A love letter to Glasgow’s gig scene

Twice I’ve seen Beach Boys’ legend Brian Wilson perform and twice I’ve had some kind of out of body experience. The first was at T in the Park when my pal and I became great friends with a hippy couple for the whole of his set.

We swayed around the dark tent holding on to each other, listening to Good Vibrations. It’s testament to the gig that I wrote a note in my diary when the Pope visited Glasgow in 2010.
“It’s quite unbelievable to see how many people worship the Pope,” I wrote.
“To those people it’s like how I felt at the Beach Boys, sorry, Brian Wilson, at TITP concert. That was spiritual.”

The second time was the Pet Sounds 50th anniversary tour in Glasgow. Glasgow to me is the spiritual home of gigs, of live music, of guaranteed good times. I watched Brian Wilson there with my friend, a music critic, who was reviewing the gig at the time. This was 2016 when Wilson’s health had become worse and at times his bandmate Al Jardine was clearly holding the gig together.

Don’t Worry Baby still makes me want to cry. A song about a guy needing comfort before a car race! It sounds even better live. Sloop John B still reminds me of my dad, who always used to sing it when my sister and I were kids. During the seated gig my friend commented on my “1960s dancing” – a sign that I was experiencing pure joy. There was no way I was sitting still.

That gig was at the Royal Concert Hall but my ultimate favourite venue is the Barras. Sounds like a cliché, everyone says that. There’s a good reason for it, though. The entry to the East End of the city, just past Glasgow Cross is frozen in time. Apart from one or two trendy coffee shops and a bit of green space that happily replaced a nasty, neglected site, the area has barely changed in decades.

At the Gallowgate the smell of fat from the chippers (or chippys if you’re not Aberdonian) hangs thick in the air and the smell gets stronger as you approach the glitzy fairground-style lights of the Barrowland Ballroom. The stairs that lead up to the hall look like they haven’t been touched in 50 years. The burnt red coloured stars and squares spread across the roof also give the impression that it could still be 1950.

The entry to the East End of Glasgow, near my old flat
There’s a makeshift bar selling plastic cups filled with beer or cider at one side of the venue. On the other side there’s a small bar, which you’re guaranteed to arrive at covered in sweat from making your way through the packed crowd. (I don’t know what it is about cider but every time I drink it I seem to turn into a jolly red-faced farmer who’s ditched their cows for the day and got drunk in the hay bales. Basically, few things make me happier than being tipsy on pints of cider.) Don’t expect to leave the venue clean – you’ll be dripping in sweat, covered in alcohol and probably smelling of cigarettes.
The bright lights of the Barrowlands on the Gallowgate. Police vans are a common sight there
Everyone has their own experience there, the Barras caters for all. I’ve seen the Pixies, the Libertines, Teenage Fanclub, Arcade Fire, the Manics. New Young Pony Club and CSS (see the New Rave movement circa 2007) to name a few. There’s also a roller-skate night, which I previewed for the Evening Times but regrettably never managed to attend. Rollerskating on that bouncy dance floor under that sea of stars sounds like heaven.
The Libertines playing in the Barrowlands and a close-up of someone’s hair

***Here’s an experience in Glasgow which sums up why I love the city’s gig scene so much:

In 2007 a group of us split up into a few different cars and drove from Aberdeen to Glasgow to see Wakefield indie babes the Cribs at music venue, King Tut’s. We were in our early 20s and our lives revolved around discovering new bands, listening to music and going to gigs. I once made a pilgrimage to Preston to watch the View. Preston! The View! I know.

When we arrived in Glasgow it was raining (obviously) and it kept getting heavier. Disaster struck when King Tut’s flooded. We thought the gig was off but we were told the event was moving to a pub down the road called the Admiral. We shuffled down the road to the bar, near Central Station, and packed into the tiny venue. It was way too small for the King Tut’s sized crowd.

The Cribs – a band that makes me think of house parties, mixing drinks and surfing down stairs on an ironing board (an ouch moment for all involved) – set up on a pretend stage and began thrashing their guitars.
Minutes later the gig was stopped by Gary Jarman, one of the brothers in the band, who was worried about the crowd trampling on each other because it was so wild.

The music stopped. Everyone feared the gig was off but after some minutes, someone had the idea for the audience to sit down. So we all sat down!  Most people were cross-legged. And there we were, sitting down, swaying on the ground listening to indie rock.

It was bizarre but also a gorgeous gig experience that sticks in my head.

Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on September 8

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The politics of language

There’s a chapter in an English as a foreign language text book called: ‘How to avoid saying no directly’. I burst out laughing when I saw it. Is there anything more stereotypically British?

I came across it at the language school I work at, where we regularly teach the art of small talk to students. Things like how to apologise for everything and hide your true feelings – you know, the British way of life.

Although stereotypes can be overegged and unhelpful, I have to admit; I’ve definitely come across a few of them since moving to Berlin at the start of the year.

It’s true that Germans communicate more directly (believe me, you grow a thicker skin living here) and I actually think they’re quite proud of this fact. “Why not?” they’d probably reply if you asked why they always got straight to the point.

And so I wasn’t surprised at a recent news story, in which CDU politician Jens Spahn complained about too much English being spoken in the capital’s restaurants.

“It drives me up the wall the way waiters in Berlin restaurants only speak English, said the junior finance minister.

He added that “co-existence can only work in Germany if we all speak German”.

Why mince your words, Mr Spahn?

In some ways I agree with him. I think it’s important to learn the language of a country you’ve chosen to move to. Not only that, I think language learning should be taken far more seriously at school, whether you move away or not.

Who am I looking at when I say that? The Brits, of course! Oh how lovely it would be to have had one foreign language under my belt before I moved abroad. Unfortunately I think education on the island falls way beneath the mark when it comes to this subject – I had very little to show after my measly four years of German.
Friedrichstraße in Berlin’s Mitte district. Jens Spahn says waiters in the capital are speaking too much English. 

So here I am today, still struggling with the gender of words and all that goes with it.

Sometimes I feel life’s too short to learn German grammar and maybe I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than go through another minute of it. But really, I want to learn. I’ll keep trying because I want to understand the world around me.

I want to hold a conversation with the man in the bike shop next to my flat and I’d really like to not embarrass myself again by asking for whipped cream to treat my mosquito bites in the chemist.

I’d like to understand menus in German and not have to Google translate when somebody asks me something simple like ‘close the door, please’.

Jens Spahn’s experience of Berlin is a little different to mine. Yes you hear a lot of English here – from Germans, from other nationalities and from native English speakers.

But I often find myself surrounded by a group of people speaking German, nodding along and smiling without a clue in the world what they’re talking about. I understand the odd word but there’s no way I can keep up with a regular conversation.

It’s not always that the people I’m with can’t speak English. Sometimes I think they just want to talk in their mother tongue with their friends rather than cater to the non-German speaker. Not everyone speaks English all the time and why should they?

Berlin is home to so many nationalities and I love it for that. On one U-bahn ride I often hear about six different languages and I dream of a future (which is far, far away obviously) when I’ll understand them all.

Right now, though, I need to focus on trying to improve my German and do the work that comes with it. Who knows? One day I might even ditch the polite small talk and become more direct. Then you’ll know I’ve really nailed this language.

Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on August 18

German Election special: The main players

One of the many things I’ve learned since moving to Germany is that politics doesn’t start and end with the UK. Obviously world politics has always been interesting – and is a hyped-up crazy spectacle right now – but I feel the UK is fairly inward looking.

It always frustrated me that the newspaper industry in Scotland, for example, didn’t see the value in properly covering foreign affairs. Yeah, yeah, I know: budget cuts, etc. But still, I think audiences want wider international content (as well as local) and in an ideal world where newspapers weren’t being run into the ground, editors would recognise this as a priority.

So I like that no-one really cares about Scottish independence in Berlin. Sometimes I shove it down peoples’ throats but on the whole, it’s good for me to look at the bigger picture and not just focus on my home country.  Every day I meet people from all over the world – Russia, Spain, Moldova, Italy, Poland, Australia, Slovenia, Israel and Saudi Arabia – there are many political situations to discuss.

Here in Germany the elections are on September 24 and I’m enjoying watching the campaign unfold because I love mud-slinging, desperate politicians who prepare like it’s a Mayweather v McGregor fight. Except it doesn’t seem to be like that here. Everyone seems a bit more….measured?

Of course there’s a bit of drama: The SPD’s (Social Democrats) Martin Schulz accusing current Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the CDU (Christian Democratic Party), of being aloof and disconnected from reality. Then there’s Merkel hosting rallies in far-right stronghelds and being booed by protestors. However, it’s not quite the bite I’m used to but maybe that’s a good thing.

So here’s a little taster of the parties/people campaigning in this election. The German voting system means the winning party usually doesn’t gain enough seats for a majority so has to form a coalition. Right now it’s a CDU/SPD partnership (along with the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union) but with lots of smaller parties gaining more support, other coalitions are possible following the Bundestag election.

