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Monday, 23 December 2019

Last post for Christmas

Change came to the valley this year. Since the days of King Francis' kataster, or land register, made at around the time of the battle of Waterloo, we have got by with a house number and the name of one of three cadastral communities that comprise the postcode. My house was number 40, the next three houses, on the other side of the old mineshaft, were numbers 162, 163 and 164 (they were built in the 1920s) , and the next house, on the old unmetalled track, was number 3, the house of the Deplorables. Every house built since 1815 was given the next available sequential number, irrespective of location. And our cadastral village is three miles long and a mile wide.

The system never caused the slightest problem locally, as everyone knows where everyone else lives anyway, and the postman's job is a lifetime sinecure, held for three generations by the same family. It was the internet that killed it. Rumour has it that an Amazon delivery driver from Graz, a decent man called Kemal who just wanted to finish his round and return home to the warmth of his family, was found sobbing in his vehicle at 11pm, having spent seven hours trying to locate number 67. Ah, they nodded when he had shown them his clipboard. The Huber house. It's down an unmarked forest track.

So we now have some sixty street names each with a geographically sequential run of numbers, and this being Austria the change went smoothly if somewhat unorthodoxly. It's still not quite fair, many feel, on the city boys who drive the internet vans; they have a fear of the high valleys, and not just in a Deliverance banjo-twanging way. The little GPS satellite high in the sky guiding them to their destination is often unreliable in the forest. And we actually do have well-established populations of bears, wolves and lynx - a cause of pride to us, but a source of fear to a city boy navigating an unsurfaced mountain road at 6kph with the Spruce boughs brushing the sides of their van.

The official figures have just been published like a sort of tierwelt league table; bears have taken 35 sheep this year, wolves only 4. The Land employs an expert called Roman, the Wolfsbeauftragter, with a helpline number, whom one calls to take DNA samples from any scraps of your sheep that remain uneaten. The State hunters' association must by law pay compensation for livestock killed by bears, lynx or wolves, even though the species are protected and cannot be shot by the hunters. It's a very Austrian thing. Before DNA testing many farmers were reputed to messily kill their own sick and worthless sheep and blame it on the local bear in order to pocket the generous (80€ per ewe) compensation. Our local bear has already destroyed several hives and taken a sheep from a small herd of Suffolk blackfaces (they really are - what are the chances of that?) at the bottom of the valley, so our sheepholding neighbours here are paying students home for the holidays to guard their stock.

Back to house numbers. I had, I thought, let everyone back in the UK know that my address had changed, but of course several Christmas cards have arrived with the old address. No problem. The postman will operate both systems until he retires, and he's still a comparatively young man. Frau Fuchs regrets slightly that number 3, our oldest house, now has a more anonymous number, but it's of little consequence to its occupants, our own Deplorables.

The house itself is an old farmhouse built of massive larch timbers and dating back to the 1600s. In the UK it would be as desirable as a Georgian parsonage, but here, where the old is scorned, and old houses are unwanted (hence me buying my own gorgeous 17th century mine-owners house for a song) it has been converted into three apartments, that are let cheaply to three single men, all white-beards, whom I have come to call the Deplorables.

They live together quite amicably, and once or twice a week one of them takes it in turn to take the local drunk-taxi, the Gomobil, down to the Spar to restock with beer. The rear of the van is loaded with crates of empties (one gets money back on crates and bottles - shops have automatic machines into the base of which one pushes a crate of empties which disgorges a little credit ticket to be redeemed at the till) and it waits outside the shop while the elderly delegate wobbles a trolley stacked with full crates out of the door. The rough track to the church runs through the farm, as of yore, and the old boys keep some chickens and goats in shanty sheds on one side with the house on the other. They have an elderly and somewhat toothless dog who barks but is afraid to approach closer than about six feet. I suppose he frightens some people - delivery drivers, probably. I like them. They are always beaming, always ready to exchange words or a cheery wave, and they annoy the more puritanical local OCD obsessives who disparage the drinking, the untidiness of the little stables and the animal turds, a rebelliousness which I perhaps admire most of all. They have perhaps achieved that wisdom of years which focuses on what is really important in life.

