The house project

A while ago I sold my flat in Edinburgh, finally admitting to myself that a return to Scotland is off the cards. Of course, the sale sent me into a depression – most major things like that do. Be it a good move or a bad move – here comes DEPRESSION. Ho hum. Could set my watch by that.

Once all was done, however, I did not want to waste the money on ice-cream, so in agreement with Thomas we started looking for a weekend place to enhance our life. And lo and behold, we found one. In a small place called Guttenbrunn. Don’t know where that is? No surprises there – it took me a while to convince Google maps that it existed too.

The property is a sprawling – or rather loooooooooong – nature reserve for spiders, flies, ants, grass snakes, mice, deer (NOW we’re talking!) and comprises a small house built in the 1920s with a wine cellar, a courtyard (Innenhof in German), 50 steps up to a garden on several levels about ten metres higher up, and then a forest/outback/bush area for about 100 metres uphill. Until you are almost in the Czech Republic. Which you can see from up there.

When we saw it it looked absolutely lovely. Apart from the rather bold choice of colour for the courtyard – a sort of red-pink-orange. Similar to that sickly colour the smoked salmon producers dye their smoked salmon because its natural colour isn’t salmony enough. Inside it was all-white, with light laminate floors in the rooms, and light tiles in the entrance area and bathroom. It all looked like plain sailing to change what needed change to suit our taste.

Then we got it, without any furniture, and we experienced instant sea-sickness. In one room the drop from one end to the other was nearly ten centimetres, in the living room it was simply wavy. One night spent there in December also left me so bone frozen in spite of keeping a fire going all night in the enormous wood stove that I was shivering all day and forcing Hades to sit inside my jacket as a small live hot-water bottle. He didn’t mind, but it left me unable to do much.

The bone-chilling cold was a result of the entire place being damp. Most of the other problems we have slowly come to realize are a result of the previous owners generally cutting corners when doing the place up. They did it after the principle of oh-let’s-just-cover-the-rot-in-polystyrene-plasterboard-laminate-and-paint.

Did you know that it’s not possible to put a picture up on a wall with a polystyrene finish?

We quickly realised that the floors would require work. And when we stripped back the floors of the ten centimetre-drop room, we found so many sins it’s not even funny (and it explains the low ceilings), and now we’re left with a room which looks as if we’re digging a secret tunnel into the Czech Republic.

The living room.. oh man.

The bedroom…

Then we started on the walls.

Can I cry now?


You see that colour? It has to go. It looks orange here, but it depends on the light. From orange to red to pink. Oh, and that bird feeder fell apart when I tried to pick it up.

Heading for the Czech Republic

Heading for the Czech Republic

Only the floors, right? We Shall Only Fix The Floors - right? The walls are Just Fine. Right?

Only the floors, right? We Shall Only Fix The Floors – right? The walls are Just Fine. Right?

Nooooooooooo! But look at those old walls - first paint, then roll on the pattern. I rather like that. The amount of polystyrene we found was impressive, though.

Nooooooooooo! But look at those old walls – first paint, then roll on the pattern. I rather like that. The amount of polystyrene we found was impressive, though.

150 kg worth of old wood stove being carried up half of the stairs to the garden by one grown man and two computer-raised teenagers. There were some truly scary moments there.

150 kg worth of old wood stove being carried up half of the stairs to the garden by one grown man and two computer-raised teenagers. Note the unhealthy bend in one teenager’s back. There were some truly scary moments there. Poorly concentrated pup in foreground.

Am I due another depression?

Here’s Hades after the castration. The message was that he was not allowed to lick the wound, play with other dogs, should take it easy over the weekend… Total failure on all parts. We tried the collar to stop him licking. Well, it stopped him licking, but also stopped him moving like a normal dog. He was completely flummoxed by the collar. So we only made him wear it for a couple of hours, in which time his misery plunged to such depths the floor could barely take the weight of it. So as much fun as it was to film his new pattern of movement, our soft middles decided to “keep an eye on him” instead. The not playing with other dogs part was the next instruction to be breached. Within hours the two little lunatics were turning the flat into a danger zone in their usual style.

