Saturday, October 30, 2010

CARE: Recycled Blog

It's that time of the year again and I was so pleased with the Blog I wrote about this subject last year - which barely flickered on any reader's Blog-Interest-O-Meter that I am running it again.

One of the best things about being in Vienna is NOT being in Australia for the Melbourne Cup.

For those of you who may not be aware of the Melbourne Cup – it is a horse race. 

Horse racing is an Australian media-driven obsession – to the extent that some years ago a horse trainer won an Australian “Sportsman of the Year” Award. 

The Melbourne Cup is a horse race which the media has turned into a ghastly, frothing, dribbling extravaganza of gruesome schlock which starts weeks before the event and culminates in an orgy of gambling, alcohol and offensive displays which on a normal day would merit public floggings or prison sentences.

On race day there are live broadcasts ALL DAY by TV and Radio from the racecourse. 

There are Melbourne Cup lunches at which people get dressed up like drug crazed pimps and where they drink alcohol until they fall unconscious head first into their Pavlovas.

Women at the race get dressed up in funny clothes and hats. Poor tortured tarts with gigantic heels, grotesque hats and tits everywhere totter around the grounds and the bars displaying hats that look like they were designed by Edvard Munch on his second bottle of Absinthe. 

People get blind staggering drunk all over Australia and especially at the racecourse and make complete asses of themselves on TV. People queue for hours to bet on horses. There are obligatory office sweeps where you choose a horse out of a hat.

At race time the nation stops and EVERYONE has to watch this gruesome spectacle – which lasts for about three minutes.

And in the end – a brown horse wins the race. The trainer is a hero and gets a prize, the jockey is a hero and gets a prize, the strapper is a hero and gets a bonus. The owner is a hero and gets a prize.

The horse….well the horse gets nothing except perhaps an extra helping of oats – which is much better than if it falls over an breaks a leg – because then they shoot it.

I would change the rules. If the horse falls over and breaks a leg they put the horse in traction and shoot both the jockey and the owner. This would encourage greater horse care. 

Horses wearing Ugg boots would be walked gingerly around the tracks by the jockeys. No one would mind that - the added bonus would be that the races would go for much longer – probably 30 minutes. More time for alcohol, stripping naked and vomiting on the grass.

For me it was the single worst day of the year – every year. It is singly and uniquely the most fruitless, pointless, shudderingly grisly awful waste of time and energy in the entire history of humanity.

But then I am just a curmudgeon so don’t listen to me.

PS: I have nothing against horses. It's what they do to them that I dislike. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I hate the ghastly little brown things

The clothes dryer exited its warranty in September so naturally popped its clogs less than a month later.

How do they do this?

Anyway the nice man from Electrolux did not charge me for the new motor – just the labor costs and travel time - so the cost was only slightly less than the cost of a new dryer – rather than slightly more. A good result really.

The Jura coffee machine is also out of its warranty and is starting to make expensive sounding noises. It is a real Prima Donna and has already been in for repairs twice under warranty so it will have to do more than make grinding and crunching noises to get any attention from me. I suggest a loud explosion followed by smoke and flame. That should do it. Then will beat it to a pulp with my cricket bat and get a new and quiet machine.

I have a perfectly good Gaggia coffee machine waiting in the basement to take its place on a temporary basis and if it does not pull its weight it can expect to reap the consequences. These are tough times – we have to do more with less. Just you Americans wait until next week and you will see what I mean.

Today I got a notice from Microsoft that my new and free upgrade to Office for the Mac was available so I tried to get it – and failed.

After inputting my 3 Product Codes and jumping through a few hoops I then discovered that I had to send to Microsoft a copy of the original purchase receipt. They will examine this within 5 days and decided whether or not I am eligible.

Now I understand that lots of software is pirated - but I have spent some time thinking about this and the fact that I had to register my software with Microsoft before I could use it. It was genuine then so why are the same numbers now not adequate for an upgrade. They could only be used for genuine software – and could only be used once. It makes no sense to me.