CDU
Let’s start with Mutti, the nickname given to Merkel because she’s always there for you, apparently, like your mum. The centre-right CDU’s election posters show ‘Sicherheit und Ordnung” – security and order – are high on the agenda. Interesting because many Germans believe there was zero security and order in the way the country took in refugees (more than a million arrived in 2015), and this appears to have fuelled the rise in support for right wing populist parties like the AfD (more on them later).

Still, Merkel’s been admired for defending her policy and that’s a breath of fresh air for politicians who are usually so scared of losing votes they’ll say anything. She was also named TIME Person of the Year in 2015, which was probably neither here nor there for her because she doesn’t seem to be the excitable type. But it seems like a good thing.

A few voters have told me they don’t like every policy but they feel they can trust her, that she’s a safe option. The Germans like safe options, I think.

From an outside perspective the CDU’s message appears to be similar to the Tories recent catastrophic ‘strong and stable’ crusade except it’s bound to do better because Theresa May isn’t anywhere near Germany. (AND EVERY DAY I AM GRATEFUL FOR THIS GEOGRAPHIC FACT.)

Even though Merkel voted against gay marriage – a nod to her conservative roots and supporters – she still allowed the vote in the first place which passed in parliament, and this has been viewed as a smart political move rather than a damaging one.

The CDU is also focusing on family values, employment, public investment and tax cuts. So let’s see if the country will go back to mummy. That last sentence really made me cringe.

Merkel, above. The message translates to: ‘For a Germany in which we live well and gladly.’
‘For security and order’ 
SPD
Next up and representing the centre left is the SPD’s Martin Schulz, who was President of the European Parliament and therefore has a continental feel about him.Earlier this year the party experienced a high in the polls and it looked as if it might have been a ‘Wendepunkt’ for the SPD – a turning point. But since then they’ve consistently dipped.If I were advising the party (they haven’t employed an Aberdonian for this purpose yet) I’d look to Corbyn.  Yes, Jeremy Corbyn of messed-up UK Labour fame. Get Schulz into dad clothes, get him to appeal to the kids, the Glastonbury generation or whatever the equivalent is in Germany. Get him talking about the working class and social justice, but in a way that the millennials are going to get on board with. Get him on a stage wearing Vetements-style sportswear and a bakers boy cap and get the lefty, artsy, young attractive family types who cycle their kids around Berlin in mildly dangerous ‘Kinderanhänger’ on his side.When the gay marriage vote was announced the SPD and Schulz were quick to jump on the ‘we’re more liberal and open than Merkel’ train. They even stuck a rainbow flag above their headquarters. But it might have been too little to late.

The SPD were lucky to have a spike in supporters but I don’t think Schulz will capture the imaginations of the youth or anyone else. Currently the SPD are in a ‘grand coalition’ with the CDU which may well happen again.
But, really guys. You could have done better!

 

Martin Schulz, above. ‘It’s time to solve the problems in Europe, instead of exposing them.’
Your dad, above. Or Jez Corbyn. You decide.
The Left
Who might capture the millenials’ vote? Well, maybe Die Linke. The Left.
Voters have told me this party is a “hangover from East Germany” because that’s where the group descend from. This makes some people suspicious but they have clearly spent A LOT OF CASH on a shiny colourful advertising campaign, with messages laid out in all sorts of different fonts that equate to ‘redistribute the wealth’ and ‘kill all rich people’. That last one isn’t true.It’s your classic far left innit? I have a feeling a lot of Germans are into this, possibly more from the younger generation. The party is led by Sahra Wagenknecht who looks extremely confident in the campaign posters around town. In my area (Kreuzberg) there’s another dude called Dietmar Bartsch who looks like he’s stepped out of the Danish political drama Borgen and another called Pascal Meiser, who resembles a lad they pulled off the street to pose in a campaign to prove politicians are just people like you and me.The group is also campaigning for a rise in national minimum wage and the dissolution of NATO. They are likely to gain a fair few votes. I’d also like to award them the award for Best Poster Campaign. I especially like the ‘I love MDMA’ and ‘rave on’ chat that’s been scribbled onto Mr Bartsch’s face. 

