Friday, January 30, 2009

Merlin lives in Montmartre

This is Melissa's cat Merlin who lives in an apartment in Montmartre.
He just loves going outside so that he can watch the birds and chase beetles.
I think Melissa needs to teach him how to paint because those walls are in a terrible state.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Liz and Darryl will get the Singing Sausage

Well I had to trudge down to Alt Wien in the blinding snow – which funnily enough blew into my face both coming and going.

But bought 2 kilos of Caruso so we are safe for a while now.

However, despite the snow it is quite warm outside – (+1 when I went out) – which is quite comfortable provided you are dressed like an Inuit – which I was – including the scarf wrapped around the nose.

It’s the seal fat that really keeps me warm but it is the very devil to get off under the shower. (And it's hard to get seals in Wien).

I spoke to Kerry-Ann today and she said it was +42 in Sydney on the weekend. Now that is hot.

Up until a couple of weeks ago I had one oven glove – which made handling things a bit tricky. But Cate’s mother came to the rescue and sent a package of two singles and one double.

They are black because Liz said that Cate would not like the Rooster Appliquéd gloves. Cate? What’s Cate got to do with it – I am the Chef in this house – as well as being the overall Schlepmeister.

I was so enthusiastic with my thanks to Joanie that she is sending more. Together with the two that I bought as an interim measure that will make 9 oven gloves.

I have decided to give Liz and Darryl the glove I bought with the singing sausages on it. I can’t remember the colour scheme of their new kitchen but I am sure it will be perfect.

I had to go to see Dr Begelmeier to get another script (which is called a Rezept – which means prescription or recipe).

It is a wonderful system. Frau Begelmeier is the assistant and actually writes out the scripts. It is difficult to get to see the Dr unless you have just been badly mauled by an Igel in Neulingasse - and this rarely happens these days.

One person did get in – with some difficulty – probably because Frau Begelmeier thought she was going to expire on the reception area carpet. She was quite the sickest looking young woman I have ever seen and coughed and sneezed for a good 10 minutes before Frau B had had enough and frog marched her into the surgery.

I sincerely hope that I do not get from her what she had because I suspect you need to be young and resilient to survive something like that.

I am going to stay in bed for a few days to see what happens. I will practice my German watching SpongeBob SquarePants.

I woke up with a terrible headache today – I think Muffin is sitting on my head when I am asleep and cutting off my air supply. She is clearly unhappy that I have not yet bought the new litter.

However, Rozalin has come up with a viable alternative to the crushed owls and Muffin has looked at the video and seems keen. If you would like to watch it the link is

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

That is one foxy Raccoon

I light dusting of snow today. This was inevitable after Cate announced on the way to work ‘It is too warm for snow’. This turned to sleet later and has prevented me from going to Alt Wien to buy coffee.

There is cause for some panic as we are down to our last half kilo and the absence of coffee of the required type would render us both senseless. Regardless of the weather tomorrow I shall have to go on a shopping expedition. I also need to call into Bobby’s for some strawberry jam.

I am trying to do two hours study of German each day so that I am prepared for my lessons with my teacher Miss Snow Mountain (who is also Cate’s teacher). I bored Miss Snow Mountain witless today as I ground my way excruciatingly through Lagune – which is a German book (with no English) but lots of pictures. Fortunately she has the patience of a saint and can hide the fact that she has to grit her ears as I massacre German words with 16 syllables.

I would really like to understand the mind of the person who invented the ümlaut because it is almost as silly as the separable verb. I imagine that the person is long dead – hanged from a lamp post no doubt by a gang of furious German grammar students.

There are many things I have discovered so far that are designed to stop Auslanders from speaking German – and there are more coming. I have looked at the text books I have yet to start and there are some truly terrifying things in there. Cate is going to Russia next week so I will make a special effort. Actually that’s a lie – I will just swan about and read.

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?

The air-conditioners now work most of the time. Some of the time you could grill lamb chops on them. The rest of the time you could snap freeze peas. We have accepted that this is as good as it is going to get this winter. We are girding our loins for a new battle for cooling in summer.

Other men came to replace the light fitting in the kitchen. This was the one they took away in November because of faulty wiring. We are talking about a common or garden variety down light – not a 267 piece crystal chandelier. This task was concluded successfully and we now have a full complement of lights in the kitchen.

I have collected Cate’s glasses (which are called Brille) and await her inspection with interest. I expect her to say something like ‘these are no good – they are not adjusted correctly for my eyes’. I will then say ‘Really dear? Perhaps it would have been better if you had gone in yourself so that they could get the measurements right’.

I regret to report that the carnage in Austria continues. The Austrian Times tells us:

“Sledding is one of the most popular winter activities in Austria, but it results in 5,000 serious accidents annually.The Committee for Traffic Safety (KfV) said today (Tues) around 5,000 people injured in sledding accidents in Austria had to be treated in hospitals for their injuries each year.KfV added broken bones constituted 40 per cent of sledders’ injuries, and torn muscles and sinews accounted for another 20 per cent. Around 700 sledders suffered head injuries during the 2007/2008 winter season, KfV said”.

With skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and now sledding Austria is a more dangerous place than either Iraq or Afghanistan. Perhaps they should send the troops here for training prior to their assignments.

I hesitate to put the next Austrian Times item in a family blog but really cannot let it pass. A man had a very delicate part of his anatomy bitten off when he was attempting to develop a close relationship with a Raccoon.

For those of you who have such shallow lives that you wish to delve further into this story the link is

However, so that all the men can see what the fuss is about I have included a picture of the Raccoon in question.

Well – you can see what the attraction was – that is one foxy Raccoon.

What man wouldn’t be tempted after a long night in the Billabong?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

After the murder she burnt all of the photographs of them together in the oven


Rozalin called in to see and feed Muffin when we were away. This is - I hasten to add - not because she is Cate’s right hand woman but because I completed a separate Cat Minding Contract with her.

She says that Muffin drools. My response to this is that Muffin has occasionally been known to dribble when she is contented and is being cuddled. The former US President was exactly the same.

It is a sign of an uncluttered mind, the knowledge that you are the most important thing on the planet - and not having a care in the world.

