Thursday, October 30, 2008

Badger takes a break

This is Muffin in the morning sun in my study upstairs. She is taking a break from her busy schedule - and so am I. Back soon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The cats have never vomited into my coat pocket

Sometimes when I am on my hands and knees dealing with the kitty litter I reflect on the fact that I used to be a director of a merchant bank and have a staff of 120. Now I have two cats who are much more trouble than my staff ever were. Well that's not quite true - at least Muffin and Bill are not drug-crazed psychopaths masquerading as currency traders - and neither of them has ever vomited into my coat pocket.

I have told the cats that Cate will be back tomorrow and they are very excited. Muffin has borrowed my crayons and is making a Welcome Home poster and Bill is crocheting a new door mat.

I have booked a hotel in Salzburg for the weekend and we will head off on Friday evening. I would like it to be Friday afternoon but inevitably there will be a crisis in Ouagadougou or some such similar place and Cate will be held up. So we will leave late and hammer down the A-whatever in the thickening fog in a 60 tonne leviathan hoping that nothing substantial gets in our way.

We are supposed to be in a boutique hotel in the middle of Salzburg and the website makes it look very attractive indeed. However, I am not good at picking hotels so will be a bit restless until I actually see it.

The crushed look that Cate gives me when she sees the rooms I have chosen always depresses me for the weekend. She always makes it worse by saying 'never mind - we are only here for two nights and I can go to the Apotheke and get ear plugs and a sleep mask'.

However, they are not all bad. On the face of it the medieval nudist camp in Verdun was a very bad choice but the room was fantastic and we had a balcony the size of the Stade de France. The bed was a gigantic four poster that looked like one of those that came down in the middle of the night to suffocate the occupants - so to guard against this we slept with our heads hanging out the side.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Liverpool, cultural capital of Europe

The pictures still have to be hung but this is almost what it is supposed to look like.

I am not sure why but Halloween seems to be big in Wien – not just amongst the American expatriates but all over. There are many shop displays and pumpkins everywhere. I know it was originally a Celtic festival and I am sure someone will enlighten me as to why it is so popular here.

They sure like pumpkins here. Since we arrived in early September the Pizza restaurant has had a sign on the blackboard out the front saying Kurbis Woche (Pumpkin Week). I have some chalk and will soon change this to Kurbis Jahre. They do make an excellent pasta with pumpkin.

I usually have a bag of stuff for Trick or Treaters but won’t bother here – it is unlikely that anyone will be able to find their way to my door. And if they do I will give them a brace of cats for their trouble – because I am sick of the little blighters.

They start prowling around at about 5:30 AM which is far to early for anything at all to be moving – even imaginary mice. Muffin likes to do her ‘Vasco da Muffin’ thing and circumnavigates the bed non stop. Bill snuffles and tries to dig his way into the bed by tearing at the doona.

They do this until I become hysterical and get out of bed to feed them. Then they sit on the bed and lick themselves from top to toe. This is a very noisy process which would bring out murderous tendencies in those who do not have cats.

Well the books are all packed up and are downstairs again – along with 8 boxes of CDs. I looked long and hard at the boxes of CDs and decided they could wait for another time. Most of the music is on the iPods and it will be a gruesome task to go through every box and find out what still needs to be uploaded to iTunes.

There are far too many types of bread in Wien and I am having trouble learning their names. I have found that the bread in the shops is often not above the right label. So when I like the look of something and ask for it by the name on the label I am often told that they don’t have any.

I then have to ask what the thing is that I want to buy and am told it’s name – but cannot retain this sort of information. And as I buy bread by how it looks on the outside – rather than knowing what is on the inside – I get some very strange things indeed. Last week we had some bread with carrots in it – unusual – but quite interesting. I wonder if they make bread with Brussels Sprouts (Kohlsprossen) which is my favourite vegetable. Anything is possible in Wien.

The buying of fruit and vegetables is also difficult. We have had some outstanding fruit and vegies from the markets in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse – but also some of the worst we have tasted. The best strawberries we have tasted so far came from Spar – and they were half the price of the ones at the market.

I saw on TV a documentary entitled ‘Liverpool, cultural capital of Europe’. They are apparently talking about Liverpool in the UK. The documentary is in two parts. I didn’t watch long enough to see if Mozart lived there – or indeed played with the Beatles in the Cavern.

Kris in Vienna, Virginia sent me a hilarious video which I just have to share with you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why is this Polar Bear brown?

This is another Christmas decoration. It is apparently a brown polar bear covered with snow.

Well I dragged all the boxes up and have been through every last one of them. I had to do this as - being the way they are - removalists pack a box so that everything fits - not because it makes sense to put the same sorts of things together. So if they have a space to fill they will go to another shelf - or even another room - to find something that fits that space. So I found history, biography and fiction all together and had quite a bit of sorting to do.

As we didn't bring most of our bookcases with us the majority of boxes will have to go back downstairs - but at least I have labeled them so we now know what is in them. I am not sure why this is important because we may never open most of them again.

I have learned some very valuable lessons about having other people pack your things and will be much better prepared next time.

I found some astonishing things - which I haven't seen for many years. There are some great books I am going to revisit and are in piles in my study. I am not allowed to throw away anything belonging to Cate so she still has a number of boxes to ferret about in one day.

She has arrived safely in Korea but did not have a good flight on Duckair as the beds in business class are not completely flat - and being as tall as she is there are always problems when the beds aren't flat. However, she says that Seoul looks better than it did last time she was there a month or so ago - but I am struggling to think what could have changed in two months. Perhaps last time she went Pyongyang by mistake.

While I was doing the books I listened to the speeches by Barack Obama and John McCain. John says he will balance the budget and achieve victory in Iraq. This is excellent news because both these things have been worrying the bejesus out of me for some time now.

The other good news for John is that Al Qaeda has endorsed him for President - on the basis that he will be good for their recruiting drive. No - I am not making this up. John didn't mention this in his speech but he had a lot of ground to cover.

I did manage to damage my back again so am going to lie down. You are getting a truncated version of the Blog today and may miss out tomorrow.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Do the words change in books?

Daylight Saving ended today so Cate told me yesterday that I had to put the clocks forward one hour. This didn’t sound quite right so I checked the International Herald Tribune – my only reliable source of knowledge apart from Cate’s assistant – and then put the clocks back an hour. This ensured that she caught the plane to Germany on time – but of course it was late so she made the flight to Korea with only 2 minutes to spare.

It was apparently Austrian National Day today but we went to the Museum and on our way didn’t see any sign of excitement or festivities - although the #1 Tram had flowers on it – but it might have been its birthday. There is no mention of the occasion on the online Austrian newspapers. These Austrians are pretty laid back and it may be that they don’t celebrate in public.

There are some strange stores in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse (and I guess in other places) called Eduscho and Tchibo that sell clothing and coffee. You can go and have coffee, buy coffee and also buy clothing. It doesn’t make any sense to me – and haven’t seen that anywhere else but I am sure someone will explain it to me sooner or later. It is probably no stranger than the Hoodland Video and Tanning store we saw in Oregon a year or so ago.

There is also a very strange little store in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse called Minerva and sells mainly light globes. It is ancient – and is no more than 3 metres wide and five metres deep. It is run by a woman who sits in the back and reads newspapers and probably has a really nice time. She seems to have no customers at all – apart from me. I ask her for bits and pieces that she doesn’t have on the basis that I will do anything I can to avoid going to Bauhaus. She always looks for me ( I need bits and pieces for down lights in the kitchen) but has not so far produced anything I can use.

We did go to a Herren Mode store to buy some gloves for me. They didn’t have gloves but we did buy a coat and pullover as it is starting to get cool. We encountered the least interested sales assistant I have found so far (and there have been a lot) who really didn’t care whether or not we bought anything – or indeed self-combusted on the floor of the store. But we are accustomed to this and took it in our stride. We have become very self reliant and know that if we want something we need to find it, try it on and then force the sales person to take our money and give us a bag.

Cate has decided that it is time that the cats slept anywhere apart from our bedroom. In Sydney they usually slept in the lounge room or studies – because we locked them out of the bedroom at night. There are many reasons for this – mostly too disgusting to canvass publicly – but Bill and Muffin have been getting very restless and roaming around at night. They make a lot of noise and prowl up and down the bed. They also get up very early and decide that they are starving to death and need to be fed immediately.

But Bill tipped Cate over the edge when he got under the bedclothes and licked her bare back. My ears are still ringing.

I will wait until Cate gets back from Korea – I don’t want her to miss the fun – because when we lock them out they put on quite a performance. It includes scratching at the door, yowling incessantly – and in Bill’s case – hurling himself at the door to try to break it down. Can’t wait.
But it’s worth it because bed at night without cats is absolute bliss.

