Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How many Red Carpet Lounges Can There Be?

For reasons known only to herself the young lady at the Senator check-in in Vienna (the special one reserved for Cate’s illustrious presence) decided to check her bag to Peoria and my bag to Washington. Fair enough. She probably thought it would add a frisson of excitement to the voyage – and it sure as shit did that!

We did not know this so when we got to Washington the man sent Cate on one bus and me on another bus – despite our vigorous protests that we were together.

We thought he was insane – but in fact he knew exactly what he was doing – sending us to different terminals where our bags were.

After a while we established telephone contact and Cate said she had just encountered the rudest person she had ever met in her life.

I said that was rubbish – she says that every time she flies United. She brings out the worst in United staff.

Anyway she was having trouble with the very large Rimowa suitcase. For some reason she had my suitcase.

She always insists on taking the absolute smallest possible suitcase when we travel together. Of course she cannot possibly fit her clothes into hers so she has to put most of her clothes into mine -  so the one  I have to take has to be gigantic.

This was the case today – and today on the way down to the car I regret to say that I fucked my ribs again – when will they ever heal.

So eventually we decided that we would meet in the Red Carpet Lounge and we had this comedy routine:

‘Where are you?’

‘I am in the Red Carpet Lounge.’

‘So am I. I cannot see you.’

Until we discovered there were three Red Carpet Lounges.

It was one of those goat things  - but we are here now and I am writing this at 11:00 PM which is 5:00 AM Vienna time. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Plan C (Part 1) has worked

The Peoria trip turned out to be a bit more  complicated than I had anticipated – no real surprises there.

We were going to Washington on mileage points - so we could not split the trip and have Cate go to Peoria early and meet me in Washington. We both have to go to Peoria together which means that she gets an air fare from Washington to Peoria and back from Ducky Pharma but I have to pay for one which does not seem right to me particularly as it costs a shitload of money - but anyways.

So I can theoretically also do this on points with United. 

So I am coordinating with Rozalin who is doing Cate’s trip and I have my flights lined up with Cate’s and I say by email to Rozalin ‘Go and do it now’ as I am booking the exact same flights on the United site because it is flashing red saying ‘There is only one "mileage plus" seat left on this flight’ and I press ‘Book Flight Now’.

The flashing sign immediately flicks over to the ‘Fuck You’ sign well known to all website users who are trying to do critical things online - and then it throws me off the site. With an error message which explains everything. It says ‘Error E_ _’

So I try again and again and I get the same sign with the same informative error message, so with a heavy heart and with the usual degree of pessimism - reach for my Skype headset and dial the number for United Airlines ‘customer service’ in the USA.

Oh Jesus in Splints – it’s one of those voice recognition things. It’s going to try and book me a ticket using voice recognition. Well we all know how that is going to end up don’t we?

We never get past the airport thing. The voice thing wants me to leave from Washington-Baltimore Airport and after 10 minutes I am almost ready to agree – but I am thinking that Washington-Baltimore airport is probably in Baltimore and I will be in Washington DC so I would really prefer to leave from Washington Dulles so I dig my heels in and I expect that any minute he is going to move to the default option and cut me off or send me to the mail room in Spearfish - South Dakota.

‘Hi this is United Airlines Parcels Chuck Warbells speaking may I start with your Parcel ID number. You will find this in the top right hand corner of your United Airlines parcel invoice – that is the blue form that you received from United Parcels not the yellow form I repeat the blue form not the yellow form.’

But there is a software malfunction and I am accidentally switched through to a real person - after a fashion – but he cannot help me – because I am in Austria – and am Australian – and he thinks I should be talking to the International Flights people – I am still but-butting about this - as there is clicking and whirring and then I am talking to Cindy Lou.

Cindy Lou is not much interested in my story and I can tell that she is focused more on her iridescent nail polish with the purple sparkles than my sordid tale. Yes she could theoretically book the flights but she cannot take ‘foreign’ credit cards for the taxes.

This makes no sense at all but she is not about listening to reason because she has many other fish to fry - so she suggests I call United Airlines in Austria. She makes up a number and gives this too me. It does not work. Neither of us expected it to.

I try and find the United Airlines site in Austria. There is something that looks like it could be one - but it says that the only way I can book air miles flights is through the website or by calling the USA number that I called already.

Brainwave. Maybe the site was designed by a Democrat who hated Arnold Schwarzenegger for being the Republican governor of California - hence the refusal to accept my Austrian credit card. I try with my Australian credit card. Success.

Frau Flapovic turned up on our front doorstep yesterday with the key I thought I had lost in the supermarket. I must have left it in the door of the Müllraum but Frau Flapovic waited 24 hours to see if I could get into my apartment without it. She would have found it within 15 minutes of my leaving it there. Perhaps it was a test.

Lenny got the new SIM card and has tested it. It works. He is ready to send it to our hotel in Peoria. What can go wrong? I am making a list.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Foo Fairy takes charge of the phone saga

OK so the telephone handset arrived from Australia and I got a call from Roland from Fedex asking could I send him the invoice? Uh? Roland you have the phone - isn’t there an invoice with it?

