Archive for the ‘Philosophising’ category

I’m English (me old fruity)

April 24, 2009

I did something yesterday that I’d never done before.  I sent someone a text saying “Happy St. George’s Day”.

I’ve never really paid much attention to St. George’s day; this is largely because I spend most of my time playing up the fact that I am, technically, Austrian – born halfway up a mountain in Austria is more than simply a quirky blog name, after all.  However, my usual “I was born there, therefore I am one of them” schtick falls down somewhat when I arrive in the country, unable to fully communicate and having spent 18 out of 21 years living in the UK.

So here I’m English.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m proud to be English, England is where I was raised and I am part of it’s culture.  Being “Austrian” is simply something that makes me stand out from the masses a little bit.

The problem I’ve been finding in writing this, though, is finding aspects of English culture which are distinct from British culture.  I’m proud of British humour, which takes it’s cue from the whole nation’s absurd, self-depreciating, occasionally macabre tastes.  I’m proud of the amount we’ve contributed to literature and science, but authors from all over the country write comparable works and our scientific advances have come about from group research.  I’m proud of the BBC; I’ve met so many non-British people who use the BBC news service and watch it’s programmes, because it offers more balanced reporting and more varied programming, but that of course is the British Broadcasting Corporation.

But then, when I lie back and think of England (har har), I don’t think of those things, nor anything that could be learned from textbooks.  I think of my family and of somewhere I can go back to if all my worldly ambition falls through.  I think of sharing a pint and laughing with my mates down the pub.

On my walls there are two flags, a Spanish flag and an Austrian flag.  I’ve been asked before why I don’t also have a flag for England.  Put simply, Spain and Austria are places where I’ve lived; their cultures and languages fascinate me, but I will always be an outsider to some extent.  England is my home.  And that’s more than a flag can truly represent.

So while, after all I’ve seen, I can’t romanticise the English countryside as the most beautiful in the world, nor the weather the finest, nor the politicians the least corrupt.  I can say that for many years now since first hearing it sung by The Divine Comedy, I’ve always this poem going through my head – and occasionally my iPod – when I return to England from a holiday:

I travelled among unknown men
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.

‘Tis past, that melancholy dream!
Nor will I quit thy shore
A second time; for still I seem
To love thee more and more.

Among thy mountains did I feel
The joy of my desire;
And she I cherished turned her wheel
Beside an English fire.

Thy mornings showed, thy nights concealed,
The bowers where Lucy played;
And thine too is the last green field
That Lucy’s eyes surveyed.

William Wordsworth

And I mean it every time.


I don’t know the Irish for “Welcome Back”

April 20, 2009

The Irish are back. Most of my time spent in Vienna is spent with a group of three Irish girls and an Irish guy and they arrived back on Sunday. Jon rang me when they got back, inviting me out to lunch – which, incidentally was the first internal call I’d received since arriving here, causing me to jump out of my chair at how loud the phone’s ring was.

Despite having just flown in from Ireland, we went to an Irish pub for food, and whilst we were sitting, talking, it occured to me that this was the first time in a fortnight that I’d had any contact with my peers. For all that I love about it, everyone I know in Kitzbühel is at least ten years older or younger than me, which can leave you kind of alienated.

They also meant that I got out of the house more.  I thought that I would wander around the city during the last few days of my Easter holidays, but I felt no real compulsion to do anymore than I needed to.  I have a theory that, whereas in Seville, where I would go out to get personal space away from my roommate, in Vienna, where I have no roommate and infinite personal space, I want to spend time with people when I go out.  Of course, I could just motivate myself, but I want to justify my laziness.

Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?

April 19, 2009

I have a sneaking suspicion that I have a subconscious desire to make life more complicated for myself.

As of today, for example, I possess accounts for Hotmail, YouTube, Twitter and – obviously – WordPress (to which you probably don’t need a link).  Quite aside from being an affront to nearly every grammatical rule I’ve ever learnt, these are websites dedicated to messages, videos, shorter messages and blogging, respectively.  All of these service are offered by Facebook.  And yet, I find myself more and more disinterested with Facebook, in spite of its services.