On Monday after a walk in the snow we were sitting in a Restaurant in the tiny little town of Untertal in Styria watching the Snow falling outside. We had some delicious Pumpkin soup and I followed with an Apfelstrudel mit Eis. This came with raisins so I had to pick these out because of my strong aversion to these ghastly little things – but this was a minor irritant and the Strudel was delicious.

So we discussed – as we often do – how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful country and to actually have the means to travel around it – and indeed many other places. We take nothing for granted. We have had some tough times and survived them and thank our lucky stars that we are together and have a nice life.

Of course Cate has to work 18-hour days and travel constantly – but I think it is worth it.  The amount of fun I have certainly outweighs the torment she endures. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

OMG this book is amazing!!

I just do not know how this got past me – but there is a service called Text a Star to which you can subscribe. 

For $2 per message you will receive two text messages per week from your nominated football player. The blurb on the website says you get:

'Real Messages from Real Stars in Real Time'

Now this is not something to which I would subscribe because there is simply nothing that a football player could tell me that would make my Care-O-Meter flicker one millimeter. (I would have made an exception for George Best - especially late at night).

But there clearly is a market for this and I can see where it will go. Whoops! It already has!

Lleyton Hewitt – a former high ranking tennis player and his vacuous wife Bec – a former Soap actor – have produced yet another sprog and to find out the name of the baby people could sign up to Text a Star and pay $2.


Now I actually don’t have a problem with the concept. What worries me is that people would actually do this. I find the whole thing a bit tragic.

Lleyton was criticized and responded badly (which he often does – he is a world class dummy spitter) and savaged the press saying that he did this so his fans could find out the name of the baby before the general public did. This makes as much sense as anything else he says. 

Anyway it is just another sad chapter in the downward spiral of civilization, the commoditization of humanity generally and the endless quest by everyone to screw the absolute maximum out of everyone else. But perhaps I am being too pessimistic. Here is some good news 

Justin Bieber’s autobiography is half price on Amazon. I have not read it but following is one of the reviews.

OMG this book is amazing!!

It's packed full of gorgeous pictures. And there is loads of stuff in there that i didn't know before. And I'm a big Belieber!!

Cos Justin actually wrote this one himself!!!

I luuurrrrvvveee it!!

Thank you Justin!! X

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I will see my wife again Insha'Allah

Schladming before and after snowfalls

We love the snow and got lucky at Schladming. The weather forecasts had predicted snow for next week but it arrived early.

On Saturday we went for what was supposed to be a short walk but it ended up being 5 hours – but quite easy. Cate said she always knew where we were – but I had no idea – so I kept an eye on Google Maps on my iPhone to see if the little blue dot (us) was getting closer to the pin (the car) – which I had dropped when we parked.

This is the first time I had used Google maps like this and it was actually very comforting. Of course the tracks we were on were not shown but we could see where we were generally and knew in which direction to head.

It’s not that I don’t trust Cate – but I have an uncanny sense of misdirection so I am always convinced that I know the right way to go.  I don’t – and never have – but I just cannot get it into my head that I am ALWAYS wrong. I think it is a man thing. I am a man so I must be able to find my way around (otherwise how me can kill animal and take home for wife to cook!)

 Doesn’t work for me.

I simply cannot read maps or street directories. I have never been able to do this. I know I am not stupid because I have a Masters Degree and was the Director of a Bank. But - I was able to achieve these things because neither of them required map reading. Had they done so they just would not be on my Résumé. 

Cate on the other hand has an uncanny sense of direction. She can be anywhere and will know which way to go. I know this – and STILL argue with her. (It’s a man thing). I should mention Gwenyth who is an outstanding sailor but who - like me – struggles to find the way off an escalator.  But Gwenyth – once pointed in the right direction – is sensational.

Her major error is always at the starting point of the journey. She usually goes South instead of North or vice versa. But once pointed in the right direction (by Cate) Gwenyth is like a Bloodhound and can get you to your destination on time – every time. She navigated the Moscow Metro like a seasoned traveler and was just sensational in St Petersburg where we followed her everywhere like baby Ducks following their mother.

