Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas and have a cup of Civet Poo!

I am showing you some pictures from the Internet of our apartment in St. Petersburg. I am showing you these so that when I come back covered in rat bites and bat guano you will know that it was not all my fault and that I was misled once again by Mr. Photoshop.

I don’t know who the guy in the photos is but apparently he comes with the apartment – because he is in a number of the shots – he may live there - but it’s three bedrooms so should be OK – as long as he doesn’t drink too much of our Horseradish Vodka.

I should warn you that the apartment is advertised as having ‘High Speed Internet’. I imagine that ’High Speed’ in Russia does not necessarily mean “High Speed’ as we know it. I have been there before in places much more accessible than St. Petersburg so it is entirely possible that my Blog will vanish without trace for a week.

Indeed if we are accosted by the “rotten policeman” we may also vanish. However I am taking with me the statement I received from my superannuation fund on Wednesday. This will demonstrate to them that there may be a number of reasons to kidnap me – but money isn’t one of them.

They didn’t lose as much money this year as they did last year, or indeed the year before that – but they did lose money.

It won’t be long before I get a letter saying “ we have lost all the money you have sent us so far – would you like to send us some more so we can try again?” The answer to which will be “not really - I have decided to manage my own funds by throwing €500 off the Terrace every morning as soon as I wake up - this will be more cost effective that having you invest it.”

I am contemplating getting them a subscription to the Economist so that they can keep in touch with what’s happening in the world of finance – and may send them a copy of the book “How to Make Money on the Stock Market”

And incidentally – I forgot to turn off ‘Data Roaming’ on my iPhone while we were in Turkey and it cost me €200 for 5 days – and that’s without making any calls or using the Internet. I was also caught last time we were in Turkey – that one cost me more than €200. I don’t really know what Data Roaming does - but Holy Snapping Turtles it is expensive. This is a real trap so I have turned it off permanently.

As this is my last Blog before Christmas I would just like to let those of you who did not send cards know that I will not forget you. I am thinking up suitable punishment for all of you and it may include public humiliation.

This is a picture of a Civet. People collect the beans from the Poo of the Civet and roast them. It is the most expensive coffee in the world. I mean this is not the most attractive animal I have ever seen - and I am not really sure I would want to eat things that it defecates.

A conversation along the following lines will take place in our kitchen on Christmas Day.

“Where’s the Desiccated Bok Choy?
The Desiccated Bok Choy – where is it?
I have no idea what you’re talking about
Don’t tell me you didn’t get any Desiccated Bok Choy!
Why would I get Desiccated Bok Choy – I don’t even know what it is.
But it’s in the recipe – we must have it
No it’s not (pointing) no mention of Desiccated Bok Choy there
No it’s not in THAT recipe - but it’s something I always put in this dish
You’ve never cooked this dish before
No – but I’ve thought about it and just knew that Desiccated Bok Choy would make it perfect
Well there is no Desiccated Bok Choy so you will have to muddle along
Well it just won’t taste the same
The same as what – you’ve never cooked it before
I know – do we still have the Toasted Macaque Monkey Rubbings from 1995
No but we have the Grilled Curlewis Forearms from 2001

Merry Christmas - or whatever you do - and I will talk to you from St Petersburg (maybe).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Banana flavoured Cinnamon Chips Mmmm!

Wienfluss Stadtpark

I think the Snow Kitty Litter people are using some smaller, grittier stuff this year and it clogs up my boots. I am not really complaining because it does stop me from falling over and killing myself but it is really gritty and crunchy and is making a terrible mess of the entrance foyer.

We are actually leaving our boots outside our front door this year because they are in such a state when we get home. Frau Helgersnizten our building lady has been out sweeping and mopping the elevator and the stairs. There is a particularly gritty path between the door and Japan Studio where men go to compose Haiku with young ladies.

Tuesday was the first day of ‘Mad Screaming Panic Christmas Food Shopping Time’ .

This lasts for 3.5 days, commencing at dawn on Tuesday and finishing at midday on Thursday – Christmas Eve – when workmen go through Austria nailing all the shop doors shut and shooting any shoppers left on the streets.

During this period there are many critical tasks I need to perform. These include Goose collection (update Rozalin has done this – there is no stopping that girl!), grocery and vegetable buying and assorted tasks which have not been thought of yet and will not be until just before midday on Thursday. I will have to run the gauntlet and hope I don’t get picked off.

As I am the cook during the year - Cate is cooking Christmas Dinner and is doing what she did last year – Goose. Last year was the first time we had eaten Goose and it was wonderful. There are no Geese in Stadtpark so we don’t feel so guilty.

The menu includes Date and Red Wine Sauce, Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Rosemary Spiked Cabbage and Calvados Glazed Apples.

The Goose recipes is one of Gordon Ramsay’s. You know him – he is the world’s most unpleasant chef. I tried to watch his TV show once but I had to grit my ears so tightly I couldn’t hear anything.

Cate’s recipes always include at least one impossible ingredient (which is always critical). This will be something like ‘Ethiopian Honey Glazed Lemon Pips’. These will be almost impossible to find and – when found – will be eye-poppingly expensive.

They will be so expensive because Selassie’s Honey Glazed Lemon Pips are ‘hand selected and rolled (by virgins) in the finest Ethiopian Honey. They are then sun dried for 5 years, being turned daily with eyebrow tweezers, before being individually wrapped in silver paper bearing the motif of the former Emperor. The bees used for the Honey are descendants of the former Emperor’s Bee Hives’.

When I finally find these damn things I will take them home and in the final recipe Cate will use 6 out of a jar of 600. The rest will then linger forever in the back of the kitchen cupboard which is full of things like ‘Grilled Curlewis Forearms’ and ‘Toasted Macaque Monkey Rubbings’ – the sorts of things that have been essential because some chef had a tub of these things under the stove and threw some into some bizarre concoction he was inventing.

I know how these things work. To make a living celebrity chefs have to invent new recipes for their books and TV shows. Well – there are not really any new recipes and haven’t been for some time so they have to be really creative. (foam was created for this purpose).

So after coming up with something like ‘Chocolate Coated Pork Crackling with Fricasseed Bat Ears and Duck Feet Foam’ the chef will decide that he needs something to give him an edge.

Ratting around in his kitchen cupboard he will find the ‘Banana flavoured Cinnamon chips’ which he bought (while drunk) in the spice market in Istanbul in 1996 – and has never used. He will throw a handful of these in and cause complete panic when the recipe is published in another excruciating Christmas recipe book and given to people all over the world.

Meanwhile in Istanbul, Mehmet Mustafa, the entrepreneur who invented this concoction, who has hitherto sold only two jars of Banana flavoured Cinnamon chips per annum – usually to his mother – will sell the remaining jars in an instant and will be inundated with orders.

Thinking his ship has come in he will immediately buy the entire Cinnamon crop in Turkey and make 100,000 jars – 99,600 of which he will have left 25 years later when he dies bankrupt – leaving these as his only useful possession. His children – unable to cope with the sight of these damn jars in his bedroom - will bury them with him.

Luckily one of his daughters will marry a wealthy Cinnamon farmer and will be able to support the family.

I have made a list – actually a spreadsheet – so that I at least try to get everything that is needed.

This has everything we need together with the precise amount required. I am working through it and ticking things off as we go. I am confident that the only errors and omissions will be minor ones and can be solved with things that I can scrounge from the back of the kitchen cupboard.

I am going to St. Petersburg. Rozalin managed to extract the Visa from the Russian Embassy and it is liftoff for Saturday morning (at – I regret to say 5:00 AM).

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Ducks gave Cate the cold shoulder

You will be delighted to learn that I got my new scarves on Saturday – three of them in fact. We wandered into Steffl in Kärntnerstrasse and saw a whole bunch of them – and they were on sale. I don’t understand that because hasn’t winter just started? But there is a lot of Christmassy stuff on sale as well – and the crowds seem to be down on last year.

Anyway I selected two delicious scarves and proudly showed them to Cate. She patted me on the arm, said ‘they’re lovely darling’, put them back on the pile and then chose some others which she thought would be better – and she would know – I wear only jeans and black T-Shirts so am no judge of anything useful.

For many years now I have not been allowed to go clothes shopping unaccompanied as I will most certainly buy something entirely unsuitable. On the very rare occasions I do buy something solo I always keep the receipt and tell the sales assistant that I will be back the next day for a refund after my wife has seen it – at which they laugh loudly at the time – but not so loudly when I appear again.

Anyway – Cate was so delighted with her two choices that she bought another. Two are very long and woolly and one is a bit less woolly – but I am well pleased with them all.

