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The pain is bottomless. So intense it defies description. I feel extremely sorry for myself.

Over the years life has dealt me many blows of the kind we all have to endure sooner or later. Still, last year tops the list of things-that-come-in-threes, only in my case it came in five.

I had no idea I was so poorly prepared to cope with it, though.

I walk Mischa. And suddenly, the huge gaping holes left by the five I lost in the course of 2012 open up and I tumble in. My eyes fill with tears, my heart beats like crazy, and then there is this noise, an “uuuh-uuh-uuuuuuhh”-noise, not even proper howling, just sore, painful grief. Mischa gets confused and waddles up to me and rubs his head against me. There, in the park next to Votivkirche, I huddle over Mischa hiding my tears from the general public gaze, sobbing into his neck.

Gerard died in April. Unexpectedly while on tour with his partner, Pat. He was one of the few people who really knew me, who never took any shit from me, who always shared his jokes and sent unexpected e-mails with acute observations of life. He had an uncanny talent for sarcasm and explosive anger, as well as the ability to get over it in a matter of seconds. He never bore grudges. Over the years we shouted at each other, laughed together, set the world straight with the help of several bottles of wine – in London, in Skibbereen where we first met in 1993, in Dublin and even here in Vienna. He introduced me to Kevin, and to Irishness. Istill can’t believe he is gone.

Gerard at my wedding 2011. It was to be the last time I saw him.

Gerard at my wedding 2011. It was to be the last time I saw him.

Next to die was Orion. Only weeks before he died he had been with us on a biker event in Germany. The proud, nervous, aggressive rescue dog we’d had for two years by then had turned into a wonderful family dog in our care. He took his inspiration and comfort from Mischa: the two were like the grumpy old men in the Muppet Show, bickering all the time and yet clearly enjoying each other’s company – though Mischa only just put up with Orion using him as a pillow.

Orion

Orion as I will remember him

The day he died he could suddenly not get on his feet any more. His energy was simply not there and I could not even get him down the stairs before he collapsed where we were, on the landing, and he pooped right where he was. He was so ashamed and so helpless. Our funny, sweet, long-legged dog who so clearly loved his life with us had nothing more to give.

Then Don died. Though I had lost touch with him over the past couple of years, I still saw him from time to time when swinging by iT for a show. One evening he did not turn up to run the lights for a performance, and when Jack and Osas went to his flat they found him dead in his bed and the cat hiding in a corner where they could not get to it, absolutely terrified. A quiet death, at least, and the cat now lives with another friend, as batty and scared of life as itself.

Next up was Colin. Another talent of sarcasm. And another who knew me well. Better than I at times was comfortable with. He was given the death sentence several years ago, told that he had prostate cancer which would probably finish him off within three to six months. I still remember him calling me and asking me how I coped with my back pain as his back was so damned sore and he had no idea what to do about it. Then the diagnosis. And his reaction: “Well, THAT sorts out a few things, anyhow!” He was quickly ready to meet his maker but things lingered, he got bored, got a girlfriend who made him feel alive, finally settled his debts and then went into hospital for an unrelated operation on his leg. He died in the morning of 5 December, supposedly after complications from the operation. Kevin later gave me this description of the funeral:

“Well, what a day. Lashing rain, howling wind, deep mud underfoot, the grave actually caved-in before we started and they used a mechanical digger to get it ready. The coffin really was a cardboard box…and quite heavy…and ‘he’ arrived in the back of what looked like an estate car instead of a hearse. We all got covered in mud as we lowered him into the grave…but…it worked. Tim said some wonderful words, Cristina (yes) played a penny whistle tune that he loved, another friend sang two lines of a song that he’d asked for, and Zoe and Dan [daughter and son] read a poem Colin had written about football results. We put a dictionary, a packet of cigarettes and matches, some crosswords, the poem into the grave… And then we had a drink or three in a nearby pub. And we laughed a lot and cried a little.

I feel I celebrated the lives of three people today, Gerard, Don and Colin.”

I couldn’t be there. I had no money. I wish I had money.

