Tag Archives: Berlin

Polly Trope: Late Night Ceremony plus a 14-year-old Edinburgh Fringe zombie

Polly Trope first appeared in this blog in 2014, when she was publicising her book Cured Meat – Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway.

Polly Trope back in 2015 (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

This year – indeed, next week – she is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe for six days (12th-17th August) … as part of a collective known as Berlingeles.

Their show at Surgeon’s Hall is called Late Night Ceremony. Their blurb reads:

“This group showcase raises a fist with one hand and holds a glass with the other against the fact that the world we live in is a complete disaster. Borders close in, rents rise, intimacy dissolves. One person’s normal is another person’s crazy. Who gets to tell their story and who must remain silent? Embodied performance, experimental music, storytelling and a secret midnight ritual.”

I thought: What is that all about?

So I talked to Polly Trope at her home in Berlin via FaceTime.

She flies into Edinburgh tomorrow.


JOHN: So, Berlingeles. Is that a pun on Berlin Girls?

POLLY: No, it’s actually a putting-together of Berlin and Los Angeles…

JOHN: Doh!

POLLY: …because half of us are coming from Los Angeles and half from Berlin.

JOHN: There are four people involved.

Brian Felsen rehearses for the show in Polly’s living room

POLLY: There used to be more. Some had to drop out. It was always supposed to be a group show. I put together some of the artists I’d been seeing on stage because I’ve been going between Berlin and Los Angeles all the time.

JOHN: Why the travelling?

POLLY: Because I fell in love with someone from Los Angeles. He is actually doing more of the going back-and-forth than I am. The pendulum is supposed to come to a halt somewhere but (LAUGHS) it is proving quite complicated to organise.

JOHN: The listing for the show on the Fringe website says: 

WARNINGS AND ADDITIONAL INFO: 

SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE 

One member of your cast a 14-year-old. Is that a problem?

POLLY: I think for that particular 14-year-old it’s alright. He’s not in the scenes of a sexual nature, but I think he’s seen such scenes before. He has been in the world of ‘horror performance’ and stage performance for quite some time. He can close his eyes when I’m performing.

JOHN: ‘Horror performance’? What is that?

14-year-old Anatol Felsen in his make-up

POLLY: Zombie stuff. In Los Angeles it’s very popular. His mother is a zombie performance artist and he has always been involved in plays his mother has done. Every month or two he will be in a show. He puts on his make-up and he does ‘horror theatre’ in Hollywood and people come because every week is Hallowe’en in Hollywood. He loves doing it and he is going to do something based on that in our Fringe show. It is going to be the first time he is doing something on his own.

JOHN: What’s the short elevator pitch for your show?

POLLY: It’s a group showcase about a lot of different types of late-night rituals. We have a seance. We have a ritual to overcome heartbreak. We have a ritual to save the world.

JOHN: And you have a 14-year-old zombie…

POLLY: …and we have me, who is going to talk about the ritual of the one-night stand.

JOHN: So it is multiple rituals.

POLLY: Yes. We have one ritual that is actually happening AT midnight, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.

JOHN: I have a vivid imagination…

“People are going to come forward and be y’know… ritualised”

POLLY: It is going to be interactive and people are going to come forward and have themselves be… y’know… ritualised or… eh… ritually treated.

The midnight ritual is the one ritual where the audience takes part and the audience will be cleansed.

JOHN: Well, everyone is going to be hoping the midnight ritual is the one-night stand ritual.

POLLY: Erm, well… I don’t know if they would hope that.

JOHN: But it’s all Art… It’s performance art.

POLLY: Absolutely. Each of us has a slightly different speciality. Brian Felsen is a composer, so he is going to compose live, performing a ritual with polyphonic chant, DJ looping and tribal drumming;. Mine is more storytelling. The 14-year-old…

JOHN: … is doing the zombie stuff…

POLLY: Yes. Anatol Felsen (Brian’s son). He’s performing a musical work and monologue channelling Borges.

Darling Fitch will perform (Photograph by Jon Alloway)

And Darling Fitch is a performance artist who is going to perform a ritual in noise – electronic noises and electronic music as well as elements of the queer culture and other things that I can’t talk about because they are secret. It’s a hopeful harsh noise poetry pop opera about the end of the world.

JOHN: Will the show have a life after the Fringe? Will you tour it?

POLLY: These particular people have just come together for the Edinburgh Fringe. I would love it to keep going, though. We are trying to set up more venues and gigs for us, maybe in the United States. If we did it in Berlin or Los Angeles, though, there would be more local performers

JOHN: Since the last blog about you in 2015, what have you been doing? Is there another book in the works?

POLLY: Yes. I wrote a second book maybe a year-and-a-half ago, which was supposed to be the sequel to my first book Cured Meat.

JOHN: The title?

POLLY: So far, it’s been called Why Don’t You Kill Me?

I wanted to write a sequel to Cured Meat but to go more into depth about the whole sex work experience… Cured Meat is very much about mental health and the drugs aspect of the story and the sex work comes in at the last minute. So I wrote a second book. Also, with the rise of the #MeToo movement, I felt that people were talking about women’s issues more. So I wrote this big long second book about my experiences with sex work. And then, after it was all done, I realised what I actually needed to do was to stick my first and my second book together.

