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While at work yesterday I read that the government district in Oslo, my birth town, had more or less been blown up and that at least 3 people had been confirmed killed. Since then my childhood paradise, Norway, has been torn apart by the most incomprehensible crimes imaginable. A good-looking young man turned his frustrations into death and shot more than 80 people dead at a political youth camp on an island north-west of Oslo, and he is believed to also be behind the bombings.

Not a bad-looking guy, is he? Anders Behring Breivik

The gut reaction from many was to separate the two and at least see the bombing in Oslo as a Muslim extremist terrorist act. But no. In peacetime, one of “our own” lost his every last marble and turned into a mass killer. And he killed a yet-to-be confirmed number of young people, slaughtered them, more than 80 of them. And the bombs in Oslo could have killed so many more than they did, including my own friends and family.

There are people killed in terrorist actions every day in other countries. But the big difference here is that these are countries that are already experiencing political and often religious upheaval. Not that THAT is a great comfort to those who lose their friends and family members, but at least it’s not as unexpected and more easily explained.

And there were no terrorists in Norway. Ok, I’m being naive, but my country of birth has always been a safe haven for me. I’ve lived in London and got used to the many posters encouraging vigilance and asking people to report any unattended luggage anywhere in case it were a bomb. And people did — and do. The moment someone noticed a bag that seemed ownerless on a bus or the Tube, the busdriver was alerted, or emergency break was pulled, and the bus/Tube was emptied of people and police contacted. I’ve been there. I’ve been one of those telling the busdriver about a suspicious bag, causing a total traffic jam in London’s busy streets.

But this? This is unprecedented. And I can’t understand what this good-looking young man was thinking. Did it ever even occur to him that there would be a time AFTER his killing spree? He clearly expected and wanted to live since he was wearing a bullet proof vest. But what will he have to live for now? He will be locked up for the rest of his life (actually, Norwegian law has a maximum penalty of 21 years — but if he is found mentally ill he can be put in an institution with a the likelihood of not being let out again). And there will be no forgiveness coming his way from a collective Norwegian population.

But now, Life, as it should be for all of us, is calling me. Thomas has prepared breakfast and Mischa is right next to me, a little confused about my grief and constant bursting into tears.

This one will take a long time to get over.

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So, for the second time in my life I split up with someone out of sheer self preservation. Wrong. Third. But the third one, which is really the second one, is a very different story. Here’s the story of the most recent split, and the most devastating:

When I met Kevin I had just split up with Erland. I was head over heals in love with him, but our second year together was not good and I finally realised that I had to get out of the relationship were I to retain any sort of personality or dignity. I split up with him in spite of how I felt for him. And I cried. For more than two years I cried. Then it got better. And now, 17 years later it’s ok.

I’ll never forget him or how I felt. He will always have a piece of my heart.

Oddly enough, it was a similar story with Kevin, it just took so much longer. Love kept me going (I am doing this from a “me-point-of-view” as I can’t tell you anything about what Kevin thinks). Weeks after we first met he informed that he was not even remotely interested in having kids. I replied that at the time, neither was I but that this was likely to change. And so we agreed that when I started to get broody we would part ways.

I was always a very sexual person, but Kevin stated that other things were more important. For me it got so bad I even asked his permission to get a lover. He thought I was joking. I was. Sort of.

We split once, when we lived in Edinburgh. I think he was depressed. We didn’t talk much, and I lived a fairly independent motorbike life. He was always invited to both bike runs and parties but made it clear that my “hairy biker friends” as he called them were not his cup of tea.

In general, my friends were not his cup of tea. They were anything from “boring” to “dull”, apparently. His friends were not, so we had a good time with them. Except that he didn’t have many friends in Edinburgh and didn’t make any new friends while there so he either had to suffer the company of my dull hairy biker friends or be on his own. He was on his own. At this point he became an archetypical unemployed actor who spent his days playing golf when the weather permitted or listened to Radio 5 in the flat. And I was his landlady so we always kept the guest room looking as if it was his room in case social services came to check. I hated that. But at least he was an interesting, unemployed actor with interesting, not boring friends. In London. Bummer.

We split. But it didn’t work out. I missed him insanely, holding his hand when going for a walk or on the way to the pub, kissing him good morning, nuzzling his neck, his smell, his laugh, the warmth of his eyes, his jokes. His sarcasms. His one-liners. Sharing our favourite radio programme (I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue). He had been engaged by a small theatre in Vienna, conveniently coinciding with our split, and we talked on the phone every day and then he asked me if I wanted to join him there, going back on stage as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.

We had the most wonderful reunion, he was so alive, so happy, his eyes were shining and yes! he wanted a family and commitment and to live! We got engaged. There is nothing more romantic than being in Vienna at Christmas and getting engaged to a man you love so much it hurts.

