Lace 2 xs

It’s the hidden things…

Yesterday the sun x-rayed lace curtains onto the old kitchen tiles

sharp like a boning knife’s edge cutting through the yellow of years

of pots hissing on hobs    froth spitting out of angry mouths

the stainless steel extractor fan thundering swear words above

hands wielding ladles    lids    liquids    dousing appetites with cost-effectiveness.

Lace shrouds    clouds    those put away in rooms too large to keep clean

spiders weaving veils from dusty covings of ripe breasts and pregnant bellies

necks too weak to crane    eyes too blunt to see    so nobody was offended.

Yesterday I heard laughter lolling down the corridor    a bit too loud

someone long gone caught out by fingers that had lost the strength

to put rollers in tight as washing line    they rolled all over the carpet

she had long stopped seeing the stain of a meal that had slipped shaky hands

when it still mattered that she was here and he only a memory

still lingering now.    The houses’ emptiness a bigger lie than lace.



Between the Years, 2017


oak leaves xs

On the tumulus sun rays reach the tops of twisted trees

drawing creamy lines between ancient oaks

like a spider’s web.

Beneath lichen-licked twigs

leaves remain frozen in dying

their silence striking a chord on my heart.


Days I cannot grasp blur past

like a landscape in a blizzard

tugging me off-course.

Snow casts darkness before laying to rest on Earth

muffled by the density of compact clouds

I move past shadows that are here to stay.


Darkness peaks on that last day

dripping from near-bare trees’ crumbled leaves

hollowing creases into the faces of roots.

I start digging holes into the night

tearing open the thickness of clouds with callous claws

allowing a white flag of seagulls to cross the defence line.

cross-cultural conversations


Behold That Tree 2

white EU migrant woman & black Caribbean British Canadian man

‘What is I beheld?’ ‘Past tense from I behold.’

‘But what’s that in non-Shakespearean-English?’

‘It’s real English. It’s like (pauses) I behold

that tree’ (gestures with his arm somewhere outside)

‘Like I see that tree?’

‘Like Fuck! Check this tree out!’

Behold that man.


Travelling / Uncategorized


I wish I could start writing about Brussels all over again. I wonder whether

I’d still have to explain that it was actually Mechelen we went to and never

Brussels though we did have a golden afternoon in Brussels that ended on a high

look-out – the city, framed by dirty baby-boy blue with pink stains in it, to our

feet. Ashen but ready to rise as we walked back down into it. Also, I would

like to mention the golden masonry around every single of the lavish guildhalls

encircling the grandiose market square upright and proud like the men that

once walked in and out of these into freedom over the tired scarred backs of black

men and women. And I would like to ask why the statues in this city are of black

marble and naked children. I wouldn’t mind retelling the story of how if felt to

touch the cold snout of the watchful dog that didn’t feel cold because it had been

rubbed golden – the real stuff. Fortune. Fleeting, therefore ever more precious.

Not mine to own and so easy to obtain, if only. The other big square once be-

longed to the river Senne until it fell into disdain. So it was covered up, then,

by a busy street: everything valuable hidden away and no gold outside the old

Stock Exchange which is now closed despite stairs as long and wide as a beach,

pillars that could carry the city’s dreams. They had to carry the city’s sorrows

after last year’s bomb attacks – people had chosen to gather here above a buried

river on chewing gum clotted tarmac that had been reclaimed from cars only two

years previously by rebellious picnicers. It had seen blankets, bunting, barbecues

and water guns that have made way for armoured vehicles, maybe temporarily.

We made our way to Mechelen later and it was good not to see guns and stay in a

friend’s friendly house with a frozen garden that hosts chicken, a raspberry hedge,

a pool and occasionally kingfishers and woodpeckers. Also a cat, one night, as

black as the other, unfrightened by the thin ice beneath its paws. This is Fear Age

and we will stay strong, too. We will be pillars to each other, here where we find

ourselves in a room of five languages – though it was me who hadn’t thought of

Gujarati until reminded and the graveness of that grinds my heart into bonemeal.