So I’ve been working on that. It was not a very easy thing, but I’m really happy because it’s all done. Now I just have to make and market it.

Polly Trope in her living room… being mysterious

JOHN: Previously, when we have talked for my blog, you didn’t want your face shown in pictures. But you are going to be live on stage in Edinburgh and you are going to be talking about sex work…

POLLY: Yes.

JOHN: Is there a problem there?

POLLY: Kind of… It’s a slow progress for me to bring my whole identities together. It’s kinda slow but things are coming together in terms of who I represent for myself and things I want people to know about me and things I don’t want people to know about me. It depends very much how comfortable I feel talking about this.

I feel much more comfortable now talking about sex work than I did five years ago when it was still a more recent experience… I guess… It’s kind of moving towards… more transparency, I guess.

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Filed under Performance, Sex

Comedy performer Becky Fury in Berlin with the man who had had too much fun

Becky Fury… And this is the way the conversation went…

My last blog, a week ago,  was about What happened when award-winning performer Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week to create art but she only stayed for a day. 

It was not exactly clear why her stay was so short. And several readers of this blog have asked me (yes indeed they really have) why.

The only explanation in the previous blog was: “the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid… didn’t really think about the logistics of inviting people to make art there. So I decided to get a plane back to London after I went into Berlin itself on a psycho-geographic ramble.”

So, obviously, a couple of days ago, I sat down and had a cup of tea with Becky (we are, after all, British) and asked her to be more specific. 

And this is the way the conversation went…


BECKY: The guy read your blog, contacted me and said he had been wondering what happened to me.

JOHN: He didn’t realise you had left Berlin?

BECKY: No. I hadn’t told him.

JOHN: You left over a week ago.

BECKY: Well, there were a few things he didn’t notice and the fact that I had left Berlin was one of those things. 

JOHN: He had done too much…

BECKY: He had done too much… of something. He had had… erm… He had had way too much ‘fun’. That’s a nice way of explaining it.

JOHN: But he never noticed you had gone? Did you leave a stuffed dummy of a human body under your bedclothes?

BECKY: This was the thing. I didn’t have a bed to sleep in. That was mainly the reason I left. Because I was given a couch in a freezing cold warehouse in East Berlin in January. 

JOHN: We couldn’t afford couches in my day…

BECKY: Maybe I should have considered myself lucky… And I had a dirty sleeping bag to sleep under.

JOHN: Sounds ideal. This is the stuff of award-winning Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows.

BECKY: I know… I… err… I don’t want to get distracted by what you’re saying.

JOHN: Few people do.

BECKY: Basically, I went to Berlin to do some art. We had had this really, really interesting conversation, this guy and me. I had met him when I first started to do squatting and alternative politics in 2002. It was a really interesting thing to catch up with him and have a conversation about all the things that had happened since 2002. And he told me we could do a film in his ‘green screen room’ in Berlin. I knew that, over the previous 17 years, he had been taking a lot of… having a lot of ‘fun’.

“I can’t work in this space and I can’t work with you.”

When I got to Berlin, he took me up to see the green screen room and it was the size of… well, basically, you couldn’t stand up in it. Which is a bit of a problem for a green screen room. And he had a tent in the green screen room and he was sleeping in there.

I looked at him and he looked at me and he said: “Oh, no, no, well, we could do it like a rocket. We could film it like we were in a rocket ship in here.” 

And I was thinking: No, we couldn’t. We could only film it in here like we were two tramps living in a tent in a green screen room. There’s nothing else you can do in this space. You ARE actually like a tramp living in this tent in a room that you have green screened and this is fucking insane. I can’t work in this space and I clearly can’t work with you.

And he kinda knew there was something wrong, but this is the thing about people having too much… who have had too much ‘fun’. It is like you’re tripping all the time.

I wasn’t angry with him at all. He was in his dream and he wasn’t really seeing why there was a problem. In his dream, it was fine. We would absolutely make an amazing film with us in a tent flying through space.

He told me this guy from (a well-known cabaret music group) was coming down. And he did. But the date he had given the guy was totally wrong: it was like four days afterwards. I mean, you really can’t get people to fucking come from other countries to meet up and the two people who are meant to be doing the project together arrive four days apart!

He had not done the logistics and I was meant to stay on this freezing cold couch under a dirty sleeping bag for four days. He told me that is what everyone in Berlin does.

So I wandered off. 

There was also inter-personal politics with people in the house.

Basically, they had set up an art space in an enormous warehouse space.

There was the original Tacheles squat after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the squatters got evicted and it was turned into luxury flats. And these were the same (squatter) people who had moved and set up a new Tacheles.

That’s what he told me and it is, but there were two sets of agendas going on.

He has sort-of ‘arted’ all over the warehouse – like he has pissed all over the place, but with art. Art everywhere. So the people upstairs have to deal with him: this guy who is ‘arting’ all over their place.