I have not told Muffin what Rozalin said as it may make her self-conscious and I don’t want her to have to carry a tissue with her wherever she goes.

Incidentally – Rozalin is about to go on her honeymoon so I don’t know where that leaves me with all the questions I have. Fortunately she has a Handy – which I hope will work in Thailand – so if I have any urgent questions (for example – do ducks have elbows?) – I can ask her.

Rozalin did answer the question about duck knees. They don’t have knees but they do have joints that do similar things. However, I am sure that they can’t jump so if anyone has seen a duck jump please let me know.

Cate is too busy to go the place where they sell spectacles (whatever it is called) so I had to go with a pair of frames and her prescription. The man’s English was almost as bad as my German so – as you can imagine – it was a sensational conversation. I am hanging out to see what I really ordered.

I ordered some wine racks from the UK some time ago and followed up on them. They said that the people who deliver these types of things couldn’t find our address in Wien. I went outside and checked and our building is still in the same spot it has been for the last 100 or so years so have gone back to them with this information.

Cate is preparing for her trip to Zambia and is having bouts of injections. This is a trip for the senior management and she is really looking forward to it because there are 9 blokes and one girl (Cate).

So she is happily relishing the opportunity to engage in a number of bonding sessions where she will be able to display her considerable skills at – for example – white water rafting, bungee jumping and abseiling and – possibly – being chased by ferocious animals.

When he was younger her boss was the Captain of the German Olympic Beer Drinking Team – and is still in world class form - so the nights should be fun as well.

We thought briefly about popping over to the Billabong to the Australia Day party which is held there each year. The Billabong is a pub just on the other side of Stadtpark so it is only 10 minutes walk. But we came to our senses in time and just gazed at a picture of Kevin Rudd for a few minutes to remind us of home.

Now you know that I only pass on really good stuff from the Austrian Times so I append (without further comment) some essential reading:

“The German version of I'm a Celebrity Get me out of here has been won by an OAP killer who married a man 13 years her junior - then smashed in his skull and shot him twice because of his alleged affairs.

Ingrid van Bergen, a former film star who appeared in more than 100 films, was 46 when she murdered her estate agent husband Klaus Knath at their mansion on the Starnberger See in Germany on 2 February 1977. And although convicted and jailed for seven years the former silver screen starlet of the 50's and 60's was released in 1982 two years early because of good behaviour.

She told her jungle camp colleagues she had killed her husband after knocking back a cocktail of gin and wine, and after the murder had burnt all the photographs of them together in the oven.

She has two daughters and in recent years moved to Mallorca like many retired Germans and tried unsuccessfully to run an animal sanctuary. And although a vegetarian she agreed to eat a selection of bugs and other creatures live in order to win the title of Queen of the Jungle.

She also ate a pair of kangaroo testicles to win the event and says she is now hoping to get a job as a TV presenter or as a standup comedian”.

They just don’t have stuff like that in the International Herald Tribune – or in the Financial Times to which we now subscribe.

What I don’t understand is why they were together in the oven – is this some weird German thing?

She certainly wouldn’t get a job as a TV presenter in Australia at age 78. The retirement age for women is about 35 unless they are spectacularly good looking or married the boss – but men newsreaders get to do it until they topple from their Zimmer frames during a live broadcast.

Answers for Anna:

The books I am buying from Amazon are mainly to do with the research for my novel which is about the experiences of an Austrian family in WWII. This novel will be too esoteric and boring ever to be published and is being written solely for the intellectual exercise.

Everyone has a novel inside them and in 99.99% of cases that is exactly where it should stay.

I note with some interest that Britney Spears has signed a book deal for a 3 to 5 volume set of memoirs. 3 to 5 volumes? Churchill wrote 'The History of the English Speaking Peoples' in 4 volumes.

It is reported that "It'll be a gripping read." Can't wait!

Cate’s nose has not frozen as she now wears a Weber Gas Powered Nose Warmer.

The Kitten Acquisition Program is in full swing and is being hampered only by the absence of kittens due to the time of the year.

Yes - We love and miss you all dreadfully and spend most of our time snuffling quietly into glasses of Gruner Veltliner while we think about you.

Yes Heath Ledger will win an Oscar. There is nothing the Academy likes more than a dead actor. (These are the best kind – Academy members no longer have to compete with them for jobs).

Monday, January 26, 2009

I have survived my first ledge toilet

Bad Ischl is a gorgeous place. There is only one awful place in town – and we were staying in it.

My problem is that I still (after all these years) believe the blurb and the photos. What in the website photo looked like a beautiful little boutique hotel nestling on the banks of the Traun River was in fact a tragic and ancient ruin that would have been at home in Gaza.

There was no air conditioning. Heating yes – cooling no. We had to open the windows (overlooking the car park) so that we got some air. The problem then was that the clock tower and church bells were only 50 metres away.

The clock chimes every quarter hour. The church bells ring very early in the morning – and on Saturday - and they ring for a long time.

We wouldn’t have minded all this but this is supposed to be a 4 Star hotel. As Cate said – perhaps they have a different system of starage in Bad Ischl – with one star being a cardboard box under the bridge.

And the killer – a Ledge Toilet (shriek!)

But – The town is indeed beautiful and we had a very nice time. First thing on Saturday we did what we always do in a new town and Cate hit the clothing stores. I sat around for a couple of hours playing with my iPhone and only got her out when I threatened to buy some traditional Austrian provincial clothing – which was very nice and astonishingly expensive. I have put Lederhosen right out of my thoughts as a good pair costs nearly €1,000.

We stayed out as long as possible so that we didn’t have to go back to the hotel room and took this to extremes on Saturday night when after a meal in the best restaurant in town (!) we went to a bar where all the beautiful people in Bad Ischl hang out. Surprisingly – they let us in despite our age and lack of coolness and we sat there in this smoke filled den watching all these girls and boys having a really good time.

We sucked thoughtfully on some quite nice Gruner Veltliner while we surveyed the scene and when we finished the bottle we staggered gasping into the night and hung our clothes out the window at the hotel to get rid of some of the smoke. We did not see anyone in the bar who was not smoking.

