In ‘Berlin Sensation: Second “Wild Boy” Found!’, Rory MacLean’s 6 October post on his Goethe Institut-hosted Meet the Germans blog, the Canadian travel writer traces a recent spate of Berlin ‘wild boy’ discoveries, one lost in the forest, the second found in a cupboard ‘behind the Panoroma bar’ in the city’s Berghain club, ‘the world capital of techno music’. Surviving, ‘according to unsubstantiated reports’, from the age of eleven to eighteen on raided supplies of ice cream and Red Bull, MacLean reports the latter boy’s discovery:
‘As he has not seen the sun for almost a decade, his skin has lost almost all its pigment. In an effort to protect both his eyes and identity he has been issued with wrap-around dark glasses and so he looks – for all intents and purposes – much like all the other blinking, emaciated Berlin clubbers on a Sunday morning. Like them he also is totally deaf.’
Well I was taken in too, but the clue is in the phrase ‘according to unsubstantiated reports’, the acidity of MacLean’s deadpan style and the ‘surreal’ tag attached to his books, the best known of which is Stalin’s Nose. I’ve just finished this account of a road trip around eastern Europe post Wall fall (first published in 1992) and can pronounce it brilliant fun (especially pig Winston on the back seat) and superbly judged in terms of using black comedy and warm characterisation to leaven unpalatable historical truths.
MacLean was tutor last week at Ty Newydd Writers’ Centre, Cricieth on the course Landscape, Travel and Memoir – from Blogs to Books. The interests of Mark Charlton, his co-tutor and an artist and blogger partly resident in Wales, lie more closely aligned with nature and landscape than Berlin clubbers, widening the course’s appeal.
Nature writing is showcased in the December issue of New Welsh Review. In a response to RS Thomas’ Blwyddyn yn Llyn (A Year in Llyn, out of print in both languages), John Barnie walks the coastal path north of Aberystwyth, bound for Borth and a bacon sandwich. Along the way he is attacked by a seagull, meets a ‘stone man’ with a slighly hippy message, and at his destination notes the major sea defence works undertaken by ‘machine flamingos filter-feeding for stones’. Clarach, a little south from Borth, is also a setting for Jane MacNamee’s essay combining memoir and nature writing. She describes how, having taken delivery of ‘the contents of [her late] mother’s house’ in boxes she consigns to the spare room, she begins to ‘tiptoe’ around them as she had her mother during an earlier illness. These belongings – especially the clothes – become freighted with memory. Her shoes had been barred from the Crematorium dress code. ‘We could choose an outfit, just not shoes…. her partner wanted her to wear a purple woollen overcoat he’d bought for her one winter… It was April. “Won’t she be a bit hot?” I blurted out.’
This is a version of Gwen’s Western Mail Insider books column published on Saturday 22 October 2011.
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Next week: Interior Worlds: in conversation with Tessa Hadley and Deborah Kay Davies