Fire in the hole

anger

It is an uncomforting truth that the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States isn’t really affecting me as an individual.

For one, it doesn’t make the fact any less terrifying with regards to the global geopolitical balance.

For another, I have countless friends and loved ones who will be affected as individuals because America is their home. Most of them are women, which makes it all the more horrifying that the greatest nation on Earth™ has just elected a man who’s been accused of raping a 13 year old girl.

In a way, that opening statement is a lie. This is affecting me as an individual, because it brings home the truth that the world is run by white people who’ve never had to deal with any significant issues but feel like “the other” is taking away their right to be… I’m not sure what. Entitled dickheads?

To be fair, I am white. I’m heterosexual. I live in a safe place where I don’t have to worry about drones or people mugging me when I step outside.

And it makes me so angry. I hate that I am one of the white people as much as I hate that I am a man, because both groups do really terrible things to a lot of other people who aren’t white men.

For a while, my anger was primarily aimed at baby boomers. They still deserve a significant amount of hatred. They were born into economic prosperity and a peaceful world; all they could think to do with that was amass ridiculous amounts of wealth, blow it all up in a devastating financial crisis and vote for (far-)right policies that have already ensured that their children are the first generation since WWII who are worse off than their parents.

But it’s not just generation X that has turned out to be a self-entitled bunch, it’s also my own generation. When you look at the results from the American election, a lot of white young people have fallen into the alt-right trap.

Alt-right… it sounds like something that could be a reasonable choice, but it’s just a fancy word for misogynist racists.

And there’s a party for these populists in pretty much every Western country, whether it’s UKIP here in Britain (as well as the BNP, though they’re far less relevant), or AfD in Germany or, it pains me to say, in my former homeland Luxembourg, where ADR is waving the far-right banner.

Tellingly, the A in both AfD and ADR stands for “alternative”.

Don’t bother telling anyone though, because they will shout back that [insert populist party here] is really just looking out for the little man. Have you noticed how it’s never the little woman?

All of this isn’t news, of course. Neither is a white man with a laptop writing an angry blog post about the fact that the world isn’t working the way he would like it to be. I’m aware how privileged I am.

And this isn’t about that anger. Not really. It’s about the fact that I feel profoundly powerless.

I’m angry on Twitter because I don’t know where else to focus it. But I want to focus it. I want to make a change. I don’t want to be the voice of reason but I want to be a good person who cares.

I don’t want to join a political party because none of the options are even remotely close to the ideals I have – though there is a certain irony in the fact that the Lib Dems of all people are somehow becoming the only electable party.

I want to donate more money to charities but thanks to the sheer amount of nightmares that are happening in the world, I feel overwhelmed when it comes to making a choice about which charities. I still donate (and you should, too), but it just doesn’t feel enough.

What my generation – what the world – could really use is a leader to get behind. I don’t necessarily mean a political leader, but someone who stands up to the right-wing propaganda machine and makes a difference. Someone who manages to take this frustration and focus it.

Someone who will keep reminding us that this is not normal. It’s not normal that Stephen Bannon has entered the White House. It’s not normal that newspapers call judges “enemies of the people”.

History might be shouting at us what will happen next, but for some reason the vast majority of people refuse to listen. Just like last time.

So what do we do now?

Belonging, once

bridge

I am, for all intents and purposes, in a privileged position. I have a job that enables me to pay rent, buy food, put a bit of money aside every month and occasionally treat myself to take-away, a night out or drinks with friends without worrying about breaking the bank.

I usually pass for a native English speaker. I’m Caucasian. I’ve been here for over a decade and – for now, at least – I have a legal right to live in the UK.

Once, I even belonged here. I’ve lived in a variety of places that could not be more different socially and historically – London, Cardiff and a small town in the Welsh valleys that probably doesn’t appear on most maps.

A few months ago, I ordered the book to study for the UK citizenship test, a process that costs over £1200. A sum that is ridiculous and provokes an incredulous stare whenever I mention it to British friends.

But I wanted citizenship because I felt Welsh. I’d never felt Luxembourgish, so it was a strange feeling to have found a place that seemed like somewhere I could spend the rest of my life.

