Thursday, February 26, 2009

Muffin is in terrific shape

Rozalin is back from her honeymoon and has immediately acquired a new cat – Mogli who is shown here.

This is a trial run and if successful Rozalin will swing into action with our Kitten Acquisition Program as soon as we get back from Turkey.

I am pleased to advise that Muffin’s blood tests show that she is in excellent shape.

The vet rang and said that Muffin is in ‘terrific shape for her age’. I just told Muffin about the ‘terrific’ bit and didn’t burden her with the other information.

I regret to advise that deaths from skiing accidents this season have reached 29. This is an astonishing number of people to die on the ski slopes and of course does not include the thousands who have been injured and maimed.

If this many people died pursuing any other sport there would be a national outcry.

I am surprised that CNN doesn’t have cameras set up to record the mayhem.

Whenever there is a major accident (e.g. a plane crashing at Schipol airport) I know that I can forget CNN for the day – because that is all that they will show all day.

For the first few hours it is tagged as ‘breaking news’ and then in becomes ‘developing news’.

Developing news? What is it going to do? Drag itself into the air and crash again?

CNN didn’t have anyone on the ground at Schipol and the airport was closed so a reporter went there by train.

They crossed frequently to the reporter in the train who told us – well – nothing at all. Well - he was on a train wasn’t he.

I could have told them more than he did because I was at least able to see it on TV.

Then of course they interviewed almost everyone in the Netherlands – none of whom of course had actually seen the accident – but each of whom had their own fascinating perspective which they shared with the viewers (which at that stage did not include me).

Its news day and I need to bring you up to speed with what’s happening in Wien.

A British man who was caught in an avalanche on Monday afternoon at the St. Anton ski area in Tyrol informed a friend by phone about his plight.

‘Oh Hi – is that you Glenys?’

‘Yes is that you Frank – where are you?’

‘Well – I’m in the snow’

‘Really – when did you get here?’

‘No – I mean really in the snow – like I’ve been buried in an avalanche’

‘Good grief can you tell me where you are?’

‘Not really Glenys it is sort of white under here’

‘No landmarks you can see?’

‘I can see the end of my nose – just.’

‘That doesn’t help Frank, I think you are being flippant.’

Frank dug himself out without the help of Glenys.

New research has shown that Austrian drivers cover 194 million kilometres in their cars every day. Austrian churches are trying to lower the cost of travel by car by encouraging Austrians to engage in less of it during Lent, which begins today.

No I am not making this up.

The hippos at Vienna’s Schönbrunn zoo enjoy listening to classic music.Jange and Sundari, the zoo’s Nepalese hippos are much more relaxed and in a better mood when listening to the works of composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauß, according to carers.

Now a hi-fi music system has been set up in the indoor area of the animals’ enclosure to play classic masterpieces to the pair.Zoo director Dagmar Schratter said: "We tried playing contemporary music to them as well but found out they do not like that."

I wonder what would happen if they played Celine Dion? How could a Hippo take its own life?

And how do you tell if a Hippo is relaxed? I’ve never seen a Hippo that didn’t look relaxed.

I will ring Cate and ask her to pop out tonight and play some music to the Hippos from her iPod and see if their mood changes.

The Ducks however are very relaxed and I have spent some time with them today. Daisy in particular was in sparkling form and is looking forward to Spring

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cate was not eaten by an African Rock Python

This is the picture Cate would have taken if she hadn’t taken the camera under the Victoria Falls.

Cate was not eaten by an African Rock Python.

She got back to her room in the hotel at 1:30 AM. She is reasonably well this morning but could be better. Some of her colleagues are apparently not so well.

I have to devote some part of each day to administration. Most of this involves sending letters and emails to people who cannot come to grips with the fact that we live in Austria.

“Austria? why would anyone live in Austria?’.

It has taken six months for some of them to change their addresses for us. Many have not and I guess will not. I have extended our mail redirection notice in Australia for another three months to attempt to catch the stragglers.

When we moved into our house in Sydney in 2001 the people who were renting it left without telling anyone – anyone at all – where they had gone – so for years we kept getting their mail and – as we had no address for them – kept sending it back marked ‘not at this address’.

If I had known where these people were I would have asked the obvious question ‘Did you think of telling anyone at all when you moved – or did you think they would just use Pinkertons to track you down so that they could send you your bank statements, cheques, bills and credit cards’

To which the reply no doubt would have been ‘Duh’

After a couple of years we realised that some people just don’t adjust their mailing databases.

American Express, for example, was still sending the previous occupants letters at our address in 2008 – despite the fact that for years we had sent letters back to them.

Sometimes I even wrote rude comments on the letters I sent back. Things like ‘Does the fact that we have returned one of these every month for three years mean anything to you?’

To which of course the reply would be ‘Duh’

I finally worked out that it must be cheaper for them to throw returned letters away than to pay people to change the databases.

So then I threw all letters not for us into in the recycling bin.

Part of my administration time is devoted to dealing with My Bank. I have been banking with the My Bank since before I was born (my father opened an account for me).

Despite this, I was stilled treated like a perfect stranger every time I visited the local branch.

And not just any stranger – a particularly suspect one who may have just molested a close relative of the particular 14 year old child who deigned to serve me from behind a glass wall.

You know – one of those walls where you have to bend down and shout through the opening at the bottom so that everyone – not just in the branch but within a 100 metre radius, can hear everything you say.

And at the end of every transaction they say ‘Thank you choosing to bank with us - is there anything else I can do for you today?

When what they really want to say is “I Hate You – GET OUT – Next!”

Of course what I want to say is

‘I don’t choose to bank with you, I have to bank with you because I need a bank and if I thought that the other bank up the road was even a scintilla better, and not also staffed with underpaid, overworked, incompetent and unhappy half wits I would bank with them.’

Anyway – My Bank has never been able to come to grips with the fact that we no longer live in Australia. This level of disbelief, suspicion and hostility has taken many forms and includes:

You can’t do that by email you will have to send us a letter.

We didn’t get your letter – you will have to send us another one.

You can’t make a payment from your account unless you have an Australian mobile number so that we can send you an SMS for security purposes (I keep an Australian mobile phone just for this).