McDonalds (yes I’m afraid so) had a poster on the window advertising an Australia Day celebration on Saturday – with a didgeridoo player. Another bar was also having an Australia Day celebration. We could not find out what the connection was (except that there is a town nearby called Bad Aussee).

On Sunday we had a leisurely drive back to Wien the long way round through Hallstatt and up to Linz. The country is very beautiful indeed and we encountered many exciting things including cross country skiers. (I mention in passing that another two Austrian skiers popped their clogs on the weekend).

Billy Benz performed magnificently – although we were very lucky as the roads were mainly dry and there was no snow or ice.

I have acquired Katzengrass from the markets in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse and Muffin is happily munching this again.

I have also acquired a Sony Handycam because I believe that my blog readers deserve to be able to watch moving pictures of ducks and Muffin eating her Katzengrass. I bet you just can’t wait.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The superior litter is made out of mulched owls

Our Billy (Photo by the two Es)

I have been silent on the ducks for a while so the therapy is apparently working. However I do see them every day and can report that they are well. Yesterday two of them were trying to peck each other to death but I put a stop to that by shouting at them along the lines that didn’t they have enough to worry about with the cold and not having knees that they should try to kill each other as well.

There was a man there who looked at me strangely but as he was busy breaking the ice with a stick it did not bother me too much.

I bought an ice scraper, a first aid kit and some vests from OAMTC so that we are prepared for our trip to Bad Ischl. If you have an accident here you cannot get out of your car unless you are wearing a vest (Warnweste). (This does not apply if you are dead).

The theory is that you will be more visible wearing these brightly coloured vests and will not be run over by another motorist. I bet!

We don’t have a spare tire – at all. There is a space for one of those tiny little play wheels that they use these days – but there is no tire in there. Helmut Bangflanger from Wiesenthal – who sold us the car – says that they don’t supply tires any more but that all you have to do is to call Mercedes or OAMTC and someone will come and fix your tire for you. I bet!

There is apparently a pressure pack of stuff that you can use to pump up a flat tire. This is very carefully concealed underneath the space where the tiny little play wheel would be if there was one. Helmut says it is difficult to get out but that in a emergency you just tear the cover off and dig it out. I think we probably need to carry an axe for this purpose – or call the fire brigade.

I went to the our favourite Blumen in the Wollzeile to buy some more Katzengrass but it had apparently burnt down over Christmas. This is unfortunate because the Blumen on our street says that they do not have Katzengrass and cannot get any. I find this very strange but have accepted it at face value – why would they lie? Perhaps it is my accent and they thought I had asked for Apfelstrudel.

So I will have to go further afield and will try the Blumen in markets in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse.

In the meantime I have coloured some paper strips green and hung them on the remains of the Katzengrass plant. Muffin is quite content with these and they will do the job until I can ship in the right stuff.

Cate has told me that Rozalin has suggested that I am not using kitty litter of an appropriately high standard. My protests that I get the most expensive stuff that money can buy brought the retort ‘Yes – but at Billa’.

(i.e. you are such a bad and careless cat minder that you insult your cat by buying inferior litter at a supermarket. No wonder ICO will have nothing to do with you).

Apparently there is much better stuff and it can be acquired from a pet shop (where they don’t sell pets – just the stuff they need – if you want a cat here you contact an Insane Cat Owner).

The superior litter is made out of mulched owls and has flakes of gold. Each pellet has been hand carved by artisans in Bregenz and has the Hapsburgs family shield engraved on it.

Tomorrow I will have to drag my sorry ass down there to have a look. I will take my money with me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We nearly had a criminal in our house

In Austria there are no Sea Wasps, Irukandji, Brown snakes, Great White sharks, Funnel Web spiders, Redback spiders or Crocodiles. The most dangerous creature in Austria is the Hedgehog – and as far as I can tell there have not been any deaths so far from human contact with the Igel.

However, almost everything you do in winter is lethal. I have already reported on the mayhem on the ski slopes. I now need to warn you of the dangers of ice skating. I quote again from that journal of record, the Austrian Times:

“Ice skating injuries are soaring - with 4,500 skaters hospitalised so far this winter.The Committee for Traffic Safety (KfV) said today (Tues) 4,500 ice-skaters had been injured badly enough to need hospital treatment in 2007 in Austria.

Every second injured person was younger than 15 years of age, KfV added. KfV said wrist injuries had accounted for a quarter of all skating injuries and head injuries for 15 per cent of the total. KfV advised everyone, especially children, to wear helmets while ice-skating.

KfV added few ice-skaters had broken through the ice and fallen into cold water. Some deaths had occurred in such cases, KfV noted, adding it was imperative for skaters to find out how thick the ice was where they would be skating before putting on their skates.”

Very good advice indeed – and advice you would not think would be necessary but apparently in matters of personal safety the Austrians are as dumb as everyone else.

We watched the Inauguration of President Obama and were very excited by the whole business. I loved his speech but need to hear the poem again because I may not have grasped all of its meanings and it did not stir my soul – but poetry is hard these days and is rarely appreciated.

I particularly liked the part where George W Bush climbed into the helicopter and disappeared.

We had decided that we would get two girl kittens and had appointed Rozalin as our Kitten Acquisition Officer (KAO). In the absence of many candidates she chanced upon a boy and a girl who were extremely gorgeous. Let’s call them Harry and Sally.

An initial picture was supplied and, after a request, further photos were provided. After much careful consideration we decided that these two were the ones for us so made the emotional commitment to move forward.

The KAO put things in train for us to acquire Harry and Sally.

The first hurdle was that the Cat Owner (CO) wanted to visit our apartment and meet us to make sure that we were suitable owners. We thought that this was an admirable request because she clearly cared about where her cats went.

We were advised that as we had balconies we needed to put nets over these so that Harry and Sally did not hurl themselves to their deaths or go running over the roof tops.

Harry and Sally are apparently a special breed of Austrian Jumping Cats.

We said that this would be fine and the net would serve to stop the local owls from swooping down and attacking us while we were sitting on the balcony. This hadn’t happened so far but you never know what may happen in Wien.

But then she discovered that we were Australians and that one day we may return to Australia and take Harry and Sally with us. She told us that it would be cruel to take cats on an airplane and that we were clearly not suitable people to look after Harry and Sally.