We moved to London. None of my dull hairy biker friends were there, but some more of his interesting actor friends were and he was willing to get temp work when not working in the theatre. I went from one horrid job to the next, all interesting in their own way, all pretty exhausting and soul destroying. But we were financially better off than ever and eloped to New York in 2003 where we married. I always had a feeling that we disappointed a lot of people with that, especially my dad though mum took it in her stride and approved whole heartedly.

After three years in London I hit the wall with frustration. My job was going nowhere, I was going nowhere, Kevin was only doing temp jobs of the shittiest kind and going nowhere with that. The family plans never materialised and when I occasionally broached the subject I was met with Kevin’s favourite mantra: “This is not a good time.”

We moved again. This time to Vienna. Turned out that by now we had more friends there than in London, including shared and acceptably interesting. Kevin got us a tiny flat in the best district of town, Josephstadt, where we squeezed in all our belongings and felt like true bohemians. We had had a falling out with the small theatre — it never pays to be honest, one should always remember to lick ass, no matter what people say or do to you, but that’s another story — so we both ended up teaching English.

And that was the beginning of the end. Because even though I enjoyed the new challenge, and even though I was still in love with Kevin, the mantra, the ever present mantra that prevented us from discussing things that bothered me, built a wall of discontent in the flat. The much too small flat. As bohemian as it was, the walls started closing in on me, the view across the narrow Hof to our neighbour’s bedrooms started to get to me, no matter how many of my things I got rid of, there was always stuff all over the place that had nowhere to go, and we could still not have a dog and family? No way. It was not a good time. Tick, tick, tick.

We moved. This time we stayed within both country and city and ended up in the 4th district.

It worked for me, but never really seemed to work for Kevin. Unfortunately, I was the one who found the flat and insisted on the move so it allowed for free vent of complaints for him. He didn’t like the district, he didn’t like the kitchen, it was too warm, he wanted it to be cheaper with an extra room… and in the meantime he still refused to discuss the future in any way, and though we still borrowed every dog we met for a few precious seconds the time was still not right for getting our own. When we were asked to look after Mischa over a holiday I was told in no uncertain terms that he would have nothing to do with it and that he would not help. When the issue of Mischa needing re-homing came up, he said that Mischa made him depressed and he didn’t want him.

Perhaps I paid too much attention to Mischa and too little to Kevin. I don’t know.

By this time I had given up trying to talk about things. The few times I did I could hear my own shrill voice turning into a self-pitying complaint and I hated it. I had no idea how to change the way I approached the issue of the future, my friends, a baby, how to make it clear to him that it was important to me. Important enough to be the right time also for him.

Instead I became the last thing I wanted to be. Frustrated in every way imaginable, negative, bitter, scatterbrained. Did I mention bitter?  I was unable to concentrate at work, I was moody — ok, so that’s nothing new, but I was more moody than usual. Things seemed pretty bleak. And of course, I had made new hairy, and one less hairy, biker friends who reintroduced me to biking. Very dull people indeed. Particularly the less hairy one.

Alongside this my periods became heavier and more painful and then came the Bad News about the myomas and my personal little world fell apart as the ticking of the time bomb started and I realised that without some serious help there would be no family for me. And with all the helpfulness of a well meaning Labrador Kevin told me it was not a good time to discuss the family issue, that he would support me through the operation, that was more important.

Was that nasty of me? Sorry.

Have I been going on too long here? Sorry about that too. Just getting things off my chest here.

I’ll try to conclude.

I went from bad to worse. I saw nothing but black. I wanted to go to sleep and stay asleep — forever. Then I lashed out at Kevin and slowly and painfully ejected him from my life. I had run out of time. And I needed help, badly. And this is where the boring hairless biker friend turned into a rock and Mischa became my sponge and my doctor became my drug dealer and together they got my head back on pointing in the right direction. Forward rather than down. It has so far taken them more than two years.

I suppose I am still fighting the battle.

And Kevin? He has told me to stay out of his life, to never contact him again. He has to pretend I never existed. I have ruined his life. But he will always have a piece of my heart.

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And then it was all over

Got back to a steaming hot Vienna. And then found that the damned coded lock on my suitcase had managed to reset — or whatever it is those locks do — so I could not open it. There is nothing like rage and a screwdriver to open a stuck lock.

Kevin brought Mischa over a little later. Mischa was really down — there has been rather a lot of to-ing and fro-ing lately and he is not sure what is going on; if I will ever come back. Pets suffer from separation anxiety as much as children. It took some cuddling to make him feel that things were back to normal, and when Louise turned up as well — she returned from SA just a couple of days before me — he rolled over on his back with a grunt and the contentment only Mischa can show. He is now curled up on his old bed under my desk.

The conference was a success. At least that is what I’ve been told by participants to whom I said goodbye about ten times yesterday. We kept saying goodbye and then bumping into eachother in new places so had to do it all over again. Antonin Liehm kissed my hand in a gentlemanly fashion and said “Remember Paris! We must drink redwine in Paris.” And Zinowy Zinik invited me to London — to drink redwine in London. My future is full of interesting men and redwine. And George — George shouted as I dashed out the door with my impossible red suitcase that it was high time I came to New York! To watch him in a pantomime and presumably also drink redwine.

