Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pre-migraine Meme

I've had these meme questions sitting in the 'draft' folder for a while now, and can't remember who I stole it from. Memes are good when your brain is fried, Mr Migraine is just arriving for an unwelcome visit but you feel like writing something before he kicks the door in........

1. Tell us who the last person was that you showered with.
Just my good self armed with a puff full of douche gel. That still cracks me up - calling a shower a 'douche' here in French-speaking Geneva. Before that it would be years and years and years ...... even then it featured Sapphire who was around two at the time and we were in a hotel room that didn't have a bath. Getting in the shower with her seemed like the easiest way to get her clean.

2. Tell us about your favorite tee-shirt. 
I used to wear 'Diet Stinks' quite a lot but it, um 'shrunk' and didn't make the cut to squeeze into the 23kg of luggage we were allowed to bring over to Geneva. That's my story and I'm not going to change it.

3. Has anyone ever hit on you even though they knew you were taken?
Not in recent memory. I think I'm too old, disinterested and tired-looking to give even the faintest whiff of intrigue or availability. Actually, I did get propositioned by a bored female prostitute on a Friday morning, close to Christmas. Apart from economic necessity, it might also have been the intoxicating combination of a nanna cart, sensible shoes, fat face and my visible excitement at going to a lovely old church to participate in a second hand book sale.

4. Do you plan what to wear the next day?
Nope. I log on to check the weather forecast in the morning; think about what I'm up to for the day and what's clean and then decide. The plainer the better for me.

5. How are you feeling RIGHT now? Why?
Tired. The apartment gets stuffy at night because the blinds are shutters that roll down and then shut out not just the noise and lights outside but also the fresh air.

6. What's the closest thing to you that's black?
Watch strap and scuffy black boots. Sensible flat ones of course.

7. Tell me about an interesting dream you remember having.
I'm someone who rarely remembers their dreams but, funnily enough, last night's is still with me - I was stealing hair conditioner from Migros, the supermarket nearest our home. Why I have no idea..... if I was going to risk life and limb shoplifting, surely I'd choose something more valuable. Like say, meat here in Geneva?

8. Did you or might you meet anybody new today?
Yes. Milly and I chatted in broken French to an elderly lady who stopped to give her a pat. Plus the Fratman and a door-to-door salesman who wanted to sell me an automatic security system. "Non merci."

9. If you could be doing anything right now (or perhaps after you finish this ridiculous meme) what would it be?

Mr Migraine is starting to knock at my door and I'd love to take a nap, but worry that I'd be out of it for too long and be unable to sleep tonight. It's the warm weather and a built up bank account of lost sleep and finally feeling a bit more relaxed about things and feeling my eyelids get heavy and wondering if it's really worth sweeping the floor or following up the online accounts or zZzzzzzzz......

10. Do you floss?
Every night. I have Love Chunks to thank for this. Before we lived together, I thought flossing was something the dentist did to make your eyes water during a check up. He rather politely informed me that my morning (and hey let's face it - lunchtime and evening) breath might improve if I got rid of some of the (unnoticed by me) flotsam and jetsam lurking in the gaps.

11. What comes to mind when I say China?
HUGE economic power. Always the third word after reading 'Made In' on the back of any and every product that was purchased in Australia. Here it is just as likely to have 'Made in Switzerland' on it, but cost ten times as much. Tupperware (and its alternatives) might as well be made out of platinum here for the price.

12. Are you overly emotional?
Yes damnit and I wish I wasn't. I hate it that tears are always close to the surface and I can't shake things off and get over it like a mature, well-rounded and confident person.

13.If you could listen to just one rock album (CD, vinyl or mp3) which one would you pick ?
Super Trouper by ABBA. Played over and over in 1981 when I was a miserable and lonely Aussie girl living in Scotland. Loved every song and it made me feel..... comforted. It's no classic by any stretch but sometimes music or songs have that certain element that helps when you need it most.

14. Do you bite into your ice cream or just lick it?
Insightful question! Um, lick madly at first and bite when it all starts dribbling down my hands, my wrist and drops plop off the end of my elbows. I'm not really a big ice-cream girl and rarely have one in a cone or in a bowl. Ice-blocks are more my things or I'll go straight to the chocolate and avoid the icy, melty bits in between.

15. Do you like your car?
Yes, Pierre the Peugeot 207SW is an adorable little silver spunk! Our previous car, Maggie the Magna, was sixteen when we sold her in May 2011 and Pierre is the first brand new car for Love Chunks and myself.

16. Do you like yourself?
Sort of. It's been an up and down relationship with many lessons learned, shocks discovered and things to look back on and smile about. Or wince.

17. Would you go out to eat with Charlie Sheen?

No. I never liked his stupid TV show; never thought he had much talent; never understood how he was admired for being 'successful' and wish that he'd had a vasectomy years ago - how many kids and wives have been left on the roadside now?

18. What was the last song that you listened to?
Something played by WRS - World Radio Switzerland, that caused Sapphire great embarassment. 'Beautiful' by One Direction. I haven't seen a music video in years, and it was catchy, so my hands tapped the steering wheel. Her shame and dismay at my reaction was both intense and scornful. The only other songs we've heard have been the US-dominated, middle-of-the-road soft rock classics played at every shop in Geneva we've visited. "More than words to show you feel.....That your love for me is real...."