At the same time, I have, for many years now, resisted any suggestion that I should get a phone for anything other than calling and texting.  Blackberries and iPhones can probably take pictures and video as well as my digital camera and play music as well as my iPod and they have the added benefit of being a phone in a casing so slim that people wouldn’t even notice it in your pocket.  Yet, I possess a phone, a camera and an iPod which, when carried together, make me appear to be following in the fashion footsteps of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  Moreover, with the combined amount  I spent on phone, camera and pod, I could have easily purchased a top of the range phone which offered the features of all three and paid the monthly fees for a year with change to spare.

Admittedly with the internet sites there are some benefits not offered by Facebook; relative anonymity for one.  I enjoy putting myself online, I enjoy the feeling of being connected, even if very few people read what I have to say, but I would never be so open on a site like Facebook, because everyone I know in real life is on there, from people I’ve known since before I started school, to people I’ve had a passing encounter with once, to potential employers.  There are friends who, if I learnt they read this, I would not mind – I might even encourage it – and they would be the ones most likely to read a note of mine on Facebook.  Nonetheless, I don’t want everyone to have access to it, which is why few of my friends know of my my myriad [insert letter here]logs.

However, those same benefits don’t exist in the phone world, most of the options I’d lose from my iPod or camera would be the superfluous ones I don’t use in the first place, so I’m spending more money for things which I don’t use.  With websites, I just have a few more bookmarks, with electronics I have a lot less money.

The irony here is that I’ve always insisted that I choose to have seperate things for specific taks for the sake of simplicity.  When did simplicity become so complex?

Things to do

April 18, 2009

According to a list I wrote on the back of a receipt last night, today I had to do the following things:

1.     Buy Spanish exercise book

Attempted, failed.  I tried several bookshops local to my flat with no joy, eventually I had to go the the Bucherei (German, lit: bookery – a bookshop) at the university, where the teacher had assured the class they could find the book.

It wasn’t there either

I was delighted to find some Jasper Fforde books in there – in English, though I do wonder if I could find them in German – but the Spanish book won’t be in until the end of the week at the earliest.

I’ve resolved to go to the library on Monday to find the book, they should have one copy, at least. (update: did you buggery – 20/04)

2.     Top up phone

Done.  It was a remarkably easy thing to do, I only had to go to the one shop.  However, the guy at the counter twigged I was English and apparently wanted to practice his.  We both seemed to think the grass was greener in the other person’s respective country (he preferred England to Austria and vice versa).  After fifteen minutes though, I started to worry he was going to keep me there all afternoon, but he had to deal with a phone call and bade me goodbye not long after that.

3.     Go to gym

Done.  Now repeat daily.

4.     Finish editing and uploading videos from Kitzbühel

Did one, still have to record a bit for the fourth one.  I should also do a few “lost weeks” videos for Sevilla using photos.  I’m not sure why I think this is something I should do.  Maybe it’s a symptom of the era I grow up in; all our lives must be broadcast!

“Our lives must be broadcast”.  That suddenly got me thinking of a friend of mine who I haven’t heard from in ages, because she deleted her Facebook account.  I feel bad about it, but I wonder if I would still want to contact her if she did have Facebook.

I’ve found myself wondering recently if Facebook allows me to take people for granted, because they’re always in plain site.  Why do I need to get in contact with anyone, when even the most trivial of news is all laid out before me in a convenient feed.  I’ve been debating recently whether or not I should delete the thing, the people that care enough will find another way to contact me and I’m sick of always feeling the ned to update photos and statuses and other such gubbins.

We shall see.

A more family-friendly Easter blog

April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday was a lot of fun.

I went to mass first thing in the morning, mainly to hear Robert and Waltraud sing in the choir.  It was much nicer than the singing in English churches – where it’s usually droning and mournful – you could actually believe people here when they sang “Hosanna”.

