Josef had long dark curly hair and a roguish smile. He stood aside from the tiller. ‘Fancy a go?’ he said. We were speaking Russian.
‘I’ve never sailed a yacht before,’ I said. The sea off Russki Island stretched endlessly around us.
‘Go for it,’ Josef said. ‘Keep your eye on a point on the horizon, and head for that.’
I seized the tiller and, under the watchful gaze of Josef, his business partner Pavel and their girlfriends Olga and Galina, began to chart a path through the waves.
Olga and Galina on the yacht
I’d met Josef and Pavel months earlier, on Daydream Island in Australia. They were young, confident and had plenty of money. They were there to buy a yacht, they said, and (more…)
This time the hosts are the excellent Vienna writers’ organisation “Write Now”: you can read about the event at their Facebook site.
I am grateful to Write Now for allowing me to join their “Open Mic Night”, which is open to all creative types – as “Write Now” say, “we look forward to hearing your stories, songs, poems, stand up comedy and other creative enterprises”. The evening starts at 1900 on 18 October in the rather fantastic Art Lounge of the Cafe Korb at Brandstätte 9 in the First District of Vienna. I should be reading around 2030, although timings are pretty flexible at these events.
All are welcome! I hope to see you there for an evening of creativity, entertainment and terror.
A video of my previous reading at Cafe Korb, courtesy of Sibylle Trost
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.
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…)
‘Hey,’ your friend says in Vienna. ‘Let’s meet up for a coffee’.
‘How about a cup of tea? Or a beer? Or a glass of wine?’ you say.
‘All good. We could grab a bite to eat, too.’
‘Where shall we go?’
‘How about Cafe X?’ your friend replies.
A fine cup of coffee in Vienna
You have a nanosecond to decide how to respond.
Vienna is crammed with world class cafes. I review my favourites (so far) on my “Best Vienna cafes” page. You may think my judgement sucks; but I welcome comments and suggestions.
So I was intrigued to see the Austrian newspapers rejoicing last week that a list of the “50 greatest cafes on earth” featured three from Vienna. The list itself is in the British newspaper “The Daily Telegraph”: I thought it a good effort, particularly for attempting a genuinely global list, ranging from Swansea to Hanoi. I also like the fact that the writer, Chris Moss, says he has visited 40 of them himself (more…)
So. The rather awesome J K Rowling wrote swathes of the “Harry Potter” series in cafes in Edinburgh.
Can other writers do this?
With iPad at the Wolfgangsee.
When I am writing major pieces – such as a novel – I write in longhand, in an A4 pad. While typing straight onto a keyboard is in theory quicker, I find sitting staring at a screen for long periods makes my brain melt. Making quick amendments to what you have already written is also clumsier, and slower, on a computer.
By contrast, on my A4 paper pad I am constantly making amendments, (more…)
In 1979 I hitch-hiked for seven weeks around the United States.
What did I learn about the US of 1979, and what does that tell us about America today? What about me? How have I changed, and should I seek to reconnect with that carefree 21 year-old?
Find out on my page The Americans, where I have gathered together several episodes of my US odyssey. Enjoy the ride.
The changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, July 1979
Here is my account of a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C. on 6 July 1979.
Avenue of the Heroes
I walked towards the bridge.
Two metal statues flanked the road: huge, muscular, nude, bearded men on huge, muscular horses, each accompanied by a naked woman.
The women were both on foot.
One of the men clutched a child. Looking at pictures now, I am reminded of the statue of a Soviet soldier unveiled at Treptow, in Berlin, in 1949.
Also sculpted in metal on a titanic scale, the Soviet hero holds a child in one hand and an improbably large sword in the other.
The children which the men in Berlin and Washington are holding look eerily similar. (more…)
In 1979 I hitch-hiked for seven weeks around the United States. What became of the carefree, relaxed young 21 year-old of these pages? Can I reconnect with those qualities, forty years later?
What about America itself? Was it better then, or worse?
Perhaps the US needs to reconnect, too.
You can read more episodes from this journey on my page, The Americans.
Here is how I set off from New York on my first day of travelling, on 3 July 1979. Pictures below!
Leaving New York
On Tuesday morning, Harold and Dorothy drove me from their house in Ardsley to the Major Deegan Expressway, heading south for Washington, D.C. The road stretched out ahead. First target was to reach the New Jersey Turnpike.
How was I not terrified?
Dorothy Berkowitz seeing me off on the Major Deegan Expressway
Aged 21, my primary emotion was excitement.
Looking back, I think: “how can I reclaim that boldness, that clarity of purpose, that focus on the present, that carefree calm?”
Things I was not worried about:
– my career. It had not yet started. I had nothing to screw up;
– money. I had all my cash, for seven weeks in the US, in traveller’s cheques on my person;
– other people. During my trip, I wrote several letters and postcards home. I tried to make one phone call, reversing the charges because I had no coins, to Harold in Ardsley – I can’t remember why. On the line, I heard him telling the operator he refused to accept it;
– information about the rest of the world. The Internet did not exist. I do not remember buying a newspaper. I had a tiny transistor radio (thanks, Harold) but mostly listened to music;
– death, injury or other cataclysm. Sure, hitch-hiking posed risks. But what would life be like if it consisted mainly of avoiding risk?
Things I was worried about:
– how quickly will I catch a ride?
If living in the moment had been invented, I would have been doing it. (more…)