Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 26

With the days warming up over here, Summer is knocking on the back door, waiting to get in, which means all Europeans’ minds are turning towards one thing: the holidays. While things are improving in Austria in regards to the COVID restrictions — shops are reopening with strict guidelines in place regarding masks and the number of customers allowed inside at one time (it’s progress!) — the idea of being able to go on the usual beach holiday is still pretty much out of the question. As a consolation prize, the Austrian government has announced that travel to Germany and the Czech Republic may be allowed, but given that these locations are basically cookie cutter countries to Austria, at least in terms of topography and landscape, this is not proving to be a particularly exciting prospect for many Austrians. I imagine it’s a bit akin to booking an AirBnB only to find out it’s your neighbour’s house. It’d be interesting for a day, and for sure you’d snoop through their stuff for a while, but then you’re just staring at the same scenery from a slightly different perspective. 

More and more this holiday season, it’s looking like any vacation will have to be of the internal variety. But maybe, with a bit of imagination, it’s still possible to replicate the travel experience from the comfort of your own home. Let’s see what we’re working with:

THE JOURNEY

In order to truly capture the thrill of the flight, my first suggestion would be to find the most uncomfortable chair in your house, the one you keep in the basement or shed and every time you look at it you think “I should really throw that out” before closing the door and leaving it there forever. Set this chair up facing a wall or directly behind where your partner is sitting; the key component is to ensure there is only so much space between yourself and the object/person in front of you that your legs remain constantly bent at a 45 degree angle. 

For the next twenty-four hours, give yourself that real jetsetter experience by remaining in the chair at all times and doing nothing but eating reheated food and watching a collection of movies that never really interested you before, but will do to pass the time. 

For additional authenticity, every time you get up to go to the bathroom, spin yourself around a few times. This will ensure you get that genuine dizzy and slightly disoriented feeling whenever you’re sitting on the toilet. Bonus points for anyone who props up a mirror on the back of their toilet door so they can watch themselves as they do their business and consider how terrible they look. 

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THE BEACH HOLIDAY

As a landlocked country, the beach getaway is an important pilgrimage for the Austrian people, and while there’s no replacing the real deal, it is possible to create a poor facsimile of the real deal. Begin by coating the floor of your bathroom with fine-grained white sand, the type that feels soft and warm beneath the soles of your feet and pressing up between your toes. If your access to sand is limited, cat litter is readily available at most supermarkets.

Set up an electric heater in the room to simulate the tropical warmth you are used to finding at the beach. A tan is essential to ensure you look and feel the part, so sit as close as you can tolerate to the heater until you can feel your skin literally baking. When it is the colour of a freshly cooked spit roast pig, you’ll know you’re ready to strut your stuff.

Next, fill the bathtub with lukewarm to cold water and tip in as much salt as is available in your home. You’ll want enough to ensure that the fashionable second degree burn you have just acquired will sear upon contact with the water and that you will emerge with eyes as red as your skin. For additional authenticity, throw in strips of the slightly sludgy lettuce you forgot was in your crisper, as well as any old plastic bottles or bandaids you have in the trash.

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THE WILDERNESS GETAWAY

For many of us, a holiday is all about communing with nature. This experience can be replicated in the home with just a little effort. Begin by surrounding yourself with any and all house plants that you may own and try sparking up a conversation. Congratulations, you are now communing with nature. If you continue to the point that the plants begin to talk back, you have gone too far.  

Exposure to wildlife is also a big part of a wilderness getaway. Alex and I have taken up the pastime of attempting to lure the local cats up onto our balcony or in through the front door. While your neighbours may view this as the kidnapping of their beloved pets, you’ll know you are just doing your part to love and support the native fauna. If you start seeing “missing pet” signs being hung around your apartment block, you have gone too far.

A picnic on the bed is a great way to enjoy some rustic eating. Buy some bread and dips, some cheese and meat, be sure to remove any cats you may have trapped in the bedroom, and tuck into some wholesome food. If you can’t remember the last time you ate anywhere except the bed and wake up with salami slices stuck to your skin and ants in the bedding, you have gone too far.

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Those essential elements to a vacation are obtainable with a little out-of-the-box thinking, at least enough to fool that internal travel bug long enough until the world is once again open for business. And if all that fails, pop up any and all of your travel shots as a slideshow on your television, sit as close as possible, and get drunk off home-made cocktails. Before too long, you’ll forget where you are entirely and fall asleep to views of the beach. Just like on a real holiday.

Tomorrow: Writing.