Luckily, it seems to have made little difference to the healing of the tiny wound. All one can now see of the op is the empty sack – and I must admit I am a little puzzled as to why the vet left the sack. As some sort of vengeance? “You shall be carrying an inside-out pocket between your legs for all eternity as a reminder of what you have lost!” Thomas suggested we could get it filled with replacement balls to boost his self confidence should he ever need it. My reaction was, as usual, to remind him that Hades is a dog, not a human, and that balls don’t carry the same symbolic meaning to them.

Thomas did not fill mama’s glass with wine after that comment.


Pluto was added to the household at the beginning of June. The situation was as follows: Mischa “the Rock” Gundersveen bored Hades to distraction, his younger brother from the second litter had been rehomed unsuccessfully and been returned with the message that he had howled non-stop for 18 hours. Something which was too much for the new owner with her 40 years of experience with dogs. Well, we can’t boast the same, but we took Pluto in on trial and it took the wee chap all of a couple of days to settle in, without the use of howling, and – HERE HE IS!

Hades is no longer bored shitless, Mischa is a lot happier as Hades has all but stopped biting his ears (and he seems to like Pluto), and the little one has completely melted Thomas’ heart – they are just SO CUTE!

However, Hades is going through a period of re-adjustment. Not being entirely sure of his position as one of three dogs, he started attacking anything and anyone who came within three feet of me. This included the staff at restaurants, and as this leads to mama not getting her wine he was castrated last week. Yes, Hades lost his balls to mama’s wine. This is known as PRIORITIES. This one was a no-brainer.

We’re still struggling with Hades’ deafness. I’m hopeful that once his hormone levels level out (pun totally intended) he will calm down enough to be a little more trainable. At the moment we are working on how to walk on the lead, that is, without pulling to the front and left, almost lying flat on the pavement scrabbling with his claws to get THERE where there might be other dogs he can play with – or attack – whichever comes first.

Things that make me cry

When I was three I fell in love with ballet. I blame Coppelia.

For my sixth birthday, I got the LP with the music. I wore a purple leotard with a small purple tutu for my ballet classes. I got my first pointe shoes.

I was in pain. I was always in pain. It was part of the deal. I didn’t know the difference between good pain and bad pain.

I had scoliosis. I had a fracture in my neck. I had a fractured tail-bone. I had two developing spinal prolapses. I never managed to become the dancer I wanted to be.

I still cry with bitterness. And I’ve never found a passion to cover my love of ballet.

Yeah. It’s one of those days.

Hades’ screaming has been worse than ever lately. Today he topped himself. He screamed and howled at the neighbours, at the bin collectors, at everybody on the street, screamed his way around the park – and then managed to make it EVEN WORSE when he saw a dog, not just across the road but across two roads – about 200 metres ahead of us. He did his best to fling himself into the road in order to catch up with the unidentified dog. I should have let him. Perhaps he would have been run over by a lorry. When a girl with a timid little Dachshund came around the corner she nearly collected the little dog in her arms for protection and ran – only when she realised it was “just” Hades did she relax, and Hades flung himself at the poor wee thing, ears as rigid as flagpoles, eyes crazily open, whimpering and snorting as if his short term survival depended on this greeting.

As soon as we carried on, though, he went back to screaming, howling and barking because he had not managed to catch up with THAT OTHER dog. And as we waited on a green light he had yet another meltdown, screaming down an area the equivalent of Texas, causing all sensible people in the vicinity to send me angry looks of “why are you torturing the poor thing” to “get your fucking dog to shut the fuck up” as we walked the pedestrian crossing of shame. All because of this small poodle at the tram stop.

He kept up the hysterical screams ALL THE WAY HOME, THROUGH THE BUILDING, ACROSS THE INNER YARD, UP THE STAIRS AND ALL THE WAY TO THE BATHTUB. Oddly, he shut up while I showered off the pee he had peed all over himself in the course of this delightful walk.

