Tuesday, July 31, 2007

delving again into the former east

DrH and I made a last minute decision to escape for the weekend and so threw stuff into the Bulli and took off for the Baltic Sea. There´s something to be said for having a car in which you are fully self sufficient.

We stayed near Greifswald (translation: Gryphonforest, and if that just doesn´t tickle your Harry Potter fancy then I don´t know what will), ate bbq and french toast (although not at the same time) and got to enjoy the best of former-East campsite hospitality (taking your own toilet paper to the toilets). We drove around a lot, visiting tiny towns off the beaten track and discovering many previously unknown (to us) cathedrals, monasteries and castles.

Here´s one at Dargun, originally a monastery founded by Swedes in the 1100´s. Coolly enough, the town´s library is now located in the only part of the building still intact (that tower in the middle).

Apparently the same bunch of monks gave up on the site and moved up to Eldena, although the thirty years war gave it a bit of a hiding:


We then found a big big castle in a tiny tiny town called Basedow. The weather had turned to the pits by now so there were no good photos to be had. However, there were lots of sheep wandering around it and it HAD A MOAT. Which was GREEN. All my fairytales have come true at once.

On the way home we detoured off the autobahn to avoid a traffic jam and found another two castles, a couple of impressive churches and a very tall monument topped with a golden angel commemorating the Battle of Fehrbellin in 1675. Sometimes I´m surprised I don´t hurt myself, tripping over all this history lying about the place.

Friday, July 27, 2007

bye nanna

When I was young I lived on a farm in a town hours away from my grandparents, meaning I didn´t really feel like I had gotten to know them until I was about nine. Visiting them was as much about the television (What, you have FOUR TV stations? How could you EVER BE BORED AGAIN?!) as it was about getting spoiled by the grandparents.

Nanna had a huge collection of china teacups and silver. At about the age of ten I discovered that polishing silver was just about as much fun as any kid could have and would spend hours rubbing cleaning solution on teapots and ornamental milk jugs. I´d arrive at her house and rush to the silver cupboard, pulling the doors open and praying that the gleaming surfaces I´d polished just two days before would already be dark with tarnish and needing another scrub. I was often disappointed. Looking back on it, I´m not just a little bit certain that this silver high was caused primarily by the polishing solution itself.

Every birthday Nan was responsible for our birthday cakes. If it wasn´t a nanna made sponge cake, then I´m sorry but it WOULD NOT DO. Mine was always a chocolate sponge cake, with chocolate cream and fresh strawberries in the middle and decorated on top. None of that icing stuff on my sponge cake, it was cream all the way. I swear she spent half her time baking an amazing variety of slices and every time Mum would say to her "Mum, you´re spoiling them too much", Nan would give a little chuckle and say "Oh, go on with ya, it´s just a little slice."

Pa died when I was thirteen. That night I stayed with Nan, sleeping in Pa´s bed. I got very little sleep because Nan could snore like a diesel powered train. In a tunnel. Going up hill. I tried calling softly to her to get her to roll over. Then louder and even louder, but without her hearing aids in she was deaf as a post considered by other posts to be particularly hard of hearing. In a fit of tired desperation I flung my pillow across the space separating the twin beds. Nan woke up and said "Could you put the cat out, please?" Overcome with shame and cowardice, I got out of bed, hunted the cat down and persuaded the unwilling creature to get out the front door.

The last couple of years have been pretty tough, especially for my Mum who lived with her for three years as Alzheimer´s and dementia claimed her. Although there were lighthearted and amusing moments, it was hard, heartbreaking work. The rest of the family are in Mum´s and Aunt N´s debt for everything they´ve done caring for her.

In a very large way I didn´t know Nan very well. Out of the grandmother role, I didn´t know what made her tick. I don´t know what her childhood was like. I do know she worked in a factory during the war. I don´t know how she met Pa. I do know she was the most perfect, loving, generous, grandmotherly woman a granddaughter could ever wish for.

Sorry about the pillow throwing Nan. I´ll miss you.

This movie is more for the members of my family who read here. Nan and Daisy last Christmas.

Friday, July 20, 2007

the bit where I rue the working for myself from home idea

DrH is away on a business trip at the moment so I´m spending a lot of time talking to the dog and checking that I´ve double locked the doors. What is it with insecurity and getting older? At Uni my housemates and I wouldn´t even SHUT the back door and many were the times that we woke up to find acquaintances having breakfast and watching cartoons in the lounge room, having just walked in and made themselves at home. And did it bother us or cause one moment less sleep? Not at all.

