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Ten reasons to like Turkey

Let’s celebrate.  We’re going through a ghastly coronavirus crisis.  But we should not forget that the world is wonderful.  I thought I would write in praise of several countries I’ve lived in.

Here are ten things to like about Turkey, where I lived from 2012-2016.

1.  Istanbul is one of the most ancient and spectacular cities on earth.  Here’s me by the Golden Horn.

2.  Turks are crazy about fresh fish.  Here’s a chap delivering some to a restaurant.

(more…)

Coronavirus Vienna

When I lived in Istanbul from 2012-16, people often asked me whether I was concerned about terrorist attacks, crime or civil disturbance.

At the end of my walk on 29 March, with wild boar effigy

‘No,’ I would say.  ‘The thing I’m most worried about is being knocked down by a taxi or motorcycle as I try to cross the street.’

Istanbul taxis are famed for their driving style

The same is true in Vienna, in the coronavirus pandemic.  I’m doing what I can to avoid catching the virus: working from home, observing the social distancing rules and so on. My fear is that, as I try to avoid other pedestrians on narrow pavements, or cross unusually empty streets, my concentration will slip and I’ll become a traffic accident. (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…)

Lunch in the Chernobyl canteen: 25 pictures

Exactly ten years ago, when I was living in Kyiv, I visited Chernobyl for the first time.  Following the HBO TV series “Chernobyl”, I thought people might be interested to see what the real place looked like.  Here are 25 of my pictures, with captions.

In 2009, 23 years after the catastrophe, the town of Chernobyl itself was still functioning – 4,000 people worked there.  The nearby town of Pripyat, a place of 50,000 souls where workers and families were evacuated the day after the explosion, generated the spookiest “ghost town” images.

Comments and shares welcome.

In 2009 there was a small but thriving tourist business taking visitors to Chernobyl from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, around two hours’ drive away.  To enter the area of Chernobyl and Pripyat you had to pass through a control point. (more…)

How to write great Nut-grafs & Cosmic Kickers: part 3

So you want to write a brilliant blog or newspaper article?  Help is at hand, in three easy stages.

First: decide your message, and make sure people want to read about it.  Part 1 of this series, 7 tips for writing the perfect article, explores how to ensure your piece will land well (links in bold italics are to other posts on this web-site).

Next: structure your article.  Part 2 of this series, Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers, sets out a simple 4-step template to write your piece – including how to get started.

What else?  Practice makes perfect.  Read pieces critically.  Understanding how others use these techniques will help you do the same.  Here, in Part 3 of the series, are two more worked examples.  I hope you find them helpful.  If you do, please feel free to re-post this series, or draw it to the attention of others.

Nut-grafs and cosmic kickers: two worked examples

The following article appeared in the Financial times of 22 October 2004.  It includes all the four elements – Lede, Nut-graf, Body and Cosmic Kicker – set out in Part 2 of this series.

Where even experts fear to tread

[Lede]

The Valluga II cable car above St. Anton is one of those boxy, old-fashioned affairs that sways from one mountain peak to another across a gulf of nothingness. At the entrance is a sign showing a pair of skis, crossed out. Next to it, to avoid any confusion, the words: NO SKIS.

“What’s that?” I ask Willi, a fellow skier with whom I am about to enter the six-person cabin.

“It’s OK,” he says. “It means no skis unless you have a guide.”

[Nut-graf]

For skiers who have mastered the basics, the benefits of skiing with a guide are not always clear-cut.  Holidays are all about freedom to do what you want, when you want, and to escape the workplace hierarchy. So it seems perverse to yoke yourself to someone who’s going to tell you where to go and what to do when you get there, especially when you have to pay them handsomely for the privilege. But a good guide can raise the quality of a day’s skiing from enjoyable to sublime. That’s why, when I make my next annual pilgrimage to Lech, in the Arlberg region of western Austria, I’ll be joining Class 3A (or maybe 2B) for at least half my stay to be guided around a resort I already know intimately.

Looking up the hill after the passage of a 3A class in Lech, February 2019 (more…)

The best thing to do in Vienna on 1 November

“As night falls on All Hallows, the Zentralfriedhof is transformed into an ethereal wonderland. It seems every visitor throughout the day has lit a candle at a headstone. Kneeling black-clad women rake frozen earth around graves. Candlelight shimmers on stone angels’ wings. Visitors move toward the cemetery gates, their breath forming clouds .”

A stone cherub lit by a candle on 1 November 1986

The central cemetery in Vienna is worth a visit at any time of year.  The old Jewish cemetery, its overgrown state controversial, is symbolic and evocative (you may see deer there, or other wildlife).   (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 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 for politicians and commentators the Overton Window 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…)

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