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Smoking in cafes: a Viennese speciality

Back in the 1970s I used to ride on the top deck of a double-decker red Routemaster bus to school in Manchester, an hour each way.  On winter mornings the air was thick with cigarette smoke, and the windows would mist up with condensation on which we would draw pictures and scrawl messages.

No-one thought twice about the health hazards to children sitting in a smoky bus for two hours a day.

What changed?

Campaigners are trying to introduce a smoking ban in cafes in Austria

In 2003, New York introduced a ban on smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including bars and restaurants.  Ireland followed in 2004, becoming the first country in the world to do so.  In 2006 Scotland followed suit, followed by Wales, Northern Ireland and on 1 July 2007, England, including bars, restaurants, and buses.

I remember entering a pub for the first time after 1 July 2007 and finding that the removal of the permanent haze of smoke made it possible (more…)

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Vienna and Istanbul: the best cities on earth?

People often ask me: ‘What is the best city you have lived in, apart obviously from Manchester?  Is it London?  Berlin?  Moscow? Istanbul?  Kyiv?  Or Vienna?’

I usually answer with Oscar Wilde: ‘Comparisons are odious.’

Vienna has much to recommend it, including lovely countryside nearby

I thought of Oscar Wilde when I heard that that Vienna had this year taken first place in the annual Economist Intelligence Unit’s global liveability index – the first time a European city has ever won.  I certainly can confirm that Vienna is a magnificent place to live, offering everything from terrific cafes (see my cafe reviews) to awesome local countryside, great outdoor pools, and – my favourite – outdoor cinemas, comparable with Berlin’s.  I am very happy here.

When I was deciding in 2011 whether to try and move to Istanbul, I was influenced by a report in the Financial Times which made fun of rankings such as that of the EIU, or the widely quoted Mercer quality of living survey (where Vienna also came top in 2018 – for the ninth consecutive year).  The FT said that not all of the cities which tended to do well in such surveys were actually cities where people want to live – Osaka, Calgary, Toronto or Zurich were all fine cities but not on everyone’s bucket lists.  Cities where people did actually want to live, such as New York or London (more…)

“Prep”: is this how women think? 7/10

Many years ago I worked alongside a young woman who, long before in another city, had had a relationship with a man who now worked in the building we were in.  Whenever she spoke of him, her voice quavered and her eyes brimmed with tears.  She was sure he was in love with her, but was dismayed that he showed no interest.  She longed for him, but had not spoken to him for years.  At certain times of day, when he might be due to leave work, she would go to the window and gaze out, hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the distance.

The cover of my (borrowed) copy of Prep

I thought of that colleague when I read “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld, published in 2005.  The book follows a 14 year-old girl, Lee Fiora, who leaves her family home in Indiana to take up a scholarship at Ault, an elite boarding school on the US East Coast.  Through her four years at the school, she obsesses about her relationships and develops a crush on a boy.

What a crush. (more…)

The Third Man Museum: a Vienna gem 10/10

The woman at the entrance seems delighted to see me.  Having sold me a ticket, she rises from her seat and accompanies me to the first room of the museum, highlighted key exhibits.

The “Third Man Museum” in Vienna’s 4th District (Pressgasse 25) is one of the finest small museums in the city.  Interested in the film?  Want to know more about post-WW2 Viennese history?  Want to see what obsession can achieve?

Look no further.

The first surprise about the Museum is its breadth.  Part 1, comprising seven rooms, is packed with fascinating detail about The Third Man: clips, shooting locations (including the sewers and the Central Cemetery), and the stars of the classic 1948 film often described as the best movie ever (see my review at the link).  I noted a fine quote from Orson Wells: “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four… unless there are three other people”.

Film stills and publicity stills from Room 1

Part 2 focuses on the music of the film, including the famous “Third Man theme” played on the zither.  A mighty 1930s cinema projector (more…)

Hard boiled: Chandler, Spillane and Hammett

All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears. I wrenched the wheel over, felt the rear end start to slide, brought it out with a splash of power and almost ran up the side of the cliff as the car fishtailed.  

My 1960 Signet edition of “Kiss Me, Deadly”, swapped on a Greek ferry*

The opening lines of Mickey Spillane’s 1952 Kiss Me, Deadly are arresting.  So is the blurb: “Mike Hammer swears to avenge the killing of a satin-skinned blonde and rips into the vicious Mafia mob to run down her murderer”.  

When I first read Kiss Me, Deadly in the ’80s, I was shocked by the casual violence and sexism.   (more…)

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves: review and quotes

Those who know the code of the Pimms will know that the blogs on this site are consistently honest.  No fake news here, or indeed fake reviews.

So I have to report, sadly, that “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves” was not my favourite P G Wodehouse book.

In fact, of the mouth-watering shelf-full of Wodehouse I have enjoyed so far since 2017, it comes some way behind Thank You, Jeeves, Ring for Jeeves, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen or indeed Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, all of which I have reviewed on this site (click on links above) and all of which positively heaved with quotables.

The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves”

To say that Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves is less hilarious than some other P G Wodehouse masterpieces, however, is not to say it lacks humour.  I feel it has less of a  (more…)

Making fun of the English? The great George Mikes 10/10

If you have not read How to be an Alien by George Mikes, please go and buy a copy instantly.  You will not regret it.

George Mikes was a Hungarian who came to England in 1938 (as he said: When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles – but never England).  He wrote dozens of books but is remembered mainly for his seminal 1946 How to be an Alien.  He described the genesis of the book thus:

Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a young lady who was very proud and conscious of being English.  Once she asked me – to my great surprise – whether I would marry her.  ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I will not.  My mother would never agree to my marrying a foreigner.’  She looked at me a little surprised and irritated, and retorted: ‘I, a foreigner?  What a silly thing to say.  I am English.  You are the foreigner.  And your mother, too…’  I saw that this theory was as irrefutable as it was simple.  I was startled and upset.  Mainly because of my mother whom I loved and respected.  Now, I suddenly learned what she really was.’ (more…)

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