But now I´m back to having lived with someone full time for the last 18 months and not having him here is... disturbing somehow. The dog barked in his sleep last night and I was immediately up and checking every room and cupboard. It really is ridiculous.

I´m blaming CSI, NCIS, RIS and every other television show for convincing me that a serial killer is only moments from my door and I will die in some horribly bloody, undoubtedly painful, and highly inventive way and the forensic teams will be sifting through the minutiae of my existence to catch my killer. That the intricacies of my life will be splashed across a police incident room somewhere, complete with photos and scaled sketches and all this paranoia of mine at least has the advantage that I make sure the porn is put away neatly these days.

So all this mental anguish that I´m undergoing is a direct result of DrH´s current business trip. To Portugal. Flying via Mallorca. And I´m thinking my little one person company here does not have anywhere near enough perks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

high fidelity

Summer has finally arrived and so DrH and I have been doing our best to enjoy it based on the assumption that it will disappear again as quickly as my patience with people who take up two car parks on our street. Everyone else can park a car in a spot 10cm wider than the car itself, so why can´t you Mr I´ve Got A BMW/Mercedes/Porsche? You´re just asking for a nasty little note stuck under a windscreen wiper.

I have so fully gone native.

The rainy weather of the last month combined with the mild winter and now warm spell has brought the mosquitoes out in force. While we were having dinner on Sunday evening DrH began looking more and more uncomfortable until he eventually interrupted my gleeful gorging to say that his feet had started burning. It turned out that after years of marital pressure to give up the whole Socks With Sandals look, DrH had ventured forth unprotected on a night when mosquitoes were finally celebrating their burst of freedom. Without socks every centimetre of exposed skin on his feet was a swollen reddened mess. It took cooling foot baths and every cream in the house for him to get to sleep that night.

However, I was the one who spent hours awake listening to the hum of mosquitoes. Although I rarely get bitten and suffer no reaction when I do, I CANNOT sleep through the noise of mozzies. Like a TV on standby it´s a worse sound than a child´s fingernails on a blackboard. Having checked it out recently, I now know that I can hear well to 16000 Hz and the 17000Hz will make my jaw clench unwillingly. I consider this sufficiently supurb hearing to call myself a cut above my 37 yr old husband and his age-damaged ears, and a reasonable enough excuse to bitch about not being able to sleep while he snores undisturbed through their high-pitched whines. IT´S MY EXCELLENT HEARING, DO YOU NOT KNOW HOW MUCH I SUFFER FROM MY SUPERIORITY?

In a bedroom with 4metre ceilings I haven´t a hope of actually killing the little bastards and so I´ve been forced to wear earplugs to bed just to get some shut-eye. This has the added bonus that I don´t hear DrH waking up scratching and swearing as the latest invader, which thirty minutes earlier HE TOTALLY IGNORED telling me instead to turn off the light and try and sleep, feasts on him and I can sleep unscathed and peaceful.

Friday, July 13, 2007

no animals were hurt in the production of this blog post

There´s little more enjoyment one can get out of life than Schadenfreude. That indescribable (in English at least) feeling of joy from someone else´s misfortune. It´s the Funniest Home Video phenomena. The guilty pleasure of watching a small child walk straight off the edge of a step to land on its head, of a middle aged man on a bicycle for the first time in a decade careen down a hill and into the back of a parked pick-up. The titillation of seeing an elderly woman unceremoniously upturned by a bad tempered camel and dragged along with a foot stuck in the stirrup and her skirts around her ears.

Being a dog owner means that I get to experience this joy on a daily basis. I have a feeling it is a situation that won´t be improved upon until we have a toddler in the house. With steps. And unexpected walls. But until that reproductive moment comes about, Leon Dog Wonder fills our evenings with gales of laughter.

Seriously, our place is lots of fun at night.

Today I had to take Leon to the vet to have his teeth cleaned as he has a badly damaged gum section and the tooth was beginning to look rather black. Under a general anaesthetic. Which meant watching my dog turn into a fifty year old drunk, at least until the point where he vomited as he went under. Then he turned into a twenty year old drunk and I had the joy of holding his ears back from his face as he spewed.

Oh, the memories of University. Those images of dingy toilets in questionable venues with vomiting long-haired friends are now surrounded with the rosy glow that only time, distance and alcohol induced memory loss can give. But I digress.

