Robert Pimm

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When kissing in cafes is forbidden

My famous Vienna Cafe Reviews note the alleged “no kissing” rule in the Cafe Malipop; and promise a story from 1986.

Here it is.  It concerns the Gmoa Keller, right here in Vienna.

Back in 1986 I looked something like this

In the 1980s, the Gmoa Keller was a tenebrous place, damp with history and rich with atmosphere.  It was run by two elderly sisters from the Burgenland, Grete Novak and Hedi Vécsei.   Grete had been in charge since taking over from her uncle, Andreas Herzog, in the ’60s.  He in turn had run the place since 1936.

Late one night, my girlfriend Nicky and I took refuge there from a bitterly cold, wet evening.  We ordered beers.  We were the only guests.

The beer, and the safe haven of the Gmoakeller, warmed us up.  A hint of kissing arose.  Nothing ostentatious: a nuzzle, perhaps, a cheek to a neck.

Grete shuffled across to where we were sitting.  She leaned down to my ear almost as though she were about to kiss me herself. (more…)


The Laughing Halibut

‘One of my favourite restaurants in London is the Laughing Halibut,’ I say as we eat our lunch in Vienna.  ‘When I first started eating there in 1979, it was run by this Italian guy, and one of his sons used to work there, a young bloke.  Now, the son is still there, he seems to run the place, but he has become a much older man.’

’40 years is a long time, I guess,’ my friend says.  ‘The Italian has aged.  But you have stayed the same.’

‘Correct!  It’s like that Joe Walsh song, Life’s been good to me so far.  Great lyrics.  It’s tough to handle this fortune and fame, he sings.  Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed.  Best fish and chips in central London.’

A delicious portion of chips from the Laughing Halibut – RP

I often think of the Laughing Halibut, and would recommend it to anyone visiting or living in London.  In fact, I like it so much that it features in a key scene in a novel of mine, which is on ice at present but might see the light of day in a couple of years.  The scene also features a phlegmatic Italian waiter.

The scene (which I have lightly edited, for reasons too complex to explain here) is as follows.  Angus Fairfax, the protagonist of the book, is meeting his wife Rosie for lunch.

Excerpt from an unpublished novel

Rosie and I had instituted regular Monday lunches when she was promoted – again – twelve months before.  ‘You must be in the diary,’ she’d said.  ‘Otherwise, I’ll never see you.’

She’d been right.  These days, most of our conversations seemed to take place in the Laughing Halibut in Strutton Ground.

Strutton Ground was a curious street.  (more…)

Austria unfriendly? I don’t think so

I was bemused recently to see a news report headed: Austria ranked by expats as one of unfriendliest countries.

I have lived in Austria for years and have numerous friends.  Who are these expats who say Austrians are unfriendly?  And who is doing the measuring?  I decided to investigate.

It turns out that the report is based on the “Expat Insider 2017” survey carried out by the “InterNations” network.

Austria has a lot to offer – as well as friendly people – Photo RP

“Internations” is a company which works to help expats settle in and get to know other expats (slogan: “Wherever in the world life takes you, our InterNations Communities help you feel at home”).

Its full report, which you can download in full from the link above, is packed with interesting statistics.   (more…)


The Overton window and social media manipulation: how worried should we be?

I first came across the term “Overton Window” in a piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books in July 2016.

He described it as “a term… meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment… [which] can be moved.”

Lanchester said that ideas can start far outside the political mainstream yet later come to seem acceptable.  He cited Brexit as an example: considered eccentric in 1997, yet enjoying large-scale support in a referendum by 2016.

George Orwell

Lanchester’s article, by the way, like many LRB pieces, is improbably long: set aside a bit of time if you want actually to read it.

A recent piece at the splendid “Flip Chart Fairy Tales” blog (recommended: often a source of illuminating graphs, charts and views) entitled “Breaking the Overton Window“, also noted how opinions can change.  The author argues that the Overton Window (“the range of policies that politicians deem to be politically acceptable”) has moved over recent decades towards libertarian, right-wing policies which do not obviously overlap with established political parties. By contrast, the views of voters have moved in the opposite direction, towards more authoritarian and left-wing ideas – likewise not corresponding clearly to existing parties.  This tendency, he argues, a) is a move away from traditional “left-wing” and “right-wing” categorisations; and b) should lead politicians to shift towards those authoritative and left wing policies if they are not to leave voters alienated from politics.

What has this got to do with social media? (more…)


2017: 10 best blogs

I shall not try to summarise 2017 (thank God, I hear you cry): every journalist on earth is doing that.

Instead, I have chosen my favourite ten posts, out of the 47 I published in 2017.  Which is your favourite?  Let me know.  And feel free to re-post this on Facebook or to “like” it – if you do.

A novelty this year was my Picture Quiz – not including this picture from Cuba. Spot the Che Guevara tattoo

It wasn’t easy choosing a shortlist.  I’ve left out many favourites, including my account of how, aged 8, I used to electrocute myself regularly with my girlfriend Barbara in Wonder Woman and Wartime Moral Confusion; or my recent review of The Last Jedi 3/10: the galaxy’s most shagged-out designers? (more…)


The one with the links to happiness

Ha!  Is this absentmindedness?  Or dementia?  Either way it’s, er, good news.

I’ve been keeping an article from a newspaper meaning to blog about it:

A cutting from “Der Standard” of May 2017

When I sat down to write, I found my freshly-minted text curiously familiar.  I discovered that I had already written about the article in my blog Things are getting worse, right?  Wrong.  Here’s why, back in May.

My moment of forgetfulness is good news because it reminds me that I’ve written several happiness-related blogs, including:

–  How to be happy: 11 simple tools (May 2015) (more…)


How to increase your attention span

A man is writing a novel.  He decides to check a fact.  He consults his computer, or his phone, to find he has six new messages from friends.  An extraordinary news story has come out.  Some thrilling sport is available, live, on-line.

You know the rest.  By the time our writer friend returns to his novel, 45 minutes have passed, and he has forgotten what he originally set out to research.

Our apparent inability to focus on anything for an extended period of time is one of the problems of the 21st century.  It risks hampering our creativity and channelling our energy into bitty activities which leave us unsatisfied or unhappy.  What can we do?

Two things.

First, we can learn from the masters of concentration.  One of these is the novelist Anthony Trollope, about whose awesome qualities I have written before, including this: “Trollope’s work is a reminder that sometimes, life in the slow lane can be better than the alternative. There’s no way to rush-read Trollope.  His novels are best savoured: read in chunks, rather than a few pages at a time.”


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