Staying strong and looking my own blindness in the eye. Willing to see the hidden.

Un-covering the mis-take; dare getting up and re-taking it. In Mechelen they have

uncovered the River Melaan that had been filled with earth a hundred years ago

and turned into a car park. They have opened a museum in the old barracks from

which over twenty-five thousand people were deported by train to Ausschwitz. A

train carriage still stands outside the museum today. It’s easy to look. But it’s

never easy. That’s what I would like to write about our trip to Brussels last week.

(I’ve published a first post about our trip to Brussels here)

honouring a place of dark

Stories / Tower Blocks / Uncategorized


black eye

now that wall I remembered

a face of a young woman

chiselled out of plaster

revealing a matrix of red bricks

tearing her out

wind tearing her hair apart

another wall in another city

same not-quite white wall

large black eye traced

with carbon paper like

mascara smudged down a cheek

white wet puffy

what happened

before carelessness played havoc

carelessness played



don’t play with fire

we all blamed the girl for starting it

thought her mean enough

to exclude her from our play

to burn her with nettles

when the house burnt down

they left

I never liked her anyway

but the flames didn’t eat away

that shame

lost things…

Stories / Unexpected

margate-british-library-3_xsSomething has shifted. It began recently on a Sunday in September when I woke up from thoughts of doubt and betrayal, feeling perfectly uneasy, first, then angry which was almost a relief. Since then things kept changing. Every new day another leaf fallen, the tree a bit barer, the light a degree warmer, the air a degree cooler, the atmosphere a degree clearer and my thoughts, too, sometimes at least. Yesterday, I forgot my scarf at home and a gruffy northeasterly wind was teasing my neck all day me with pale bony fingers. Later, on my way home I forgot my hat on the train. My warm wooly hat made in Scotland lost on a Kentish train. The last thing I know is that it was on my head, proudly, when I entered the overheated carriage. It must have fallen into a small gap when I took it off as I sat down. I sometimes wish I could find a small gap to fall through – where do things go from there? Walking through their yesterday? Unravelling back to their idea?

The Polish cleaner with a face as warm as a birthday wish understood exactly how this hat was the most precious thing I will own this winter and he assured me that losing it was a good sign: if you loose something today you’ll be blessed with luck tomorrow. I already felt blessed by his friendliness – he escorted me from the platform to the train officer on duty by the gate who took my lost hat more than suitably serious. He even phoned someone at St. Pancras to make sure the cleaners there would look out for my hat. Then he made me write down my name and number like a police detective preparing to track a missing child. He spread more friendliness by consoling me that these things happen to us: we’re travelling, chatting, laughing, dosing off and suddenly arriving where all is momentarily forgotten. My blessing: men in uniform that understand and try to evoke miracles.

I’d come back from a trip to Margate; it seems I always go to Margate in the autumn. I also always seem to go back to the same cafe there: I was relieved to see they still have vases with fresh roses on the two tables in the alcoves as they’ve always had on previous visits. I always sit at one of these: a high table joined by two bar chairs with cast-iron feet making them impossible to move. The waitress seemed new but nothing else had changed; the coffee was still a bit too expensive, the food still a bit unimaginative and I knew they’d let me sit for hours at a table with fresh roses overlooking the little harbour where nothing happens during low tide except for the Tracy Enim neon sign slowly brightening up against the darkening sky. Even that hasn’t changed. I exhale, yearning for that cast-iron steadiness. Out there right by the sea you couldn’t even trace the change of season because there are no trees, no leaves – just changing tides, dawn, day, dusk, night and the same again.