For now I shall walk my dog and drink redwine in Vienna. And hopefully recover a little before plunging myself back into all that work that is heaped on my desk.

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Melchior

melchior

Melchior

Well, it looks as if Melchior will be staying. So far, my wee posters have only resulted in one prank phone call from some hysterically giggling girls, one of which yelled “sprichst du deutsch durch dein Arschloch?!” (do you speak German through your asshole) when I asked them to speak a little more clearly. Kids don’t enunciate in German either — it’s not just British kids that find this an impossible task — and it doesn’t help when it’s an Austrian version with a Turkish accent. This piece of eloquence was indeed all I was able to decipher, apart from the word “Puppe” (puppet/doll) as it was very clearly pronounced indeed.

I’m on the verge of leaving on an “emergency” trip to London. Cleo is crowding my mechanic’s space, and I have to move her. That means a one-way flight to London and a looooong drive back. It is likely to be my very last drive in her as she will then go on sale over here. Sadly, she is too much of a drain on my unimpressive income, and I hope to find her some wealthy parents that will love and care for her for a long time. Thomas is coming with me; I don’t dare make that journey without someone who knows about engines.

Wish me luck. Not so much with the trip as with the packing. My head is not what it should be and I just realised that I have forgotten to print out the flight ticket. Hang on… (did you know there is something called “the Mistletoe Marble Moth”? just heard it on Radio 4 — might come in useful in a pub quiz) … printing — done! Now, where is my passport, and my driving licence and SHIT! I have forgotten to renew the insurance! Bugger… hang on —– done! what would I do without the Internet??

As for the driving licence: The EU introduced a handy credit card sized licence a few years ago. In the UK, up until then, the licence consisted of a sheet of paper you had to fold up and carry with you, and it had  no picture. And it tended to end up looking like a worn out wad of toilet paper before long. When the EU version was introduced, instead of replacing the useless paper licence, it was ADDED as a handy extra… in order to make the EU version valid in the UK, you still have to carry your wad of toilet paper around with you. And that is why I panicked about the driving licence. I carry the card version in my wallet, but the HUGE wad of toilet paper is so ungainly I normally keep it filed away with other ungainly documents. But I need it over there or I will be in serious trouble with the bobbies and we all know how they kill demonstrators, now, don’t we? You never know what they would do to someone not carrying wads of toilet paper in their wallets. (I have actually never experienced UK police as anything other than helpful myself, they even let me go with a warning after I was caught speeding on my way to work on a Saturday morning.)

Update on Melchior: Just as I thought I was going to keep him I received a call from owner + mum. As I’m on the verge of taking off to London we agreed that he would be staying with me until Wednesday when I will meet them in the park to hand him back to his rightful owner. I promised I would tell him that she misses him but that they will see each other again soon.

For his traumatic temporary homelessness I am thinking that I may take him to London with me to distract him while he waits for his reunion. I didn’t catch his real name (something with Affe which means ape) so for now he will remain Melchior to me. Obscurely, his owner and I had no problems understanding each other, something which makes me draw the conclusion that there is a certain age, sort of around -teen, where language is too complicated to be treated as other than mulch while their hormones go rampant.

I feel better after all this rambling. It helped get my mind off the packing, the mad search for the car radio, the slight hysteria over the counterpart toilet paper driving licence, the meltdown over the forgotten insurance cover, the disgust at finding a tick on Mischa’s neck (it is now DEAD! and Mischa has been given a new round of tick treatment) the… I forget. And that is a good place to be. Now I just have to complete the zillion spreadsheet lists I have been preparing for our conference (people are as difficult to sort out on paper as in real life) in less than two weeks (DON’T PANIC!) and then rush home and put all the mess I threw in the direction of my suitcase last night actually into the suitcase. Together with an unknown quantity of dog-hair which should suitably confuse the forensics if I get killed while in the UK.

See? My mind really has gone totally overboard.

Have a nice weekend.

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The neighbourhood

The fifteenth district is somewhat different to the fourth district. For a start: if you have money, you aim to live in one of the single-digit districts, unless you can afford the ridiculously posh nineteenth district. And that should tell you most of what you need to know about Vienna’s living standards. From ten onwards, it’s mostly downhill all the way.

The fifteenth has, Louise told me, the highest percentage of foreigners. I’ve just increased that, then. It also has the highest number of prostitutes, strip clubs and pimps. But even with an abundance of strippers, whores, pimps, FOREIGNERS, churches which include nuns, priests and altar boys (truly frightening creatures), I still feel perfectly safe when walking around there. And it all boils down to having lived in LEYTONSTONE, which translates into Hell on Earth, even in London terms. In Leytonstone the kids carry knives and they are not afraid to use them. They are far more afraid not to use them. And that is not particularly reassuring to those of us who only carry our sharp wit.