When we were in Norway in July, it was clear that mum was not very well. In September, she finally had a pacemaker fitted, and she apparently improved. She improved enough for her GP to give the go-ahead for mum and dad to travel to Spain in November. There, she had a wonderful week, going for walks with a “rullator” – one of those walking frames with wheels, and enjoying the sun and food and dad’s company. One evening she felt unwell and collapsed and was sent to hospital in Benidorm. Hanne and I were contacted and flown in by the insurance company after the hospital reported multiple organ failure. We had a few awkward days together waiting for mum to come out of intensive care, days we used to talk about mum’s many plans, a little about life and death, and to eat and drink together. We don’t see each other anywhere near often enough. When she got out of intensive care and was transferred to an upstairs ward, I moved into her room – to the nurses’ dismay. But it was the only way I could see that mum would get any sort of stimulation – to them it was easier to just let her lie there, feed her occasionally, check her vitals and leave again. She could not really watch TV as her eyesight had deteriorated even further and left her with only a narrow field she could see. She could barely hear, and when her hearing aids were not in she was virtually deaf. Reading was thus no option, TV no option, radio another no-go.

I spent the next ten days nursing mum, trying to get her to move arms and legs to prevent bed-sores and help increase circulation, helping her in and out of bed, to the toilet, wiping her butt, cleaning her teeth, rubbing cream onto her legs. And helping her eat. I tried to get her to do things herself, but she impishly whined that it was soooo cosy being fed and nursed… I would sit on her bed, talk right into her ear so she could hear me, and we talked about life. About her many plans. She instructed me how to do this and that at the cabin, how to do things in our flat in Vienna, that she wanted to finish repairing a cardigan: could I help her find the yarn she had brought (but which I could not find anywhere). We talked about her parents, about dad and Hanne, about Anja and about Mischa, Kevin and Thomas (she finally forgave me for divorcing one and marrying the other). And she talked about how she was still so curious about life, always wondering what would happen next? My heart broke a little more with each day.

Mum with Anja in 1978

Mum with Anja in 1978

The doctors at the hospital were very reluctant to giving me a leaving-date. They kept saying we had to wait and see. It added to the strain as mum could only communicate with me: the nurses generally spoke no English, and when they did not loudly or clearly enough – or with the right accent – for her to understand. In return, her voice was very weak and she mixed her languages, dithering between Norwegian, Danish, German and English in one sentence, sometimes chucking in a “si” or “oui” for good measure. Eventually, I grabbed the Dutch cardiologist and told him with devastating honesty that they did NOT want her to die while in Spain, just think of the paperwork! and that I was perfectly aware that we were facing the end of mum’s life, there was no point in pretending otherwise. Finally the doctor worked up the courage to be honest, and he showed dad and me how mum’s heart worked.

We saw leaks. We saw her enlarged heart pumping away at high-speed and blood leaking where it should not go. The valves were leaking. Her days were numbered.

We got a leaving date set, we got an SOS air ambulance organised, and once it was all in place I told mum when it was all to happen. She was disappointed. How come she still had to wait three days? The explanation of the logistics of it all fell quietly on her deaf ears.

The day finally came. Mum was characteristically impatient, wondering at 5am why it took the nurses so bloody long to arrive with breakfast and when on earth would she get a shower so she could get dressed and groomed a little? I tried in vain to tell her that it was 5am, that I could do with a little more sleep, that no one would come until 9am at the earliest, that her pickup was not until the afternoon. Totally in vain. We spent the morning fussing over this and that, packing and repacking imaginary items, I explained over and over that her big suitcase was with dad (“then what am I supposed to wear?!?”), that she had to wear one of the new nightgowns I had bought her in Benidorm as she would be lying on a gurney hooked up to oxygen and a catheter, that… she wanted OUT. Now.

She can be very stubborn.

A young Spanish-only-speaking doctor accompanied us to the airport in Alicante. By the time we got there it was raining, befitting the occasion. The ambulance plane was delayed. We sat on the runway in the ambulance looking at the rain for over an hour. I tried to keep mum calm as she could not understand why everything took so damned long. We ran out of things to say. We ran out of final things to say.

The ambulance plane arrived. A young, healthy-looking Norwegian doctor came onboard the ambulance to check on mum. He asked if she could walk up the steps to the plane – mum was all game but I said a sharp “No!” which startled the poor doc but with a little more information he understood. She was transferred from one gurney to the next, attempted kept dry under a couple of umbrellas and finally carried onboard the SOS plane.

Mum

Mum

It was the last time I saw her alive.