Cate is away for a few days and I have been tasked to attacked the 52 cartons of books in the store room to see what should be brought up to the apartment. We have great difficulty throwing books away so our collection continues to grow.

A removalist in Sydney asked me if we read any of them again ‘ yes we do ‘ I said.
‘Do any of the words change?’ He asked (flippantly I assume).
‘Well only occasionally I said’ – ‘but the meaning changes because each time you read a book you discover more about it – or the writer – or indeed yourself’.
He seem unconvinced – but was Samoan and probably only read books once like other normal people.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Junior Polar Bear Hunting With Rocket Propelled Grenades Championship

The meat was a success. I am still not quite sure what it was and I overcooked it but it was very nice. The cats were not quite as pleased as we were but managed to force some down. It was much cheaper than the lamb I bought yesterday. There will a reason why lamb is so expensive and it won’t make any sense to me. I come from a country which is swarming with sheep and I have yet to see one in Austria – there are certainly none in Stadtpark.

Come to think of it – I haven’t see a cow either – or any of the other strange animals from which the weird looking meat comes. We saw nothing on the drive to Bratislava or to the Abbey – where are these critters?

Herr Birdstirrer visited me again today and showed me how to get free to air TV in some other parts of the apartment. We have everything attached to the giant screen in the lounge room but sometimes like to watch something just before we go to sleep. Cate also likes to have a TV on in her study while she works at night as its distracts her from the grim reality of life as a Mitarbeiter.

Cate is getting depressed because she is woken each morning by people talking German (Well – it is Austria) but singing in English. Just as in Australia - there are radio stations here that are in a time warp and play almost nothing from this century.

The radio in the car has an LCD screen that tells us the name of the singer and of the song. We though that Autom. Klim was a very popular singer until we worked out what it was. I do like Rosenstolz which seems to be the only German band that my current station plays. I haven’t had time to experiment with the radio as I am usually too busy avoiding collisions but will do this when I can. There may be some local readers who can tell me where to find other music stations.

Weirdly – the people on the radio station conduct interviews with singers and others in English. I guess most listeners to this particular station will have learned English at school so have no problems with it.

My extensive experience has been that there is very little point asking singers about anything in particular because they are usually only occasionally good at one thing – singing – and have very little to add to the overall sum of human knowledge. But then I am a curmudgeon and – like Oscar Wilde – believe that youth is wasted on the young.

As soon as I can work out how to do it I will sign up for the local iTunes so that I can start browsing German music. I will need to cull from my iPod as I currently have 15,000 songs on there and it is getting a bit crowded. We do have a bigger iPod that will take 60,000 songs but Cate uses this when she travels and doesn’t like it being cluttered up with my music.

I forgot to mention that the pickup of rental desks and delivery of new desks went according to plan. The pickup took place as planned at 0800. The delivery from Interio was due between 1000 and 1200 – and took place at 1200. The desks were assembled expeditiously by two fine gentlemen from Slovakia who had clearly done this many times before. They did in two hours what would have taken me days.

Cate has discovered that with glass desks you can see the cords of the computers, printers, scanners and other office equipment. She would like me to think of a way to hide all these cords and is not interested in my initial suggestion of painting the desks black.

I did see fleetingly on TV recently the ‘Junior Carp Fishing Championship’ where one of the contestants was asked how he was going to develop his career. I would have thought that the answer would be ‘catch more carp’ but he twittered on about working to develop his profile. Is there really a career in carp fishing? I will need to investigate this further. Does Sarah Palin know about this?

Perhaps she could develop the ‘Junior Polar Bear Hunting With Rocket Propelled Grenades Championship’.

Tell Anna that when Jeff found out that Reg was a goner he tried to top himself - but has recovered fully.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Someone is stealing Cate's lunch money

W inter is coming.

We were planning to go to Budapest on the weekend. Cate is going to Geneva on Thursday and I was to pick her up on Friday evening at the airport and we would hammer down the autobahn to Budapest where I had booked a very nice hotel.

To prepare for this I downloaded Eastern European maps for our GPS – which does not work too well here. It seems that all the high buildings interfere with the reception so when we start off it takes 10 minutes to get a signal. This means that you really have to start off in the right direction – which we did not do on Sunday when we went to Melk Abbey.

We ended up at Shopping City Sud. How could this be? I think the QM is just like Dobbin – you tell it to giddy up and it plods along the same road it takes every weekend. So I said – no Dobbin – we are finished with SCS – we are never, ever going there again as long as my bony ass points to the ground.

The guidebook says it is 65 kilometres from Wien. At one stage on Sunday we were 104 kilometres from Melk and were heading in the wrong direction. I know we came home the shortest way and it was about 85 kilometres – so the guide book is a bit wobbly.

The new car (if we ever get it) has an inbuilt GPS system which I hope will be a lot better that our portable one.

I am having trouble coming to grips with the fact that it takes four months to get a car delivered – and we are next to the country where they are made. Perhaps someone out there can help me with this.

Annabella has confirmed my thoughts about meat and has described it quite delightfully as ‘Vienna definitely has an eclectic assortment of what I deem as scary meat’. Today I got what I think may be beef for roasting. This is taking place while I am writing my blog. I am not confident but will report on the outcome in due course. The cats have shown no interest in the cooking processes – and this is a bad sign.

On the bright side – since I stopped giving Bill raw meat he has not had any digestive problems at all and most nights – apart from the occasional imaginary mice - are relatively peaceful.

Now Cate also has to go to Korea - leaving Sunday night – so we have postponed Budapest – and the cat sitter. This is a disappointment for the cats as they like Grizelda the cat minder and are getting sick of me being on their case all day every day. It is also a disappointment for Cate who - because of the late booking - has to fly Duckair.

Someone is stealing Cate’s lunch money. Cate gets €4 per day as a lunch allowance - this is a weird Austrian thing and may well be compensation paid by Telekom Austria to all customers just for being the way they are to their users.

When she goes to use the money at the café she discovers that someone else has been using her name/number/voucher/whatever. If this keeps up she will be reduced to a daily semmel and coke like me – but I have suggested she call in the auditors – who can have a look for our car while they are here.

Anyway I have finally got things mostly in order so have now been able to devote some time to once more doing my German lessons. I will soon start formal lessons and hope to make great progress over the next few months. Before we leave Wien I want to able to describe (and perhaps to cook) at least half of the very many different types of dead animals on display in the market.

Tell Anna I have received her latest letter and am having it translated – and it’s bad luck about Reg.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I spend a lot of time staring at meat

This is the helicopter putting the cross back on Stephansdom.
The registration plate went back on the QM today. It is a bit wobbly but I hope it last until we can return the car to the rental company. I imagine that when they get the QM back they will bear her on a gun carriage down Opernring - accompanied by a horse with boots reversed in the stirrups - and bury her with full military honours. I did tell them at the start of this ghastly business that it was too big and that I can’t drive a car with manual transmission. It’s not all my fault – goodness me – you have seen the parking garage.

Austrian motorists and cyclists have an enormous amount of faith in each other. The average motorist seems to always believe that the other car will stop in time. The average cyclist seems to think that the motorists will always see them and will always give way to them. And it seems to work. A couple of motorists have made a miscalculation with the Queen Mary and are still in therapy but by and large people seem to narrowly avoid killing each other most of the time. I have witnessed many near collisions – and lots of tooting and shouting (sometimes at me) but I have yet to see an accident. But it would be wrong to call it and accident in Wien – it would be an ‘on purpose’.

And they park anywhere. On Ungargasse this morning there was a car parked across a corner and sticking out into the street – so that all the traffic had to negotiate around it. It seems almost incomprehensible that a person who was not blind drunk would park a car like that – but in Wien anything is possible.

It used to take me ages to creep up Salesianergasse because the cars are parked on either side – and stick out - and there is so little room. Now it’s a doddle and I sail up there knowing that there is just enough room to get through.

I spend a lot if time staring at meat. There are many things I cannot yet identify by name and – to a significant degree – their appearance does not help me much. I have mastered chicken and pork but beef is a bit trickier because it seems to go under a number of different names and is also often camouflaged.

I am moving slowly and carefully as I don’t want another chicken ass fiasco. And I can’t stand in front of the meat counters in the market with a dictionary – I would look like a bigger goose than I really am – so there is a lot of experimentation. The markets at Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse are always busy so you don’t get much time when you get served. You have to nail it first time or suffer the scorn of the sales assistants.

I was taking the rubbish out. To do this I have to walk outside into Beatrixgasse and 20 metres down past our garage. A couple asked me – in French – if I could give them directions. This was the first time I have been able to tell anybody anything – admittedly in French not German – but it is a start.