19. Are (or were) your parents strict?
Fairly. Dad was a high school teacher so was well aware of the temptations and pitfalls. Mum only insisted on a curfew when I had my first real boyfriend - my remonstration that I'd easily be able to do as many naughty things before 1am as after didn't hold water.

20. Have you ever wondered what attending a wild orgy (if only to watch or...) would be like?
No. Movies like 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Eyes Wide Shut' and several bad novels read under the covers as a teen dampened any interest or enthusiasm for the practice.

21. I say cottage cheese. You say:
I'm on a diet. It's boring, it's not fun but it's a food of some sort that's only in my fridge when I'm serious.

22. Have you ever met a celebrity?
In my three month stint as a barperson at the Savoy in London in 1991 I served a few - Liza Minnelli, Nick Faldo, Fergie. The biggest tipper was the Chancellor of the Exchequer!

23. What was the last movie that you watched at home?
Life of Brian, followed by 'The Holy Grail' - we thought that it was time for Sapphire to discover them. Luckily, she loved them both. "Brave brave Sir Robin...."

24. Is there anything sparkly in the room you're in?
The silver crackle on the inside of the Cailler branchee wrapper, bubbles in my long-forgotten glass of water and glints of light bouncing off the various camera/iPad/data sticks scattered over the desk.

25. What countries have you visited?
England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Spain, The Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Indonesia (well, just Bali and Ubud if I'm totally honest), Malaysia, Germany, Singapore,Luxembourg. Oh and Switzerland now.

26. Have you ever made a phone call while you were drunk that you've regretted? If yes, do tell.
I don't think so....... or if I did, I honestly don't remember it. I do remember, during O-week at first year uni staggering back to a friend's room and trying to write down the next day's timetable for introductory lectures. The next day I slept in, felt utterly sick and missed them all which was a good thing because what was written down was utterly illegible - not even sure it was in English.

27. Bacon or sausage?
Bacon. Always bacon. Sausages are full of a heap of stuff and then, maybe, a bit of iffy meat so they're best avoided.

28. How long have you had a cell-phone?
My first was in 1998 when I was pregnant and LC wanted to make sure that I was always in contact. I had it for another couple of years after that and always felt really embarrassed by it because it was the last of the brick-sized phones. Since then I've gone for the simplest and cheapest because I hate SMSing and all that fiddly stuff.

29. Who invented chop sticks?
The song or the eating utensil? If it was the song, my mother would personally like to kill them. Her one and only rule when playing her piano was that Chopsticks was never, ever to be featured on her hallowed ivory keys.

30. Who are you going to be with tonight?
Sapphire and Milly at home as Love Chunks is in Washington for work. I was going to take Sapph to an Aboriginal art exhibition at the UN, but forgot to send in an RSVP in time and the security is so tight that it was too late to put our names on the security-checked list. So home it is. Then again, home is the best nightspot in the world with friendly locals, comfortable clothing and food and amenities close to hand.

31. Are you too forgiving?
Maybe. Although I've found that I've been furious and rock-hard angry over some incidents in life and very understanding about others. In hindsight it can be pretty interesting to think back on what was unforgivable and what was eventually OK.

32. When was the last time that you were in love?
Still am. Coming up to nearly nineteen years and counting.

33. Tell us about your best friend.
I wish there was an 's' after 'friend' - Love Chunks is my favourite boy friend.
Jill I've known since I was two days old. She's strong, beautiful, smart, funny, kind and interested in others. Just writing about her makes me smile and wish that she was sitting right here so that I could give her a hug and put the kettle on.
Milly might be a dog, but she spends more time with me than any other (visible) living creature.
And Sapphire. Darling daughter and terrific company.

34. What was the stupidest thing you learned in high school?
Algebra, sewing (I left Home Economics still unable to thread a bobbin into a sewing machine) and every single PE class.

35. What was the last thing that you cried about?
Being here in Geneva, trying to find my 'place'. It's a work in progress for me and the language barrier means that English is hard to find, as is reading matter and someone to provide you with information or the services you need. I worry about whether I'll find paid work here or what my real role is but it passes and I realise that yes, I am emotional and double yes, a huge worrier.

36. What was the last question you asked?
"Where's the squirrel?" Milly had stopped in her tracks, barked excitedly and yep, sure enough, there were two squirrels playing in the branches above.

37. Favorite thing to do this time of the year?
Almost springtime in Geneva, so it's still new to me. Open the living room windows as the heating is still on but the sun is amplified through the glass. Admire the view from both sides of our building (Jet D'eau from the bedrooms, Jura mountains from the living room). Eat the berries that are now appearing in the shops. Sleep with just a thin blanket. Take Milly for a walk in the mornings without having to wear a beanie or gloves.

38. If you had to get a (or another) tattoo, what would it be?
I'm not a fan of anything visible or words so I'm not sure. If I *had* to (ie forced at gunpoint), I'd love to work out how to have the Southern Cross put on but in a way that showed I love my origins but am NOT a bogan redneck. Not sure if that's possible though......

39. How would your best friend describe you?
Not sure - I've put her through the wringer over the years. Maybe quirky, chatty and determined? Food obsessed? Worrywart? Lovable odd ball?

40. Have you ever seen the Twilight films?
The first three, sigh. Sapphire has read all the books and yes, I took her to see the movies. Just like Mills and Boon for teens and, bad writing/acting aside, Ms Meyer is really advocating hanging on to your virginity for as long as you can - any wonder that parents are buying the books for their kids? What a relief it was when 'Breaking Dawn Part I' came out and Sapphire said that she was 'over it' and happy not to see it.