We can’t send your bank statements overseas, you have to have them sent to an Australian address (I don’t have one I live in Austria).

But my wife has her statements sent to her address in Austria (That is a mistake we don’t do that) (Except that you do)

My credit card expires in two months – how do I get a new one. (We don’t send credit cards overseas we will have to send it to an Australian address (I don’t have one I live in Austria).

Ah yes – as a special matter we can send your credit card to you at a cost of $20. (OK let’s do it)

(1 Month later) You said you were going to send my credit card to me but I haven’t received it.
(Oh, we can’t send your credit card overseas we have to send it to an Australian address) (I don't have one I live in Austria)

Well we can send it if you write us a letter asking us to do it – no you can’t do it over the phone or by email – we don’t trust either of those new fangled things.

I have finally received my credit card and I have signed a document saying that I have received it and asking you to activate it. How will I know when it is activated. (Just keep trying to use it and, when you can, it is activated).

I am ringing to tell you that when I come back to Australia I am going to come into the local branch of your bank with an AK 47 and a flame thrower and clean it out once and for all.

(I’m sorry we can’t accept that information over the phone – please write us a letter).

One day I am going to buy a piece of hardware or software that does what I think it is supposed to do or indeed what it is supposed to do.

I bought a WD portable disk drive that is 270 Gb and runs off a USB port. When I load it, it is supposed to synchronize with my PC and back up my important files.

Well, it loaded Google Desktop on my PC – which I didn’t want and took a long time to get rid of.

It’s amazing how quickly something will load but when you want to uninstall it you get messages that say ‘we think we uninstalled this program but there are probably some squiggly bits left over which may render your PC completely cactus’

It simply won’t do anything else. Still, it works as well as any other piece of PC hardware I have ever bought.

I think the very act of my unwrapping them renders them inoperative. I have cupboards full of bits and pieces of hardware that I thought would be desirable, even essential, but has never worked – and of course is obsolete within six months.

Sometimes it doesn’t last a day. One time I bought something and took it home and it just stared sullenly at me so I rang the shop where I bought it and they said ‘we don’t sell that model anymore!’

Hang on I said – I bought it there this morning. ‘Run out stock’ he said ‘you will have to contact the maker’ which I did and they said (you guessed it) ‘we don’t make that model any more’.

I used to have this same effect on ATMs. I would walk towards one and the ‘Out of Order’ sign would pop up. I would apologize to the people waiting behind me and say, I’m sorry I have killed the ATM but have a few dollars in my wallet and can share it out if you like.

I don't have that problem here - I think Austrian Geldautomats may be impervious to my vibrations.

Although, as in Australia, people here who get money out still stand there and count it while we wait behind them. What are they going to do if it is wrong?

'Excuse me machine - you have given me the wrong money'
'Oh I'm so sorry - how much are you short - just a minute and I'll pop some more out.'

Of course one of the problems here is that the instructions for equipment are often in German (naturally enough – that’s the language they speak here).

So I can now speak and read some German but still need lots of help. So to do something that would take a 10 year old child 2 minutes can sometimes take me hours and need the help of my big German dictionary and Babel Fish.

Cate now says that the camera was with her and ‘got a bit wet’ when they went to see the Victoria Falls. Hmm….I wonder if that could be the reason it doesn’t work?

Apparently the other people have better cameras and I should have told her to take the Canon EOS with the Telephoto lens.

But Cate - (he asks tentatively) wouldn’t that mean that the Canon EOS with the Telephoto lens would now be cactus?

I am not sure what to get for Cate for her birthday. There is a lovely picture book about ducks in Morawa but the captions are in German. But you really don’t need captions – after all they are just duck pictures.

But perhaps I should get her something more practical. What can you get a girl who has everything – I know – a waterproof camera – or kittens – she would love kittens.

Correction: Anna has been referred to previously in the Blog as Anna. This is incorrect - her name is Possum. In future for 'Anna' read 'Possum'.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The no blog day

This is the Royal Livingstone Hotel at Victoria Falls in Zambia.

Cate is here!

You know those days (we creative people have them) when you sit in front of a blank sheet of paper and nothing happens.

This is one of those.

However, I should add that it's Cate's birthday today and I rang her at 12:30 AM her time and she is not in her room. So she must be having quite a knees up - or has been eaten by an African Rock Python.
I will let you know the outcome tomorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ben was left behind my his mum!

3 out 6 for the Oscars. Not very good really but it didn’t occur to me that they would give the best actor award to the best actor – which Sean Penn certainly is.

This rarely happens.

And no one would pick Penelope Cruz and I should have known better with the Slumdog Millionaire juggernaut.

When there are outpourings of hysteria like there have been about that movie one should know better than to bet against it.

Somehow I rather doubt that it is going to improve the lives of the many millions of Indians living in poverty – but a few people will get very rich indeed. (Hint - it won't be the Indian actors)

Massimo is back on stream and serving coffee. I broke a rule and had some cake just to make sure it was stale – it was. I think he must buy it stale as he had only been open two days and it can’t go stale that quickly.

But I may have made my last visit as, while there is a non smoking area, it is adjacent to where Mr. M and his assistant stand – and they both smoke. A bit pointless really.

Ben is very unhappy because Cate went to Zambia without him – this is the first trip ever where she hasn’t taken Ben – and of course (as you can see) he is devastated.

Cate had a fake tan before she left for Zambia and looked quite – well – native. She was about the same colour as Ben, but without the red nose.

At night all I could see in the dark were her teeth. She scrubbed quite a bit off before she left so that she now no longer looks like Whoopi Goldberg – but is very dark for someone in Wien in winter and stood out quite markedly against the snow - especially the orange iridescent bits.

She rang from this morning from next to the Zambezi river to tell me that she had taken lots of photos of elephants and Hippopotami but that the camera was no longer working. Did I know what was wrong with it?

Not really - have you tried the other battery?

This is apparently my fault as I should have let her take the big camera. I can get into trouble even when I am many thousands of miles away.