She rested on her laurels on our bike trip in Italy a few months ago and let Llama and I make compete fools of ourselves as we tried to ride along railway tracks and motorways with Gwenyth saying things like ‘Are you sure this is the right way darlings?’

Anyway it was a brilliant walk in what must be one of the most beautiful parts of Austria.

After two days of nice weather it started to snow and did not stop for more than 24 hours.

So we went on part of the  ‘Wilde Wasser’  (Wild Water) walk which follows a river up into the mountains. We did not get too far because the snow was pelting down and we were not properly dressed for it – as we had not expected snow. But it was sensational.

It snowed all that day and night and we had to dig Billy Benz out the next morning. The snow on Billy was 20cm deep.

There is something special about snow for us. It is the complete transformation of the landscape from something that theoretically could be part of Australia to something that is unreal and ethereal and ghostly and more beautiful than can be described. Of course it is very boring to Austrians but to us it is just magical and being in it is a joyful experience.

I will post some photos on my Facebook page within the next couple of hours.

Cate worked a lot over the weekend and we squeezed in what we could. Tonight she left for Indonesia then Australia. We will meet in Tel-Aviv in a week or so.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Schnitzel tops food poll (?)

Shadows - Millenium Bridge London

I have decided to rejoin Facebook. 

I left a year or so ago because I was just getting too many updates and messages – and stuff.

But I figure if a Hamburger can track me all over the planet then Facebook can as well - so I may as well roll over and take it. I cannot – however - imagine any circumstances under which I will become a Tweeter.

The Austrian Independent has reported that the Wiener Schnitzel is the favorite food of Austrians. The report says:

“A survey by gastronomy website– in which more than 26,000 people participated – found Wiener Schnitzel to be the people's favourite choice followed by Cordon Bleu and fried chicken.

Fritatten soup, traditionally served with liver dumplings, is Austrians’ most popular soup. Leberknödelsuppe (liver dumpling soup), another traditional soup, came in second ahead of Grießnockerlsuppe, a typical Austrian soup with semolina dumplings.

Kaiserschmarren, a sweet Austrian dish of sugared pancakes, is Austrians’ top dessert, according to the online poll, coming in just ahead of apple strudel and tiramisu"

None of this is surprising to anyone who lives here. What is surprising is that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said recently '57 per cent of Austrian men and 43 per cent of Austrian women were overweight’.

This is not apparent when you are out and about. You see very few really fat people and not all that many who are even plumpish. But I am not sure what the OECD definition of ‘overweight’ is and perhaps it’s a bit more stringent in Europe than the standard we use in the USA and Australia.

It is nothing like the USA or Australia where gigantic bulging creatures waddle the streets and shopping malls looking for the next feed of hamburgers and fries.

On Friday we are off to Schladming, which is a really special hiking spot in Styria. It is actually famous for skiing but the season has not started yet – although it is snowing there at the moment so we will be able to test our Ugg boots.

Last time we were there we hiked some ‘easy’ trails and damn near killed ourselves. The Austrians have a different concept of ‘easy’ but there is nothing less difficult we can do – other than walking on the main road, so we will have to do some more mountain climbing.

It is brilliant once you get to the tops of the climbs – but the way up is really tough. It is made tougher by super fit Austrian hikers bounding past us as we grunt and strain up the slopes. Last year we were passed by ancient men and women and even mothers carrying infants – that is really depressing.

Cate had to go to Istanbul today but just for the day. When we get back from Schladming she is going to Indonesia and Australia (to see her ancient mother who has just had an operation). 

The cats and I are planning a massive knees up and will announce details on Facebook. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Creative genius!