P.S. For a, possibly, more enjoyable virtual vacation, check out Sir David Attenborough’s interactive tour of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: http://attenboroughsreef.com/

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 25

Over the past five years I have lived a rather mobile life. In many ways, I maintained three places of residence: London, Vienna, and Melbourne. Granted, my time in Melbourne was far less than that of the other two locations, but given that all my junk still fills a bedroom in my brother’s house, that some of my mail is still delivered there, and that Damian and Holly still refer to the room as “Jono’s room” despite the fact that they live there alone and have done so for five years now, I claim squatter’s rights. 

Unsurprisingly when attempting to stretch oneself between three countries of habitation, I have become very familiar with the various modes of transportation available in this modern age. Between long haul international flights to and from Australia and Europe, and regular smaller flights skipping across from London to Vienna, I have mastered the process of moving through an airport while allowing for time to drop off luggage, get through passport control and customs with some minutes allotted for a good frisking should the need arise, have myself a sneaky coffee and a sandwich, and locate my gate with just enough time for a quick dash to the toilet before boarding my plane. To date, I have yet to miss a flight, however there was one close call that had me sprinting through an airport praying to a god I don’t believe in. In this instance, I joined the tailend of the boarding queue and collapsed into my seat, relief and sweat pouring out of me. A win for me but not so much for the passenger beside me breathing in the byproduct of my relief and sweat.

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While district nursing across all the compass points of London, I learned to navigate the spider web of bus, tram, and train routes, and got to see the city from this variety of perspectives, as well as to meet and mingle with the people of London, including but not limited to that one gentleman who asked if he could light my hair on fire (I declined his invitation, for anyone wondering). To date, I have absolutely missed buses, and trains, and trams, and gotten myself so horrendously lost that I found myself wandering through industrial and distinctly creepy parts of London in the very early hours of the morning (for a full accounting of this occasion, please refer to LIFE IN LONDON #01).

The past few years has bred in me a distinct animosity towards these various modes of transportation, of being crammed in with strangers, the delays and cancellations, and of being herded here and there like cattle, the chewing habits of my co-commuters helping to complete this image. But, as is always the way when a viral pandemic sweeps across the world, now that the object of my disdain has been taken away from me, I find myself longing for those earlier golden days. Much like after a break up, I catch myself romanticising those elements that previously drove me mad. Oh, to be back in that train carriage, the moist armpit of an overweight passenger crammed in beside me hovering centimeters from my face, wavering ever closer as people attempt to push in despite the fact that there’s scarcely room to breath as it is. Not that I was breathing all that deeply, what with the armpit. Oh, the glory of moving with my community.

One of the highlights of my train trip into work used to be as the U2 trundled across the Danube River. I would look up from the meditative trance I had put myself in in order to pretend that I was in a quiet rainforest instead of squeezed in next to all the other morning commuters, and soak in the view of the winding water reflecting the colours of the rising sun and bracketed by the city of Vienna and the mountains perched behind it. It made me feel lucky to live in this city. I miss that.

Vienna

As an expatriate, the other thing I miss about transportation since the worldwide lock down is access to said world. It’s not always easy to be the one whose homeland it isn’t, to not get the references everyone else around you grew up with, to not always know the culturally appropriate thing to say (I have learned that Australians come on strong with the niceness and it can be confusing and unnerving to Europeans when we talk to a stranger like they’re already our mate), to miss your own country, and family, and in-jokes, and landscapes, and food, and friends. It was a comfort to know that, technically, if it all got too much, I could board the next plane out and be back amongst all the things and people I miss within twenty-four hours. I mean, super expensive buying a ticket that last minute, but technically possible.

Knowing that that option is no longer there is scary. For the first time since moving overseas, I truly feel cut off from my family. Already, trips away to see them have had to be cancelled and the reality is, I don’t know when I’ll next see them in person. In a time of uncertainties, that uncertainty is proving to be the hardest to live with.

So I’m just taking it one day at a time. Thinking about the unknown quantity of time between now and a future reunion doesn’t do me any good, so instead I just focus on the next twenty-four hours. I keep eating overnight oats and doing yoga with my wife. I keep writing silly blogs and going for strolls in the evening, thankful to have Alex in all of this. I keep messaging and video calling and sharing photos with my family so I can feel them close even if they are, in fact, far away. 

And I’ll keep doing this until enough days have passed that I can once again be herded like livestock through the maze of an airport, be packed in with all the noisy and smelly passengers, sit in those cramped seats and eat that crappy food, and do it all with a smile on my face, grateful for the miracle that is transportation, and ready to see my family at the other end.