Not that it was an easy journey; to be honest, I didn’t feel all that much at home here for the first year and a half. That initial period, from what I’ve been told by friends who’ve also emigrated, isn’t all that unnatural though. It takes a while to build a life for yourself somewhere you’ve never been to before and where you don’t know a soul.

I even tried learning Welsh, though the course was such a clusterfuck that I didn’t continue past the first year. I can say a few phrases, such as “dwi’n gallu siarad Cymraeg”, but obviously there’s not much truth to that sentence and it is thus entirely useless: it means “I can speak Welsh”.

Once, I had a Welsh flag on my wall. It was there for many, many years. On June 24th, around 8am, I tore it down and threw it in the bin.

That sense of belonging, so strong for all those years, had been ripped away from me. Has been ripped away from me. I don’t know if it’ll come back.

What I’ve come to realise since June 23rd, more than anything else, is that I’m European. I am deeply and utterly European. I’m much more European than I ever was Welsh and I certainly am more European than I am Luxembourgish.

Ironically, of course, it might just be my Luxembourgish heritage that has made me European. I went to a high school named after the father of the union, Robert Schuman. I filmed a documentary in his birth house for a school project. I’ve been to the parliament in Brussels, sat in various committee rooms and in the assembly itself as part of a project to bring together students from all over Europe to learn more about the institution.

I wouldn’t be living in the UK now if it wasn’t for the EU. The only right I have to live here is as a European citizen.

I’m perfectly aware that the EU is not perfect. There are a lot of things I would change, but at its core it is the world’s biggest and by far the most successful peace project ever undertaken by humanity.

What I came to realise on June 23rd is that the place that had become my home didn’t want me to be here.

I know that when people talk of foreigners they don’t necessarily think of me. They think of muslims. Indians. Africans. Chinese. The Polish with a strong accent who can’t pass as British despite their whiteness. The non-Caucasians who are visually easy to pick out of the crowd.

I know that, yes, they really do also mean me when they want to kick all foreigners out.

The British people have turned themselves into the worst of humanity. The sheer scale and efficiency at which that happened is almost admirable, in a “I now understand how the Nazis could rise to power” kind of way.

Mentally, I’ve been slowly moving to Dublin for a few months now. It’s a city I definitely fell in love with when I spent some time there during the summer last year. Arguably, it’s a fantasy escape to a place where everything would be okay. Perhaps.

And yet.

I didn’t belong in Dublin. That sense of belonging might come after a while, but it wasn’t there.

And truth be told, the thought of leaving behind Cardiff saddens me beyond belief, perhaps even more so than the result in June.

I don’t belong here anymore because here doesn’t want me to belong. I haven’t had a day in months when I haven’t worried about my future.

The constantly looming threat of the pound crashing even further and making my student loan repayments (in euros) completely unaffordable is driving me insane (it’s already become several thousands of pounds more expensive, so don’t tell me that nothing has changed yet and that nothing will until Article 50 is triggered).

I haven’t slept through a single night in… I’m not sure how many weeks. I honestly can’t say if it’s related but the constant worry can’t be helping.

May and her cronies are using me and my fellow immigrants as a chess piece in a political game that will, sooner rather than later, destroy this country.

The truth that no Brexiteer wants to acknowledge is that, of course, the UK absolutely must get a significantly worse deal from the EU than the privileges it enjoys currently. Anything else would bring about more exits and the collapse of the union.

Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t belong here anymore. Here is a burning building with firemen standing outside having a pint and shouting “you’ll be warm in winter!”

But to be so powerless is anxiety-inducing, rage-inducing, madness-inducing. I might pay my taxes, speak fluent English and be white but that doesn’t matter.

I’ve been displaced because of a stunningly shortsighted move by a man who  forgot his daughter in the pub and (allegedly) once fucked a pig.

Today, I don’t belong. Increasingly, it feels like tomorrow I won’t either.

John. Forever.

It’s been a decade since my grandad passed away. He was the first person in my life to die and, perhaps because I actually saw his remains, the death that has stuck with me most.

He was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of my exam period and died shortly after the end of that same academic year. He also died just before I left Luxembourg and moved to the UK and, even though much of it is a hazy memory now, his death gave me a profound sense of loneliness during my first few months in this country.