Muffin went to the vet today for a checkup (she is well, thanks for asking) but we have had some blood tests just to make sure. Muffin is 17 this year ( I haven’t bothered to explain to her that the average life span for cats is 15 years as she already has a somewhat flaky disposition).

The cost of the checkup was €170!

It would be much cheaper in Vienna to club your pets to death when they have a problem and get new ones but I guess there are rules against this – and anyway – we are quite fond of Muffin even though she quite often becomes unhinged in the middle of the night.

It has been snowing for days and we love it. We went to Ellas in Judenplatz on Friday night and walked back through Stadtpark, crunching though the snow. The snow was falling and under the lamps in the park this and snow on the ground created a magic scene – and of course the ducks looked gorgeous covered in white speckles of snow.

They are building scaffolding around Spar. It is Karnaval so I think they may be going to hang some Auslanders who put coloured glass in the white glass bin. (Well – there are rules).

This should draw quite a crowd – I will go down later and check it out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I dragged myself home like a wounded animal

I had to go to the Apotheke to get some stuff and I was just about there when the sole of my boot fell off almost completely.

This rendered my boot inoperative. If I lifted the boot up the sole fell on the ground with a loud flapping noise.

I could walk only by dragging my left leg and shuffling my left foot along the ground. This I did to get the 50 metres to the Apotheke.

There were few people on the streets as it was snowing quite heavily - so my embarrassment was minimised.

In the Apotheke I shuffled to the counter and – after had been served – waited until the person went into the back of the place before leaving.

I then dragged myself home like a wounded animal - leaving a long scraping trail in the snow.

I went down Salesianergasse - there are fewer pedestrians there - and whenever someone came near me I stopped and examined the snow covered cars so that they wouldn’t stare at me.

I cracked in the last 100 metres and started to try to walk normally – sort of. This caused a great deal of commotion and people looked around to see if there was a horse galloping through Landstrasse (this does happen).

David sent me a link to the best website I have ever seen. And it is all about me!

Cate has a new computer. They rescued the hard drive from the old one and threw the remains in the rubbish. She didn’t tell the IT people that she emptied a glass of wine on it.

Cate is making inroads into the 2007 Loibner Gruner Veltliner so I was sent on a mission of mercy to Wein and Co. They rustled up 24 by raiding the stocks at another store and they will be delivered on Monday. I don’t know what we do then. I may contact the vineyard and make an offer for this year’s vintage.

I went to see another Doctor today to get my blood pressure checked. When I left I found that one of my gloves was missing. I went back to the Doctor’s office and they looked everywhere for it – including in the Doctor’s room where I had been having tests.

We eventually found it under my beanie – which I was wearing (groan!). Is there no end to this humiliation.

Anna has sent me details of something called the ‘Litter Robot’.

The blurb says “The Litter-Robot frees you from the chore of litter box scooping. You can be confident that your cats have a litter box that is cleaned automatically and reliably, again and again.

The large waste drawer holds several days' worth of waste, giving you the time and freedom to do the things you enjoy. You can take that weekend trip or leave town for a short business trip without having to worry about your cat's litter box.

Cleaning the litter box is now as simple as changing a kitchen garbage bag every few days. If you have several cats, the Litter-Robot drawer may still need to be emptied daily, but you'll never again have to scoop a dirty litter box by hand!”

I must say that cleaning the existing litter box has never deprived me of ‘the time and freedom to do things I enjoy’ - but I understand the sentiment.

For those of you who find the litter box an overwhelming task – and need to get away for weekends without worrying about it – details are at

Sorry – can’t talk about the ducks today – too much to do. Apart from the Doctor I have had to go and buy Cate’s Safari Suit and Pith Helmet (I am sure she will get Pithed at least oneth).

For Anna – an Igel is a Hedgehog.

Also - both my grandchildren survived the heat and are well.

Also for Anna for Oscar Night - My predictions for Academy Awards:

Leading Actor: Mickey Rourke
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger
Leading Actress: Kate Winslet
Supporting Actress: Taraji P Henson
Director: Ron Howard
Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Never take a Chimp on a honeymoon

This is Merlin in Paris - he likes to explore bags - and my daughter assures me that the pictured has not been posed.

We have been pondering why the first Anderungsschneiderei (good word huh? it means a tailor that does alterations) would not do the elastic and instead sent me to his brother.

We think it is because the first one missed Elastic 101 at the Ankara Politeknik. Perhaps his uncle wanted him to unpick some hems that night – and because of this now he has to refer all elastic around the corner.

Me – I would do the elastic course by correspondence rather than let all the elastic work pass me by – but maybe the Austrians don’t do much elastic?

It has snowed every day for the last few days and was coming down heavily when I drove Cate to work – but it doesn’t hang about for long. The snow ploughs are out and about in the streets but there is not really much to push around as it evaporates very quickly.

I think the snow plough drivers like roaring around though (who wouldn't) – it sure beats the hell out of using a shovel like some of the snow people on foot have to – they don’t look happy.

Of course we needed coffee (we always do in snow storms) so once again I went to Alt Wien in the driving snow and when I got there I found that there was no Caruso Blend. (Shriek!).

Fortunately they were able to revive me with a long brown and when I recovered my senses (or as close as I am ever going to get) I considered my options.

Apparently there is not likely to be any Caruso for some weeks. I am not sure why – he muttered something about ‘transport difficulties’. What does that mean?

So I have bought two separate blends to see if we can struggle through – I am not confident because Caruso really is our very favourite and we haven’t found anything to come near it. First Jura and now Caruso – what is happening to us.

Cate will be away when we run out of Caruso so will miss the initial shock. I should be acclimatised by the time she gets back and will be able to help her through it.

I have been making some fabulous food lately. I made a Hotpot last week that was to die for – and my Hungarian Goulash Soup is nothing less than spectacular.

I am not very good at following recipes and tend to be a bit haphazard with my ingredients – but apart from an unfortunate incident with salt a few weeks ago I have managed.

My dishes don’t taste the same each time I make them as I experiment and use different ingredients in different amounts each time. However, I will share with you the basis of my now famous ‘Beatrixgasse Hotpot’ – you will need to decide on the amounts and how to cook it.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Other potaoey things (don’t know what they are called)
Sweet Potatoes
Crushed Tomatoes
Tomato Paste
Beef Stock
Worcestershire Sauce
Red Wine
Crushed Dried Chillies
Black Pepper

I guarantee that if you do this right it will knock your socks off.