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Tomorrow: Vacationing.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 16

Here in Vienna, Spring is descending on us like a soothing balm. The days are getting longer, the temperature is getting warmer, birds are singing, flowers blooming, and we are stuck inside looking out, resenting all of it.

When the restrictions started, the weather was still cold and we had a week of icy winds and intermittent rain. We all smirked to ourselves and laid back on our couches, thinking “Stay inside all day? Okay, government, if you insist”. But now that the world has spun a little further along its orbit and the season is changing, this deal we struck is no longer sitting quite so comfortably.

With society stuck sitting in a timeout and the tempting outside and all the things we used to enjoy about it being denied to us, to me it comes down to how we use what we still have. It’s all about maximising on The Great Indoors. 

Alex and I share a one-bedroom, 65m2 apartment, equipped with the usual kitchen, bathroom, toilet, living room, and, to ensure we can still have a taste of fresh air and don’t go mad and attack each other after succumbing to claustrophobia, a balcony. But, when viewed from the right perspective, it can become so much more. Let me take you on a tour.

Let’s start with the couch. Ours is a three-person grey chaise lounge, which, should the situation call for it, can be converted into a bed. This situation arises when we have international guests staying with us for a stretch or we feel like being extra snuggly. Since the start of the lockdown, we have discovered just how versatile this seemingly simple piece of furniture can be. For the past three weeks our couch has functioned as a restaurant, La Patate de Canapé (it just translates to the Couch Potato, but sounds a lot classier in French). Here we dine on the most exquisite of foods, enjoying the comfortable homey atmosphere and sparkling conversation. The only downside is that this restaurant insists you cook your own food and clean up after you’re done. Fricken meta restaurants. 

The couch is also our theatre, where we sip on wine and indulge in the finest cinema that Netflix has to offer. It is an intellectual salon where we discuss and debate such hotbed topics as the global financial situation, America’s healthcare system, and whether I should shave off my beard (Alex is the most passionate about the latter and is strongly opposed). And, when necessary, the couch acts as a place where Alex can nod off for a spell. These power naps of hers can last anywhere between ten minutes and two hours. She never knows going in, so it’s always a gamble.

Couch

But the functionality of our limited space doesn’t begin and end with the couch, we also have an entire living room floor which can transmogrify into an array of locations. This section of flooring, whose purpose is normally only to create enough distance from ourselves and the television, has become our morning yoga studio where our bodies stretch and bend (or don’t, depending on the pose). It acts as our gaming centre where we pit our word skills against one another across the arena of the scrabble board. I win about fifty percent of the time. I try not to let the fact that Alex speaks English as a second language ruin those victories. (We also used to play the card game “Spit” in our games centre, but it turns out I have a preternatural ability to win that game and that Alex has the preternatural ability to summon the rage of a berserker when losing, so we don’t talk about that game in our house anymore.) 

The floor can also be a massage parlour, a dance floor, and, when necessary, it acts as a place where Alex can nod off for a spell. Girl really loves her naps.

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Let me now take you through to the water closet, and on this part of the tour I must ask that you refrain from using flash photography. The porcelain throne is a wonderful place to get some me-time, offering a quiet getaway where one can delve into a book, catch up on the rest of the world with a good scroll through instagram, finally answer those messages from friends and family you’ve been meaning to get to, or just sit in the silence with your thoughts for a while. And, if the situation calls for it, eliminate bodily waste. 

Toilet

With a little creativity, the right perspective, and a dash of quarantine-induced madness, our humble abode has the potential to become anything we need it to be. I recommend you take the time to explore the mysteries and see the sights of your own Great Indoors while we all wait for the world to spin a little further in its orbit to that point in the future where we are free to roam outside again together.

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Tomorrow: Art.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 15

Well, here we are in the fourth week of social isolation and despite the utter weirdness of it all, despite saying a thousand times to just about everyone I encounter “it’s just so weird”, the human ability to habituate to a situation is kicking in and it’s all starting to feel…normal. Which only makes sense, in a way, as this is now, on a global level, the new normal. 

It’s starting to feel normal to be in my apartment for twenty-three hours a day, every day, conducting all facets of my life from this vantage point like a spider in its web. Only, you know, without all the creepy cocooning and liquifying insects thing. 

It feels normal to have an office station set up where our dining-room table used to be and to eat every meal from our laps on the couch (to be fair, eating on the couch was a pretty regular occurrence in our house, so that bit didn’t take quite so much adjustment). 