But there were surprises, of course. The Turner Gallery was not very open – only a wedge to let in a trickle of visitors who were happy enough that they weren’t able to get beyond the entrance hall because staff were setting up a new exhibition. Instead we were left with a mesmerising installation by Yinka Shonibare called British Library. Celebrating the contributions of migrants to British culture and society. There they were: stacked, batiked books in high shelves covering the whole of three long walls. Yotam Ottolenghi, Natalie Bennett, Bisi Alimi, Shami Chakrabarti, Yoko Ono, Prince Charles, other royals, writers, artists, politicians, campaigners, thinker, doers including Nigel Farrage who rested next to Karl Marx. Standing surrounded by these walls of gilded migrant power was a bit overwhelming – I suddenly remembered how I once, years ago, got totally lost in a beautiful sentence by Nadine Gordimer that proved to be so overpowering that when I finally reached the full stop I knew exactly how many words it contained, which ones I particularly liked, which ones I didn’t understand but I couldn’t say anything about their combined meaning.


Standing there now, a lost migrant in a little seaside town that unsurprisingly voted ‘out’ on 23 June but surprisingly made space for artists in their midst that contradict: like Raychel Mount who built the Listening Wall on one of Margate’s ancient arteries – as a Living Wall because of an abundance of flowers sprawling vertically out of the wall like champaign bubbling out of a bottle. After Yinka Shonibare’s walls of awe-inspiring migrants now a wall to heal divisions exposed by the referendum. A wall to spread love or share grief and anger. Of all things possible: walls to connect and bring together. I was confused, having grown up in a country divided by a 1400 km long wall of concrete enforced by barbed wire, mine strips and deep-seated ideological believes; a wall we were only too keen to break down and lose forever. But then, without walls there’d be no houses and nothing to put windows in, nothing to put roofs on, nothing to break down or climb over in order to discover what lies behind. So back to the Polish truth: you lose one thing and win something else instead and maybe that cleaner is somewhere on the shelves of the British Library piece as well.

Back in London my hat hasn’t reappeared, yet: I went back to Stratford International a day later and was told by a female staff member behind a glass counter to go to Cannon Street Customer Services. That’s where I’ve come from now – it wasn’t open on a Sunday. Shut and shutters down it didn’t radiate any of that friendliness i felt from staff at my train station. But I’ll go back. I’ve not totally lost my ability to trust the power of miracles because thoughts of doubt and betrayal are too simple a choice. I’m beginning to enjoy the deepening of my relationship with my hat and know, no matter whether I’ll find it or not,it’ll be precious to me.



relationships / Unexpected

A friend has offered me her space on the Sussex coast while she and her partner are travelling. A space with a cabin and a caravan, chicken and greenhouses, fruit trees and wood pigeons, a kitchen and WiFi. A space to escape from a hectic summer with a few blows – the shock of Brexit, the discomfort of a back injury, the uncertainties of my relationship that’s now come to a sudden full-stop in mid-air. A space to land, take a deep breath and maybe just take some space… Space feels like a very comforting gift – another one, recently, was the discovery of ‘pantuns’, a Malaysian verse form with a fairly rigid structure that offers safety to my unkempt mind. The two brought together with a pinch of freedom lead to something like this:

wale stone

on the edge of the old dark

watching incense exhaling last wisps of smoke skywards

yesterday the sky disappeared with the sea into a white blur

so it’s possible then

a space between sky and sea


yesterday sky and sea smudged into whiteness

like white noise drowning out sounds

the white space between sky and sea

blurring my memories


white noise drowning out sounds

a swing in a walled garden

the only memory I’m left with for company

alone up on a hill above the road from Eastbourne to Brighton


a swing in a walled garden

where wood pigeons bemoan dreams buried too deep

up on a hill above the valley

cars drifting by on the main road, unknowing


wood pigeons bemoan that space

where day and night blur into a turquoise glow

where we drifted, unknowing

a space filled with the breath of the in-between-creatures


day and night blur into a glow

a space, blue, blurry, timeless

the breath of in-between-creatures cool on my skin

after the day’s heat and comforting before the old dark


a space, white, hazy, horizonless

when did I stop feeling, like a knife gone blunt

the day’s heat, the old dark

when did I cross that threshold


when did I stop feeling my own sadness

buried too deep under grey motionless void

when did I cross that threshold

a rock, round, smooth with a crack like the Meridian line


from grey motionless emptiness

watching the incense exhaling its last wisps of smoke

it crossed the threshold, skywards

so it’s possible, then

an offering…

Portrait / Travelling

… of a poem that I wrote during my week in Scotland recently…


my mother thinks my life is a going-round-in-circles

barefeet on grass after a snowstorm

I don’t feel the cold

follow the bends

the steps of the many before me

between old stones worn smooth from

pressure, friction and distance then

brought up here by determined hands

I imagine them large

in the centre I find a stone

with thin waves of sediments laid into it – blue, grey, darker grey

carried by waves of the ocean – grey, blue, darker blue

looking for an offering I find a sea shell deep in my pocket

the architecture of the shell

mirrors the architecture of the labyrinth I’m standing in

a sacred order of spiralling circles

turning North across the hills

I rest in the certainty that there’s a shell

tall and white and cresting a wave that’s laid into a stone

from a distant place long ago


Travelling / writing about blogging and blogging about writing

Not migration this time…

In April I’ve travelled to a Creative Writing Retreat where we were invited to write a 100-word journal every morning. I’ve now followed the urge to re-read mine and found myself threading together bits of stories like those stones I found on a beach one day. Nowhere near as orderly…Iona_xs_69

Two days of travel from London to the Isle of Iona: 3 trains, 2 ferries, 1 bus. Then 2 feet underneath the weight of rucksacks. The closer I get the slower the transport. When we finally arrive I’m lost in a hazy spaciousness like on that first day of the summer holidays blurred by glaring sun shine and the smell of meadow flowers pressed into straw bales.

Here all sound has become spacious, too. I sleep restlessly in my first night with the unfamiliar quiet: not still but thick with the hollering and howling of the wind across the Machair. No trees to moan, no branches to creak, no loose bits to rattle: everything here is tied into its place. The wind is the last and the first sound. A dry whistle, no discernible tune. Never not there. Over night it turns into a roar.Iona_xs_16

I go to buy a comb; mine was left behind in London. I also buy a woollen hat. Handmade in Scotland; sturdy tradition against the fierce North wind. Another night and it grows into gusts as stiff as a Victorian church congregation. The first time since I arrived I see the white crests on the waves unsettled. The sea has lost its frivolous turquoise. People tell me the weather has changed here. They mean the wind which has gone from record highs of 40-60mph to 90-100mph. The only ones utterly undisturbed are the sheep: ancient breeds like the Hebredians who also look like a Victorian church congregation in their black coats with regal horns.

I find two tiny sea shells forgotten in the pocket of my wool trousers: no larger than a raisin. When I picked them up on my first day they were wet from the waves: with my brown-tinted sunglasses they had looked a fiery orange. Dry now they are the colour of liquid honey with some darker spots, a bit like a tiger curled up cosy.

Iona_xs_23In time for the wind who brings a surprise of heavy snow: it’s not snowed like this here in over fifteen years. Gatherings of white sheep huddle close to each other forming creamy clouds against the starchy white of the field. Across the sound everything disappears behind the thin veil and it’s suddenly easy to recall the druids. Eventually a caravan gets through: the musicians for the night’s concert. The whole village goes. They are sitting in neat rows wearing their boots, water proofs, woolly hats in a cold village hall that has inhaled damp wool and honest sweat for generations. The music warms some of them – also the wind outside who’s now calling in the rain.