Cate is continuing to set me new challenges and now wants me to cook Risotto. Well Risotto is dead easy if you can cook the rice properly – otherwise it is a disaster. So I am going to do a test run while she is communing with nature next week in Zambia.

I have detailed instructions on cooking Risotto from Marcella Hazan and will study them carefully. I think I have found the correct type of rice in Spar – but we shall see.

Cate has also expressed a desire for Coq au Vin and I will certainly have to practice this one. She has said that the chicken should not have any bones – and as I don’t think they make chickens without bones – I will have use different bits to those that are prescribed in the recipe books.

Incidentally – in respect of Zambia – I read today that a pet 200 pound Chimp tore a woman to pieces in Connecticut.

What a woman in Connecticut was doing with a 200 pound chimp will only be revealed in the fullness of time – perhaps they were on their honeymoon – but wouldn’t you go somewhere warmer? – what’s the matter with Florida?

The Chimp had apparently appeared in a Coca Cola commercial - which in itself would probably want to make it tear something to pieces – and a woman from Connecticut will do as well as anyone else – even if you have just married her – no doubt against your better judgment.

The police of course shot the Chimp (they always shoot the Dog, Lion, Igel, Chimp, Snake, Crocodile whatever when they should shoot the people who keep this things as pets).

The woman may recover and if she does will no doubt lurch out and buy a Giraffe.

I have been keeping a close eye on the Austrian Times and for those who don’t have time to read it provide a summary of the most important stories:

“A young Australian girl was almost strangled on Sunday while skiing at Hochötz near Ötz in Tyrol’s Ötztal. The girl, 10, who lives in Vienna, was almost killed when her scarf got caught in a button lift as she fell off it. The lift then pulled her up the slope by the neck”.

Button lift?

“A short-sighted Tyrolean farmer set his house on fire after mistaking the fridge for the fireplace on Thursday. The 87-year-old from Angerberg in Kufstein district had left the door of the fridge open and then decided it was so cold he ought to light a fire in the fireplace which was next to the fridge.He said: "I put firelighters and wood in what I thought was the usual place, and suddenly there was smoke everywhere. I thought it was cold when I lit the match - now I know why." He promised fire-fighters who extinguished the blaze that he will get himself better spectacles”.

Well – I know one place he shouldn’t try.

“A British skier who had supposedly gone missing was found in a bar early Friday morning in Seefeld, Tyrol. The man’s wife had reported him missing at 2am Friday morning after he had failed to return to their camper after a day’s skiing. Rescuers called out to look for the man eventually found him drinking in a Seefeld night spot”.

This could happen to anybody. Cate often calls the police when I am not home by 2:00 AM and they come and drag me out of the Billabong.

Oh – and 4 more skiers died on the weekend.

The duck pond has iced over again – I will report in full tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Loibner Gruner Veltliner kills laptops

Sign on the Landstrasse Flak Tower (no I don't know what it means)

Cate found amongst her cupboards full of clothes an ancient pair of cotton pants with an elastic waist.

I mention that there are walls of cupboards in the bedroom and the hallway into the bedroom - and access is denied to me completely.

I keep my clothes in and old tea chest under the stairs.

So Cate thought these ancient pants would be great to take to Zambia (I have no idea why) – but the elastic had given way so I had to take them to person who replaces elastic.

There is a little shop in Ungargasse with a sign with a pair of scissors out the front and Cate said this would be the place to go. The man examined the pants carefully but without interest and sent me on my way to another shop around the corner which is owned by his brother. His brother was much more enthusiastic and leapt at the opportunity to relieve me of €10.

When Cate tried them on they had shrunk. This has happened to other clothes since we arrived in Wien – I think it was the heat in the container in which they were transported.

So back I went to explain that I needed the elastic to be a bit longer. Instead of saying ‘well pull it’ he was very sympathetic and charged me only €6. I have not collected them yet but await with interest Cate’s verdict.

Annie says I can count the ducks by taking a photo of them and then counting the ducks in the photo. Well as if I hadn’t thought of that! The problem is that I need to take a number of photos because I can’t get all the ducks in the one photo – and run up against the issue of them moving about and all looking much the same.

I broke a pair of glasses and as they are rather unfashionable (that is not quite the word Cate would use) I have decided to get new frames. So I went to Hartlauer Optik to see if they had an Optiker on the premises (I think this is the word for Optometrist but am not positive).

Hartlauer is the same place I buy my camera gear and they do glasses as well upstairs.

Incidentally I have bought so much from Hartlauer that I have amassed 9,600 bonus points. 10,000 will get me a packet of red Gummy Bears.

It is a vast emporium where I was greeted by a very young man and after I had explained that I wanted to buy Brillen and needed a Rezept he introduced me to an even younger man who took me into a room and gave me an eye test.

If it wasn’t for the stray scraps of fluff on his face (I think it was supposed to be one of those cool ultra thin mini-beard thingies) I would have thought that he was a child on work experience.

At the end of this process he wrote my Rezept on the back of an old cash register receipt - gave it to me and invited me to select some frames. I know you don't believe most of what I say so have included a copy of the Rezept!
I said I would come back on Saturday with Cate as I am not allowed to buy glasses (or indeed much else) without Cate’s steady hand on the wheel.

The Rezept indicates that I don’t need any assistance for my left eye – and this is true – unless I want to read with it – in which case I need reading glasses.

I don’t have much confidence in the process so far and may try somewhere else.

The health system here is very interesting. My Doctor always shakes hands with me when I see him – but apart from that has not laid a finger on me – even when lumps were involved.

He has managed to diagnose all my ailments so far from behind his desk. He wears a white coat and looks very professional so he must know what he is doing.

He has a long stick in the corner of his surgery and I assume that this is in case he has to poke me at some stage. He can do it from behind a curtain while wearing rubber gloves.

