Dear Readers, for the past fifteen years (roughly) we have headed to Obergurgl in the Austrian Alps for two weeks at the beginning of July. It has always been such a pleasure, not just because of the clean air and the mountain vistas, but because the short season means that the flower meadows are extraordinarily diverse in plants and in invertebrates.However, this year what with all the Covid-19 shenanigans, I will be staying here in East Finchley instead. This is not such a hardship: when we do go away, I always have the sense that, when we come back, the decline into autumn is already advanced, even though it’s only mid July. This year, I’ll be able to experience the changes first hand, and indeed they’ve already started – there is a hazy, lazy feeling to most of the birds, though there is a male sparrow who is heavily into provisioning for his family (I am reminded that females prefer males who look after their families, and this little guy is extremely busy, diving in even when the young starlings are at their spikiest.I am wondering, though, what this squirrel is up to. He slinked along the fence as if he was tracking something, but I have no idea what. Every time I looked up he’d freeze, as if playing some version of ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf’.And there are hoverflies everywhere. I think my yellow dress might have attracted them. Certainly, every time I looked up there was a hoverfly a couple of inches from my knee. A more useful attractant, though, has been the meadowsweet which is just coming into flower, and seems to be a magnet for the smaller, less conspicuous members of the family.
And in other good news, my great willowherb, the buds of which have been infested by moth larvae for the past few years, seem to be fine. I’ve pulled a lot of it up to make room for the meadowsweet and some angelica, but I like to keep a bit of it because it’s very popular with all sorts of invertebrates. Plus, how pretty it is!
But anyway, back to Austria. On arrival in Obergurgl (which involves a taxi to Heathrow (or a train to Gatwick), a flight into the Category Four airport at Innsbruck after a bumpy landing between the mountains, a wait at Innsbruck for people on another plane that have been delayed, and an hour and forty minute drive along switch-back roads) we fall into the restaurant at the Hotel Weisenthal and I beg for a Hugo. This is a long drink made with prosecco (or fizzy water) (or a combination of both), elderflower cordial, mint and lime, and this is when I know that the holiday has started. I note that some people also add gin, but this makes it all a bit too alcoholic and heavy for my tastes.The Hugo was apparently only invented in 2005 in the Italian town of Naturno by bartender Roland Gruber, but from there it spread through South Tyrol at a rate of knots, as an alternative to the Spritz (white wine and soda) which was all the rage back when i first visited in the 1990’s. Originally it included lemon balm syrup, but this was replaced with elderflower because this is much more readily available. Apparently Herr Gruber initally thought of calling it the ‘Otto’, but he decided that ‘Hugo’ was a bit more international.The first few nights in Obergurgl are already likely to involve a lot of wakefulness and strange dreams – I think it takes a while to acclimatise, even though the altitude is only 2000 metres. I certainly experience breathlessness at the beginning of the holiday, which is always a cue to take things easy at first. A Hugo seems to help just a little with the insomnia (that’s my excuse anyway). At least we won’t be having these problems in East Finchley (though I could probably simulate them by walking briskly up and down the stairs until I feel light-headed). I think I’ll just stick to the Hugo.Prost!