Apparently not – it is just a box with a telephone. So  I cannot get the phone without producing an invoice and paying customs duty on the value of the phone – which actually has no value to me – I just want the SIM card – but that is not how the Austrian customs see it of course.

So Roland and I spend some time exchanging emails. How much did you actually pay for the phone then? Nothing.

Uh? You pull zee leg?

Well Roland it was like this blab blah blah……

Yeh sure. OK well the bottom line is no invoice no phone – talk to the supplier.

Jeez thanks Roland.

3-Vodaphone were not nearly as helpful as they were last time around. I can download a ‘Proof of Purchase’ from my account which shows that I purchased a handset for no cost  - but the fact that I paid $5 for it – with a $5 refund – will not reflect until my next statement issues in mid-September.

I am so sorry – that is the only document we can issue. Have a nice day. (i.e. go and stick your head up a dead bear’s bum)


I thought about this for a while and tried pleading with Roland. I said just get customs to assess the value and I will pay whatever duty they want – I just have to have that phone so I can get money from Australia. You can buy one of these online for about €140 - it cost me nothing so I am certainly happy to pay something for my foolishness in losing it. 

He went quiet - so I was working on plan B which involved Lenny just buying another SIM card and sending it to me and I would buy a cheap phone here and get the bank to change the number on my account.

But then a man from Fedex rang and said he would deliver my phone in 10 minutes and I could have it for €58.71 customs duty. Terrific – what a bargain.

So he did - and I rushed upstairs and tore the box open and started looking for the SIM card. Hmmm… no SIM card. Why would they send me a replacement for a lost phone without sending me a SIM card?

I know! Because they are fuckwits!

I tried to call 3 in Sydney but the replacement phone people only work normal business hours so they are not there – and I am switched through to India. Oh no – oh purleeease…..

Indira says that I can get a new SIM card by ‘popping in to my nearest 3 shop’ and it takes me a long time to convince her that I am in Austria not Australia. That is Austria – next to Germany. This slows her down a bit as she ponders why someone in Austria would want an Australian mobile phone - and I am so not going to tell her the story as it would serve no purpose because I have never - ever - in my whole life - found anyone in India who could help me with a problem that is not in their customer service manual - but undaunted she carries on - and foolishly so do I. 

Her next offer is to send it to the place where I don’t live in Sydney. Well that's not going to work is it? So we chew the fat about other options as she frantically racks her brains for a non-existent solution to the problem caused by the ever so friendly and eager but somewhat incompetent Jason in Sydney.

She has no further options so we part company – unhappily.

Plan C now comes into effect.

With this cunning plan Lenny takes a letter from me into 3 in Sydney and gets a new SIM card and Fedexes it to me. I have sent him the letter with my ID and he will execute this plan tomorrow AM Sydney time.

This is slightly complicated by the fact that Cate now has to go to the USA on Tuesday and - as we cannot split our flights - because they are on air miles - I have to go with her to Peoria. So Lenny will have to Fedex the SIM to Peoria. We will then go to Washington.

I am also working on Plans D and E as the Foo Fairy has clearly marked for a good kicking in Spades on this one. She dozes off occasionally - but when she wakes up - watch out! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another day - another cockup!

It is the hottest I have ever known it in Vienna. Birds are falling from the sky and the tiles are sizzling on the rooftops. Little old ladies totter along the streets of Wien with their knickers hanging limply around their knees.

Everyone you see is hot and flustered.

The cats seem unconcerned by this and spend most of their days lying on the terrace – where – if you had a mind to do so - you could fry eggs. It is too hot to actually sit out there except in the cool of the very early morning.

But amazingly – our air conditioning is working better than it ever has. Whatever Frau Katzenjammer did when she spoke to the air con people apparently worked - because it now pumps out cool air at a tremendous rate. 

Perhaps the sight of Frau Katzenjammer – who when I saw her looked like one of Jamie Oliver’s pot roasts – and looked like she had been done for at least 90 minutes at 180° - was enough to convince them they had a serious problem and that an inquest for the death of a mother and child would tie them up for weeks.

Anyway it is quite delicious.

So today I went to the supermarket and lost a key. The first key I have lost in three years which - in itself is miraculous. I know I had it when I left because I put some rubbish into the Müllraum on the way – and I needed a key for that.

But when I got back I had no key. This is not so amazing because as each day goes by I become more stupid and the key could be anywhere from the cat food section to the frozen peas – and it was not a problem because people come in and out all the time and as it happens Frau Flapovic the building super was coming out just as I arrived so I could get up to the apartment.

Once there I have a spare key secreted in a well – secret - hiding place – except that it was – GASP – not there! WTF? How could it not be there?

Now this was my lucky day because Cate was working from home. I was even luckier because normally – even though she was home – she does not answer the door – but this time she figured it might be me. So then I was in the house – trying to work out WTF that key is.

Now the thing is – if Cate forgets her key she will use the spare key but will just tear it off the secret hiding hole tape and then throw it into the key bowl in the apartment – or indeed anywhere. I will always put it back immediately. There will always be a residue of tape – it is not possible to pull the key off and take all the tape off with it.