Not that I see him very often as the new Rezepts are issued by his receptionist – who is also his wife - who as far as I know may also be a Doctor. They don’t actually issue repeats so every time I run out of something I toddle along to the surgery and Mrs Doctor writes out a new prescription and gives it to me. This can take as little as one minute for the entire transaction.

I then take these to the Apotheke where they put the box of pills on the counter and charge me something like €4,70 – regardless of what it is I get.

The sign on Massimo said that he would reopen on 16 February – indeed I saw him in there last Friday cleaning the dead critters out of the ice cream tubs so I assumed that he was girding his loins to do battle with the good citizens of Landstrasse.

So after my eye test expedition I trotted down to Massimo – he is still closed.

The holiday sign has gone but the lights are off. Maybe after cleaning up on Friday he was exhausted and needs some more down time to recover.

You will be interested to know (I am sure) that an online poll conducted by the Austrian Times shows that Arnold Schwarzenegger is considered (by the people who read the Austrian Times) to be the most influential post-war Austrian.

The Herminator (Herman Maier) came in 5th.

Adolf Hitler would certainly take the biscuit for the first half of the century.

I have received a lovely card from Molly – a neighbour in Sydney who is 80 odd years old. This was to thank us for our Christmas card. Molly’s card has ducks on it so I think she knows what I am doing here.

Also received a letter today from Anna and an email just came in from Quolly.

Cate has proved that if you pour a glass of 2007 Loibner Gruner Veltliner on the keyboard of a laptop it will kill it stone dead. But - you will get the same result by dropping it over the balcony - and you would still be able to drink the wine.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Do ducks who miss out get counselling?

Cate got back from Moscow on Friday afternoon and we had to go to the Tropical Medicine place to get her final injections for Zambia. The clinic is behind the Rathaus (sort of) so we walked down the Ring to get there and looked at likely spots for dinner on the way.

We found a delightful place called Martinjak on Opernring (it is named after a town in Slovenia). The food was outstanding – and not so expensive. Cate said she would go back there – high praise indeed!

I will hold her to that if she survives Zambia – which starts next Saturday.

We weren’t so successful on Saturday as we had not realised that Austrians take Valentine’s Day seriously and would go out in their droves. So we had quite a trudge before we found a place that could fit us in – in fact we were the only two people in the dining room – but there may have been another smoking section that would have been packed to the rafters.

Once again we ended up in the area near the Rathaus and there are hordes of restaurants there which we can try.

We walk everywhere in Wien – not that we venture that far – but I have been on a tram only twice (the last time was last October) and haven’t used the U-Bahn since last November.

Cate is really looking forward to Zambia. She loves snakes (joke!) and is really looking forward to seeing an African Rock Python – which can apparently grow to a length of six metres.

Muffin and I will be left to our own devices again and are planning what mischief we will get up to.

I am thinking that I may start dragging my food out onto the rug and eating it with Muffin. She does this a lot so it must make it taste better.

I would like to take her to see the ducks but don’t think I can rely on her not to try to catch them so would have to put her in a cat harness and she would be so embarrassed she would just die. So she will just have to watch the video.

We went to Wein and Co and found the same type of Gruner Veltliner that we had in our night at Indochine 21. It is a 2007 vintage rather than 2004 – but is delicious just the same. It is of course a bit expensive at €29 per bottle but we have bought some for special occasions – like Friday nights.

I thought I might see if I could count the ducks because I am keen to know how many there are. This way I can see if the population increases or decreases when it gets really cold and icy. (You can tell that the cold weather is affecting my ability to think rationally).

It is very difficult because they keep moving around so you don’t know if you are double counting – given that they all look much the same – except I guess to each other.

I told Cate that I could catch them and put chalk marks on them to eliminate the double counting and she thought this was a very silly idea and would be bound to cause all kinds of problems. I might try it when she is away.

Cate says the ducks are all in pairs preparing to have baby ducks. There are certainly many in pairs but there are also singles and groups of three. Do ducks mate for life? What if there is an uneven number of ducks? I hate to think of those single ducks not being able to satisfy their need to be parents (and I bet they are all boys).

Do they have counselling for the ones who miss out (I bet they do in America - and they also probably get to go on Doctor Phil or Oprah).

There is a whole bunch of new stuff for me to worry about now.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hmmm.....nice wine rack

Well the threat of my going on strike resulted in a massive increase in comments and 6% increase in the number of Blog Followers.

I have failed to respond to an earlier query about the location of Massimo in Landstrasser-Hauptstrasse. It is diagonally opposite the Mercure Hotel and just down a bit from Hartlauer and just up a bit from Trimellis Italian Restaurant – which incidentally serves excellent food – but very slowly – and is very smoky.

The man from Massimo is due back soon (unless he decides that a 7 week break is not really long enough) and I am looking forward to visiting him again. I will suggest that he puts on another assistant (he only has one) as clearly the two staff to one customer ratio is killing him and he needs a third to ease the pressure.

I put the wine rack together and it would be a handsome addition to any attic. It is gruesome and I have hidden it as best I can under the stairs. Unfortunately Cate will notice it immediately and say something like ‘Hmm – nice wine rack’ in the sarcastic manner the she uses for most of my acquisitions.

There is a reason she will not let me buy anything important at all – it is because I have awful taste and just don’t know what goes with what – although clearly this wine rack doesn’t go with anything at all.

In mitigation I can say only that it was the only one they had in that size. I could have bought 90 single bottle holders in the shape of ducks or rabbits but where would I have put them?

Cate is having a nice time in Moscow and has walked through Red Square in the snow. The apparently have much better snow than we do – their flakes are bigger. I guess it is much colder.

We have been very disappointed with our snow – we have only had two heavy falls – and there may not be much more around as it seems to be getting much warmer.

The heating seems to have stopped working so it looks like the cardboard has worn out and may have to be replaced. I don’t have enough strength to start the process of contacting the building people and may just wait until next winter.

Jura is back and is happily making really excellent coffee. I am just about to put Grumble Bum back in the box and send him to the basement. We will both be glad to see the last of each other for a while.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don't you dare take my photograph!

This is my 100th Blog – which is not bad for someone who started in September – and I have been a faithful correspondent.