JOHN: Is this not good? Whatever happened to the joy of anarchy?

“Like I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave. and run away very fast.”

BECKY: Well, the thing about anarchy is it needs some level of organisation for it to function, otherwise it’s just chaos and a big mess. Which is fun. And it was interesting to go and visit it. But I think that might be why, in the picture you put in the last blog, I look like I’d seen a ghost: that I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave and run away very fast.

JOHN: So, basically, you just left because you were a bit cold…

BECKY: (LAUGHING) Basically, that’s it! I could have waited to find out if the guy turned up from the (well-known cabaret music group) – which he did.

JOHN: So, at what point did this bloke who enticed you over to do art discover you had left Berlin? Only when he read my blog?

BECKY: No. When the other guy turned up four days later and I wasn’t there.

JOHN: How had you left?

BECKY: I said: “I’m going to go for a walk.”

JOHN: To the guy who had had too much fun?

BECKY: No. To the other guys upstairs. They said to me: “We don’t really know what you’re doing here.”

And I was thinking: I don’t really know what I’m doing here either.

I could have won them over with my natural wit and charm and – obviously – the opportunity to be mentioned in your blog. But I thought: I don’t really want to be here and I’ve got other shit to be getting on with. So I said I was going for a walk and was thinking I’d get an AirBnB or something but, by the time I had left and got a bit of food and was near the station – I hadn’t eaten since I got there because the guy didn’t have any food…

JOHN: You had only been there for like half a day! That’s hardly hardship…

BECKY: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: So you said you were going off for a walk like Captain Oates?

BECKY: Yeah. “I might be some time” and they never saw me again. I did my Captain Oates bit and bowed out disgracefully.

JOHN: Though, unlike Captain Oates, you went to a warmer place.

BECKY: Though we don’t know what happened to Captain Oates, do we?

JOHN: No we don’t. But you left because…

BECKY: I had thought it was going to be a really functional space with loads of people. Not just three cold and very irritable hippies and a man who had taken too much fun.

Although, to be honest, that is a better audience than I’ve sometimes had at the Edinburgh Fringe…

So I came back to London and learnt the script for Political, my show at the Leicester Comedy Festival on 22nd February.

JOHN: Well promoted.

BECKY: I try.

JOHN: And you’ve succeeded.

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Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Drugs

What happened when award-winning Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week

Becky possibly possessed by a dead actress.

When Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer Becky Fury told me she was going to Berlin for a week and offered to share her insights with me, I leapt at the chance and said Yes.

Though it is always a risky strategy saying Yes to anyone who has won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

I have just received this missive from Becky which is more a thesis on support of the arts but is worth reading for the unexpected (at least by me) twist in it…


I woke up in Berlin yesterday. 

I meant to. It was not some happy, drunken accident.

I woke up in an arts space which calls itself the new Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles) and I put my coat on – the wrong way round, I was informed. But the coat served its function that way for a few more hours, so maybe it was not the coat that was the wrong way round but the perspective of how the coat should be on that was inside out.

Facade of Kunsthaus Tacheles at Oranienburger Straße, Berlin

‘Tacheles’ is a word – רעדן ניט בולשיט – meaning ‘speak no bullshit’ in Yiddish. So I had broken the only rule of the space before breakfast.

The old Tacheles grew out of the rubble of the Second World War, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in a space in East Berlin.

It was named in Yiddish as a memorial to its pre-War Jewish inhabitants who had never returned.

The new space is beginning to be like the old one but the artists there are having to deal with just making the space habitable rather than being able to create art. Putting into place the basic blocks of the artistic ecosystem which develops in a space which, like a rainforest or peak bog, has taken years to evolve. In the same way that you can’t just make a rainforest from scratch, you can’t do that with a creative space.

These spaces should be protected as important habitats to protect cultural biodiversity.

PROTECT THE PUNK is unlikely to be taken up as a campaign by the World Wildlife Fund. But something needs to happen. The eviction of the Freespace ADM in Amsterdam (Becky blogged about it here last year) was halted by the UN, who said that the space was a protected reservation.

If the World Wildlife Fund can’t do it, maybe one of the charities that allows you to indirectly adopt a child could run an adoption campaign for alternative artists. You could get updates on how well your alternative artist is doing, if it has been successfully released into the wild and how global re-population is doing. 

The British government used to run a similar scheme. It was called the dole.

If you have an issue with people claiming the dole, then throw away most of your favourite music because those artists were funded and had the space to do what they were doing because they were at some point in their career scamming the dole.

A staircase inside the Kunsthaus Tacheles building in Berlin (Photograph by Shaun7777777 on Wikipedia)

However, really, the most important fundraising needs to go into  protecting spaces where this art is created. Pop stars would do well to think less about the Rainforest or Africa and more about cultural reservations in the developed world, because it is in these places that the sounds and styles that go into the creation of commercially manufactured music are poached.

The commercial stylists and producers and ‘creative team’ are essentially poachers that go into these wild raw spaces and poach ideas. They return with skins and trophies that go into creating the latest look for whoever is being pushed to the top of what is left of the singles chart. Without these spaces, they wouldn’t have a career. They would do well to encourage people to save them.