It didn’t help that the people I shared a flat with in that first year were all people I really didn’t get along with. It didn’t help that I was unhappily in love at the time. But most of all, his death left a void that I’ve since come to accept will never be filled yet back then had me crying in my room on more than one occasion.

A decade is a really long time in a human life. Arguably, the past decade has been the most transformative in mine so far: I moved to a new country where I didn’t know anyone, I fell in and out of love a few times (though that happened in my teens as well), I graduated, I achieved a postgrad degree in London and I moved back to Cardiff first to work as a self-employed writer and later as a full-time journalist, which I still am now. I met and fell in love with my partner (though we danced around each other for a really long time), we moved in together and now we’re saving towards our first house.

My life is profoundly different from what it was ten years ago in every single regard. That’s a good thing not because I hated who I was back then but because change and progress is an important part of the human experience. I like who I am now all the while looking forward to what I might become in another ten years’ time.

However, the existential sadness I feel about not being able to share who I have become with my grandad is undescribable.

One of the last things my grandad said to me (it may very well have been the last thing but all of those weeks have since merged into one really long day) was: take every experience you can get with you.

The truth is, as much as I’ve tried to live by that mantra, it’s not something I’ve always been able to achieve – something I am still working on and probably will for the rest of my life.

He wasn’t perfect. Who is? But he was a good man. He cared about us and he cared about the world around him. He was a great animal lover and even managed to befriend a crow that came to visit time and again (I have since learned that crows do indeed remember humans so this isn’t quite as ridiculous as it might have seemed at the time).

He loved his music, even if he still needed sheets for the same songs after years of playing them. He loved collecting coins and stamps, much of it worthless though the monetary value shouldn’t be a reason for a passion anyway. He was an avid lottery player so much so that when he died, the newsagent’s where he’d always bought his ticket sent their condolences.

He took my brother and me swimming twice a week when we were younger and stayed with my grandparents over the summer. That pool has since been torn down in another sign that nothing remains forever. He spent countless hours playing football with my brother.

He worked hard, strenuous outdoor jobs for the council to feed his family. He gritted roads at a time when that meant standing on the back of a truck and shovelling salt onto the road while the wind was biting into your skin.

He bought his childhood home and lived there until being moved into the hospital. The house belongs to a new family now, who quickly made exterior changes (perhaps interior too) that almost felt disrespectful at first but really, that’s how the world works and it’s their home now.

He touched so many people’s lives that at his funeral the church was literally too small to fit in everyone who came to pay their respects. You can never envy the dead, but what a legacy to have.

I haven’t been to his grave in many years – not since my grandmother passed away and was put to rest next to him. But that grave always felt strange – there is nothing about him there save for his ashes, no memories, no echoes of the past. I prefer visiting him in my thoughts instead. He’s there not every day but many of them.

He cared. He wasn’t perfect, but he cared. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is what I remember about him and what I want to be myself: not perfect, but caring.

I love you.

Not here, now

Brecon Beacons forest road

There are worlds inside of me that I don’t know. They’ve been there for a while, but I’ve been too busy looking for a map instead of getting lost.

I’ve always liked mountains, perhaps more than the sea. They’re both majestic and awe-inspiring in their own way, but that peculiar mixture of claustrophobia of valleys and agoraphobia of summits draws me in like the ocean just cannot.

I’d forgotten.

I’d forgotten it until today, driving through fifty miles of valley surrounded by the possibility to watch the world from up above, surrounded by humbling, crushing monuments of nature.

I’m sitting in a small pub with a selection of single malts behind the bar that would make any Scotsman proud. I imagine it would, at any rate. It makes me happy. Or perhaps that is the wrong word: it lets me imagine what it would be like to be a weary traveller, a novelist or a poet, who drinks his whisky and writes about the worlds inside of him.

There’s a bookshop around the corner, filled with poetry, so there might be money in it yet, if not in mine.

“Do a thing you love at least some of the time,” I was told last night. It might lead to money.

But if it doesn’t, I’m starting to realise – remember, rather – it might at least lead to happiness. I’ve not had that in spades recently, arguably because of exactly this.

Something is different in between mountains. I could be free here. I could be myself, whoever that is. Something is better. Here, I write. Here, I dream.