This time the tape had been removed completely. This was not a hurried – tear it off to get into the apartment job. It was a clean, professional job, carefully and painstakingly peeled away. 

I am guessing that the parcel stealers have stolen our key – but why have they not used it? The house is full of priceless paintings and antiques (joke) and Macs. Not to mention the finest specimens of felines this side of the Danube.

Maybe they are after my original blogs – recently printed! Maybe it is the man from the mountains of France! 

Anyway - we have been very bloody lucky. The Foo Fairy smiled on me today by making me lose my key because otherwise I would not have noticed that one of our keys had gone rogue.

And how long has it been out there? Shriek!

At any time footpads and/or cutthroats could have raided our house – murdered us in our beds and made off with all our mangy and moth eaten possessions. 

The Locksmith came and gave us an interim lock. He will come in 10 days to give us a permanent lock. 10 days? It must be a ball tearer! It will keep out bull elephants. 

I am an endless source of dismay to Rozalin who unfortunately has to get involved in all these housekeeping issues. Fortunately she is made of stern stuff and is not to bothered by my never ending stupidity.

Just as well because I cannot imagine it stopping any time soon. 

And if you have wondered why my proper nouns have stopped having their first letter capitalised it is because my fascist daughter/editor Molly has decided that we we will follow English not German conventions in this blog. After all - she is the editor. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Things are almost back to normal

I have a bit of catching up to do. It has been a bit hectic here as Cate arrived back from Johannesburg and there were masses of housekeeping issues. Things are back to normal – almost. But not for long.

Firstly – I bring you very little Austrian news these days because not much happens – but here is one for you.

Damn that Obama!
“A horse was freed after getting stuck between trees.

The mare was trapped between two spruces in a forest near Waidhofen an der Ybbs, Lower Austria, yesterday (Sun). Hikers discovered the animal. They rubbed its body with moist earth and water so it could free itself but called the local fire brigade when the plan flopped.

Fire fighters used a cable winch to free the unharmed horse. They did not say who it belonged to and whether they found out how it ended up between two trees.”

I am sure that a thorough investigation will reveal the truth. I am guessing that the horse walked between the two trees rather than being fired there out of a cannon - but if I tune into Fox I am sure I will find that President Obama’s Marxist policies somehow wedged it into that position. Two Spruces – now that is telling!

Now to my business.

In addition to almost starving the cats to death and killing the Katzengrass, Java also decided to rearrange all of my stereo and TV cables so that he could listen to things in a different fashion. As he is young it would not have occurred to him to restore things to their proper order.

So I have had to spend some time putting things back together again. Not an easy task for a Badger when it is not a matter of plugging the red cable into the red socket and the white cable into the white socket. Why do they make them like that if that is not the way you put them together? 

I am going to have words with Java. I am going to keep in his good books though because he is going to medical school and I may need his support when I become even more enfeebled – and he is Mrs. Moneypenny’s nephew. She is definitely needed around here. 

In two weeks we are going to Washington for Cate’s nephew’s wedding at the Hay-Adams hotel. This is a very famous hotel and apparently overlooks the White House.

Wikipedia says that "The Hay–Adams Hotel is said to be haunted by Henry Adams's beloved wife, `Clover' (Marian Hooper Adams), who committed suicide on this site in 1885, before the hotel was built. Her spirit is said to be walking the floors, trailed by the scent of mimosa."

We are only staying there for one night so Clover will be struggling to catch us because the place will be heaving.

Cate’s brother and Sister-in-law have lived in Vienna Virginia (How about that!) for about 20 years and we see them every time we go to Peoria.

But we are only there for three days and then we come home for a day and go to Ireland for four days with Liz and Darryl who are – of course – Cate’s sister and brother-in-law, who we just saw in Australia. I hear that they make Jamesons in Ireland and I sure would like to see them do that. 

I am pleased to say that we have a new dishwasher. It is a brand of which I have not previously heard – but it works just fine. It has an LED display on the front so I can pick cycles from 1 through to 7 – which goes to 3 hours. I simply cannot imagine what you would need to wash for 3 hours – apart from – say- Michelle Bachmann.

I have now started worrying about the plants on the terrace. The man at Dehner assured me that they would grow like topsy and would have to be pruned regularly. Well – they have grown only about 1cm and have not needed trimming at all – and now winter is coming and I will have to wrap them up.

At least I haven’t killed them. Thank the FU Fairy I did not ask Java to look after them.

Friday, August 19, 2011

He is expecting a breeder from the Gulf

The cats are very pleased to see me and whenever I use the computer – which is often – Sissi lies next to the keyboard and her tail sweeps across it like a windscreen wiper. This is not helpful and I often have to hold it with one hand while I type. She is impossible to move as she is now the size of a Mountain Lion.

In my frequent crashes on top of the bed Monika is always with me and sleeps on top of me – regardless of what position I adopt. Her favourite is when I lie on my back – in which case she lies across the top of me with her feet draped over one side of my chest and her head draped over the other. It is still possible for me to breathe – just – but I am pinned in that position until she decides to move.