Speaking of pee: Yesterday he managed to pee on two completely innocent and unsuspecting women in the dog zone. Sniffing around dogs and their owners, he suddenly cocked his leg and shot, as fast as Billy the Kid. And he did not just grace them with a little drizzle – he friggin’ drowned their legs and shoes. My apology that the dog is deaf seemed really lame at that point.

The handy*

My shingles is rearing its ugly head, and as I lay contemplating cutting my left leg off to get rid of the ugly black pain pulsating through it I started thinking about my first mobile phone. Anything to get my thoughts off the offended limb.

It was an Ericsson. I’d been fighting off the inevitable for the longest time. Even gone through the phase of having a pager – a Benetton pager, really colourful, which could only be used to send numbers. So Kevin and I had a series of codes we sent each other of which we forgot all but one. But eventually, in early 1999, I gave in and went to the BT Cellnet shop on Princes Street in Edinburgh and got an Ericsson phone with a sim card  and a contract set up on direct debit (the Lifetime, which meant I only paid for the calls and nothing else) – a deal BT Cellnet (O2) later came to regret and terminated in the worst way possible, but that’s another story. I gave in because I discovered that my landlady was inadvertently costing me assistant work by answering the phone thus: “Who? No. SHE IS NOT HERE.” And hung up. Perhaps she was acting out some secret inner wish of getting rid of me.

I still remember my first mobile with a great deal of soppy sentimentality as it gave me the freedom to confidently say: This is my number – you can ALWAYS get hold on me on this. And the then contract was great as it gave me free handset upgrades at regular intervals, couriered to me wherever I was at the time. Ah – BT Cellnet, you were great! Such a shame you had to sell out and become the less than honest O2.

Like all other people who’ve had a mobile for a while, I’ve lost count of how many different handsets I’ve had. But there’s only one that I totally fell in love with on first sight. The Samsung Galaxy Beam. A little heavier and thicker than my then smartphone, it more than made up for it with the coolest gadget I’d ever seen – a beamer! But at the price it was put of my league and I decided to sit it out.

This is where adoring and amazing husband turns up and gets it for my birthday.

At first I was unable to insert my sim card. Turned out that some plonker (understatement of the year award goes to me) had forced a micro-sim card into the sim card slot, and then legged it. That was its first trip back to Samsung for repair.

It is at present on its second return to its roots. Though I was able to insert my sim card when I got it back, it took an unexpected amount of time for the phone to actually recognise that there was a sim card present. Once it did, however, I was willing to abandon my previous, trusty Sony Xperia to the inner recesses of my dusty desk drawer.

Oh, the fun I had! I put various little videos on it for use in my English classes and enjoyed the brief joy of the childish glamour of having a toy no one else had, showing it off with reckless abandon.

Initially it didn’t bother me too much that it kept losing the network. It didn’t really bother me that I had to restart it at least twice before it was able to reconnect. Then it started to bother me. Then bother no longer covered my feelings. Then I got damned close to putting the expensive toy on the nearest tram-line, there being an abundance of those here in Vienna making it possible to satisfy my need to murder on a whim. I took a little extra time to observe when the thing disconnected itself from the world. It seemed to be WHENEVER I ACTUALLY WANTED TO USE IT for something other than showing bits of video. Such as when I wanted to make a call, or when someone wanted to call me, or when I wanted to look up a number, or if I turned on the vibrate function, or… or if I put it in my inside pocket.

I have so far only been able to conclude that the thing is highly heat-sensitive and can’t deal with temperatures over 25°C.

This might explain why there have been sporadic reports of Samsungs suddenly bursting into flame. It seems to have a really low boiling point.

I’m glad I didn’t recycle the Sony. It’s back in action and hasn’t lost the network once. But… I miss my toy. And I’m truly disappointed at the short-lived fun. Because — because I don’t really believe Samsung will be able to fix it. They’re not even continuing the development of the beam phones from what I gather, and then they won’t even work out what they got wrong. I have a dreadful feeling I will get it back with the claim that they’ve fixed it, or that there’s nothing wrong and blahblah… and that it will still only be a fancy, hand-held beamer completely useless as a mobile phone.