Really, the important issue is the space. The individuals there can support themselves in lieu of the government doing it. The government never does anything that shows foresight beyond preserving their next term. It needs a charity which deals with protecting habitats like the RSPB.

 We need a  Royal Society for the Protection of Artistic Birds. 

Birds and Blokes.

I am using birds as the collective noun.

These artistic birds are endangered and they need to have their habitat protected otherwise the diversity will decrease and all the beautiful, wild, exotic, interesting species will die off and we will just be left with the equivalent of pigeons and seagulls – less sensitive, aggressive species that can survive in the barren cultural climate and environment that we have manufactured. 

I am not suggesting that Rentokil should be called in to deal with infestations of pop stars. 

I would just like to see pop stars on the list alongside rats and wasps on the side of the Rentokil van. 

If Rentokil could turn up at a Justin Beiber concert and trap him in a big net, I would pay for an overpriced stadium ticket to see that gig.


When I received that missive from Becky, I asked her if she had any photos she had taken of herself at the Kunsthaus Tacheles. She replied:


A Becky selfie on a train in Berlin

I didn’t take any there. I do have one of me on a tube train.

And one (above) that makes me look like maybe I was possessed by one of the former inhabitants of the Tacheles – a minor Hammer horror actress that died there… on stage in a dance interpretation of the Communist Manifesto.

I left some photos with the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid and didn’t really think about the logistics of inviting people to make art there. So I decided to get a plane back to London after I went into Berlin itself on a psycho-geographic ramble.

I told you when I left for Berlin that I would see where it might lead me… Back to Berlin Airport, apparently, and then back to London.

Anyway. Now I can learn lines for my next show or just fanny about on Facebook in London. So that’s what I’m doing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Filed under Art, Performance

Lynn Ruth Miller – “Comedy is a skill that is far more than the jokes you tell”


In the past few weeks, globetrotting UK-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller – physical age 84; mental age 24 – has sent me pieces about her trips to Prague and Dublin.

Next week, she has a week of performances in Paris. But last week, she was in Berlin for six days. 

This is (some of) what happened…


The Ryanair flight was ONE HOUR late landing, so we didn’t get the bugle call to tell us we were on time but my hearing aid gave me a little whistle which was much nicer and didn’t disturb anyone else.    

I had made friends with a lovely break dancer who was telling me how he had mutilated his body and had even begun losing his hair because of the extreme physical demands of his profession and I thought to myself: “It is a good thing I only do the Lindy Hop half time. I certainly cannot afford to lose any more hair than I already have.”

Bald is only beautiful on a baby’s butt and I am definitely beyond that.

I think, in a strange way, Berlin is very much like Brighton (although Brighton is wildly expensive and Berlin is amazingly affordable).

Ex-Brighton resident Lynn Ruth in Berlin

The similarity is that anything goes in both places and everyone loves everyone… no homophobia of any kind. But, although everyone feels at home and loved in both places, it is really hard to earn a living. Everyone has a unique talent they cannot market and they are so dedicated to that talent that they will do it anywhere and everywhere just to have the opportunity to express themselves to others.

No-one needs to pay them for what they do. So you cannot earn a living; you cannot progress in whatever field you happen to be in; and yet… and yet… both are such FUN places to be, everyone hates to leave.

Berlin is a place you need to experience rather than describe. There is an atmosphere of politeness and concern that is really comforting. It has been one of the most welcoming of places for me with people anxious and eager to help. I often wonder what happened to this national sensibility when my ancestors were here being converted into soap and lampshades.

We run away from our roots, don’t we? I certainly have: across a vast country, across an ocean. And the strange truth is that the clarification and validation I sought was inside me all that time.

That first evening in Berlin last week, I was intending to meet Kenny (a guitarist I met last trip) to go open air dancing but – alas – he was too tired (story of my life).

Instead, we took a little walk and talked about him. He is finding the glow that is Berlin fading and he is thinking about finding vibrancy somewhere else. The low cost of living and wonderfully hopeful atmosphere is tarnished. Kenny has been here 11 years. The problem of living in a low cost area is that salaries are also low, so no-one can get his or her head above water.

The second night – Wednesday – I was blessed with a comp ticket to Quatsch Comedy, THE upscale comedy club that does one English show every couple of months. The MC is Christian Schulte-Loh who is amazing because, although English is his second language, he has the English subtext down pat. He is an excellent host, never dominating the stage and always priming the audience for what is to come, welcoming them and getting them set up for laughter.

The headliner was John Moloney and I was amazed and delighted at his ability to give us one punch-line after another, never slowing his pace and never descending to cheap shocking material. He is an artist and he is the reason I struggle to perfect my set… What he does is where I want to be (before I die? Fat chance). The entire show taught me that I have a long way to go to be that smooth and that professional.

After the show, I went to Bombay – an Indian restaurant across the street – to have dinner and met two vegan women from Amsterdam who were in Berlin for a conference that was cancelled. Both are writing a vegan cookbook. The son of the owner of the restaurant fell in love with all three of us and plied us with shots until we were all bloopy. Evidently alcohol is fine on a vegan diet.  It is just cheese and eggs that are verboten.