In the absence of Mrs. Moneypenny – Java did not do a very good job and the Katzengrass was very dead – the rubbish bin had not been emptied properly – there was not enough water in the cats bowl and there were almost no crunchies for Monika.

Clearly he will have to go back to Mrs. Moneypenny for Remedial Cat Minding 101. 

On the way home I lost my Australian Handy (Mobile Phone/Cell Phone). Now I know what you are thinking – that doesn’t matter – he only needs it for Australia – well you would be wrong – it has actually turned into one of those Goat Things.

Let me start from the beginning.

In Austria they have this peculiar system that at the end of each month credit card companies charge your bank account with the outstanding balance of your credit card. 

The card we use is the same card Cate uses for her business expenses so it gets a solid workout and when we were travelling in Australia an expense was declined so I checked the credit card and found that it was over the limit.

I then transferred a large amount from the bank account to the credit card – without checking when the automatic credit card debit was due.

Well you know what happed don’t you? Both colossal debits went through almost simultaneously – putting the credit card into a large credit – and putting the bank account into debit.

Are you still with me?

OK. So the only way I can fix this is to transfer some funds from Australia to Austria. Now here’s the rub. To do this I need a code. To get a code I need my Australian phone. Ta Da!

I know that I lost it in the Emirates lounge in Sydney or on the Emirates flight between Sydney and Dubai. So I know that I am never going to see it again.

So I had to do two things.

Firstly – there is no point in me contacting Emirates because they have my name on their black list – and possibly pictures of me on the walls in customer service centres - so I ask Rozalin to do this because she has some clout as Cate’s PA.

Secondly – knowing that the phone is gone forever – I rang 3 Vodaphone in Sydney to see what they could do. As it turns out – rather a lot. Jason can give me a new phone – with the same number – on the same plan – at no cost – and send it to my son Lenny in Sydney within 3 days. I should tell you that the plan is $10 per month – I am not actually a high roller.

As soon as Lenny gets it he will DHL it to me and I will be able to get some money and keep a number of people happy.

Miraculously, Rozalin got a response from Emirates asking for details of the phone. They wanted to know the make, model, number and three numbers in the directory. Like they get so many lost phones with the same number that they need to compare numbers in the directory.

The next day they said that no phone had been handed in. No surprises there.

I rang the number of course. Mohamed said that he had two fine beasts for 5,200 Dirhams each but he was expecting a breeder from the Gulf next week – with exceptional teeth - that he could let me have for 7,000 Dirham.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Home again

When you check into the Emirates lounge at Dubai and the person at the counter says ‘your gate number will be 125’ and writes this on your boarding pass you would be a fool to take her word for it – but I did.

It seemed to get very lonely going towards gate 125. There were no longer any shops – or people – or airport staff – just the occasional cleaner. I eventually came to the end of the airport – to what seemed to be a kind of Bedouin camp – with people sitting around on rugs. I am sure there were goats and campfires and children playing in the dust. There were no airplanes.

I realised immediately that the Emirates woman had spotted me for the email troublemaker and had been pulling my chain. The nearest screen showing the correct gate was about ten minutes walk away and the correct gate – 219 – was at the opposite end of the airport – a very long way away indeed. 

One should never watch people eating in airports. But when you are there for five hours and you have just read conflicting reports that Brad and Angelina are (a) deliriously happy and planning on adopting another phalanx of dusty orphans or (b) at each others throats and can’t wait to separate – you lose focus and cast your eye around for distractions.

In my case you see a raucous Australian maiden munching scrambled eggs and baked beans while playing with her iPad and talking loudly on her iPhone to her BF back home.

The conversation is hilarious and each bout of hilarity brings forth a spray of scrambled eggs. The conversation is not so good that she will stop eating.

A cough of laughter sends a baked bean zinging past me like a rocket propelled grenade - to embed itself into the potted palm. I hope her iPad is equipped with windscreen wipers or she has a Wettex in her purse.

At a table further on there is an Eastern European lady built like a London bus – with an upper deck to match – who is trying to eat her own weight in pasta. She is not trying to do anything else as this requires her full attention. I am tempted to see if I can find her a larger eating implement – the one she has seems so puny and so not up to the task.

Her fat son – who is using an iPad with his left hand – is trying to break the world record for cramming the most number of croissants simultaneously into his mouth.

His  mouth is open so wide his eyes are like saucers. I think he has forgotten that he has to chew. Actually I really don’t think he could possibly chew. I think he will have to be like a python devouring a very large animal and just engorge them and let them dissolve on the way to Minsk – and over the next months or so.

The daughter – who is going to look just like her mother – and much sooner than she would like - is eating – although that is not really the right word – a plate of cake. Let me put it like this. She is moving a pile of cake from a plate into her stomach. It is not something I would ever like to see again.

Why is it that there is always – ALWAYS – someone on every flight who checks in and then vanishes. Where do they go?

Every time I get on an airplane there is an announcement that we are waiting for ‘a missing passenger’.

Sometimes ‘the missing passenger’ does not turn up and they have to find the bags.

Do they perhaps check in and then forget why they are at the airport and go to the supermarket to do the weekend shopping? It beats the shit out of me. 