Die Linke’s Pascal Meiser, above. ‘Directly to Kreuzberg: Wages up, rent down!’
‘Rave on’ graffiti over CDU and Die Linke placards near Südstern in Kreuzberg
FDP
Next on my list we have the Free Democratics or FDP. The FDP’s hopes are pinned on their “charismatic” 38-year-old leader Christian Lindner. I know! Isn’t he young! That’s the reaction they hope for. The campaign posters show him playing on Snapchat or Instagram with messages like: ‘digital first, concerns second’ and ‘impatience is also a virtue’.  Meanwhile, Lindner avoids eye contact with the camera as if he’s in a Hugo Boss ad. The party is pro-business, campaigns for tax cuts and to remain in financial markets. Also, my sources say the party has friends in the media so this won’t hurt them.They’ve thrown a lot of money on image and marketing but will the Germans buy into it? I did speak to one person who had been won over by FDP, so maybe.
Christian Lindner, above. ‘Digital First. Concerns second.’ 
Greens
I don’t have a lot to say about Germany’s Green Party (Grüne). Their campaign seems a bit boring except they do have pretty sunflowers on their placards which are worth a mention. But I know a lot of voters are into this party and their focus on the environment and social policies. So they are likely to have a fairly big role in the Bundestag.

 

Afd
Last we have the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the right-wing populist party, which many people believe/fear will gain the 5% needed to get into the Bundestag.

Their campaign is the most offensive, with posters of scantily dressed women and the tagline ‘we’re into bikinis, not burkas’. Another placard shows a pregnant woman with the message: ‘New Germans? We make them ourselves.’ Worrying, especially in a country that lives with the legacy of the Nazis.

The party’s hardline anti-EU, anti-immigration views have attracted voters from almost all of the other parties, especially among lower income households and they’ll be relying on these votes when Germany goes to the polls.

Some more trivia: The party admires Trump, makes regular racist outbursts and is a fan of German-produced Haribo sweets (When I interviewed them once I was offered bucketloads of these sugar treats. I was also invited on party trips which I almost went on out of curiosity – how do racists party?! Would there be hot tubs or saunas? Do racists flirt with each other? Do they dance?)

If you’re in the Trump/Nigel Farage club then this is the party for you.

One of the AfD’s campaign posters, above in Grünewald, Berlin. ‘Burkas? We’re into bikinis’
On a side note I’d like to show you one more campaign poster, which I found near my flat. It’s from the Pirate Party which campaigns for privacy. It reads: ‘Mutti (Merkel) doesn’t have to know about all of your weird toilet/ porn habits’ or something along those lines.

‘Mutti doesn’t have to know everything’

Now, which party would you choose? HAPPY VOTING (if you can vote).

NOTES
These are obviously my opinions. I’d love to hear your views so please get in touch.

Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on September 1 

When Nigel Farage visited Berlin

Here’s a short tale about the time a man, nicknamed “Mr Brexit”, was invited by a far-right political party to speak at a rally of their supporters in Berlin.

It was a slightly bizarre setting. A renaissance fortress, in Spandau, west Berlin, was taken over last Friday by members of the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party to host a pre-election event. But not just any rally – AfD politician Beatrix von Storch had invited a guest – ex UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Police stuffed into riot vans and patrolled the streets around the building in anticipation of Farage’s arrival, while protestors, who stood in the drizzly rain, carried placards. One read: ‘British Berliner against Brexit.’

Reporters, cameramen and women plus photographers had to pass three security checks to enter the building and bags were searched. At the last security point a German journalist joked that it was “very funny” how we were the ones being searched when arguably the real danger was the politicians inside the conference room.

The AfD had their logo decked out across a stage and around 200 chairs were set up. Two interpreters (carrying out English and German translations) sat in a cabin beside the stage and headsets were given out to people who needed them. There was tea, coffee, wine and finger foods. No expense spared. To an onlooker, without any knowledge of politics, the situation could have appeared to be a friendly soiree.

Not the case. The AfD is populist party, which is expected to win its first parliamentary seats in the Bundestag following the September 24 election. If it does, it will be the first hard-right nationalist party to enter the country’s parliament in the post-World War II era. It has an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, Eurosceptic agenda and party members make a habit of sprouting out hugely controversial statements. (see my story here, this Politico story and this from the Independent. Their election campaign ads are also super offensive.

Farage and von Storch, both MEPs, hosted a press conference in which they praised each other (get a room, guys?) and talked up their own agendas before it was the turn of AfD supporters to hear the pair talk.

The room was full of white people. There were a lot of older faces but also, many young people. They were mostly Germans but some Americans. It was a visible reminder that despite the Berlin bubble of left-leaning, open-minded thinking, the city and country is not immune to the lurch to the right that we’ve seen in Europe and the US.