However, notwithstanding the reasonable number of readers I have - I get very little feedback and sometimes I feel as though I should just write my blog and then put it in the shredder (If I had one which I don’t because it melted in the container on the way to Vienna).

So I am going on strike – probably only for a day – but if you people out there want to continue to read this pap you had better pull your socks up and either become Followers (of which there are only 16 for God’s sake) or leave some comments.

Incidentally Llama will be in Paris from 29 February to 6 March and I will be in Paris from 11 to 17 March. being that close to Llama’s legs makes my heart flutter! (Cate is in Moscow and they don’t have Internet there so she can’t read this).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What's the matter with The Mummy?

Another very thirsty Koala
The local veterinary office rang me yesterday - apparently to check my contact details. The young lady asked me how Bill was going.

I said that as far as I was aware he was still dead – but as it was they who took the body away in a shoe box they would know best.

This put a dampener on the conversation for a while but the young lady cheered up immensely when I said we still had Muffin.

“Oh you have a new cat?” she said

I explained that Muffin was in fact a very old cat but that she hadn’t been to see the vet yet for a checkup – which would probably happen this week.

I did not attempt to explain the Kitten Acquisition Program.

She was really, really glad to finish the call and move on to the next client.

One of my Blog readers (I won’t’ mention his name) has questioned my taste in movies - in particular The Mummy.

In response I shall say only that all my pursuits cannot be cerebral. All of us need some form of escape from our otherwise crushing existence and mine is to sometimes watch escapist action movies of which the Mummy is an excellently example.

John Howard used to escape from his horrid existence by pretending to be the Prime Minister – for well over a century as I remember.

I have received from Joan (Cate’s Mother who is 90 in July) the Rooster Appliquéd Oven Mitts – and a fine example of post modern kitchen helper design they are too. I cannot imagine that Lizzie did not think that Cate would like them – they are adorable.

Unfortunately we have far too many oven mitts for the hooks in the kitchen so some of them will have to be stored temporarily.

I have been watching the World Ski Championships at Val d’Isere. Some of the skiers in the downhill reach speeds of 130 kilometers per hour. This is faster than I go on the A2 – and is a very scary speed indeed.

And when they fall over – as some of them do – they slide for a very, very long time – unless they are caught by the nets they have down the sides of the Piste. There was a skier yesterday who went into the nets so hard I thought they would never get him out.

(The people who rescue skiers probably practice in summer by cutting turtles out of fishing nets in the Maldives).

I can understand the downhill and the slalom - and the giant slalom – and why some skiers can be quicker than others.

But I do not understand jumping. They all travel the same distance down the ramp, they all take off at the same time and they all look like geese coming in for a landing - and they all use a Telemark landing. But some jumpers are simply so much better than the others - by many metres.

Perhaps someone can tell me why? If I see Wolfgang Loitzl at the Billabong I will ask him. ‘Wuff’ as we call him here is one of our best!

Incidentally – Austria is in 3rd position on the medal table with 3 medals. The Germans have none (giggle).

I have booked my tickets for Paris and have a booked a hotel very close to Melissa. I have talked to them and they have promised me that they will turn my straw down at night and put a chocolate on it.

I just discovered that Annie has been making comments on my Flickr photos. I of course am too lazy to actually add descriptions so she has been doing it for me. Keep up the good work Annie – as far as I can see you have so far done only 5 out of more than 2,000 so you have a way to go.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Craig skis and fixes teeth

This is Ben the Bear. Ben goes everywhere with Cate if she travels without me (and everywhere with me if I travel without Cate).

He has circumnavigated the globe many, many times and is (as far as we know) the most travelled bear in the world.

(Apart, of course, from Alexander Downer)

This is Ben who Waves. Ben has two brothers, Ben with the Wonky Ear and Ben (yes just Ben).

The three Bens were given to more than 20 years ago by Susie (who may still have Ben with the Wonky ear).

Ben (just Ben) lives in Richmond in the UK just near the river with his Aunty Ally and her son Robin.

We hope to organise a reunion one day.

Ben travels everywhere with Cate and sits on her pillow in the hotels where she stays. When the staff at the hotel have made the bed they always prop Ben up on the pillow – and sometimes they give him a chocolate to hold.

(Cate stays in the sorts of hotels where they turn your bed down and put chocolates on your pillows. The hotels I stay in have straw on the floor).

Travelling with Ben has never been a problem until the last trip Cate did to Hong Kong when a teleconference Cate and her boss were doing in a conference room did not work and they both had to go back to Cate’s room to complete the call.

Cate’s boss Dave looked at Ben carefully and said not a word – and has never mentioned the incident since.

We went to Da Capo in Schulerstrasse where I had one of the best meals I have had in Wien. Cate thought it was just OK. But she said to me that she doesn’t really like any restaurants in Austria.

This is a big call because we have been to less than 0. 01% of all restaurants in Austria - but perhaps she was just feeling a bit fragile in advance of her trip to Moscow.

The best dentist in Australia (and possibly the Universe ) is Craig Calleia who has a surgery out west in Sydney. Every time he gets too many clients he moves further away – but they follow him anyway because he is so good.

Craig is so good he doesn’t need X-rays – he can commune with teeth through a mystical process. He says things like ‘I have a funny feeling about the fourth bisected upper incisor’ and then he fiddles around and finds (Shriek!) Decay – and has to winkle it out.

Craig is to teeth what Cate Blanchett and Sean Penn are to acting.

I mention this because when we go back to Sydney in July we will both have to see Craig for checkups. He has probably moved to Marble Bar by now to get away from his patients - but we will go there because we love our teeth and we love Craig.

Craig skis and would love it here because they do almost nothing else. He is (ahem) very solidly built and could probably survive most collisions (unless it was with a sled).

Cate is now in Moscow with Ben who Waves – prancing about in her Anna Karenina coat (but without the Dead Rabbit Hat). She is back at the end of the week for a few days and then goes to Zambia. Zambia?

Quolly sent me a story about a man named Gordon in Darwin who had his arm amputated after he was bitten by a King Brown snake.

He picked it up at the side of the road and it bit him (well it would wouldn’t it) and he put it in a bag.