41. Ever walked into a glass door?
Many times. Not hurt myself though, just my pride.

42. Have you ever slapped someone?
As a kid, yes. Having two brothers means that a slap - as well as a good dead leg, hen peck and typewriter maneouvre - is part of the job description.

43. What hair style (for you) would you like to see return?
Mia Farrow / Jean Seberg / V for Vendetta-era Natalie Portman. I'm too old to be bothered with long hair.

44. What was the last CD you bought?
It would be too many years ago to remember - it's all itunes now, baby. Then again, we did put our CDs into storage before moving here as it was too hard to part with them.

45. Do looks matter to you?
To a point. No-one wants to run away screaming from the person with an enormous gaping nostril where their eyes should be, but someone who spends more time preening or rearranging their jeans to defy the laws of physics so that half their undies are on display but they can still walk is just as much of a worry.

46. What's the hardest bill to pay every month?
The rent, which eats up 40% of our income. Considering that our kitchen, bathrooms, wall tiles and floor coverings are all originals from 1970 it seems very steep. Living in a city that profits so handsomely from UN and overseas workers can really sting at times, especially when locals assume that we're all on enormous salaries***

47. Do you like your life right now?
Yes. LC is enjoying his job; Sapphire is happy with school and her group of mates and I feel as though I've got a group of friends I can rely on and have fun with. An income would be nice too, but I'm learning that it'll come when it comes.....

48. Do you have good vision?
Perfect. Never had a problem, but my mother has glaucoma so I have to get it checked regularly.

49. Where was your facebook picture taken?
In Luxembourg by Sapphire, with my ski parka zipped up as far as it would go. LC said I looked like a bear's gynaecologist.

50. Can you waltz?
Vaguely, but need to led. All forms of dancing - old, modern, drunken or utterly sober - scare me to death.

51. Do you have a job?
Kinda sorta. Freelance stuff that pays very little but does occupy my grey matter and my time. Have also won a position as an English tutor but now need some kids to tutor. Is it wrong to be hoping for a couple of kids in Geneva to be currently flunking badly enough for their parents to seek out my services?

52. What was the most recent thing you stole?
Some gorgeous-smelling shampoo from the Novotel in Luxembourg.

53. Have you ever crawled through a window?
YES - Jill had to shove me through their bathroom so that we could get inside her house without the key. (You can read about it here)

*** We're not.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blubbering in my birthday suit

The phone rings just as I am about to turn on the shower tap.

Naked, I dash out of the bathroom to answer it. We don't have an answering machine and it could be one of eighteen agencies/employers/UN departments/email contacts/referrals/freelance company/tutoring firms I've recently applied at with a job offer.

Nope, it's Carol. "How's Milly going, Kath?"

Carol and John very kindly looked after 'ol furry face while we were in Luxembourg. Having left their beloved fifteen year old pound pooch back in Australia with their grown up daughters, they were keen to have access to a dog for a while again.

Milly was given full run of their house, taken on the bus, on outings to Chillon Castle and Nyon and enjoyed lots of walks and attention. You couldn’t find two nicer people to leave your dog with – she had just as good a holiday as we did.

Therefore it was merely bad luck and unfair timing that Milly developed a bladder infection and no matter how many times I tried to reassure Carol, she was acutely apologetic. “It’s OK, Carol. Milly is likely to have had it before you looked after her. She’s happy and she’s eating, so it can’t be too hard on her.”

And it isn’t, really. Her basket, mattress, covers and blankets seem to rather effectively impersonate a Carefree advertisement because of their ability to ‘draw away moisture’ so she can ease her creaking body out of the bed and not be aware of the gallon of wee soaking through to the floor.

Or the carpet.

Or the puddle on the kitchen tiles that Sapphire slips in barefoot.

The apartment is festooned in just-washed dog clothes, making me marvel at how much gear a twelve kilogram animal requires. There’s a frequent lapping sound in the background as she drains her two water bowls before sitting on some enormous white dog toilet-training mats, her nose clearly dry.

Milly’s eyes widened in alarm when the vet took her temperature yesterday. The reading showed that she had a slight fever and a yellow puddle was left on the stainless steel examination table for emphasis.

The vet retaliated by injecting her twice in the back of the neck: firstly with an anti-inflammatory and then an antibiotic. With Milly’s paws back on the floor and a bill for 400 CHF in my shaking hand, he also gave me some liquid medicine that I was to syringe down her throat twice a day. “And please phone me tomorrow and tell me what her temperature is.”

My shock at the bill was temporarily forgotten. “Er, how am I supposed to do that?”

He grinned, enjoying my discomfort. “You have a thermometer, don’t you?”

“Well yes, but it’s for Sapphire and----“

“You can clean it afterwards,” he interrupted, laughing. “And yes, you slip it into her anus and not her mouth.”

“Uh huh,” I smiled in apparent agreement and said goodbye with absolutely no intention of doing that to Milly. I’m already in awe of how well she stands being probed, bled and injected without complaint, staring at me as if to say, ‘well you seem to be OK with this, so I trust you,’ so there was no way that I was going to be the one to do those kinds of things to her.

Four hundred francs. Straight onto the credit card and three weeks of hard-won freelance writing income gone quicker than free beer on a Friday.