As von Storch talked up her party, there were murmurs of agreement throughout the crowd. When Farage was introduced the room came alive: he received a standing ovation and deafening claps.

Von Storch said Farage was a “role model” and “the man who made the impossible possible”, in reference to the Brexit vote. There were belly laughs among the giddy crowd as Farage slagged off EU leaders, UK and German politicians. He called Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to migrants and refugees the “worst decision by any western leader in modern political history”. More cheers.

In the question/answer session, one man stood up and said: ‘Mr Farage you’re amazing on youtube and you’re even better in real life, thank you for coming!’

Another audience member asked for advice from Farage on how to avoid a Rotheram child abuse-type scandal in Germany, linking it to the influx of refugees/migrants.

At the end of the discussion Farage was invited to share wine with von Storch and supporters – but I had to quiz him first…

What interested me was how desperate he seemed. He’s touring Europe urging people, like in this rally, to support the anti-EU movement. He seemed terrified that Brexit won’t work out as he hopes for the UK. It was intriguing to watch him interact with the crowd because he does have charisma and attracts media coverage wherever he goes but who knows if he has any real influence outside of the UK.

At the rally Farage urged the crowd of AfD supporters to lobby Merkel to start talking about a free trade deal with the UK. He said he was surprised that Brexit was not playing a bigger role in the German election campaign. Farage said Brexit was “very important for Germany and the United Kingdom is very important for Germany, we are a very serious market place”.

He added: “Merkel needs to know that unless she tells Brussels to come to a common-sense accommodation, then she will be putting the interests of Brussels above the interests of common people.”

When I spoke to Farage after the event he said he was “worried” that the UK would not reach a trade deal with Europe after Brexit and that negotiations could be a waste of a time.

.
Farage and von Storch at the rally

He said Brexit negotiations were coming up against “real pigheadedness” from EU leaders in Brussels and criticised the UK Government for being “ill prepared”.He said: “I think the UK Government were ill prepared, very slow out of the blocks – it took nine months to trigger Article 50. Then the General Election which took three months out of the period. I would say now they’re beginning to get it together. I think some of the thinking, the papers that have been released – we’re getting there but we’re coming up against real pigheadedness in Brussels.

“I personally want to have the best relations with Europe, I think a trade deal is in all our interests. So yeah I’m pretty worried about the way it’s going now. I’m worried that we could be wasting two years of our life on a negotiation that they (EU leaders) don’t seem to want to have a good resolution to.”

Farage, who resigned from Ukip in the wake of Britain’s 2016 vote to leave, said he believed he was helping the cause by speaking directly to people in Europe and appealing to them to start a discussion on Brexit and the future of the European Union.

Farage said he was going to a do “a lot” of these events “all over Europe”.

He added: “I’m in Prague next Friday. I think the EU is standing as a barrier between the United Kingdom and the people of Europe.”

The AfD is currently polling at around 8 – 11%. Farage said it would be a “historic achievement” if the party entered German parliament.

But polls can be wrong. Germany votes next Sunday and we should all watch closely to see what happens next.  Whatever the result is I think there needs to be more analysis from the media by speaking to voters to find out why there is growing support for the far right.

EXTRA NOTE: This is one for the Scottish readers…Farage also told me Scotland would never split from the UK and that Brexit was “ironically more exciting” for Scots supporting independence because it will deliver more powers to Scotland than indy. Thoughts?

Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on September 15 

May 29 2017: How a Brit handled the Berlin dating scene

Refinery29, May 29 2017

If you’re dating right now then you know. You know how difficult it is to swipe left and right when all you want is to enjoy a half-decent conversation in real life. You know how tedious it can be to flirt over the internet with people you may or may not have chemistry with. You recognise the annoying term ‘ghosting’ and you’ve experienced it – you may have even done it yourself. What you might not know yet is if the potential partner you’re trying to click with is polyamorous, or poly for short.

When I moved to Berlin from the UK earlier this year, I knew there was a casual attitude to dating. This is a city where people have sex in full view in nightclubs; Preston it is not. But I wasn’t quite prepared for just how open it is to open relationships.

“Is it possible to have a monogamous relationship here?” I remember asking my equally perplexed British friend. “I think it would be difficult,” she replied.

But is it true? Is poly – having more than one loving relationship with the full support and trust of all partners involved ­– becoming as common as monogamy? It’s hard to calculate. Polyamory is not featured as a tick box in any census but anecdotal evidence suggests it is on the rise throughout the world.

