One of the pleasures of reading Simon Winder, apart from his lightly worn, wit-woven erudition, is the passing comments regarding his failings and inadequacies, real or perceived. Here, he visits the Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt and finds himself falling far short of the apparent bracing capability and health of the cadet showing him round.

And in the end quite desperate to get back to the oxygen levels his weakling form can handle.  I loved that closing remark on the ‘world of casual ineptitude’.

Just walking down the darkened corridor with him set my mind racing about this parallel world of order, actual skills, professionalism, of uniforms, technical training, hierarchy. We came up to a group of cadets who were on duty, all of whom radiated level-headed competence, physical fitness and pride in appearance, and live on a different planet from the one defined by general weak tittering, the oxygen levels of which I was more used to …


As my escort marched me out he casually threw at another cadet a great, medieval-looking bunch of keys which must have weighed the same as a piece of armour. The fellow cadet caught it in one hand without looking up. I felt a surge of panic at being surround by so much tough competence and eagerly waited to be allowed back into the world of casual ineptitude. 

For other examples of Winder’s wry-ting, enjoy our celebration of his earlier book, Germania.


Source: Simon Winder, Danubia: A personal history of Habsburg Europe (London: Picador, 2013), pp. 39-40

Photo credit: Austrian National Library at unsplash


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