He then – to use his own words ‘for some stupid reason put his hand in the bag’. Whereupon the King Brown – which was clearly not having a good day – bit him another eight times – yes that’s right – 8!

I wonder what was going through Gordon’s tiny little mind while Brownie was fanging away in the bag?

Oh it’s bitten me again, and again, and again – I wonder if I should take my hand out of the bag – oh there it goes again, and again – I really should take my hand out now – oh damn it’s bitten me again – and again – well I’ve had enough of this I’m definitely taking my hand out now – oh it has bitten me again!

In mitigation of his colossal stupidity Gordon says that he was drunk at the time.

To keep him alive while they were on their way to hospital his mate hit him on the head (no, not with the snake) and poured beer on him.

I reckon Gordon should have a go at skiing.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Anyone for a Bonspiel?

I have finally been able to get Gaggia to make drinkable coffee. I had forgotten the art of making coffee on a ‘real’ espresso machine so it took a while for me to get the hang of it again. Gaggia didn’t help much and its heart is just not in it.

I say ‘real’ espresso machines but these days there are very few places where the skills of a Barista are needed. It is usually a case of sticking a cup under a spout and pressing a button.

We have had a narrow escape here as apparently none of the 13 Starbucks outlets in Wien will have to close because of the problems the company is experiencing globally.

Good news indeed for those who like Starbucks coffee. I have never met anyone who does – but they must be out there somewhere.

For the last word on this see Lewis Black on You Tube

So I decided to go to Massimo to have a coffee. Massimo has been closed since Christmas because the owner apparently needed a long holiday. It must be hell serving 10 customers a day and he no doubted needed complete rest.

Well – he has obviously still not recovered because there is a note on the door saying he is not coming back until mid February. This is one plumb tuckered out dude. When he gets back I may pop in during the day to give him a hand so that he doesn’t have a complete breakdown.

Cate thinks that Muffin needs some recreation so gives her little cloth mice to play with – and throws them around the room for her. Cate does not think that her responsibilities extend to picking up the mice before we go to bed.

That is apparently my job and at 3:30, 4:30 and sometimes 5:30 you will find me somewhere in the house on my hands and knees looking for the missing mice so that Muffin will stop batting them around the floor and then picking them up and carrying them around - yowling pitifully while Cate shouts ‘For God’s Sake Muffin!’

Muffin has also started her ‘Muffin da Gama’ routine again - where she wakes up very, very early and starts circumnavigating the bed. She has on occasion been evicted for this offence as it is very wearing on everyone except Muffin who can sleep all day.

I am thinking of tying her to the Sub Woofer and playing Rammstein all day so that she will be exhausted and will sleep at night

Cate and I rode around the city on the weekend and stopped to look at the ice skating rink outside the Rathaus. The blurb says that it is the biggest outdoor ice skating rink in Europe and includes ‘a romantic skating trail 415 metres long’.

How romantic can a 415 metre stretch of ice being shared with 12,000 people be?

It also features some curling rinks. Curling is certainly a weird sport. I understand the concept of the Bonspiel but the people rushing along the Sheet brushing in front of the stone is just plain weird.

It is like lawn bowls with people running in front of the bowl with lawn mowers. Makes no sense to me – but then very few things do.

And where is Quolly - haven't heard from her for months?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I will teach Muffin how to play Ski Jump

As I suspected, the carnage on the slopes did not stop, it was just not reported at the time and the details are now filtering in.

An Irish man hurtled off a Piste at high speed and killed himself - and a teenage girl sledger impaled herself on a tree.

I won’t even mention the 54 Hamsters who were abandoned outside a pet shop in Graz. Yes – I know – these can hardly be counted as skiing accidents – but I am trying to make my case by boosting the numbers.

I really like winter but I think I am going to have to stop reading the Austrian Times. Cate is committed to going skiing next year so I have about 10 months to get into shape and get my affairs in order before judgment day on the slopes.

On Saturday we encountered our most unhelpful waiter to date – and there is a lot of competition for this title.

We upset him immensely by sitting at a table which was reserved and he told us – when he eventually came near us – that he needed the table in 30 minutes.

He then gave us menus and that was the last we saw of him. He sailed past every five minutes or so but studiously ignored us and we eventually left.

We went to the Bagel café near Bobby’s and ordered (you guessed it) Bagels. After a while they told us they didn’t have any plain Bagels and would Sesame Bagels be OK.

Sure we said – we are so hungry we would eat a Duck bagel.

After a further wait they said that they didn’t actually have any Bagels at all but would cook some. We said sure – and while we waited we had a frozen Muffin.

A report in the Austrian Times (where else) says that Crack Luftwaffe fighter pilots were scrambled in a UFO drama over German airspace.

Does this mean that the Luftwaffe has grades of pilots. Crack, Not So Crack, Barely Average, Awful?

Why would not all pilots be Crack pilots? Perhaps most of them have died on the ski slopes in Austria and they have had to lower their standards.

Anyway – they weren’t very good as they didn’t find the UFO so they may as well have sent the Awful Pilots.

I tool Jura back to Lefkowitz and left him with Christian. As you can imagine it was a difficult parting and Christian had to prise my fingers from around Jura’s chubby little jowls. Christian says that if there is anything wrong with Jura (which shows the level of confidence he has in me) it will take ‘few days’ to get it fixed. I bet!

So I had to go down to the basement and bring up Gaggia. Well you can imagine what this was like.

So – let me get this straight – I was left wrapped up in a box for six months and now you want me to make coffee again? Because what? Namby Pamby Prissy Wissy widdle Jura is bwoken - oh how sad!

So Gaggia is now sitting on the kitchen bench scowling at me. I have managed to squeeze out one cup with difficulty but I am not confident that I have its full support and would not be surprised if it explodes and kills us all.

I may have mentioned before that I really love my iPhone. It does all the things that a Handy should and much more besides. One of the really cool things about iPhones is that people develop Applications for them and they can be downloaded from Apple.

There are free Apps and Apps that cost something – most cost about €0.79 which is not much at all. You can’t buy half a Krapfen for that here.

