Jazz and Cafes..


In Secrets of Paris, Vernon Coleman writes, ‘London invented coffee houses but abandoned them. Today, only Vienna has cafes which match those of Paris.’ Well said, Vernon – I shall take a brandy immediately, to fortify myself for the day ahead.

First stop, Cafe Leopold Hawelka, a dimly lit cafe in central Vienna. It’s perfect for a brief, four-hour morning respite from sightseeing. Aah, the swirling curlicues of a mixed drink; the charms of elbow-worn sofas; a proper rest. By the way, I prefer to call it meditation, not sleep.

Aha! The bow-tied waiter returns, noting my nebulous figure in the gloom and turns on the overhead reading light. Bollocks, it’s more of a spotlight and rapidly puts paid to my furtively eyeing the heavily rouged woman at a nearby table. Still, there is a splendid selection of newspapers instead.

I rather fancy myself as a proper writer sitting here, you know.  A poetical doodle here, a contrarian scribble there. But such highbrow sentiments are quickly supplanted by a realised need to pay the mortgage. Back to the lorry, then, and c’est la vie. Oh, well.P1090879

Smoking Ban


Now, you’ll be pleased to know – if you puff like a coal power station – that smoking is allowed in most places in Austria. Restaurants, bars, you name it – it seems to rival Vegas. If you don’t – and hate washing jumpers each morning – then I’ve deliberately picked two establishments that are non-smoking: Cafe Hawelka and Jazzland, a little club on the Danube.

The latter is where I was lucky enough to catch Hans Theessink, a Dutch bluesman. Wow, what a voice that guy has. Regardless of who’s playing, though, the black and white photos of jazz legends adorning the walls is more than enough to warrant entrance…

Should pigs be in zoos?..

P1090868Normally, a man needs an excuse to visit a zoo – perhaps in the form of a child needing a chaperone. Or maybe a simpering girl, treating you to a glimpse of her petticoats and whooping at the cute little penguins. Of course, it might simply be a judgement muddied by drink.

What’s my excuse? A small mulled wine and a quote from Crazy Sandra. My suggestion that she grow her hair and ditch contact lenses in favour of glasses – for seduction reasons  – occasioned a scowl that could have blistered the family portraits. ‘I’m not sexy, I’m not a secretary, I’m just a pig,’ she said, her voice as far from gentle and fluting as a voice can physiologically be.

Welcoming this rare insight into the female pysche, and still wrestling with this gnomic remark, I took her at her word and we oinked off to visit her brothers and sisters at Schonbrunn – “the world’s greatest zoo”. Opened in 1752, it is also allegedly the world’s oldest.

East Africa Adventure


P1090874Shall I tell you a little animal story? OK, then. Once upon a time, I rode in a jeep through Tanzania’s Serengeti, a vast savannah teeming with exotic wildlife. Well, I say exotic, but that depends largely on one’s point of view.

A Masai warrior, for example, up to his spear tip in the Big Five, might very well regard the common squirrel as the cat’s pyjamas. Similarly, a parched, desert-dwelling Berber might go equally gooey at the prospect of the much-vaunted English duck. See what I mean?

Tanzanian Safari


Back to the jeep. The first morning supplied a convoy of Thompson gazelles, zebras, gnus and suchlike. Pretty incredible? Certainly, yet man can take only so many wildebeest before incipient monotony rears its mottled tail. ‘Give me a shout when you see a lion,’ I said dismissively after a couple of hours, and hunkered down with a Clive Cussler for a while.

P1090866I’ve felt guilty about that ever since. But I experienced much the same at Vienna Zoo, even though accompanied by a jolly, porcine chum. So cold that even the penguins had headed inside for an hour by the radiator, we soon followed suit. And what did we find inside?

Slowly Does It


The sloth. What an extraordinary animal, blinking on what seems like a weekly basis. Hardly a world-beater when it comes to top ten animals in the polls, yet – oddly – I’m enthralled. For a start, there is no glass or safety cordon here; bizarrely, not even a security camera as far as I could see. How refreshing in a continent of Health and Safety.

There was nothing, in fact, short of razor-sharp teeth, to stop me reaching up twelve inches and challenging both lurking sloths to arm wrestles. Moreover – and this is the worrying bit – there is nothing to stop an imbecile, with less common sense than I, from experimenting in a sloth’s ear canal with a pencil.

Contemplatively, I watched these two marvels crossing a rope – at the speed of continental drift – until closing time. And then it was feeding time – Piggy needed her dinner..

Horsing About in Vienna..


A Strauss waltz plays unobtrusively in the background. Tourists drift onto the grand, stone-balustraded balconies; horses trot elegantly through the sawdust below, their riders sitting regally astride in brass-buttoned tunics.