It’s now feeling so normal to exclusively wear sweatpants that I am almost dreading the day when I will be asked to wear stiff slacks again that do not have happy and forgiving elastic in the waist.

Part of this readiness to accept the normality of it all is that there are perks amongst the sacrifices of a lockdown. I like being with my wife everyday. There’s a reason I picked her, beyond her mean culinary skills and cute butt, and that is because I like her. I like her company. She is my best friend and makes a great COVID buddy.

I also like not having to catch the U-Bahn every morning. Even before the threat of catching the coronavirus, squishing up to random members of the public was not a favourite pastime of mine. These days I can have a short lie in, slide into my well broken-in sweatpants, and walk down the hall to my place of work. The only person I have to squish up to is Alex and that is a favourite pastime of mine. 

I like talking to my family more. With everybody trapped indoors, they’re not out doing things away from their computers (like crazy people), which means the window where I can see and communicate with them is much wider. I have unfettered access to them, they have no excuse to decline, so it’s a win win!

Of course, a lot of aspects of our new normal are hard. While a video chat can scratch an itch, it’s no replacement for the real thing. This weekend, Alex’s friend Christina very kindly offered to swing by and deliver us some raspberry tiramisu that she had made (and ladies and gentlemen, it tasted as good as it sounds). We had been baking ourselves (another perk of living in the time of COVID: a surplus of home-made baked goods) and so we arranged for an exchange of merchandise. But, with restrictions in place, this exchange, of course, had to take place as carefully as possible.

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The sense that we were dealing drugs was stronger than ever (only better, because instead of drugs we got tiramisu). We buzzed Christina into the building while waiting behind the front door, watching through the peephole as she came and laid the product on our doormat. Once she had taken the required three steps back, we opened the door, snatched our score, and deposited our own goods to the mat before retreating into our hallway. Christina scanned the area, saw the coast was clear, and made the grab. We traded waves and greetings and then she was out of the building, off to deliver goods to her next customer. 

Now normally when Christina comes by we don’t leave her standing out in the hall like a leper begging for scraps, but instead invite her in, give kisses to cheeks, share a coffee, and generally behave like people who actually care about one another. But this is not normally, this is the new normal.

A recent aspect of the new normal that is proving hard to swallow is the latest measures announced by the Austrian government. As supermarkets are the last bastion of social interchange and, therefore, virus interchange, the government decided to do what they could to shore up this weakness without having to close them down all together. They have stated that only a limited number of customers will be allowed in supermarkets at any given time, that all surfaces and trolleys will be regularly disinfected, and, the pill that has the hardest time going down, everyone entering the store must be wearing a face mask.

To be clear, I admire the Austrian government for being proactive and doing what they can to demonstrate they are trying to care for their citizens. The challenging part of this situation is the sheer alienness of covering your face when in public and the apocalyptic feel that hits when everyone you see is decorated with personal protective equipment. 

The upside for Alex and I is that my mother-in-law is a whizz with the sewing machine, so, given we had to dress like it was the end of days, at least we could do it in style.

Monika made the masks with offcuts from her husband’s shirts, and as Rupert wears very nice brand-name shirts, it’s comforting to know I’m walking around in a Hugo Boss mask. Even in these trying times, I’m a slave to fashion.

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The new normal is not always a comfortable fit and bedrock change is rarely something anyone welcomes with open arms. But while we are stuck in this alternate version of reality, it’s worth focusing on the perks, on the video chats with family, avoiding sweaty commutes, having intimate time with your partner, and wearing fashionable facial accessories. 

By tolerating the hardships and allowing ourselves to see the good amongst the bad, we can navigate our way through the new normal and back out into just normal.

Tomorrow: The Great Outdoors.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 12

For those of you who may be unaware, my wife is Austrian, and therefore part of the contractual obligation to dating and ultimately marrying her was that I learn German. This prospect was initially exciting as it meant I had a valid reason to learn a second language I would actually use (apparently saying “kop-khun-krub” to the hotel staff in Thailand doesn’t count).

What I didn’t realise and therefore didn’t factor into the whole equation was how much having a strong grasp of a language empowers a person in their daily life. When it comes to English, it’s not going too far to say that I have a passing competence in its use and don’t really give a second thought to composing emails, phoning a stranger, or writing long-winded blogs about my life. 