“I am more than an old lady to them…”

Thursday was my first night at Cosmic Comedy and it was a delight. The audience is receptive and happy, filled as they are with pizza and free shots. I truly love doing my sets there because the owners and the audience always get my humor. I am more than an old lady to them. I am a funny comedian. Eat your heart out Joan Rivers. I didn’t have to have a face lift to do this.

Friday night was a showcase night and I headlined. The audience was small because of the Big Game (football over here is a way of life) but they were responsive and I did my usual routine. The interesting thing was that usually my audiences in Berlin are all expats, but this time the majority was German. English is their second and sometimes their third language. They got the jokes all right but slowly.

This highlights my theory that standup comedy is a skill that is far more than the jokes you tell. You are paid to make the audience laugh no matter what the demographic. That means adjusting your material to their response. Not easy, but definitely part of the job.

Saturday was my big show and I did one of my compilations of songs and stories. My friend Kenny Stanger accompanied me on a guitar. Since I cannot carry a tune anyway, it really doesn’t matter what the musician accompanying me plays.

When I looked at the list of musical numbers I realized that nine out of the ten were about my looking for love, loving men, wanting to find a guy and bemoaning my obvious failures. I was fairly sure this topic would be boring and out of date for the modern expat generation in progressive Berlin, but I was wrong. Even though I did my usual stumbling over words, tunes and melodies, the audiences was captivated and simply could not get enough of me. The show was a great success.

They clustered around me after the show just to assure themselves that all the stories I tell of my failed attempt at romance were really true (as they are) and several said they had never seen a show like this one and of course they were right. No-one in the world has stumbled and fallen so indecorously or made such a mess of a performance. I suspect the charm of this performance was that everyone thought: “If that old hag can make a fool of herself on stage, I would be a star.”

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Filed under Comedy, Germany

From Berlin: “the surreal, strange and amazing and weird and wonderful…”

Polly Trope’s selfie of herself in a mirror

Polly Trope’s selfie of herself reflected in a mirror in 2014

A week ago, I blogged about Polly Trope, who was organising a book fair in a bar in Berlin, which included the idea of a Literophone – a small furry booth where guests could call up writers and get words read to them down the phone.

I was supposed to be on the end of a phone in London yesterday, ready to read out a blog to unsuspecting German lovers of words. But I got tickets for a play in London’s West End instead. My Facebook Friends may have read my sort-of review of Mr Foote’s Other Leg.

So, this afternoon, I Skyped Polly Trope to find out how the Berlin event had gone yesterday.

“Really well,” Polly told me. “Everyone had a good time. About a hundred people came. It was more a social affair than a book fair – networking. We had two rooms: one for chatting and drinking and one for doing readings.”

“How did the Literophone go?” I asked.

“Really well. I think for both the people phoning and the people reading it was a very strange experience. A certain kind of person was interested in phoning.”

“What type of person?”

Polly Trope on a special horse near Great Yarmouth (Photograph by Clifford Slapper)

Polly Trope near Great Yarmouth (Photograph by Clifford Slapper)

“People who have a love for the surreal, the strange and amazing and weird and wonderful. Not everyone is into that. Some people phoned all the poets and all the flash fiction writers.”

“What,” I asked, “was surreal, strange and amazing – the readings or the fluffy booth itself?”

“I think it was the fact the readings were on the phone and you could not know in advance what you were going to get and you weren’t sure how to react. People came out saying: Ooh! that was really weird and intense.”

“In the tiny little fluffy booth?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What was the highlight for you outside in the bar itself?”

“Jonathan Lyon’s reading.”

(Jonathan Lyon has been described as a fur-donning Adonis writing a novel via Instagram about his drug habits while at Oxford.)

“Why?” I asked.

“I just think he’s a wonderful writer. He read a piece about kind-of-like-a horror film taking place within his own skull and he climbs into his skull and finds another skull and then there’s a little door and slides down and it just gets really intricate.”

“It sounds,” I said, “ideal for a bar where everyone is drinking.”

“Yes. The bar is named after the dog.”

“The dog?” I asked.

“The bar is called the Posh Teckel.”

“Teckel?” I asked.

“I think it’s a word to say dachshund. They have a dog called Ella in the bar.”

“Stuffed?” I asked.

“No. Alive.”

“Sausages are usually stuffed,” I said.

Ella in the fluffy booth with a telephone

Ella in the fluffy booth with a telephone

“As soon as I made the fluffy booth,” Polly told me, “Ella went into it, thinking Ooh! this is nice and fluffy. I’m going in.”

“Ella is the dog?” I asked,.

“Yes. She left when people started to come in, “said Polly. “She doesn’t like crowds.”

“Are you going to do it again?” I asked.

“Yeah. We’re hoping next time we can get someone to sponsor us. It would be nice to have funding.”

“It is always nice to have funding,” I said, “… or so people tell me.”

