6/5/91

WIEN TO HALLSTATT We were up quite early and after packing up and having breakfast we left our packs in the hotel lobby and walked down to the Palace to see if we could get in to see the morning training session of the famous Lipizzaner Stallions.  We couldn’t!

After grabbing our gear we caught trams to the Westbahnhof and bought tickets to a place called Hallstatt up in the hills near Salzburg in the area known as the Saltzkammergut. We changed trains at a place called Attnang-Puchheim and almost immediately the climb up into the green, rocky and wet mountains began.

We got off the train by mistake at a town called Bad Ischl and had to wait 2 hours for the next one to come along. The valley we were travelling up closed in and the rocky, pine-clad mountains were dusted with a light coat of fresh snow beneath swirling grey clouds. The shades of green were amazing: from the bright lime green of oaks to the deep dark green of pines.

We got off the train at the stop marked Hallstatt which was merely a wooden hut above the lake known as Hallstattsee, where a boat was waiting to take us across to the town itself. Stepping off the boat was like stepping into a postcard scene. The two churches, their wood-slate spires topped with gold spheres rose on either side of the pier and behind them the tiny timber houses climbed almost vertically up the rocky cliffside overlooking the lake. The village swept away in an arc to our right, clinging precariously to the water’s edge and spread more levelly off to the left around the bay. It was so still and quiet that not a single noise save the lapping of the water against the pier could be heard.

A man showed us the way up to the Jürgenauberge (YHA) and we booked in – the only people there save for a group of drunk and locals who had apparently been drinking non-stop for 24 hours. Later on we went out for a walk around the silent and nearly deserted lakeshore past rows of neat, well-kept timber houses: the ones closest to the water with adjoining boathouses at water level.

We ate  dinner that night in the hostel and spent an hour or so talking to an Aussie guy who had come in for a beer.

HALLSTATT

5/5/91 AN IMPORTANT DAY

We checked out of the hospital at 9 and walked around the corner to a plush hotel and booked in. There weren’t any rooms available at that time of the day so we left our packs in the lobby and went out to explore. First of all we sat on a bench in the Hofburg Palace gardens and wrote some postcards, then wandered over to St Stephansplatz where we had arranged to meet an Aussie girl called Rebecca. We had all seen most of the sites around the centre of the city so we caught the underground out to the Danube River.  We sat at a cafe in the sun and drank cold Coca-Cola then bought a schnitzelsemmel (schnitzel sandwich) each and sat down by the river to eat them.

The Danube runs in two parallel channels, somehow flowing in different directions. The small, slower channel is The Blue Danube but the main channel is a poisonous brown colour. So much for Strauss’s imagination!

The “Blue”Danube

We walked over the bridge heading back towards the city and stopped to look at an impressive church of distinctly Bavarian architecture, then caught the underground back into the city where  we spent an hour or so at a street market along the Donaü Canal.

A half hour ride on a tram around the ring road aligned us with the bearings of the last few buildings we hadn’t looked at, starting with the foreboding Volkskirche church. The exterior of the church was definitely Gothic with spikes and spires and gargoyles aplenty, and beneath the darkening grey of an approaching storm the black and stone of the church would have dragged down the spirits of the most charismatic of believers. But if the outside of the church was foreboding, the inside was positively malevolent! Almost completely dark, the only points of light were a few lighted prayer candles and some dim sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows. The pillars rose up into the shrouding blackness of the ceiling and the place was as cold as a newly dug grave. Not a place to seek comfort and enlightenment!

Back outside it was coming on to rain so we sought the comfort of a cafe  while it pelted down for about half an hour then cleared to give us a brilliantly fine evening. We walked along the Karl Renner-ring, stopping to look at the Rathaus, or state buildings, and the ornate parliament buildings. Back at the hotel we said goodbye to Rebecca and checked into our room: a grand affair complete with antique chairs, a chandelier and a balcony.

That evening, we went out for a meal at a French restaurant then we went back to the hotel where, out on the balcony under a bright full moon, I asked Linda to marry me. And she said yes. It was perfect: Vienna, a balcony…and a yes.

Written on the back of the photo above.

4/5/91

“THE CITY WAS A DREAM” ¹

After and Austrian breakfast of bread rolls, jam cheese and hot chocolate we were out on the streets by 9:30. with no clear idea about where to go, we walked down to the Oppenring, stopping to look at the memorial to W.A. Mozart and the rear wall of the collosal Hofburg Palace, then following our noses up the Kartnerstrasse to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the heart of Wien. Being a Saturday, there was plenty going on and we spent a couple of hours just wandering the streets watching rock bands, buskers, puppeteers, folk singers and assorted street theatre.

We spent a couple of hours in the Museum of Fine Arts, stuffed full of paintings by Rubens, van Dyk, Bruegel and many others, most of them rather over-the-top religious pastiches. The Egyptian and Austrian sections were very interesting too and the building itself was magnificent: built from marble and stone with sweeping staircases, balconies, domes and pillars, with statues filling every spare corner.

Culture Vultures.
Awaiting entry to the performance of Tannhauser at the Vienna Staatsoper.