Relationships then deteriorated between the KAO and the CO. KAO had made some investment in this transaction and was disturbed by the outcome. Harsh words were exchanged. The CO became the Insane CO (ICO) and there was a flurry of emails. The relationship was terminated.

Our initial devastation was mitigated by the fact that a closer examination of the photos revealed some serious flaws. It was clear that Harry’s eyes were too close together and that in all probability he had a criminal mind. Harry was always sitting on top of Sally – who was clearly in fear for her life.

We very nearly brought a killer into our home - a narrow escape indeed!

So we are back top Plan A which is to acquire two girl kittens – neither of which is a criminal. I will keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Germans make remarkable saucepans

This is Bandit. Son David's one-eyed puppy recently acquired. Bandit lives in Sydney with his cousin Lenny (who reads my blog).

It’s Obama Day. The President Bush Countdown Clock on Jill’s desktop in Sydney will finally run out. Years ago we would watch this in horror at the number of days still remaining and tell each other ‘Be Strong – he will go one day!’.

I took Will and Kris to the Flughafen this morning for their flight back to Washington. They will be back in time for the numerous Inauguration Balls – but as they haven’t been invited to any this is not really important to them.

More important to Kris is getting back to her cats Steve and Sophie.

Will is really looking forward to this too because he loves cats (joke!). But he was good when he was here. On one occasion he actually touched Muffin (briefly) and made what he thought were soothing cat noises but actually sounded like a frog choking on a cricket. Of course he then went and had a good wash.

Sophie is a unique cat. On the occasions that we have stayed with Will and Chris in Vienna (Virginia not Austria) we have only ever seen fleeting glimpses of Sophie in the distance. She is (to say the least) rather shy and I have never actually been able to get closer than about 5 metres. I think when she was very small she saw Dick Cheney on TV and has never been the same since.

Of course we forgive Will for his lack of love for cats as he has many other redeeming features.

One of these is his ability to act as a Museum Divining Rod. Get him within a kilometer of a museum and his nose starts to twitch and he is off like a rabbit out of a burrow. He knows the location of every museum in Europe – he also knows exactly what is in them and – if left unchecked – can describe each article, its provenance, purpose and history.

I carry a club when I go out with him so that I can stun him every now and then to slow him down.

Will is to museums what Cate is to churches.

We went to Melk and drove back through the Wachau Valley to Krems where we dismounted and walked for some time in sub freezing temperatures to admire the many closed shops which adorn the main streets.

We had so much fun we contemplated getting naked and flogging each other with tree branches but decided that on the whole we would rather go indoors and have some lunch.

Will (of course) found a museum – which fortunately was closed – and Cate found two churches – both of which had to be visited – but not by me. I have been into many churches and they all look the same to me.

Billy Benz had his first car wash on Saturday and brushed up nicely – but some toad nudged him in a car park and put white paint on his front side. I was able to get this off with some form of spirit cleaner so he still remains in a pristine state.

We needed some new cushions so went to Lutz in Landstrasse and while we were there I was finally able to convince Cate that I should have the new saucepans that have been promised to me for so long.

These are made by WMF and are remarkable - and a triumph of German engineering. I think it is unlikely that they will improve my cooking dramatically – but they will make me feel better.

On Saturday we went to Cantinetta Antinori – which once again was terrific. On Monday night we went to Plachutta so that Will and Kris could have some authentic Viennese cuisine. They went at it with gusto and ate a number of parts of cows that I try to not even think about. But they gave it the thumbs up.

Anna is complaining that I never answer her questions. Well - here is one answer. Doodles Creek products are available from Norton Street Grocer, Relish in Norton Street, and Fine Food Store Rozelle. If you have problems let me know and I will do some more scouting.

Tomorrow I shall tell you about the great Kitten Acquisition Disaster of 2009.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Badger is taking the day off

A lovely sunny day - which Muffin enjoyed immensely. Will and Kris are here and I am mooching about doing not much and learning some German. The blog will be back tomorrow.

I have news about the Kitten Acquisition Program!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I would equip skiers with bells

Ice Hockey on the Alte Donau

I am having such trouble with separable verbs that I am really considering not using any of them at all. I have worked out that it is entirely possible to avoid using them -although you sometimes have to approach the subject in a fairly oblique manner and have to hope that the person to whom you are addressing yourself does not doze off before you get to the punch line.

For example if you want to say ‘I am getting out of bed early tomorrow’ without using the appropriate separable verb for ‘getting up’ you can say:

‘I will be in bed early tomorrow’ and ‘A short time later I will not be in bed’. Both of these are easy to say and do not require a separable verb. You have explained the situation neatly. Of course you will get some strange looks but that happens to me anyway.

It snowed heavily yesterday and I went to play in it and had a wonderful time. I wore my hiking boots which proved to be ideal. It gets very sloshy once it has been walked on and driven on – and then becomes very slippery. Being as sure-footed as a cougar with the reflexes of a mongoose - I of course had no problems.

Everything is covered with a blanket of snow and the city and Stadtpark look fantastic. The ducks are taking it in their stride and still have a pond in which they can paddle about.

I am not sure how this happens and think that when no one is watching the ducks must jump up and down on the freshly forming ice to stop it from getting hard. I have never seen a duck jump but I suppose it is possible. I think you need knees to jump and I am not sure that ducks have knees. Wikipedia is silent on this subject.

I can’t think of any other reason apart from duck jumping why most of the pond would freeze over quickly while a little pond remains unfrozen.

On the whole it would probably have been better if we did not live next to Stadtpark so that I would not have become obsessed with the ducks.

There were lots of people out cleaning snow off the streets and scattering kitty litter everywhere. I saw my first kitty litter scattering machine which is like a cement mixer on the back of a tractor. I am now wondering what happens to the kitty litter after it has been scattered.

I know that it gradually disappears (from my experience with the snow before Christmas) but where does it go. If it gets washed into the drains then surely there will be a massive build up and one day all the drains in Wien will become clogged up and there will be a catastrophe.

