Our back garden in the snow. Let’s build a snowman, says my father. The winter light is milky, shot through with a tentative sun.
I am wearing a brown pinafore. Its fabric is thick and scratchy. Do I have gloves? I don’t know. I don’t feel the cold.
The snowman is made before I know it. He is a fine creature, as tall as me. Dad fetches pieces of coal from the coal bunker for his eyes.
We have a grooved metal rubbish bin at our back door. The snowman needs a hat. The bin lid will do the job. It clangs as we lift it.
Years later, my daughters sing songs from the hit Disney film ‘Frozen’. The character of the little snowman who longs for summer brings me back to my own first snowman, his stick arms pointing skywards, his wide-brimmed metal hat shielding his eyes from the sun.
Put up your arms like the snowman, says Dad. Click.
Do I really remember the day itself, or have I retrofitted a memory from the photograph? I am sure I can still hear the metallic ring of the bin lid.
It is 1977. I am just gone three.
Today I’m delighted to feature a guest post by Kalle Ryan, Waterford / Dublin performance poet, humourist, MC of The Brownbread Mixtape monthly cabaret in Dublin, and possessor of a host of other talents.
This article originally appeared in The Metro Herald, 17/11/2012.
These days when you think of Germany, you inevitably picture Angela Merkel’s Sauerkraut face and her corresponding punitive, penny-pinching proclamations. If you’re more of an old school German thinker, you may have thoughts of wicked World Wars and a land fabled for being humourless, yet funnily drawn to David Hasselhoff’s musical skills.
But those broad strokes are ultimately unfair to a country, that I believe, is home to some of the great unsung secrets and joys of Europe.
As a teenager I travelled the length of Germany in a camper van with my family. It was a remarkable holiday that left a deep impression that lingers to this day. What I encountered was a country of wonderful variety, breathtaking beauty, fantastic food and incredibly warm people (with mullets, a lot of mullets).
We entered the country from the northern city of Hamburg, with its eclectic mix of erotic shops and Liverpudlian musical history, and bombed down the Autobahn (poor choice of verb when talking about Germany, I know) towards the magical city of Berlin.
Berlin really felt like the New York of Europe to me, with its wonderful blend of fascinating German design, historical landmarks, reliable and punctual public services, delightful local beers, as well as cool, punk-influenced, left-leaning art on every other street corner. How could you not love a city that was run by punctual hippies?
Our next stop along the way was Frankfurt, where I had a semi-religious experience as I encountered Germany’s legendary “Currywurst”. A char-grilled, flavourful sausage, sliced into discs and covered in a blanket of curried ketchup, then lightly dusted with fragrant yellow curry-powder. You simply have not lived until you have eaten this triumphant, teutonic takeaway treat. It is said that the secret to Germany’s continued automobile engineering success is founded upon a steady, streamlined diet of these curried sausages.
Sweeping south we entered the city of Stuttgart, home to the legendary Irish footballing victory over England in Euro 88. As an Irishman, the Neckarstadion ranks up there as a historical landmark alongside the GPO and The Hill of Tara. Stuttgart – a compact, cool city – is also home to the culinary delight of Maultaschen (German ravioli invented by monks to conceal meat from the Lord on Fridays). I recall thinking at the time that, if there were a World Cup for food, Germany would probably win that 1-0 every time too.
After several days of driving through swathes of the brilliant black forest, home to the legendary, delicious, unpronounceable Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, we arrived in Munich. Located in the southern province of Bavaria (County Cork’s spiritual German sister), Munich is a wonderland of ornate buildings, sunlit plazas, moustachioed manly types, ample bosomed matronly types and crafted glasses of crisp, bubbly Hofbräuhaus beer. Basically, it is what Heaven would undoubtedly look like if it were run by Germany.
A short jaunt down the road, bordering Austria, was the charming town of Füssen, our final stop. Nestled up in the Alps above the town is crazy King Ludwig’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, widely known as the inspiration for the Disney castle, or, if you’re a Britpop fan, the cover photo of Blur’s ‘Country House’ single. Regardless of the imitators and appreciators, it’s a stunning sight and worth a visit, if only to sit down and eat some traditional Schnitzels in its shadow. This delicious, deep fried, breaded veal dish was invented by some genius from nearby Vienna, who should clearly have won the Nobel Prize.
While this might all sound like a food and drink travelogue / memoir, what it really amounts to is a love letter to a much maligned country that has levels of complexity and beauty far beyond simplistic jokes about the war or our present predicament. I have been back many times since and Germany continues to reward and reveal.
We are, of course, in a recession, so if you can’t afford to travel to Germany any time soon, then I strongly recommend that you stick on a Werner Herzog movie, crack open a cold German beer, pick up some authentic sausages from your local German supermarket and have a Currywurst party at home. Who knows, it may even make you feel more kindly toward Frau Merkel.
(c) Kalle Ryan 2012
“Mind” is such a multi-purpose word, isn’t it? As a verb, it can mean to object to, to look after, and in a more archaic sense, to remember. As a noun, it encompasses all those nebulous concepts that we associate with our non-physical selves: the spirit, the personality, the intellect, among many others.
Today, my mind is all over the place. Since it is a work day, this poses a serious challenge. If my mind were connected to a printer, this is an extract from what it might be printing right now:
gottobookthatportraitsessionformysonmustphonetheeventspeakerfortomorrownightohgodidon’ttknowyet what’llimakefordinnermustsendthanktocardtofriendforlovelypartygottoremindhusbandtocomehomeearly onwednesdaybetterwritecheuqeforcommitteetreasurerohgodihaven’tmademuchprogressonmynewshortstory sincelastweekandihaven’tevenstartedontoday’sblogpost.
My mission for today – and I have no choice but to accept it, since I’m a writer – is to extract something meaningful from the whirl of nonsense in my mind. Right now, I feel like dangling by a rope from a precipitous cliff-face might be the easier task.
One thing that really helps with calming a chaotic mind is Mindfulness. Those of you who have read Mindfulness: Finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman will know what I mean. Those of you who haven’t, I strongly recommend it. The CD of guided mediations that comes with the book is worth it alone.
I find the first CD track, an eight-minute “body and breath” meditation, great for clearing the mind. The mind printer certainly outputs less of the scary, stream-of-consciousness stuff afterwards.
If anyone else in the writing field or other areas of the arts uses mindfulness techniques, either in conjunction with the book or otherwise, I’d love to hear about it. Just leave a comment below.