But learning German snatched me right back to the start and suddenly, at thirty, I was having to learn everything again. This is no easy thing. Having to stand in a bakery and ask your wife to order you the donut like a kid having a day out with Mum is a humbling thing. I have been guilty of listening to our four year old nephew, Lorenz, going on about his favourite TV show and feeling flush with jealousy at his proficient German skills. I have sat and read children’s books with Lorenz and been suffused with pride that I could read the whole book. A book aimed at four year olds. Trust me, friends, learning a language will keep you modest. 

But, given that I chose to move to this country where the native tongue is German, learn I must. And given that I now find myself locked indoors with my wife who has nowhere to run when I ask her questions about German semantics, what better time is there to continue to build my language skills. And, lastly, as teaching what you’ve learnt is an excellent way to consolidate information, and given that you’re also locked in your homes and have nowhere to run, I thought I’d teach you all some German nouns to occupy your minds until the world turns back on again. You lucky, lucky things.

German

One of the first things you’ll notice is that German is a very literal language. As a novice, this facet is advantageous as the mental connections required to actually get a word to stick to the inside of your brain are already there. Let me give you an example to show what I mean. 

Say you’re an Australian visiting Austria in the winter and you discover that winter in Austria is rather cold, which is to say extremely bloody cold to an Australian to whom winter usually means wearing a jumper with the sleeves rolled down. You realise as you wander through a Christmas market that you are putting yourself at serious risk of frostbite and so set out to buy some appropriate accessories. You wish to let the shop assistant know you would like to purchase some gloves but can’t remember the German word. You can work through the following association exercise to quickly and easily arrive at the right word:

“Gloves. What are they really? Why nothing more than shoes one wears on one’s hands. In essence, they are just a pair of hand shoes.”
Gloves = hand shoes = Handschuhe.

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Now, say you are a Franz Joseph and Sissi nut (who isn’t, am I right?) and you are keen to see Sissi’s zoo. You arrive at the Vienna zoo and are suddenly exposed to an assortment of animals which you need to identify using only the German names. A daunting task, no doubt, but armed with the word for animal, “Tier”, German has you covered. Just walk through these logical and natural steps and you’ll soon find yourself speaking like a native.

“The sloth. It’s barely moving. My god, they are lazy, aren’t they? I heard they only come down out of their trees once a week to poop and they can lose a third of their body weight when they do finally defecate. Nothing more than just a lazy, lazy animal.”
Sloth = lazy animal = Faultier.

Faultier

“No way, the platypus. Cute little thing. Mad to think that it’s a mammal with a beak. Yep, that beak is a key distinctive feature of the platypus. It’s like some sort of beak animal.”
Platypus = beak animal =
Schnabeltier.

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“Check out the hippopotamus. Boy, are they big. Anyone else get the urge to ride them? Just saddle up and swim off into the horizon? I’ve always said they’re basically a horse. But, like, one that lives in the river. You know, like a river horse.”
Hippopotamus = river horse = Flusspferd. 

Flusspferd

Next, maybe, you venture into the mountains for a hike and while doing so discover the ancient remains of a hiker. You call the police and are trying to explain that you found the corpse when tripping over the skull, only, and hasn’t this happened to us all, you can’t remember the word for skull! Not a worry, just put one logical foot in front of the other and you’ll soon be arriving at the correct answer.
“Ooh, it’s like a head. Only a creepy head. One that is, like, proper dead. Like a creepy dead head.”
Skull = dead head = Totenkopf.

Totenkopf

Lastly, let’s pretend you’ve had a lovely night out on the town and finished it off by getting seduced by a local (it happens, trust me. They’re very seductive, these Austrians. They invite you over to their country and the next thing you know you’re married to one of them). The next morning you realise that in your passion you failed to use any contraceptive products. You find the nearest Apotheke (pharmacy) and need to ask the pharmacist for the morning after pill. But what’s the word? Easy, just think to yourself:
“Anti-baby pills”. And that’s it. This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
Antibabypillen = anti baby pills = the morning after pill.

Antibabypillen

It is no small thing taking on the learning of a new language and it requires accepting that you have to leave your ego at the door and look foolish from time to time. But through creating associations and using the literal nature of the German language to your advantage, soon you too could be talking as fluent as a four year old. 

You’re stuck indoors, what else are you gonna do?

Tomorrow: Cuisine.

2018/19

2018 was one for the books.

This appropriate phrase was first uttered by my brother as he, his fiancée, myself and my then-fiancée, sat in an AirBnB in New Zealand, sharing a drink and fervently wishing the clingy and slightly creepy owner of the place wouldn’t come down to his lower storey where we were residing and interrupt us again. At the time the statement was more of a prediction as 2018 had yet to happen, but the plans were laid out before us and all signs indicated that it would indeed be a year for the books. My brother was not wrong.