Quite often I have been on planes when the passenger never turns up at all and I have to wait while they rat through the baggage compartment to find the bag and remove it. What is that about. Why would you check in and not get on the flight?

Oh you’re home early dear did you decide not to go?

Go where?

To visit your mum darling – you were going to visit your mum. Where is your suitcase?


Oh but I see you got some milk and eggs. 

Today’s ‘missing people’ turned up 20 minutes late – gasping and panting. Maybe they checked in and then decided to take in a movie. 

I am in a Business Class cabin with 28 seats. There are four people in here. We are doing meal selections – I am the second one asked.

I ask for the seafood medley and they tell me it's no longer available. The man who was asked first did not have it. He had the chicken.

Well I know the medley is a swimming event – maybe it all swam up to first class.

I am happy with the lamb.

I am home again. The cats are very pleased to see me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Speeding home like a Kugelblitz

It is a sparkling day in Sydney today. Lenny and I are not sparkling – but we can only improve as the day goes on.

It is my last day in Sydney. Lenny and Kezza (my daughter) and I walked through the Botanic Gardens and down to the Opera house and had lunch. We did this at some peril to our lives as there were thousands of runners stampeding along the pathways gasping and panting and sweating in great heaving packs. They stop for no one.
Anyway - it is years since I have been there and I managed to prise both eyes open wide enough through the mist of Jamesons to appreciate the sight of the harbour and the bridge.

Tonight I will be speeding home like a Kugelblitz to Vienna where the cats await me. Cate could not be bothered waiting and has gone to Johannesburg. Mrs.  Moneypenny has gone to Latvia. Her deputy – Java – is doing the cat minding.

Java is also my wood wrangler and has the responsibility of trundling the Sushi rolls of compressed sawdust from Billy Benz up to the apartment. This year he will have to go with me to Bauhaus and put them into the car as well because I am not going to take any chances with my ribs before we go to Norway.

I checked in online and cheered up immensely to see that I am on an Airbus A380 and that Rozalin has organised a good seat for me – although those bastards at Emirates may change it because I know they hate me – and all because of the emails I sent to them about them stealing Cate’s spectacles.

Molly is back so you can expect an immediate improvement in the quality of editing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

God Jamesons is good

So you are now up to date. I am back in Sydney and on Saturday I had dinner with my children and grand-children at my son Lenny’s house. Lenny and his wife Sam are sensational cooks and Sam made a wonderful Duck thing and we also had some brilliant Aussie snags – with Brussels Sprouts which are my favourite vegetable of all time.

Today I went to lunch with Jim and Annie at the Pier restaurant Rose Bay – which is a restaurant owned by the Doyle family – and it was terrific sitting on the harbour watching the sparkling water and the boats bobbing about. I had forgotten how beautiful this can be.

Lunch was a bit challenging. We were the first people in the restaurant and the waiters descended upon us like a horde of locusts upon a wheat field.

I decided to have the Sydney Rock Oysters and the Spinner Crab Tortellini but after I had placed the order the waiter returned to tell me that the Tortellini was in fact a soup and did I want the entrée or the main course size. Without missing a beat - (Tortellini is a soup?) - I chose a main course size.

The waiter returned after another interval to tell me that the chef had decided that I could not have a soup for a main course and that it was necessary for me to choose something else – the chef recommended the crab omelette – and that was good enough for me. Who am I to argue with a chef?

It was in fact delicious. After lunch Annie and Jim drove me home to my old street and I popped in to see some of our ancient neighbours. Nea is 90 on Thursday. I even called in to see our tenants – to discover that they are leaving and moving to Germany. I am sure our letting agent will tell me one day.

I saw Anna - AKA Possum - who has had a double hip replacement but has made a miraculous recovery and is now bounding around like an Australian marsupial. I dropped in a bottle of Baileys to hasten her recovery.

My other adventure today was to buy Stockholm Tea from the Sydney Tea Centre. This is Cate’s favourite and is something I must keep in stock - so I marched in and asked for a kilo.

Imagine my horror when the young man pulled down the tin and discovered that it was nearly empty.

I gave him my death stare – which is a very poor imitation of Cate’s – and told him about my impending departure for Vienna – and he rushed about the store stripping gift packs of their ‘Stockholm’ packages. He managed to put together about ½ kilo but said that he had some emergency supplies on order and would call me if they arrived within the next 24 hours.

Well – bless his little cotton socks – he called while I was at lunch and said he had another ½ kilo waiting for me. So we are stocked up for the next 12 months and Cate (and incidentally Mrs. Moneypenny) can rest easy.

And – by the way – the Stockholm blend comes from Germany – but the Sydney Tea Centre is the only place I can find to buy it.

If they X-ray my bags they will discover 400 Bushells Extra Strong Tea Bags and one kilo of Stockholm Tea. This is about one year’s supply.

People often say to me ‘what is the matter with tea in Vienna?’ to which the answer is of course ‘nothing in particular’.