Thank the Leaping Llamas we are on the sixth floor as we will certainly escape a hideous death. As soon as my German is up to it I will warn the neighbours of the impending doom and help them move their furniture to higher ground.

Yesterday was our first drive to and from work in heavy snow and we crept along with all the other traffic. I was surprised at the care which drivers seemed to be taking as they usually drive like lunatics. It was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be but of course at the moment it is just snowy – not icy. That will present us with another problem altogether.

The roads are far better than the slopes where crazy skiers are killing each other in droves. As far as I can tell, 6 skiers have been killed in Austria in the last week, one by a ‘hit and run skier’ and there have been hundreds of injuries requiring visits to hospital.

I quote from the Austrian Times:

“The spate of winter-sports accidents continued over this past weekend, with two more deaths reported.

On Saturday, two 13-year-old Slovene youths collided in Bad Kleinkirchheim in Carinthia, with one dying in the snow of a broken neck. And a German woman died near St. Gilgen in Upper Austria while touring on snowshoes when she fell off a cliff.

On Sunday, a 16-year-old Dane suffered a fractured pelvis when she skied into a pylon near Innsbruck, and a snowboarder collided with and severely injured a 61-year old woman and then fled the scene near Mittersill in Salzburg.Surgeons who have been attending to victims of winter-sports accidents are calling the situation in ski areas "warlike." Some 400 people have had to seek medical assistance daily, with many remaining hospitalised for some time.Surgeon Siegfried Nagl at Kitzbühel Hospital in Tyrol said: "Our outpatient clinic has been filled to overflowing."

Some 51,600 winter-sports participants received hospital treatment during the 2007/2008 winter season, and the number this season is expected to be higher than 60,000.”

If we exclude the German woman who fell off a cliff – you can hardly blame anyone else for that – there is still a formidable array of deaths and injuries.

There is a move in some quarters to make people wear helmets but there is significant opposition: I quote again:

“There is opposition to mandatory use of skiing helmets, however. Austrian ski-lift operators are the group most-recently expressing opposition to it.Erik Wolf, the head of the ski-lift association in the Federal Economy Chamber, said last week the best solution would be to allow individual skiers to decide whether to wear helmets.Wolf said: "It would make no sense if a person failed to understand why he should wear a helmet."

Wolf also rejected the idea of making lift operators responsible for the wearing of helmets by skiers. He asked: "What could be done if a skier went up wearing a helmet and then took it off and skied down without it? Who would be responsible in case he were injured while not wearing a helmet? And what about people who take a lift up the mountain because they live up there?"

No – I have no idea what Erik is talking about – but if you think of something please let me know.

It strikes me that Erik lacks imagination and that in an IQ playoff with Muffin and her horse he may come third.

Me? I would equip all skiers with bells like the ones they have on bicycles. Then at least the ancient men and women who are annihilated on the mountains can shuffle off the mortal coil with a tinkling in their ears.

Cate wants me to go skiing but – you know – I can think of many, many better things to do than be killed by a 13 year old snowboarder travelling at 120 kilometres per hour.

Call me Mr Old Fashioned but I would rather merge with infinity while sitting in front of the fire with a glass of 2004 Gruner Veltliner from the Wachau Valley.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

There is a flaw in the 'Horse for Muffin' plans

Cate - I think there is a duck under here!

I went to the Feuerhaus in Gumpendorferstrasse to buy some gloves for when we are stoking the fire and stopping the red hot Sushi rolls from incinerating Muffin. On the way home it started to snow so I stopped to do up my Siberian Elk Hunters hat - which was flapping in the breeze.

I put my parcels on a narrow ledge next to a window and pressed against it while I did up my hat. My nose was very close to the window glass and as my fingers were cold it took some fiddling to get it right.

As I was making ready to resume my journey I realised with horror that I was peering into a room in which three pregnant women were lying on the floor exercising.

I was of course gone in a flash and I hope they didn’t see me leering in at them – grimacing as I did my cap up. I went like the clappers down the street and around the corner and shook off any pursuers in the snow. How would I explain that to Cate.

‘You have been arrested for WHAT?’

The flaw in the 'Horse for Muffin' plans has been pointed out to us. The horse won’t fit into the elevator and we can hardly make it walk up and down six flights of stairs every time we take it out for a gallop around the courtyard. Apart from anything else it would make a hell of a racket.

Also, inevitably it will be more intelligent than Muffin (who I regret to say is not intellectually gifted) and this is likely to cause friction.

‘Hey, why is the cat riding ME? I am the smart one here.’

As a side issue I mention that I have been trying out Muffin on a number of different types of cat food and have had some notable successes. I have managed to move away from the usual slop to such things as ‘Toasted Moose Ears in Aspic’ and ‘Grilled Panda Gizzards with Bamboo Sauce’.

She also likes Tiramisu and Prager Ham and will kill for Spaghetti Bolognese.

On the home front I made Mrs Henderson’s Three Potato Hotpot again but could only get one type of potato so it became a ‘One Potato and One Carrot Hotpot’ – but was outstanding nevertheless.

I also had a notable success with my first Hungarian Goulash Soup from the Plachutta Recipe Book. It was judged by those participating to be outstanding – if perhaps in need a smidgen more Paprika. We will fix this next time.

There are many interesting recipes in this book but I have torn out all the pages that mention calf’s heads and the livers of any animal at all.

I have received a lovely photo of Billy from the two Es (Emma and Erin) who were his cat minders in Sydney. I shall post this on Flickr. Also another letter from Anna.

I have made a booking for the weekend after next at Bad Ischl which they say is lovely – and I am sure they are right. Rozalin is going to look after Muffin.

Rozalin is also going to monster the people who are supposed to be fixing our heating to see if she can get anything to happen. If nothing happens she is going to play Rammstein outside their office until they cave in (I’d give it an hour at the most).

Will and Kris are coming this weekend so I am laying in more supplies of wood as we have to keep the fire going at night if we are going to stay in the living room.

I attach – without comment - the following quote from the Sydney Morning Herald

“Australia's "man of steel'', the former prime minister John Howard, has been honoured by the President of the United States, George W Bush, for his role as a staunch ally of the US in the fight against terrorism.

