Klootscheeten.

As mentioned before, I do some teaching at a company in the northwest from January to March, usually going up for a full day on Tuesday and half a day on Wednesdays. It is some nice extra cash on the side, although the fact that the finance authority taxes me heavily on the money, taking away roughly 50%, makes me sometimes wonder whether it is actually worth doing.

But then, I really like the people I teach (and I use the word “teach” in the widest sense here, as we mostly drink tea, eat sweets, and talk about our respective private lives); in the seven years I have been doing this course, a lot of them have become acquaintances, if not friends. So when it was time for the lab department to have their annual Klootscheeten (which is basically an excuse to first get drunk during a walk and then get drunk inside a party tent), it was a no-brainer for them that I was to be part of the team.

As I had to work until 2 pm, I was a bit late and hence “forced” to catch up on booze; even though they had just started the tour an hour earlier, some of the ladies were already dangerously imbalanced when I arrived. Give them a little metal ball to throw, and you have an almost deadly combination; it still surprises me nobody was seriously injured, although we came quite close once – thankfully, even after 5 beers Jan still had fast reflexes and managed to duck.

If there is one thing I can count on during these kind of parties is that after a while, men tend to flock towards me; the drunker they are, the more they seem to have the need to discuss private matters with me … including guys I have never met before. We hadn’t even reached our destination yet when a young bloke from another team started asking me whether he should continue studying or instead find a job to support his girlfriend who wanted to have a baby. Rather startled, I told him that given his age (he looked about 19 to me), they shouldn’t really aim to have a baby yet, to which he replied, “My girlfriend is 30”. And then, giving me a meaningful look, “I like older women”. Oh dear.

Whilst slowly backing away, I bumped into Daniel (one of “my” people) who wanted to discuss his relationship issues with me; after I had patched him up, Robin was going on about his relationship and whether I could help him make a decision (short answer: No.). I finally made it to the dance floor and just stayed there for the next couple of hours to be out of harm’s way, even though the music was mostly shite (something we all agreed on, and yet everybody was dancing. The miraculous powers of alcohol …).

I had booked a hotel room to be more independent when it came to partying the night away; it was a wise decision, as I was (as usual) one of the last to leave at about 3 am – but not after arranging another meet-up in about three weeks’ time.

Pipped to the Post.

It was a last minute affair: Kai had contacted me a couple of days ago, asking whether I could fill in at the Pub Quiz for two friends who were on holiday. Sure, no problem. I wasn’t aware, however, that I was quizzing with the current leaders of the local Pub Quiz League (meaning that so far, they have managed to keep another 24 teams at bay).

So whilst being crammed into the corner of the crowded Bohemé Boulette, I tried not to let the pressure get the better of me and dutifully shot out answers to the topics I was supposed to excel in (music, movies, trivia) while trying not to confuse the others too much when it came to topics I had no clue of (bird feathers, pests, African geography).

We were leading for most of the evening by about 1-2 points, but in the last round, our team suffered a bit of a blackout – we could answer some questions, but were completely stumped by others. Eventually, we lost by 0.5 points, but still managed to hold onto the top spot in the current championship. As I proved to be a valuable asset to the team (thanks to recognizing Amy Macdonald’s voice and the market value of Bastian Schweinsteiger), I was invited back for the next holiday breaks. Count me in, guys.

Blessed Are the Hearts That Can Bend.

I often use the last day of the year to reflect on what was important in the last 12 months: What are the things I will remember? What kind of memories will bubble up when someone mentions the year 2016 to me? At the moment, only time can tell what events, feelings and people my brain deems relevant enough to tag and put on a shelf, where they will lead an inconspicuous existence, only to suddenly explode back to life at the most unlikely trigger. But I have the odd feeling that most of my memories from this year won’t be happy ones.

Looking back at 2016, I find it difficult to see many positive things; of course it was not all bad, and I have met some great people, did amazing things, felt happy and loved. And yet, the main topic of 2016 was apparently “saying goodbye”, as there are a couple of people who no longer take part in my life; some of them decided to leave or were taken, some I walked away from. I can’t really change the former, but the latter is something I have thought about for a good while this year.