Seeing him lie there fully unconscious and drooling elegantly was somewhat heart-rending. Luckily enough his teeth are in great nick and the ugly hole behind one is actually caused by a tooth in his lower jaw trying to drill its way upwards into his nasal cavity with every bite. I´ve a horrible feeling we´re going to have to get him braces and then he´ll lie sulking in his bed all day for being called Train-tracks and Brace-face, ignoring the years of wages we´re sinking into orthodontics so that he can have a brilliant smile. You know how cruel other animals can be. Its a dog eat dog world out there.

Picking him up several hours later we got to watch him weave back and forth as he tried to negotiate a particularly tricky piece of open flat pavement. It took him four tries to lift a leg to pee and each time appeared surprised when his other rear leg decided to back out of the deal and dump him on the ground. He managed to get half his body into the car, but couldn´t seem to work out how the rest of the movement went. We spent a good hour watching him fall over unexpectedly, walk into suddenly moving door frames and look pathetically at us. It was all terribly sad and we felt awfully sorry for the poor boy. Really we did. But how could you not giggle just a little?

They say Damage-joy is the best joy. There has to be something pretty special about a culture that has a word for that.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

when you learn more about me than you think you needed to know

I hear the US is suffering huge bushfires again. And that Greece has been sweltering in the mid-forties. Even Moscow seems to be doing pretty well in the high twenties this summer. But have we seen any of it?

For the last month it has rained on average four times a day. This would be great if we were a drought stricken country with horses dropping dead in paddocks and whole townships having to live off bottled water because the reservoirs have dried up BUT WE AREN´T. At the moment Berlin is currently only slightly less sucky than Manchester, a place where I turned down a job because in the three days I was there it rained on me thirty-seven times. After a three year contract there I would have been universally known as that slightly insane frizzy-haired Aussie chick and how do we avoid talking to her about the weather?

It isn´t that it´s been warm weather rain either. Today´s top will be fifteen degrees and that´s been a pretty good average. It did hit the twenties on the weekend for about fifteen minutes before the black clouds swooped in again.

However there is something even worse than the unseasonal cold weather and that is the fully seasonal turning off of all heating. Our central heating (and for that matter the standard in Germany) is radiators filled with water heated by a giant oil heater in the cellar and in winter is absolutely fabulous and so much better than any form of hot air blowing heating you can imagine. But this is centrally controlled and, as a rule, every heater in the country is turned off on May 1st. Ours were actually turned off earlier because April had been so mild.

So in the last few weeks I´ve been freezing, particularly at night when it has been getting down to five degrees. I´ve been waking up with pounding headaches because all my shoulder muscles freeze up in the cold until it occurred to me last night that I could put on a shirt for bed. While this may appear obvious to everyone else, I am someone who absolutely can´t stand wearing anything to bed because it usually ends up caught up around my shoulders, twisted under my chin so that I can´t breathe and trapping my arms in positions of such impossibility that chiropractors would like to write research articles on me and Houdini´s descendants are threatening me with copyright infringement of his escape manoeuvres. This is only slightly better than what happens when I wear pyjama bottoms to bed. Who does that? How do they not end up bunched above your knees like a bulky pair of shorts, leaving calves to chill while thighs overheat and giving you a wedgie to rival the worst that primary school bullies could inflict?

So I tend to do without. In fact, I´d happily spend days wandering around in the buff if the weather was warmer and we had curtains. The fifty-seven flats that can see in our windows may not be too happy with getting to know me THAT well. Although it might pull the sixteen year old across the street away from his computer for a while, if only to shudder briefly in horror and spend an hour a week in therapy for the next eight years.

But last night I managed an entire night´s sleep with a shirt on and suffered only slight strangulation. My left arm did go numb with the bunched up sleeve cutting off circulation, but my shoulders feel so much better, and the headache is actually missing this morning, that I may be tempted to try it again tonight. Who´d have thought wearing clothes could be useful?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

black box

Many moons ago I mentioned I was writing a piece of short fiction. Horror drabble. For those "not in the know" as us "writers" (I am actually making the quotation marks with my fingers as I´m writing this - just so you know) are, drabble is a short short short piece which has to be EXACTLY one hundred words long.

This appears to be my optimum writing length.

This does not bode well for the Great DrJ Magnum Opus.

Anyway, this mini piece of horror I submitted to an anthology and I just got the rejection.