The Spanish-only-speaking doctor and the ambulance driver helpfully took me to the commercial part of the airport for my flight back to Vienna and there the doc hugged me and  I burst into tears.

Mum died in the early hours of 18 December 2012. She had been taken straight to hospital on arrival. I have little understanding of the new trends in healthcare in Norway, but it seems a little faulty from my angle. There seems to have been little attempt at communicating with dad, mum was shipped hither and dither with insufficient information being passed along between hospitals and eventually dismissed and sent to a care home closer to home. There she could only lie and wait. There was talk of sending her back to the main hospital, Ahus, to have her lungs drained properly as she could barely breathe and they had not fully drained them while she was there. But it didn’t happen. Dad had the feeling she was pushed aside as uninteresting due to her age. I trust him: he is not prone to exaggeration or hysteria. Ageism should not be an issue in a wealthy country like Norway. It’s sad that it is.

The funeral was held on 27 December – a cold, clear day. The small medieval church was almost full. But even with all the wonderful show of support and empathy from friends and family, nothing can fill the gaping emptiness left by mum.

Mum, surrounded by her grandsons and our cousins carrying her coffin, dad and Hanne behind

Mum, surrounded by her grandsons and our cousins carrying her coffin, dad and Hanne behind

I wonder how long it will hurt.

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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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So we got back from Egypt (yes, there are stories from that too — later, my friends! later!) insanely early in the morning on the 26 December. Why do these charter holidays always have to have such inhuman flight times? I guess we should be grateful that we did get back, what with most of Europe being shut down as a result of a little snow — gee whiz! it’s winter! and it’s snowing! let’s all panic and shut down all the airports!! Anyway, we got back, landed on time and all — and what a time *sigh* and no sleep for about 24 hours as when we did try to sleep, first by the pool where we were constantly woken up by over-eager waiters helpfully offering drinks every ten seconds, then in our room carefully guarded by a do-not-disturb sign which the staff carefully ignored to check the mini bar x 2, insist on a second round of cleaning x 2, asking if we could change Euro coins x who knows how often. I was better off than Thomas: I refused to even open my eyes and Thomas was the one who sweetly dealt with it all.

Eventually it was time to head for the reception to await collection for the airport. There we sat with our brains sparking with the fatigue of no sleep looking forward to getting a snooze on the plain. Which we did not get due to a toddler having a long and hearty tantrum. Very good lungs on that kid. And vocal chords. No, I don’t get angry with toddlers or parents when this happens. We were all uncomfortable on this flight and probably felt more like joining the bawling. Recommendation: do your best to avoid FlyNiki (Niki Lauda’s airline). They’ve squeezed in extra rows with the result that if you are of normal stature you are likely to lose your kneecaps if the person in front of you decide to recline his/her seat. Thomas can now bend his knees both ways.

Finally, kneeless and sleepdeprived, we hit the tarmac at Schwechat and staggered out into the freezing, dark cold together with grumpy fellow passengers and (still) screaming toddler, muttering about the cold and the absence of both warmth and sun. It is a hateful awakening coming back from sun and sand and sea to a wintry Europe.

We hurried home, dumped our suitcases and hit the road, driving through the now grey morning to collect Mischa from Karin’s place and on to Klagenfurt to collect Orion from Thomas’ parents. Orion was thrilled to see Mischa gain, Mischa was his usual somewhat subdued self at seeing Orion. I think he finds Orion’s bounciness undignified. Or something like that. Or he just prefers to be an only dog and would like to see the bouncy castle just GO AWAY.

After a brief break and a meal and hectic retelling of our Egyptian encounters, we headed back in the direction of Vienna. And yes, we are almost at the near-death point now. We were both aware of being sleepy and so I had set my mind to keep an eye on Thomas and keep him awake and take over the driving at the first sign of him not coping any more. But all this alertness was so tiring I fell asleep from the effort. Then, in a tunnel, so did Thomas. And it was suddenly not a very good idea to have both of us asleep at the same time. While driving through one of the many tunnels.

I’d say we were extremely lucky to get away with two damaged tyres and rims and nothing else.

And I would hereby like to send a great big thank you to our overworked guardian angels and warn them that they will have to stay on the alert for years to come. We are likely to need their help at regular intervals. Though hopefully we will not be sleepdriving again any time soon. We’ll find something else idiotic we can do. Just to keep them on their toes.