One of them is by Hugo Boss (I just don’t know where he gets the time) so I could wear it with my underpants – not that I wear my Hugo Boss underpants – what man is going to wear underpants that cost €29 – I mean – what if something happened to them – I would never forgive myself.

I don’t quite know what the future does hold for my Hugo Boss underpants – I could have them bronzed – or framed like they do these days with football jerseys.

On Saturday night we walked down to the Christkindlmarkt at the Rathaus to show Margaret how we live in Europe while she is sweltering in Australia, fighting bushfires, beating off poisonous snakes and sinking cold beers.

Margaret had to walk very gingerly as she does not have any walking boots and instead has a pair of Australian RM Williams boots which look terrific and are good for walking around in paddocks - but are absolutely useless for walking in snow. So she walked like she had an Igel in her knickers and it took us ages to get there - but was well worth the trip.

As I was wrapped up in one of my new scarves – and was kitted out with proper walking boots – I was entirely and deliciously comfortable and fairly oblivious to anything around me.

Margaret had an Erdbeer Punsch and was not as enthusiastic about as we had hoped she would be – but it is an acquired taste so we did not expect too much.

Afterwards we walked to Café Central and Cate ate a Duck. I reminded her of this as we walked back through Stadtpark and the Ducks fell silent as we approached.

They can tell you know. On the occasions I have eaten Duck before walking through Stadtpark I have definitely been given the cold shoulder (or whatever it is that Ducks have where their shoulders would be if they had them).

We discovered that the Restaurant next door to us in Am Heumarkt, the StadtPark Bräu takes Sodexho vouchers. These are the vouchers that Cate gets each day to buy her lunch but as she lives on coffee, mineral water and Balistos she gets to save most of her vouchers and we have to find restaurants that take them.

Balistos are good because while that have no nutritional value they send a shot of sugar straight to where it is needed most. An unfortunate side effect is that each Balisto contains about a million calories.

In StadtPark Bräu we had quite the largest Wiener Schnitzels we had ever seen and Cate and I argued about whether pork or veal is used for the ‘traditional’ Wiener Schnitzel. She said Pork and I am sure she is right because they are very fond of Schweinfleisch here – although I do prefer Kalb.

Sissi just loves the snow and as soon as the Terrace door is opened she is out there like a shot burrowing into the mounds of snow that have been collected into large piles (drifts?) by the wind. She would stay there for a hours so we have to use various subterfuges to entice her back into the apartment before we all freeze to death.

I decided that as I am getting close to being able to edit moving pictures I would take some video of Sissi playing in the snow. So I set up the camera and then opened the door to the small Terrace – where there were quite large snow piles. She dived into these and was having a wonderful time when she realised that this was the Terrace without the net. By an amazing feat of athleticism I managed to prevent an escape onto the snow roofs of Wien. Last time she did that she ended up in the Tierschutzhaus – but at least now she is tagged and collared.

And we have found a pair of boots for Margaret and she is now as sure-footed as a Mountain Goat and is leaping and bounding all over Vienna.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dance and show us your miracles!

The Duck Pond in Stadtpark is icing over and it's getting crowded.

The snow pelted down on Saturday and on Sunday it was -11°.

Cate and I went to Stadtpark on Sunday and took lots of photos of snow and Ducks.

It’s not like the snow in William’s land – but it’s good for us. Check his Blog for ‘White Weather’ at


Many moons ago I promised you moving pictures of Ducks on the Blog. I had not forgotten this but simply did not make the time to learn how to move videos from the camera to my PC and then edit them.

The manual for my Sony Handycam has only 141 pages but they are very small and closely typed and as I bought the model that does everything - it is a bit complicated. When I say does everything I mean of course everything except transferring the video to the PC in a usable form.

Now if I was designing one of these cameras the end result may not be pretty (It would probably look like – and be the size of - a toaster) but there would be a higher level of functionality than exists in this particular model. It has a touch screen with many, many software menus – none of which says ‘press here to transfer your video in a usable form to your PC’.

And there was no use asking the PC – it could not even find the files in the camera.

I did manage to get the video files into the PC by a more direct method but then could not get either of my editing programs to do anything with it at all – not even play it – even my steam driven Windows Media Player can do that.

This had me completely bamboozled for some time until I unpacked the dishwasher and ate three McTavish Pure Butter Almond Shortbread biscuits. This restored the circulation to my brain and the penny dropped. I realised that the Sony video files were called mt2s – not something like avi, or mpeg.

It took me very little time after that to discover that Sony and other video camera manufacturers had invented an entirely new format for the current generations of video cameras. Of course they had!

They decided that we did not have enough – or the old ones had boring names – or something. Why do something simple when you have all these software designers sitting around just dying to bugger up the lives of video users all over the world.

I was then able to find and buy online a software program to convert mt2s files to something that my video editing software programs can read. I achieved this eventually.

The next task was of course learn how to use the video editing software. This is proving to be somewhat of a greater obstacle and I may be forced to look at the instruction manual (not that they have these any more – they have ‘help’ buttons and you ask a series of questions to find out what you need to know. I’m afraid that if you don’t ask the right questions you get nowhere).

Merisi commented on the Blog with Sissi’s photo:

“I wanted to tell you that your picture here, with that little lonely cat looking out longingly over Vienna's roofs, is heartbreakingly beautiful, a lone soul looking out for company”

Oh Purleese Merisi. This is the least lonely cat in Wien. Sissi lives with her mother Monika and her Auntie Muffin (who admittedly is a bit of a grouch – especially when Sissi leaps on her from some height). She has a wonderful time here and could not want for anything.

What she really wants to do – and this is what the picture shows – is cut through that damn net and get amongst the chimneys.

Today she helped me put the lights on the Christmas tree and caught me completely unawares. I straightened up and stretched after being down on hands and knees and she leapt from the lounge – a distance of 2 metres and fasted herself to my chest.

Cate was at the Gym at the time but with a bit of diligence and a wooden spoon I managed to detach Sissi without damaging her.

Dr Mordor says there won’t be too many scars and I can pretend I got them dueling.

The Blessed Mary MacKillop is to be made a Saint by the Catholic Church. They have done this on the basis of recognising her second miracle. Someone with incurable cancer prayed to Mary and was cured. This is the second miracle that Mary has performed since she died.

I don’t wish to be a complete curmudgeon – but Mary died in 1909. Two miracles in 100 years doesn’t seem to me to merit a Sainthood – even if you do them when you are dead - and could indeed be deemed to be positively pedestrian.

I mean if you can in fact perform miracles why not splash it about a bit – it’s not as though we don’t need any – I mean where was she when George Bush was President? - but I am probably not the best judge of these types of things - not really being able to grip the concept tightly.

And apparently no points are deducted for all the thousands of people who were dying, prayed to Mary and died anyway. Is there only one column in the performance appraisal (tick for miracle – leave blank for no miracle). It's only the dying, pray, live ones who are counted.

I’m afraid that if Saint Mary was on the new show ‘Dance and Show Us Your Miracles’ she would go out in the first round.

Still – it’s Australia’s first Saint and I shouldn’t knock it. I mean – we have only been at Christianity for a little more than 200 years so give us time.

The existing inhabitants when we arrived had been there for more than 40,000 years and had managed without Christianity – but what would they know.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Don't skip in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse

You should check out this site by Sonja and Ivan.

They hurtle around the planet non-stop looking for Bookstores with English books – and writing about it. They were recently in Wien and wrote about their visits here.


I will ask them around next time they come to Wien – Sonja is cute – Ivan looks a bit doubtful but he may be Russian and I am a bit wary of them at the moment.

Now – about the heating……. I find that by switching the system off and on a few times I can generate some heat from the Klima. Of course to do this I have to get out of bed and run from the bedroom upstairs in sub-zero temperatures and stand there shivering while turning the switches off and on. I am sure it was not meant to be this way but has been basically like this since we arrived and numerous visits and masses of cardboard have not fixed the problem.

When the heating does get going it all goes up to the studies and roosts there. We actually have to open the windows upstairs to let the hot air out. These are very minor problems in comparison with the state of the world generally so we will cope.

I see Copenhagen is coming along nicely – the Republicans have effectively killed any prospect of meaningful health care reform, Iran is committed to making nuclear weapons, Australia is being burned to a crisp by bushfires, Sarah Palin is still banging on about President Obama’s birth certificate oh – and apparently Sandra Bullock has had her best year ever. Terrific Stuff!

I saw a movie with Sandra Bullock in it once. It was a scarifying experience and since then I have really only watched small furry creatures being eaten by large furry creatures on Discovery Channel.

