The Berlin Diaries – Ten Thousand Lamplights


It’s Saturday afternoon and I wake up in a bed that’s not mine. We smoke something together and watch some television before I leave but that’s a bad idea, always is, because if I smoke in the morning I’m in a haze for the whole day and don’t accomplish much, and I wanted to write today but it doesn’t matter anymore, it’s a lazy afternoon and I’m sleepy and smiling as I drift back to my place.

It’s late afternoon now after a cosy nap and I’m across town somewhere I’ve never been before in search of a friend, Kike, who’s playing a set at a radio station. I call into a sleazy kebab shop for food because I guess there’ll be beer later and I want to line my stomach. I don’t want to get too drunk, because I’ve been making a fool of myself regularly for some time now and I want to change that, I don’t want to be the loudmouth half wit at the house party, I want to sit quietly and listen for a change, keep my composure.

I find the radio station, it’s through a wooden gate with a sign telling me that there’s a Hund I should keep an eye out for, but there’s nobody around, just old gardening equipment rusting and climbing weeds. Doesn’t look like a radio station. A little door leads into a hut where I meet a guy wearing a baggy shirt who asks that I take my shoes off. I oblige and head inside, and find a carpeted longroom with chairs and ashtrays, down one end a wooden bar fastened from old wood, down the other end a knocked up platform for decks and speakers and interesting DJ equipment.

There’s a guy in here, lying on the floor, he’s short, with long black hair in a ponytail. He’s lying there listening to two kids on the mic reading poetry. Kike hasn’t arrived yet so I sit with a drink and listen to the girl and guy read their lines. I am polite and reverent but I decide I don’t like what they’ve written. It seems lazy, I don’t understand it. Like useless tenapenny art that’s nothing but paint scattered on a canvass, their readings are just words splashed on a page, there’s no order to them, nothing conveyed by the nonsense. And yet these kids read their little poems with grave, solemn voices like graveyard bells. Seems stupid to me. Lighten up.

Kike arrives and starts her grime set that’s due to run 90 minutes. I sit at the bar by myself and see they don’t have any drinks I’ve ever heard of, everyone else is drinking gin but I order the only thing I recognise, as Guinness, and talk to the short dude with the long hair. He’s a poet too, because of course he is, because everyone you meet here is a poet or a DJ or an artist, and while I initially felt enamoured by the creative riff-raff, right now I feel weary of them – most of them – because any conversation that runs more than 2 minutes exposes the depth, or lack of, or their craft.

I speak with the strange poet and he talks to me about abstract things and laughs and calls me a millennial when I tell him I want to travel around India, which annoys me, then he asks me if I’m ‘into that’, the ‘into that’ in this case referring to prostitution, which seems an odd thing to bring up with a complete stranger but of course he is unfazed. He keeps grabbing me by the shoulders when we speak, and I’m not really listening to what he’s saying, I’m just torn between loving all the strange people and wishing for a conversation about the weather and what’s for dinner. These guys live in the abstract. I like to take a dip in it every once in a while and I’m sated.

The strange man takes his leave and I don’t bother trying to make more friends, I’m worn out from his odd chatter, so I sit alone and steal some tobacco someone has left out and scurry away into the toilet to discretely roll it into a cigarette; I don’t smoke but after two or three beers I always fancy one. I emerge from the bathrooms cig behind ear and sit in front of the decks and watch the end of Kike’s set. I hug her and help her take some promo photos after, then take my leave because there’s plenty more to get up to.

I arrive at Leslie’s flat around 10pm and find Dave there, they’ve been lounging together all day. When I arrive I get hugs and then quickly shown around, it’s a gorgeous flat, mezzanine over two stories with a balcony; all the flats are pretty here, vast, palatial compared to the squalor of über-capitalist London and its half-a-mil bedsits, sit-on-your-bed-while-doing-the-washing-up, fuck that. There’s a piano left at Leslie’s from the old owner and we play it, or try to; Dave can carry a tune, Leslie’s good for bass notes, I do nothing but silly little three key melodies because I’ve forgotten everything I learned as a kid.

We play around and eat crisps from a family bag, we listen to stupid songs and for some reason find ourselves attempting ballet, I couldn’t tell you why, but we laugh a lot and that’s really all you need to take away. We play catch, we sing songs, I tell horrendous stories about terrible things I’ve done drunk at house parties in the past (it involved a sponge) and eventually Dave and I decide to head out. Leslie stays behind, she’s tired. I’m tired too, but weariness is offset by a desire to discover whatever is waiting for us out in the city. I’ve not had a night home alone in a long long time, and it’s hectic and jangled but I kind of dig it right now. I’ve got a long time ahead of me to mellow out slowly, but here and now in this city, there’s no room for that.

Dave and I mooch down the street with our half-full beer bottles and play a while on some strange giant playground we find outside an art gallery where I once had a date. It makes me think about the girl, and I feel sad that we don’t speak anymore. She’s out in the city somewhere, and I think it’d be nice to bump into her on the train someday and catch up. We like the same books. She was reading Scott Fitzgerald the last time I saw her.

There was a night on at Loftus Hall, last time I was there was May, my birthday and, shit – it was only four months back but forty when measured in heartbreak years. I’m older now; pain and heartbreak has ruined me, rebuilt me, and I think, made me kinder. I like myself more now. I like myself for the first time in a long time. I’m good to people, I look after my friends because when you get torn apart and have to scrape the shreds back into something resembling your old self, you’re never quite the same, in fact you gain a new sense: in certain characters you can detect loss, or lack of, and you feel protective of those whom you sense have never had their heart slashed up.

You know what happens to people, you know how it feels to want to give up and disappear, and it seems to me that the more you get fucked up and smashed by the world, the more love you radiate, because you know how much it hurts to be alone. So come on life, do your worst, you won’t break me, you’ll just make me kinder. That’s a promise.

At Loftus Hall Dave and I meet Caroline, his girlfriend. She’s working on the door giving stamps so we get in free to the disco night but in return Dave has to man the till for an hour or so, so I sit with him and we muck about as doormen, giving stamps and checking wrists and taking money. The guy that organised the party is buzzing around feeling glum because he’s only shifted 65 tickets, and around 20 of those were guestlist. More people are arriving but not at any decent rate. The DJ is from the north of England too, I’ve met him a few times but don’t remember his name.

New partygoers roll in and look perplexed to find Dave and I slumped with a joint on the till; we’ve covered our bodies in stamps, Dave stamps my chest and arms with the doorman’s ink. I feel a bit like a third wheel with the couple after a while, and I don’t feel like dancing alone, so I take my leave. I drift back to mine without really remembering it, and drunk stumbling home I leave silly voicemails for my younger brothers, singing into my phone to entertain myself.

I put my headphones in on the U Bahn and try to stay awake back to my stop. I nod off but wake up just in time, I get off a stop early to grab a burger, second of the day, and stumble back to my flat, up to bed, it’s been a long, good day, and every day is like this or a variation on the theme. I’ve got good friends and a busy life that I’ve worked hard to create, I’ve put as much effort into growing my friendship buds as I put into my writing or my appearance and definitely my career, and here, in this city, it doesn’t feel like such a wild adventure anymore, those days are in the past now, now it just feels like, finally, after a spaghetti junction journey from spiraling giddy peaks to darkroom drudgery, finally I can call this city what I always wanted to call it: my home.

And beyond that, there’s something even more special; the daft ones that keep me going, that weird bunch that have gifted me so many adventures and ten thousand belly laughs, those wonderful silly glittering people who I can call without reservation: my family.

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