I have a desire to be alone and leave during the interval. Walk my 3/4 mile through the dark of night: as if the island had born a twin and put it up into the sky above, an expansive cloud absorbs all memory of music and returns, only, the patter of rain. I walk straight North towards a glow ahead of me – reaching the hilltop I see it’s a band of colours flowing out of the snow-covered mountain range to the West. A snowy turquoise turning into greenish yellow, dirty coral before climaxing into a pink as pure as summer joy. The next day I learn that I saw the Northern Lights. Maybe it’s the glow that’s melted the snow away. The wind is pacified, the sea calm again. I wash myself clean of anxieties by going swimming in the winter-cold sea with Sue and the others. We run hand in hand, drunk with laughter and cold. On our way back to the village we see the goldfinches again and that night I hear the corncrakes on my walk home. Their nocturnal industriousness that sounds like the grating white noise at the end of the tuning range of a radio receiver.

At the hostel a rainbow wipes clean the tarnished sky. Someone has drank my soya milk and only left an insult of a splash in the carton with my name on it. I accept it as a ransom for unknowingly having broken some rules in the hostel with my early morning showers and computer in the kitchen. Iona_xs_59So John who runs the hostel gives me a toffee-coloured fleece from one of his Hebrideans to take back to London and spin. I feel a weight of responsibility from the fleece that’s lighter than a sleep. That same day I find the weather-bleached bones of a sheep scattered underneath the ribcage of old machinery in the abandoned marble quarry. I understand that I need to honour her and gather her bones in one place. I take a photo, also one small piece of bone. What is it with you poets that you always gather bones? I’ve also gathered pebbles. And serpentine stones. Mermaid tears. Rainbows. Poems. I bit more of myself.

The wind picks up again as it’s time to return across the sound, across the other island, the other sound, and the other land back to London. Where I’m still picking up pieces and arrange them…


Home / Nature


Magnolia 1s


no wonder it looks exotic to me still in it’s full

spring garb: it’s a migrant

from southeastern United States

also a little ancient miracle as it appeared before the bees

and made it – thanks to a curious beetle –

into our times and my garden

where this year another miracle transpired when

El Niño teased her flowers out in mid January

then the belated winter kept them intact for

over two months: flowering a delicious white

with pink edges so faint I can only see them from close up

yet from my window on the second floor all I see

first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening

and blurry without my glasses

a party of pixies willing me on

Magnolia 2s

mornington bear

Mornington Bear / Portrait

Mornington Bear 4xs

mornington bear

i first met him outside our house

at 08:12 on Monday morning

perched on a wee little chair like mornington king

i was late for a safeguarding training

we met again 5 days later

he was sitting in a dark corner of No 13

i let him into the

sunlit conservatory where he

studied old collectors books

on Sunday morning he begged me to run

him a bath – he had a proper splash

kept singing shanties

loud and a wee bit out of tune

before hanging out all afternoon

in the sun by the window…

Mornington Bear 5 xs


on language & finding home


EUDie Suche nach einer bewohnbaren Sprache in einem bewohnbaren Land”*

The last time I travelled back from Germany to London – my Wahlheimat (which my dictionary translates with ‘adopted home’ but that doesn’t really convey that sense of warmth, choice and voluntariness of the German phrase) – was in late November, just over a week after the devastating attacks in Paris. I travelled with my friend Katharine; we had to change trains in Stuttgart and after a week in deepest Bavaria we were almost dazzled by the effortless trilingual service on the TGV to Paris. Somewhere after Strasbourg we got evacuated from our coach – Coach 18 – though the staff were far from using that word. In fact, they did everything to make this seem like just another part of their exclusive on-board service and led us down the corridors with big smiles and without our luggage. Prior to that they had been looking for the owner of a small battered folding bike decorated with bright plastic flowers around a faded basket that had been left outside of Coach 18 loaded with bags. This must have been such an unexpected occurrence that the trilingual service shrunk instantly to French-only and it took me a while to patch together enough of my remaining Français to make sense of the announcement. That might have been the same for the owner of that bike because despite repeated French announcements nothing happened until we were told with that smile to leave Coach 18. We hadn’t even found new seats yet when we were all of a sudden asked to go back to Coach 18: the owner of the bike had been found and there was no longer a need to remove it from the travelling train… (shorthand for: it’s not a bomb in disguise).