The days’ mail wasn’t much better: a further 5750 CHF (on top of the several thousand we’d already paid) from the hospital for Sapphire’s stomach treatments late last year, 250 for a blood test done by the GP and a bill for 1000 CHF from the school to ‘reserve’ her place for next year. A thousand francs to type a kids’ name into an Excel spreadsheet.....?

I added them to the ‘Bills Due’ pile that was starting to buckle the solitary little paper clip holding them together and put them on the top of the printer. They’d just have to wait.

Emails were due to be read – what was going on in the Gillard V Rudd stoush? Did my folks have any preferences for holiday bookings when they arrived here? What were those LOLdogs up to?

Oh. Despite fulfilling all of the selection criteria and the manager agreeing several months ago that I’d be ideal for the job, they’d ‘omitted’ to inform me that, due my husband already working in their organisation, they were not permitted to offer me work. Not even from-home, two hours a week.

Same goes for a role in a different section to LC’s, editing a newsletter for roughly four hours a week. An enormous conflict of interest apparently.

UN vacancies now. Part time jobs are rarer than a supermodel with a sandwich and most require overseas travel for a third of that time. How does Burkina Faso, Mogadishu or Basra sound?   But today there was a part time job – an admin assistant on the lowest of the lowest classification level, two days a week – perfect! 

Maybe.  I would have to demonstrate a ‘thorough understanding of UN administrative procedures (via an examination) and have at least five years experience working in the UN. English and French are the two working languages, with priority given to applicants who also have German and Spanish/Arabic/Russian as a fourth language.’ Oh, right. 

Wait – wait – someone saw my freelance advert and wants me to edit their research report!

I then spent an hour reading through the ‘how to’ documentation and the attached Literature Review chapter before deciding that yes, I can do this and do it well. It’s obviously a PhD thesis and a very, very poorly-written one. He says on Skype, “I’ll pay you for an hour to see how you do, and then, if I’m happy, we’ll set up a contract for another ten hours.”

Fine by me. The hour is measured by the freelance website time-tracking device so he can see that I’m working solidly; mostly with ‘track changes’ on.

I waited for Skype to burp itself on again. ‘Oh,’ he wrote in an email ten minutes later. ‘I really like your editing, but I actually wanted you to write some stuff for me, you know, fill in the gaps so that it’s not so patchy.’

No wonder he cowardly emailed me instead of speaking to me directly. My response: ‘Peter, dearest, it’s YOU who supposedly read all of those articles and are now summarising your learnings and findings, not ME. There is no possible way I can write linking sentences or expand on studies, theses or books I’ve never read.’ I wanted to end with, ‘Unless I can share your doctorate with you?’

No response back, except the one automatically generated by the freelance company exactly three minutes later. ‘Your contract with Cheater BoyXYZ is now terminated. Total payment earned: 18USD.’

So he even went so far, as my ‘employer’, to deduct two bucks from an already bargain price.

...............“Kath? Kath are you still there?” Carol sounded concerned.

I started to blubber. “Carol, I’m sorry for crying on the phone but apart from prostitution or nannying, I don’t know what else to try to earn a few bucks here and even when I did apply for a nanny job looking after two small boys for a ten hour day, she only wanted to pay me thirteen francs an hour so that she could do her diplomat-level job." 

Milly nudged my leg. With her bladder infection rampant, I didn’t dare risk fobbing her off any longer. Besides, I’d run out of dry towels. “Gotta go Carol, Milly needs a trip to the Dog Forest downstairs.”

I de-nuded myself, grabbed The Fratman-Approved apartment-friendly kit of Wellington boots and towel and took her downstairs to relieve herself. We entered the bike storage room afterwards for me to wipe her feet clean and to change out of my boots as well as dump some papers into the communal recycling bin.

–ooooh, the edge of the squashed cornflakes box scornfully slashed a cut across my palm. It wasn’t particularly deep but blood dripped freely. “Damn!”

And this has happened before and it’ll happen again but I bent down to unclip Milly’s lead and give her ears a scratch at the exact moment she leapt up to sneak a slurp across my nose so that
CRA-A-A-CK, her rock hard head smacked into my nose.

“Poo Bum Bugger Shit Fart!” I screamed, staggering blindly about the room in pain before getting my trousers caught on the mudguard of a bicycle.

When sight was restored, it was a gruesome scene that appeared before me. Blood spatters all over the floor, the edge of the skip, the plastic bag holding my boots and Milly’s lead. Had Dexter snuck in to visit?

It’s amazing what two wet wipes can do and, fifteen minutes later, we exited the bike storage room.

On our way to the lift I saw The Fratman pushing his wheelie bucket and mop across the foyer. “Bonjour Monsieur,” I called out cheerily, idly wondering why he didn’t respond with his usual “Tres Bien” at the sight of my boots-in-a-bag and Milly’s foot towel. He seemed in a real hurry.

Back upstairs, I put off having a shower before compulsively checking my emails again.

Good news at last. No, not kids to tutor, an article to research, paper to edit or administrative work to undertake but our spare car parking spot was now officially rented to a neighbour.

I had to laugh at the absurdity of a ‘win’ that required no work or skill of my own, yet roughly equated to two hours of freelance writing. Then I had to wipe the keyboard clean - my cut was still oozing slightly.