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I had a dream

… where my dad and I were travelling long distance on a septuple (? should = 7) decker bus. I think something is bothering me.

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Sorry about the silence. Just returned from our “holiday” and while away I only occasionally logged in to see if there was still a world out there. Hi world! Now I need another holiday to recover from this one which was generally dominated by Ulla-the-Finger-Gundersveen’s demands which generally consisted of “paint this and move that”. So we did. We managed a couple of escapes, once to have fresh shrimps at Aker Brygge in Oslo and once to visit the Kon Tiki museum and meet friend(s). In spite of all my efforts the latter was limited to one in the end but he was well worth it, as always. And with that cryptic remark I shall return us all to the dusty heat of Vienna. Not too hot and dusty today but we have been promised a return of both by Friday.

We drove all the way to Norway and back which means that the last three days have mostly been spent in the car with few breaks (with friends in Germany twice — why do some Germans drink WARM beer??) and culminated in a collection of dogs on the way. We had Mischa with us, left Orion with Thomas’ parents, and coming back I picked Snowy up from Adrienne’s where he had been while Howard et al went to the US on holiday. It’s my turn now and I am to have him until they get back in early September.

Dangerous intruder

Snowy had an unfortunate introduction to his stay with me, though. We had left Orion and Mischa in my flat while picking him up, and as soon as I walked in the door with Snowy, Orion picked him up and shook him like a rag doll. Luckily, I got Orion off him before he managed to cause any damage and banished him to the hallway until I could ascertain that Snowy was ok — shocked but ok — and then Orion had to wear his muzzle. Orion could NOT understand what he had done wrong and found the muzzle highly unfair. After all, he was just guarding his flock against dangerous intruders. Right? RIGHT?

The other unfortunate thing is that Mischa is a living hoover. All food belongs to him in his mind, though some arguably belongs to Orion when he does that thing with his fangs and makes that noise, but otherwise All Food In Heaven And On Earth Belongs To Mischa. So he got two dinners last night, while Snowy got none. Apart from what I managed to hand feed him while Mischa was looking the other way. Something he rarely does.

Snowy is not the kind of dog that likes to wolf down his food. Maltese Terriers just don’t do that sort of thing. He likes to take a wee nibble with him to a carefully chosen spot where he takes dainty little bites until it is gone, then return for another. Well, Snowy, you’re in for a long six weeks of STARVATION that way. And I still don’t know if I can have you at work all day to give you the chance to be alone with your food.

It’s very strange having a small white dog. I’m so used to Mischa’s bulk, and Orion’s lanky giant strides, Snowy’s cartoon dog-run and smallness has me constantly nervous that I might hurt him just by picking him up. And for some obscure reason I found myself putting on a nice dress, pearl necklace, make-up and high heels and tip-toed down Mariahilfer Strasse to work with him. That’s just not me. I’m the scuba diving (soon!) biker chick! Not some preppy pearl wearer. Snowy, what is happening to me??

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Thomas, Brian and I are about to head off to Germany (via the Czech Republic) to meet a bunch of other bikers from one of Thomas’ bike forums. Thomas is not member of any club (unless you count the ToyRun as a club which I am sure some do) and I am no longer member of one and that leaves us as “free agents”, free to join any group we want — or not, as it were.

I have been looking forward to this little break for a while as I am totally exhausted from the mess that is my life. Last weekend I also had a visitor from Norway. Trine, whom I had not seen in about 25 years. But it turned out that ours is a friendship built to last and it was as if we’d seen each other only yesterday and just as back then she had me in stiches within seconds. I wish the entire world could have Trine as a friend. There would be peace on earth and a lot of sore faces from the pain of laughing and smiling so much. That would be my plan if I were to become Miss Universe — introduce the world to Trine and thus World Peace and Fun For All!

I had great plans for leaving work early to get my final preparations done for tomorrow. We will be spending most of the day on our bikes getting there (sorry, totally forgot the name of the place so will have to get back to you on that — I’d never heard of it before so it may just be somewhere in Bavaria where everything and everybody are strange and I will not understand a peep of what people say to me — another way to have a good time: spending it looking like a live question mark). 700k, mostly on German motorways. Please dad, don’t let mum read this! We all know that Germans are crazy drivers and likely to kill me with their speed and BMWs and Audis and that.