“I don’t know when the next one will be,” Polly told me, “but the Literophone is possibly going to be happening in London as a little Christmas celebration. I’m quite keen to do the experience again for more people in more places.”

“Anything else you want to say?” I asked. “Do you want to sing?”

“I can’t sing,” said Polly.

“You can,” I told her. “I’ve heard you sing. You did a black and white music video.”

“You liked that?”

“It was like Berlin between the Wars,” I said, “which is rather worrying as it means there’s another war coming along.”

“Yeah,” said Polly, “but it was filmed in Florida.”

“You can still be German there,” I said. “Just because you are in Florida doesn’t mean you have to be a cartoon mouse. You can still be German.”

“I just took some video by the pool,” Polly told me. “At a really creepy motel. I liked the fact it was creepy.”

“Why was it creepy?” I asked. “Did it feel like Psycho?”

“No. It was a bit like a set of council blocks and, in the middle, was a swimming pool which never had anyone in it. So I swam in it.”

Polly’s song is still on YouTube:

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Filed under Books, Literature

Polly Trope organising a book fair in a fluffy booth at the back of a bar in Berlin

Polly Trope (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

indieberlin’s Polly has bridged cultural gaps in London
(Photograph by Joe Palermo)

Polly Trope is literary editor of the German online arts magazine indieberlin.de and author of the autobio-novel Cured Meat: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway – a Guardian Best First Book Award nominee last year.

I blogged about her in April last year.

She lives in Berlin but occasionally turns up at Il Puma Londinese‘s Italian-language comedy shows in London. I have no idea if she understands Italian.

A couple of days ago, I got an email from her saying:

We are organizing an indie book fair and meetup for authors in Berlin. Since some authors are abroad and can’t join us we thought of having them phone-in like a radio show. But then we came up with… The Literophone!

We were partly inspired by an iOS app which lets you be phoned-up by a random stranger by way of an alarm clock every morning.

At the book fair, we will set aside a little soundproof cubicle for one-on-one readings. But also, now, it will be the private booth where guests can call up poets and get a poem read to them down the phone.

So, obviously, yesterday I Skyped her in Berlin.

“When exactly is the indie book fair?” I asked.

“Next Saturday – 7th November,” she told me. “It starts at 1.00pm (German time) and goes into the night. We are doing the Literophone roughly between 5 and 8.”

“Where?” I asked.

“In Neukölln, the trendy part of town, where everything is going on. It’s the Shoreditch of Berlin.”

“Why are you doing a book fair?” I asked.

Polly Trope - rotary phones and a mini-Socrates cast upon the background of a Tanguy painting poster.

Polly Trope sent me her photograph of rotary phones and a mini-Socrates bust set against the background of an Yves Tanguy painting poster.

“Because there are so many young people who come to Berlin, who end up staying here for no reason and then they become authors. They’re all very fashionable and cool and they’ve written a chat book or a collection of three stories but none of them have a venue to do their thing in.

“So we’re working with them and also have some of the cool older guys like the Berlin faction of the punk scene from the past… indieberlin is not mainstream. It’s a lot of cool types and we just want to have this party with readings. So many people are going to be doing readings, it’s crazy.”

“Are you telling me,” I said, “that Berlin at the moment is like Paris in the 1920s? Loads of literary people roaming around being creative.”

“Yes,” said Polly, “though I dunno if it’s gonna go down in history like that. But it’s trying to be that.”

“What’s the object of the book fair?” I asked.

“The object?” Polly replied, sounding slightly surprised. “A weird and wonderful experience of poetry and stories and flash fiction. There are gonna be talks in the afternoon but it’s mostly gonna be a party.”

“So it’s not a literary fair at all?” I asked. “It’s a piss-up.?”

“Yeah, with lots of literary types. We call it a networking event.”

“So basically,” I said, “you are going to have a literary piss-up with drunken authors and invite people to phone in from foreign countries who can’t be there to drink with you.”

“Well,” Polly suggested, “they can get drunk on the phone or on Facebook.”

”So what is the Literophone exactly?” I asked.

“A fluffy booth located in the back of the bar.”

“The bar?” I asked.

“The bar where we are doing it: one of these rock ’n’ roll venues. They have a little soundproof cubicle in the back where they can do stuff without disturbing the neighbours.

“At first the thought was we would have one-on-one readings where authors who want to can read their work to just one person in an intimate booth setting. Then it evolved. We thought: Oh! All these poets want to come and they can’t make, so maybe we can have them phone in. So we’re gonna phone them from the fluffy booth. Members of the audience can step in and phone a poet, who will read a poem down the phone to them. We will pay for the phone call.”

“How,” I asked, “are you going to make the booth fluffy?”

Polly Trope on fluffy bedspread (Photo by Iain McKell; fox mask by Cecilia Lundqvist

Polly Trope sitting on fluffy bedspread (Photograph by Iain McKell, with a fox mask designed by Cecilia Lundqvist)

“With blankets and fur coats and other furry things. My mum has a very beautiful fake fur bedspread which I’ve stolen. You know when you go to a London phone booth and you can see all these cards for ‘escorts’? It’s going to be a bit like that, except it’s going to be fluffy and it’s not going to be escorts, it’s going to be the names of poets. I’m going to get a rotary telephone and stick my iPhone in it.”