And I will be left feeling misunderstood, like the kid with all the fancy toys but who nobody likes.

*This is what people in the German speaking world call their mobile phones. The funny part is that they display total surprise and incomprehension when told that “handy” is an adjective and not a noun in English, and that unless they explain what they mean when they tell you to call on their handy, they are simply leaving a trail of confused English speakers in their wake.

That bike moment

We watch Numb3rs on TV. The suspect disappears on a red motorbike. I turn to Thomas and ask: “What bike was that?” Without missing a beat, he replies: “Yamaha R1.” After the briefest of moments he adds: “But it was the old version, with two tail-lights.”

You wonder why I love my favourite nerd?


Hades is a teenager. It all happened so suddenly. He went from having soft baby-skin to having acne, black heads and pimples down his back. And we’ve been reading about Chinese Crested and skin care and tried baby shampoo and baby lotion and baby this and baby that, to no avail. To add to his teenage misery, his newly discovered need to mark – forcing him to lift one of his rear legs while peeing, a behaviour evolved through millennia of fine selection of the alpha male as a way to demonstrate alpha-ness – has him peeing on his right front paw more often than not, his aim being somewhat questionable. Sometimes we are unable to wipe the pee off immediately giving it time to dry on his skin, and this has caused a sore on the inside of his left front leg.

Revolting, really.

Well, we have finally found a treatment for it all. Or rather, several treatments. For his acne, we now clean his skin with my face cleanser (for sensitive skin, hereby passed on to Hades), followed by a gentle wash with a Camomile solution to calm his skin and help prevent further inflammation. We clean his tummy and legs after each walk, and finish with a light application of a skin cream on the sore – either Carbamide cream he was prescribed by the vet when his mum washed him too much and caused a rash, or zinc ointment for nappy rash. Then we have a drawn out battle trying to stop him from licking the cream off. I try to stop him, he growls and snaps – he stops short of biting, but for such a wee thing he manages to sound pretty vicious. He finds it really irritating that I interfere. And I find his enraged growling really funny.

I now understand why my sister couldn’t stop teasing me when we were kids.

The resulting smell of this new skin-care regime is of a cheap prostitute who spends her days in the nearest compost bin. I think I will have to find a cleanser without perfume – what to do with the odour of Camomile, however, I don’t know. The smell is what puts me off drinking it as tea (that, and that it’s just not proper TEA in the British sense – it may remove pimples from the rumps of small hairless dogs, but it won’t put hair in a builder’s crack – if you know what I mean).


Saturday afternoon. After a round of frantic shopping – actually, it’s the least frantic round of shopping we’ve done in a while. Since we got Hades, he’s come along on every shopping trip because leaving him at home had him howling FOR THE DURATION, upsetting our neighbours, and could have resulted in them calling the police to find out who was being tortured.

So he has come along in a travel bag in which we could “lock” him so we could also take him with us into the supermarket without comment. (Of course he’s not locked in – he’s zipped in. Same difference, as far as he’s concerned.)

Last week we decided that enough is enough. The dog spent the duration of our supermarket visit whimpering and barking protest at not being allowed to sit in the middle of the trolley sampling the foods as they were added and greeting children as they passed by. Hades loves kids. He is pretty much addicted to them and will scuttle up to any unsuspecting child, wagging his entire body while whimpering with excitement. Gawd save the child that is afraid of dogs. This dog will not care but insist on over-excited greetings accompanied by face-licks.

Anyway – the decision was made to not include him in our shopping trips, hoping that he would not howl his head off (see aforementioned scenario) or poop down the flat. That is the part I’ve not had the energy to write about as all our spare time seemed to go into cleaning up pee and poop left in the most imaginary places. I tried to console myself that he was just helping us get the floors clean – everywhere.

Back to bliss. After a round of not-all-that-frantic shopping (Obi, IKEA, Fressnapf, SportsExperts, EuroSpar, Billa – oh, and Conrad – I fell asleep in the car on the way home) I made a huge pot of tea, curled up on my grandmother’s sofa (made in Odense, Denmark) with Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, and was promptly accompanied by the puppy. Ahhh! Charlie Brown – there really is nothing better than a warm puppy, a good book and grandma’s sofa on a Saturday in January.