Minor stuff like that aside, Mischa will be taken over to Karin’s tonight to spend the weekend with her and Knickers. Next week, on the 22 May, we pick Orion up to add him to the menagerie. At the Tierschutzhaus they have decided to have a party for him and Thomas that day as they are so happy that he has finally found a new home. Orion gets incredibly exited when Thomas comes to see him now and is just sweetness and sunshine with me and the kids too. We’re cautiously optimistic about it all.

And now — dinner party with good friends! We’re good at these last-minute preparations. Packing to go to Germany? Pfft! Partytime!

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I tried. I really tried, and it turned into two weeks of hell. Then I caved, went to my doctor, cried, and am now back on full dosage of anti-depressants with an agreed time frame and fully supported slow cutting down and cutting out over the summer months.

I’m not going to go into the details of how I felt and blahblah, there are enough people around who already do that and it’s not all THAT fascinating. And I don’t feel all that sorry for myself. I just feel a little silly. And that’s not the world’s best feeling either but it’s better than being dead. (Insert melodramatic music here.)

Christmas was good. Had a quiet dinner with Thomas on the 24th, and on the 25th we joined forces with his kids, the oldest boy’s girlfriend, and Louise with partner and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening which ended in a somewhat painful to the ears evening of karaoke. And two dogs that did their best to ignore each other once they’d established their hierarchy. Mischa is not hugely taken with Louise’s partner’s little West Highland terrier. Sorry — that got complicated just because I tried not to use names so from now on I’ll call him Robert. Louise’s partner, that is. Not the Westie. His name is Mickey.

A few days later we (Thomas, kids Mischa and I) went to visit Thomas’ parents. Mischa adores them because they are so easy to train. They have a small house with a garden, and when he goes to the door and barks once one of them immediately opens the door so he can go out. When he a few minutes later wants to come in again he only has to bark once more and the door is opened by his obedient servant. Again. He finds this highly convenient and wanders in and out as much as is doggumly possible. I think Mischa would have liked a house with a garden — or possibly a forest — and lots of snow for Christmas. And his own butler. Instead he got a load of doggie dental sticks because his breath smells. The snow we got came and went within a week and only left a mess on the roads and salt in his paws. He looks truly miserable when that happens, limps sadly up to me and looks helpless.

Of course I managed to get a bladder infection while in Carinthia. One evening we decided to check out the local watering hole which was a short walk away. Thomas and I being photo-nuts have similar cameras, and suddenly we decided that we had to take pictures of the same thing using various long exposures and we fiddled around with this for so long I must have gotten much colder than I realised. By the next evening I was in such agony a visit to the nearest hospital was needed to get some antibiotics. This is one time I thank my lucky stars I’m a European and that medical service is available to all. Still not the most exciting way to start the new year unless you count the fun of mixing antibiotics, pain killers and Champagne as a good way to celebrate. I do. I could of course have stayed off the booze. Hah! Got you! I’d never do such a silly thing.

Now, to my enormous surprise we’re already in 2010 and I am still rubbing my eyes with disbelief at how time flies. So before it disappears altogether I am going to take His Hairiness for a walk and think about the world and the many people out there that are far worse off than me — that always cheers me up immensely — and see if the homeless guy who sleeps between the recycle bins is still alive.

Happy 2010!

PS My hair is still ugly. But longer, and now back to that desperate red that some of us middle aged women resort to when we can’t afford surgery.

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Chilling blast from the past

So there we were, Mischa and I. Out on that long walk I had promised him for ever so long. And we’d reached that field by Margareten Gürtel between the Burger King and the U4 station. Mischa was having fun biting holes in his latest toy, greeting other dogs and wrestling with me. Along the path running next to the field a group of rather loud teenage boys made their rowdy way towards the Burger King.

Nothing unusual there.

But suddenly the rowdiness broke into a loud chant. A chant I have only heard in films, TV news, read about in history books.

“SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL!”

And without hesitating, in total agreement, the group changed the chant to

“HEIL HITLER — DEUTSCHLAND — DEUTSCHLAND — DEUTSCHLAND!”

Back and forth, back and forth until they disappeared into the Burger King.