In Berlin, a city known for pushing boundaries, the community is strong and growing. Zoe, 28, an editor who lived in Ireland for 10 years and is now Berlin-based, believes it is becoming the norm.

“I would almost say polyamory is the standard go-to here,” says Zoe, who was in a poly relationship while living in Dublin. “There’s definitely not the assumption that just because you start seeing somebody here you stop seeing other people, the way that it might be in somewhere like Ireland. People are far less threatened by it here.”

In Berlin lots of men and women of all ages state they are poly on dating apps like Tinder and Bumble. It’s also easy to find established meet-ups, groups, cuddle parties and sex gatherings.

For poly-advocate Rebecca, 26, who is marrying her British boyfriend at the beginning of next month, poly is simply all about love. “The way I see it is love is not limited,” says Rebecca, over a frothy chai tea in a café in the southern district Neukölln. “Love is endless and we have the capacity to love many people. I often compare it to just as you love your family members, it’s not limited to just your mum and your brother.”

Rebecca, a project manager from the German city Leipzig, met her boyfriend at a poly gathering. “The situation is that we are totally free in what we allow the other one to do,” she says. “That means we are talking a lot about topics like jealousy and we’re being really honest with each other.

Rebecca says a Facebook group for organising poly events has grown from having 10 members to more than 150 in the last 18 months. There are several other groups throughout the city. “This kind of lifestyle for me really happened two years ago when I moved to Berlin,” she says. “I discovered cuddle parties and it moved on from there. I think the people who come to Berlin are very open-minded, they want to experiment.”

Rebecca and her partner talked for a long time about getting married before making a decision. Their wedding will be a mix of traditional activities – families coming together, eating and drinking, signing the register – along with less common rituals. Instead of a reception the happy couple will host a ‘poly party’.

Ultimately, Rebecca believes polyamory can stop partners from feeling they have to “hide things”. “What makes our relationship really strong is I feel very safe and I can be honest,” she says. “I can talk about my desires and my wishes.”

For Susanne, polyamory has been a way of life for 11 years. She’s been with her boyfriend for 13 years and they have a 6-year-old son. The 34-year-old describes herself as a “veteran of polyamory” and often helps other couples adjusting to the lifestyle. “We have so many couch stories,” she says.

Susanne, a biologist born in southern Germany, says open relationships require a lot of communication and it’s not for everyone. “I have a feeling that in polyamorous relationships we do a lot of relationship work where a lot of monogamous couples forget to do. We talk a lot about feelings.”

The couple discussed becoming poly for a year before moving forward with the idea. “My partner fell in love with another person and I was always waiting for the heartbreak which society dictates,” Susanne says. “I was waiting for the anger, the embarrassment…but it didn’t happen. He told me he was with another person and I felt really happy. We started having a proper culture of communication about it. That was the start. We’ve been polyamorous since then.”

Susanne and her family have lived in different places, including Oxford in the UK. “Oxford has about 20 polyamorous people,” she says. “In Berlin it’s much more open.”

Sociologist Elisabeth Sheff, author of The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, says she has noticed younger generations having a “flexible attitude” to dating. “They can see themselves being monogamous with some people at some times, but also being open, maybe polyamorous or relationship anarchy,” she says. “They have a lot of swinging-like behaviours in terms of open sexuality among groups of people but they don’t call it swinging – they see that as being for older people.”

Sheff says there are several reasons why more people are opting for non-monogamous lifestyles. “Sometimes people see their parents divorce over infidelity and think: why promise monogamy if you’re not going to do it? Let’s just talk about it instead of pretending. I would say the biggest thing that’s contributing to a growing sense of non-monogamy is extended lifespan.”

Although Sheff says “the genie is out of the box” when it comes to polyamory, she believes monogamy is not going anywhere. “It’s a popular choice, especially serial monogamy,” she says.

Psychologist Anita Abrams says the uncertain future for millennials and emerging generations means more people are living in the moment and not investing in monogamous relationships. She says: “Who’s to say that the surrounding uncertainty which has given rise to the impending Armageddon politically isn’t influencing young adults now? It isn’t at all surprising that young people will explore more possibilities for now because their long-term future is uncertain. Adults now have less reasons to look forward, less inspiration to save both money or time.”

So is Berlin leading the way with less emphasis on monogamy and is it time we all were a bit more open-minded, regardless of where we live?

“As a biologist I have strong doubts that it’s in our nature to be monogamous,” says Susanne. “Serial monogamy is a popular option. But every relationship that I know of so far, somebody cheated and that kind of calls for polyamory.”