“Who is taking part?” I asked.

“Loads of people,” said Polly. There’s Penny Goring…”

“Not another of Hermann Göring’s relatives?” I said. “I had a blog chat with his very interesting great niece Bettina two years ago.”

“No,” said Polly. “Not Göring with an umlaut. Just with an O. This is a London Goring. And there’s Lucy Furlong: she’s a fantastic poet. I mostly asked poets if they wanted to do it – though there are storytellers of all kinds. We have so many people from America, England, Israel, all over, all going to be available for a couple of hours. I think it’s gonna be awesome.”

“Only Americans can be awesome,” I told Polly. “British people can’t be awesome.”

“But British people can be soo-perb,” she suggested.

“What would Germans be?” I asked.

“Super,” said Polly. “but with a soft S – szuper. Would you like to go into one of those fluffy poet phones if you could?

“I don’t know what I would say.”

“You don’t say anything. You phone up a writer or a poet and they say the things. But you would have to be in Berlin.”

“Someone in Berlin,” I suggested, “could phone me up and I could read one of my blogs to the person sitting in your fluffy booth in Berlin. I could read the Polly Trope blog to him or her.”

“Indeed you could,” said Polly. “I could put your card up in the booth. Will you send me one?”

“Yes. Is there any sequel to Cured Meat on the horizon?”

“I’m finished with Cured Meat,” said Polly. “I’ve run out of copies. I’m doing a new book now.”

“About?” I asked.

“It looks like it’s going to be a set of inter-connected short stories about smoking and ageing.”

Looks like?” I said.

Polly Trope (Pt=hoto by Joe Palermo)

Polly Trope with cigarette (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

“Something like that,” said Polly. Stories about smokers and bars and womanhood and ageing and the quest for eternal youth. It starts with a smoking lounge that I used to go to and the people I met in there.”

Polly’s blog gives a hint of what the book may be like.

“What is a smoking lounge?” I asked.

“Just a part of a bar or a cafe where you can smoke.”

“Over here,” I said, “you can’t smoke indoors in public places. You have to go outside. In Scotland, all the smokers will slowly be killed off by hypothermia.”

“Berlin is very lenient for cigarette smokers,” said Polly.

There is a video promo on YouTube for the indie book fair.

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Filed under Art, Books, Germany, Performance, Poetry, Writing

How German Polly Trope went from Britain into a US mental home and wrote her autobio-novel “Cured Meat”

Yesterday, I talked to writer Polly Trope in Berlin via Skype about her book Cured Meat – Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway. It is dedicated:

To those I left behind

She crowdfunded the book. The pitch is still on YouTube.

“Is it a novel or an autobiography?” I asked.

“I always find it amazing that some people actually manage to make up stuff,” she told me. “The things that are interesting in the book are the things that happened rather than the person. But some of them didn’t happen. What I really wanted to do with my book was to characterise lots of people I’ve met. I wanted to write about many many people, not just myself. And, even when I was writing about myself, I was trying to write about how things happened rather than myself. I was interested in capturing what happened like it was some sort of movie: an outside description of things. Some people say an autobiography has to be about the person writing it, but it’s also about lots of other people. Obviously some things are not completely accurate. I’ve tried to pick out things I heard about or happened which I thought were worth writing about.”

“Why didn’t you want to publish a straight autobiography?” I asked.

“The book is based on The Odyssey.”

“The book is based on The Odyssey.”

“People only want to read the autobiographies of celebrities,” said Polly. “I am not famous.”

“How did you decide on the nom de plume Polly Trope?” I asked.

“Brainstorming names. Greek mythological characters whose names could be turned into English. Polytropos was an adjective Homer applied to Odysseus. So Polly Trope.”

Polytropos actually means “having many forms” i.e. having different personalities – or “twisting and turning” i.e. versatile and capable of manoeuvring through a stormy sea.

“The whole book is based on The Odyssey a little bit,” explained Polly, “because that’s what I did for my degree – Ancient Greek & Latin Literature at King’s College, London. I went to London when I was 18.”

“And then you went on to get a PhD in Classics?” I asked.

“I started one,” said Polly. “I didn’t finish it. I went to America to do it.”

“And I know you checked into a mental hospital just two months after arriving,” I said. “Did something happen?”

“No,” said Polly. “I was already a bit depressed when I went there and I expected it would be really exciting to go to America and I would be magically happier when I got there.”

The woman called Polly Trope in her Groucho Marx disguise (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

The woman called Polly Trope in her Groucho Marx disguise (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

“Was this New York?”

“Connecticut.”

“So was it just depression?” I asked.

“Pretty much. I just felt really out of place; I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know anyone there. I tried the therapist and that was a really bad idea because then I went to the mental hospital and then it just really got very difficult.”

“Did they drug you up?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” said Polly. “It just blew everything out of proportion. It became almost unthinkable to stop.”

“I was in a mental hospital when I was 18,” I said. “The first thing they do, of course, is just give you drugs.”