Margaret arrives tomorrow from Australia where in some parts it is currently 40° (I finally found that damn ° symbol) so she will probably be suffering from hypothermia by the time I get her home and sit her in front of the fire with a hot toddy.

Tonight we will take her to see the city lights and then get her some Glühwein (taking care to return the mug for €2).

I have brought the Christmas Tree lights up from the basement and with Margaret’s help may attempt to attach them to the tree – or what’s left of it. Sissi is quite merciless and could get a job as a Lumberjack.

The Duck Pond in Stadtpark is freezing rapidly and there is now a large patch of ice. I asked a man (who was pulling twigs out of the pond) if all the Ducks stayed there in winter and he assured me that they did. He also confirmed that people fed them all the time.

He said quite a bit more but as it was entirely in German – and he spoke no English at all - and he spoke very quickly - I had no idea what he was saying. I should add that it wouldn’t matter much if he was speaking slowly – I just can’t pick up conversation that well as I keep getting stuck on words thinking ‘I know that word!’ and by the time I realise what it was I am standing alone.

Perhaps Maalie may care to tell me why the Ducks don’t go somewhere warmer in Winter and instead end up paddling around in a tiny pond surrounded by ice? I mean – are they Republicans?

The locals probably hate it bit I just love walking around in the snow. It was snowing heavily today and – after a trip to Simmering for Kitty Litter – I walked down to the butcher and then up Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse.

I may have skipped briefly but the locals frown on frivolity. It was just delicious and as I had my Siberian Bear Hunter’s hat on I was quite warm. (Can’t hear a damn thing mind you because it has gigantic woolly flaps that cover my ears so I have to watch out for trams).

I am still hanging out for decent scarf and I am hoping it might happen this weekend. There is simply no more room in the apartment for more candles so Cate might move on to something else.

This (snow) is a completely different experience for someone from the Antipodes and I can’t imagine ever getting tired of it. The locals don’t look too pleased but I guess if you were born here and freeze your butt off every winter the view is not the same as mine.

I hasten to add that it does snow in parts of Australia – mainly around the border of New South Wales and Victoria where there are some decent ski fields – but it rarely happens in the cities.

And incidentally – it turns out that the Butcher (he of the Horse Meat Incident) is Turkish and has a range of Turkish spices including Kirmizi Biberi which I need to make a dish next week. Can’t wait!

Have you ever been reading a Blog and clicked on the ‘Next Blog’ button. I did this for a while last night and discovered some of the scariest things I have ever seen. I am sure some people write things without understanding that someone else may read it.

Perhaps they think it is a diary and is their own little secret. Apparently Google knows a lot about everyone and instead of random Blogs – when you click ‘Next Blog’ you are supposed to get something in your area on interest.

The first 30 or so were about dogs. I finally got out of that loop and moved into quantum physics – then the bible (yeah right!) - then Nutters and finally on to complete Nutters.

I am writing to Mr. Google to tell him to update his records. And where do some of these people get their followers?

Leaping Lizards! I saw one Blog – which was updated about twice monthly – and was clearly written when the person was drunk and had their head in a bucket of honey. This Blog had 93 followers. WTF?

I will add this to the very long list of things that just do not make sense at all. It is a bloody long list!

And it's happy birthday for yesterday to Annabella's first and only Blog entry. And where, dear lady, are those photos of Stan and Ollie for which I have been begging you for months?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

China, Iran, Myanmar, Australia

Snow over Wien

The man came to fix the heating. He fiddled about upstairs for a while and came down ready to leave saying ‘I have fixed it – goodbye’.

To which I said ‘Aber’ (but) (‘Aber’ is one of my favourite German words).

‘Aber’ I said ‘Aber die Klima funkionert nicht!’

‘Was?’ he said ‘Klima?’

‘Ja’ I said and demonstrated to him that icy blasts were coming out of the heating system. I explained to him that the heating had not worked for days and I had really hoped that he was here to fix it.

He was totally perplexed by this revised scenario and after an immense amount of discussion we deduced that he had come to fix the hot water – which in fact was not working when he arrived – even though frostbite man had fixed it two days ago.

He set about this revised task with renewed vigour and after a large amount of banging and crashing announced triumphantly that the widgets in some of the units were ‘Kaput!’

He got some of the units working after a fashion and it is now quite balmy – all things considered. The cats are sitting under a beach umbrella drinking banana Daiquiris. The Inuit are panic stricken because their Igloo is dripping all over the floor.

(Update: This morning the hot water is working but the heating is not. This certainly represents progress).

He has ordered new widgets and when they arrive he will call me to arrange to come and fix them. Or his son will if by then he has retired – but he is a young man – I have hope.

You may recall that in January this year some men came to look at the heating which wasn’t working. I quote from my Blog of 28 January 2009

“The men came to fix the air-conditioning and spent six hours here. After much farnarkling their solution was to cut pieces of cardboard from a number of cardboard cartons and put these pieces of cardboard into each air-conditioning unit. They said that they would get metal pieces made to replace the cardboard and one man spent some time drawing the specifications of these pieces of metal.

The men indicated that they would be back before the end of the century to fit these. This raises a number of questions - for example - if the air-conditioners require cardboard to make them work why was this not fitted in the factory?

The air conditioners are 10 years old. Why has the absence of cardboard not been noticed before now?”

I mention this only because today’s man removed a piece of the cardboard and regarded it with some interest before leaving it aside. He has apparently concluded that this particular part of the system has undertaken a process of self-healing and no longer requires the cardboard.

For the remaining pieces of cardboard I shall hold a first birthday part on 28 January.

I am embarrassed to advise that the Australian government has decided to go ahead to try to censor the Internet. It will now join such enlightened and freedom loving countries as – oh – China and Iran – and there must be some others – Myanmar?

It is such a fundamentally crackpot, unworkable, ill-advised, badly thought out idea that it is not worth discussing. However it is not – as you think – an attack on the freedoms of Internet users.

It is a constructive attempt to reduce the unemployment rate in Australia because when the system is introduced each boy aged more than 8 years of age will require 24 hour guards to prevent them from hacking the software and posting the codes on Twitter.

I predict that one will certainly slip through – due to the laxness of the guards knowing this is only short term employment - and within 24 hours of the system going live it will be effectively dead. If not - I know a number of ways around these types of systems and will publish them on my website!

You can’t get me here Kev! Hang on – is there an extradition treaty with Austria?

Merisi has given me some fabulous gift ideas – and if I was going to get Cate a gift I would have lots of opportunities. But we no longer exchange gifts because we believe that the wonder of waking up with each other Christmas morn (indeed any morn give the amount of Austrian white wine we drink) is in itself a precious gift beyond price.

And yes Jim ‘Belief is unreasonable’ unless you believe that Tony Abbott is a complete Plonker – in which case it is entirely justified.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Napoleon did not have this much trouble!

We have managed to get the temperature in the apartment up to 20 degrees. We have achieved this by running our two little electric heaters non-stop and lighting the fire early. We ran out of wood last night so are tearing up the parquetry floor.

(News Flash - this morning it it back down to 18.5 - we are rubbing the cats together to keep warm).

We are actually getting used to it now and tonight we plan to sleep with the Inuit in their Igloo.

Rozalin is hot on the trail and has harangued the building managers. We expect a repairman today (which does not of course mean that he will arrive). It won’t be the same one we had for the water heater as he suffered from frostbite and lost a couple of fingers.

Rozalin tells me that the water heater and the air conditioning are related – and perhaps this was what frostbite man was trying to tell me - but his teeth were chattering too much and he couldn’t get them around the German separable verbs. It doesn’t make any sense to me – but very little does these days.

I am in month 6 of planning our trip to St Petersburg and it is taking us longer to get into Russian than it did Napoleon.

These people have some serious problems and really don’t want tourists – at least not those who are not prepared to scale great obstacles to get there. I guess it means that only the really serious ones actually make the trip.

Without Rozalin it would simply have been impossible to get a visa (and I still don’t actually have one as it is due to arrive on 22 December - which will probably coincide with something like the anniversary of Peter the Great’s Bar Mitzvah and the Russian Embassy will close for a week to celebrate with Horseradish Vodka – which Cate tells me is fantastic).

Apparently after the 1oth slug of Horseradish Vodka you take your clothes off and roll naked in the snow (at least this is what her work colleagues did in Red Square but I am not sure if is the same for everyone).

When we get there we have to register immediately with the authorities or we could be executed. We have to give them our passports and relevant documents which they keep for three days.

In the interim we may be stopped in the street and if we don’t have our passports and documents we will be executed.

We may also be stopped by good police or bad police (described by the travel agent as ‘Rotten Police Officers’ in the three pages of instructions she sent us which include ‘must’ a number of time) who may also execute us if we don’t have our registration papers which we won’t have because we will have given everything to someone somewhere else.