We have to start the process of getting our driving licences. I have a long list of instructions from the relocation people – beginning with getting a medical examination. This will be a saga of epic proportions and I will keep you informed of developments. I hope that some of my driving has not been captured on camera or else I have no chance of getting a licence – but may get some time in the slammer instead.

I saw another picture of Sarah Palin with a dead moose. It surely cannot be hard to kill a moose - unless you have to do it with your bare hands. If she becomes VP and misses a moose with her first shot she can call in an air strike.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Have you seen my registration plate?

This is me at Melk Abbey in the stylish Viennese style cap that my children gave to me before I left Australia.

An average day in Am Heumarkt. One of us – I am not saying who as I love her dearly – had parked the Queen Mary very, very close to the back wall yesterday evening after our day out. This morning when I moved the hoist up to get our car there was a terrible grinding, screeching, popping noise as our front registration plate was torn off and dismembered. After I dropped Cate at work I recovered the plate a few levels down.

Imagine that our car has been used in a suicide car bomb attack (and it is beginning to look like that). The people on the scene find the registration plate two blocks away. That’s what ours looks like now. I am definitely not taking this steaming wreck back to the rental company. Here is a photo of the car park so you can see what we are up against.

Then I lost my phone. I knew where it should be – it falls out of my pocket and wriggles down into the bowels of the driver’s seat and stays very quiet while I rage around inside the car looking for it.

I fired up my other Handy (the Australian one) and went hunting. I stood next to the Queen Mary and dialled my number – nothing! The cunning little devil has learned how not to ring when I am looking for it. (It probably learned this from Interio customers).

I eventually outfoxed it – I left a message for myself on the Handy and sat in the car – eventually I got a ‘peep’ indicating that I had a message. After disembowelling the drivers seat I found my Handy and gave it a good talking to. It took two hours to do this .

It was kitty litter changing time and this was a welcome break after the bad start to the day so I went at this with a will and covered most of the apartment and the neighbourhood with kitty litter dust and debris. The cats just can’t wait for new kitty litter and a queue forms at the door as I am loading the new stuff in.

Time to go shopping so I thought I would unload the dishwasher before I went – and found myself standing in a large puddle of water. One of the pipes underneath the sink had chosen that moment in time to let go. I have reduced the stream of water to drips which I can catch in a glass. I know now that if I want this fixed quickly I will have to do it myself so am ferreting through boxes in the basement looking for my plumbers tape. I may have to ask John McCain and Joe the plumber for help. (Update – I found the tape – dismantled the pipes – swathed them in plumbers tape and put them together again – and no leaks).

On Saturday we went to Bratislava but the part we went to was closed for repairs. In fact the part we went to looked like a car bomb had gone of there half an hour before our arrival. There were very few people and there was very little happening. Most of the people we did see looked like entrants in the ‘Who is the oldest person in Bratislava?’ contest. We did visit Tescos and we did have a very nice cup of coffee in the Vienna café. It was also very cheap. I got some nice photos of some buildings and some trams.

I am told there are very lovely parts of Bratislava and we will make an effort to find these next time.

On Sunday we went to Melk Abbey – which is truly astonishing place full of religious artefacts and the odd scrap of bone from the ancients who lived there centuries ago. Those monks sure knew a bit about real estate and got hold of the best spot in the district. It is a truly breathtaking place and one everyone should see. We will certainly be taking our visitors there. When I go to places such as this I almost wish that I had some degree of religiosity about me so that I could savour what the pious obviously enjoy so much.

It is also where I have had the second worst cup of coffee I have ever had. In the gardens there is a building which houses – amongst I am sure many other things – a very small coffee shop. I had what purported to be a Cappuccino but was in fact coarsely ground coal dust sprinkled with warm water. It was so bad I didn’t drink it – and after 4 hours without coffee I will drink almost anything.

#1 on my all time list of bad coffee is the one I had at a gas station in Washington DC a few years ago. It was the same gas station where the Washington Sniper popped one of his victims. I made a note of the date, place and time and can let you know the details if you are planning to go there – but if you buy coffee at a gas station in D.C. you take your chances so This was also supposed to be Cappuccino but had been laced with battery acid and then given a dollop of hazelnut syrup to mask the taste. To this day the smell of hazelnut syrup makes me retch – so if I have to go to Starbucks I carry a brown paper bag with me.

Annabella (a Blog reader) has confirmed that the smoking rules are due to change but she is not optimistic about people observing the rules. I am inclined to agree with her – except that I thought the Parisians would flout the rules that came in this year – and my daughter Melissa (who lives there) says that they seem to have been widely adopted.

I would think that any people who wait for 5 minutes at a red light – with no traffic in sight in either direction - before crossing the road would obey non smoking regulations – but we will see.
For those who are wondering, I smoked for many years and gave up at 11:00 PM on 23 November 1993.

I am pleased to report that I had a highly successful interaction with Billa and successfully concluded my first online shopping expedition. This was delivered on time by two gypsies, complete with bandanas, who were very friendly. They wanted their plastic baskets back so we had to empty my groceries onto the floor – but hell - after my day that was no trouble at all. They refused to tell my fortune but we parted on very good terms and I expect to see them again.

With the benefit of hindsight perhaps I should not have ordered quite as many toilet rolls as I did but the description on the website was difficult to comprehend with my limited German. We will use what we can and when we leave in 2013 we will just share the remaining rolls amongst the neighbours.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time for a paranormal slumber

We have started buying our Christmas decorations. Owly is our first.

There is a store called Bobby’s in Wien sells all sorts of stuff for Auslanders – and apparently has Vegemite. For those who don’t know what Vegemite is – it’s an Australian product that is made out of yeast – it looks (and many say tastes) like axle grease. (it’s a bit like Marmite which they have in the UK – but is much better/worse) Australians spread it on toast and sandwiches. It is a taste acquired at birth and there has not been any recorded instance of an American tasting vegemite and asking for more. So it’s off to Bobby’s next week because we only brought six months supply of Vegemite with us.

While waiting for Interio I turned on the TV to the Paranormal Channel. There I was able to watch ‘A thought provoking montage of images that will relax you into a paranormal slumber’. It would take more than a montage to relax me in respect of Interio. I gave it a good ten minutes but was still very tense so turned it on to nonstop floor fillers – which I think is a reference to dance music rather than to Bill’s vomiting.

I note in passing that there are 15 religious channels and 41 shopping channels – which just about says it all really.

I was really tempted by ‘Bricky’ which is a tool that ensures that it’s almost impossible to lay bricks other than perfectly. The Bricky tools plus the bits and pieces were normally 50 Pounds – reduced to 20 Pounds as a very special offer for the sad sacks who were watching shopping channels at 9:00 in the morning. Casting my eye around the apartment I couldn’t see more than two or three brick laying opportunities – so reluctantly let the opportunity pass.

I inspect the mirror on the back of the bedroom door daily. I now realise that perhaps I may have used too much double-sided tape. The problem is not going to be it falling off as much as getting it off when we have to. Rather than leave a badly damaged door – we may have to take the door with us. I will think of a suitable explanation.

We have discovered that the Viennese use mouse mats on seats instead of cushions. At a restaurant last week and at the Mozart concert we had on our seats – mouse mats. Larger than usual mind you and a little bit thicker – but mouse mats nevertheless. There must be an explanation – we will ask Cate’s assistant Rozalin.

The weather is wonderful in Wien at the moment. According to BBC News it is 13 degrees – and it is sunny. This is perfect weather for us and the city looks lovely. I feel compelled to go and buy something so will think about what this could be (apart from my semmel and coke for lunch).

The dude whose car I crashed into in the car park emerged from the gloom yesterday morning just as I was getting the QM out. He gave me the crocodile look and I was very circumspect in getting out of the garage as quickly as possible. I am actually getting quite good at throwing it around the narrow streets of Landstrasse and may take up rallying if they develop a division for Panzers.

Cate is much more settled now that she has Internet and a Blackberry and has stopped chewing her pillow. She happily beetles away each evening talking to people in Bangkok, Abu Dhabi, Burkina Faso and Minsk and many other places in her far flung empire. Just like the British Empire when it existed – the sun never sets on Cate’s territory and there is always someone out there causing havoc – and who needs to be stopped with a withering burst from Cate’s Blackberry Bold.

OK nearest local restaurant is called Pizzeria Grado – it is just a few metres from our back door – and we go there at least once each week. Then food is very good and relatively cheap – I say relatively because nothing is cheap in Wien.

The only thing we don’t like is the smoking – and in this case it is not helped by the fact that all the staff smoke inside the restaurant. There are four kitchen and service staff and during slow periods they all sit at the same table inside the front door and all smoke. It is an amazing sight for people who come from a country where you cannot smoke inside a restaurant or hotel. Austria seems to be the last bastion of smoking in restaurants in Europe so I hope that the new laws – which I think come in on 1 January next year – start to have some effect.

