With characteristic fortuity, accompanied by Viennese grumbles of “Nah, typisch!” the first official day of the school summer holidays began with torrential rain and Glastonbury inspired winds. On reflection, this was not such a bad thing given that the parched landscape of the number one city was starting to resemble Malta (without the laid back attitude and smiles) and everywhere was badly in need of precipitation and one of those cooling periods favoured by FIFA.
In truth, by this point in the year such weather doesn’t really bother me as it offers one more tenuous reason to stay inside and not feel coerced to embrace the sun and have a barbecue (for some reason people keep urging me to come round and “grill”). Also, the passing of the 1st of July usually signifies that I have managed to avoid the Donau Insel Fest for another year, an essential part of life in the number one city if your idea of a good time constitutes traipsing around an artificial island (admittedly quite a nice one), listening to third rate music and interminable queuing for inadequate toilets with three million other people and their effluent.
Naturally, the nine week marathon of summer hols and the nebulous need to rush about in a coordinated effort to ensure childcare for July and August is undesirable and for this reason grandparents or wider family are indispensable if you work – in Vienna -and a profligate bonus if you don’t. Indeed, there is talk afoot in the corridors of officialdom about the need to reduce the summer holidays to relieve parents (I need more than that, some personal quantitative easing, a gold-plated pension and one of the those holiday villas on the Wörthersee).
Yet, conversely, these nine weeks temporarily signal the cessation of children on the move on the streets of Wien before and after school. If I were seeking a moral justification for selfishness, resplendent in my headphones and toxic dump, early morning demeanour, then I would need look no more. It signals a return once again to peace and relative serenity when travelling to work by public transport, for a couple of months at least, and I embrace it with unconcealed rapture as you know.
More so now given that we have new neighbours freshly arrived from everyone’s favourite, confident, smiling 21st century European nation, swelling Vienna’s biggest immigrant community in the process. Yep, Deutschland (über alles!). Now before you get carried away, let me just declare that I am not about to play on the German stereotypes of being loud and always right, certainly not in this paragraph, and I will not make any jokes about them invading our garden and putting their towels on our sun-loungers. But their arrival has prompted a slight disturbance in my repository of goodwill and I am duty bound by my love of Vienna and its cultural integrity to respond, if only for the future of my children and the European Union.
Firstly, attached to their car is one of those little flappy flags that you only ever see during major football tournaments, although being German I can not exclude the possibility that this is not just some passing vagary. In any case, it is clearly an audacious attempt to rub my nose in the fact that England were as effective in Brazil as a British prime minister in dealing with the EU in Brussels. Of course, it might be an ill-timed ruse to wind up the Austrians and thus means I will have to tread cautiously yet with resolve. Naturally, this includes stealing out in the middle of the night and exchanging the flag for a French Tricolour, if only to maintain social order and avoid a diplomatic incident. In addition, it will necessitate some gentle tutelage in the art of Vienna Schmäh, the local humour which to German ears is irrational and incomprehensible where simple changes in inflection to words like “Hallo” (you lengthen the “ha” part to express mistrust, sarcasm or mild aggression) causes all manner of consternation in those schooled in the art of Hochdeutsch (high German) and gravy with Schnitzel.
Secondly, and worse still, they have been joined on their cross-border migratory incursion by their two rather excitable dogs, the types of dog which go untrained by the owner because the pooch is invariably small and harmless (and annoying). Inevitably, their dogs like to bark and when the dogs bark the owners shout at the dogs to stop barking, and when the owners shout, the dogs bark louder. From where I am sitting, there is no sight more pitiful and tragic than an owner trying to control a dog by getting red-faced and shouting (children I can fully understand) only for the dog to utterly ignore them with a face which oozes indifference. And for the good of the neighbourhood, to assuage an ailing and ethically comprised world, it is my avowed civic duty to pull out my long-bow and restore tranquillity.
Our street (I cannot reveal the location for fear of reprisals) is relatively quiet most of the time and there is a healthy mix of the young, old and the inescapably belligerent. But there is a family, our neighbours but one, who, it would be fair to say, have a tendency, now and again, to overstep the boundaries of acceptable public noise when they get – how can I put this? – a bit emotional. (Which is why I like winter; they stay inside.)
My tuition in human relations, gleaned from the deepest recess of the Internet and some choice podcasts in the App Store, readily informs me that if the default setting for parents and the peers is an inability to converse at normal levels of resonance without bickering and barking like pissed off walruses edging for a rumble (by normal I mean British), then there is a strong likelihood that their adorable offspring will display impatience and/or hostility and bellow rather than exercise communicative moderation like me after a couple of pints.
The reason I mention them is that their father once confided in us after a minor spat (borderline blood feud) with our now long-gone, former neighbours about the noise levels made by their children (like most kids they seem to think that close proximity to another human does not negate the need to screech). The argument was both utterly fabulous and toe-curling in its execution; a late-night choral barney containing such a profusion of rich and mottled expletive, that not even Irwine Welsh could match.
The quarrel played out and, much like Putin in the Crimea, was only silenced after intervention on my part with some high precision, repeated comedic blowings on my bicycle horn. The next day the father of the family, quite upset, if I remember, possibly distraught, asked us what was he supposed to do, children being children. In measured, reasoned and comforting tones, I told him it was very simple: tell them, the children, to shut the fuckery up.
You might think, therefore, that such an encounter would encourage anybody with or without children, who were clearly prone to bothering a neighbour or several with a rather lax attitude to received notions of what it takes to behave in “shared” public spaces in suburban Wien, to calm it down a smidgen. You would assume they would actively seek to opportunities to exercise better social judgment, especially as they were on the receiving end of some quite vitriolic vocal interventions. Clearly this would make rational and practical sense in a city rife with sapience and intermittent mindfulness. But no, their solution to maintaining street-wide amity was to go out and buy a dog. A noisy little dog. A little yappy bastard of a dog.
And so now, after the arrival of our dynamic and lithe friends from across the Danube, we have three of them (dogs) sometimes, fighting, sometimes yelping and sometimes whining when I play electronically generated sounds of an angry bear through some speakers directed over the fence which I have rigged up in the garden. But as a custodian of what is ethically pure and the rewards derived from fairness in all scopes of modern existence, I can no more remain a paper tiger in dealings with my neighbourly brethren than Conchita Wurst can ignore a ten minute karaoke slot. The alternative is submission, moral subjugation and a festering hatred for parts of humanity (actually, this part is already quite well advanced). And so next week it is pre-dawn Wagner, cigars and the smell of water pistols. This is my journey. This is my mission. These are my sounds of summer, and the east wind is blowing.
© RJ Barratt 2014
Ps – Vegetable news: so far we have feasted on peas (very successful), several types of lettuce, one courgette (early days cynics), a few modest handfuls of raspberries, (blackberries are ripening as I type), one cucumber (very tasty but contravening all EU laws on the conformity agricultural goods) and some exceptional cherry tomatoes. Less success with strawberries (actually, no success). We await broccoli – first ones this week and much, much more, the remnants of which I will lob at next door’s dogs.