But the fifteenth has lots of good things going for it. It is alive. More alive than the fourth. More bars, more shops, more supermarkets, more transportation. After all, it is right where you find Westbahnhof (German site). Which they are in the process of tearing down. Temporarily no longer to be the main railway station but… what? Shopping centre? Offices and a hotel? All snappily renamed BahnhofCity. No, I am not kidding. BahnhofCity, one word. GermanEnglish. What style. And we really need more of those in the busiest shopping area of Vienna and in the middle of a major recession. It will be interesting to see if it will make even the slightest difference to the prostitution in the area. Perhaps it can be turned into Europe’s largest brothel with all mod cons if all else fails?

But these are my nearest neighbours at present: the church Maria vom Siege (I choose to re-write that to Mary-the-victorious) and a big strip club:

And once you've sinned you can pop over to the church for a bit of absolution. Practical and efficient.

And once you've sinned you can pop over to the church for a bit of absolution. Practical and efficient.

I am in good company and keep on counting my blessings. One – two.

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What a bugger of a year. And if you’re not a native English speaker; don’t look it up in the dictionary. I had a group of students do that. In my efforts to avoid swearing in front of my students I had landed on that very word as a mild expletive, not counting on their Germanic tendency to want to get everything right and that they all marched off to look the word up in Leo. The result was that I had twenty enjoyable minutes of young men trying to explain the true meaning to me while blushing.

I woke up this morning to a white world. No, not snow, but a thick carpet of frost on everything in sight. Outside. -12C, which is a mere spring day in Siberia, but as Siberia is bottom of my list over places I wish to visit that is neither here nor there. I feel the cold quickly and simply looking at all that white frost made all my body hair stand on end and pretty much stole my will to live. It was very pretty, though. And then my mother sneezed and scared all the world’s birds and broke the spell and my will to live was completely extinguished.

The year started with my tenants in Edinburgh informing me that they wanted to move out. We were friends until then. The friendship did not end because they wanted to move, after all, flushing money down the toilet on rent year after year is not what a normal person wants to do. But my pettier nature thinks that when you rent from a friend at a very reasonable, below average, rate, you should at least treat the place as if you cared. At least a little.

My job was still quite new and I got the chance to travel as one of its perks. I have seen more of Europe this year than in the past decade. Hamburg, Coimbra, Tallinn, Paris. In addition to the usual places; Oslo, Edinburgh, London, and Vienna where I live. I totally love this side to my job, and luckily I also love the job and think I have great colleagues (I even like Ms Phobia) and hope EU will continue to sponsor us so we all have a job to go to for the foreseeable future. And I really don’t mind my boss’ show of Swedish patriotism in displaying a rather frightening postcard of the Swedish royal offspring in the office. I can live with that. Really, I can. After all, they are more glamorous than the Norwegian royal offspring which is more of the oafish kind.

In between travelling we also found time to look after various pets belonging to friends; Mischa, Alex and Livia’s dog and my favourite among our charges; Amy, Graham’s Golden Retriever; Lucy, Adrienne’s black mongrel; and Snowy who belongs to Howard and Kaki. In addition came three rats gerbils hamsters belonging to Tom — he had asked us to look after one and turned up with three. Neither of us were able to relate to the rats gerbils hamsters, but the dogs all gave us lots of joy and at times some major worries such as when Amy threw herself into the smelliest pool of mud in all of Prater, Lucy barred Mischa from the bedroom (the only time we have had two dogs at the same time) and Snowy refused to eat for days and almost vanished. Until I discovered that pancakes were the key to his heart. If I can buy a dog’s affection with pancakes I will do so.

Half way through the year I was given the devastating message that I had myomas in my uterus and would have to have a full hysterectomy. According to the plumber who diagnosed me. Humpty-dumpty reversed the death-sentence and said reassuringly that the experts at the AKH (Allgemeine Krankenhaus) had an assembly line approach to myomas and could whip them out in no time. Which they did, and I met a woman who had been given the same sentence and who, as a South African, I could communicate with. Which we did. Over copious glasses of wine and amidst lots of laughter that hurt the operation wounds and the trapped air that for some inexplicable reason seems to be pumped into the body during an operation and how come they can’t give you a quick squeeze before closing you up? Just thought I’d ask. At least I learned how to spell gynaecology.

Louise has become one of my closest friends. And sometimes I wonder how I would have got through the past few months without her. Because not all has been well in the Kevin and Ine paradise since we moved to the 4th district, and while convalescing at home after the op I split up with the love of my life. That is the all-time-low of this year. Frustrations that had built over a long period came to a head with the operation, an operation which made me question my entire life and my dreams and hopes.