I don’t really have any friendships that are older than 15 years (Robert and Neil being the sole exception). There aren’t many people out there who can claim that they have known me for 10 years or longer. I have realised this year that I seem to “shed” people after a while; in the last 20 years, there have been quite a few friendships and even family relations which crumpled after a couple of years. Occasionally there was a fallout, but mostly we were just drifting apart; things changed in a way that there was no longer some common ground to walk on. At least that’s how it felt like for me, as with the majority of these fading relationships, I was the one walking away.

Now, there is nothing unusual about people moving apart; a job change, a relocation, a new lifestyle, and suddenly you don’t have the time, the energy, or the resources to meet up with your old friends anymore. But it has dawned on me that I am “leaving” people without any of these things happening; even though my life stays (mostly) the same, I decide not to interact with them anymore. The problem is that I often do this without informing people about my decision; apparently, I am really good at ghosting (and when I say “really good”, it is not supposed to sound like an achievement): Without any further explanation, I don’t meet, call, write, or text people anymore who were really close to me.

In my defence, I should add that before my disappearing act, I had usually made it clear that there was something bothering me; I am fairly communicative, do reflect a lot on how I feel and why I feel that way, and I can express myself in a rational and calm way (or so others say). But while I like to think that I am a rather loyal person, it seems that my attachment to other people only goes so far. At some point, I just give up on them and on our relationship; the rational part of me, the one which is so great at dissecting my emotions, takes over and overrules any feelings I might still have for that person.

The weird thing is that I am actually an idealist when it comes to relationships: I do believe that love, in whatever form, can last forever, which is a bit rich coming from somebody who effectively disregards people as soon as I have reached the point of no return. I am very aware of how hypocrite my behaviour is, and I am not exactly proud of it. But when contemplating my conduct the other day, I came across a quote by Albert Camus which had me thinking: “Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken”.

Initially, I thought that this was indeed a smart mantra to live by, but now I am not too sure if I actually want to have a “bendy” heart. My reaction to a lack of understanding and trust might not be a charming one, but it is one I have learned the hard way: For my heart was broken in the past, sometimes also thanks to my loyalty and idealism. The good news is, however, that it has also healed, and with the healing process, there was a learning curve. I still believe in love and friendship, but I know now how much my heart can take before I have to step in and protect it – by moving it out of the line of fire. If only I could learn to communicate that in a better way than by sealing myself off.

A Picture-Perfect Finish.

Juliane and I only see each other about once a year (which is a shame, as we get on so well), but when we do, it is always a cracker. She came by my place in the afternoon; I had texted her before and suggested we go for a walk, as the weather was outstandingly beautiful. Juliane replied that she had expected me to say this and already packed her gloves and a hat. Apparently, I am that predictable.

We walked around 8 km this afternoon, strolling down towards Lake Aa and then all around it. These 2.5 hours were mostly filled by Juliane bringing me up to speed with her life; when we returned to my flat, it was my turn, but not before we had ordered some Greek food. She left at about 10 pm, with me firmly promising to visit her in Mainz the next spring.

Juli and the Lake.

Walking ...

... and walking ...

... and walking ...

No filter. Seriously.

No March of the Penguins.

As I mentioned earlier, I am quite happy to be surprised with ideas for outings; after the theatre visit with Susanne, it was Gabi who suggested that instead of just going for a coffee, we could make use of the “pay as you like” campaign the local zoo has on offer at the moment. As I hadn’t been at a zoo for at least 5 years, I agreed, albeit hesitantly.

The problem is that I am rather conflicted about zoos: While I understand that they are important for breeding and protecting certain species and can be very helpful in teaching children about animals, it is also obvious that most of these animals live in environments that are a far cry from their natural habitat. The local zoo is a pretty decent one when it comes to appropriate enclosures and compounds, but my heart aches when I watch wolves and tigers, elephants and giraffes confined in spaces which make it impossible for them to roam and explore. So I usually prefer to watch wildlife documentaries (such as the excellent Planet Earth 2) and avoid being confronted with this ethical dilemma.

