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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

31st January 2017 Vienna, Austria

Things from Vienna? Or Viennese things?

The clock is slightly fake.  Its large face, with a hint of what I believe may be 1930s or 1950s design, displays not only hour, minute and second hands, but also – mostly – the correct time.

Take it off the wall, however, and you will see that the original electric mechanism has been replaced by a quartz device.  The second hand is newer than the other two.

Despite this inauthenticity, I treasure my wall-clock, which I bought, inoperative, at the Naschmarkt flea market in Vienna during my tour here from 1984 to 1987.  I took it to a clock factory in Vienna who told me that the electrical mechanism could not be repaired but that they could put on a quartz one – and a second hand – for 50 schillings (around €3).

Since then the clock, complete with fragile glass case, has miraculously survived travels from Vienna to London to Moscow to London to Berlin to Sevenoaks to Kyiv to Istanbul and, now, back to Vienna.

Not all my Viennese possessions have survived.  My framed black and white portrait of HM the Queen, rescued from the attic of the old British Embassy in the Reisnerstrasse in 1987, was smashed en route to Moscow in 1992.  The front forks of my Steyr Waffenrad, bought in Vienna in 1985, were terminally bent in transit from Moscow to London in 1995.

People differ in their attachment to material objects.  Some love to acquire new things; others hoard old stuff; others like to minimise all possessions.  Personally, I find that having a few familiar objects around me gives me pleasure and comfort as I move from place to place.

So I have been pleased to rediscover, on my return to Vienna in 2016, several items which I acquired during my previous tour here.

Three liqueur glasses again came from the Vienna flea market.  Too tiny for anything other than symbolic after-dinner digestifs, and suitable only for people who do not mind drinking from chipped non-standard vessels, they come out only occasionally.

A “Robox” blotter, inscribed with what looks like the trade mark “bene”, also from the Naschmarkt.  This object, useful to me as I use daily one of my father’s “Pelikan” fountain pens, has sat on my desk for over 30 years.  I treasure it for both function and design.

Wooden “in” and “out” trays, also from the attic of the old Embassy in the Reisnerstrasse, from which the British Embassy moved in 1989 into its present abode in the Jaurèsgasse.  The trays have lost function as information has fled paper for computers, the first of which we acquired in the Reisnerstrasse in 1986.

I enjoy having the unemployed trays on my desk, their dovetail joints and brass screws evocative of a past era of craftsmanship.  Turn one over and they are revealed to be the work of Cresswell Brothers Ltd, manufactured (like me) in 1958 with a code (FTR 12LM) and stamped with an “ER” (for “Elizabeth Regina”) under a crown.  Traces remain of a green felt covering, (anyone know where I can get them recovered?) as well as old stickers, including “Britain in Vienna 1986” and Klagenfurt airport.

I’d welcome your thoughts on the relative merits of owning old things; acquiring new ones; and owning nothing.  I’m also interested in the extent to which something I acquired in Vienna in the ‘80s can be described as “Viennese” or whether it is simply “from Vienna”; and what defines that.

In the coming weeks I shall be putting out on Twitter (@leighturnerFCO) and Instagram (leighturnerFCO) pictures of some of my 1980s Viennese bits and pieces (in German: Krimkram), with the hashtag #viennamemories.  Do sign up!

1 comment on “Things from Vienna? Or Viennese things?

  1. As always an interesting read. I have various commemorative mugs here with me in Austria: silver jubilee 1977, coronation of king george VI in 1937 and silver jubilee of George V and Queen Mary from 1935!!!

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About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.