got a letter from him recently. Are you still in touch ? You know he’s moved, now, and got a new girlfriend ? Oh, yes, much better by the sounds of it. I didn’t like Ute at all. I knew it wouldn’t last.”

This was all news to Richard, who hadn’t heard from Berlin since he left, the previous November. Melanie brought him up to speed, taking secret pleasure in being the one with the information.

Ute had decided to go back to Hamburg, possibly having something to do with the suspicious phone calls and letters that periodically arrived and which she read privately and hid at the back of a cupboard. Chris seemed somehow prepared, as if expecting it. Soon after, he was in love with a new woman. Her name was Monika and she was Austrian.

“She doesn’t stand any nonsense, by the sounds of it. She’ll keep Chris in line. My kind of girl. That’s what you need, a good, strong, Germanic girl.”

Richard was very close to admitting that right now he’d settle for any kind of girl, but didn’t want to give Melanie too much ammunition.

“So he’s still at the restaurant ?“

“Oh, yes, he says they’ll probably make him a chef before long.”

“Please, no more talk about chefs.”

“And the new place. In Prenzlauer Berg.”

“Oh, that’s much better. The flat in Rigaer Strasse … I’ve tried telling people about it and no one believes me.”

“I know, they look at me and think how could someone like me possibly spend time there.”

“Quite. Oh, there was something else weird happen after you left. Every night, about six o’clock for an hour, the water from the toilet sink had an electric charge.”

“No !”

“There you are, trying to wash yourself, two inches at a time, and no cheap cracks, Lady, and suddenly … the water gives you an electric shock. Only in Berlin. Still … “

“What, you miss it ?”

“Yeah. Sometimes. I don’t know. I’ve never lived there. Maybe November was especially bad. The weather. Chris being preoccupied. So, Monika … ? “

Richard enjoyed these after-work evenings and found Melanie good company. She introduced him to a lot of films and authors he wouldn’t otherwise have know, and got him out of the bedsit. The film about Berlin, and the conversation about Chris had provoked conflicting thoughts about that city. The November nightmares began to fade, as the good times of September asserted themselves; amazing squat bars, friendly, open people, an easier pace of life. U-bahns that arrived on time. A population less than half of London’s. Women, girls, young ladies. Hannah. Maybe she was still at the bar … or Monika … she must have friends. Maybe it was time to re-open diplomatic ties between London and Berlin.

Love and Chaos Part 1(G) Claudia

15th November 2020

Part One. Berlin. Spring 1993

It still came as a surprise to Claudia that she should have an English boyfriend, whom she had met in her home town of Berlin. Not only that, but they would work, and live, together. And be happy.

She and Marina had been friends for years, probably because they were so different. While Marina was collected and inoffensive, Claudia was spontaneous and blunt, speaking first, unapologetic for any hurt she may have unwittingly caused.

Marina’s sensuality came as something of a surprise, slowly revealing itself through an accumulation of subtle nuances, Claudia’s was full-on and immediate. Her wavy hair, dyed jet black, hung on her shoulders, which were usually bare, exposing a dark bra strap. The loose white T-shirts were low cut and several large pendants or necklaces swayed enticingly around her neck. The jeans were always tight, the bare feet displaying freshly painted toenails, blood red. She gave the impression that her clothes had just been slung on, and generally that is what happened, but the clothes had been carefully selected for maximum effect beforehand.

As students, Marina and Claudia had thought of travelling to London to improve their limited English. Claudia hadn’t liked the city and when she met a fellow German girl at their hostel who was going on to Ireland, she had decided to join her. Marina stayed alone, spending her days in museums and galleries and learning English. When they met again, in Berlin, they would converse in English to practise, Marina in a mannered, polite, formal way, Claudia in a rough drawl, littered with expressions and vernacular.

Neither had yet started on a career path, but earned money in various ways, Marina working in shops or waitressing, Claudia in various offices, filing and photocopying. A customer at a bar where Marina was working told about a film studio that was employing people to paint film cells for animation movies, Marina passed it on to Claudia and she went to work there part time, preferring to spilt her jobs, to divide the boredom as she put it. There she met Simon, a law student from Hampshire, taking the ‘year off’ before settling down to a lifetime of briefs and suits, who had the flat in Ackerstrasse. The two seemed to have nothing in common, yet within six weeks, Claudia had packed up and moved from her western flat in Schöneberg to go slumming in the east ‘where the Proles are’ as she charmingly explained.

Simon of course was crazy about the flat, which was ludicrously cheap by his standards and so atmospheric, and even more ecstatic about Claudia who was surprisingly low maintenance. She was, he told his friends in letters home, ‘amazingly laid-back and mellow’.

Chris would have agreed with this description. She took him to a local bar and spoke to him freely, as if they were old friends, not two people who had only met that day. He still couldn’t believe that this woman was going to let him stay in her flat for a week, it was an offer of help so beyond his experience. It also helped take his mind off Marina, who was clearly going to be with Ross for some time.

Chris got two beers from the bar, Claudia saying it would be good practice for his German, and they clinked and drank from the bottle. He carefully brought up Ross, without expressing an opinion. He hoped to gauge her opinion.

“He’s a fucking nacker.”

Chris laughed and knew that it was going to be all right between them. After a few beers he started forming ideas about how their relationship would develop, but when she spent time talking about Simon and how he was extending his sabbatical so as to stay longer in Berlin, he got the hint.

She told him not to get too drunk, because she had arranged for him to start work tomorrow.

“What, no interview ?”

“No ! Can you hold a brush ?”

“Never tried. Think so.”

“Well, then. I told them you were an art major.”

“What ? “

“Haha, look at you. It’s nothing, easy work. Idiot work, just that it’s in a studio so it sounds cool.”

“What time do I start ? Nine ? Nine-Thirty ?”

“What time do you want to start ?”

“Is this even a real job ?”


“ ‘Course. You go in when you want, work for as long as you want, leave. Get paid by the hour, so you can choose.”

“Hey ! Not really what I’m used to in London.”

“I’m going in about Ten-Thirty, Eleven-Thirty, One … you know ? You can come with me.”

“So that means we have time for another drink ?”

“There’s always time for another drink.”

And Chris thought that here was another wonderful woman who would never be his.