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“Vintage Season” – a blog for a coronavirus outbreak

“Three people came up the walk to the old mansion just at dawn on a perfect May morning.  Oliver Wilson in his pajamas watched them from an upper window through a haze of conflicting emotions, resentment predominant.  He didn’t want them there.  They were foreigners.”

Thus begins one of my favourite classic science fiction stories, Vintage Season, published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1946.

It all feels a bit 2020.

C L Moore is one of the husband and wife team who wrote “Vintage Season” but is often credited with being the main author

Vintage Season is about how a man living in the present meets a curiously prosperous and perfect-seeming group of people who turn out to be from the future.  They play him a kind of music – a work of art which transcended all art forms – with imagery of historic disasters. (more…)

How to be happy

In these coronavirus days, it’s worth recalling how to be happy.  I’m going out to dinner tonight, so this might be my last chance.

I’m prompted by a BBC report from 2019, which suggested five things you could do:

  1.  Make a list of the things you are grateful for.
  2. Sleep more.
  3. Meditate, or do something which engages your full attention.
  4. Spend more time with family and friends.
  5. Get off social media (except this blog).

Me being happy with friends from Deep Purple – who also have some happiness secrets. My post at the link includes pix of Deep Purple in Kyiv

One thing not on the list, but contained in the piece, is that being happy requires a conscious effort.  As Professor Laurie Santos says: “Being happy isn’t something that just happens, you’ve got to practice to be better at it.”

How can you practice being happier?  One way is by following some of the advice in these “how to be happy” posts – some of my most popular entries:

(more…)

From Herr to Maternity

By Robert Pimm

Financial Times, May 9, 2003

I’m picking up the kids from school here in Berlin when a teacher accosts me. “Started being a house-husband yet?” he says. “How do you like ironing all those shirts?”

“Pamela was never a housewife,” I say. Am I being too defensive?  “And she never ironed my shirts.”

“How about the vacuum-cleaning?” He has that look in his eye. Does not compute.

“Nope. Mostly, it’s looking after the kids. And I cook.”

“Why not get an au pair? Find yourself a job?”

“The whole point is that I’m with the children. So Pamela can go back to work knowing it’s me looking after them.”

Standing there in the corridor, with kids swarming around him like ants, the teacher shakes his head. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

In the garden in Berlin, 2003

What I’m doing is this: in October 2002 (more…)

Sex, alcohol, people: what makes you happy?

I’m sitting on a high-speed train, next to the window, with an empty paper cup.  How best can I make myself happier?

One of my most popular blogs is W. Somerset Maugham on sex, turnips and the meaning of life (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog).  In his 1938 essay The Summing Up, Maugham explores whether alcohol, sex, writing or companionship can give you fulfilment.

If you are interested in this subject, you may want to explore the links in this post.

I was thinking about happiness recently as I caught a train from London to Manchester (where my mum lives).  I had treated myself to a cup of tea at Euston Station before boarding the train.  Having enjoyed the tea – hot and wet – I wanted to discard the cup.

On the train to Manchester

‘These old Intercity trains usually have a bin by the doors,’ I thought.  I got up, went to the end of the carriage, and, (more…)

10 rules on how to work better: my father’s list, part 2

My blog of January 2016 recorded the discovery of a handwritten list of ten rules of behaviour amongst my father’s papers, two years after his death in December 2013.  The title of the list was: “How to work better”.

You can see the list itself, in my father’s handwriting, at the link above.

The rules seemed profound – or were they?

Research revealed a mystery around the words and whether they represented, as some believed, wise slogans from a Thai factory; or were actually a project by some Swiss conceptual artists.

A reader, @mrRooBKK, has brought to my attention this photograph:

(more…)

Vienna unfriendly? San Francisco a hell-hole?

Respectable Austrian news service APA has published a report saying, and I quote, “according to employees sent abroad by companies, Vienna is the third-most unfriendly city in the world”.

Could this really be true?  How did they work it out?

I looked at the statistics more closely.  It turned out that the report was based on a survey of expats carried out by the “InterNations” network.  You may have heard of them before: two years ago I examined their “Expat Insider 2017” survey, which also rated Austria as one of unfriendliest countries (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

Many Viennese are friendly – here at Zum Schwarzen Kameel

Let’s look at a few more statistics from the 2019 report:

  • the InterNations survey rates Milan and Rome as the second- and third-worst cities on earth for expats – behind Lagos, Jakarta or Moscow.  In fact, of the 82 cities measured, Rome comes 81st, Milan 80th.  Just ahead are Paris (78th) and the awful city of San Francisco, ranked 77th.
  • in fact, US cities score terribly in the survey: New York, LA and San Francisco rank 74th, 76th and 77th of the 82 cities rated worldwide.   This seems hard to square with the fact that the United States is a magnet for immigration from around the world.
  • the survey rates Taipei and Kuala Lumpur as the best and second-best cities on earth for expats, narrowly ahead of Ho Chi Min City – the third best city on earth for expats, apparently, and way better than the best US city (Miami, ranked 27th).
  • InterNations members score Vienna as the 23rd best city on earth for expats, just behind Luxemburg City and Manama (in Bahrain).  Vienna comes in fifth out of 82 on the “quality of urban living” index, dragged down by an odd 31st place in the “safety and politics” measure (crime rates suggest Vienna is one of the safest cities on earth).  Under “getting settled”, Vienna scores a poor 68th place, dragged down by coming 80th out of 82 on “local friendliness“.   Hence the headlines.
  • the figures jump around: Vienna came 8th overall in the InterNations survey in 2016; 28th in 2017; 34th in 2018 (must have been a bad year); before soaring to 23rd in 2019.

(more…)

Austria: the best footpaths in the world?

How beautiful can a footpath be?  Austria’s are amongst the best.

I particularly enjoy the country’s system of footpath signs.  Over the past three years here I have photographed many of them.  I reproduce a selection here.

You may wish to pay attention to:

  • nature – many signs are worn or overgrown or both, as wind and weather reclaim them.  This is usually a good thing;
  • texture: the interplay between sign, tree (or rock) and background is often sublime;
  • seasons: some, but not all, footpaths can be enjoyed all-year round.

Each of the following pictures represents a moment of perfection, somewhere in Austria.  If you know where, feel free to comment.

This squirrel is urging people to care for nature (more…)

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