Years ago when I worked at Munich Airport I first came across the acronym PAX for passenger; it continues to fascinate me that pax is also the Latin word for ‘peace’. Currently, travellers in Europe seem very much affected by the absence of peace and seem to balance along an ever so fine line drawn carefully with pencil around the validness of someone’s reason to travel. Back on our journey Katharine left me in Paris where she stayed over at her sister’s who’s made the French capital her Wahlheimat. I continued with a German newspaper for company and happened on the speech by Herta Müller on receiving the 2015 Heinrich Böll Price for Literature. Interestingly, in German she held a Dankesrede – a ‘speech of appreciation’ – but my various dictionaries only offer ‘acceptance speech’ for it in English. I would have really appreciated an English translation of her speech to share with friends because I found it a powerfully thought-provoking, reflective and moving story of growing up in Eastern Europe during the Cold War into a collective psyche obsessed with ‘fleeing’, of feeling homesick for safety and peace, which she equates with ‘feeling homesick for the future’. She weaves in some of Heinrich Böll‘s own reflections on the search for home: he’s said to having asked young students in his university lectures in Frankfurt in the 1960s where to find a bewohnbare Sprache – a ‘habitable language’ – and whether it would ever be possible for the young generation to transform this war-desolated country, Germany, into a State that one could feel homesick for. Herta Müller also shares his astonishing and astonishingly simple observation: that the German word Elend – meaning ‘misery’ – is an ancestor of the German word Ausland – which means in its most neutral sense ‘foreign country’ or, more literally something like ‘outside this land’. He made this observation in a speech** as PEN director when the only word he could think of ‘for the international sameness’ of the experiences of displaced people was the German word Elend. And the connection with Ausland for Heinrich Böll was very clearly not that of going abroad in a touristic sense but that of being in der Fremde which doesn’t translate easily: Fremde being the noun of ‘foreign’ though not for the person who is a ‘foreigner but the place s/he is foreign in, the place that’s unfamiliar, where s/he feels estranged from everyone else. It’s the emotional opposite of home. It’s misery.

Herta Müller and Heinrich Böll have both experienced Elend and homesickness for a future in a very profound way which explains why when they speak about travelling they mean it in this very specific context: there’s no voluntariness in it, no warmth and no choice. It’s a resignation, a running away from a place that no longer is home, no longer safe and welcoming. It is a Flucht – like ‘flight’, the noun for ‘fleeing’. Which also sounds appropriately like ‘plight’, misery. In the same way the German Flucht resembles Furcht – fear – almost too closely to be coincidence.

It seems that this experience of homelessness – of fleeing the home country to find a safe home elsewhere – is somewhat valid in the current debate about refugees which is held along this very fine pencil line where the term ‘refugee’ stands for people who are forced to flee, who’ve lost their home and who’ve got no choice. And ‘migrant’ for people who choose to find a nicer home for themselves than the one they were given by birth. Migrant always sounds a little bit like ‘vagabond’ to me. ‘Travelling’. There’s the German word Wanderlust: the joy of being a vagabond, of walking instead of settling; I would translate Lust with ‘to fancy doing something’ which is very different from the English ‘lust’ and yet there’s almost something frivolous to this idea of travelling for the sake of it. I wonder why to this day so many people in Germany and the UK find the notion of ‘traveller’ so challenging, almost suspicious – and why migration is okay as long as we talk about birds or herds of antelopes who follow a prehistoric instinct. But it doesn’t easily allow for people who might be born with a similar instinct – like my Dad who, when a job had reached its limit for him would find himself another job and if that meant moving across the whole of Germany with his family in the Schlepptau – ‘tow line’ – he’d happily do so. He followed his own instinct and knew when it was time to move on. He passed that gene on to me: I only stopped travelling when I arrived in London ten years ago after having moved home over twenty times which took me across three German states, four countries and two continents. When I moved to London my first instinct was to choose a job that waLondon bikes all about travelling – in the same way Herta Müller remembers people in Eastern Europe ‘who chose the possibility for an opportunity to flee as a job’ e.g. by studying Orientalistik in the hope for a work trip abroad that would present an opportunity to flee into the West. My first job in London was with an international relief organisation and involved regular trips to Darfur and Kabul. So regular that I very quickly grew extremely exhausted and realised that travelling by instinct is a fundamentally different experience to travelling by demand – and stopped.

