Robert Pimm

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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…)


Blood Summit: the US President in the killing chair

The US President, British Prime Minister, German Chancellor, Russian President and other G8 leaders are taken hostage by terrorists at a summit in Berlin.

Rescue is impossible.

One after another, hostages are executed at point-blank range, killings streamed live, bodies left on show for fifteen minutes to prove that they are dead.

Then the U.S. President is thrown into the killing chair – and shots ring out.

Who is to blame for this cataclysm?  Who can resolve the crisis – against a background of terrorist demands which seem impossible to meet, yet which have demonstrators massing outside the Reichstag to support the hostage-takers? (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…)


“Blood Summit” Chapter 5: Things get worse for Helen

Here is the text of Chapter 5 of my Berlin thriller Blood Summit.  

“In which Helen Gale gets into even more trouble.”

The Reichstag dome.  Warning: bad things happen here in “Blood Summit”



Helen watched Sir Leonard Lennox grow angry.  It was a rare, but frightening sight.  Even when the ambassador was calm, his rugged features tended to darken in response to obstacles or unreason.  Now, the combination of brilliant white bandages and a choleric outburst made his face look black with rage.

‘They say what?

Basil Nutter grimaced, glanced around the conference table and said nothing.  Decades of experience in the back rooms of embassies from Abidjan to Yerevan had left the wizened but career-challenged diplomat equipped with two convictions.  The first was that the key to a contented life was to avoid drawing attention to yourself.  The second was that efforts by governments to influence the media were at best pointless and in most cases counter-productive.  Basil was arguably, therefore, ill-fitted to the job of embassy press officer.  He seemed physically to have shrunk as the Summit loomed.  This morning’s blast had left his brow, and his suit, more deeply creased than ever.

Helen had been thinking of the injured child in the street.  She saw Basil’s plight and intervened.

‘Ambassador,’ she said.  ‘You need a cigarette.  Possibly two.’

‘First sensible idea I’ve heard all day.’  A lighter and a packet of Benson and Hedges were in the ambassador’s big hands in an instant.  ‘And before you say anything, Jason, this is an emergency.  Since the windows have been blown out by a terrorist bomb, we’re technically outside anyway.’

Jason Short said nothing, but looked at the overwhelmingly intact windows and pursed his lips.

The ambassador lit a cigarette, blew a stream of smoke towards the ceiling, and turned to Basil. (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 Last Jedi 3/10: the galaxy’s most shagged-out designers?

What a brilliant movie!  Full of breathtaking, blow-you-away moments, unpredictable plot-twists, and unforgettable images and ideas!

I speak, of course, of the original 1977 Star Wars.

I love movies and adore sci-fi.  The original Star Wars sent me into a drug-like high when I saw it in Dolby Sensurround at the Odeon Marble Arch in 1977.  So did parts of the original Guardians of the Galaxynot to mention the hilarious Galaxy Quest.  I gave a strong review to the last Star Wars outing, The Force Awakensdespite initial misgivings.

So when someone takes a massive budget, an epic back story and the expectations of millions and turns out something which is 80% as dull as ditchwater, I feel personally betrayed.  Here are 7 reasons why The Last Jedi is, by the standards of what could have been, an inter-galactic train-wreck:

(i) it is beyond boring.  In fact, it is the first movie in which I have actually fallen asleep in the cinema, ever.  The scenes of Rey and Luke discussing obscure stuff on an island go on and on and… dear God, please can something happen soon? (more…)


My thriller “Blood Summit” – Chapter 4

Here is Chapter 4 of my Berlin thriller Blood Summit.

The Reichstag dome.  Warning: bad things happen here in “Blood Summit”

How did Dieter Kremp, Deputy Head of the Summit Security Unit and a macho package of anger, “exquisite, toned musculature” and chauvinism, become the lover of Helen Gale – a Cambridge-educated top diplomat?  How did the US Secret Service almost stop the Summit happening?

Find out now.


As he ran towards the Summit Security Unit command bunker, Dieter Kremp was reminded with a jolt how much he hated the logo for the Children’s Summit.  A Berlin bear on its back, for Christ’s sake, balancing a cute kid on each of its sharp-clawed paws.  The bear was grinning playfully – hungrily, more like – as it performed this unnatural act.



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