Of course, not everything went to plan.

I referenced my partner as “then-fiancée” because in the past year she transition from my fiancee to my wife. That was part of the plan. At the time of writing this we’ve been married for four months, but do not live together. Not even in the same country, in fact. That is the part that did not go to plan.

But I should start from the start.

 

The first half of 2018 continued as my previous few years had. I toiled in London, working stupid hours as a Rapid Response nurse, while Alex continued to labour away in her office job in Vienna. Between these activities we also planned a wedding, and by we, I mean Alex. I contributed where I could and all decisions were reached as a team, but due to the language barrier, and distance barrier, the lioness’s share of the work fell on Alex’s shoulders. She somehow managed to balance this weight of work and produced spectacular results, both professionally and extracurricularly, and for this I will be forever grateful. Luckily for me, I am now legally bonded to her and so have a lifetime to repay her kindness.

This routine continued up until July when two best friends came knocking and the first of those well laid plans for a year worthy to be one for the books was enacted. My twin brother, Damian, and his fiancée, Holly, had taken three months of leave to spend a chunk of time with us, attend our wedding, and cross as much of Europe as they could in the process. They started with Austria, and I took two weeks off to revel in their company while simultaneously completing a two-week intensive German language course. Because what fun time isn’t improved by completing a two-week intensive German language course.

Having my people come to a place they had only previously visited via video chat was like putting the last jigsaw puzzle piece in the picture that was my new home. Despite my continued residence in London, Alex’s apartment was my true home on this side of the planet, and having Damian and Holly physically present gave it a solidity, turning my European fantasy into reality.

They saw the sights and the city, and thankfully for me fell in love with it all as much as I had. But the best times we spent together were dinners around the dining table, movie nights, picnics by the river and drinks on the balcony. Domestic things not unique to Vienna, and therefore all the more cherishable because it wasn’t the location that made it special but the company.

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Damian and Holly ventured on into forests and mountains, and for a brief period life resumed its normal rhythms. Alex and I added the extra task of collecting various documents for my residency in Austria amongst work and wedding planning, each of us reaching out to assorted governmental bodies for an equally assorted list of paperwork. Each of us had to prove identities, incomes, and criminal histories, the latter of which we thankfully had none. We hoarded these documents like a squirrel hoards nuts, ready for the day we acquired the final piece of paperwork, the marriage certificate, and could put them all into action.

Then family descended upon Vienna. If Damian and Holly gave my new home solidity, then having my brother and his family, my parents and my cousin and his partner, and Damian and Holly back again, all together in the same four walls made it as firm as a foundation. Which only made sense, as the foundation of my life is exactly what all these people are.

Life became wedding centric and after bbqs and crafternoons, buck’s nights and venue decorating, the day came and Alex and I were saturated in love for each other and from our community of family and friends. The rain pushed away, sunlight poured down on us, and we had a ridiculously picture perfect wedding day, the kind you see in wedding magazines, roll your eyes at and mutter “as if.” Yeah, we were those people.

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After soaking up as much family time as possible, Alex and I ran away to Greece to get to know one another as husband and wife, while my family ventured off into unknown parts of Austria and then on into wider Europe. The year once again was living up to its reputation.

To add to the book-worthy status, 2018 also saw my beautiful sister, Angela, have her first child, providing me with an adorable new nephew by the name of Eli. For the first time in years, all of my immediate family was off from work, either through annual leave or maternity leave, and all of us were adventuring. Our family thread of messages became clogged with photos of some of the most stunning and dramatic parts of central and eastern Europe. I watched my sister be a mother through videos provided by her fiance, Ben, and met my cherub of a nephew this way. I saw my other nephew and niece, Ella and Harry, casually take to planes, exotic landscapes, and new languages and cultures as if it was just another Wednesday, getting on with it and smiling all the way with the adaptability of kids. My ongoing video messages with my older brother, Matt, became a lot more interesting as the backgrounds behind our heads transition from the same tired bedroom settings to Santorini beaches and old beautiful cities.

 

Eventually this exotic period had to end, and Alex and I headed back to reality, jetting from the Greek Islands to Vienna for too few days before I had to return to London. Despite our new status as man and wife, that alone didn’t give us any rights to reside together, and so I had to say goodbye to my bride. After three years of a long-distance relationship we are sadly well-practiced at these goodbyes, but doing it as a newly married couple came like a punch to the gut, and the wedding high evaporated as I sat on a plane and took off from the place I really wanted to be.