I gave the hamburger the slip for a couple of weeks – but it is back and is tracking my every move. I have a choice of 32 VPNs from which to choose and will give it a real test.  I bet it cannot find me in Panama.
It has been a bit grim here lately but I’m hoping for some sunny days soon so that I can get some Autumn pictures of Stadtpark.  It looks fabulous at the moment because the trees are shedding and the ground is covered with leaves - which are being gathered into vast piles by the hordes of gardeners and cleaners who are out in Vienna all hours of the day and night. 
The ducks are in magnificent shape and the boys look particularly good and well-prepared for the winter.  The girls look a bit shabby but that is the way the Duck God made them and they just have to do the best they can.  
And – in case you were wondering – I did not get a reply to my email to Emirates about the lost glasses. I got a message acknowledging receipt of my email and I imagine that immediately after that it was deleted - along with the thousands of other emails that Emirates gets daily. Why do they bother having a contact email address?
But I do love the latest move in creative fleecing from TIGER Airways. Most airlines send their customers alerts about low fares and special deals. Tiger has decided to charge customers for this - and it’s working! 

“TIGER Airways has extracted tens of thousands of dollars from customers without them even getting close to an aircraft, just for the privilege of being among the first to know about upcoming fare sales.
In the latest revenue-raising "innovation" among low-cost airlines, Tiger has started charging passengers a "membership" fee of $29.95 a year to join an email list that gives priority access to sale fares a day before their general release.
Already "thousands" have signed up and paid the joining fee, a Tiger spokeswoman said - even though there are no points accruals or reward redemptions such as in other airline loyalty program”.
I think that is just brilliant and the people who thought it up are blessed with genius. It makes Ryanair look quite dull and pedestrian with the boring charges they apply to everything that used to be part of the fare. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Chicken Vindaloo and Lager Show

I got my early knowledge of London and the Thames from the many great British movies that were made in the 30s, 40s and 50s. This for me was the heyday of British cinema and many of the films made in this era became classics, which I still watch when I can. 

So when I first got to London I felt as though I already knew lots about it – and indeed had already visited and lived in many areas of London on film with people like Stewart Granger, James Mason, John Mills, Laurence Olivier, Greer Garson, Michael Wilding and many, many others.  

To me London in the 80s always seemed a bit drab. It was swinging in the 60s and 70s but I missed those years and it had well and truly swung by the 80s. Part of this was to do with Margaret Thatcher but I was also always traveling on business so did not get to potter and about as much as I would have liked - and my visits could not often be undertaken when the weather was warm.

I spent every spare moment prowling the streets of London and walked it from end to end and side to side. At one time I knew a fair bit of the history of London and could tell you how streets and districts got their names. This information has disappeared so I enjoy reading about it again when I go there. My favorite part of London was of course the river and I loved prowling up and down it – both sides. I took the boats to Greenwich and Richmond whenever I could because the river is the life of London and always has been.  

As I was always travelling on business I spent an inordinate amount of time in restaurants – usually very good ones – and bars – usually not very good ones. I only got to the theatre occasionally and the occasion I remember best was when I asked my colleagues in the office in London to book tickets to a West End show for me and my then girlfriend (who incidentally ran off with another man - but that is for another day).

When I arrived they produced tickets for something called ‘Starlight Express’. This remains to this day the single worst theatrical experience of my life. It is a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The singers are on roller skates. Jesus Wept!

As the curtain rose on this skating extravaganza the man sitting in the row in front of us – and one seat to the right – put his head between his legs and deposited his dinner (possibly a Chicken Vindaloo and 10 pints of Lager) on to his feet – and the feet of those on either side of him. 

He was very full and it took him some time to do this. He took a couple of short breathers before continuing – with appropriate sound effects. It was a brilliant performance.

You have to admire the stoicism of the British because no one moved – including the vomitor – of course he would have been a bit faint after his exertions and probably needed a rest.

After 10 minutes the vomitor got up and squelched his way out of the theatre (probably on his way to another Curry and Lager festival) but the vomitees remained. I was desperate to leave but could not convince my popsie that the piece of crap we were watching was not worth the stench.

During the intermission the staff put newspapers onto the enormous pile of vomit. Everyone stayed.

It was an excruciatingly awful piece of gruesome schlock.  Apparently it was one of the longest running musicals in the West End with 7,461 performances and is the most popular musical show in Germany. 7,461 performances and I get Mr. Vindaloo. How’s that for timing!