There are of course the dogs which owners bring to restaurants but as long as they don’t howl or fart (or smoke) we can deal with them.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ich bin ein Wiener shopper

I hurt my back and need to lie flat every now and then to ease the pain. When I do this the cats feel the urge to come and give me shicatsu massage.

I had a victory today and for breakfast bought three Wiener Kipferls on special for €1.98. I paid in brown coins and got rid of quite a few. However I got caught later at the stationery store. I had the correct money – mostly in brown coins – in my hand and the man spotted what I was up to. The cunning devil immediately applied a 3% discount to the transaction and gave me 6 brown coins in the change. So I still have about 13 kilos of them in an umbrella stand near the door and scoop up a handful every time I leave the apartment.

I went back to see Frauline Schnauzer at OAMTC. I was pushing two bikes up towards Schubertring and it didn’t start to rain heavily until I was past the half way point – but nothing was going to stop me from insuring those bikes.

Frauline Schnauzer had the misfortune to be available when I arrived but gave me a wan smile and launched into the transaction. The first part took an immense amount of time – I would not like to try to insure anything larger than a bicycle. We then conducted the bike inspection. I was required to turn them upside down so that she could see if they were girls or boys (they are both boys) and took notes of the numbers tattooed on the bottoms. A great deal more administration followed – after which I was relived of a substantial sum of money and given many documents in German.

You would not believe the collection I have of these now - and one day when I speak German I promise I am going to read them.

Also at the counter was a little old lady who was there when I arrived and was there when I left – and was probably there when they closed. She had brought with her, in a trolley, apparently every document she owned and was intent on showing each and every one of them to Frau Grimm - who was not pleased to be a participant in the process. I don’t know what she was trying to do but she had met her match with Frau Grimm who was displaying great resilience in the face of many and varied aged documents.

I went to Lutz to buy a stand for the TV. This is a glass thingy that fits on top of the TV console and under which you can put (in our case) the Sky box, the UPC TV box, The UPC Internet box and the DVD player.

I found the perfect thing and eventually found a sales assistant having a cigarette out the back and enticed her back into the store. Pointing at what I wanted I indicated that I was keen to purchase it. ‘Eight weeks’ said the sales assistant. ‘Perfect’ I replied.

Clearly stunned by my response, she regrouped and sat at the PC ‘Hmmm……let me see…..ah yes…400 Euro’ she administered the coup de grace with a grin. ‘Excellent price’ I said – ‘I don’t know how they make them so cheaply’.

She realised that she had met her match and that she was dealing with a seasoned Wiener shopper. She immediately punched some keys and said ‘I can do it for you for €349'.
I knew then that I have made it – I have been accepted – I am an Auslander but - as a shopper I am one of you (Sob). She then exchanged pleasantries and told me that they have wrestling in Am Heumarkt in Summer – can’t wait. When the thingy has arrived they will send an SMS to someone (it is unlikely to be me) and it will be available for pickup.

News Flash! Cate has received her new Blackberry Bold. Preliminary indications are that it works but extensive testing is required and is now underway.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

They sigh with their eyes

I have a lot of loose money which I collect and find very difficult to spend. This is because of the pressure that I am under when I get to the checkout and have to come up with the right amount of money in a very short time frame. We have 1c, 2c and 5c Euro coins as well as 10c, 20c, 50c, €1 and €2. So there is a lot of digging to do and I usually crack under the gaze of the person at the checkout.

These people look at me like a crocodile looks at chicken trussed up in front of it. And they sigh with their eyes – I think this is something they learn in shop assistant school in Austria.

Inevitably after a while digging futilely through a mountain of change I thrust a note at the attendant who smirks knowingly – and gives me a bundle more change. I would be better with more practice and want Cate to pretend to be a shop assistant and ask me for money so that I can count it out. She also gives me the crocodile-chicken look when I do this and tells me not to be so stupid.

The only way I can get rid of change is to buy things one at a time - it takes hours to do the shopping this way - or add up the stuff that I have bought and get to the checkout with the right money. So if you see a funny little man counting coins in the corner of the local Spar – that will be me.

I put a full length mirror behind the bedroom door today. Cate has been at me for a while to do this. She says there are many clothes she cannot wear because she cannot see what she looks like. I lay awake at night and thought about this but still don’t get it – it must be a girl thing.
I bought the mirror from Lutz in a remarkably simple transaction. It was the only full length mirror they had that weighed less than a tonne. It has frilly bits around the side but it’s for Cate and I suppose that’s OK – she didn’t complain.

As we can’t put nails or screws into the door I have to fix the mirror to the door using sticky hooks and double-sided tape. This I have done and there and there it hangs. I have warned that cats – who sleep on the bed in that room – that the mirror will let go at a moment of its own choosing and that it will cause an immense racket that will scare the daylights out of them. Bill now watches the mirror closely but Muffin is unconcerned and has adopted a very laissez faire attitude about life in Wien.

I went to OAMTC to join and to insure our bicycles. Having planned carefully I took the receipts for the bicycles – someone had rung them for me and found out what was required. I joined, but to insure the bicycles – the lovely young lady told me – I have to see them. Well – I said – there are some bikes outside just like mine – you know, two wheels, two pedals – perhaps you could look at those.

This elicited a crocodile-chicken look and ended this part of the transaction. I did join and did manage to buy a road atlas for Austria and one for Europe. I will go back tomorrow with the bikes. I have to take them both together so it should be a fun trip.

While I was hanging the mirrors I was wearing my jeans (what else) and no shoes. The jeans were flapping around my feet so I rolled them up to just under my knees. I got almost to OAMTC before I looked down and discovered that my jeans were still rolled up. I am counting the ways I have undertaken ritual self-humiliation in Wien and that is about number 26. (Don’t ask how I put my shoes on and did not notice). Perhaps I should look in the full length mirror before I go out.

There is a bright, shiny new top on Stephansdom. A helicopter dropped it on yesterday while I watched enthralled as I ate my semmel and drank my coke. I thought it might be a Christmas thing but Cate’s assistant – who is the source of almost everything we know – says it’s the original top to the spire which they removed some time ago to be cleaned. I hope they didn’t use my dry cleaner in Salesianergasse or the citizens of Wien will be paying for it for a long time indeed.

Jura started flashing at me so I had to work out what it wanted. The manual runs to 83 pages so it took a while. It turns out it wants to clean itself – but that this is something it wants to share with you. It’s a bit like a child not wanting to bathe on its own. The process takes 15 minutes. It does something and then I do something. e.g. it will whirr and hiss and then I put a jug under the spout to catch water. It will whirr and hiss again and then I put a cleaning tablet into the hopper. After this is all over it stretches, has a cigarette and then goes to sleep.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Annual Wien Motorway Ant Census

I have finally reached the stage where most of our mountain of stuff is in a suitable place in the house – or is out of sight. I have sorted through the masses of paperwork that accumulated during the three months we were without our files and folders and administrative thingies and I have created lots of new files, folders and boxes with labels. This is what I do best.

There is an absolute mountain of stuff in the store room downstairs next to the bicycle room. The bicycle room is called the Haus Allgemein Raum but when John was here (his German is not terrific) he dubbed it the House of the German Kings – which I think is great – and that’s what we call it too.
I shudder to think what we would do if we did not have this space. In fact I wonder where we put all this stuff in our tiny house in Sydney (now I remember – in lots of boxes under the roof). But why did we bring it?
The Nicholas Dattner is shown in the photo.

When we were unpacking we used three boxes – the one we were unpacking, the one we were using for the packing paper, and one that we used to throw unwanted stuff into. In many cases the entire contents of boxes we brought from Sydney went straight into the trash bin. We really should have had a major cleanup before we left Sydney but it is difficult with Cate because she loses focus. Start her on a massive box of prehistoric stuff from her childhood and she will become totally absorbed in her dinosaur book from first grade – and it’s game over.
I on the other had am absolutely ruthless and will throw away anything – useful or not. But I can’t explain why I threw away the cups and saucers from our good dinner set.

This morning - for the first time – we arrived at the garage just before someone else who wanted to get their car out. I had to bring the car down on the hoist to the turntable and – being watched and under pressure – did what anyone else would do under the circumstances – backed into this dude’s car.

He took it very well as – between racking sobs – I explained that I was a complete fool who should not be in charge of a tricycle let alone a 60 tonne monolith and that in any case you could barely see the scratch on the numberplate of his big, black, shiny BMW. He shrugged his shoulders and said that he had heard from Interio that I was a trouble maker and that this was strike two. However, he was going to recommend a good behaviour bond rather than deportation.

