Rapunzel, Rapunzel

February 27, 2016 at 5:02 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

You always hated that story.

You still remember the book in your mother’s hands, the golden braid on the cover pouring down from the turret. She kept trying to show you the pictures, but your scowl was stubborn.

Fucking Rapunzel.


You sat behind Faye Littlemore in French class and never learned to pronounce ‘Je voudrais une pomme’ properly because all you could think about was sliding one of her fat little plaits between the blades of your scissors and hearing the metal groan.

You learned to wear headbands and scarves. You could never get away with a hat. You cut your hair yourself; no-one else was allowed near. You owned bone brushes that hurt your tender scalp, but you deserved it.

Trichotillomania… seven syllables from a sullen mouth, as your fingers snaked upwards.

The compulsive urge to pull one’s hair out.

Rapunzel 1

You read about Rapunzel syndrome, where sufferers actually ate the hair they wrenched free. The strands knotted inside them, plump and dark, deep within their belly like a swallowed secret.

You also read that knots in hair are tied by elves, and when unwoven, bring all manner of black magic to the bearer. You wondered who had climbed into your hair and tied it full of spells, and tried to remember how Rapunzel ended. You vaguely remembered a prince, but all you truly recalled was a patch of thorns that took someone’s eye out. You knew the Brothers Grim filled their forests with shadows.

Rapunzel 2

It’s Medusa who came to your rescue. You sat in the tattooist’s chair and watched the snakes take shape on your skin. You had your hair coiled in a braid, not wanting temptation as the pain gained momentum.

Your back was straight when you climbed down and walked to the mirror five hours later. Medusa stared back from your skin. Your goddess was sure and sensual, hands on hips, head up. You imagined your tresses as alive and serpentine, curling around your face, framing you, protecting you. Your fingers didn’t rise, but for the first time, stayed at your side.

Matt Burke Photography

Matt Burke Photography

Today you stood in front of your class of international students, teaching them animal vocabulary. You wrote the words ‘lion’s mane’ on the board.

“You can also use the word ‘mane’ for a person’s hair, if it’s long and thick,” you explained.

“Like yours?” one asked.

You ran a hand through your hair, falling in deep red waves almost to your waist. You imagined your snakes as they writhed, glowing in the late afternoon sunshine. It’s all you could do not to reach up and pat them.

“Yes,” you told the class. “Like mine.”

(The original version of this story first appeared in Monkeybicycle Literary Magazine, 2012. This edited version is for an upcoming radio show on the topic of ‘obsession’, broadcast dates to be confirmed).

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The skulking wolves keep calling

March 29, 2012 at 10:09 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

If you chat with me for an hour, several things are likely to become apparent. I’m prone to ink stains on my fingers, I’m quite partial to moustaches, I count things at inappropriate times and whenever I can I jump straight on a plane and head to Berlin. 

It’s probably best not to ask me about the moustaches.

Oh, and I write. Often. Fervently. Black ink. Red notebooks. Big smile.

In this blog I’ve been tracing the steps I’ve taken overseas in search of ink: chasing Viking sagas in Iceland, Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath in New York, and Kafka in Berlin. I love this last city so much, and it carries such literary weight that forgive me, but I had to split the entry up.

Near Potsdamer Platz is a collection of museums and galleries whose names delight the hell out of me: the Kupferstichkabinett and the Gemäldegalerie, for example. Try saying that after a dirty martini. I spent hours wandering around the complex, standing fascinated in front of a medieval exhibit from the Black Plague – a skull and crossbones that had been hung above the door of victims, and a horrific black beak-like structure doctors were forced to wear, stuffed full of herbs soaked in vinegar to protect against inhaling the poison.

In the cabinet next to it was a massive book, its pages crawling with tiny curves of ink. I was drawn to it before I even knew what it was, but as soon as I read the words ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ my fingers reached for my notebook. This edition of the Hexenhammer, or ‘Hammer of the Witches’, was a 1487 version of the notorious witch hunting treatise that saw so many hanged on the cobblestones where I’d regularly drunk my coffee. Spellbinding, with no pun intended.

Then I turned, and saw two beautiful names – Jacob and Wilhelm.

If you’ve ever huddled under a blanket and scrunched up your eyes at the thought of a skulking wolf, or a cackling hag strewing gingerbread on a mossy forest floor, you’ve probably read the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm.

And if you’ve spent seven years, like me, in university lecture halls attending linguistic lectures, then you’d know the influence their academic research and findings have had on the field of historical linguistics, particularly concerning Germanic languages.

That sounded a lot more exciting in my head, I swear.

Just think of them as the ones who brought you Cinderella (Aschenputtel), Snow White (Sneewittchen), Rumpelstiltskin (Rumpelstilzchen) and Red Riding Hood (Rotkäppchen), and maybe that’ll seem less word nerdy. And lord, doesn’t everything sound better in German?

So to see an original copy of their Deutsches Wörterbuch from the mid-1850’s, held open with a long red ribbon as a bookmark, was surely something special.

And yes, another reason why I constantly follow the gingerbread trail back to this amazing city.

I could tell you this will be my last entry on Berlin, but we’d both know I was lying.

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