I doubt they knew the full implications of the chant. But by their age — by the time a boy’s voice breaks — he should know the history of WWII, be thoroughly informed of the horrors of Hitler and his Dritte Reich and the Final Solution, whatever country he is from.

Someone has neglected their duty in teaching those kids history. I don’t know who — I don’t know why. I only know that today, I seriously doubted my choice of new homecountry.

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I had great plans to write this post AGES ago. Just about the time I came back from our board meeting in Romania. Which now seems a lifetime away. September. Last month. When it was still summer. Sigh.

Anyway: our board meeting took place in Cetate in Romania, on the farm of Mircea Dinescu. He’s nuts. And I say that with not a small amount of admiration. It was amazing and wonderful and I want to live there! If it wasn’t for one thing.

Farm staff with puppies. The puppies were thrown the odd tidbit which they then fought over.

Farm staff with puppies. The puppies were thrown the odd tidbit which they then fought over.

The dogs.

Romania is drowning in stray dogs. Belonging to the farm itself were around fifteen dogs (it was hard to count them to be honest), and in addition there were several strays that roamed the area in search of food.

I am fairly convinced there are more dogs in Romania than people. Neutering is an exception, and I can guarantee there is not a dog anywhere in Romania as spoilt as your average working dog in Austria.

My personal little favourite with a sore eye

My personal little favourite with a sore eye

I fell in love with several of the farm dogs. My favourite among the adult dogs was a quiet male Border Collie cross with an eye infection. The Dr. Doolittle/Florence Nightingale in me burst forth and I spent my entire time there trying to nurse its eye better using Chamomile tea to gently wash it several times a day. He was understandably sceptical, not being used to that sort of attention, but it didn’t take him long to accept it.

The other love was for seven puppies, especially the runt of the litter who may well be dead by now… I know, that’s not a cheerful outlook. But it is very, very likely. She simply could not compete with the others for food and was already too weak to fight for it if the other puppies decided they wanted what she had. Yes, I fought valiantly on her behalf while there (i.e. hand feeding her while keeping the others at bay). I am fairly sure I only managed to put her death by starvation off with a day or two.

The little brown one at the back was much smaller than the rest

The little brown one at the back was much smaller than the rest

I still couldn’t be angry with the other puppies. They merely did what’s natural, and they were all incredibly sweet. If poorly fed, full of vermin of all sorts and mucky as hell. I couldn’t stop cuddling them and playing with them and… if it had been at all possible I would have put them all in my suitcase and taken them home with me. I would have loved to see Louise’s face. 🙂

As it were, I took to my senses. It takes about 5-6 months to clear one dog for the trip, with all the papers, inoculation, blahblah. A weekend is just not enough. Funnily enough. But at least now I know why there are so many Romanians in Austria who sell puppies out of the back of cars — totally illegally; no paperwork, ill, traumatised and sad. At least the dogs on Dinescu’s farm received food and a minimum of care. And to his credit — when the Danube one year flooded the farm and Dinescu and his wife had to evacuate, he returned with a boat to rescue the dogs. Widely broadcast in the country’s media as eccentric and unheard of behaviour.

Ready for play

Ready for play

On our return journey via Bucharest I saw a badly injured dog outside the offices of our host. She had been hit by a car, survived, but now lived with two broken, incorrectly healed legs on one side, limping painfully and slowly between the shade and a bowl of water the parking attendants had given her. The number one road-kill in the country is, of course, dogs. I lost count of the carcasses on the side of the road, and no one brought them to my attention knowing just how sentimental I am about dogs.

On the morning we left the farm I was a little late coming down to the waiting bus. The others were already seated in the silence of the misty pre-sunrise morning, but the moment I arrived so did two of the dogs. My sore-eyed Border Collie friend whose eye had finally cleared up, and one of the puppies flipping herself over on her back in enthusiastic submission.

You have no idea how close I came to scooping them both up in my arms to take them with me. Damned close.

Romanian wiring

Romanian wiring. Apropos of nothing.

[you can click on the images to see a bigger version]

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The holiday in Norway

I’ve lived in the 15th district since February, and though the district itself leaves a little to be desired I absolutely love living here. Mainly because of Louise and the flat and, well, Mischa, of course. I just had to mention the obvious there, right?