I thought I had acquired enough power adaptors so that we could plug our Australian appliances into the European two pin outlets – but not so. These have become the most precious commodity in the apartment. We are getting a nice mix of Australian and European appliances and there are multiple outlet power boards at most power points – but there is always a time when an adaptor must be produced quickly. I now carry one on a chain around my neck so that I am not caught short.

The city was missing again this morning when we got up. A thick blanket of mist (I don’t know what they call it here) had covered the city and we could only see as far as the trees of Stadtpark. It is starting to get cooler – except in the studies upstairs where it is always hot. I have realised that the hot/cold buttons and the thermostat mean absolutely nothing. The air conditioner does exactly what it wants to do based on what it thinks the weather is like outside.
Unfortunately it seems to think that the weather outside is freezing – so is always pumping hot air into the studies.
I have a gigantic fan that I acquired from Saturn (the store not the planet) and this has three settings. Gale, Hurricane and Perfect Storm. On the lowest setting I have to strap myself into my seat and hang onto the desk to stop myself from being blown clear across the apartment into Cate’s study. On the highest setting you would find me naked in Bratislava.

In a massive leap of faith I have arranged for our rental desks and chairs to be collected on Friday morning. This is on the basis that Interio is supposed to deliver our new desks and chairs on the same day. I live in Wien, I am an optimist.

We went to SCS on yet another (and we hope final) shopping expedition on Saturday and planned on being home early so that we could go to the markets in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse. We hopped on to the A2 and after about 10 minutes encountered a massive traffic jam. It took us nearly 90 minutes to get to the cause. Three lanes had been channelled into one and we finally saw why. There were a number of workmen in brightly coloured jackets smoking and staring at the road. Other workmen had clipboards and were making notes. Clearly we had stumbled upon the Annual Wien Motorway Ant Census. So we (and many thousands of others) didn’t make it to where they were going on Saturday – but we can take comfort in the knowledge that the authorities now know how many ants are using the motorway at peak hour on Saturday.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What is older than John McCain?

Oh Happy Day! Cate has an Internet connection – and it works – and she can access her VPN or whatever it is that she uses to look at work emails and suchlike stuff. She is very happy tonight and has stopped prowling around the house howling. I expect that she now will revert to her normal lifestyle and work until midnight every night.
The photo is that of Muffy showing how gorgeous she is on white.

We went to Karlskirche to hear Mozart’s Requiem. (History lesson follows) In 1713, the Black Plague swept Vienna, and Emperor Charles VI made a pledge that if the plague abated he would build a church dedicated to his namesake, St. Charles Borromeo. St. Charles was a 16th-century Italian bishop famous for ministering to Milanese plague victims. The emperor's prayer was answered, and construction on the church began in 1715. This therefore is a thank you to a merciful God for killing only half the citizens of Wien.

The performance was by the Salzburger Konzertgesellschaft and they were surprisingly good. We had thought this might be a touristy thing as the tickets were only €44 each (about the price of Melange and Torte) but were pleased by the performance – in what is a truly stunning location.
The organisation was typically Austrian and – having bought and paid for our tickets online – we had to line up to collect our tickets with those people who were paying on the night.

To get there and back (it’s 10 minutes walk) we went past the Russian Monument which the grateful Viennese built to thank the Russians for liberating them (Joke!). It is gigantic and hard to hide but the Viennese have done their best by building a colossal fountain in front of it. At night the Russian monument is the only part of Wien that is not lit up – and we are talking here about people who would spotlight a hedgehog on a stick. At night it is absolutely invisible – which is just the way they like it.

We discovered belatedly that what was causing Bill’s discomfort was fresh meat. Apparently Austrian meat does not agree with him. Now that we don’t give him fresh meat he has settled down and now goes for days at a time with out throwing up. Of course all he wants to eat is fresh meat so for most of very day he follows me about the apartment yowling (like Cate without an internet connection). Eventually we both collapse emotionally drained.

I note that we can keep deer in our freezer for up to six months and this is a useful facility. I haven’t come across any deer yet but I will certainly know what to do with them. They will however have to be very small indeed.

We went cycling in the Prater which is Wien’s largest amusement park. The park had been reserved for imperial hunts but in 1766 Joseph II decreed that der Prater should be open to everyone. Now it is a very popular spot indeed and we were their with what seemed to be all of Wien. As you cannot shop on Sundays – cycling, walking and roller blading are very popular. There is a big wheel there that was erected in 1897 for the World Exhibition but we were not tempted. I’m not going on any piece of equipment that is older than John McCain.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Are snow tires woolly?

When I emerge from the nest each day and stagger out to the kitchen I am greeted by the awesome vista of the city of Wien and Stephansdom laid our before me. After I have my first cup of coffee (the Jura is very well thanks for asking) I can actually open my eyes and see the sights. I usually go out on to the terrace and lean on the rail looking at the truly spectacular sight. It’s not Sydney – but then all I could see out of our lounge room in Sydney was the next door neighbour’s wall. Here is a picture of Cate enjoying one of her first breakfasts on the terrace.
Bad news about the car. The latest is that it will not be ready until December – but who really knows. Perhaps the little elves in the Mercedes factory in Germany are on strike and refuse to fit the headlight washers on the basis that a car could not possible need headlight washers or – more likely – a Wien hire car company placed a large order and our black Mercedes got swept up in this. We will certainly not be conspicuous in our car if we eventually get it as at least 50% of all cars in Wien are black Mercedes.

All this is also very bad news for the Queen Mary which is taking a real pasting on the passenger side (i.e. the one next to the wall in the garage). I was driving into the garage when two suits arrived to extricate a large BMW and in my haste to get out of their way I drove the QM slightly too close to the hoist wall (it was a matter of only millimetres). Anyway – the sound of metal and plastic grinding against metal prompted them to leave in a hurry so I was able to sit in the car on my own with my head in my hands for a while. I really hope I don’t have to take the car back to Budget and have to suffer the humiliation of someone cataloguing all the damage.

The good news is that the QM already has snow tires fitted. Cate examined them and said that she couldn’t see what the difference was between normal tires and a snow tires – she was expecting woolly fringes to keep them warm. I just can’t wait to get out onto those icy roads in a car that weighs 60 tonnes and has the turning circle of a bulk grain carrier.

Nadia Poponova the cleaner started. She is from the Ukraine and is very nice. Cate is not too keen on her because she is young, thin and blonde but – being a man – I look past these things for more compelling attributes. She is young and strong – it was a pleasure to watch her work. She was here for four hours and worked like a drover’s dog – but didn’t finish it all – ‘it is a big apartment - isn’t it’ she said. I paid her above award wages plus a bag of Krapfens so I am confident that she will be back.

The new vacuum cleaner I bought in Australia before leaving is a Wertheim which is probably German (and is probably made in China). It is as well made as any other vacuum cleaner I have had so I have had to binds the parts together with duct tape. To keep the handle to the steel wand I have drilled holes and insert a large screw to stop it from falling apart. It makes a horrendous noise which sounds like an animal being dismembered in a wind tunnel. This frightens the Krapfens out of the cats so they have to be locked in a room where the vacuum cleaner is not.

I took one of Cate’s suits in for dry cleaning and there was a misunderstanding. Enschuldigung - I said – I do not want to send the suit on a one week all expenses paid trip to Bavaria – I just want to have it dry cleaned. I reeled out the store wondering why Cate was busting her buns doing what she is doing. You could be a dry cleaner for a month in Wien and then retire to drink melanges and eat Krapfens all day long.

We now have Sky TV – which is just the same as any other TV – and combined with our UPC we now have something like 270 channels. It has 29 Music Channels - some of them devoted to specific genres so if I want to watch 80s music all day I can. I have no plans to do this but it is nice to know that I have the option.

We are working through the channels alphabetically and are confident that before we leave Wien we may find something that we actually want to watch. It thrills me here – as it did in Sydney – that monkeys like me actually pay vast sums of money to acquire cable and satellite TV that bombards us with advertisements. It’s brilliant – they show us advertisements – and we pay them! They must laugh themselves sick.

The State Department has visited again. We would just like to say how sorry we are for any gratuitous and offensive remarks that may have been made about the President of the United States and the Republican candidates for the Presidency. We promise that these will cease immediately after election day in November 2008.
I note with some horror that President Bush has said that he has a lot more to do before he leaves office. What more could he possibly do? I am going to build a fallout shelter in the basement.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I have negotiated weekends off under the Auslanderbeschaftigungsgesetz so will in future be posting only Monday to Friday Wien time. Complaints may be addressed to the Arbeiterkammer Wien, 1040 Wien Prinz-Eugen-Strasse 20-22. Letters of congratulations and expressions of profound relief can be sent to the same address.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Who would eat a chicken's ass?