I could live here, like I could have lived in Stockholm, or Berne, or Dublin: not at all. Forever.

Ten

Today, this blog turns ten years old. I hesitate to claim that I’ve been blogging for ten years; it’s not exactly been busy here recently.

Ten years is a long time. Enough time to find a lot of the posts from back then cringeworthy (admittedly, sometimes ten minutes is enough for that to happen). When I first launched this blog, I had a co-author, Serge, who left shortly afterwards to write his own, separate blog. I still lived in Luxembourg – I’d only just finished school and joined University of Luxembourg. My grandparents were still alive, though that wasn’t true for much longer for my granddad, who lost a quick but brutal fight against cancer less than a year later.

I hadn’t met any of the people yet who are my closest friends now. I hadn’t met my other half yet (don’t tell her, but I am quite fond of her).

I hadn’t lost any of my closest friends yet. Most of the people I spent my days with ten years ago I haven’t seen in about just as many. I don’t really know why, apart from the significant distance that is between us but you’d think technology would solve that. It’s a natural part of life to leave people behind and to be left behind, I suppose, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

Ten years is a long time. Perhaps too long to sum up in a simple blog post without cranking out 10,000 words – and nobody wants that.

The important thing is: I’ve come out the other end lucky and happy in love, friendships, work and the place I call home. And I’ll keep stumbling, meandering, running, laughing and crying my way through this damned thing we call life because, wow, isn’t it amazing.

Thank you all for being part of the journey.

2012 – De perséinleche Réckbléck

2012 war a villen Hisiichten kee gutt Joer – vläit ass et dofir emsou méi wichteg op déi positiv Momenter zeréck ze blécken, well där goufen et der trotz allem eng Rëtsch, och wann se sech gréisstendeels op dat lescht Trimester konzentréiert hunn. Et ass no esou ville Kéieren ewou ech dat scho maachen fir mech zimlech interessant a liicht surreal ze gesinn wien alles esou iwwer d’Joeren ewech dobäi bliwwen ass a wien just fir kuerz Zäit a mengem Liewe war (och wann ewéi ëmmer e puer Leit am Video feelen).

Ech emfeelen HD.

A Last Red Rose Before You Go

to my late grandfather, John Winandy

As he approaches his last breath
With every preposterous wink of time
A rose petal is overblown
I boil over with rage
Bubble with wrath as if it were
Vaporising expectorated blood
Yell at the mistake of genesis
Want to annihilate all around me
Have the tree bleed dry
While cutting the name into the trunk
Slay everyone with insincere sorrow
Bawling at that somebody or other up there
In vain

The dreams burn you down
As the world curses around you
The river swallows the leaves
As the rainbow rots the treasure
Into the lonesomeness of every ending

As his last breath nears him
With every preposterous wink of time
A white orchid is decayed
The lack of a hand to hold
Makes my black despair even
Blanker
As she doesn’t hold me in her arms
To let me cry a tear
That would run down her chest
Fall off to the ground
Smash
And raze out the pain and
Everything else
In vain

The universe decays all planets
As the stars fester with quintessence
The crows rot over parched fields
As vultures devour each other
Into the lonesomeness of every ending

As he coughs up blood
With every preposterous wink of time
An oxeye daisy crumbles to dust
The cancer devours his last cells
Like a tick sucking all life out
Atrophying his existence
Watching ours dwindle away
Together
Into the futility of nothingness
A last attempt
To get Tyche sloshed
Move her to bestead him
A poor attempt
In vain

The oil drowns all cuties
As pus bleeds lads to death
Pale blue skies whelm the soils with lox
As the blood-drenched streets obliterate all
Into the lonesomeness of every ending

As a woman clad all in white lays two fingers on his carotid
This long bygone existence
Looks on us future dead not even with a rueful smile
But with opal eyes stares through onto what we can’t see
Yet
Her thumbs close his eyes
It’s all over
Thank you
Take your time
Anything human crumbles away into icecold rigor mortis
At once
The coulours of the skin shift to yellow
While the soul perchance evanesces into a kingdom-come
Weeping tears over his face
Stroking his head over the last white tuft of hair
I kiss his forehead
Goodbye granddad