I laughed again in the bathroom when I saw my blood-smeared face in the mirror and realised why The Fratman scuttled off so quickly...... Perhaps he does deserve a bottle of plonk or a tip this coming Christmas after all – if we can afford it!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Signs of life in Luxembourg

"Mum, you have such a childish sense of humour," Sapphire said, as we sat on the bus on our way to Vianden castle in Luxembourg.

"Yeah, well," I sniffed, "Who was it I heard playing IN MY PANTS
*** the other night with her buddies on Skype, mmmmmm?"

She's right though. When sitting here with a coffee, some chocolate and waiting for the holiday snaps to finish downloading, I realise that when the camera was in my hands, the photos seem less scenic and more, well, silly.

Admittedly, even Sapphire laughed at these chocolate bars:

And it was she who spotted the name of this cafe:

....not that we noticed anyone having a hilarious episode in there; just two old ladies having a coffee with their pomerians squabbling at their feet.

We found out later that this guy is a writer of some note. "Poor bloke, to have that as your name," said Sapphire in sympathy.

"I am NOT going to these places to eat. Ever." Like her grandfather, my daughter is a stickler for good grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Where is Wally? Or Walter, as he's known here.

This landlord might need to work on his marketing skills. After his renovations are done of course.

This one puzzled us all. Apart from a nest full of baby birds, who on earth wants second hand food?

The bus was rounding the corner as I snapped this. "Hurry up Mum! Oh for goodness' sake, it's not that funny."
Me: "Tee Hee Ruder Wee!"

She issued a loud, overly-dramatic sigh of exhausted patience. "And you wonder why I want you to stay in the car with the windows up when you drop me off at school."

How to play 'In my pants'. Just add those magical three words at the end of pretty well every sentence for cheap laughs.

For example: ""It's been an amazing year," said Adele as she received the female artist statuette from Kylie Minogue.

...can be changed to "It's been an amazing year - in my pants"

I never said it was a mature or insightful or intellectual game!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Luxembourg Locals

It was Sapphire's mid term break because the Swiss darlings need seven days off after a gruelling six weeks of term and, as luck would have it, Love Chunks was going to Luxembourg for work.

As Sapphire's school actively discourages kids being taken out of class to join their parents during term time, this coincidence was too good to pass up. So, erm, what did we know about Luxembourg, other than it was a tiny place that you could supposedly drop kick a footy from one side to the other?

Not a lot.  And yet, some things remain the same wherever we go.

Firstly, I always get asked for directions.  Within two hours of arriving, a woman approached me to find out where the museum was.  Sapphire was able to locate it on the map and show her the way.  The following day a bloke asked me in German if the train we were about to climb onto was heading to Vianden. "Yep," I nodded, when "Ja" might have been more helpful.

What usually makes a holiday something special is the locals you encounter.  We heard as much German spoken as French and found everyone friendly and helpful. The streets were even more spotless than Geneva's ....... except for the mountain of ciggie butts and dog turds on the pavements.  I spent as much time looking down in order to dodge doo-doos (which, when inspected closely, were mostly old bunched up leaves) as I did gazing at the pretty magnificent scenery.

Gotta love a gargoyle.  This was one of four festooning the lower balcony of the Grand Duke's palace, which was modestly tucked behind the main shopping drag and guarded by only two blokes who mostly had their eyes on the chocolate shop across the road.

Possibly a contributor to the preponderance of pavement poos, but this one was carrying an empty Fanta bottle.  She paused just after this photo was taken to proudly show us her prize before trotting further along the river.

This wolf was slightly less active and, despite the perspective, wasn't about to have its head bashed in by a builder's crane.

Nike, the golden goddess of victory and proudly on top of Luxembourg's main war memorial looked pretty dazzling from a distance, but up close, we felt a bit sorry for her.

Being forced to stand at a significant height in a cold country...!  Couldn't they have at least dressed the poor love in something other than the sheerest muslin and kept her dry and out of the wind?

At Vianden, there was another woman who aroused my pity.  Are they lemons or breasts? And I'm no artist, but surely that belly button is where her knees would normally be?

Close up of the bumbled boobies.  One is at viewer's eye level and the other is limply hanging to the bottom left towards the face of the puzzled greyhound below. Not sure that sub-standard plastic surgery was to blame in Greek times......

Nike isn't the only golden creature in town.

..... and the beginnings of the Carnevale weekend saw the train fill with high school kids on their way to celebrate:

Perhaps these two aren't really local, but after a week in a small country, LC and Sapphire certainly felt as though they knew their way around.  Sapphire had her camera privileges taken away temporarily and was not happy about it.

...... but she got her own back the next day with this portrait of her parents, entitled 'We're lost, aren't we?'

At the airport, I noticed a particularly unwelcoming hotel and said to Sapphire, "Oh that's an awful place.  It's loud, ugly and far too close to the airport."

Quick as a flash she grinned, shooting back with "And so are you, Mum."  Little wit bag!

Luxembourg's motto is 'We want to remain what we are.' Words to ponder on, indeed.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Follow the Yellow Whizz Road

Much has been made in the news recently of the Big Freeze affecting Europe, and Geneva is most certainly caught up in it.

We had a pretty thorough snow fall over two-and-a-half weeks ago that is still lingering on the ground, despite no extra falls since then. However with the arctic winds and the temperatures staying in the minus double-digits, the fluffy white stuff has either iced up or been blown to smithereens.