People develop tastes or affections for particular things and wish to continue to enjoy them. I have a fetish for Bushells Tea. I think I have covered this in previous blogs. I seem to remember that for my pains I was flayed mercilessly by the Antipodean in Gamone – who - thank the Lord - no longer drops in.

Had dinner tonight with Lenny at Rockpool which is a two hat restaurant and I may have had the most sensational steak I have ever eaten – and that includes the ones I have had in St Elmos in Indianapolis.

I also had the best conversation I have ever had with my son Lenny (whose name is not of course Lenny – which will come as no surprise to blog readers).

We downed buried two bottles of white wine and finished the evening with some Jamesons in the bar at my hotel. I told him some stories that surprised him considerably.

I also told him – as if he needed reassuring – that I loved him to bits and that he was everything I ever wanted in a son.  Apparently he loves me as much as I love him. God Jamesons is good.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Kookaburra is still there

 Firstly – the typos and other errors are due to my editor Molly swanning about in the wilds of southern Italy and having almost no internet coverage.  I usually speak to her every day and have not been able to contact her for a week. I managed to communicate with her today – after a fashion – and she will be back in Paris today. She will have some tidying up to do when she returns.

Secondly - the lightning story is true in every respect. I tell outright lies on the blog only when these are absolutely essential – but  of course I have been known to exaggerate and use literary devices. This was not one. It was an astonishing sight but bothered PK not one scrap. He was engaged in close consultation with a Jamesons and was not to be deterred – but did say that his nectar had become slightly warmer and smokier.

After Blackheath Cate went home to continue the important task of earning money to keep me in luxury and Macs. I went to Melbourne to stay with my older brother Geoffrey – who lives there. My even older brother Burne – who lives in Sydney – had already gone down there.

Burne is an Anglican and religious, Geoffrey is Jewish and observes Jewish customs because his son-in-law is religious – but I have not tested the level of Geoffrey’s religiosity. I am an Atheist. We do not talk about religion.

They are both ferociously right wing so we have some interesting discussions about politics - but as each of them is deaf in one ear – and not the same one – these can be so difficult to conduct so that we lose the thread and move on to something else.

A few years ago the three brothers went on a voyage of discovery to the Riverina area where they spent their early years. This time our trip was to see where the junior member (me) was born and where the senior members first went to school.

Now – I do not of course remember the place where I first lived because I was very small and it was a very, very long time ago - and I was not there for very long.

It is in Bendigo which is a town in what were once the goldfields in Victoria. My older brother Burne remembered the house where we lived and guided us there. My older brothers have always told me about the Kookaburra on the wall next to the front door and it is still there. It is not what I imagined but it was nice to see it.

Geoffrey – being the type of man he is – knocked on the door and regaled the youngish woman who answered with the story of our lives so far. This took some time. She did not – as I had expected she would – threaten to call the police – indeed she seemed to be fascinated and told us many things of her own. She even said that if her husband was home she would invite us inside. Blimey. But it was getting late and perhaps she could not see that she was dealing with three ancient garden gnomes.

So we toured Bendigo and visited all the places I did not remember and my brothers had a fine time. They visited their first school and not much had changed – the classrooms were a bit smaller. No one at the school remembered them.

We toured the surrounding towns and stopped at many cafés for coffee and lunches. We had dinner at the Bendigo RSL and made a small investment in the poker machines.  We move at a pace consistent with our age and arthritic conditions – exacerbated by the cold weather. I thought I had this condition on my own due to the cold weather in Vienna but was interested to see that both my brothers are also afflicted.

In other news I have managed to give myself a tiny hernia lifting my massive new suitcase onto the bed in the hotel in Sydney. My doctor niece Lani examined me in the restaurant at a family dinner on Thursday night and said that I should be OK to get back to Vienna. (Cough -  and again – I think you are OK Unc - I will have the Penne Vegeteriana). This is Lani who caused the scandal with Mrs. Moneypenny by sleeping in the same bed in Vienna with Hannah. Shock. Horror.

I am communicating with Cate as time zones permit and she tells me that the cats are missing me badly. Monika in particular is moping about the house looking for a chest to sleep on and Sissi has lost her usual bounce.

Cate – as I had feared – is incapable of looking after herself or the cats. So far she has eaten only Vegemite on toast and scrambled eggs. The cats have not had any fresh meat since Cate arrived home because Cate says she cannot find it in Spar. In fact she has not been able to find the meat counter in Spar – and our local Spar is smaller than our lounge room.

Now I would have cooked a whole bunch of food before I went away and frozen it but last time I did this she left it untouched – saying that she did not have time to put it into the microwave.

So next time I will have to set up a saline and glucose drip next to the bed for Cate and will have to put the cats into suspended animation.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Llama has buns like rockmelons

We spent the weekend in the Blue Mountains with Gwenyth and PK and Llama. Gwenyth and Llama are the two chicks Cate and I went cycling with last year in Italy.

Cate and I have stayed at the fabulous house Westhill in Blackheath before – with my children and grandchildren. It was designed by Glenn Murcutt who is one of Australia’s most exciting and innovative architects. He really likes corrugated iron. 