As I don´t read, watch or even try and think of horror, this made me rather proud. Unfortunately, I just reread my submission and now feel like going and having a quiet little vomit in a corner somewhere. I really shouldn´t do that to myself.

Friday, July 06, 2007

some days have to be doubled up by now, don´t they?

Seriously folks, there can´t be any free days left in the calendar any more. There are International Days of Eradication of Poverty, Tuberculosis, Television, Intellectual Property, Civil Aviation and Mother Languages -and those are just a brief selection from the UN recognised days.

But today is apparently the International Day of Kissing.

So get out there, pucker up, make someone´s day. I want to see everyone´s face scrunched in a ready to pash pout. This one has got to rate pretty high on my list of favourites days. Unless there was an International Day of Sex. Or Foot Massaging. That´d be just as good. Wonder who I have to write to about that?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

we feel fine

Is there something going around at the moment? A bit of a loneliness bug? A general depression over the northern hemisphere? It´s meant to be summer guys, come on! So why have I had multiple independent hits on this site in the last few days all looking for ways to cure homesickness?

Just in case some make it back here again the quick answer is: you can´t. Can´t cure homesickness. Just sit it through. Watch a movie. Have a beer. Socialize.

Actually, I lie. Just a little. The only way to cure it is to accept where you are now as home. Once you´ve done that, homesickness gets a whole lot better. Really.

But it´s always good to have a few beers on hand. In case I drop by. You never know, and you wouldn´t want to be caught short. That can be embarrassing..

Another hit which I found really very cool was from this site: wefeelfine. It harvests blogs for the phrases "I feel" or "I am feeling". There´s an applet showing dots for all the sites which have phrases. You can even search for, ummm lets say a female in Berlin, Germany in her 30s who´s feeling apprehensive while it´s raining in 2006. Just as an idea. Fun and fascinating.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

to geek or not to geek

I had a recent conversation with a friend about our relative levels of geekiness. He had insisted that I was wwaaayyyy geek and none of his traits were. While I happily admit to the first, I felt he was living in a slight delusion as to the actual level of coolness his interests really had.

I think it´s a denial that stems from the fact that when we first met, he was a recently graduated Arts student, with all the coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking, philosophy-discussing ├╝ber-coolness that implies, whereas I was in postgrad Science, and if the first degree hadn´t branded me for life with a giant NERD written in black felt tip marker across my forehead, the second was sure to. Actually, who am I kidding, high school had me branded years before. Reading Z for Zachariah when I was eight sucked me straight into the world of science fiction and any coolness I may have developed in my formative years was lost forever under the thrill of Lost in Space, Astroboy and Battle of the Planets.

Yesterday Wil Wheaton (another reason for my nerdiness - I believe I´ve already told you how big my crush on his fourteen year old self was) quoted Patton Oswalt on nerds/geeks:

A lot of nerds aren't aware they're nerds. A geek has thrown his hands up to the universe and gone, "I speak Klingon — who am I fooling? You win! I'm just gonna openly like what I like." Geeks tend to be a little happier with themselves.

I never did reach the heights of roleplaying and Magic for nerdiness (or speaking Klingon for that matter, although I did write an essay on the Elvish language). A brief attempt at getting into that whole "I´m a Warrior Wizard Dark Elf questing here. Out of my way, for with my number 20 dice I shall freeze you and you shall suffer 10 damage points. Mwwhahah" proved a dismal failure and I just never "got" that Magic thing. But I was still a nerd, a geek, and by late highschool had made peace with myself and just liked what I liked. Finding a group of people who revelled in their geeky nerdiness with me made me feel like I´d come home. An intrepid traveller who´d spent years wandering the barren desert of teenage girls with boofy hair and too much makeup whose major discussion topics revolved around whose boyfriend would buy them jewellery first and "Like, Oh My God did you see what she was wearing?" while I was seeking refuge in the library and the myriad worlds contained therein.

Thesedays I don´t really notice my geekiness anymore. Perhaps because the cool people have faded into the woodwork while the geeks have inherited the new technological earth. Perhaps I´m still too surrounded by scientists. Now, all those interests which caused severe ostracizing for teenagers--computers, computer games, whizz bang gadgets (unless it was cars - they were always cool), scifi, books, bad hair, talking about something interesting and not just gossip--now these are more accepted, more common.

But are they any less nerdy? Are you less of one for being into that now than I was in high school? I mean, it´s not me that´s currently wasting time on Warcraft you know....