‘Stallions, Barn, not horses,’ corrects Crazy Sandra. ‘The ones when they have a shot and it doesn’t work.’ She is pressing her hands together, colouring with girlish gaiety as she attempts to describe equine castration. Racking her German brain for English vocabulary, she tries again.

‘When the man goes on the girl, nothing happen. Come out nothing.’ Ah, gelded.  Think charades – without words, how would you portray a stallion failing to ejaculate? Tricky? Well done if you’re at least privately attempting it.

Four-legged ballet


This morning, should you be fogged to the core, we are at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, watching the Morning Exercise. Beneath magnificent chandeliers, Lipizzaner stallions practise circling and dancing to Schubert, Mozart and Strauss. None of your piebald ponies here, thanks very much. All frightfully twee – interrupted cadences and the occasional ritenuto in the woodwind maintain the adrenaline, but I’d argue that two hours is more than enough. P1090860

How do they do it, though? I mean, I understand steering horses with reins, but there are funky dressage moves mixed in here. Assuming that these animals don’t speak English – or German, given we’re in Austria – how do they know when to faultlessly bend forelegs, simply prance, or point perpendicular hooves as if ballet dancers? Perhaps there is an ingenious system: a different coloured biscuit for each manoeuvre, stealthily stashed in the rider’s tailcoat.

Anyway, here we are, bourgeois patrons of the arts, touching our forelocks and enjoying the spectacle. The “Dung Man”, until now hovering in the doorway, shuffles into the arena with a shovel as a snow-white creature deposits a little something. The rider, in a funny, stiff-eared hat, continues without a backward glance.

Queen Sandra


Richly attired – in jeans and stout shoes, no less – Crazy Sandra presides over the entertainment below, like a modern day Eleanor of Aquitaine. Granted, Sandra has been neither Queen of England nor Queen of France, but she echoes some of that free-spirited lady’s traits.

P1090852Hampered by ecclesiastical canon? Hardly, no. Posh? Not even close. Forthright and indecorous, then? Yep, that’s more like it. Crazy Sandra whispers in my ear, bringing us neatly back to genitals. ‘I am disgusting,’ she declares, ‘But cum is very good for the skin. Also, I think these stallions would prefer Metallica to Strauss.’

At least she got the first bit right..

Namibian’s Still Alive..

heading for moscow2Prepare to raise an eyebrow. Or, should you wish to pip Roger Moore, by all means raise both. Simultaneously. You will perhaps be surprised to learn that a degree of fitness is required to drive a truck. There, I’ve said it.

No, nothing to do with the hefty rigours of manipulating sixteen gears and assisting the occasional prostitute into the cabin; one has to be declared medically fit by a doctor before a Heavy Goods Vehicle licence can be issued. And then, every five years from the age of 45, one has to sit and pass another medical.

What condition would a man – or a woman, now that we’ve let them vote – have to be in to fail? One wonders whether this test speaks, at least obliquely, of a farce. Take Namibian as an example.

Doctors and Nurses

Let’s envision being a fly on the wall. Or, better still, why don’t you engage in some uniformed role play. Right, stethoscopes at the ready as Namibian floats gracefully into your imaginary doctor’s surgery. No, you needn’t  bounce sympathetically with the floorboards, but you could pretend to be a grimly-visaged health official waving an admonitory finger. Colin Fox after Unloading in Oslo finished

Should he really be tucking regularly into a dainty repast of a hog washed down with a loaf? Ought he to have vivid violet fetlocks and, to phrase it delicately, be the size of a Kodiak bear? And what about that cough? Yes, should be OK. Tick the Pass box.

Well done, you’ve just pronounced him fit as a fiddle. Well, a misshapen double bass, at least. He’s now free to spend five more years in the driving seat, wittering away on the CB and cleaning my mirrors. But can he last five years, more to the point?

Life Expectancy of a Bear

Well, there have been occasions when I’ve been wrong. Embarrassingly I learnt at a dinner party once that Julienne is not a ballet position; it is a manner of dicing vegetables. See, I’m not infallible.

And estimating in 2009 that Namibian would live only 56 summers is also turning out to be, if not an absolute clanger on my part, at least on the conservative side. That coarse, earthy and carnal babe magnet is going from strength to strength, spurred on through the dark hours, no doubt, by the promise of a substantial breakfast.

heading to moscow3Would you like to meet this biological anomaly? Well, if so, you can find him touring with Cirque de Soleil’s Immortal Michael Jackson World Tour until the end of April. He won’t be far from his lorry.

Don’t take this as an ironclad guarantee, but, if the HGV medical is anything to go by, I’ve got a feeling he might even make 60. Hooray!..