“All the time,” said Polly. “All the time. All the time.”

On YouTube, there is a song Numb Enough written by Polly (with a video shot by her). Her lyrics include the lines:

And are you numb enough, and is your life on hold,
And did you feel the shock when it all fell apart?

“You were in and out of mental hospital for three years,” I said.

“Yes,” said Polly. “I constantly told my psychiatrist I wanted to stop taking the drugs and he would always say: Well, if you can’t understand how much you need them, then I must put you into the hospital so you know how to take your drugs. That’s a simplified version of what happened, but it was me trying to stop taking tablets and the guy telling me: You must.”

“You were still doing your academic stuff through all this?” I asked.

“I was trying to,” said Polly. “I had to go on leave of absence after a couple of years. Eventually I left for six months, then another six months and, at that point, I didn’t want to see psychiatrists any more and, after that, I just went back to Europe.”

Polly Trope: "It started with the psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.”

Polly Trope: “It started with psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.”

“When you became addicted to drugs,” I asked, “was that medicinal drugs or heroin or…?”

“Both,” said Polly. “One after the other. It started with the psychiatric drugs and then I moved into non-psychiatric drugs.

“I was prescribed sleeping tablets and benzedrines and those are also sometimes used as recreational drugs and I had those on prescription and then it just kind of moved from there into prescription painkillers and then to completely illegal opium stuff and heroin and… Yeah… And then, at the same time, I moved from America back to London and… Yeah… That was the transition. We’re talking about 2009 here.”

“And then,” I said, “as far as I understand it, you met a guy in a London casino one night. He was involved with brothels; he took you to one, asked you if you wanted to work there and you said Yes.”

“I had really big money problems,” said Polly.

“Did you do it out of desperation or interest or…”

“Both,” said Polly. “Interest not so much. I was never particularly against prostitution. I don’t think I was especially interested in trying it. But it wasn’t something I was particularly scared of or that I thought could be the worst thing that could happen to someone.”

“Were you still supporting a drug habit at that point?”

“Not quite. But it was very fragile. I had only been clean for about a couple of weeks or so. Everything was quite new. I was feeling quite good, but I was also broke. In a house. I had many many problems. It was difficult.”

“So you were sort-of on an up,” I said. “But this would have taken you down?”

“Yeah. Yes. Yes. That’s right.”

“How long did you do the prostitution for?”

Polly Trope

Polly in London: “Then I thought it would be good if…” (Photograph by Joe Palermo)

“April to December of one year. At first, he took all my money. After about three weeks. I kicked him out of the way. He was terrible. I’d been ripped off. I needed the money even more. Many of the women I met didn’t want to do it in the first place then, later, they got organised and stayed in the job because they were already there and it is quite a lot of money. It was a bit like that with me as well, although I didn’t feel I wanted to stay there longer than necessary. I was not trying to make lots of money. I just wanted to fix a few financial problems.”

“I was once told by an ex-criminal,” I said, “that most robbers have no financial target they want to reach, therefore they don’t know at what point they have reached a place they can stop doing it. So it ends badly. Maybe prostitution is like that?”

“And also,” said Polly, “people get used to more money and they increase their standards. I just had a bit of debt which I wanted to pay off.”

“So is that why you came out of it?” I asked. “You paid the debt and that was it?”

“It was only about £3,000,” said Polly. “But that was the beginning. Then I thought it would be good if I could save up for a deposit and some rent and, once you start paying rent, you have to do it every month, so… Then I thought I’m gonna start looking for a job immediately and, as soon as I find a new job I will take it... And that dragged on forever.”

“What sort of job were you looking for?” I asked.

“Stuff to do with writing and books. Things like editorial work or proofreading or translation. I didn’t realise it was not the right thing to look for. I had a degree but not much work experience. Nobody wanted to employ me. I eventually got a job through the Job Centre. I worked in a call centre for about a year and then I came back to Berlin.”

“In your dreams, when you were 14,” I asked, “did you want to be a writer?”

“Yeah,” said Polly. “I think I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t think it was a real job; I thought it was something you did on the side and still had to earn money some other way.”

“Sadly, you might be right,” I said. “And now you are…?”

Polly Trope reads her book Cured Meat

Polly: short stories which turned into a novel

“I’m writing little projects,” said Polly. “But I’m not sure yet. Probably something similar. Short stories which turn into a novel if you read them one after the other.”

“Basically,” I said, “your book is a series of chapters which are self-contained short stories but, when you read them one after another, they become a novel.”

“Pretty much that,” said Polly. “I’ve always been really keen on this idea that you could even read it backwards or you could read it in any order. I was really keen on the book being like that. The plot is just the way things happened. Some readers find it reassuring to know one thing comes before another and another thing comes later and they can remember it all. But some readers just want to know what’s going on now.”

“Where are you going now?” I asked.

“I have to get X-rays,” said Polly. “I have a very bad knee which may be broken.”

On YouTube, there is a song Fucking Princess written by Polly (with a video shot and edited by her).

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Filed under Books, Drugs, Mental health, Sex