The first promotional mailings for Christmas shopping started to appear in mid-October, and the first cards from traders hoping for my continued trade in 2018 came through in mid-late November. Fortunately e-mails have reduced the “round robin” Christmas letters that were once crafted in kitchens, dining rooms and sitting rooms across the known world, to a trickle, letters that were the fruits of perspiration, family “editorial” meetings, and a trip to some reprographics facility, or maybe cheekily running them off through the photocopier at work.
The man who came to look at our pipes in January sent us a card, or rather the family firm he worked for did. So that was what the “parts” cost went on, of about 28 Euro for a couple of washers and a new pipe joint. And with it in true Austrian tradition, there was a folding calendar with it. Over the years, the double gate-fold calendar has become an item of unrequited hate. In fact any gate-fold item that is not a vinyl masterpiece does not sit well with me. This little calendar that invariably is the reserve of traditional local business, for traditional Austrians, in a traditional medium seems to only have one other remaining purpose. Namely to try to get you to consider to use their services again, and in some cases impart some pseudo-science about the best time to use them.
The boiler serviceman forgets of course to tell you about the discounted boiler servicing in May-August, although a flyer appears on the noticeboard in most multi-residence dwellings in late April, no doubt secreted by the Feibra ne’er-do-well who shovels tonnes of Werbeplakat into your mailbox while you are on holiday. The undertaker used about 7 years ago for one of my wife’s aunts fortunately desists from adding the lunar phases on his card, although in an age when Christmas trees are cut at certain times of the lunar cycle to ensure that your hoover gets suitably gummed up with fallen needles that patter gently down onto the parquet, it would not surprise me if the lunar cycle were soon to be applied to burial. Along with the inevitability of death and taxation, there is also the other known truth, namely that undertakers, dentists, doctors and tax accountants are never poor, particularly not in Döbling.
My wife’s hairdresser doesn’t miss a trick – our joint e-mail address having recently received a message about the best time to have your hair trimmed or to wash your hair in accordance with the lunar calendar. I have yet to observe whether any such days overlap with when the hairdresser gives a discount. I’ve been using a cunning ruse for years of going to a hairdresser by a nursing home, which seems to have a perpetual pensioner’s discount, and they offer it to me as they are too polite to enquire whether I qualify and too discrete to ask me to brandish a card that proves my date of birth.
Wiener Linien invariably send me such a piece of superfluous stationery, and once I have looked to check that the U6 still goes where it says I shouldn’t, or to check that the Hauptbahnhof hasn’t moved while I wasn’t looking, it is discarded with the paper recycling. There was a momentary cooing this year by Mrs. Curmudgeon that the S45 is now featured with a gaudy new colour along with the Stammstrecke, in accordance with the attempts to upgrade the line accordingly, but that was all.
The florist, a wily character, never seems to miss a trick, who rumour purports does a special discount on duplicate orders for Valentine’s Day, i.e. 25% off if you buy two identical bouquets (one for the wife, and one for the mistress in apparent Viennese high society fashion) and slips such calendars in with Christmas arrangements, pot plants for elderly relatives (again reductions for bulk orders of poinsettias – regardless of when they were harvested during the lunar cycle). The specialist tobacconist-cum-newsagent, who I have long visited for a specialist publication (I can rely on him to order one periodical for me), also now even prints you a calendar that is customised to remind you when to pick up that sought after hunting magazine, pipe smoking almanack or gossip magazine, while also trying to flog you a lottery ticket.
Back in September, my wife tried to get me to take up a hobby, fearing that my new-found man about the house status would either bore or depress me, and tried to enveigle me into knocking up a Christmas Newsletter, thankfully without a calendar, so that everyone could find out about what we had been up to. I pointed out that those who should know about my change in employment status already did, and those I didn’t want to know needn’t find out through a “round robin” publication. My wife remained adamant so I told her I would start a blog instead. Now she of course tuts and asks about my cultural references, and asks if I might desist from posting quite so much about Nephewgate.
At least the spectre of the Christmas Letter has been banished, although I’ll do a “Nachlese” as my year-end post to also hopefully pick up a few new readers (thanks to those of you who do read my musings!) and might try to make it slightly tongue in cheek. I’ve learned a lot about blogging, thanks to a number of blogs that I have been reading, including the one that I discovered this year by Robert Barrett, who has blogged about his view from the other side of Vienna – Up the Danube without a Paddle, which has been going for five years.
My whimsical ramblings are only part of my writing, I’ve also been trying to write a few papers to get to go to a few conferences, to catch up with colleagues around Europe, and to do conferences the old skool way, not having to spend as little time as possible at the events, and I have tried to target a couple where I might be able to let the train take the strain, and the whole exercise is nothing more than for personal vanity, and because I also want a bit of term-time travel. I used to write papers and present two or three times a year and try to combine the work trip with a bit of sightseeing (not the much maligned conference tourism, where people register and never show up and then use the time as a jolly), and hopefully I might see a bit of Europe while also imparting a bit of knowledge. But until then, there is always the Cottageviertel, Nephewgate, and the gently chugging S45.