On silent side streets, a cloud of marijuana hangs in the air. It is the first still night after a week of storms. Alone under a cloudless sky, I look up at the flats to see if there’s someone smoking high up on a balcony, but my eyes fall upon a lone resident on a stairwell, his face illuminated by his phone rather than a roll-up. In a car a little further down two people sit in the front seats sharing a joint, windows cracked, engine idling, radio down low. I hope they’re just using the car as an extension of their living room away from the prying eyes of family members, but this is Birmingham, so I doubt it.
Headbutt the cat sees me coming and races across the front gardens to greet me in her namesake fashion, though tonight she spares me the little thumb nip she administered out of excitement the last time I saw her. Pausing in her display of affection to listen for approaching traffic, she dances in tight circles around my legs and tries to follow me to the corner shop before I shoo her back to the safety of home, away from the main road.
Back within the middle ring road of Motor City, the diesel fumes are unbearable. Heavy, acrid, inescapable. I love this city, but I hate the way it smells.
I’ve been teaching myself to play Chopin’s Nocturne No.20 in C# Minor for the past few weeks and I’ve just about mastered the first section which corresponds to the first page of the Schirmer edition of preludes, nocturnes and waltzes. I had piano lessons from the ages of 10 to 17, but I never really learnt how to practice properly. I always thought that music practice for both violin and piano involved playing through my pieces, studies and scales for an hour or so, start to finish. I rarely pulled my pieces apart bar by bar, didn’t really warm up before practising, and gave up each practice session as soon as I got frustrated. Learning how to practice piano – and violin – properly as an adult has been an interesting experience.
As part of my efforts to teach myself Polish, I am currently focusing on vocabulary, and I thought it’d be fun to keep a list of my favourite words as I learn them. I love the sound of Polish, and the following words especially.
In the same week that we looked back on the liberation of Auschwitz seventy-five years ago, the UK turned its back on the European Project and all it stands for. At 11pm on ‘Brexit Day’ fireworks and jubilant voices carried across the city through the drizzle, yet all I felt was sadness and fear. I cannot believe it has come to this, that racism and bigotry carry more weight in 21st century Britain than multiculturalism and the power of collaboration, that history has taught us nothing.
Born in France to British parents of Italian and Polish heritage, I spent my early childhood in Germany and I identify more as European than anything else. I have always felt uneasy calling myself ‘English’, yet as a result of Vote Leave and the Tories I now also struggle with calling myself ‘British’. I may not be a citizen of the European Union any more, but I will always be European.