When I was roller-blading seriously a few years ago I could never strap them on without getting a slight whiff of vomit.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We had no double-decker buses in Deniliquin

Cate took this rather special photo of a Squirrel in Regents Park.

Australians have a strange affinity for England and we really are quite fond of the country and most of the English people.

We have an English heritage and indeed the colony was started by a bunch of convicts send from the shores of Blighty a couple of hundred years or so ago. Mostly for the heinous crimes of stealing a slice of toast or half a marshmallow.  

The English have never really forgiven us for this - particularly as after the early struggles in the wide brown land we became a fabulous country with gorgeous people, magnificent beaches and the best beer in the world. In fact for the last 50 years or so the English, and the Irish and the Scots and even the odd Welshman – have been leaving the UK in droves to spend their days basking in the sun and drinking cold beer. 

We love to beat the English at cricket. This particular pleasure was denied us in the last Ashes series and I rather think may escape us again in the next series staring in November. Nothing – and I mean nothing – makes an Australian as unhappy as being beaten by the English in cricket.  It could be a long summer and - I fear - Mr Ponting’s last as Australian Captain. No one can lose as many series as he has and survive.

To balance all this bounty we have without doubt the most magnificent collection of fearsome and venomous creatures on the planet. We have snakes that can kill you with their thoughts, spiders the size of Kelpies and the mighty Irukandji jellyfish, which – for its size – would be unbeatable as the most dangerous creature on the planet. (Well – some Republicans excepted).

The British Queen is also our Queen. Fortunately she does not visit very often and plays no part in the governance (if that term could be applied loosely) of the country. She is content to stay in Buckingham Palace dealing with the daily scandals and catastrophes that have beset that miserable family for some considerable time.  The Queen really did get the short straw with her hapless brood and their assorted spouses and one can only hope that the next generation will do better – but I fear not. There is a long history of eccentricity in the British Royalty.

Every few years the Queen rouses herself, shakes off the Corgis and embarks on a grand tour of her colonies – which are few and far between these days. She graces our shores with her shimmering magnificence and hordes of people simper and bow and scrape and curtsey in front of her and her barking mad husband. They are really quite harmless and while most Australians would rather have a Republic we really we do not care that much. The problem with a Republic is that the President will be elected by the people and we all know where that can lead. Better the loonies you know.

Charles is more dangerous and we are hoping that he the will be devoured by one of his plants so that we can get his son William – who looks quite dim and harmless and will faithfully perform the duties of a Monarch which include opening things, meeting people, having garden parties and appearing on the covers of magazines. Of course there will be the occasional scandal and photos of him having his toes sucked by a Hooker in the Dorchester but this will not affect his capacity to rule.

The first book I ever remember seeing was a picture book about England. I had this in Deniliquin in South-Western NSW in about 1950. I can remember pictures of London buses, Oxford Street, Tower Bridge, the Thames and other iconic sights. To a very small boy who lived in a tiny country town it looked like a very strange place a very long way away. 

In the 60s and 70s and it was the dream of an enormous number of young Australians to go to England – and they did in droves. I was always seeing people off, first on big ships like the Oriana and later in the first real passenger jets - Boeing 707s. I did not get there for my first trip until about 1980 – for work - and then wandered about staring at all the sights that were so familiar from books, movies and TV. I visited London at least twice year every year for the next 10 years or so and loved every trip. It still feels so familiar and last week I really had fun hopping about all those places I have visited before. (I avoided the West End nightclub which was the scene of a rather unfortunate and expensive episode in about 1982).

To be continued……

Friday, October 15, 2010

You could have seen me from space!

This is practical! 

One glaring thing about London (and possibly elsewhere in the UK) is that many young women dress like – well - trollops.  The latest fashion seems to be black stockings, or leggings, with very short skirts or shorts – and in many cases what looks like underwear worn on the outside.

This is coupled with the desire to show the maximum amount of flesh and – ahem – cleavage.

I was going to write about this but decided that I am totally out of my depth and just do not understand any of it. 

It is like Ugg boots in summer. Incomprehensible and inexplicable – but if it is fashionable that is all that matters. 