It seems to me that the first three days will be fraught with danger and we should probably stay huddled in our rat infested apartment waiting for the knock on the door which will herald our doom.

I hasten to add that I have not deliberately chosen a rat infested apartment – and on the website it looks fantastic and modern – and is in the best part of town. But you know what my track record is on these things so I have no confidence that we will throw open the door and say ‘Wow – this is great!’

But Gwenyth will be with us and she is a very practical person and a sailor so takes these things in her stride and is used to watery catastrophes – like the Mizzen mast walloping or some such thing while she is tacking.

(And now a sailor will write and tell me that there is no such thing as a Mizzen mast and if there was it wouldn’t wallop when you tack).

So Gwen will go in first – brush the stray rats from her loose clothing – and say – ‘Oh this is OK– we can get by here – I’ll sleep on the straw and you two can have the horse blanket – now let’s get into that bottle of Horseradish Vodka - is it snowing?'

She is also good at dealing with the authorities so we will leave her in charge of preventing us from being executed in the certain knowledge that she is such a treasure that – if all else fails – she will sacrifice herself to save us. (Sailors do this type of stuff - the salt rots their brains).

I am not sure if Gwenyth is reading my Blog - but we need Bees Wax. I will explain later.

I have received one of my Turkish Cookbooks and have made a Spicy Lentil Soup – not bad at all. But I need to find where to buy Turkish spices – probably Naschmarkt - or wherever the Turkish Quarter is in Wien - and there will be a large one.

Monday, December 14, 2009

They might be Golden Crowned Hornswoggles

Christmas Tree Cat

The Hot Water System belongs to the same union as the Air Conditioning and went out in sympathy with it yesterday morning. I think this may constitute a secondary boycott and I could possibly take legal action but I am not sure where to start. Certainly shouting at the Water Heater had no effect at all.

Cate was not well so did not go to work – she worked at home of course as she is never allowed to take a day off although she swears that this year she will not work on Christmas Day (which she really did last year).

Anyway Rozalin contacted the Hot Water People and advised them of the critical situation. They immediately dispatched a Serviceman with a police escort and he fixed the problem. This is the same man who has been before and speaks perfect English – but won’t.

So when he pointed at various buttons and dials and gave me detailed instructions I assume he was telling me that there were things I needed to do to keep the system operating properly. There are two red levers and a dial. When something happens on the dial (I am not quite sure what) I do something with the levers (I am not quite sure what – and it certainly doesn’t help that there are two levers)

I am quite sure I will be seeing him again in the not too distant future.

We have not yet been able to interest anyone in our lack of air conditioning. Fortunately it only got down to -8 yesterday so we were able to chip the ice off our Muesli without too much trouble.

The only real problem we have is the family of Inuit living in the spare room because the smell of fried whale fat is bothering Monika. She is a bit worried she may be mistaken for a seal and be harpooned. (What a fabulous word!)

I spent quite a bit of time with some painters today. They are painting the Beatrixgasse foyer and have a gigantic electric heater blasting away. So I hovered around them for a while until they got edgy and then I went over the vegetable section in Spar – which is deliciously warm and I now know how they make the grapes so mouldy.

It is so cold that the cats were all together in front of the fire. This is the first time this has happened and was done out of self preservation. At least when they are there I don’t have to spend time de-icing their whiskers with Cate's hair dryer.

I checked on the ducks and there a very few there. Where could they possibly be? I know they don’t fly south for the Winter – or at least they didn’t last year. There were however hordes of white birds.

I hesitate to call them Gulls because then Maalie will embarrass me by pointing out that they are something like Golden Crowned Hornswoggles (as any fool would know). This is the problem with writing a Blog when you know so little and you have some experts reading it.

One must be very circumspect about saying things that can be corrected or disproved.

Tomorrow I am off to buy more wood because I think it is going to be a long cold winter – still I suppose this is good training for St Petersburg where we will be on 26 December.


I have finished the first draft of my website. I am going to start trudging around the Innere Stadt to verify the information I have collected – and look for new venues.

For Annie - I have increased the font size - is it any better?

It was reported in the Austrian Times that: "Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) was forced to downplay media reports of near chaos after Vienna’s southern railway station (Südbahnhof) closed ahead of construction of a new main city railway station on the site".

Their photo apparently shows the chaos. This poor bloke had to wait 2 minutes for a green light.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

We would like to talk to you about the bible

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It has been snowing – ever so lightly – but snowing nevertheless. It was snowing when we went to buy my scarf and again when we went to dinner at Cantinetta Antinori.

On Sunday morning the snow was a bit heavier and Sissi examined it carefully. She discovered that there is no satisfaction at all in trying to eat snowflakes as they melt immediately.

And my scarf. Well we went to Interio instead and bought two 10 kilo Cinnamon candles that Cate has been trying to buy for ages. So I will just continue to wrap old newspapers around my neck to keep warm.

We went to get our Christmas Tree in Am Modenapark and got one not quite as big as last year – but still gigantic. Sissi is in the process of shredding it as I am writing this Blog and I shall provide photos of the remains. The man didn’t offer us any Schnapps this year which was a bit disappointing seeing we are regulars.

And by the way Trina – if you are still reading – they have finally take the scaffolding off the Spar building. Looks much better than it did. I cannot imagine what they did in the year since they erected it but it must be wonderful for the inhabitants to see daylight again.

Yesterday I was pounding away on my exercise bike when the doorbell rang. Cate had just left for the Gym and I thought she may have forgotten her key – or something.

So I opened the door and two women started babbling away in German and when we established that English was the preferred language they said:

‘We would like to talk to you about the bible’

I was reaching behind the door for the club that I keep there when Sissi hurtled out of the door and down five flights of stairs. When I arrived back with Sissi some time later the women were still there so we had a discussion about the bible.

It is not possible to have a sensible discussion with someone who believes that the bible is the word of god.

I could explain to them that the bible was written over some thousands of years by a whole bunch of people – almost all of whom are unknown to us. Most of it is without any provenance whatsoever and is not attributable.

I could also explain that many parts of the bible are derived from other parts – so there is a great deal of repetition - and large parts of it are stories or fables that were handed down through generations – and from earlier religions - and some of it was obviously made up by people who had a vested interest in so doing.

I could tell them that if there was a man called Jesus (and there may well have been) and he was crucified (which is entirely possible) there are no eye witness accounts for this event.

The stories about the crucifixion were written many years after the event and were based on stories and hearsay. The parts about the resurrection are nonsense and are derived from fairy tales which derived and survived from religions much older than Christianity. The same goes for the miracles – bringing the dead to life etc (Although the Mad Monk has done this in Australia with his shadow cabinet).

(And don’t even speak to me about virgin births).

I could go on to say that the bible has been altered – added to and subtracted from thousands of times by people – and by whole religions - who had a vested interest in so doing to push their own view of how they would like things to be believed by the faithful.

It has also been translated many hundreds of times and many of those translations have been wrong – and have completely misinterpreted words, phrases, sentences and meanings.

Whatever the final document is at any given time – it is then subject to interpretation and misinterpretation by people and religions who see in the bible what they want to see and derive the meanings they want to derive.

This results in people shunning each other and hating each other and killing each other because of what they believe to be true.

An example of the the end results of this being of course whole congregations of faux-Christians who carry signs and picket funerals carrying signs saying ‘God hates Fags’.

And after that – no matter what the final outcome is – you get thousand of clergy over thousands of years who spend their entire lives molesting and ruining the lives of small children – and for their sins are sheltered and protected by the very church that they have betrayed.

My final argument would be that if there is a god – and I cannot prove otherwise – he or she would surely arrange for his people of old to do a better job than the ghastly hodgepodge of fairy tales and mumbo jumbo that is supposed to be the User Manual for Christians.

Honestly – I could run up a better document than this on a Sunday afternoon. It would make a lot more sense and I guarantee that after reading it no one would want to kill anyone else from another religion, or bash a gay person, or evict a woman from a pulpit.

So I could say all these things – and in fact did say most of them – but as always – the women tried to show me passages of the bible and explained to me ‘we believe this because it is the word of god'.

I shared my thoughts with them about this subject. We had an amicable discussion and parted entirely unconvinced with each other’s arguments.

I am quite happy for them to believe what they want to believe – but I have a read a great deal about the bible and one of the things it certainly is not - is the word of god.

Sunday was really cold for the first time so the air conditioning did the only thing it could under the circumstances and turned up its toes completely. There is a not a smidgeon of warm air available anywhere so we had to rug up, light the fire and connect our two little heaters.