Suffice it to say that Louise has become invaluable as a friend. And when Alex and Livia gave me Mischa he too became an invaluable support with his silent gentleness and cuddly presence. And Thomas, whose instincts seem unusually tuned in to the state of my mind. His ability to grab me by the scruff of the neck and either shake or hug me before I completely succumb to self pity has several times been my saving grace.

Depression has still reared its ugly head and in November I did a “Britney” and cut my long hair short. The hairdresser had doubts about my sincerity — having doubts about my sanity would have been closer to the mark. But I have no regrets: someone who is depressed will try anything to shake the feeling, and that was just one attempt. There will be others. Such as when I get my new motorbike at the end of April. A clear sign of a mid-life crisis. If I’m going to have a crisis, I’m going to have one all the way.

Louise’s husband, Max, died in November. His prolonged illness is one of the things that has brought Louise and me closer together. Within an hour of meeting at the AKH we had told each other all the important things, and one thing she told me was about Max and how he had been in a coma for two-and-a-half years after a prophylactic shock from a wasp sting. Louise and I have emptied several bottles of wine together while laughing and crying over our miserable lives. I have a feeling we will continue to do this at regular intervals, and no, it was neither me finding a new flat or the flat finding me. It was Louise offering me the flat. We will soon be neighbours. And both be cuddling Mischa when we have bad days and need a complacent male. Poor boy; he has no idea what awaits him.

Splitting up has of course brought finances to the fore, and I can no longer afford to keep Cleo and complete her restoration. I had to go to London to hand over the rest of my money to Peter and make a few heartbreaking decisions, and while there I stayed with Colin who is dying from cancer. And isn’t this just about to turn into the most cheerful post you’ve ever read? Death and depression everywhere you look. Years don’t come much better than 2008 in that respect. But I did like Colin’s remark as I was on my way out to meet Richard, my depressed (…) fashion photographer friend. Colin looked me up and down, then he said: “You dress well. That should be in your epitaph. ‘She dressed well. All else was shit’.” I love my friends. They always know how to say the right thing and invariably make me feel better.

So now, on the eve of 2008, I sit in Ski, a place I never learned to love, or even particularly like, contemplating my life. It’s pitch black out, I can hear the odd pop of fire crackers, the news is on TV about the storm “Yngve” causing havoc to a small community up north. And about Israel bombing the Gaza strip to smithereens in revenge at Hamas firing rockets into Israel. So samme bloody procedure there as every year, then.

I wish me a vastly improved 2009. And if you need one too: Happy 2009! May things be nothing like 2008.

Eidsvoll, 20 December 2008. Norway as I know and sometimes didn't love it at all. But in general I'd say it's a pretty country. In the summer. When it's a bit lighter. Ok, I'll stop now. You get the picture. I suffer from SAD -- something to do with light deprivation. There's a lot of it here. Ask someone who knows and is feeling sorry for herself.

Eidsvoll, 20 December 2008. Norway as I know and sometimes didn't love it at all. But in general I'd say it's a pretty country. In the summer. When it's a bit lighter. Ok, I'll stop now. You get the picture. I suffer from SAD -- Seasonal affective disorder. There's a lot of it here. Ask someone who knows and is feeling sorry for herself.

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London 19th – 22nd November

This post has been a dreadfully long time coming for reasons such as fatigue, general tiredness, amnesia and just plain that I need twice the amount of time available to me per day in order to get anything done at all. But here it is. My brief visit to London in November.

On the morning of leaving for London after a too-short night’s sleep I dragged myself out of bed in my usual pre-travel nervous state — scatty, unconcentrated, checking that I had my passport, Oyster card and various bits of paper as well as the trillions of cigarettes that Colin had ordered (which took up half of my tiny suitcase) over and over. And again.

I fell asleep as we were about to land at Heathrow Terminal 2. Not great timing, just adding to my general state of sluggishness. But the sun was shining in Old Blighty (sic.), and getting from the plane to the centre of London with the Piccadilly line proved a doddle. Not only that, the guy who cut in front of me on the escalators apologised when I thumped him with my handbag and I suddenly felt at home.

Not a flattering "fashion" in London either.

Not a flattering "fashion" in London either.

Rather than hang out in the horrid Haringey (there are at least four spellings of that name — oh, and beware, those links are to two separate cases of child abuse resulting in death) I hopped off at Holborn and promptly marched off in the wrong direction, returning to reality only when I found myself on the steps of Bush House (BBC). I did an about-turn and spotted a branch of my bank which was exactly what I needed as I had to get a large sum of cash to hand over to my mechanic. In Austria I have not yet reached the stage where I can comfortably hold a conversation with a cashier, but there I found myself face to face with a fun and chirpy young lady — the feeling of home flooded over me again.