Receiving the award in the lavish East room of the White House, where the famous portrait of George Washington hangs, Mr. Howard looked chuffed as Mr. Bush, a close friend, pinned the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the US's highest civilian award, around his neck.”

There is so much I could say – but as John Howard was bounced at the last election and it is Inauguration Day next week I will continue to take my medication and will not comment.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My new hat is made out of rats

We went to Fabios in Tuchlauben for the first time and it is now Cate’s favourite restaurant – but she is very fickle and likely to jump ship very quickly.

Our favourite would have been Indochine 21 but there were some regrettable incidents late in the evening last time we were there with Gwenyth and we are going to have to wait a while before going back.

On Sunday we went to the Alte Donau near the Vienna Centre and it was an amazing sight with skaters formicating all over the ice. This was another first for me as I have only ever seen scenes like this on the silver screen.

Cate and I managed to hop about on the ice a bit without killing ourselves but have decided against trying to skate on it. It is too hard and too cold.

On our way out I said to Cate that she should get some practice getting Billy out of the garage. She reluctantly agreed but went at it with a will and tried very, very hard to crash into the Audi on the rack on the other side of the garage.

I shouted very loudly and she stopped just in time, missing it by about a millimetre. ‘Excuse me’ I said ‘didn’t you hear the proximity alarms screaming at you?’.

‘Oh yes’ she said ‘but I thought they were mistaken’.

It must be a girl thing.

It is starting to get very cold indeed and we are really feeling it. Cate has bought me another furry hat. The sales assistant said that it is made out of rats - but she may have meant a similar furry creature as she was struggling a bit. Cate has also bought a large and tea cosy to keep her ears warm. She hates the way she looks but is now so cold that she is losing interest in being fashionable.

We went to the Wollzeile and found a shoe store where the very effusive and persistent Italian man assured us that all his shoes were very comfortable and very cheap so Cate bought four pairs of shoes and a pair of boots. And they were indeed very cheap (for Wien!) – as they were all on sale and all half price.

Cate now has (I am guessing) 2,000 pairs of shoes so I am waiting for her to say (real soon) ‘I don’t have any shoes to wear with this dress!’ At which time I will say ‘Darling – you should buy some more shoes – We can rent another apartment so that you have somewhere to store them’.

I also bought a pair of shoes as Cate is sick to death of my sneakers which I wear (together with my black T Shirts) every day of my life.

As we still have no heating I went off to Saturn at SCS to buy another couple of heaters and there was not much left but I got a couple to keep us going. I have hassled the building people but don’t hold out much hope of getting anything done while it is so cold. I Imagine the workman will all be huddled up somewhere drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and playing cards and will not emerge until spring.

We now have (temporary) drivers licences. I went to collect them in the morning and confirmed my view that all driving licence places are the same the world over. They are built by the same colour blind anally retentive architects and staffed by people who go to the same training college where they are flogged mercilessly and tortured with red hot irons.

They are singularly the most depressing places on earth and the only thing they don’t have is hanging points so that the punters can’t do away with themselves while waiting in line.

Monday, January 12, 2009

If you are a duck you have to suck it up!

I think I have mastered Handy Parken. For those of you not in the loop – Handy Parken is a system in Austria where you can pay for short term parking using your mobile (cell) phone. These are know as Handys is Austria – (and no I don’t know why - except that they are...handy)

So when you park - basically anywhere - you send an SMS saying how much time you want and then your account is charged. Some time before the time is up you get an SMS reminder so that you can extend if you want to.

It is a magnificent system and shows just how clever the Austrians really are!

The concept of registration is simple – but of course the Handy Parken site is in German – and I am sure that many of the words are not real ones as I can’t find them anywhere.So I had to go online to give my Handy number, car registration number, credit card details – and where I wanted to do my prison time if I broke the rules. The last one was tough because I don’t know the prison system here yet – but it won’t be long. I have opted for the most southerly one as it is likely to be warmer.

Apparently even German speakers find the site difficult but I managed by putting at least something in all the boxes and at the end I got a message which probably said that I had been registered.

I tested the system by asking for 30 minutes parking and got an SMS reminder so I think it works. We shall see!

In my recent travels I saw a woman park a 40 Tonne Envirocrusher on the corner of our street and walk across the road into the bank.

Naturally a Parking Police Person (she was apparently hidden in the bottle recycling bin) appeared within seconds and started writing a ticket. Whereupon the woman came leaping and bounding across the road (think Olympic Games Hop, Step and Jump) and an animated conversation followed – probably along the following lines:

‘I only parked for a minute – I just had to go into the bank’

‘Ah – but it is illegal to park on the corner’

‘But I was only a minute – surely you aren’t going to give me a ticket for that’

‘Well….it is illegal to park on the corner’

‘I urgently needed money – my mother has cancer and I have to buy her medicine’

‘Yes that is so sad – my mother is also nearly dead – but it is illegal to park on the corner’

‘Did I mention that my child has been kidnapped and unless I get the ransom money they will cut off her left ear?’

‘That’s terrible – fancy having a child with only one ear – but it is illegal to park on the corner’.

Muffin has always been fascinated with Discovery and National Geographic channels – mainly the ones to do with animals – and particularly big cats.

But she has now developed a fixation on horses and spent ages yesterday watching a show about horses – she was transfixed. Cate and I are wondering whether we should get a horse instead of kittens as it may be better company for her. We would of course need a larger litter box.

Muffin also spends a lot of time now watching CNN. She is very concerned about the situation in the Middle East and I have had to tell her that there are no cats at all in the Middle East so there is no danger to any of her feline family. I don’t think she is convinced.

I am feeling much more relaxed since Gwenyth told me that there are ducks in Leipzig and that when the lakes freeze over they just sit on the ice. Jill says that they have lots of down and that this keeps them very warm. There is a still a little bit of water left but it is getting perilously close to being all ice - and stiffen the lizards it is cold!
It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun but if you are a duck I guess you just have to suck it up.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My gorgeous Ducky on ice

This is my sunshine, my life, my reason for being. The answer to a never ending story. The person without whom my life has no meaning. The answer to the question 'Why are we here?'

Why is she with me?
Because she loves me almost as much as I love her.
Am I glad?
You Betcha!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What is the point of a single bottle holder?