Whatever you think about poly or mono relationships, it’s safe to say that dating is not getting any less complicated… but maybe that’s what keeps it interesting for all of us.

May 29 2017: I finally stopped being afraid of my body

Rach screenshot

Grazia, May 29 2017

Let’s just get this out there – I love bodies. I smile when I spot freckled skin, fleshy arms and hairy chests. I love curves on a long torso and wonky toes.

I admire big noses and bottoms with a bit of life about them. The human body has always fascinated me, from its basic functions to its resilience during physically and mentally tough times. I respect everyone else’s bodies. But my own? That’s a different story.

About 18 months ago, while laying out my towel on wooden slats as the dry heat of a German sauna prickled across my skin, my story began to change. Until then, my relationship with my body had always been volatile. There was a reason I dodged showers at the gym and hid behind towels when sunbathing, and why I dreaded getting undressed for partners: my body was ugly. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin.

The problem started in my early teens when I started to become aware of my body as it was developing. I remember sitting in a computing class at the age of 15 wearing a huge Ellesse jumper with the sleeves rolled up, sweating like, well, like I was in a sauna. I refused to take off my jumper. Today I could argue it was a fashion statement but back then I just couldn’t bear the thought of anyone seeing my boobs, even through clothes. They were too big and, I thought, ugly.

Moments like these added up. A low point came during a relationship when I was in my late teens. I was insecure and things got worse when my boyfriend made digs about my weight and ‘saggy’ boobs. Mentally, I dissected my body into tiny pieces. Thighs? Wobbly. Feet? Disgusting. Tummy? Weird. If I ever had a fleeting positive thought I’d scold myself. It was my love handles that bore the brunt. ‘I need to figure out how to get rid of them,’ I’d say, as if it was possible to shave them down with a grater.

Then came never-ending diets – yes, even the cayenne pepper master cleanse reportedly favoured by Beyoncé – and extreme fitness plans. Like many people following such fads, my weight fluctuated but it didn’t matter what the scales said – there was always something wrong with what I saw. It’s no exaggeration to say that I was afraid to stand in front of the mirror without clothes.

Looking back now, I can see there was nothing wrong with my appearance. I’d even say I was in the grips of body dysmorphic disorder. Luckily, having 
a negative body image didn’t stop me from having healthy relationships and my overall confidence grew during my mid-twenties, helping to shrink some demons. During that time I developed healthier and less extreme habits – like jogging regularly – but there was still a long way to go. I rarely accepted compliments and didn’t feel confident without my armoury of clothes. The problem wasn’t something anyone else could fix.

Then in October 2015, I arrived in Berlin for a three-month journalist fellowship programme. From the moment I landed I was determined to embrace all things German – from techno to potato sandwiches, excuse the stereotyping.

Soon I discovered another hobby loved by the Germans – nude spas. My first experience at the local Stadtbad (town swimming baths) was terrible. I thought going naked was optional but when a naked man shouted at me for wearing my swimsuit in the sauna – apparently it’s unhygienic – I realised I was wrong.

It took me a few days to get over that memorable welcome-to-the-sauna but the more I thought about it the more I felt determined to join in – the German way. I mean, what was the worst that could happen? I’d already been chased out by an angry naked man.

I began to understand that nudity is a completely different concept in Germany from what I’ve grown up with. Taking your clothes off, I realised, isn’t necessarily a sexual thing. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Shock – it’s normal to be naked. This is the country with Freikörperkultur – Free Body Culture. If you wander along to a lake on a sunny day you’ll find pensioners in the buff, friends chilling without clothes and lone swimmers hanging free. No one cares what you look like, it’s just bodies – we all have them.

It’s a world away from the UK, where our culture views nudity as something to be hidden. Couples here even go on first dates at the spa. Imagine your first meeting being naked in a sauna?

I felt inspired. I couldn’t change the culture I grew up with but I could try and change my unhealthy views. When I finally took the plunge and went fully naked, I viewed it like taking off as a plaster – get in there quick to avoid a U-turn. That day, I slipped into the sauna with five other people – four men and another woman. When I took my towel off the silence felt deafening. Inside, my brain was shrieking, ‘What are you doing? What do you have to prove?’ Well, actually, I wanted to prove to myself I could do this. I needed to know my body was nothing to be afraid of. 
I laid my towel down and briefly looked at myself. Every bit of me was officially out and… nothing bad was happening! I felt blissful. The heat, the silence, even the company – all wonderful.