For relief from the cold we stood on the terrace for a while as this was warmer than being inside.

I have sent an email to the company that looks after the building but am not holding out any hope of an early outcome because of course it’s nearly Christmas and all the appropriate people will be out buying Geese and extra cigarettes.

It may be a grim Christmas here for retailers as Interio has a bunch of its decorations discounted. This is a not a good sign two weeks out from Christmas and it was certainly not as crowded as it should have been.

I checked my site meter on Thursday to see if anyone was still looking. I found on one day I had one visitor and another day two. It’s finally happened I thought – I am writing the Blog for Merisi and RRJ. On this basis we can just have a Skype conference call one a week and I can bring them up to date.

When I changed my template I deleted my site meter. This has now been restored and I see that there are still some hardy souls out there whose lives are enriched by reading about my adventures with the Dishwasher and the cats.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's time to Butt Out

The Dishwasher man has been (again) and has now been promoted to the position of Dishwasher Repairman. This visit only cost €57,60 (he is starting to feel sorry for me) a cost which I shall duly pass on to the owners.

This is a significant step forward as I no longer have to put the baking dish under the Dishwasher each time I turn it on. He has left me with another long strip of rubber which I shall fashion into Christmas ornaments.

These will be needed as they will not break or make a noise when Sissi drags them off the tree and batters them around the house.

It was a fabulous day in Vienna on Thursday and I was so excited I decided to write a short Blog to surprise Merisi.

I was pleased with myself for two reasons yesterday.

Firstly – I am not Tiger Woods. Any day now that I am not Tiger Woods is a good day as far as I am concerned.

‘Hi I’m Tiger Woods. I am the most successful golfer in history. I have won 14 major titles and I’m only 35 years old. I made $110 Million last year and I am the highest paid sportsman in the world – and the world’s first golfing Billionaire. I have a lovely wife and gorgeous children. My life is much too perfect and I think I will flush it down the toilet – let me see – how can I do this? Yes – I know!

Secondly – I have finally started my website


After our last horrendous experience at our very favourite restaurant I decided that it simply is not good enough that we have to continue to share our meals with smokers - so I decided to do something about it.

I am sure that there must be many visitors to Vienna who are seeking a smoke free experience. The intention of this site is to help the smoke free restaurants thrive and to put pressure on the nincompoops who run this country to do something constructive about the horrendous health problem they are perpetuating.

The sad part about this of course is that restaurants such as Ein Wiener Salon will not be on the site.

I have been planning this for a while and of course it will take some time to put together – but I have made a start. What you see (if you look) is the work I did on Thursday – starting at about 3:00 PM so it won’t take too long to make progress.

Any suggestions about the site, how it should be put together and function - or names of venues you may have would be greatly appreciated.

Oh - and by the way - The Rapture is due on Monday. But this guy has been wrong so many times already that I no longer have any faith in him at all. I think he should stop being a false prophet and take some lessons in web design.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Get the Rat Hat ready

We walked past a little shop near the Hofburg and admired their candlesticks. Cate has a thing about candles and candlesticks so we had to examine them all in detail.

We spotted a couple of unobtrusive bedside lamps that we thought would be ideal for the guest bedroom – not that we care whether guests can read in bed or not – but we want it to look nice.

As we know how things work in Vienna I summoned up all my strength and looked at the price tag on one of the lamps.


This – I thought - is a bit excessive for a light bulb on a stick – even in Wien – so confident that there had been an error (I am thinking €89) I asked the owner to confirm the price.

‘Ah yes’ she said ‘that is for the pair’

She could see that I remained unconvinced so reassured me with ‘it is very old wood’.

This is ridiculous for old wood. I could get a piece of the True Cross in Ljubljana for less than €100 (€120 for a piece autographed by John the Baptist – but I did get Jesus’ original Bunny Rug for €35).

You see the problem is that the wood may be old – and could well be from Noah’s Ark – but it just looks like – well – old wood. Old cheap wood. So we could put these horrendously expensive lamps in the guest room and the guests would think ‘is this really the best they could do for the guest bedroom – old cheap wood?’

The only way around this is to attach large signs to the lamps saying ‘these lamps look cheap but cost €890 for the pair and the wood is very old’ but this is going to look really stupid.

Or we could make a point of saying to every guest

‘this will make you laugh – these lamps cost us €890. Ridiculous isn’t it?’

And of course they will laugh out loud with us – and when they are lying in bed will think (or say if there is someone with them) ‘did those Pelicans really pay that much for these cheap old wooden lamps? Boy are they stupid!’

So It’s a no win situation really. What we really need is some old, cheap looking wooden lamps for €10 the pair. Cate saw a nice one with a wooden Duck on it – but we need two.

So we are still looking. But we did buy two wooden candlesticks to add the vast collection we have already.

It is finally starting to get cold and I have dragged out my extra warm jacket. I am preparing my Hungarian Woodsman’s hat for the ordeal ahead (this is the one made out of rats). I had some proper scarves but can’t find them so Cate is going to buy me one on the weekend (as long as we don’t pass any candlestick shops because then it will be all over).

Newsday and there is not really much happening in Vienna. There have not – as far as I can see – been any really gruesome deaths for two weeks and apparently it has been too cold for the pensioners to clean out their gutters or try to sharpen the teeth of the tree mulcher with the engine running.

About the best I can do is ‘Couple caught stealing old fruit’.

Which reminds me – the West African man monstered me in Salesianergasse this week and before he could speak I said:

‘I can read minds’

‘Excuse me?’

‘I said I can read minds. I think you are from West African and you are unemployed and have two starving children and are desperate for some money to feed them. I think…yes it’s coming to me….. they are a boy and a girl and you have pictures in your wallet’.

‘Have I spoken to you before?’

‘Yes – last week in Beatrixgasse’

‘Did you give me money?’


‘Very much?’

‘Yes – a massive amount’

‘Do you want to give me some more?’

‘Not really.’

‘OK – bye’

Oh – and I had this terrible nightmare – The Mad Monk snuck into the graveyard and exhumed the rotting corpses of three long dead politicians, added at least one lunatic - and put them on his front bench.

This is a wind up right?

As John McEnroe would shout “You cannot be serious!”

And then I wake up next to Spaghetti Cat who is singing in my ear – except it’s Muffin dribbling. Terrific.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Don't stand during the Messiah

I have decided this year that I am not going to send any Christmas Cards. I believe this is an anachronistic and wasteful practice that is contributing to global warming, the destruction of the Amazonian rainforests, the propping up of inefficient postal systems, the extinction of Koalas and the popularity of Sarah Palin.

As I write a Blog four times each week (sometimes five if Merisi hounds me) I will reward the readers with Christmas Greetings closer to the event. Those who do not read the Blog can make their own arrangements but don’t bother looking in the letter box for a card from Wien to bright your otherwise dull and stultifying existences.

If you are looking forward to a card from me then you have confirmed my long held suspicions about you.

Of course I expect cards. As someone who has bored you witless with 278 Blogs I expect some sort of reward and the thought of you writing a card to Badger in Wien and then coughing up for the significant postage is a small reward for my efforts.

I received from William an invitation to join Google Wave. It’s a bit hard to explain – sort of like real time chat but with the ability to do much more. It is in beta so there is a lot of development to be done but it looks like fun.

Like all new web developments it is designed for younger people so someone like me spends an inordinate amount of time trying to do the most simple tasks. For example – it took me two days to work out how to bookmark my Wave page – and the solution was blushingly simple. I will plod along and get the hang of it.

I had a chat with Lenny on Wave and he pointed me in the direction of some excellent YouTube videos – one of which I will share with you cat aficionados.

Spaghetti Cat

Cate and I saw the Messiah last night (no it is not rapture time – we went to see the performance at the Wiener Konzerthaus conducted by Emmanuelle Haim). It was very different to those which we have seen in the past – but sensational.

There was a choir of 20 – compared with 600 to which we are accustomed in the Sydney Opera House – but those 20 sang their hearts out and lacked for nothing.

The Baritone (correction:Bass) looked like a gangster and was busting out of his suit - as was the pregnant Mezzo-Soprano (correction Soprano) but gave an excellent performance. He went very red in the face a few times and I thought he might pop a valve – but he came through nicely.

And the Soprano (correction: Alto) was a man (and therefore a Countertenor) – and not a particularly good looking one. I had trouble with this for a while and spent a long time wondering if they still have Castrati here.

Emmanuelle is a bit distracting to watch as she conducts like she has Tourette Syndrome so I focused on the bass drummer who apparently spent the entire evening reading the sports section of Der Standard (when I say the whole evening he did rouse himself during the Hallelujah Chorus and the closing bits).