Frozen Duck Pond

I have been searching for a wine rack. We drink so much white wine now that we have to lay in serious stocks and have run out of capacity to store them. We are using some of the full cartons as tables and chairs but need more storage space.

The Austrians (or – for that matter – the Germans) do not seem to have storage racks of the type to which we are accustomed. You know – big wooden mothers that hold 90 bottles. They do however have an infinite variety of single bottle holders made into any form you could possible want – including cats and rats.

We have as much need for a single bottle holder as our neighbours Annie and Jim in Sydney. In fact I think Jim is trying to invent a corkscrew that opens two bottles at a time.
The best IKEA could do was a 6 bottle holder. 6 bottles? Give me a break!

After searching diligently through every local store website and scouring I gave up and ordered one from Amazon UK. The delivery costs are almost as much as the cost of the rack but hell – it’s still less than the cost of a bottle of Loibner Gruner Veltliner at Indochine 21. We owe Gwenyth big time for that one and will plan a suitable knees up when we come to Sydney. I am guessing the degustation menu at Bistro Ortolan with some Grange.

My experience so far is that the best place to buy books is They have a big English book section, delivery is very quick and the delivery costs are very low. It is a big change from Australia where the books were cheap from but the delivery costs were very high and it took weeks to get a book.

I have ordered a book called ‘The Care and Maintenance of Ducks in Cold Climates’ so that I can be sure the guys over the road are OK. I bet it says that I shouldn’t be giving them Rogan Josh. I hope it doesn’t talk about Beak Muffs because I can’t find these on Amazon either.

I have checked on the chaps today and they are all very well – at least the ones I spoke to were – the ones up the back were busy sticking their heads under their wings looking for something. (a flippant and gratuitously offensive remark about the current President of the United States would normally be inserted in a spot like this - but I am in remission).

Rozalin has found the place where I have to store the summer tires so I have to load them up and deliver them in Billy to Cate’s office where a kind man will take them away until the weather warms up. They are extraordinarily heavy and difficult to move.

We still haven’t had to drive on icy roads so have no idea what the experience is like. Let me guess. Terrifying? I thought so. Rozalin is arranging some snow and ice driver training. I imagine that this will include how to hit high C in unison as you slide off into a crevasse.

As we suspected, the changes to the smoking regulations have had almost no impact at all. I have seen only three places that have even bothered with signs. But Oberlaa has gone non smoking so we will go there for our coffee and cake until they change back in a month or so.

By some sort of miracle I dismantled the Christmas tree on the day I was supposed to so I hope that this will count in my favour at the trial later in the year when I am prosecuted for all the atrocities I have perpetrated upon the Austrian state and its people. It’s not much - but I have done so many bad things here that every little thing helps.

Russia has cut off all gas supplies to Austria and I am expecting to be nailed with that one as well.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Do ducks like Rogan Josh?

A Parking Thingy

Rozalin is searching for a parking thingy. The purpose of this is to enable us to park in exactly the right spot to avoid any unfortunate incidents – such as the tearing off of vital pieces of the car while the ramp is in motion. This has happened before - as reported in this blog.

What is supposed to happen is that you put it in the right spot then each time you park you can just drive forward until the wheels rest against the thingy and you know you are parked properly. This doesn’t help with the sides so I may have to get a mattress and tie it to the rails.

The proximity alarms work to some degree but we have to park so close that they shriek at us and we panic. Thanks goodness they don’t shout in German.

Rozalin has sent a picture of a thingy to the manufacturers of the parking hoists – who also have their names on the thingies being used by the other drivers – so we hope for a result soon. To find the name of the thingy makers I picked one up to have a closer look. I hope I put it back in the right spot - and will listen for grinding and crunching noises later.

I went to have another look at the ducks today and they look quite relaxed. I don’t understand why a duck can be quite comfortable when it is 25 degrees and also quite comfortable when it is minus 4 degrees. Do they grow extra feathers in winter?

Tomorrow the forecast is for minus 10. I will go over and have another look at them because (as you can tell) I am quite concerned. We have some Rogan Josh left over from a recent batch so I may heat it up and mix it with some rice and take it over for them so that they have a decent feed instead of the bread and other muck that the old ladies give them.

I went to Wein and Co to get some supplies as they have a 20% off everything sale. I bought a mix of three dozen whites which should keep Cate going until the end of next week – depending upon how stressful it is.

Anyone who says that you can’t get enough nourishment to survive from white wine, peanuts and chocolate should live with Cate when she is under pressure.

Cate said last night ‘what I’d really like is a job that pays me a lot of money for doing almost nothing’ to which I responded ‘I’ve got one’.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cate is a bit Glum

Blog Headquarters

It’s snowing reasonably heavily today and Muffin has decided that she does not really like snow. She went for her usual voyage of discovery on the terrace this morning and lasted less than 5 seconds – but left a nice little circle of paw prints in the snow.

We went to check on the ducks before dark (i.e. about 3:00 PM) and they still have some pond left - but not much. The ice is very thick and can be walked on out to the edge. The duck feeding lady was there when we were there and they were having a fine time.

I looked at the Indochine 21 website and discovered why the Gruner Veltliner was so gorgeous – it is about €90 per bottle. I don’t think we will be buying that one from Wein and Co.

The Christmas tree has been dismantled and the decorations including owls, bears and igels have been wrapped up and put away in the basement. I chopped up the tree and we burned some of it in the fire. It makes a very satisfying popping, crackling noise.

Cate is back to work tomorrow so is quite glum today. Still we have had a nice break and there was actually one whole day when she did not look at her BlackBerry. She was of course in a fine state by the end of the day and was itching all over.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I know what Klimt was thinking

Melissa emailing in Wien

Gwenyth is now in Leipzig and on her way home.

Prior to her departure she took us for a sumptuous feast at Indochine 21 which is in Stubenring near Stadtpark and about 10 minutes walk for us.

There we had the most amazing white wine I have ever had – a Gruner Veltliner from the Loibner region in the Wachau Valley. It was golden and smooth and superbly divine. I had not imagined that white wine could taste so good. We liked it so much that we drank three bottles – washed down with a Riesling chaser.