My experience has been that young women would wear absolutely anything in the name of fashion. 

I have noticed recently that 'pre-stressed' jeans have been taken over by 'already deceased' jeans. The new models look like they have been removed from bodies following massive explosions. Or alternatively wrestled from the mouths of Alligators and then washed with gravel and soot in a cement mixer.  

And no – they do not give these away – I saw some in a shop in Vienna for more than €200.

That is a lot of money for a pair of pants that formerly belonged to a successful suicide bomber.

I guess the Alligators are expensive to keep – they need to give them something to eat besides jeans.

But what would I know. I used to wear a nylon tie with bell-bottomed pants, an iridescent green shirt and shoes that Goofy would have been proud of. There was no danger of me being hit by a car when I was staggering home from the pub. You could have seen me from space.

Today my wardrobe consists almost entirely of black T-shirts and blue jeans – with an Italian leather jacket.  I consider this to be understated and cool. I have not dared asked for an opinion from anyone else – although Cate often sighs when she sees me ‘dressed up’ to go out.

And another thing. I discovered to my great horror recently that a slang term for a delicate and furry part of a woman’s anatomy is not only  ‘Beaver’ but also ‘Badger’.

Llama told me this in Italy and I was of course shocked to the core. It has made me question my whole identity.

Is nothing sacred?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Who is Merisi?

Squirrel in motion. Lincolns Inn Fields.

She is everywhere but she is nowhere.

I know I have just missed her on many occasions as my movements have often coincided with the photographs shown on her blog.  

I look closely at women with cameras – but it is hard to tell if they are just snappers or serious photographers like Merisi

She used to have a picture of herself on her blog but she cheated – she had a camera in front of her face.  Then people started to want to meet her and try to find her - so she went commando and merged with the Viennese scenery.

Today I am sure I spotted her. 

In the distance – in one of her favorite spots – Stadtpark.

I took a quick long distance snap and shouted her name but she heard me and fled down the steps and along the Wienfluss.

I gave chase but she is a master of camouflage and melted into the pond and the ducks. Will I ever catch this will-o'-the-wisp?

And now I must hop off to  Glen’s Blog – to read another episode of the visceral life of Breeze Van Santo.

Tomorrow I want to address the question 'why do many young women in London dress like trollops when they could look so nice?'

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

And the coffee is served in buckets

Glen has alluded to the fact that Ugg boots are expensive. Eye-poppingly expensive in fact – but – almost unbelievably – not as expensive as they are in Vienna.

I remember Ugg boots from 30 years ago in Australia. They were sort of shabby-chic. Not very expensive and favored by students and bohemians.

Well the company is still called Ugg Boots Australia but it is now American and the boots are made in China. And the boots are now so fashionable that people just must have them.  By the size of the crowd in the store in Covent Garden one would have thought that they were giving them way – but no. I am guessing that the average pair is about £240.

I just sat there looking astonished as they sold hundreds of pairs before my very eyes.

Just down the road in Long Acre in Covent Garden Cate looked at a very nice woolly scarf – a snip at £375 – with a matching Beanie for another £190. There is something seriously wrong with this world.

There are more Eastern Europeans working in London than there are in Vienna. I did not encounter a single person working in a café or coffee shop who was not from that part of the world. And in most cases their English is as bad as my German (well…maybe not quite that bad) and of course no one can understand an Australian accent. So I had constant communication problems.

And the coffee is served in buckets. They have been – shall we say – upsized – and when you order a Cappuccino now you get a pint in a gigantic cup. It is not possible to get a normal cup of coffee. Cafes are bad enough but when you go to Costa the smallest size is a cardboard bucket and a trolley on which to wheel it away. Fortunately it contains almost no caffeine otherwise the populace at large would all be completely wired and would be chasing each other around the streets of London with clubs and knives – or Blueberry Muffins.

The food is actually not too expensive. Apart from the first night when we went to a trendy (i.e. over-priced) restaurant in Shoreditch we were not too badly dealt with anywhere.  It is much cheaper than I remember it – but probably because we now live in Vienna which is most certainly one of the most expensive cities on the planet.

