A vital sign

To my readers, first of all an apology, for failing to write a piece for so long. I sat down many times to type up the germinating ideas that came into my head over the winter. Mercifully with my snow cleaning hat on, I can report it was far from wintry, but instead dark, damp and grey. I’d hoped I would be feeling full of the joys of spring by now, but instead I feel like I am still treading water, in the hope that I will eventually be rescued. The pandemic has worn me down, and is still far from over. It hasn’t been one long party, and has meant a lot of time, possibly too much time, for introspection due to the isolation of the last two years.

This second lockdown winter has been a tougher one than the first one. The semblance of solidarity in 2020/21 that this situation too would eventually pass, evaporated this winter into the wintry air. Despite only a single lockdown in November-December, it has been a dark and lonely one. The Omicron variant (sounds like something that Elgar should have composed) has run its way through the country. Somehow my wife and I have managed not to have had the virus, although about 8 weeks ago there was a sense of inevitability that it would only be a matter of time.

How my wife has not had it, given her working in a school, where nearly everyone has had it is a mystery and nigh on a miracle. When 50,000 new cases a day were being registered, we started questioning whether she had in fact had it asymptomatically at some point and we didn’t realise, although the regular testing regime knocked that theory on the head. As such theories start to go through your mind, it is clear how conspiracy theories gain credence in some minds.

While the grass might be green in the Hayekpark next to where we live, this is scant consolation for the sorry state of the world. The escalation of tensions between Putin’s Russia and Ukraine into a full scale war, only a few hundred kilometres from here is a strange feeling. I woke up in late-February to the news of Russia having invaded Ukraine and felt very uneasy about the situation. Back in the 1990s, shortly after arriving in Vienna, I remember the situation of displaced people fleeing from former Yugoslavia, and the mass arrivals in Austria.

Back then, Austria was on the path to accession into the European Union. Approaches to handling refugees were along far more national lines. Twenty years later, we saw people entering Austria, who had fled from Syria and Afghanistan and arriving in their droves. Every arrival with their our harrowing tale to tell about how they got here. And then last summer we witnessed the Fall of Kabul and the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan.

With one eye on the news from the UK, where I was born and lived up until my late-30s, I have been saddened by the hellbent policy of “creating a hostile environment”. The recent announcement about sending refugees to Rwanda, as well as the shortcomings of the UK’s response to the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Ukraine have compounded my feelings of helplessness. It’s all a mess.

I try to fine some thin shards of hope – somehow elderly aunt clings on, and I have promised to visit her this summer with my brother, which will be my first trip to the UK in two and a half years. My brother has borne the brunt of it over the last two years, and has been trying desperately to keep her out of a care home. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that it really is time for her to go into more sheltered accommodation.

Before I sign off for this post, I feel that I must finish on a positive note. During the Easter holidays, my wife and I spent three days in Upper Austria. We let the train take the strain and headed up to Linz on the Westbahn and then on up further towards Schärding. We enjoyed wonderful hospitality with friends and in local hostelries, and came back with batteries recharged. Hopefully I might some get my inspiration to blog more regularly back soon! Stay healthy and stay safe.