I had so dreaded this trip. It was forced out of the necessity to deal with Cleo, to see her, photograph her and hand over all that aforementioned money to Peter and his team for the restoration work they have done on her. And now I can’t afford to keep her. Now that I’m down to just one income the first thing that has to go is the most expensive “hobby” I have ever had — being an MG-owner — the next thing will be my wonderful flat in Vienna. It is eating up more than half my wages in rent each month. But chin-up old girl! I shall find Cleo a wonderful new owner with a large heart and an even larger wallet, and then I shall tackle the living situation. Where there’s a will and all that.

Anyway. I stayed with Colin. He is not well. And that’s the understatement of the year. He is dying from cancer. And he was supposed to be dead about a year ago, according to the god-like death-sentence his doctor handed him. I am fully convinced doctors do that in order take bets on who is the most accurate fortune-teller. Morbid people. But Colin is still here. Each time I see him he is a little thinner, his features more marked, the pain more evident. But his intensity, his controlled(-ish) anger and many opinions (he even beats me) — the stuff that makes him him — is unchanged, almost bigger, as if to take up the space left by his shrinking outline. And his voice is the same. I love his voice. Rich, deep, sonorous, in spite of the many cigarettes.

At Colin’s I quickly went back to my old habit of downing cup after cup of strong, black tea with milk, draining my blood of iron. But I was powerless to resist the taste of this potent “builder’s tea” made using teabags that has nearly twice the amount of tea of the ones you get elsewhere in Europe, fine, black powder, which gives a black, non-transparent brew which requires milk simply to ensure your survival. And using the hard London water makes it even more potent. I love the taste. But it gave me headaches. Sitting in Colin’s nicotine-stained living room with a headache inducing cup of tea I suddenly spotted a fox casually crossing the busy road outside, not even remotely fazed by the traffic. It’s so London with all these foxes. I was reminded of the family of foxes we had playing in the garden at night in Leytonstone. They were picked off one by one by the cars in Whipps Cross Road. Such a charming place to live, that was.

Peter, my mechanic, came around in a stunning, old, white Mercedes belonging to one of his customers to take me round to the garage to have a look at Cleo and settle our accounts. I nearly cried. She was so beautiful. All black and shiny, no more rust, various parts replaced because they had indeed rusted through. So now the main part of the restoration work is done and that’s the end of the line for me. I took lots of pictures and will be building a “for sale” web-page for her. Peter was as proud as if she had been his own car and stated “at least now she is in really good condition”. I guess there is some consolation in that. Though I fail to see it at the moment.

On my second day in London I went a little overboard in my spending spree. I’ve been looking for some party shoes with killer-heels for months now, but having small feet it’s hard to find anything that fits. So I went to Neal Street near Covent Garden where they have the. best. shoes. ever. and there — right there! was a beautiful pair of shiny shoes in bright red! And they fit perfectly. They also fit perfectly in black… So not just money forked out on Cleo, but also on me.

Went to see Gerard, the guy who introduced me and Kevin. After the obligatory Irish jokes told through Gerard’s Irishly gritted teeth followed by raucous laughs he strung me up on the wall and threw darts at me to find out why I’m splitting with Kevin. Since a lot of our conversation had been about how good Kevin is as a director and friend and his wit and humour and so on and so forth I guess I had merely managed to add to the confusion. Why would I split with my “Lebensmensch”?

Day three and I’d had enough. The constant presence of London’s eight million people, the noise which never let up, the cold. It just got to me. And I wanted to go home. To Vienna. To Christmas markets. To Glühwein, to Mischa. To warm houses and herbal tea and Nashmarkt and new friends and old friends. Home.

But first I went to Prince George in Parkholme Road to see Richard who is a depressed and wonderfully mad fashion photographer who has insisted on getting my kit off in front of his camera for years. Fat chance. NOT going to happen. But at least I had the pickled egg I have dreamt of for months and got to observe Richard being totally bowled over by a beautiful, blonde government scientist both he and I were convinced worked in the fashion industry until she opened her mouth and actually sounded intelligent. And didn’t use the word “dahhling”. And refrained from air-kissing.

And that pretty much sums it up. Colin and I didn’t go into any major details about me and Kevin. On my last morning with him he spent about four hours on the phone with his son (of which I was gracefully granted twenty minutes) and then I tottered off to the Piccadilly line where I sat for the usual hour and a half reading and thinking and admiring the big butts of the hipster-wearing part of the London population. It could put you off your food for life.

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Socialised medicine, part I

Found the AKH very confusing. But also efficient. And remarkably friendly. Which is a huge improvement over Whipps Cross University Hospital where they tried to kill me in the most unfriendly manner possible. If you’re going to kill me, at least be civilised about it. And offer me a drink first. Did I ever tell you about that experience? Bleedin’ awful. In fact, so awful I’ve tried extremely hard to forget about it with the result that I shall never forget.