Thankfully Cate earns enough money to sustain life because my only income is the amount I can steal from the housekeeping money.  

Monday, October 11, 2010

What good would a Fiat 500 be in Lapland.?

The Hoxton hotel was much too trendy for us and we were surrounded by very young people who made too much noise. But the hotel was quite satisfactory and in case you think that this represents a victory for me in the hotel choosing stakes I should tell you that Cate chose the Hoxton. However, Shoreditch may be trendy but it also gritty and lifeless.

On Monday we moved to the Kinglsley in Bloomsbury Way and this is a much more satisfying and lively area.

For reasons known only to them the Kingsley has put us into a room designed for disabled people. I had a touch of arthritis when we arrived but did not realize that I was hobbling quite so badly.

The good part is that it has lots of space. On the downside we have to kneel down to use the wash basin and lie on our stomachs to use the hotel safe.

On Sunday we visited the Ugg shop in Covent Garden. Cate has developed an Ugg fetish and just has to have Ugg boots for winter and Lapland. They do have some Ugg boots in Vienna but don't have Cate's size. Anyway there is an Ugg Concept store (whatever that is) in Covent Garden and Cate was so pleased they had her size that she bought two pairs of boots.

For the same price we could have bought a Fiat 500 but what use would that be in Lapland in winter.

Today we visited the Ducks in Regents Park and brought them up to date with what is happening with their cousins in Stadtpark.

I don't have a picture for you because while it is possible for me to transfer my photos from my camera to my iPad I have not yet worked out how to compress them for the web.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Great moments in planning

Did I mention that we were going to London? Perhaps not. 

Well we are here. In Shoreditch – which may have got its name originally from ‘Sewer’s Ditch’  - but no one is quite sure.

Anyway – from a previously nondescript area it is now very trendy – but we managed to sneak in anyway. 

We are staying at the supposedly trendy Hoxton Hotel for a few days and then moving to something a bit more pedestrian when Cate attends a conference.

It is a few years since I visited London so I am enjoying beetling about and seeing familiar sights. Once upon a time I used to be a regular visitor when I worked in Australia for a British bank and used to stay in the (sigh) Savoy Hotel. 

Those were the days. I used to walk to work in Cannon street along the Strand and the Embankment each morning – and eat in the Savoy Grill in the evening before popping along to Stringfellows for a little light entertainment.

Last time we were in London was in 2007 and we stayed in a hotel so hideous that we still talk about it – mainly the smell. We nicknamed it ‘Cabbage Court’.

But – here’s the thing – I did not choose it. This honor befell Cate’s frugal brother  who had stayed there previously and had thought it was all right. (We questioned him closely on this).

But it was something like £70 per night – which will give you an indication of the quality. You can’t get a decent Muffin and a Coffee for that sort money in London.

This hotel was the scene of another of our planning triumphs when we got our check out date wrong and got back to the hotel one evening to find ourselves locked out of our room.

The hotel had – after a fashion – checked us out and thrown our belongings into 4 plastic bags which awaited us in the ‘Breakfast Room’. This was a coat cupboard in an an alley off the boiler room. From 7-10 each day you could get a  boiled egg, a slice of spam and a glass of orange cordial. 

Cate was very unhappy as she had to try to pack her belongings back into the suitcases. She may have said 'Bother' on more than one occasion. 

This was eclipsed by my other major planning failure on this trip. 

Well before the trip I had been able to book flights from Heathrow to Paris for a very reasonable sum and for an extra £10 per person had been able to book Business Class coming back. How clever I thought.  

Except that when we were in Provence Cate discovered that we were booked to go back to London the day AFTER our flight went back to Australia.

So I had to buy new economy class tickets just before the flight - for about £300 each and of course got no refunds on the previous tickets – so going back to London I sat in economy class fuming – knowing I had probably paid more for my tickets than anyone else on the plane – and TWICE – and Cate sat there smugly.

Excellent stuff – one of my finest moments in planning - but there have been worse. I have had therapy to try to forget them.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Another important invention

More good news from the New York Times
Cate and I have not been Scuba Diving since well before we arrived in Vienna so are planning on going to the Maldives early next year. 