After the mass was over, I played with Heidi and Michael’s kids, which is new.  I tend to get exasperated by kids quickly.  I think it’s because I went to high school with so many little brats that I’m predisposed to think they’re all like that, but Heidi’s two are adorable and seem to bring out the Uncle Smashing gene in me.  So I played with them and took photographs to bring home to show my parents.  I also got to see Katharin and her husband and kids.  They came round for lunch and introduced me to the Austrian tradition of godparents giving their godchildren presents at Easter.

After lunch we went to Paul’s house and spent the afternoon in his garden.  He lives on the Kitzbühelerhorn, so his garden get’s the sun in the afternoon and there was a lot of sun to be had; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

There was an Easter Egg hunt organised, which I initally thought was just fo the kids, but no, the whole family had an Easter basket to find, including – I was surprised to discover – me!  I was at down watching everyone look when Paul mentioned that he had already seen mine, I was touched to be included as part of the family.  Even moreso when I discovered they had supplanted a chocolate egg in favour of beer.

My Easter Sunday in a nutshell

My Easter Sunday in a nutshell

Sitting there, I felt totally relaxed.  I still didn’t understand half of what was being said, but I was content to sit and drink and let it all wash over me.  I managed to get some more pictures, including a big family portrait.  I even got one of Heidi’s children on the balcony I used to play on as a kid when we got back to Robert and Waltraud’s; I’d brought the kids a big chocolate rabbit each and Heidi was good enough to help me use them as bribes.

We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo

April 11, 2009

I almost missed my second entry because I was doing what boiled down to nothing on the internet.  Grazing,  my friend Chris calls it; the act of surfing the web as mindlessly as a cow chews cud.  I wonder how I – and most others – would deal in a world without technology.  Robert and Waltraud’s house in Kitzbühel is probably the closest I will get and even here I can’t resist the lure of a glowing screen and a keyboard.

Today I spent the day with Heidi, Robert and Waltraud’s daughter-in-law, and her two kids, who are lovely, but somewhat bewildering.  I’m convinced that I could have lived in Austria my whole life, be fluent in German and I would still only understand about half of what they were saying to me.  Fighting through childish mumble, Tirolerdialekt and a language I’m barely competent in generally results in a pretty one sided conversation – I tend to throw in a noncommital “oh”, an understanding “ah” or maybe, if I’m feeling cocky a “ja”.  Still, they are kind enough not to get too exasperated with the confused-looking grown-up (reluctant though I am to admit that that must be how they see me), so I can’t complain.

I went to a sort of zoo today.  I initially thought it was a reserve of sorts for the local animals of the Tirol, though I may have misunderstood what Waltraud was telling me about the place as I was under the impression that Japanese Macaque were native to Japan…

I was actually surprised by how much similarity to humans the Macaque had.  Maybe I’ve not been to a zoo in a few years, but I don’t remember other monkey’s having faces which showed such expression as the Macaque, who was expressing a sort of resigned annoyance at tourists taking photos of of it whilst it was eating.

The macaque shows exactly what it thinks of us tourists

The macaque shows exactly what it thinks of us tourists

I only saw one Macaque in there, I hope there was another.  Captivity can’t be fun at the best of times, but it would be worse to be there alone.

Most of the animals I saw were local to the Tirol.  Deer, donkeys and the smallest goats I have ever seen roamed free around us.  We arrived at feeding time and all the free-roaming animals were eating from troughs in the same place, th goats were so small that they were standing in the troughs and almost buried amongst the massive heads eating around them.  The were incredibly cute.  I also saw a couple of young bucks lock horns, nothing major, just a quick discussion about who was eating where which lasted exactly as long as it took for me to turn on my camera, so I am sadly lacking photos of that.

Tiny goats!

Tiny goats!

We also saw a flock of geese which got pretty damned loud as we approached their coop.  I observed, in German, that they must have eggs to the complete apathy of the two young children.

Afterwards we went to a park just outside the zoo, where the kids tried to see how many times they could pull the “one more time” game on the slide when mum said it was time to leave.  Credit to her, Heidi is a very patient woman, and her kids are muh better behaved than some I’ve met.  Besides the zoo was half-way up a mountain (as most things here are) so it gave me a bit more time to look at the view.