Thanks to Anna Possum for her lovely letter and the pics. God bless her! I could be on Mars for all the messages I get from back home. I have 4 blog followers - 1 cat, 1 dog and (potentially) 2 people. Apart from Quolly - who is of course as mad as a cut snake - I get no emails from anyone.

I am having all sorts of computer problems. I bought a new PC six months ago and it has two hard drives each of 500 Gb (that’s a Terabyte) and 4 Gigs of RAM. It also has fire wire, Bluetooth and every other thing – but as I was on cable broadband in Sydney it does not have a wireless card – and here I have wireless.

So I have bought a USB Wireless Adaptor which is now fighting tooth and nail with every other piece of hardware and software in my PC. The end result is that I have a very long blue cable running from the modem in the lounge room to my office upstairs. Herr Birdstirrer from UPC has visited me on a couple of occasions but we have not been able to resolve the problem. I am spending a lot of time installing and uninstalling software and I imagine that this will go on for some time.

With the thought in mind that we could not make holes in the walls I bought lots of sticky wall hangers that can be removed without trace. I bought a whole bunch in Sydney and another pile in Bauhaus last week. I suspected that they could not be used on painted walls and proved this today. I did a test run with a kitchen wall clock attached to a painted wall. No matter how much you vacuum up itty bitty pieces of glass you always miss a bit that you find later when you are in bare feet. Sometimes they hide and don’t turn up until weeks later. I think we are going to have to use normal picture hangers and make good the walls before we leave. I will get a plasterer to fix the hole in the wall where the clock was hanging.

I went to Mariahilferstrasse today to go to Saturn which sells electrical and electronic goods. The U-Bahn is a truly excellent system – as good as the Metro in Paris and we have a station within two minutes walk. I can negotiate the U-Bahn because there are big maps in the stations and in the trains. It's when I get off the train that I have problems. I truly have no sense of direction and cannot even read a street directory. If I had been with Burke and Wills they would have perished before reaching Parramatta.

My trip to Saturn was – as expected – a total failure. Bags for a Wertheim Vacuum cleaner? Don’t sell that brand. A telephone with 4 handsets – possible but I couldn’t find anyone to help me. Electrical adaptors so that I can use Australian appliances in Wien – they had them but they are the size of bricks and are designed to be used in every country in the world including Burkina Faso.

Why 4 handsets? Because I am sure that Cate is going to keep giving our number to people and we only have one telephone outlet – at the UPC box - and every other phone has to be connected wirelessly. We need one in the lounge room – one in the bedroom and one in each study.

Yesterday I went to the Billa gourmet store in Ringstrassen Galerien and bought what I though were chicken breasts – I knew they were chicken something. On closer inspection at home they turned out to be another part of the chicken entirely – and I am still not sure what. There was a lot of bone and very little meat. Who would buy this? (apart from me of course). It may well have been the chicken’s ass. Who would eat chicken asses?

Hey bro – I had some great chicken asses last night – absolutely dee-licious
Do you like those chicken asses bro?
Love em –– all bone and no meat - can’t get enough – sometimes if they run out of asses I buy whole chickens and throw away everything except the ass
Well perhaps they should grow chickens with just asses for ass aficionados like you?
That’s a silly idea bro – how would they eat?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Happy Birthday Kerry-Ann

Happy birthday to Kerry-Ann. I missed her birthday (I told her Mr Telekom slept in and the phones weren’t working) so rang her two days late.

The furniture arrived at 1.30 on Monday and I just this moment finished the last of it. I have suffered a significant loss of blood and am wearing a number of bandaids. There was a minor glitch when I put the doors upside down on three cabinets – trust Cate to spot a minor detail like this. Fortunately I had to disassemble only one of them completely to rectify this problem. It took me some time to spot the deliberate error made on the plans of the chest of drawers. There are two rows of drawers and the drawer numbers on the plan are reversed – but only on the top row – cunning eh! This would annihilate people with logical minds but I have the brain of a pixie so twigged in about – oh – three hours. They must laugh themselves sick in Aalborg or wherever they make this stuff.

One thing that bothers me is that when you count the bits at the start to make sure they are all there – they are usually all there. When I finally come to use the last screw (F) – there is no final screw (F). Where do they go. Why do they always give you the exact number? Because they know that you will drop one and it will fall down a crack between the floor and the wall and you will spend 40 minutes with a paper clip trying to dig it out. I always have some little round wooden rods left over – I have quite a collection of these now.

I am not making the next bit up. Another pair of Cate’s shoes blew to pieces on Saturday when we were going downtown to Interio. She left with a reasonable pair of shoes – and arrived home in shoes that had no heels and no soles. It was a bit embarrassing in Interio and I walked behind her to pick up some of the larger chunks of stuff that fell off. I have taken photos and will post these as soon as a can find the thingy I need to get photos from the camera to the computer. I have a slot on the computer but very small creatures moved in during the trip to Wien and I am reluctant to evict them because without a Meldezettel they will get the (F) screw in Wien. Update - see the evidence!

My reference to President George Bush yesterday prompted a visit to my blog by the US State Department so I am no doubt on a watch list and will be arrested next time I go to the USA. If Sarah is President by then she will probably dress me as a moose and shoot me.

Great news. Austria Telekom’s grandmother has died and a computer glitch wiped the entire TA internet waiting list going back to 1998. Mr Telekom is coming on Monday to connect Cate. I think it is one of the earlier steam driven models but nevertheless it will be a major step forward. Yes this is the connection that Cate was hoping to have installed on 3 September. I have arranged catering and have ordered a jumping castle for the kids so if you are in Am Heumarkt please join in the fun.

And her Blackberry? I hear you ask. We we are trying to get an earlier model configured so that Cate can use it but this has so far been beyond the resources of the local people. We are arranging to have it sent to some techies at MIT to see if they can help out - and we may call in NASA.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Think Bauhaus

I tried to make my first internet banking payment but messed up the authorisation code and my account was blocked. I rang the telephone helpline number and the man said that I had to talk to my Account Manager at my branch. She did not answer her phone and I was put through to someone else who also said that I would have to speak to my Account Manager. She was nowhere to be found so I sent an email and waited. It could have been worse -

‘Hello my account is blocked through my own stupidity and I need to have it unblocked
Ah – to do that you have to speak to your Account Manager
I have tried that but she is not answering her telephone
One moment I will check for you……yes she is on holidays in Majorca at the moment and will return in three weeks.
But my account is blocked – I cannot make payments – I cannot get money from my account. Can’t you help me?
No it must be your Account Manager . You will find that Austria has a very generous social security system but unfortunately it is run by Chello so there will be a little wait for payments. While you are waiting to see them you should put your hat at your feet and you may get enough coins to buy a salami semmel and a coke’.

One of the features about living on the top floor of an old building is that unless you want to walk up the stairs you have to catch a very small and very slow elevator. Ours has mirrors on three sides and this enables you to examine yourself carefully from a number of angles during the trip - which takes 35 seconds.

Today I noticed on the way up that I had quite a large dollop of dried ice cream on the end of my nose.

I also discovered that my efforts to cut my hair (I have a #1) were somewhat less than effective. I cut my own hair – actually it’s not really hair anymore – more like stubble - and normally do it weekly but with all the excitement I had left it untended for three weeks. I left a furry stripe down one side of the back of my head. A bit like an off centre half Mohawk. The type that a drug crazed hairdresser would do in purple while listening to Jimi Hendrix.

I had time to think about the people with whom I had interacted during my shopping trip – let me see……there was the woman in the funny little electrical shop in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse, the woman who served me in Anker (salami semmel and a coke), the man from Niedermeyer, the cashier at Billa and lastly the cashier at Libro.

I know you are thinking ‘why did he have dried ice cream on his nose’. Simple – after the furniture was delivered I was hot and thirsty and hungry. There were no biscuits left so I fell on the ice cream like a wolf on lambs. It was very hard and I had to chip it with a spoon and clearly lost control of some stray pieces. I cannot explain why I did not notice until some hours later that there was ice cream on the end of my nose.

People occasionally leave messages on my Handy. Well I think they do because my phone beeps and shouts at me in German. I have no idea how to retrieve messages because I have not been able to access my message bank. All the instructions are in German (well it is Austria) and its not an intuitive process. Also I keep running out of time to see the nice man in Drei. One day when I have mastered the German language I will retrieve my messages to see if they are of some historical value and perhaps should be given to the museum.

The weather in Wien at the moment is perfect for me – cool and sunny. Not that I get out much as I am currently assembling the Great Pyramid of Giza and I think there are some stones missing. Did you know that the Egyptians invented the Allen key? Also I have to line the burial chamber up with Orion and my skylight isn’t big enough to get good view.