Nevertheless, the visit was a good one: The zoo was rather deserted on a cold and dark afternoon, so we had most of the animal houses for ourselves, which I think was not only more enjoyable for us, but also for the animals (I always wonder how they feel about being constantly stared at and subjected to a certain noise level). When there are only a couple of people around, quietly watching the animals, it also gives me a feeling of them behaving more … naturally? I don’t know whether this is the right word, but again, being under human surveillance for most of the day must leave a mark after a while.

As it was bitterly cold, most animals preferred to stay inside which is why some of the photos were taken indoors and look like the animals live in tiny cages (they don’t); there was also no “penguin march” today, although I highly doubt that the penguins had a problem with the chill weather. Pretty sure the keeper just couldn’t be arsed.

Polar Bear.

Rhino.

Having a break.

No stress.

Feeding time.

Lemur.

Saying hello.

We stayed until the zoo shut its doors; when we passed the zoo shop, I considered taking up a sponsorship for an animal (the porcupine being a personal favourite), but again: ethical dilemma. So I decided to sleep over it for a couple of nights and spend the money on a dinner with Gabi at my local Italian – which we did.

The Rushing of the Sea-Tides of the Soul.

Hilka and I met a couple of years ago when I taught English at the company she worked for at the time. When she moved to Bavaria, we stayed in touch via social networks and the occasional phone call; as we were both experiencing some ups and downs in our lives, it was good to have somebody who could relate to these problems.

However, living in Bavaria proved to be difficult for Hilka (for various reasons), so she moved back north this summer, settling near the North Sea coast. As we hadn’t seen each other for two years and with me longing to be at the sea again before the year closes (I need to spend more time at the sea next year; for me, it really is ointment for the soul), I hopped on a train and visited her for a day.

We took a long walk on a mostly deserted beach; the weather was cold and stormy, so perfect for a day at the sea (in my opinion at least). It was low tide, so I waded a couple of metres into the mud flats to take some pictures … only to suddenly sink in up to my ankles (luckily I was wearing boots). Now, tideland has the property to act almost like quicksand: Once you have sunk in, it is almost impossible to get out, as the mud creates a vacuum, sucking you in even deeper. While I was grumpily trying to dislodge myself from the mud without losing my shoes in the process, Hilka stood on the shoreline and almost wet herself watching me.

Lonely Wanderers.

Sunset approaching.

Tideland.

Close call.

We had some hot chocolate and tea in a little café on the beach, being the only customers in the late afternoon; the grey outside turned into navy blue and finally anthracite. To our mutual surprise, the mud on my boots easily came off once it had completely dried, leaving my boots crispy clean, but my feet still felt slightly damp and cold.

As my train back was not until 7 pm, we decided to take a stroll down the local Christmas market and warm up with some glögg and crepés.

img_2517

We will most definitely do this again – albeit maybe at a slightly warmer time of the year.

Impro 005.

As I am usually the one trying to come up with creative ideas for a day trip, an evening out, or some special activities with friends and family, I really enjoy it when somebody else is planning an activity to surprise me with. When I met Susanne at the Christmas market, we had barely strolled for a couple of minutes before she asked me whether I wanted to go somewhere else; she had booked tickets for “a thing”, something she was sure I would enjoy.

As Christmas markets are not really my cup of tea anyway, I said yes without even knowing where we were heading to. 15 minutes later, we arrived at an arts centre and picked up our tickets for an improv theatre show; I had never watched one, but Susanne had been to several performances before and was sure I would be into it – and she was right. The cast was outstandingly good, with the right amount of banter, hilarity, and creativity (and some corpsing, which made them even more endearing).

Thanks, Susanne – it was a very entertaining evening and a lovely surprise!

Impro 005.

Encore.