We were living in London — sorry — Leytonstone, not quite the same whatever they say — at the time, and I was working for that madman (whom I still love dearly but will probably never see or hear from again) who gave me a pair of diamond earrings for my birthday but forgot to pay me for a few months. No, I’m still not over that. It was August and we were having a heatwave. And I developed a cyst right at the entrance to my vagina. I have not had pain quite like that before or since, not even now with the myoma, and for a couple of days I forced myself to go to work waddling like a cowboy at the end of a bad day on a young colt.

Eventually the pain got the better of me and I waddled slowly over to my GP’s office and was admitted to hospital as an emergency. Well. ‘Hospital’… too good a word for that place.

With a great deal of difficulty I managed to get to the ER. No ambulance as I wasn’t dying and could still stand. Just about. It was sit I couldn’t do. And no taxi as, well, as mentioned, sitting was just not an option.

I was eventually settled into an emergency gynaecological ward with nine other women — yes we got to share our mess, and it was about a hundred million degrees, like being on the sun without the light, and the beds had plastic sheets, and the closest we got to privacy was when, occasionally, they pulled those shower curtains around the bed. Which, oddly, did not happen during rounds when a team of doctors and medical students insisted on staring at our crotches and saying things in Latin that was apparently meant to impress somebody but which meant ‘we’ll leave this bitch lying here in her own sweat on a drip and ‘nil by mouth’ (no food or drink, prepped for operation) for as long as possible, at least until she screams’.

Which I did on day three. By then the cyst was so big I could only just crawl to the toilet — the drip made sure I still needed to go — and I was so hungry I would have eaten the hospital food. I was labelled ’emergency’ but not quite emergency enough if they suddenly received an emergency c-section. Which they seemed to do all the time.

I can honestly say I have never been so miserable in my life. Three days of sweating in hospital during a London heatwave (air conditioning? what’s that?) on plastic sheets. No food, a drip forcing me to move to go to the toilet at regular intervals, which was excruciating. Trust me, I screamed. And I started at midnight. Nine very ill women were wrested awake and forced to listen to a half-starved, half-crazed Norwegian fighting for her life. Because that is what I was doing at that point. I was trying to survive. And I was by then convinced I would have been better off draining that cyst myself with a dull kitchen knife at home. I still am.

The head-nurse had to find some way to silence me. Kevin was contacted and came right over, but you can’t talk sense to someone in that state. Simply not possible. So the head-nurse offered me morphine. Anything to get the sweaty lump to shut up. I agreed. Anything to not feel what I was feeling. And here was a chance to try a class A drug in a controlled environment. In a prison as far as I was concerned, tied to a drip and stuck to a plastic sheet. Truly undignified.

Morphine is overrated. It didn’t kill the pain, but it made it less important. And later, when the others were asleep and the nurses were nowhere to be seen I managed to ignore the pain enough to peel myself off the plastic, drag me and the drip to a quiet corner where I made a desperate, paranoid and tearful call to a friend hoarsely whispering that ‘they are trying to kill me!!! Get me out of this hell-hole!‘ He could of course do nothing of the sort at two in the morning. I also tried to make a mad dash for freedom, drip and all, but was caught and led back to the plastic pool. Perhaps a stronger dose would have served as a better chemical straight-jacket.

In the morning I overheard the nurses of both night and morning shift threaten a walk-out if I wasn’t operated that morning. Another doctor and medical student came to stare at my crotch to which I said no, they already knew what it looked like and they could take all their c-sections and shove them somewhere unmentionable. They had the audacity to reprimand me for my language. Picture it. Going on day four of sweat, no nourishment lest the drip counts for something, ridiculous amounts of pain, humiliating rounds of having my crotch stared at — and they reprimanded me. THEY had turned me into a human wreck, into someone and something I am not, and THEY expected me to be gratefully polite.

Assholes.

So I told them to fuck off and get me a scalpel.

The tough Somalian nurse intervened at this point and got the doctors out before they could endanger their own lives with a second reprimand. (I liked her — she was a no-nonsense person who treated everyone the same. Very cool lady whose beauty did little to make me feel better.)

At nine another male person turned up next to my bed and I was ready to bite his head off, but he turned out to be the anaesthetist telling me that two porters would come for me in five minutes and to get my signature to be allowed to put me under. I didn’t believe him but kept quiet just in case. And he was right. Two porters, who crashed that bed into every wall and corner they could find on the way to the operating theatre making me yelp in pain.

And there was the anaesthetist. He administered the anaesthesia through the drip and I felt this wave, this HUGE wave go through me and all I had time to say was ‘wow, that’s fast’ and then — black. And then light. And ward. And NO PAIN. And that, folks, that’s how Heaven feels. And I was able to stand up unaided, go to the toilet, have a shower and turn human again. And did I say that the pain was gone? There was NO PAIN. Slight discomfort from the stitches, but NO PAIN. I could be discharged the same day. I was given a carrier bag full of incredibly strong painkillers to ease my discomfort and went home. After an operation that had lasted ten minutes.