The food (French Vietnamese Cuisine) was also astonishingly good.

This was a night to remember – especially for the staff at Indochine 21. During the evening they decided to teach us German and we responded by teaching them Australian. So if you meet some delightful young people in Wien who ask you ‘How are your mother’s chooks?’ you will know where they got it from.

It took us a lot longer to get home because we got lost in Stadtpark and circled the duck pond twice. This despite being able to see our building from Stadtpark.

The duck pond is almost frozen over and I don’t know if it freezes over completely – and if so what the ducks do. There are some people who feed the ducks so I assume that they won’t starve – but I do worry about them. I have made some enquiries without result so will consult the oracle on Wednesday. One person said that the ducks go south for winter – in which case they have left their departure very late indeed.

They might be waiting for George Bush to go just to be on the safe side. Who would want to be in the air between now and Inauguration Day?

We spent half a day shopping in Mariahilferstrasse and Cate set out with an extensive shopping list but failed to tick off a single item on it. The sales are on at the moment and it is absolute mayhem everywhere.

Tuesday is a holiday (It’s too cold to go to work day?) which made it even more difficult. We have had some small flurries of snow and note that the Kitty Litter fairy has been out and about today so it looks like mores snow is coming.

There are hordes of tourists here at the moment. We went to Belvedere to see the Klimt exhibition and it was absolutely heaving. There are many Italians – which I guess makes sense as they are just next door.

I really like Klimt because I can almost understand his paintings – or thought I did until I started to read a book about his art. I am not sure how people who write about art can know what the painter was thinking but this art expert man – who was born a considerable time after Klimt died – was able to tell us exactly what Klimt was thinking - and trying to say.

Me? I thought is was a picture of a woman sitting on a chair – and a damn fine looking woman she was too – but what would I know.

My guess is that that Klimt was thinking – hold still dear – as soon as I nail this we can open a bottle of really good Gruner Veltliner and get hammered.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Cate is no longer a speeding fine virgin

Melissa and Cate at Mauthausen.

So much has happened here I just don’t know where to start. Leaping Lizards it has been exciting.

New smoking regulations came into force on 1 January but they are meaningless and will almost have no effect. I quote from an article in the Austrian Times:

‘Austria will introduce a partial smoking ban in bars and restaurants on 1 January but with half measures and special allowances, critics are doubtful it will make much difference to existing habits.

Under the new law, which was rushed through parliament just before it was dissolved in July ahead of snap elections, establishments under 50 square metres will be able to choose whether to accept smokers or not. And two thirds of pubs, clubs and cafes have said they will continue to allow smoking, according to the latest survey by the Austrian chamber of commerce (WKÖ).

Bigger establishments that do not wish to become entirely smoke-free will have to turn at least 50 per cent of their surface into protected no-smoking areas. But those between 50 and 80 square metres can escape required partitioning on architectural, security or conservation grounds, and 38.4 per cent said they would seek an exemption from the authorities, meaning they will likely remain open to smokers, the WKÖ found. Those that do plan a partition will have until 1 July, 2010 to do so and can continue to allow smoking until then.’

The new laws are such a joke that its is difficult to believe that the NSW State Government was not involved.

However, some suicidal innkeepers may decide to go for the non-smoking option and will have a sign on their doors to this effect. We will patronise these places until they go bankrupt in a month or so.

Gwenyth has proved to be a real party girl. When she said her idea of a good time was a piece of cheese, a glass of red wine and a DVD we could hardly contain our excitement.

So our usual evening recreation is to watch some DVDs and go to bed fairly early. We watched 3 movies on New Year’s Eve but managed to stay awake until midnight and watch a spectacular fireworks display from our living room.

At one stage Gwenyth ventured out on to the terrace to get a better look so after a few minutes we had to strip her off and throw her on the fire until she turned pink again.

We have a 180 degree view of the city so we saw most of the fireworks which seemed to go from the Rathaus down past the Wollzeile. It was really quite a sight.

There were lunatics setting off crackers all night and they were still at it very early in the morning. We thought this would bother Muffin but she seemed to be OK and is starting to settle down a bit after the departure of Bill.

Gwenyth just loves Wien but is suffering badly from the cold. We can only venture out for short periods and have to come back to recover. Cate and Gwenyth have been cycling and have so far ridden around the ring three times. I warned Gwenyth that she is likely to be T Boned by Cate so she has given her a wide berth and has only fallen off once - all by herself.

Gwenyth has borrowed my Siberian Elk Hunters hat and looks like a WWII Soviet Fighter Pilot – but has warm ears.

We went to Melk Abbey and had a guided tour – which is the only way you can go there at this time of the year. It was absolutely freezing and I was the coldest I have been so far. We drove back through the Wachau valley which is absolutely delightful and quite the prettiest place we have seen so far in Austria.

Cate collected our first speeding ticket with an impressive 92 kilometers per hour in a 50 zone. The heroic policeman leapt out in front of her with a stop sign on a stick but she wasn’t paying attention and was committed to running him over until Gwenyth and I screamed in unison and she slammed on the brakes. We now know that these work outstandingly well.

After he had a quick change of underpants he started lecturing Cate in German and went on for some time until I nudged Cate and suggested she tell him that she didn’t speak German.

Well he didn’t speak English so we have some trouble – especially when he wanted the registration papers and I had to tell him that these were in our apartment in Wien.

Eventually he wrote out a docket and gave Cate a fine of €20 – which is so ludicrous that we now understand why people speed in Austria without compunction. I mean you can drive at almost double the speed limit and pay the fine out of the housekeeping money. This must be done by the same department that does the smoking regulations.

Of course then she crept home like a snail on Prozac and was passed by farmers on hay carts shaking their fists at her.

Fortunately Gwenyth is starting to get rid of her cold – she has given it to Cate and I – so is starting to perk up. Tonight we are going out for a knees up and will pop into Café Malepop for a nightcap on the way home.

I have acquired some bubble wrap so that I can wrap up the Christmas tree ornaments prior to hacking the tree to pieces and throwing it into the fire. It is starting to look a bit sad and is ready to go. I have renamed it George Bush but it won’t be able to hang on until Inauguration Day.