We have known for some time that coral bleaching is a real issue and we have seen it in many places - but there was really depressing news in the New York Times last week.
‘This year’s extreme heat is putting the world’s coral reefs under such severe stress that scientists fear widespread die-offs, endangering not only the richest ecosystems in the ocean but also fisheries that feed millions of people.
From Thailand to Texas, corals are reacting to the heat stress by bleaching, or shedding their color and going into survival mode. Many have already died, and more are expected to do so in coming months. Computer forecasts of water temperature suggest that corals in the Caribbean may undergo drastic bleaching in the next few weeks.
What is unfolding this year is only the second known global bleaching of coral reefs. Scientists are holding out hope that this year will not be as bad, over all, as 1998, the hottest year in the historical record, when an estimated 16 percent of the world’s shallow-water reefs died. But in some places, including Thailand, the situation is looking worse than in 1998,’
There is nothing quite like looking at coral that has been bleached. It is white and lifeless. There is no marine life whatsoever. We have floated over it in various places - the Solomon Islands is one place I remember - and it is like a lunar landscape. 
I can imagine that in about 10 years time the Scuba Diving Industry will be on its last legs in most of the major shallow water dive spots on the planet. Still there will always be Discovery Channel.
But there are more important things happening than the destruction of the world’s coral reefs. This passed me by when it happened but the Bra that can be used as a gas mask has been invented – thank goodness for that!

Next on the list - knickers that can save coral!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I really do try

I think we stayed here once. 

Glen reminded me a week or so ago of the occasions when choices of travel or accommodation do not meet with the expectations of spouses. I regret that in my case this is most travel and most occasions on which I am solely responsible. I have had some memorable failures – but not for lack of effort on my part and I really do try.

I scour the Internet and sites like tripadvisor looking for exactly the right place at exactly the right price.

An impossible task. 

I look at the pictures and I read the reviews. I look at the pictures carefully – enlarging them where possible to see if there are rats scurrying into corners or spiders nesting in corners.

I take all reasonable precautions - but I often choose badly because I am looking for value for money. Quality and little money are mutually exclusive.

Air travel is a bit easier because there are usually very few options and they are all usually awful.

So the outcomes are often unfortunate and lead to some hurtful remarks being made by my spouse.

They usually start with the plane.

I haven’t heard of this airline before dear – is it registered in Panama?

I need to go to the bathroom now – it sure smells nice - did you bring the rubber gloves and the plunger?

Did you choose these seats darling - or did you perhaps insult the person at check-in rather badly?

Or on the way to the hotel from the airport.

Do you think this area was recently carpet bombed or has it just not been cleaned up from the last war?

And in the hotel

Oh look they got the Foyer done by Al Qaeda

Nice carpet. Do you think they still execute people here or has it not been cleaned since – and I’m guessing here – 1943.

And the room:

Goodness we appear to have interrupted them in the middle of the demolition. Pop outside and see if they are still in the corridor dear – we could get them to move the wheelbarrows so that we can get into the bed- it is a bed is it not?  It looks more like a crushed crumpet with crunchy yellow edges – no it must be the bed – I can see the remains of a Doona.

Very Avant-garde. Exposed wiring and plumbing. It reminds me a bit of the Pompidou centre - but of course just a teensy bit smaller.

You get the rats out of the bath darling and I will see if anyone has died on the other side of the mattress as well.

I wonder if anyone has committed suicide in here.  It looks like the perfect spot – of course the window is too small to squeeze out of but I suppose they could have just let the rats gnaw them to death.

Ah now lets see - there must be a light switch somewhere – unless it used to be a cell and the light stayed on all night – yes that must be it - I can still see the initials carved on the walls – perhaps you could reach up and remove the light globe dear – no it won’t be too hot it's only about 2 watts – but don’t use the chair - it seems to have only three legs.

Undaunted I struggle on. I have recently booked hotels in Lapland, Jerusalem, London and Male. Can’t wait.