We returned to the Hofburg Palace after the museum and drank hot mulled wine while we wandered among the crowds. From there, we walked over to the Staatsopera Haus and queued up for Standing Room² tickets for the evening performance of Wagner’s Tannhauser. We were let in once the paying guests were all seated and we stood at the top of the ornately plush chamber for 5½ hours while the cast and orchestra ground through the long and tedious story which apparently revolved around some bloke falling in love with Venus, nearly being killed by his peers, then going to the Pope to ask for permission to carry on. It all went well over our heads!!³

¹Hermann Broch was an Austrian writer considered to be one of the great Modernist authors. In his book Hugo von Hofmannsthal and His Time, Broch wrote of Vienna: “The city was a dream, and the Emperor a dream within the dream…”

²These tickets, as the name implies, allowed people to view the opera while standing in various corners of the opera house and between the rows of seats.

³The German composer Richard Wagner was renowned for his long, heavy operas. And Tannhauser is regarded as one of his more turgid and weighty numbers!

1/5/91

FINISHED WITH TUCK’S FARM We spent the morning packing up and I got paid £1,300-00 for my weeks of work at Tucks Farm. I’d done a lot of extra work for which I had expected a bonus but none was forthcoming. So fuck them!

We had lunch at the Lydiard Millicent pub then went to John and Sally Blakiston’s. Later on, we went into Swindon and banked my cheque and did a few other jobs including booking one-way flights to Vienna for Friday!!

Along with us, John and Sally had a girl called Heather, from Norfolk, staying at Grove House. She gave us her address in Norfolk and told us we could come and stay with her whenever we like.

FOOTNOTE: The owner of Tucks Farm, Louise Hastings, was a mad old lawyer. Her and her husband used to have screaming arguments on a regular basis while I was there. While I was researching the details of this entry, I came across this story from the Express newspaper.

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/7331/Evicted-by-granny

28/4/91

SUNDAY We met Jen at the Colton Arms at 11:30 and had a beer there with Gunner [I have no idea who that is!] then drove out to East london to see Louie. We spent a couple of hours with her catching up on all the goss, then drove round the North Circular [motorway] and dropped Jen off at Jo King’s flat. With nothing further to occupy us in London we drove back to Charlcutt, stopping for tea at a Granada [motorway service station] on the way.

27/4/91

I was awake at 6.00am as usual and read for a while before rising and having a bath¹. I went in for breakfast [I ate all my meals with the farm owners] but the Hastings’ were having a running battle² over some small point so I left as quickly as possible.

I stopped in Wootton Bassett to register the car then headed for London on the M4. I had told [our friend] Karen that I would pick her up at 12:00 but made good time into the city, arriving at her place at 11:30. She had gone for a swim so I decided to go for a short drive then return. I got back an hour later having gotten lost in Clapham and then being stuck in traffic! 

The traffic was horrendous going out of town towards Gatwick Airport on the M3 so by the time we hit the M25 (known locally as “the largest parking lot in Europe”) it was getting on towards 2:00, which was the time that Linda and Jen were due to land.

Eric Escort came to the fore, however, by cruising at 70 mph all the way to Gatwick and when we got there the plane had been delayed by 20 minutes anyway so we had time to recover our composure over a beer.

Around 3:00PM Linda and that “Damn Yankee”³ Jennie Bell came out of the customs hall and we were reunited.

That night, after searching all over Earl’s Court for a room, Linda and I ended up in a non-luxury hotel on Cromwell Road.  

¹My quarters for the duration of my lambing job were a caravan parked in a hay barn with an attached kitchen and bathroom.

²More about these mad bastards coming up in a day or two!

³ After dining in a restaurant In Doncaster called Damn Yankee, we’d adopted this as a temporary nickname for Jennie.

25/3/91-26/4/91

25/3/91-26/4/91 I spent these four weeks working as a lambing shepherd at Tuck’s Farm, near Charlcutt in Wiltshire. My diary entries for this period are sporadic, consisting mainly of song lyrics and wistful little poems that I composed while sitting amongst the hay bales in my lambing pens.

Footnote: One of my abiding memories from this time is lying in a sunny meadow on a fine, warm spring afternoon reading The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates.

18/1/91

I knocked off at 3 pm and went home to get ready to head off down to Plymouth for the weekend. We got on the road at 4:15 and drove over the hill to the A303.

It took us just over three hours to drive down to Plymouth and on arrival we picked out a B&B called the Caledonia Guest House and booked in. Once we had taken our gear inside and settled in we went down to the centre of town and found the picture theatre. We saw Mel Gibson in the disappointing movie Air America. After the movie we found a pub and had a couple of quiet drinks then went back to the hotel.

The Caledonia Guest House is still there today. These quaint Georgian houses were the sort of places that age-of-sail naval officers would stay in when they were ashore during the Napoleonic Wars.

Saturday 12/1/91-Sunday 13/1/91

I spent both days up at Tucks Farm¹ building a new lambing enclosure. I picked up £70 for my trouble including petrol costs. As I travelled up and down on both days I listened to Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s² brilliant album called Third World Child.

¹Tucks Farm, at Calne, near Swindon, was where I was to work as a lambing shepherd later in the year. The farm owners had employed me to build a sheep yard for use during the lambing.

²Having travelled in Africa, and intending to return later in 1991, we loved music about that continent. Johnny Clegg and Savuka were a Belgium-based band from South Africa whose songs were redolent of life in Africa. This is Scatterlings of Africa from the album Third World Child.