We met Richard who writes about music at:


(which has nothing at all to do with waltzes – Viennese or otherwise - so try not to be too disappointed when you get there).

We were his guide as to when to stand up but this did not happen. No one stirred at the start of the Hallelujah Chorus so we stayed glued to our seats – which did seem rather strange.

Deadliest Catch is a ‘reality’ show about crab fishermen in the Bering Sea. It is not the usual type of ‘reality’ show in that it is actually a real documentary.

Cameramen go out on the boats and watch crab fishermen work their clackers off, catch crabs, freeze, survive mountainous seas, icebergs, ferocious winds, giant killer octopuses (OK I made that one up) - and drown. It is strangely compelling to watch this and the best time to do it is when the weather outside is appalling - preferably sleet and howling winds.

Cate and I will sit in front of the fire with the cats and watch this and wonder why we are so lucky. I might finally get the last two panels of my Koala quilt done and ready for the Sydney Royal Easter Show in 2010.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Welcome to the Sultans Suite

Even Turkish dogs bow to Austrian Airlines Senators!

I haven’t made Spaghetti Bolognaise for a while so today I decided it was time. I bought some prime minced beef for the Spaghetti and some lesser (cat grade) mince for the small furry creatures who abound in this apartment. At about 4:00 I fed the cats – then went to make the Spaghetti. There is no need to tell you more. But the cats really enjoyed it.

Our Christmas wreath with the four large candles did not survive out trip away. Sissi decided that she would like to be a circus trapeze artist and in the process demolished in completely. This was not entirely unexpected and indeed the only place it would be safe from Sissi would be in the basement.

Cate has decided that if we get a Christmas tree (which we probably will) we will not put our ornaments on it as this would be too great a temptation for a small, climbing cat. We will have to think about whether the lights will be too provocative.

We had arranged to rent a car with a navigation system – mainly to get in and out of Istanbul. When we arrived to collect the car the man said ‘we don’t have a navigation system available – but I will give you a map.’ The map turned out to be a small map of Turkey showing only the main cities and towns. For navigation purposes in Istanbul it would have been totally useless.

However – having anticipated this very situation – I produced our Tom Tom navigation system – complete with a map of Turkey which I had downloaded last week – and away we went. It proved to be an almost painless experience and it was a doddle getting out of Istanbul once Cate had mastered the art of driving in Turkey. To do this you need to visualize yours as the only car on the road and drive at full speed into any gaps that appear.

We did get lost taking the car back to the airport but in mitigation mention that there are NO signs anywhere (at least in English) telling you where to take rental cars. You actually have to drive into the car park before you see any signs – which we did eventually – and someone came to take the car away from us.

He was not happy as we had covered the car in mud at Gallipoli and had not filled the tank. This is what happens when you run a car rental business – you get thoughtless clients like us who make your life a misery.

We stayed at the Kervansaray Hotel in Canakkale (pronounced Chanakkally) which is a ferry ride across from the Gallipoli Peninsula. We were in the ‘Sultans Suite’ which was without doubt the weirdest hotel room we have ever occupied – and contained the only shower we have ever used where we could not stand upright because of the low ceiling. The suite was on three levels and the stairs to the top level were the steepest I have ever seen.

There were no blinds on the windows – which looked out onto the main courtyard - the bedroom was above the hotel main electricity box which popped, cracked and snarled all night, there was a strange room under the stairs from which emanated strange whirring and clicking noises, the air conditioner had apoplectic hissing attacks every hour or so and we had a direct audio link to the nightclub on the next corner. I don’t know how this happened by there could well have been catacombs. Whatever – it sounded like we were on the dance floor.

We concluded that the Sultan must have been a blind, deaf, very agile dwarf – but we were quite happy there.

Çanakkale is a lovely little town – or what we saw of it was – with narrow cobbled streets and hordes of funny little shops and funny little houses.

We found that the Turks drink only their own coffee and tea (and why wouldn’t they) and that it is nearly impossible to get an espresso coffee. We found only one place which did espresso and we haunted it for two days.

Very few people speak any English (or French or German) which means that we usually had to resort to charades – but managed like everyone else does.

We just love Turkish food and I have been commissioned to start cooking it. Unlike the Viennese – the Turks throw the occasional vegetable onto the plates with the meat so it has some health giving potential. I imagine that there will be hordes of people selling Turkish condiments at Naschmarkt so will trundle down there this week to have a forage.

There must also be some excellent Turkish restaurants in Wien and I shall investigate.

Cate enlivened the trip back to Istanbul by trying to rear end the car in front of us in the wet and missed it by less than a millimeter. Scared the life out of both of us.

We were travelling economy on Austrian Airlines – but as Cate is a ‘Senator’ a flight attendant from Business Class put on rubber gloves and came down to the economy section to ask Cate is she would like anything – a pillow perhaps – or a copy of Newsweek. What Cate really wanted was an upgrade but she took the pillow and I took Newsweek.

The man next to me was Austrian and had a bunch of advertising brochures from Vienna. He was totally transfixed by the Mobelix brochure and pored over it for ages.

I simply cannot imagine what he wanted to buy – although they do have a great range of Christmas presents for under €2 and perhaps he had a large family.

And incidentally – ‘ Bitte Keine Werbung’ signs only work if the person delivering them can read – or cares. While my door handle is blissfully free of advertising material – the letter box is still stuffed full every day. Not sure what to do about this.

And finally – I have nothing at all to say about Tiger Wood - well - except – why do these high profile people – men and women – conduct relationships using text messages and voice mail.

Does it never occur to them at all that when it goes belly up (as it inevitably does) every excruciating thing they have ever said will be on the front page of The Daily Bugle, every man or woman with whom they were involved will sell their stories to The Daily Toe Rag and if there are sex tapes they will end up on the Internet.

Tiger may be the world’s best golfer but in matters of illicit relationships he is - like all men - dumber than a Mud Duck.



Gallipoli was just as we had expected it to be. Stark, rugged, peaceful, sad. It was a chilly but sunny day and we were almost the only visitors – the very few others being Turks. It was a mournful process - visiting some of the many cemeteries and graves - to see how young the soldiers were who died there – the youngest being 14.

There are of course many Turkish cemeteries – and the Turks lost more men than all the other nations combined.

The most moving monument is the one with the statement made by Atatürk in 1934.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well”.

After looking at the places where the Anzacs landed Cate said that it seem like a pretty silly place to try to land an army - a statement with which I am sure many agreed with then and do so now.

Tomorrow I shall report on a delightful little town called Çanakkale - where we stayed for two nights.

In Çanakkale . I had my first cup of Turkish Coffee - and so that I did not hurt the proprietor’s feelings I casually walked twenty metres down the road before I poured it in the gutter.

It is certainly an acquired taste - but not something to which I am going to try to become accustomed.

But the Turks love it – hordes of men sit around in cafes drinking the stuff all day. We were both happy to get home to Jura.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oh No - Not the Mad Monk - spare me!

When you check into a hotel and want a non-smoking room and the person at reception says ‘we don’t have one of those - but all our rooms are prepared for non-smoking’ what he means is the ashtrays have been emptied.

This is a bit like asking for a non-smoking table in a restaurant in Wien and having the waiter move the ashtray off it.

You cannot turn a smoking room into a non-smoking room without repainting it, washing the curtains, changing the carpet and installing new furniture.

It is bothering Cate more than it bothers me but we will get over it.

Last night we went to a restaurant called Kosebasi - of which there are a few branches in Istanbul.

One blurb says

'Kosebasi was voted as one of "World's 50 Best Restaurants" by the 14,000 members of Conde Nast Traveler magazine and was awarded with "International Tourism, Hotel and Catering Industries Prize" as the best representative of the traditional Turkish cuisine. Kosebasi was also cited as "the best kebab restaurant in Istanbul" by Time magazine.'

Anyway -it was pretty special - and not expensive by Wiener standards - so we were well pleased.

Lenny sent me a link to a video on YouTube but it has been blocked by the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (or someone like that). It is a bit scary to think that there are hundreds of Turks beavering away looking at every video posted on YouTube – and I guess every other site like that – to block those they don’t the locals to see.

Whoops - I have had another look. It looks like the YouTube site is banned completely.

This is a country that wants membership to the EU – but is also a country that doesn’t teach evolution in state schools so you can’t expect too much.

(On the index of Creationist Believers, Turkey is the only ‘western’ first world country that ranks below the USA - i.e. it has more people who believe in Creation).

But – Australia has Internet censorship – and is desperately trying to introduce more stringent restrictions on what it’s citizens can view online – so I am not really in a position to criticise the Turks.