Dad confirmed that no, not even in Aberdeen, when we regularly faced the North Sea squalls and wind fresh from the Russian steppes, did we have temperatures like those we're currently experiencing here in Switzerland. I remember my mother hanging up some bedsheets to dry in the glass-house overlooking the railway line and snapping a corner off the following morning as though it was a toffee shard.

Here in Geneva, the edges of driveways and footpaths are all lined with stubborn snow. Carved by temperature, squalls and time, they each resemble jagged white rocks proudly personifying the hardy survivors of a freeze that has seen cars so iced up by the edge of Lac Leman that their owners have been instructed by the council to forget about them until March. The narrow letterbox view afforded me between the beanie pulled down over my eyebrows, scarf pulled up to my nostrils and neck puffed up with two hoodies showed that the 'rocks' look rather formal and as though they'd been deliberately arranged and painted.

Up close is a different matter and, as the days roll wind-chillingly by, the 'rocks' are now yellow from the frequent and regular whizzings of the neighbourhood dogs. Milly has given up investigating these canine stories and just adds her own on top, trotting away as her contribution steams its presence before freezing into the rest. Heaven help the hygiene of the place should there be a sudden drop in temperature.

The ground now revealed underneath the ice is bone dry, as is the air we walk through, breathe and live in. As a born-and-raised South Aussie gal used to 'dry' heat of 43C in summer that sucks the moisture from your eyeballs the moment you step out of the back door, this wintry, cold-snap dryness is a new one.

There's a tickling on my lips when I'm out in the mornings with Milly. It feels as though some tiny bugs want to settle there. I brush them away ineffectually with my gloves and it's only afterwards when treated to a view of myself in the lift's mirrors that I see that the 'bugs' are in actual fact just thin strips of dangling skin. Having never been endowed with Angelina Jolie-like lips, it now appears that my two Kenneth Branagh pencil lines have enough material to transform themselves from a slashed cakehole entrance to a peeling fringe.

Further examination shows the salty trails of tears that have since dried up in the wind. I'm not the only sad bugger out on the streets. Everyone else is crying too, dabbing at their eyes before the howling breeze whips the tissue out of their hands and sends it on to Paris. I've had more conversations with passersby during this cold snap than in any other time during my seven months here. It's not particularly eloquent though - usually we wipe the moisture from our eyes and an involuntary "Oooofff!" escapes us as we react to yet another breeze that punches the kidneys and shreds the mouth.

The worst effect, however, is not my small-shaped head looking like a grey polar-fleece penis in its beanie, nor my torso as a parka-covered homage to the Michelen Man. It's my nose.

Little did I know it, but the animated conversation I had with Francine in the park as her beloved black lab again attempted to hump Milly was conducted with frozen snot smeared across my cheek in a wind-blown zig-zag a drunken snail would have been proud to call its own.

Ah winter. The perfect opportunity to hide one's flab but not one's fluids.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dough dodgers

 We might be living in Switzerland, but as Geneva is a tiny pimple that is pretty-well poked into by France, most of the foods, customs and lifestyle here is indisputably French.

Nothing more so than the bread. Long, thin baguettes comprise 99% of all bread sold and consumed in this part of the world. Crusty, fresh and flavoursome, it is designed to be bought and devoured on the same day. No preservatives are added, so twenty fours later your forgotten Pain Genovese would function better as a sturdy fence post than a breakfast option.

For those who prefer their bread in sandwiches, sliced white is usually in miserable, over-priced, over-packed and over-looked bottom floor shelves of the supermarket. It is often labelled 'American Toast,' and apparently lasts longer than a starlet's post-Disney career. We've learned the hard way that this stuff is to be avoided - anything made by the Swiss to cater for a populace they're unfamiliar with tastes like, well, it's been made by a country that hasn't a clue. See peanut butter and anything labelled 'Asiatique' for other sad examples.

Back to bread. If you're not prepared to spend fifteen francs on a filled baguette for lunch, then do what most of the locals do - buy it fresh from the boulangerie and eat it plain and straight out of the bag. Simple but delicious and all the crumbs are left on the pavement behind you.

So what do people do with the bread that's as rigid as Robin Hood's arrow stash the next day? They dispose of it, of course, but not usually in the rubbish.

Because it's winter here, they're more likely to festoon the gardens of their apartment complexes, public parks and green footpaths with their doughy remnants, roughly torn into chunks and scattered at the base of bushes and tree trunks. Birds and squirrels no doubt owe their survival to the bakers' collective aversion to preservatives.

So do domestic dogs. Milly's and my morning walks are often interrupted with many stops. Not just to wee over the signatures of other canines or to sniff for squirrels and the leavings of Crapauds, but to scoff the bread that's spread out like a stale smorgasbord seemingly every step of our journey.

And if it's not baguettes, we've also discovered vol-au-vent cases, Jewish matzo bread, paninis, pain de beurres and croissants. Milly returns home looking like a furry orange barrel with flecks of flour adoring her satisfied whiskery chin.

In our own garden, what we lovingly and gratefully refer to as The Dog Forest has an abundance of trees and very little usage by the other apartment dwellers. It is mostly Milly's private playland to run, parade, sniff and dump in as she desires. 

Recently however, someone has been sneaking into our pet paradise and leaving not just bread, but also apples and nuts for the Dog Forest fauna. Seeing Milly munch on almonds that were intended for the squirrels had me wondering not who the person was who was kind enough to leave them, but how on earth they a) could afford almonds and b) use them merely for fauna food. The apple quarters are usually only left by Milly because they're frozen solid, but on our next visit they've already been nibbled clean, leaving just the translucent peel behind.

