Vienna First


Vienna has been in the throes of winter, so much so that this has been the coldest January since I re-took my English O/level in 1987. (Just for clarification, the re-taking of my O/level did not take place in Vienna, rather a windswept coastal town in Britain with an illustrious past, not least the refusal to elect Nigel Farage as its local MP in the last general election.)

The freezing temperatures are a welcome addition to the number one city because the last couple of years have been anything but chilly. But since the turn of the year the thermometer has barely risen above freezing necessitating a reassessment of sartorial needs. Yes, gentlemen, I am talking about tights, ski tights, which I have taken to wearing in an effort to keep out the cold. This pleases me because it means I get to use an item of clothing which this year would have remained in the cupboard because we have decided to forgo our yearly trip to the Alps during half-term and the delight that is one of the Austrian school ski weeks.

We are motivated to do so because Mrs Barratt selfishly got herself made redundant. This had nothing to do with the EU, globalisation, cheaper Eastern European migrants, the techno-nightmarish march of artificial intelligence (this actually may have helped) or fall out from Trump. No, this unfortunate event came about through the culmination of a number of factors mostly emanating from the arrival of a new CEO hastily obsessed with restructuring, saving money and firing all the “talent” (not my word).

Reallocation of headcount – or some other reprehensible euphemism hiding the true ineptitude of the modern manager who have had their brains vacuumed – is, of course, the fastest way to meet performance targets and thus bag a handsome bonus. It is a myopic strategy of dubious commercial intent with no conception of the negative effect this may have on the future efficacy and productivity of a business (and the people left behind). But what does it matter. The former bosses will quietly move on in a few years with a handsome pay-off, keys to the company car and a new job lined up in another industry with instructions to do the same again. But this is nothing you do not already know. Rest assured, however, I shall be naming and shaming the company as soon as Mrs Barratt has received her Dienstzeugnis (reference) and just after I have burned their complimentary branded sport’s bag in front of the Austrian Parliament.

In truth, part of me rues this missed chance to hit the piste. Although I am not in any sense a proficient skier, I am always enamoured by the chance to spend hours outdoors in pristine alpine air (the perfect hangover cure incidentally) pootling about in my unconventional style, master of my own snow surrounded destiny. More so because it was planned to spend this week with a good friend of mine and his family travelling from the wastes of Brexit Britain. This I shall miss very much.

On the plus side I will not miss the daily ritual of getting dressed in more clothing than an astronaut on an Apollo mission, the crowds of people some of whom were seemingly born with a corrosive self-regard I find most saddening, and the excoriating alpine Euro-pop which attacks the senses whenever one is anywhere near a ski-hut or ski-school. And we will save a chunk of money which I can use for more praiseworthy causes: building walls to keep out my German neighbour, financing a specially commissioned art-space to display photos of discarded Red Bull cans and making donations to all political parties just to hedge my bets in the event of revolution.

As part of the January big freeze, it has also been snowing. Inevitably this led to temporary traffic and public transport bedlam in the number one city as the authorities initially struggled to cope with the unexpected – certainly for an alpine nation in winter – influx of snowfall. The MA48 were out in force, however, with the snow ploughs and armies of migrants clearing the pavements, zebra crossings and thoroughfares and scattering little stones to reduce the danger of slipping over and suing the city.

Many people I meet bemoan the arrival of snow. Yes, it messes up your shoes and the hems of your trousers as the snow turns brown, grey and slushy, but I can see clear advantages. It makes everywhere and everything look pretty, even the 10th district of Favoriten. It temporarily covers up all the detritus and millions of cigarette butts left behind by residents and their addictions. And it goes very quiet on the streets as people leave their cars at home. Exuberantly, it also gives me the chance to unpack my Narnia inspired sledge and, robed like the White Witch, travel up and down our street handing out Turkish Delight to disrespectful little oiks and turning speeding drivers into stone.

Which is a reminder that where a blanket of snow can bring a degree of visual and aural peacefulness, there is always the humanistic versions of black ice poised to upset your fleeting sense of wonder. For example, there is the certain kind of driver who must register their frustration at the slow progress of other road-users who are doing their civic duty and simply exercising automotive caution on precarious roads. Such rabble rousers labour under the belief that they earned their driving licences in a turbo-charged saloon  driving at high speed through the snow covered pine forests of Finland whilst their driving instructor shouted, “Right 5 over crest! Left 3 don’t cut! 100 Right 1 tidy into Left 2! 300 double caution jump! Left 2 over kick into right 3 tightens!” The reality, of course, is much more mundane; they learned in some miserable semi-rural suburb and then drove a moped for the first five years after passing their test wondering why they never had a girlfriend.

Worse, there is the spectacle of the “off-road” owner relishing the one chance a year to justify their purchase of, what Freud would have described, as a 4×4 appendage substitute. Having said that, driving along the Wiedner Haupstrasse in the 4th district last week, in a tiny, front-wheeled drive car with the power of a retired, asthmatic donkey, I watched in amusement as a BMW X5 (the X stands for unapologetic noisome berk) lost control on the tracks running the length of the street. The car continued sideways for about ten metres before its startled occupant realized, BMW or not, it was about to be flattened by a tram.

In spite of the winter in winter, the Austrian government has hit 2017 running (and skidding). In an attempt to prise open progression in the coalition, Chancellor Christian Kern more or less laid down an ultimatum to the Conservative chums in government. Inspired, it seems, by Patrick Swayze, Kern told his vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, “Es ist mein Weg oder den Hochweg” and suddenly, at the end of January, we had a plan. A blueprint to move Austria forward and effectively counteract the looming threat of early elections and an expected far-right victory (in the sense they could grab the highest percentage of the vote and thereby get first dibs on forming a coalition).

In out next installment, then, we will take a serious and objective look at what this means for Austrian politics and its ignored masses. Although I cannot promise you I won’t get distracted by the other news to feature prominently in the Austrian media since Kern’s public admission earlier this year that the Austrian government had failed the Austrian people. Yes, fashion, and the proposed banning of the burqa.

© 2017 RJ Barratt