In German the word ‘homesick’ is actually a noun:
Heimweh which literally means the painful longing for home. So I have Heimweh instead of I am homesick. Making it a noun somehow gives it a bit more gravitas, I find. Like we’re taking this really serious and it’s more than a fleeting moment of feeling sick. To my great joy we also have a word for the opposite, the pain or longing for being ‘away’: Fernweh. For many years that felt quite like a force to me which kept me moving – until I got to London where I suddenly felt a real pang of Heimweh: but not homesick for a particular place in Germany (which would have been a bit difficult given all those many places I called home in the past) but for ‘arriving’ and settling. We’ve got a saying Ankommen heisst: warten, bis die Seele nachkommt: to arrive means to wait until the soul follows. So over the past ten years I’ve made London my home and slowly let the soul follow; I’ve found pax – peace – by stopping to travel and allowing to settle. I often think of London as the city of people that make it their Wahlheimat and bring a bit of their warmth and soul here. In that sense it can be a city of peace, a city of people that are in peace with impermanence, at home in homelessness, that find a sense of belonging in a community of travellers.

It strikes me that ‘settling down’ in German means to become sesshaft – and sess is literally just two letters away from the German word for armchair – Sessel – and then there’s haft which among others translates to ‘imprisonment’. Being prisoner to my armchair. Funnily, one of the first things I did when I realised that I had found a home in London was to get my old armchair delivered here all the way from Southern Germany…

The armchair says it all and I totally appreciate how being a migrant – a traveller – is a ‘fancy’ position in comparison to being a refugee. Though I don’t quite understand why following an instinct is somewhat less valid than fleeing a threat. Why choice is less valued than force. Why there’s no word for Gastfreundschaft in English – which literally means ‘extending friendship to guests’ but gets translated as ‘hospitality’, a word that for some etymological reason is based around ‘hospital’ – and that I’ve more than once and to my great horror confused with the word ‘hostility’.

Some 20 years ago, when I still was at home in that part of Bavaria which Katharine aAngel Wing 1nd I had just traveled back from, somebody once pinned a postcard with a Bible quote on my door, “Vergesst die Gastfreundschaft nicht. Denn durch sie haben manche, ohne es zu wissen, Engel beherbergt” –”don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unawares”. It was meant as a friendly joke because we had in fact ended up hosting someone in our house that none of us knew but who’s friends used to live in that same student house years ago and it was the only place she could remember when she got stuck on a trip South. She’s still a good friend of mine now and planning to come and visit me in London for the first time next summer.

When my train finally rolled into St. Pancras and I was released into the London Underground I felt a real warmth for my
Wahlheimat with all its lack of logic, its impermanence, its frantic pace, its busy-ness and its many travellers. I also felt a real determination to never forget that I’m a migrant – because knowing this is reassuring and humbling. And also a reminder of one of my core values, Gastfreundschaft.


* The Search for a Habitable Language in a Habitable Country is a title of a book about Heinrich Böll’s writing that has been taken from a quote he’s credited with in a university lecture he held in Frankfurt in the 1960s.

**Literarische Begegnungen: Romanistische Studien zur kulturellen Identität, Differenz und Alterität, Festschrift für Karl Hölz zum 60. Geburtstag, Berlin, Erich Schmidt, 2002