The house is owned by a lawyer and a few weeks ago he emailed me and said we could not come because Blackheath had been devastated by a storm and the house and garden had been buried under a mountain of colossal trees which had been felled by gale force winds. While the house itself had not been damaged it was not possible to get to it.

I was of course inconsolable. Both by the thought that we could not use the house and by the thought that I may not get to see Llama in her underwear - which is always one of the highlights of my encounters with her.

However – he emailed again a week later and said that a path to the house had been cleared and that we should send the usual exorbitant amount of money and turn up.

It was a fabulous weekend. It being winter - Llama wore more clothes than I would have liked - but was in terrific shape - having just done a walking holiday in Italy – and had buns tighter than Rockmelons. She had also just conquered Chamonix – in more ways than one – so had some tales to tell.  

It was my first close encounter with PK and I discovered that he can drink impossible amounts of red wine and Jamesons Whiskey without falling over. This might be because he is a sailor and has been practising for many years while rocking from side to side. This may be why my neighbour Jim in Sydney is so good at it.
It was also my first encounter with Jamesons and it is indeed a lovely drop. When I get the last of the fur off my tongue – in a month or so – I will try it again. In fact I will get a bottle on the way home.

I finally met Simon Cotter – a lovely gentle man – who Maalie regarded as his son – and we talked about Maalie’s last trip to Australia and the weird and wonderful ways which made him such a fascinating character.

It was a very special weekend filled with food, fires, wine and much laughter.

There was another massive storm with gigantic bolts of lightning and murderous claps of thunder. There were five Atheists in the house and God had his chance to kill us but failed miserably.

He sent a streak of lighting through a window – ten metres across a room - to strike an iron stove 10 centimetres from PK’s bum. PK – who is a failed Irish Catholic – and a terrible blasphemer - and thus a perfect target for extermination and eternal damnation – was at that stage half full of Jamesons and would have gone off like a bomb – taking us and the house with him. And a rich lawyer's house at that - what an opportunity!

God is either not there – does not care about us Atheists – or is a lousy shot with lightning - (although he is uncannily accurate in respect of golfers).

I have attached some photos of the fallen trees. Click to embigiate. 

Next – I return to the place of my birth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The only shoe shop in the world

We flew from Coffs Harbour to Sydney in an airplane that had propellers. This is not my idea of a good plane – especially when I am sitting next to the propeller. 

I don’t trust them from my days reading Biggles books and I remember a nasty incident when a mechanic was badly injured because a lazy pilot did not have the choke fully in or out or something. Biggles remonstrated with the pilot and grounded him - but that did not bring back the mechanic’s fingers did it?

Turns out Cate is an ‘Ambassador’ at Intercontinental Hotels so we were given a harbour view room (photo), a bottle of wine, a bowl of fruit and significant amount of bowing and scraping.

Unfortunately the service did not extend to ironing Cate’s clothes so I still had to do this as we had to go out almost immediately. The pressure was on me to do this and there was an instant catastrophe as I could not get Cate’s suitcase open.

We had bought new Rimowa suitcases and I had set the combinations – and checked them multiple times – and Cate’s simply did not work.

It was 4:00 PM. We had to go to dinner at 6:00 PM. Prior to this Cate HAD to go shoe shopping. I was staring at a locked suit case – fiddling with the combinations. Cate was glaring at me and was just about to move into Death Stare mode and vapourise me.

 I was preparing to ring room service to get bolt cutters when a miracle happened. The Fuckup Fairy sneezed – lost focus - and I escaped death by seconds. I moved the combination one notch and the locked popped open.

So I ironed Cate’s clothes so she could hurtle down to her favourite shoe shop in Sydney before we went to dinner. She says this is the only shoe shop in the world in which she can buy shoes.

This makes me wonder why I spend countless hours in shoe shops in Vienna, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, Stockholm, etc. – but still.

Anyway she rushed in there and gave the sales assistant strict instructions that she was to be provided with as many pairs of shoes as possible in half an hour and she duly emerged with four pairs just as I arrived panting after running from the hotel (having ironed my owned clothes) and we leapt into a taxi and roared off to the restaurant to meet my children and grand-children.

This was at 6:00 PM. This is a very fashionable restaurant booked by my son Lenny and the early time was the only time they could guarantee to squeeze us in. It is called Porteno and is Argentinian – so is very meaty.

You can have lamp chops and beef ribs that have been cooked for eight hours. Fortunately they do this before you arrive.

The hostess (photo) is a minor celebrity by virtue of being married to the one of the owners and dresses like a Hollywood actress from the 50s and flounces around looking like a – well – Hollywood actress from the 50s.

But the food was really wonderful and some of the waiters wear braces (on their trousers not their teeth) and sport bushy beards so there is quite an interesting atmosphere. The music is Jackrabbit Slimmish.

It was quite an entertaining evening – although I am not locking the suitcases again – and I will see the kids again next weekend.

Cate is back in Vienna and the cats are well. Next – back to the Blue Mountains.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Never cease to wonder

Bellingen is a delightful little town on the Bellinger river. At some stage in the distant past a clerk in an office got the spelling of the town or the river wrong and it has stuck – I am not sure which spelling is correct.