I am getting very good at bagging my stuff at the checkout. It’s more substance than style and needs work but I have reached the stage where I can clear the deck and have a gap of maybe one or two seconds before the next customer’s stuff arrives. Focus is important – snag something on the bag handle and it’s all over. I don’t use the Billa free bags - which are just big enough to hold a packet of cigarettes - but many people do. Billa in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse sometimes hides these just for sport.

Another disappointing trip to Bauhaus today. Imagine you are an unmarried mother living in New Orleans just after Katrina hit – and you are black. You ask George Bush for assistance – think Bauhaus!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Which one is the washing machine?

The Nicholas Dattner table slid into the apartment without a murmur. The moving guys trundled it in and dumped it – undid their straps and moved on. Was that heavy? I enquired. Not really said hulk #1 – it was OK. Hulk #2 grunted and did 20 push ups. For those who don't know about Nicholas Dattner - he makes very serious tables indeed. Ours is made from a single piece of timber from an old wool store in Australia. The timber is more than 100 years old. The table weighs more than 150 kilos.

These guys are amazing – this is a seriously heavy table – and they did not raise a sweat bringing it up 5 flights of stairs.

After the removalists leave the real fun starts. You find the boxes marked ‘study’ in the bedroom and boxes marked ‘kitchen’ in the lounge room. The really, really heavy ones are always in the wrong place. My most important acquisition before leaving Sydney was to buy a portable trolley so that I could move boxes around without lifting. Of course I had to find the trolley first and it was in one of the last boxes we opened on the day.

You find that the man who packed the bookshelves in Sydney has not packed the brackets with the shelves. He has put these somewhere else in another box – where they probably fitted quite neatly. This box is in the storage room downstairs hidden under one of 60 cartons of books. The Sydney man has carefully packed up the TV, DVD Player and Bose system but has put all the cords into one box and it takes an hour to sort them out. The man in Sydney managed to remove the non-removable shades on our lounge room lamp. I am not sure how he did this – but they sure as hell are not going to go back on and the lamp has to be banished to the trash room.

The container in which the goods were shipped must have been very hot because some of our things melted. Bits and pieces with rubbery parts have been welded together – the office shredder now looks like an installation at the Tate Modern.

Some snails survived the trip attached to the watering can. These must be Republican snails to survive temperatures that can melt rubber. We have put them on the terrace to see how they go in the cold. It could be a chilly winter for all Republicans.

During Bills vomiting marathon he managed to fairly well cover Cate’s frog pyjamas - which are her favourites and at home she is rarely out of them. Knowing that she would need clean PJs for the night she ventured into what passes for the laundry and – after staring at the machinery for a while – asked me ‘which one is the washing machine?’ Well we have been here only a month and to her credit we were in our previous house for 3 years before she had to ask me how to use the dishwasher. But there is no need for her to know these things – that is why she keeps me in considerable luxury in a penthouse apartment in Wien – and I am not complaining.

I have negotiated the right to employ a cleaner using my allowance. Now I don’t actually get an allowance but Cate has no idea what anything costs so I steal what I need from the housekeeping money. This manages to keep me in fine style indeed and I have enough to buy a salami semmel and a coke from Anker for lunch each day and a Sacher Torte on religious feast days.

I went to Bauhaus to attempt to buy some adaptors for our power points. I took one with me so that the helpful shop assistants would know exactly what I wanted. They wear shirts which say something like ‘I am here to help you’ on the back of them. I am not sure who this message is for but it certainly excluded me. The first man waved me in the general direction of Bratislava and grunted ‘Elektro’. The second man also grunted this word – or something similar but pointed towards Prague. The third man said all I needed to know ‘nein’. I was lucky to escape without a beating.

The furniture from Interio was finally delivered at 1.30 PM. It was due at 10:00 AM and at 10:30 a man rang me and asked me what time I would like it delivered. I made no attempt at either humour or sarcasm as I already have a yellow card from Interio and don't want to get a red card and miss the next buying season. We settled on 1:00 and he was almost on time.

When you are buying furniture and the salesperson says ‘I can give you a reduced rate for delivery if you help the delivery man when he arrives’ the default answer should be no. In a moment of insanity last month we said yes. Party time arrived today when I met the man at the truck and he opened this van which was stuffed full of boxes. You are a busy man today I joked – which ones are mine. All of them he said.

There were 28 boxes – some very heavy indeed – and 8 of which did not fit into the elevator because they were too tall. I had to carry these suckers up four flights of stairs while delivery man did the other 20 boxes. It would have been six flights from the front entrance but I have learned my lesson and deliveries now come to the back door.

While panting, sweating and heaving up the stairs I tried really hard to remember what we had bought. Perhaps in a drunken stupor we had bought the full sized replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza together with the matching sphinxes.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

But if it happens again...........

The unpacking process was/is so hideous that I can’t talk about it yet. I will address this subject when the wounds are not so raw.

Commencing the first weekend we were here we have bought oodles of stuff from Interio which is store that seems to have lots of things that we like the look of. Nothing has ever been delivered because nothing is ever in stock – bits have to come from far flung places and be assembled by the little elves in the Vienna Woods before delivery can take place. The elves work on Austrian time and have generous leave conditions.

We thought that there might be a frequent buyer scheme and that you had to reach a certain threshold of purchases before they would deliver anything - so we kept buying and buying thinking that one day we will reach the magic number and our ship will come in. This weekend we thought we had lucked in and heard that some bits and pieces were to be delivered. We were not sure what they were because we saw them a while ago and had forgotten completely what we had bought – and indeed why we had bought them.

Delivery was to take place between 9 and 10 (Austrian time) so at 10.45 I called Interio to enquire after the fate of our delivery. After negotiating my way past the first person who answered the telephone I was put on hold. This consisted of what could have been someone saying Herzlich Wilkommen with their head in a bucket of water, followed by a few bars of a Mozart concerto played backwards at high speed and then what could have been the sounds of a Kodiak Bear having its toes cut off one by one with secateurs – it was hard to tell. This went on for some time – but at least they don’t give you this rubbish about valuing your call – they don’t want your call and would prefer that you go and stick your head up a dead bear’s bum rather than bother them with the trivialities of your miserable furniture-less life.

I explained to the delivery person (#1) the nature of my predicament and after some more bear torturing was informed that the delivery man had been to the house and had rung the doorbell and called us but that no one answered so he had gone home. I thought about this for a minute and then concluded that as it was 11.00 he probably did mean home. The poor man had started at 8.00 AM and would have been exhausted.

I explained that neither the doorbell or my phone had rung - and negotiated my way around the delivery guy’s disbelief. I was stunned to receive another delivery slot on Monday – I had expected late 2009. Clearly another customer had died suddenly that morning and I had drawn their slot out of a hat.

15 minutes later I had a call from delivery man #2 saying that they had tried to deliver my furniture but that I had not answered my door or phone. After patiently explaining that neither doorbell or phone had rung I told delivery guy #2 that I had already spoken to delivery guy #1and had arranged a delivery for Monday. This elicited a stunned silence followed by lengthy questioning about the nature of the earlier conversation and confirmation of every detail. Delivery guy #2 had obviously not received the SMS about the tragic customer death and my subsequent and very fortunate lottery win.

15 minutes later delivery guy #2 called again (on the phone that the delivery man – now home munching his lunch – could not call). He said that because I had not answered my door or Handy I was to be charged another €40 for the delivery. This was in effect a fine for not answering a doorbell and a telephone that did not ring.

I had been in Austria a month and one day so I know how these things work. I expressed surprise at the leniency being shown to me for my heinous crime and suggested that they were being far to generous. Perhaps a fine of 500 Euros might be more appropriate I suggested – after all – I said – if you let me get away with this there will be a whole raft of people out there not answering doorbells that don’t ring.

That will not be necessary – he informed me. We are being lenient because you are a first offender– but if this happens again……………

Well I can just imagine what this will mean. Probably a good beating followed by a stint in the stocks at Stephansplatz. I will certainly keep my ears peeled on Monday because the chances of another Interio customer dying at short notice are very remote indeed. These hardy souls hang on with their last breath and just will not expire until that sofa – ordered by Grandpa Gunter in 1974 – comes through the door. Fortunately the 30 year fashion cycle means that Interio clients are always at the cutting edge of home fashion.