The resident fox has also been in action, managing to snaffle a slow moving pigeon every other day. She leaves just the wings behind with feathers still on and a smear of blood in the snow. Yet again, this is frozen solid by the time we get to the scene and I'm relieved again that my furry companion is far too cold to contemplate rolling in these leftovers.

Back upstairs, Milly's coat is unzipped, her lead put away and my various layers are removed. She stares up at me, eyes asking for breakfast. "You've GOT to be kidding me, dog - you've just eaten a bakery display case followed by several nut clusters!"

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Six thousand, two hundred and five days

On Sunday, Love and Chunks and I celebrated being married for seventeen years.

Come to think of it, 'celebrate' isn't the right word. We noted its passing, smiled at each other, murmured 'Happy Anniversary' and got on with the day.  It's not one of the officially-recognised Big Ones, so there was no paper or copper or tupperware or ruby-themed gifts.

Like the wedding itself, the day was not one full of whizz bang sparkles, string quartets, satin-clad attendants or long speeches. The dress cost a total of twelve dollars for the material and Dad walked me out of the front door, down the driveway and into their magnificent back garden.  Ironically the hat cost ten times more than the outfit but stayed on my head for the grand total of two minutes before being blown off by the blasted Murray Bridge wind.

For someone known as being a bit of a clown and a show-off, no-one was more surprised than me at how nervous I felt.

I wasn't frightened about being married to Love Chunks at all but was terrified at having everyone's eyes on me. I wasn't a cute little size zero in sequinned lace who had always dreamed of wafting down the aisle to gasps of envy and amazement but was instead a puffy and becoming-sick* 26 year old who felt unglamorous, unable to smile and with all her intestinal workings frozen. That's why the only photo we've got framed is the one above; a rare shot of me looking happy instead of grim.  It's probably because I was staring at my brand new husband.

Three and a half years later, I had beaten the brain tumour, confounded the medicos and was pregnant with Sapphire.

From the very first moment we 'met', I've been dazzled at my first sight of her every day. Twelve years later finds that this hasn't changed in the slightest and I have to remind myself to actively listen to what she's saying instead of just thinking, "She's truly dazzling. How on earth did we make her?"

She says, "Thank god you've got Milly the dog, Mum, or you'd be hugging and kissing and pestering me even more than you already do."

We've had some terrific holidays together and there are no two finer people I'd want by my side when things get tough, hilarious, puzzling, adventurous, relaxing, sad, intense, chaotic and contented.

One of the many things I appreciated about LC was that we fell in love when I was the least attractive 'catch' in all senses of the word.

I was two stone overweight after living in London; owed a small fortune on my credit card with little chance of paying it off in a reasonable time frame; had no idea what sort of career path to pursue and drove a burnt orange 1971 volvo and regularly wore a dark green paisley-patterned corduroy shirt that he hated. "Bend over and touch your toes, Kath. Yep, like that. Now I've got a table and a table cloth."

The shirt didn't come when we moved in together, but neither did his speedos or black shellsuit pants.  From having a bathroom with a hole in the wall, snot-coloured carpet and a windsurfer stored where the spare bed should have been we've since moved to three different states, lived in seven different houses and, currently, our second country.

Like Sapphire he too constantly dazzles me. From small-but-considerate things like making me a cup of coffee every morning to picking up the shattered remains of a breakdown, he's been strong, understanding, tolerant and, most importantly of all, exceedingly kind. Those blue eyes are as variable in colour as the sky and it's impossible for me to get tired of looking into them.

Most people don't list 'kind' as a key quality they seek in a partner. You normally see 'a good sense of humour, reasonable looks, steady job and reliable' on the list, but kindness is essential for a life well-lived and loved. LC personifies kindness to me.

He has always been able to see beyond my Potato Face and inability to wear make up without looking like a bruised clown and I'm fully aware that when we watch terribly tacky video shows of old ladies falling over in creek beds and kids doing major stacks on their bikes, he gets more entertainment from laughing at me because I am genuinely unable to control the hoots and shrieks that burst out of my mouth.

He hasn't landed himself a style icon or a wealthy careerist either, but he's appreciative of my efforts to create a clean(ish) house, a full pantry and a social life and is always supportive of my various writing projects and enjoys watching how Sapphire and I muck around together as equals.

THIS is what he comes home to most nights...

...... and I'll be forever grateful that he does.  I love you, LC.

* Brain tumour was diagnosed three months after we were married.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Tapping out a tantrum

I've met a few inspirational people in the past couple of weeks and despite their differences in age, humour, interests and circumstance, a theme has emerged: give yourself permission to say 'no'.

So I've decided to say 'no' to formally learning French. There. It's out, finally: like a satisfying session on the toilet, it's a big load off.

Before arriving in French-speaking Switzerland, I bought a couple of DVDs, two textbooks and researched online. There was no way that I was going to be a 'Garcon? Garcon? Geez you can't get good local help here' kind of harridan. Au contraire; I was going to immerse myself, blend in, be at one with the language, culture and people. Learn and absorb, gather and grow; suck it and see.

But plans and assumptions are like market-stall underpants - they disappear up your butt when you least expect it. Once Sapphire started school and our holiday tutor selfishly returned to her law studies in English, my French learning ended.