When I went to Norway in July, Mischa went to stay with his old family which was back home on holiday. By placing Mischa with them when I go away myself he sees that the connection to all that was is still there. But even they discovered that Mischa has made his own choice, and towards the end of my holiday I got the message from Livia that Mischa was depressed and when would I come pick him up, again? So the same day we returned I went there. As I entered the Hof (an Austrian backyard surrounded by buildings) they let only Mischa out to meet me. It was the quietest of reunions, as if he wanted to demonstrate his depression: he walked towards me with a slowly wagging tail, then leant against me and just stood there. “Don’t leave me again.” Of course, I have no idea if that is what he was thinking. Perhaps he just recognised me as peace and quiet after three weeks with Knickers and four kids.

Me in the train cell. Keep in mind that I am 152 cm only. (Photo: Thomas Schluet)

Me in the train cell. Keep in mind that I am 152 cm only. (Photo: Thomas Schluet)

Our holiday went to Norway via Hamburg and Copenhagen. Hamburg didn’t really count; we didn’t stop to take in its beauty, not even of Reperbahn. We took the train with our bikes from Vienna. We had a sleeper for two, and it’s the most insanely small space I’ve ever been in with two beds (?), seats (when not beds), table-cum-sink and freely improvised storage space.

Table w. sink. For your inconvenience.

Table w. sink. For our inconvenience.

As we could not leave the luggage on the bikes the way the car drivers could, we were not just cramped by our own presence, but also by a load of motorbike cases. And just to help the situation, the night train to Hamburg did not (does not) have a restaurant car where we could enjoy a beer while waiting for bedtime. Which was never 8pm for me. Also (I’ll get past this soon, I’m sure) the AC system on the trains require that all windows stay firmly shut with the result that you get boiled alive while being denied the relief of an open window. Please bring back the old-fashioned trains with no AC but windows that can be opened! Admittedly not as bad as being transported per cattle train to Treblinka. I did not just draw that comparison. You are imagining things.

I did observe an elderly couple who’d clearly done this before and knew how to enjoy themselves. Within minutes of leaving the station the wife was standing in the narrow corridor swigging glass after glass of wine while enjoying the landscape. We only discovered how expensive the wine was (which had to be ordered from an overworked stewardess) once we were captive on the train. A mistake we only made once.

Lene gave us the master bedroom while we were there. We noticed that the painting in our room was missing an essential part. Insects.

Lene gave us the master bedroom while we were there. We noticed that the painting in our room was missing an essential part. Insects.

That aside, I was nervous about the long ride, but it all proved a doddle, as Colin says, and we arrived in Copenhagen at a lovely house my cousin Lene and her former partner Ray were looking after. The house came with a garden, barbecue and a dog which did all the usual doggie stuff: begged for food, jumped on the bed, and humped me.

Things to do in Copenhagen: walk down Strøget, eat giant ice cream cone, visit Tivoli. We had to visit Magasin and Nyhavn on the return journey as we simply ran out of time. The last time I was in Denmark was for my grandmother’s funeral. This is the last picture ever taken of her. She was 94 and had no idea who I was:

My grandmother from Odense, H.C. Andersen's city.

My grandmother from Odense, H.C. Andersen's city.

It’s also been years since I saw Lene. She speaks this amazing semi-cockney English with a slight Danish accent, and Ray who is English has also developed an accent and chucks the odd Danish word into his sentences. Lene has lived in England, and she has also spent a considerable amount of time in Israel where she worked in a kibbutz. I had forgotten just how much fun she is and spent a lot of time laughing. Ray said that listening to us talking Danish/Norwegian together was like listening to two people singing to each other.

The drive through Skåne in Sweden was tiring. The landscape is flat and offers no protection from the wind. No problem for Thomas who rode a big sturdy bike, but for me on my little Ninja it turned into a bit of a battle to stay on the road.

Ine (waking up with a start): "What was that??" Dad: "Det var en elg." [that was a moose] Ine: "Fucking hell! Stop the car!" Dad (peering out through a hole in the windscreen): "Nono, this is fine, I'll take her straight to the SAAB garage in Halden."