I couldn’t get Bill’s usual meat so ended up by buying something the origin of which I was unable to determine. I am pretty sure it was from a four footed animal but I have no idea which part.
Bill responded very badly and vomited continuously for 9 hours – commencing at 12:00 AM. It took us a while to work out what it was but we reckoned eventually that it must been the meat because every time Bill had some – which he did after vomiting up the previous lot – he would vomit again. It’s hard to make rational decisions at 2:00 AM but after I threw the meat away Bill continued to vomit - but mainly concentrated on trying to bring up his stomach lining.
Bill is not really a class vomiter and is not a match for some of the cats we have had in the past. Lettuce for example was world class and could consistently projectile vomit more than 2 metres. Her record without wind assistance but from a sideboard was 3.2 metres (onto a woollen rug so there was no slide advantage – she could have squeezed another 4 centimetres from a polished floor). If they had cat Olympics Lettuce would have been certain medallist.

Cats don’t want to vomit where they have already vomited and like to have fresh spots. These were getting hard to find by 8:00 and Bill was starting to fade and lose focus. Fatigue and dehydration were taking their toll and - as I was following him around with a mop and bucket - I was able to nudge him in the direction of some places he had missed.

He eventually collapsed on a pile of cardboard cartons and emerged refreshed much later in the day ready for his dinner.

His food of choice is now corn fed turkey breast cut into very small pieces. The illustration seems to indicate that the farmer and his wife feed the turkeys by hand and then they all sit around the fire at night but I’m sure this doesn’t happen. You’d need a lounge room the size of ours to do that.

Cate had finally discovered why she has not received her new Blackberry Bold. The model is not yet available in Austria. Why would they order a model that is not available I hear you ask. because it is the only one that works in Korea. But if I don’t have it……..

We are still trying to do a work around for Cate’s home internet connection. We had a top consultant here for 6 hours over two days but even he was unable to crack the code Cate’s company uses to prevent their most senior employees from accessing emails or the internet.
The fallback position is the landline but this relies on the good graces and commitment of Austria Telecom and we have heard that he is going on leave for a month to visit his sick grandmother in Graz.

This could be a real bummer as last time he did this he turned off the phones in Vienna and took the key with him. Anyway it’s hard not to wish that the old girl would croak so that he can start whittling down the waiting list. We have heard that we have a slot for 2011 but are hoping for another Black Death to move us up (we had our shots is Sydney before we left). We also hear that the Telco man moonlights as the delivery man for Interio.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Frank Sartor, Nathan Rees, Michel Costa

During her visit Melissa raised the terrifying spectre of cheese spiders. Spiders of any sort give me a rash but Melissa has assured me that the French (who else) make cheese in which spiders live. The spiders apparently help the cheese mature and when you need to eat the cheese you just brush the spiders off. This is such a horrifying scenario that I have not yet been able to contemplate it without hyperventilating.

However – apart from the fact that you can actually buy this cheese (would you like spiders with that?) it raised the very serious question of what happens to the spiders after they are brushed off the cheese. I have nightmares about vast armies of displaced cheese spiders marching through the streets of Paris. Where do they go? What do they eat? Do they just march off to the nearest cheese shop and join their mates?. How do they know where the nearest cheese shops are – do they have GPS?

Now I am not a spider fan but I think it is not really fair to let the spiders make the bloody cheese then give them the heave ho when the job is done. It would not happen in my case of course because they would not be any survivors – and the cheese would taste of Mortein – but someone needs to do something. I will write to the French SPCS to see what type of rehabilitation programs are in place.

I am afraid to ask what else the French might use to make cheese.

This morning a German man named Florian bounded out of the next door apartment while we were waiting for the elevator and said that he had been living in the apartment for four months with his wife.

Why haven’t we seen him in the month we have been here? I hear you ask. Well he has been away for two weeks and travels a lot. And the people we saw in his apartment? His wife and her friend(s).

Did we buy all this? I am not sure and we are not prepared to let go of the skinner-meat hook hypothesis at this stage – although I admit it does look a bit shaky.

The rental furniture has been collected by the two guys who delivered it in September. Their English and my German has deteriorated since we last me a month ago so we had to conduct most of the discussion with grunts and signs. They kept trying to pack the stuff we have bought during the last month so I spent most of the day stopping them from doing this.

After an hour or so their boss arrived and they had an animated conversation for an hour or so about (I think) the various ways of wrapping lamps in plastic. This got quite heated for a while and I think the boss wanted cross-hatching while the worker wanted to stick with standard one-wrap-overlap. I think the boss is right because it gives better support. I understand that it goes to goes to arbitration next month.

In the middle of this the female Postie and the assistant to the packer’s boss (also female) arrived and they had to interrupt their discussion while I signed for a parcel from David. There were six of us standing cheek by jowl - surrounded by mountains of furniture - while all this business was conducted and then the bemused Postie moved on.

Did you get that? – the Postie delivered my mail to the sixth floor. In Sydney the Postie writes out a ‘you weren’t home’ card – flicks it into the neighbours garden and moves on.

The parcel from David contained DVDs so I slobbered over them for a while and imagined what it would be like to watch a TV show in English. There was, however, no vegemite!

My Site meter tells me that someone from the Premier’s department in NSW visited my blog. The vast intelligence network of the NSW government must have swung into action when their search bots picked up my references to Morris and Joe. I guess they should do this stuff well – because they suck at running NSW. I expect to be arrested and give suitable punishment (Minister for Health?) when I return to NSW. I will give them some more work – Frank Sartor, Nathan Rees, Michael Costa.

Furniture arrived today – the day was more ghastly than I could ever have imagined. Will report soon. However – we now have vegemite!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How do you pronounce Brno?

Leaping Lizards these Austrians are amazing. I discovered yesterday how the letter boxes work in the apartment building. As you can imagine, there are hordes of these boxes and I had assumed that the Postie had a key that fitted each one. Not so. The front doors of the letter boxes are all connected to a series of bigger doors. The Postie has a key to the bigger doors and just opens up the whole lot in one go – leaving all these inviting openings into which can be stuffed the mountains of advertising material which we receive each day.

The printing presses in Austria (or more probably Slovakia) must go nonstop as each and every day I get a large pile of brochures about every conceivable household article (with the exception of roller blades for macacque monkeys).

I got up at 4:00 AM (Shriek!) to take Melissa and Henri to the Flughafen to catch a flight on Struggle Air back to Paris. This was not a happy experience especially as Tom Tom insisted on the way home on more than one occasion that I drive into the Donau canal. This blog is being written before dawn – which let me tell you is a seriously ghastly experience and one which is unlikely to be repeated.

There is something seriously wrong with the Austrian education system. They call the Danube the Donau – who ever heard of the Blue Donau Waltz. Not only that – not content with one Donau they built another one next to it and called it the Donau canal - and they are both stuffed full of water. People in Australia would kill for one river with water let alone two.

It is by the way a very big river indeed and apparently goes for a very long way – Melissa says there are parts of it in Budapest. But then she has been telling us for days about Bratislava and this morning confessed that she had not really been there and was probably talking about Brno.(What kind of a word is that!)

Thank goodness I took no notice of her when she was explaining the key geographical features and scenic wonders of Bratislava. All I know about it is what taxi drivers have told me - there is a large Tesco and it is much cheaper than Vienna. But then I imagine a corner shop on the moon would be cheaper than Vienna.

We have our eye on a bronze devil in shop on Opernring. He is fantastic - with a spiky tail sort of winding around his neck and with the face of a gargoyle. We believe that he would be perfect on a stand on our larger terrace overlooking the Ingeborg Bachmann courtyard below us. We are confident that after the initial shock the neighbours will grow to love him as well. The sticking point is the asking price of € 914 which is a bit stiff even for such a fine piece of sculpture – so we are thinking about it.

As a consequence of being rammed at high speed by my spouse some small but not particularly vital pieces fell off my Stevens bike yesterday and I had to make some running repairs with my tool kit. This consists of, in no particular order, a pair of scissors, a small hammer, a nail file, some very small screwdrivers, a pair of multigrips, some Allen keys and sticky tape. With this I have achieved quite a lot – but I am looking forward to getting my own stuff very soon. I need a larger hammer for some of the more stubborn stuff.

The telephones I bought don’t work for some very obvious reasons which would be evident after even a cursory glance by the average macacque monkey - so I have to find a work around. We do have one telephone in the lounge room and I figure this will be enough if we don’t give anyone the number. However – Cate has broken the code by giving the number to Will and there is no telling who she might blab to next - so I will need to find a solution.

There is a man coming to try to fix Cate’s internet. We have no confidence at all that this can be achieved but it is one month today since we left Australia and had never imagined that there could be a country anywhere in the world except Australia where you could not get an internet connection within a month. We had not counted on the combined and strenuous efforts of the Austrian Telcos and Cate’s employer. Sol Trujillo is a pussycat compared to these guys. I imagine that I will be reporting in a blog soon that the attempt has failed and that Cate has started chewing Betel nuts again.