Then Sapphire got sick and I missed the two-second window to enrol in the UN French courses for 'epouses' for the 'bargain' cost of 800 francs. When the new year arrived my attentions were on snow skiing, holidaying, eating, drinking, socialising and dallying with The Fratman, all thoughts of learning online for an hour every day crumpled up into a smaller ball than the screwed up foil on a family-sized block of Cailler chocolate.

Getting some new freelance writing gigs has also filled up the tiny space left in my brain for active thought or expansion. When I'm out walking Milly and thinking up different ways to describe farts, French people and bread rolls, how can there possibly be enough remaining mental energy to remember the seven different ways to say 'I am, you are, we are, they are', let alone describe what the people depicted in the 'I am, you are, we are, they are' scenarios are actually doing?

Which brings me to yesterday. The plumbing firm finally arrived to check out the pong in Sapphire's bathroom and the leaky kitchen sink. "We 'ave found one who speaks Anglaise," Monsieur Steiner told me over the phone. I thanked him effusively which always tends to help. Exceeding gratefulness makes even the most stern-looking Swiss person thaw themselves out to crank out a vague, smug smile.

I was ready. On Love Chunks' iPad I had written a thoroughly absorbing and accurate account of what we'd done to clean the pipes/combat the bathroom smells and where the leak was occurring in the sink.

"Bonjour Monsieur! Parlez vous Anglais?"

Oh. Bugger.

I showed him the iPad, noting that stale BO, cigarettes and cheese seemed to be at war under his coat. He grunted to indicate that he'd finished reading and I pointed to the kitchen.

This is when I knew that he must be The Fratman's cousin. He rabbited on and on in French, despite me saying, "Je suis desolee, je suis Australien," over again, smiling, hoping he'd see that I wasn't trying to be rude or obstructive. All my previous gestures and charades were studiously being ignored.

In frustration he shook the tap, speaking louder. I decided to speak even louder - in English - back to him. "NO, THERE'S A LEAK UNDER THE SINK........ Oh wait, let me get the iPad and we'll talk that way............"

When I entered the kitchen with LC's black magical tablet in my hands a few moments later, Ponce Pants the Plumber rolled his eyes and sighed, muttering something quite lengthy that I knew was something about wasting his time, me being an ignorant idiot and him with his fish-finger sized-digits meant that there'd be no way he'd be able to type anything other an 'asd' when he only wanted the 's'.

At his rather obvious impertinence, I decided to keep talking in English, knowing that he didn't understand, "Yeah well I'm sorry this is an inconvenience for you, but you read my explanation; I pointed out where the pipe is loose and yes, it's annoying that you have to wipe your hands on your pants before trying to type something for me, but that seems to be life for us both at the moment, doesn't it....."

Tappita tappita tappita I went, my anger increasing my typing speed.

He read it and sighed, placing the iPad on top of the stove hot plates and slowly s-l-o-w-l-y picked out the letters. 'The tap is loose is not your pipe.'

Tappita tappita tappita 'The tap might be loose also but the pipe is leaky too - take a look at how it can pop open - it has done this already and water has leaked all over the floor'

Still he made no move to bend down and peer under the sink. Trying to calm down, I ruffled Milly's ears as she stood by and sniffed at the Ponce Pants' pungent work boots. 'I will order new tap. We call you.'

"But what about the leak?" I said this out loud, before Tappita tappita tappita, this time adding several exclamation marks after the question.

'We call you.' He put the iPad down, indicating that he no longer wanted to use it. "La bains?"

Ah yes, Sapphire's bathroom. Tappita tappita tappita - long story about the terrible odour, the steps we'd taken to use drain cleaner, water flushing, keep things clean.

"Le bidet?"

"Oui. Nous laver le bidet." Tappita tappita tappita - Yes, we flush the bidet regularly because we know that when we don't use it the water can sit there and start to smell very bad.

He shook his head. "Vous devez toujours l'eau de rin├žage dans le bidet."

What? I handed him the iPad. He shook his head.

It was my turn to sigh. "Look buddy, I don't understand what you're saying; I've waited three weeks for an appointment to be made and most mornings Sapphire is afraid to open her mouth to clean her teeth in case the aroma jumps in and makes her vomit, so please use the iPad." I thrust it at him again. I swear he was typing even slower this time, just to make me sweat. 'You need to clean the bidet.'

Tappita tappita tappita - 'But I told you that we DO clean the bidet - regularly! I flush it with water all the time!' My furious fingers were flying and Ponce Pants noted my speed with a tiny skerrick of admiration.

Raising both hands up in the world-recognised, 'Ok, whatever you say, lady' gesture, he set to work in the bathroom. I huffed off into the study and Tappita tappita tappita-ed on some freelance stuff. Sounds of monkey wrenches on tiles, running water and Milly's paws on the floor rang out as she oscillated between her Angry Alpha Female and Ponce Pants.

An hour later he stood at my doorway, grunting. 'Termini.'

I brushed past him and swept into her bathroom. The pong had gone!

"Merci! Tres bien! Merci monsieur!" My smile and gratitude were genuine.

He pointed to the base of the toilet and then to the iPad. Yes, he wanted to use it. 'Toilet base is loose. See if this is OK and if not, I come back.'

I nodded. "OK, thank you."

He nodded in response and typed again. 'And back with new kitchen tap.'


The leaky pipe can wait. Sapphire can use her bathroom again; the basin under the sink pipe manages to catch most of the drips and Ponce Pants smiled at me before he left.