The Turks are really unhappy about the Swiss Minaret decision. In case you missed it the Swiss had a referendum on whether or not Muslims should be allowed to build more Minarets in Switzerland. More than 57% of the Swiss voted against it. The Turks think this is a terrible and racist decision and an affront to the Muslim world. I have a number of views on this and will keep them all to myself.

My LOL moment this week was finding out that Tony Abbott (AKA The Mad Monk) was the new Leader of the Opposition in Australia. This is such an unlikely scenario that I had never really considered it possible.

This is the man who corruptly used his position as Minister for Health in the Howard Government to prevent the abortion drug RU486 from being released in Australia.

He is a far right wing, bible bashing, tub thumping, old testament zealot.

If Tony becomes Prime Minister we won’t have to worry about Internet censorship – there may not be an Internet. Abortion will be illegal – so will atheism and homosexuality.

Boats of asylums seekers will be bombed and strafed. Any terminally ill person who tries euthansia will be put on life support and kept alive (and in agony) forever.

Global warming will offically be declared a myth. The retirement age will be increased to 85. Pensioners will be refused all benefits unless they carry a Rosary.

But we need not worry because Australia would never elect a man who is to the right of Genghis Khan – would they?

I have a scenario that will keep you awake at night. Tony Abbott in Australia and Sarah Palin in the USA.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What is George Hamilton doing in IACGMOOH?

Before starting I would like to remind Annabella that it is two weeks until the anniversary of her first (and only) blog entry.

Not that I am being critical - but I am anxious to see how she has moved on since 17 December 2008. I would particularly (for example) like to see some pictures of Stan and Ollie so that I can compare their plumpness with Monika.

We are now in the Swissotel overlooking the Bosphorus and Cate has gone off to do things with other people in the office. I used to do these sorts things and would go to the office every day to talk to people, have meetings, write notes and talk on the telephone.

At breakfast this morning I marveled at all the people having meetings about really vital things when all I had to do was wonder about where I was going to go to mooch around for the day.

You will see that I have an Internet connection. I was able to achieve this because my operating system is now in English and I can work my way through the maze of questions which need to be answered in order to establish a connection. It is horrendously expensive to do this in the hotel but I pawned my watch so that I could hook up long enough to post a Blog.

Since we arrived in Wien we have wanted to go to Do & Co. We have tried to book on a few occasions but have never been able to get in. Indeed – we could not for last Saturday for the main restaurant in Kärntnerstrasse so settled for the one in the Albertina.

Do & Co does the catering for Austrian Airlines so when Cate travels Business Class she gets to eat the food. I have had it twice when we flew Austrian Airlines on home leave and it is outstanding.

Of course some of the planes are not in real good shape. We have been on planes that were so old they had toilet seats held together with gaffer tape and they had to paint over the Swastikas on the wings – but this and the constant rattling and loose bits falling from the ceiling are nothing if you can have a decent meal.

Anyway Do & Co in Albertina was brilliant – and smoke free – and I can thoroughly recommend it.

We were not in Business Class coming to Turkey but I had a nice sandwich which I was able to scrunch up and insert into my nostrils so that I could not smell the very fat, hairy and odorous man seated next to me. He took up a great deal of room and I spent the flight perched at an angle hoping that my jacket wouldn't get stuck to his hairy forearms and require us to be separated by the emergency crews in Istanbul.

I was flicking around on the TV looking for something I could do to avoid learning German irregular verbs when I saw someone who looked like George Hamilton’s grandfather dressed in rags sitting on a log.

A watching this for a few minutes I realised that this was no ordinary TV show but something special – because I also recognised Joe Bugner who was at one stage the British Heavyweight Boxing Champion and now lives in Australia.

So I discovered this show ‘I’m a Celebrity – get me out of here’ (IACGMOOH).

I now know that this is a show where they take people who were almost famous and put them in the jungle where they wrestle snakes and eat beetles.

This is not a problem as we have discussed before that there are 350,000 different types of beetles and while it is tough going for the beetles that get eaten – and of course their families – it would do their little hearts good to know that millions of people around the world are watching them get eaten and this is a damned sight more coverage than they would get by being eaten in the dead of night by a Lesser Crested Mugwump.

I did a bit of research on IACGMOOH and they apparently do lots of other very unsavory things - many involving ropes, snakes and mud – I am not sure why but it is TV and apparently that’s what people want to watch – no I don’t know why – it beats the hell out of me.

Anyway – it was George Hamilton. What in the name of the Great Lizard King is George doing in a show like this where he can’t wear a tan and a cravat?

And I regret to say that Joe was beaten in whatever the contest was he had with a much younger man and was booted off the reservation – which was in Australia somewhere.

I read too much current affairs and too much history and I know things that it is not good for a person to know and to dwell on.

I am just about to delve into a ‘Europe: A History’ by Norman Davies. This runs to about 1,500 pages so it may be a while before I can report back. In the interim for the Turkey trip I am reading about Ataturk. I have to do this so that I can tell Cate all about the history of modern Turkey.

She can in turn belabor me with the history of the Habsburgs. She has told me many things about this enormous family but so far I have retained nothing.

Today I am going walking to take photos.

Home Wanted for Morris Dancing Cat

It will be nice to get away for a while so that we can actually get some sleep. This has become a rare commodity for some time now as Muffin is becoming increasingly deranged and Sissi has a toe fetish.

Cate works late almost every night so we don’t usually get to bed before midnight. This is the time Muffin decides to explore the bed and bedroom before settling down on the bed to suck her toes for an hour or so.

In the interim Sissi is pouncing on everything that moves so we have to make sure that our extremities are well and truly covered.

After licking herself from head to toe Muffin will then try to burrow into the bed. If she can do this (and I fight hard against it) she will inevitably settle down uncomfortably close to some delicate parts of my anatomy and I will lie awake hoping she doesn’t have a bad dream and lash out at an imaginary boo bah badbilly.

Muffin may then return to her perch behind the bed before early morning Morris Dancing on the bed. For amusement she will sometimes find a sock and carry it around the bedroom yowling pitifully.

At 4:00 AM Sissi’s eyes pop open and she starts to play – and with any sort of luck she will find a stray toe that has inadvertently found its way from under the bed clothes. There will be a shriek, gushes of blood - and a hurried retreat of all moving parts under the Doona again.

Muffin will decide that it’s time to explore the house to see what’s happening (nothing) and will need to be let out of the bedroom and which time I will take the opportunity to evict the Toe Slasher.

I will get to sleep again and them Muffin will want to come back into the bedroom and will yowl and bang on the door until this happens.

Then the alarm goes off.

The answers to your questions are:

We have to keep the bedroom closed because if Monika comes in there she does unspeakable things in Cate’s bathroom or – if the door is closed – on the floor or bed.

We can’t lock Muffin out (and we have tried) because if we do she yowls at the door like a Banshee and can be heard in Simmering – and then punishes us in the worst possible way. (I can’t say on this Blog what this is but if you send a stamped self-addressed envelope I will provide details).

Yes we have considered murdering the cats and burying them in the garden but would miss them terribly. (You need to be a cat person to understand this)

We bought some new fire implements – including some tongs – so that we can move logs around.

The picture is of the brush after Cate had swept up some loose bits of burning wood. We have had a training session and I have explained that metal does not burn but brushes do.

I am sure this will not happen again because she is a very quick learner. Although it doesn't really matter if it happens with this particular brush.

Incidentally the vet says that Sissi is very intelligent. I am not sure how this was determined by the vet but perhaps they have some basic tests with Cuisenaire rods they run cats through before surgery.

We bought a gigantic Christmas wreathy thing at the markets on Saturday. It is too big to fit anywhere so we have hung it from the ceiling. I will provide a picture if it survives Sissi during our trip to Turkey.

Two wannabe reality TV stars crashed a White House Dinner and want to sell their story for ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’. Has it come to this that people would pay them money to tell how they walked into the White House and had their photo taken with the President. What a breathless, tense and dramatic story this would be.

‘Well we walked into the White House and the security people didn’t stop us so we had out photo taken with the President’

‘What’s he like?’

‘Oh really nice he said hi’

‘Oh Fabulous stuff – and what happened then?’

‘Well nothing really. We left.’

‘OK Great – look forward to the book. Who would you like to play your parts in the movie?'

'Hmm....not sure about that yet but probably Brad and Angelina.'

The Grey Nurse is on the way out!

Palau 2008. Photos by Philippe Lebris of Marseille.

A reminder that we are off to Turkey on Tuesday. This may mean that I cannot Blog because my track record of getting an internet connection while we are travelling is not so good – awful in fact.