There are thousands and I have downloaded a few useful ones. One not so useful one is call Ski Jump and it’s a game where you send a tiny little man down a Ski Jump and see how far you can get him to jump.

It’s not as easy as it sounds as you have to manipulate him as he flies through the air. Most of the time (even on beginner level) my Ski Jumper ends up in a heap in the snow and has even landed on his bum – which I am sure is not possible in real life.

After some practice I achieved a jump of 130 Metres – which I thought was pretty good. So I thought I would upload it through the IPhone to see how this jump compared with others which are being conducted by thousands of wastrels out there.

Well, it wasn’t in the first 1,000. The longest jump on the day was 160 Metres set no doubt by a 12 year old in somewhere like Minsk. I was too depressed to look.

So I will continue to play Ski Jump but will not bother to look on line. I am planning on teaching Muffin how to play but will not tell her all the tricks or else she will certainly beat me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Koalas get thirsty too

There is a heat wave in Australia at the moment and animals are dying of thirst. In South Australia it has reached + 42 degrees – which is really hot.

The picture is of a Koala that came down out of a tree and into a house to get a drink of water – and stayed to have a bath.

I rang the man from Jura today and the prognosis is not encouraging. He says I have to take Jura back to the place I bought it from so that they can examine its innards. I will have to drag the Gaggia up from the basement so that we have a coffee machine. The prospect of being without espresso coffee is simply unthinkable.

Gaggia works just fine but it is a lot more work to make coffee. However, I can’t watch Jura continue to suffer so will need to do this quickly. I hope we don’t have to put it down as it is still very young.

I am going to Stadtpark tomorrow to take some pictures of the ducks and to convince myself that there really is no longer any ice. Does this mean that winter is over?

This is very disappointing for us (although probably not for the Austrians) as we love the cold weather – and are really glad we are not in Adelaide at the moment.

Monday, February 2, 2009

It's off to the sewers for me

I hadn’t checked on the ducks for a few days – (Doctor’s orders) but we went through Stadtpark on the way to dinner on Friday and all the ice was gone – I mean all of it – the water is entirely clear of ice!

Most of the ducks were congregating in two large groups on the snow in the park.

I just don’t understand any of this and it has only served to increase my duck anxiety factor.

Where has all the ice gone? Sure it has been warmer for the last few days but I am talking just above zero – it is hardly tropical – and there has been at least some snow most days.

And why now that the ice has gone are all the ducks leaving the water and sitting on the snow?

Of all the weird things in Wien I think the ducks are the ones that worry me the most.

We went on Saturday to Mariahilferstrasse to buy me a coat. I have six coats but I need a really good coat for all those times we go to the Opera and Balls so that we when step out of Billy Benz I look the part.

This was not successful – but – we found Cate a magnificent leather coat. It is made out of shearlings which I understand are sheep that have been only partially shorn – and was made in Italy.

It I absolutely gorgeous and makes her look like Anna Karenina. Cate has trouble finding coats but this was the first coat we saw in Peek and Cloppenburg (and the last of its kind) and fitted her perfectly. It had also been discounted by €800 Euros which was very exciting as this reduced to mark up to – oh - about 800%.

To complete the Anna Karenina look she also bought a hat made out of dead rabbits. This will be a perfect companion for my hat made out of dead rats.

I remain without a long coat but will bask in the reflected glory of Cate’s coat. When we arrive at the opera she can tell people that I am her gardener and I can carry her coat for her when we get inside.

She will certainly look the part in Moscow next week and may end up running off with one of those Russian Ogliarch-thingies.

We went to Fabios which was not as good as last time but was more expensive. I had not thought this would be possible so did not take a bank guarantee this time. I have left my watch and Cate’s jewellery as security for payment and will redeem them when the bank loan comes through.

I also finally bought my electric frying pan at Saturn. These are not very common in Wien but I like to use them and needed to replace the one that detonated while it was filled with Rogan Josh. Rozalin found many electric fry pans on the Internet for me and I was just about to buy one of these when some popped up at Saturn. I will report on its efficacy at a future date.

Jura is giving me some problems and is doing things that are not described in the manual.

When it is turned on it noisily squeezes out a few drops and then wants to be rinsed. (In this respect it reminds me of some small dogs I see in Landstrasse).

It also does this at various times during the day. I have changed the filter and cleaned it with the appropriate tablets but it is still wobbly and I may have to contact its mother to see what is wrong.

She lives in Switzerland and, according to the website, is keen to hear from me. I somehow doubt that very much.

I have booked tickets to go and see Melissa in Paris in March and am staying at a hotel in Montmartre. I usually stay with Melissa but want a quiet space to study German and write.

There will also be much exploring and Melissa and I are really hanging out to visit les Egouts (the sewers).

Last time I as there we went to the catacombs and saw all the skulls –fantastic fun.

I also hope to visit some cemeteries and Melissa says there are some medical museums where they have body parts in jars. If anyone would know about these it would be Melissa.

Kevin from Cranville wine racks in the UK has reported that my rack has been returned to him – rather the worse for wear. Apparently the global resources of DHL were not able to track someone who lives in the middle of Vienna – even though they have my handy number.

It seems that I am more elusive than Harry Lime.

Good news – as far as I can tell there has been only one fatality on the ski slopes in the last week. I am not sure why we are down to only one for the week – it seems remarkably low - I will investigate further.

I am afraid that this article in the Austrian Times comes under the ‘Only in Austria’ heading:

“A car left in a short-stay parking zone for two years may stay there forever after clocking up a 21,000 Euro bill.The second hand Fiat Uno - worth just around 5,000 Euros - was left in the city centre of Graz when the two Romanian immigrants who'd been using it were arrested and deported.

The owner - now living in France - has refused to settle the bill and local laws mean the car cannot be towed away because it is not blocking traffic.Now city officials are to declare the car park a construction site so planning rules mean they can move the motor to a scrap yard.”

There is not much I can say about that – except that it demonstrates perfectly the tenacity of the parking police and the inflexibility of the bureaucracy.

I haven't heard from Annie for a while and assume that de Bortoli have delivered another 60 dozen which she and Jim are sampling to make sure that they are not poisoned.