It felt like all the voices in my head were melting away with the droplets of sweat forming on my skin. I hadn’t worked out every day, I’d been eating potato sandwiches. But there I was, naked in a public place. I drifted home from the Stadtbad elated. Who knew that taking your clothes off would have such a positive mental effect?

At the start of the year I made the decision to leave my newspaper job in Scotland and relocate to Berlin. It wasn’t an easy choice, but ultimately I wanted to immerse myself more in a culture that seemed to bring out the best in me… and, clearly, a bit more of me.

Now I visit spas regularly and with every trip I feel a little more confident. I’m not quite at the stage of naked Tinder dates but get back to me in a few months and I’ll let you know.

 

 

April 12 2017: What it’s like to live with your parents at thirty

Refinery 29, April 12, 2017

It’s Friday night and I’m enjoying a well-earned wine and some trashy TV with one of my favourite people in the world. But it’s not my boyfriend on the sofa passing me crisps. It’s not even a reliable girlfriend or flatmate. It’s actually my mum, who I live with along with my dad. Oh and one other thing: I’m 30.

This was my story last year after I left a job in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, where I’d been for six years, and returned to my home city of Aberdeen. But despite my initial fears of going back to the house I grew up in with my parents, the experience has had a huge positive impact on my life. Hard to believe, right? Because it can feel like the ultimate failure to move back in with the parents you flew the nest from.

I was desperate to be independent, like the majority of angsty teens, and I left around the age of 20. Yet a decade later I was hanging out with them like they were my housemates. I’m not the first millennial to be in this situation – figures from the Office for National Statistics show one in four people aged between 20 and 34 now live with their parents. It means the number of so-called ‘boomerang children’ has soared to 3.3million – 900,000 more than in 2003.

However, I’m perhaps in the minority in saying how great it was to move back in with my folks. For me, the positive outcome of living at home for 10 months was probably down to embracing the situation wholeheartedly. It wasn’t easy, but change never is.

Luckily, I had another job lined up when I moved back home in March last year but I was sad to leave behind the flat, the friends and the job in Glasgow, around three hours away from Aberdeen. The agreement was that I’d live there for a couple of months until I found my feet. Rent isn’t cheap in Aberdeen and I was considering buying a place.

The rising cost of house prices and rent is, of course, a giant problem for my generation – the average UK house price is about £220,000. I was contributing money but far less than if I was paying rent and bills in a flat of my own.

It was strange at the beginning – I mean, it is amazing for someone to cook for you but I felt like my independence had been yanked from underneath me. I was determined to not feel like a child and began trying to do my bit by cooking and cleaning.

Soon I was in my stride. Hours would pass as my parents and I discussed life, politics and their past. My mum and I listened to each other sounding off about everything and anything. A friendship which had always been there in the background was flourishing and it was simply because I was around. I was able to speak to my sister often and had the pleasure of being an ever-present aunty when my nephew was born last June.

For the first time in years I could meet up with family members for their Saturday afternoon coffee. It’s something that might sound insignificant but I will never take for granted again how lovely it is to meet for a spontaneous and casual catch up.

It’s during these tiny non-special occasions that bonds grow stronger and life happens. The city I’d hated so much shone in a different light. Meanwhile, I reconnected with old friends I’d grown apart from.

But despite these positives, there were obviously hiccups too. Romantic life can be challenging for a single 30-year-old at the best of times and it’s ten times harder if you’re living at home with your parents. And it was difficult sometimes being in their world when they had lived by themselves for so long. I had to step back at times to steer clear of their relationship.

 

Months flew by and I was still there. My parents said it was fine for me to stay while I was still deciding if I would buy a flat or not. Then, at the start of this year I made the decision to leave my job at the newspaper in Aberdeen, go freelance and move to Berlin. My parents were supportive and I realised having time with them helped me see things more clearly and in some ways gave me the confidence to make such a huge life change.

I don’t think it’s healthy to be too dependent on your parents when you’re a functioning adult but I’m so thankful to have had that time to reconnect with them and create a stronger friendship with them.

My mum, Jackie, admits she was concerned about me moving in at first but had a similar positive experience. “I felt worried about you coming back because you’d lived away for so long and I didn’t know how you’d cope,” she says. “But I found I got to know you in a different way and I really enjoyed the company. We liked that the house was livelier and seeing your old friends again, too.”

I’d advise anyone who finds themselves in a similar position to avoid seeing it as a failure. Instead, enjoy it because it won’t be forever and you might never get the chance again. And really, really enjoy those meals.