However – there may be some hope this time as when I upgraded to Windows 7 I was able to change the operating system on my notebook PC to English. This means that when the numerous error messages appear as I am trying to connect to the internet - I may be able to decipher them and take remedial action. We shall see.

Cate is working for three days and the we are renting a car and driving to Gallipoli. The Turkish one not the Italian one. Gallipoli – as all Australians know –is one of the many places where the Australians benefited from legendary British war planning and tactics.


They didn’t manage to kill us all at Gallipoli but shipped the survivors off to the Somme where the Germans used us for gunnery practice until they ran out of shells and had to surrender.

Incidentally – the nice people at the Palazzo del Corso in Gallipoli in Italy allowed me to cancel my reservation without any cost. They no doubt did this on the basis that anyone stupid enough to book a hotel in the wrong country would be dangerous to have as a guest -and they could not guarantee that I would not turn up there instead of Turkey. So next time you go to Gallipoli in Italy please stay with them.

I took Cate to the Central Friedhof at Simmering on Sunday and she was most impressed – as I knew she would be. It is a colossal cemetery and well worth a visit. For some reason the old Jewish section is entirely overgrown and not maintained at all.

There could be a number of reasons for this including that there were not a whole lot of Jews left in Wien after the war – and are not that many now. Or maybe they decided to let it become overgrown for dramatic effect – and it certainly works.

Parts of the Jewish section were bombed during the war. Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris was entirely focused on flattening Germany and Austria (well the residential parts anyway) and it is a bizarre thought that in this process he bombed dead Jews.

I finished reading a book last week that suggested that the war could have been shortened by some months had Churchill and others been able persuade Mr. Harris to bomb something useful – say for example the synthetic oil plants.

But he was very single minded – and popular in Britain – and instead of being sacked for disobeying direct orders from his superiors he was allowed month after month to flatten every city in Germany.

The additional penalty for this – apart from the obvious one of costing the lives of very many allied soldiers because the war went on for months longer than it should have – was that when the allies arrived in the German cities that had been subjected to Bomber’s attention – the infrastructure was completely destroyed – and the Americans and British had to start from scratch to rebuild Europe.

They erected a statue to Arthur Harris in London a few years ago and there were many protestors. For my money I think Harris should have been hanged as a war criminal – but in war this only ever happens to the losers.

Many things these days make me unhappy. One is the annihilation of sharks globally for finning. This grotesque and barbaric practice kills millions of sharks each year and is one of the major contributors to the death of ocean life.

However, in Australia we have had not had to resort to finning to kill all our sharks and have done it by more subtle means. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald says that:

“A new survey of grey nurse sharks shows the species is still in severe danger of becoming extinct.

The study, commissioned by the Federal Government, found just over 1,000 of the sharks along the east coast of Australia.

That figure is significantly lower than the 5,000 needed to sustain the population.
Accidental hooking is one of the main threats to the survival of the species.

Nicky Hammond, the marine program manager for the National Parks Association of New South Wales, says the State Government must act now to protect key habitat sites.

"Here we've got a critically endangered species, we know what the key threat to their survival is, we know where they spend the majority of their time," she said.

"It's a relatively simple process to protect those sites from that key threat of fishing by creating marine sanctuaries and that way hopefully we can actually save this shark from going extinct.

"Time and time again they continue to ignore putting in place the proper protection of marine sanctuaries in these areas and provide tokenistic protection instead.

"We're calling on the NSW Government, we're saying enough is enough, that we need to now get these sanctuaries in place before the shark goes extinct."

Now grey nurse sharks are pretty well the most harmless critters on the planet. In the 60s I used to surf with these creatures and it was not unusual at dusk to catch a wave and find yourself alongside a grey nurse shark.

Cate and I have dived with these sharks many times and I have patted them (If pat is the right word.

One of the major killers of sharks on the East Coast of Australia is the nets used to ‘protect’ surfers from sharks. Long nets are strung off beaches and these catch and kill sharks in their thousands – or did - nowadays of course there are so few sharks that the catch rate has dropped to negligible proportions.

You would think that this may prompt governments to stop netting and give the sharks a chance – no way. Nothing will be done and in a few years or sooner the grey nurse shark will be extinct and we will be added to the many thousands of species that have vanished since the arrival of the white man in Australia.

The recreational and commercial fishing lobbies in NSW in particular have as much power there as the NRA does in the USA. They dictate what governments can and cannot do – and grey nurse sharks are not high on their list of priorities.

I used to fret about this and about many other things like it. I now understand that the destruction of many species is unstoppable. We are rapacious beasts and absolutely nothing will be allowed to stand between us and the next meal – or the next dollar.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kapitan - there was an accident!

Kapitan, there was an accident in the research facility! It’s imperative we reach the acid baths…

I just had to share this site with you. Once again provided by my son (did I mention that he does not have enought to do?)


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Quolly!

Angry Angus Burger, Chiko Roll and Chiko Chick.

Happy Birthday for Friday Quolly!

Merisi is putting pressure on me to Blog on time – so today I am.

Sissi is back home and is not happy. She is very tired and has a cone around her neck so that she cannot lick her stomach – or in fact do anything much at all.

Maalie has reminded me of some of the things that have not infiltrated the Austrian culture. These include the Chiko roll which is an unspeakable concoction of vegetable matter and other detritus of indeterminate origin – together with sawdust and probably rat droppings – bathed in batter and deep fried for I don’t know how long – possibly days.

The last time I had one I was sober and this is the wrong time to eat a Chiko roll. This is the food you each after you have been swept out of the Pub well past midnight and you lurch up to the Chiko roll seller and say ‘give me two of you finest Chiko rolls my good man and be quick about it’.

Days later this is the only part of the evening you remember as those Chiko rolls tend to linger with you for some time. They have – I believe – a half life of 6 weeks.

But I do miss Crumpets – these are not exactly like the English ones but are pretty damn close and there is nothing like a toasted Crumpet on a winter morning.

We got a number of good things from the English - Crumpets and will get back to you with a more extensive list....I know.....Marmalade.

And I miss Bagels – it is possible to get good Bagels in Wien – but not near our place.

There are other things it would be nice to have – but we have adapted quite well. Fortunately the Austrians are sophisticated enough to have Crunchy Nut Cornflakes - which satisfies my breakfast needs.

I note in passing that Hungry Jack’s in Australia has responded to the obesity problem (we are second only to the USA) by introducing the Ultimate Double Whopper Burger.

Named the Angry Angus Burger this show stopper is a killer and users will be required to be wired up to a defibrillator before partaking of his gastronomic delicacy – which will no doubt be accompanied by a large fries and washed down with a liter of Pepsi.

Dietitian Melanie McGrice said it would take the average person 3 1/2 hours of walking to burn off the 5040 kilojoules gained by eating the burger, and its 80g of fat was twice the recommended daily intake. Jiminy Cricket! That many kilojoules would stop a Hippo in its tracks.

It’s nice to see fast food operators doing their bit for the health of the community.

On matters of skepticism – there is a fantastic scam going on at the moment for which most of the media has fallen hook, line and sinker.

A Belgian man – conscious but unable to communicate for 23 years - is now miraculously able to communicate. So far so good – but they way he communicates has to be seen to be believed. Watch this video and tell me that the guy is doing this himself.

Coma Man

“The therapist, Linda Wouters, told APTN that she can feel Houben guiding her hand with gentle pressure from his fingers, and that she feels him objecting when she moves his hand toward an incorrect letter”.

Yeh right!

He obviously spent the last 23 years while he was in the coma teaching himself to touch type -because he can do it without looking at the keyboard - if indeed he can see the keyboard.

Stuff like this makes me want to vomit.

Before you ask - why would she want to do this? The answer is that he is going to write a book - with Linda's help of course.

For a more definitive analayis of this scam see PZ Myers fabulous Blog. This should be required reading for everyone who cares.


We have tickets to “The Messiah” at the Wiener Konzerthaus on 8 December. This is one of our favourite Christmas traditions. I wonder if the audience here follows the custom of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus?

If you want to know why they do this – Wikipedia says:

“In many parts of the world, it is the accepted practice for the audience to stand for this section of the performance. Tradition has it that King George II rose to his feet at this point. As the first notes of the triumphant Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the king rose. Royal protocol has always demanded that whenever the monarch stands, so does everyone in the monarch's presence. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood too, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries”

It’s funny because every time we go there are always a few people who do not stand up – I am not sure why – probably because they think it’s something to do with Christianity.
We don't really know why KG2 stood up. He might have had an Angry Angus Burger that was about to take revenge - or maybe he wanted to fart or scratch his bottom.

No matter - I love this quaint English custom which I hope will be with us forever - which given the parlous state of the planet is not likely to be all that much longer.