I submitted my application for residency at the Austrian embassy in London the next day, slipping in amongst the mountain of other documents the all important marriage certificate stating I belonged to Alex and she to me, and therefore it would be nice if we could be together for our mutual ownership. I was told it would be approximately three months until I got any sort of response, and so I returned home and picked up my routine of work, trying hard to pretend every day wasn’t a small torture of missing my wife and waiting for an email that would say I was allowed to be with her.

After about a month this wait was briefly paused when a letter arrived in Alex’s mailbox, but it was only to ask for even more documentation. Alex had queried with three different officials if the police check I provided needed be from the UK where I’d resided for the past three years, or from Australia, where I had resided for the previous twenty-eight years. All three officials scoffed and said they didn’t care where I had lived, only where I did live, and that a UK police check was all that was necessary, please and thank you.

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, that letter in Alex’s mailbox stated in no uncertain terms that we had failed to provide an Australian police check, and that we needed to do so in a timeframe of eight days. Apparently they hadn’t figured that postage time alone to get the document from Australia to Austria would exceed our allotted time, not to mention the collection of yet more documents and processing time required for the Australian government to run my background check and determine I was not a criminal. Alex contacted the residency office and explained the situation, and they very reluctantly granted us a bit more time, huffing all the while as if the delay was our fault and we were lucky to be getting the extension. How generous of them.

We resubmitted and the wait began again.

Thankfully, they arduous process was interrupted by the wedding of my best friends, the aforementioned Damian and Holly. The distraction was welcomed, and I’m sure they timed their wedding purely to give us something else to think about. They’re good like that.

Alex and I boarded a plane and flew away from our distance and our problems for a time, swapping winter for summer, her home country for mine, and landed in Australia and sunshine, and the always warm company of my family.

The next three weeks saw us visiting family and friends with the speed and frenzy of speed-daters, and amongst it all we geared up for the second wedding of the season. We also had a small sewage problem that constituted of the contents of the toilet bubbling up on the soon-to-be newlywed’s front lawn, that was ultimately remedied by diggers and the loss of the toilet the day before the wedding.

Despite this small hiccup, Damian and Holly’s wedding was a thing of beauty. Once again, the clouds rolled away, literally last-minute as the groom and I eyed the dark dripping sky on our way to the park where the wedding was to be held, a pocket of sunlight opening up and drenching the clearing with sunlight so warm a groomsman had to sit down mid-ceremony to avoid fainting. The pre-ceremony whiskey, beer, and lack of water may have also contributed to his condition.

Damian and Holly’s story was said for the benefit of the crowd and they exchanged vows so honest, so loving, so real, so silly, so thoughtful and so aptly them that there was not a dry eye in the garden, the eyes of yours truly amongst them.

The party kicked off and I danced with my family, and celebrated my two best friends legally bonding themselves to one another, and drank and laughed and sang too loud and all the good things you can do when life for the moment is just about love and nothing else. In short, the wedding was kick-ass and book-worthy.

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The three weeks passed too quickly and Alex and I found ourselves morosely packing suitcases for the return home, buzzed with the high of the wedding, but sad to be leaving when we’d just gotten into the holiday rhythms. The parting was as hard as ever, and I shed tears with my family, both happy and sad for it to hurt because as least it meant I was so lucky as to have a community who loved me and whom I loved that the distance mattered so greatly.

But I am doubly lucky, and upon touchdown we were greeted but the second community in our lives and soon celebrated Christmas with the Vienna side of our widespread family.

Throughout it all, despite my best efforts, my heart still raced every time my phone pinged announcing I had a new email. Logically I had reasoned that I wouldn’t get a response about my Austrian residency until the new year, despite the fact that the eighteenth of December marked the three-month anniversary of when the application was submitted. But every email was nothing of note, and at the time of writing this no decision has yet to be reached.

 

Which brings us back to where I started. As demonstrated, my brother did indeed prophesise correctly and 2018 was undisputedly one for the books.

But, sadly, the continued dual lodging of Alex and myself also demonstrates that not everything went to plan.

I fly back to London tomorrow, on the second of January, 2019, once again saying goodbye to my wife for a period of time. I don’t know what 2019 will hold, when residency will come and Alex and I can finally start building our life together under the same roof. I’m not setting dates in mind or making plans because it hurts too much when things don’t go according to those plans. But I know however the dust settles, 2019 will contain more family, and laughter, and problems, and solutions, and Alex, and that with our widespread community we’ll do everything we can to make 2019 one for the books.