It wasn't until yesterday, sitting in quiet companionship over a beer down at the pub, chuckling at comments thrown out with the expert comic timing that develops amongst drinking buddies, that it occurred to me. In a real-world mirror of the crib outside the church, we had the elements of the nativity amongst us; in the sky above, the twinkling GPS satellite guiding the way, on the hills shepherds were watching the sheep, and the three wise men, between beers, felt the warm breath of the goats in their byre. All we lack is a pregnant virgin. But this is Austria, and I have come to be surprised by nothing, and we have two days to go.

With all my sincere best wishes to every one of you, I'm signing off now for a few days. Have a wonderful Christmas, all!

Radders  

23 comments:

Angus said...

Happy Christmas Raedwald and to all your blog regulars.

Grist said...

Happy Christmass to you Radders and the same to everyone who reads the Blog. Wishing you health and happiness one and all.

Poisonedchalice said...

And a very merry Christmas to you Radders, and to all who inhabit this august blog of yours.

Anonymous said...

Jingle Bells old chap, I hope Santa is still able to find you!

DAD said...

Here in France all houses have been numbered. My 350 year old cottage bears the wonderful number "3". As there are only three houses in this hamlet it seems a little OTT, but the Fire Brigade can now find us - at least that was the excuse for all the activity of numbering.

Merry Christmas to you all. I enjoy reading all your writings and hope to continue to do so in 2020.

Wildgoose said...

I wonder what your postie would make of an address not too far from me: "No. 1, Yorkshire".

Yes, that really is the address.

Merry Christmas All!

Span Ows said...

Merry Christmas Raedwald. best wishes to you and all your readers, those that comment showing an amazing wealth, depth and breadth of knowledge and experience, as do you; and writing well about a variety of things. Long may it continue.

Prawn Sandwich said...

Merry Christmas Radders and many thanks for your informed pieces which really belong in The Spectator sandwiched between High Life and Low life. You can think of a suitable title for your notes from an Austrian village.

Dave_G said...


Here in rural Scotland all surrounding properties are 'named' and can hardly be spelled let alone pronounced. It's a daily chore to advise delivery drivers of whose house is where.... my pronunciation (being an Englishman in Scotland) is appalling.

That said, I've received mail from 'doon sooth' addressed to 'The Curry Shop, Argyll' so kudos to Royal Mail......

Best wishes for the season Radders and thanks for all the thoughtful posts in 2019.

JPM said...

A pint of the finest ale of Merrie England to all.

Thud said...

After the recent political events I'm feeling rather warm and fuzzy this xmas so compliments of the season to all here.

Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas to everybody !

Don Cox

Sackerson said...

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

From the homeland of the Angelcynn:

Myrige Cristes M├Žsse Raedwald.

Steve

david morris said...

Very many thanks for your very readable & interesting blog.

I do hope that you (and all other readers) enjoy a peaceful Christmas

& let's leave 2020 to itself (for the time being)...

Scrobs. said...

Happy Christmas, Raeders!

Your posts are still the first one I read before the online rags!

May they long continue!

terence patrick hewett said...

A Happy Christmas to all: especially to those in Islington and Hampstead as they tuck into their festive fruitcake and gammon.

Chromatistes said...

A merry Christmas, Radders, and to the regulars at this site.

Billy Marlene said...

Another great year in this company.

Enjoy your brief rest, Radders, and may the roof above you never fall in, and those gathered beneath it never fall out.

DeeDee99 said...

Lovely post Raedwald; really enjoyed it.

Merry Christmas One and All. Here's to 2020 ......

selsey.steve said...

Happy Christmas Raedwald from a long-time reader and never a contributor. The best address on a delivered letter that I know was one which was to -
"MHFI,
PHQ,
HK."
It had been sent from England to Hong Kong. The Post Office in HK knew that PHQ was the Police Headquarters, the girls in the mail office knew that the MFI was the Mad F*cking Irishman in CID HQ. The letter got to him 4 days after being posted!
Happy Christmas and a very happy new year.

IcyPurplepants said...

Merry Christmas, Raedwald and all.

As with Michael above, this is the first blog I read each morning over breakfast, with a return later in the day to catch up with the comments...

Keep up the good work, one and all, and have a happy and healthy new year!

MotoGP Jacke said...

A nice post just before the Christmas!