Saab after sudden meeting with moose

My last memories of driving through Sweden was with my parents on the way back from visiting grandma for the last time. I had been the driver most of the day so when dad took over I promptly fell asleep. I woke with a start when a moose jumped out of a ditch and hit the car. The moose lost and had to be put down, but the car was a little mangled. Of course, the Swedish police could not contain themselves and had to crack jokes about Norwegians going moose hunting in Sweden, and then they gloated that it was a good thing we drove a Swedish car or we would have been killed like the poor family of four who’d driven the same stretch the previous week in a VW Golf. Such consolation at a time like that.

No mice this time. Don’t think we would have fared equally well with our bikes.

Kaisa and Thomas staring out across the lake Fisjeløysa (Fishless) in the rain.

Kaisa and Thomas staring out across the lake Fisjeløysa (Fishless) in the rain.

First few days were spent with Hanne (my sister) and her family at their mountain cabin. My vain hopes for good weather failed miserably, but we did manage to drag ourselves out for a wet walk and scare poor little Kaisa when we meet some horses that wanted to say hello to her. Stig (brother-in-law) did his impersonation of a true Norwegian to perfection and served a mish-mash of alcoholic beverages that he pressed upon a pressable Thomas. It was this thing of opening a new bottle of high-octane booze and throwing away the cork that did it. It’s a Norwegian thing. It also impressed Kevin when first confronted with this. We’d given Stig a bottle of Jamiesson whisky which was emptied the same evening. Cork gone, no choice. We lived to regret it.

Dad and Thomas painting. And painting. And -- you get the picture?

Dad and Thomas painting. And painting. And -- you get the picture?

From then on we did even less. Well, we painted my cabin. Which is now a much bigger cabin. It was really strange; the tiny little cabin was still there with the “outline” of the new exterior walls around it, not yet filled in with floors and walls and in short the rooms that are going to be there. It’s my favourite place in the whole world and I have every intention of retiring there. Even if it means getting some sort of chair-lift installed to get my arthritic bones up the rocks to get to it. I am trying hard to forget what winter and snow will do and how I am likely to freeze to death and be found many months later when my corpse thaws out and starts to smell. OK, so the anti-depressants are only working so well. Fine! Get off my case!

We managed a couple of trips to civilisation as well — Oslo. That is not to say that my parents don’t live in a civilised place, I’d be far from making that claim! But… I lived there for all of six months before I gave up. In the course of that time I experienced the unpleasantness of taking the last train there from Oslo with a drunken middle aged man with some bizarre inferiority complex. He spent the trip shouting abuse at me eloquently spiced up with a string of less flattering names until a Real Life Hero, a young man doing his army service, had enough of listening to it, picked the man up bodily from his seat, carried him out to the exit and said very, very quietly while dangling him in mid-air “you are now getting off the train”. Once done with the task he returned to his seat, nodded unceremoniously and resumed reading his book.

Sadly, there were not always knights in uniforms around to do gallant deeds.

Another thing that had me somewhat miffed was when the local paper claimed me as “theirs” in an interview when I directed the local review. Six months was all it took. And by then I didn’t even live there any more. I guess they were desperate for fresh blood to end the frequency of large ears and crooked noses.

Meeting old classmates from AGES ago. Not telling. Am feeling old and tired.

Meeting old classmates from AGES ago. Not telling. Am feeling old and tired.

Oslo was as always lovely, though. And meeting people I had not seen in over hrmff years — some of the guys I went to primary and secondary school with — was just amazing. Including my first kiss… another Thomas. Ahh, the memories!

Anyway. It was a memorable holiday for so many reasons, not least because it was without Kevin and with Thomas instead. But that is something I will come back to at a much later stage. Because it’s —- complicated.

We remembered to get wine before getting on the train in Hamburg, and while we waited to board the train we had the best beer I’ve ever, ever, ever tasted. And experience had shown us how to bend and squeeze ourselves into the cell and even get a little sleep. In the heat which was just as unbearable as the first time.

Now, as I write these last few sentences, I should really be in bed instead. I am supposed to get up in about four hours to get ready to go to the airport. We’re having a board meeting in Romania and I’ve been looking forward to going there for months now. But I can’t sleep. And the only reason I can’t sleep is because the plane leaves at 7.15 in the morning and there’s sort of no point in even going to bed when it’s like that. So here I sit. Sleepless in Vienna. Waiting for the hell of a much too early morning and what is likely to be a much too long day. Before a back-to-back board meeting in a country I have been wanting to visit for the longest time.

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