It is a town of contrasts. City slickers who have come to buy fancy houses and alternative life-stylers with beards and beads who munch on beans and soy milk.

The house we stayed in is a few kilometres out of town and is completely isolated so that one wakes up to the delightful sounds of the Australian bush. I had forgotten how wonderful this was and awoke to this splendour at dawn each day.

The reason we do this is so that Cate’s mother Joan – who is 91 years of age – can be with her two daughters – Cate and Liz. This is an annual ritual for Joan’s birthday.

Because of Joan’s age nothing happens very quickly - so we move through our days in slow motion.

We take Joan for drives and she enjoys these immensely. We do not actually need to do the drive as she falls asleep as soon as she gets into the car – and we could just put her in there and then go and get her out two hours later and ask her how she enjoyed the drive – and she would say  ‘that was lovely thanks darling’ and mean it. 

We take Joan to The Old Butter Factory for lunch and she munches inexorably through a BLT at roughly the same pace as the recovery of the US economy.

As dusk falls we take her home and prop her up in front of a roaring fire with a glass of champagne - with a blanket over her knees - while we rustle up dinner.

If Joan gets lucky there will be a football match on TV and she can watch two teams of thugs belting the daylights out of each other. She will do this in between mini-naps.

After dinner she will sit for hours as her family talks. Saying nothing – just happy to be with her children while they shoot the breeze in the middle of the Australian bush – and where – if you step outside the back door – you are standing in the middle of the milky way and can stare in awe at a billion stars and never cease to wonder at your own existence.  

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Back in the wide brown land

Well of course to be able to blog you have to get onto the internet and I had forgotten that in this wide brown land - internet access is not at all universal and in fact vanishes as soon as you leave towns and cities.

But  - as we stayed this time in the very same house that we stayed in last year I should have remembered that it has no connection to the outside world.

Not that it is far from anywhere – indeed it is only about 3 kilometres from Bellingen – which by Australian standards is quite a large town – and which itself is only about 30 kilometres from Coffs Harbour - which is actually an Australian ‘city’.

But – by Australian standards – we may as well have been on the moon – and could not even get mobile (cell) telephone reception unless we went to the ‘communications room’ which was the patch of garden down by the garden shed – overlooking the creek in the distance. (The photo is of Cate in the Comms Room).

However – I am getting ahead of myself – and should start at the beginning.

It never ceases to amaze me that however many times I get caught – I never learn. The seat allocation was done for us by the people who did the booking and I did not check it.

Turns out it was the bulkhead seats behind the toilets – with the aisle seat the one that is half way into the aisle. It is designed this way so that everyone who goes to the toilet can bump into you on the way there and the way back.

Now bulkhead seats are great if you are in road kill class - as I usually am - but on the very rare occasion that I am in business class – I hate it. You have no storage space and you have those shitty fold out screens.

Things went from worse to worser. Cate’s seat did not work – and as the only reason we were flying Emirates was to get flat beds this was not good.

Cate’s cold stare prompted the flight attendant to remember from her training that the seat could be possibly manually adjusted to the flattish position.

This fairly lackluster response prompted Cate to move into her Death Stare mode – known throughout the airline industry – which can stun cabin attendants at a range of 50 metres.

This prompted a flurry of activity which had two cabin attendants sweating, grunting and heaving for 10 minutes to get the seat into a sort of flattish position.

Cate watched this performance much as a python would watch a mouse that it was contemplating eating for dinner.

There was much apologising and grovelling and offering of wine – which much to my surprise I accepted with some alacrity as I never ever drink on planes - but I was somewhat stressed by the entire incident and Cate’s Death Stare always has some collateral effects on me.

But – as things go – they went. The bed was not – as we expected it to be – flat. OK let’s be honest – we never expected it to be flat – but we were hoping for flat-ish.

It was sort of S shaped and rather short. Once again I should have checked the website that tells you about these sort of things but honestly my days are so full that it slipped my mind. Actually – that is not quite true – it is just that I am a fool.

So Cate scrunched up like a pretzel with her feet hanging over the end of her seat – next to the toilet door. She in fact took it rather well and insisted that I sit next to the window.

The male flight attendant who – with the female flight attendant – wrangled the seat into a semi-flat position – told Cate that he was going to write a long report about the problem.

I am not sure that was necessary ‘8J FUBAR’ should do the trick. I am sure they would not use language like that. Just jargon – like 8JF.

The female flight attendant was most attentive and kept bringing me wine. At one stage I proposed to her but she said she could not accept because it was obvious that I was married and that Cate would simply kill us both with a single withering  glance if she found out about our relationship.

We were in the same seats – on a different plane - on the next leg from Dubai to Sydney – which was 15 hours – but once again Cate let me have the window seat and I made a fine nest. This time the beds were in fact really flat so we slept most of the time.

Cate was able to reach the toilet door with her left foot so could kick it shut if people did not close it properly.

My video screen was on the bulkhead wall about three metres away so it was like being at the drive-in – although it was too far away for me to actually watch anything.

Cate does this sort of thing every week but for me it is quite exciting.

Next – back in the Australian bush. We saw Kookaburras.