Had I grown up here, I wonder if I would appreciate this view less?  Would familiarity with these mountains mean that I wouldn’t understand how beautiful they are?  Has growing up in Runcorn, an industrial town on a dirty river, lowered my standards so this place is even more beautiful than it seems?  If so, I guess there are some reasons to be glad I was raised there.

This is the house that Ben built

April 10, 2009

That’s it!  I’ve written I title; I have stared a blog.  I’ve thought about started one several times, but it is a personal failing of mine that I will always allocated some future date for some alleged or arbitrary significance:

” I’ll start going to the gym on the first day of next month.”

“I’ll give up chocolate during lent”

These days are all fine days for starting something, but there always exists a time between the starting date and me, during which I can always forget about my pledge.  As the songs says, tomorrow is always a day away.  So away with needless preparation time or waiting time or whatever it may be.  I’ve already had this account for nearly six months; today is as good a day as any other.

However, in spite of that rant on the importance of days, today is Good Friday.  And it was a good Friday, I helped build a house.

The word “helped” is probably a bit strong, it would be more truthful to say that my presence was tolerated, as I don’t think the work was completed any quicker because of me (and I can only hope it wasn’t completed any slower).

I’m currently in Kitzbühel, the town in which I was born, staying with Robert and Waltraud, and old couple who lodged my parents for three years after I was born and who have allowed me to stay several times since.  They are incredibly hospitible and make sure that I want for nothing.  Unless, of course, I want to help.

Waltraud is determined that I enjoy my time here, so I can barely carry plates to the tabel because “you should not do that on holiday”.  I am somewhat resigned to it by now, but I can’t help but feel guilty when they’re doing so much for me and won’t take any help or payment in return.  So it was that when Robert asked if I wanted to help with the construction of his son, Paul’s, house, I lept.  I threw on some clothes to get dirty in and (being an eternal tourist) grabbed my camera.

Within minutes of getting there I realised that the camera was unneccessary.  Paul’s house is an ongoing project which father and son have been working on – between Paul’s job as a chef – for about 10 years, and Paul has been living there most of that time.  That’s not to say his living quarters are unpleasant; many of the rooms are alrady finished.  But the top floor is still under semei-constant construction.  Paul saves his money, then buys all the necessary materials to fit out another part of the house, after which he needs to save up again before moving on.  He was working for some of those savings that evening, so we had to work fast.

That afternoon we had to fix some skirting boards in a loft space and it was during this time that I saw a different side to Robert and Paul.  The process involved a lot of shouting orders, both at each other and at me, broken occasionally when Robert would disagree with something Paul was suggesting, after which there would be a brief, loud argument, with Paul usually winning.

An expertly fitted skirting board

An expertly fitted skirting board

... and a less expertly fitted skirting board

... a less expertly fitted skirting board

After finishing the skirting boards, covered with saw dust and me suitably proficient with a circular saw, we moved on to attatch some plant trestles to the balcony.  This let me see a fantastic view of Kitzbühel.  True, most parts of Kitzbühel have a fantastic view, such is the appeal of the town, but as I held the trestles in place while Paul screwed them into place, I looked at the town and reflected on why I like it so much.

Paul's house, now with room for window boxes

Paul's house, now with room for window boxes

True, I was born here, but I left for England when I was three and have only been back a handfull of times in the intervening 18 years.  But it’s a beautiful place, in stark contract to the town I grew up in and I feel a spiritual connection to it.  I feel more refreshed and energised for having been here.

I think right now, though, Kitzbühel is special to me because it has a timeless quality.  Nothing seems to change here, Paul was building his house when I was last here, he may still be building it even if I don’t come back for another six years.  People will come here to ski in the winter and golf in the summer.  Those mountains aren’t going anywhere and neither is the town nestled between them.

In the past year, I’ve had a lot of major changes in my life suddenly forced upon me, both at home and as a result of my year abroad.  Somewhere in there, I need a rock.  I need something that will always be there and always be beautiful.  That’s what Kitzbühel is to me and even if I don’t visit it often, knowing that it’s there is a comfort.