A while ago we got a puppy. And my intention was to write lots about him. And his relationship with our old dog Mischa. And then I ran out of energy and had to ration my activities to a minimum generally centred around getting out of bed, doing my job, cleaning the kitchen and learning what it is like to have a deaf dog. That last point should of course have been the first.

I’ll just give a brief summary of 2013: better than 2012. Thank you. Keep up the good work.

Since Hades entered out lives, a lot of our time has centred around him. We’ve had to come to terms with what it is to have a puppy with all it entails in teaching him good manners. We’re not there yet, and our greatest excuse for that is that he is deaf. So we rely on having his attention before we can signal what we want from him, and that has to be explained in some way through a lot of repetition. “A lot” is in this case one of those famous understatements. Getting the attention of a puppy is hard enough, as anyone whose ever had one can confirm, when that puppy is also deaf you may wonder how on earth one gets to the point where one can teach him to sit and lie down on command. Or even how to give that command.

I’m glad to say that Hades is intelligent. I’m less glad to say he is also stubborn. I even sometimes wonder if he is actually aware that he has a handicap and is exploiting it a little – sort of in a “lalala! can’t hear you!” kind of way.

His deafness has its funny sides. When he keeps his attention on us while we’re walking somewhere, he has a tendency to walk into whatever is in the way. And we have no way of warning him. I guess to him we are just pulling funny faces and he keeps an eye on us so he can have a quiet giggle at our expense. Good thing he is so small and light he just bounces right off. It mostly happens in the house where he has walked into countless cupboards and walls – outside I keep him on the lead and can stop him before disaster strikes. Thomas is braver than me and lets him off the lead when we’re in the park, and there both trees, benches, other dogs and people have got in his way and been bumped into.

It is also possible to sneak up on him, but that is of course not fair. Good he’s not of a nervous disposition. Mischa does not understand that he is deaf and has a couple of times scared the crap out of him by playfully placing a big, heavy paw on him from behind, with the result that Hades screams like a tortured pig. Mischa, not the daintiest of movers, does not understand Hades’ surprise and looks truly dejected. He still wonders why on earth we took the foundling in and ruined his life.

In addition to being deaf, Hades is also naked. It kind of goes with the breed, though his sister, Paris, is of the powder-puff type with hair all over. Speaking of Paris – we looked after her for a couple of weeks, and that was when I discovered how much easier it is to teach a hearing puppy new tricks. It took me no more than 15 minutes to teach her sit, and 20 to teach her to lie down, and then another ten minutes to reinforce the difference. If your dog can hear but can’t sit or lie down on command I hereby declare you an incompetent dog owner. Case closed.

Back to nudity.

Hades sleeps in our bed. There are two reasons for this. Firstly his deafness. Having him near means he can follow what is going on – he knows when we get up and where we are without us having to turn the light on. It makes him feel safer. Secondly, he can crawl under the covers if he gets cold.

We thought this was a great idea. But as we keep the bedroom relatively cool, he gets cold, demands a space under the covers, gets too hot within a couple of minutes and wants out again. Our nights are punctuated by his constant under-the-covers-over-the-covers-under… I now know I would not make a good mum. Sleep deprivation is hell. His nightly nomadic movements mixed with his toilet training (he still demands to be taken out for a pee-errand in the middle of the night, preceded by sad and pathetic whimpering that cuts through all other noises in the whole world) has completed our joint exhaustion and we’ve both been on the verge of throwing him out the window. (That is of course not true, do not post nasty comments. The thought has only manifest itself in unheard threats.)

Hades is now six months old and largely house-trained, can sit and lie down on command and walks well on the lead. Now we only have to get him to understand that when we get to the park, it is not generally acceptable behaviour to bark and scream as if someone is twisting your head off, followed by loud and persistent HOWLING. I’ve no idea why he does it. None at all.


Hades pictured on 6 January 2014. What a waste of a pair of ears!