That’s all any of us can ever do with a year.

2017/18

2017 was an exhausting year.

It was a year that found me working more hours per week than I ever thought I would. Twelve-hour days became the norm, bookended with hour long bus rides through the suburbs of London, crawling my way north over the Thames and back again, german audio courses filling my ears for the morning journey, and Alex’s voice filling them for the return trip home.

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I went in and out of a thousand patient’s homes, into apartments of squalor and into estates so grand they could have housed five families instead of the single rich elderly resident that they did. I took endless blood pressures, felt an infinity of pulses, and inserted blessedly few suppositories. Maybe around four. Not too bad, really.

It was a year that found me spending more time away from my loved ones than in any other period to date. I was away from Australia for thirteen months, and saw my partner for only three and a half days of every fortnight. I was either working or in my tiny bedroom in Tooting, where my primary activities were eating, skyping and sleeping.

It was a year where the news reports seemed determined to bend us and bow us, to convince us the world was a doomed place being run by morons and bigots. The endless stream of click-bait fed us a diet of hopelessness and negativity, and sapped already depleting reservoirs.

It was a taxing year, certainly, but don’t believe it all, because 2017 was also an exhilarating year.

It was a year that saw my brother, Damian, become engaged to his best friend, Holly. It was a year where, in an uncharacteristic display of twinliness, I also became engaged to my best friend.

My voice quavered and my hands shook, and I asked my lady a question and she gave me a lifetime of happiness by answering in the affirmative. This happiness commenced almost immediately when, at four o’clock in the morning, with both of us too juiced up with adrenaline to sleep, we sat in bed, watched TV, and ate potato chips. Perfect wife material, my friends.

It was a year that contained a visit from my parents who crossed oceans and continents to meet me, my new fiancée, and my new fiancée’s parents, in Greece. The six of us soaked in the sun and the sea of the Mediterranean, ate our body’s weight in delicious food, and shared in the excitement of the coming nuptials.

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We explored the city of Vienna, my second home, and I journeyed with my parents across the United Kingdom. My previously isolated existence was suddenly occupied, and places and streets and homes that had been segregated from my former life became infused with the flavour of family. Those lonely locations in London now carried memories of Mum and Dad, causing the loneliness to have a harder time taking hold.

The year contained adventuring as the three of us road-tripped, dipping into the wildness of the Scottish highlands and tracking the coastline of Northern Ireland. We explored the isle of Skye, trekking on foot into the beauty and fierceness of the land, standing at the crest of the Old Man of Storr and whooping into the wind that tried to uproot us from the rocky soil.

 

It was a year where I shared texts and photos and videos with my older brother, Matthew, and spoke to my sister, Angela, through computers and phones, and realised I wasn’t as cut off as I imagined myself to be.

It was an exhausting year, and an exhilarating one, and one that helped highlight the significance of each of these attributes. Because although the adventuring was eye-opening and inspiring, and it was for the adventuring that I originally stepped out of my house in Ardeer and trotted off to Europe, it was the more subdued moments that really made my year worthwhile.

It was weekends with Alex, chatting over coffee or making meals together, or doing nothing at all but sitting on the couch and watching TV, that made the hours of work slip from my shoulders.

It was sitting with Mum and Dad in an irish pub or an Airbnb kitchen and having a beer or a cup of tea, and talking as if the miles that had previously separated us and the months spent physically apart were a brief nuisance already evaporating from our memories.

It was seeing my family’s faces in my laptop and mobile, and laughing like we always do until I could have sworn they were in the room with me, our conversation creating a temporary bubble where the laws of time and space were suspended, that punctured my isolation and deflated it.

It was all these interactions, these small and intimate moments amongst the labour of work and the highs of adventuring, that made the external stressors of the rest of the world that usually hammered at my attention become nothing more than the sound of rain falling somewhere outside while I was tucked up warm indoors.

2017 exhausted me, but it also exhilarated me to learn that what I really want from my life is these quieter moments, moments with Alex, conversations with my siblings, tea with my parents. Because while the adventuring is great, and standing on a mountain in Scotland laughing and screaming into the wind will have your adrenaline racing, it’s the getting warm and dry at the bottom with someone you love that gives it significance.

So bring on 2018, a year where I will marry the woman I love and build a life with her. A year where, by the end of it, I will no longer be torn between two cities, but will finally have a home in Vienna. A year where I’ll celebrate two weddings with my family, and see my brother marry his best friend.

A year where I’ll work less, and probably adventure less, but instead make time for the quiet moments that make both things worthwhile.