Monthly Archives: November 2018

Room for art

I knew exactly where the painting was going to go. Even before it arrived in the post, planning my birthday gift to the Resident IT Consultant – who likes trains – I knew it would go on the wall, just outside the door by his desk.

Railway station by Rachel Ward

Six months on, it is still leaning against the wall, next to the television. This is less to do with me being lazy and more because I can’t bear to stop looking at it. Where it is now, I see it every time I sit down in my armchair. I like looking at it. I, too, like trains and railway stations and all that stuff.

And let’s face it, I bought the painting because I liked it. Not entirely selfless. The Resident IT Consultant generously said it could hang somewhere better [for me]. But where? In a house that really wasn’t made for more art at all, I first bought this streetscape, which I had great trouble finding space for. It now hangs next to my desk, but I had to re-home the calendar that used to live there.

Street scene by Rachel Ward

Rachel Ward, who painted both pictures, is a dangerous woman to know. I first met her in her role as a YA author, nearly ten years ago. Those books were good. Now, she paints at least as much as she writes. And she takes photos.

Where some people can barely get out of bed in the morning, Rachel takes the dog for a walk and before my Weetabix is hot, she has put that morning’s photo harvest on Facebook. They are good photos, of attractive landscapes and streetscapes. So as well as painting, Rachel turns some of her photos into cards. And Christmas cards… (You can find her art here.)

As for the railway station, the jury is still out. Where to hang it? Do I need to be able to stare at it in long daily doses?

I suspect the answer is ‘yes.’ The ‘where’ is still unknown.

Prejudiced? Moi?

Yes. A bit, I’m afraid.

I disliked Gabriel from the start of this season’s Bull. Hitting on Danny when she came to Cable’s apartment like that. He was smarmy, and it was annoying that Danny seemed to go along with being ‘wooed.’

When he came to Cable’s funeral, it was clear he was given more room in the show. But even in bed, Danny seemed to be reluctant while Gabriel was forward.

And then, all that was needed was some ‘respectability’ and I change my mind. Except, it wasn’t so much that he turned out to be a doctor in his home country. I believe it was that when Gabriel was called upon to use his medical skills, he suddenly smarmed less and became a real person.

Danny and Rodrigo

So the writers and directors of Bull have to share the blame with me. I wasn’t snobbish about his day job, looking after the apartment building. That’s as fine a job as any. I simply don’t like smarmy men hitting on Bull’s people. And next time if Danny could dress for dinner as though she hadn’t come out in her underwear?

It will be interesting to see how this evolves. I sense Bull getting involved, but whether the romance is going anywhere is anybody’s guess.

(Photo © CBS)

I love Stefanie

Or to be more formal, Hotel Stefanie, Vienna. I can thoroughly recommend it.

You know how things slowly move in some direction, and because it’s all gradual, you hardly notice the change [for the worse]? And then something comes back to you and you remember all that was lost.

That’s what it was like for me when Daughter and I stayed at the Stefanie in October. She’d stayed before and was hell-bent on returning, so we even shifted our stay by one day in order that they could accommodate us. I thought I understood why she wanted this, but it was only as we got there that I properly grasped what she’d discovered, and what I’d lost, decades ago.

I’ve had more recent ‘favourite’ hotels, by which I mean they have been places I’ve come back to for various reasons, including cost. But a hotel like the Stefanie I’ve not stayed at since I was a child. Not that we were well off, but we were lucky and I got to stay in some good hotels, and I clearly built my expectations from those occasions.

Hotel Stefanie is not enormous, nor is it small. It’s just right, in a Goldilocks kind of way. It employs a lot of staff, and it is they who make the place. They are professionals, whether helping people out of taxis and looking after their luggage like it was their baby, or bringing a tea-tray to your room. Or anything else. Remembering your room number. Offering you a clean knife at breakfast.

The decor is quietly classic, but the rooms have obviously been up-dated to what you need today. And it smells like a hotel. I mean that in the nicest possible way. Smells lead to powerful memories, and can move you anywhere, anytime. In my case it was straight back to childhood, the good bit.

The rooms. We’d booked two singles, in order to snore in peace and – erm – quiet. They had three rooms for us to look at. The head of reception knew we’d definitely want one of them, but wanted to give us the opportunity to look at two more before deciding. The rooms are not all identical, and we could soon see which second room would be best. It was a thoughtful offer, I felt.

The first day it rained hard, and someone had not packed her umbrella. By watching other guests as I waited in the foyer, I learned that they have umbrellas you can borrow. And when you bring it back, dripping wet, they take it off you, giving it a good professional shake.

Breakfast is rather pleasant. Polite service, coupled with the ubiquitous buffet where you can choose what you like. Continental quality bread, for instance. And … champagne, although we never tried that.

It’s so old style that you even hand your key in when you go out. Annoying if you are only popping out for five minutes, but it is gratifying to see them reach for your key before you’ve uttered a word.

On departure I was too exhausted to take the underground to the railway station. I asked for a taxi, which was ordered with a minimum of fuss, and the same lovely man who greeted me on the first day, saw me and my suitcase into the vehicle when it arrived.

I have no particular reason to return to Vienna soon. But I’d happily go back just to stay at the Stefanie. Time travel like this is a treat. Revisiting the mid-twentieth century, while still having access to wifi.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you who work at Hotel Stefanie.

Strauss at the Musikverein

A week ago the Austrians celebrated their National Day. Daughter and I very accidentally happened to be in Vienna just then and – less accidentally – wanted to have a closer look at the Musikverein than you get from our sofa in front of the television on New Year’s Day. We discovered there was a Strauss concert on that very morning, so booked tickets to go.

It was all we had hoped. The concert hall really is that golden, and they really do cram in as many chairs as they can, wherever they can. We had good chairs on the side, quite close to the stage.


The Musikverein is housed in one of many elegant buildings in Vienna, and it was pretty much as I’d expected. The ushers speak English, and were most helpful. There are wardrobes for coats and larger bags, and there I learned – from the woman on my right (who, incidentally arrived long after me) – that you can say ‘bitte’ and be very very rude. She certainly wasn’t going to wait for anyone else to deposit their stuff, thank you very much! It pleased me no end to discover her halfway down a rather long queue for the ladies’ toilets later on. There are not enough toilets, but this is understandable in an older building.

Plenty of bars, however, and the audience indulged in eating and drinking. I’ve always wondered how they get the audience in and out on time when we see them on television. I’m still wondering that.

We enjoyed the concert. The Wiener Johann Strauss Orchester is no Wiener Philharmoniker, but that was fine. Likewise, conductor Johannes Wildner was no Karajan, but a chatty, bubbly chap who told jokes between numbers. At least I think he did. People laughed. My Austrian German wasn’t up to such detail.

We began with the Overture to Die Fledermaus, through lots of Strauss tunes, ending with Auf der Jagd and An der schönen blauen Donau. Much stomping and clapping rewarded us with another polka and the Radetzky March, enabling us to leave on a high. Daughter hadn’t quite dared hope for the latter, so was very happy.

They offer tours of the Musikverein, but I’d say go to a concert instead if you can. It doesn’t have to be the New Year’s Day one. After all, I don’t expect people can leave on January 1st and proceed to have coffee outside in the sunshine.

Or maybe they can. It’s Vienna, after all.