Is there something here that doesn’t sound quite right to you too? I had been starved and treated like dirt for three days for a ten-minute operation. All because my emergency wasn’t quite emergency enough. Apparently. And they wonder why the NHS is in such a dire state. What a total and utter waste of resources, and what a horrid way to demonstrate that British doctors have no bedside manners. As for that carrier bag full of painkillers; I still have most of them, four years later. Perhaps I should take them to a pharmacy for disposal. Along with my memories of being in hell at Whipps Cross University Hospital.

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Mixed feelings

We left London one Cleo poorer, and I left a lot of tears lighter. Yesterday, when I really, truly and seriously contemplated selling her I had a reaction of instant grief. Peter, my mechanic, had to end our conversation quickly because I cried on the phone and I was about to set him off too.

Cleo is the first car I’ve owned myself. Bought myself, registered myself, done all the paperwork for myself. Had fall apart on me. Myself. If I could only learn to maintain her myself… She’s not easy to drive with a clutch you are not allowed to touch except when you change gear (NEVER EVER RIDE THE CLUTCH IN AN OLD MG! They wear out in no time if you do. Rush-hour driving is a nightmare). And the gears are a little clunky. And it’s difficult to get in and out as she’s so low (former dancer me is fine, but Kevin groans a lot every time — I’m amazed I managed to lever my hip-operated dad into her last year, but it had to be done. The man with the initials MG just had to drive her). Power steering…? Never heard of it. And as for the CD player — the only kind of music there’s any point in playing is rock. Loudly. And sing along. Loudly and badly, competing with the car. The badly part of the sing-along is not a requirement.

Kevin is not into rock, and his jazz is a no-go in her as the mixture of the roar of the engine (she does roar — I love it!) and the permanent hurricane from the many leaky seals — one of the window seals has a nice little round hole in it which produces a permanent whistle noise — totally kills the finer points of jazz. Actually, it kills all the points of jazz. Radio is of course also a total waste of time. So we rarely bother to bring the radio/CD.

To cut the heartache short; after some deliberation and tearful discussion we decided to leave her with Peter for major work to rectify her present problems. We then proceeded to book a flight back to Vienna, contacted Deutsche Bahn (German railways) to see if we could cancel our return tickets and hopefully get a refund.

We left with heavy hearts. One thing was leaving our baby behind. But then there was London. I admit that I was not all too happy when we lived there, but we did live in a less than ideal place; Leytonstone. And I did have some odd jobs that didn’t make me directly ecstatic about travel time and general quality of life; all work and no play made Ine a very dull girl. Leytonstone didn’t help. And my wages seemed to go down rather than up as the wage increases never even followed inflation. And of course there was the instance of the boss who took the lyrics ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friends’ rather too literally, which did little to cheer me up at the time.

But this time we stayed in Crouch end (well, almost. More like walking distance from Alexandra Palace in a northerly direction) — referred to as ‘couch end’ among psychologists due to the high density of therapists in the area — it’s a terrific area in North London. And we stayed with Colin. I miss Colin. Even if we always blow up at each other at least three or four times when we see each other, these are the kind of blows that never last but are there and gone sometimes within seconds (we work at high speeds — no time for anything else — the explosions worry Kevin, but Colin and I sort of enjoy them). And Peter is there, where Cleo is now; with her therapist Peter. Leonard used to live there and normally we stayed with him, but he’s now moved to the US and married his first love which is just SO ROMANTIC!

The point is: London seemed a lot nicer than I remembered. I admit that my expectations were not great as the living-in-London experience had not been all that much to sing and dance about, but somehow it seemed cleaner. And people apologised when you elbowed them in the eye on the tube. I just love that about the British. And though the art of queuing is on the wane even there, there’s enough of it left to make it an almost pleasant experience catching the tube or going to a supermarket. And last but not least, it was possible to understand conversations without having to ask people to slow down for the dumbo foreigner. It made me realise I really have to work harder to learn German. Because even though I felt more at home in London than ever before, I am not giving up on Austria! I think the key lies in the language. And possibly in getting rid of my sense of humour. (I am so going to suffer for that comment…)

On the journey home I noticed that Kevin was not quite himself. When I asked him if he was ok — as if either of us were after all the Cleo palaver! — I saw that he had tears in his eyes. And I knew then just how much he loves me. He is intensely homesick having adopted London as his own, having spent most of his life there, lived through the best and the worst times of his life there. Some with me, some alone. Nothing would make him happier than if I said; let’s go back! Now! But I can’t. London is falling apart, and I know that this time I looked at it through rose-tinted glasses: I was in no hurry to get to work; in less danger from getting killed by some nasty BMW driver with a hatred of bikers though possibly in more danger of being killed by someone pulling a knife on me; I was not permanently exhausted from work and the time it took me to get there and back. I was a tourist. And that was nice. And when disregarding the language barrier my quality of life is so much better in Vienna.

But for Kevin it is not the same. His home will always be London.

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