Sunday, 13 April 2014

My Thoughts On Easter

One of the biggest celebrations is approaching out here in Bulgaria, and that is Easter. Many say that Easter is an even bigger celebration than Christmas. It is certainly a time for large family gatherings, which inevitably lead to parties. This year the Bulgarian Easter coincides with the UK one, which makes a change. This is because Western religions base their calculations on the Gregorian calendar, whereas the Eastern Orthodoxy utilises the Julian calendar. Easter is a moving celebration in that the date changes from year to year, unlike Christmas which is always focused on December 25th, the day when we are told that Jesus Christ was born.

Like many people of a similar age, when I was at school Religious Education was a compulsory subject, along with English and Maths. Most things that we were taught seemed either common sensically, or at least logically reasonable, and seemed to teach an ethical way to live. Now I might be in the minority here, but I have always had a problem with Easter. At school they tried to explain that Jesus Christ died on the cross, and three days later he was resurrected. This is where I begin to have problems, if the date of birth is always on such a day then surely the date of death would also be on a fixed date, and consequently the resurrection three days later.

So the church elders decided to tie everything in with the Jewish Passover celebrations, as the crucifiction, burial and resurrection all took place after Passover. Prior to 325AD it was always celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal equinox, as Jewish festivals and observances are based on solar and lunar cycles. Now in Western churches it is celebrated on the Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon.

So perhaps these Easter celebrations have many of their roots in Pagan celebrations which often tended to focus on the land and growing cycles. No-one can be sure but it seems as though the word Easter was first mentioned in the King James Bible translation, when it was substituted for the Hebrew word Pessach, which probably should have more accurately been Passover. Some historians surmise that this celebration always happened at the same time of year, and in the West Saxon dialect the month was known as Eastre. Which in turn was named after a Goddess associated with Spring and the dawn.

This Goddess was known as Eostre, and was often symbolised by a hare. The Venerable Bede wrote of his observances that in the month of, what is now April, feasts were held in Eostre's honour, by the pagan Anglo Saxons. Below is taken from Bede's book "De temporum ratione"

Original Latin:
Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes.

Modern English translation:

Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance."

When the scribes were translating the Bible into English, perhaps this is how the word Easter replaced Pessach. At the time of the Vernal Equinox the length of day is equivalent to that of the night, so people would start to focus on the world about them coming back to life. All signs of fertility. With Eostre often being represented by a Hare it is an easy step to see where the idea for the Easter Bunnie came from, especially when you consider what rabbits are best known for. Eggs are another old symbol for fertility, as so many things spring to life from a simple egg. Outside municipal buildings and on roundabouts across Bulgaria you will often see large baskets with brightly coloured eggs in. Homes throughout Bulgaria will be busy dying eggs, and they have egg fights to help promote good health. There will always be a red egg, and the thoughts behind that vary.  

Some say that it symbolises the red cloak that Jesus Christ was forced to wear as "The King of the Jews". Others claim that it symbolises the blood which was spilt when he was crucified. There is also another tale,
2 years after the resurrection of Christ, outside Jerusalem,Mary Magdalene was carrying a basket full of white eggs. She had heard the new governor would be passing there. In the middle of the road she put the basket full of the white eggs and stopped the new Governor saying:

"Welcome to Jerusalem oh Respectful Governor! I wish you will be righteous to the citizens of Jerusalem and will not be unrighteous like your predecessor Pontious Pilate. He, in vain, crucified the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He was threatened and He put Him on the Cross and He resurrected on the third day"

She explained all the miracles that He performed and His life. The governor on the horse was listening to her. At the end of the conversation he said to Mary Magdalene:
"If all the accounts you told me are true, let these white eggs that you put in the middle of the road become red. Then I will believe all you said about Jesus Christ of Nazareth."
Immediately all the eggs turned red and Mary Magdalene gave one red egg to the governor Tiberius and one she kept and said:
"Christ is Risen" and he replied: " Truly He is Risen"
From this event we have the greeting Christ is Risen and Truly is risen and also the red eggs.

Then there are also the Hot Cross buns which we all seem quite partial too. Where do they fit into things? The hot spiced buns are quite simple. In the Old Testament the Israelites are mentioned baking them for an idol, which the church leaders tried to prevent. The early church elders were forever trying to prevent various sacred cakes from being baked, with no luck. So a way was found to fit them in with the new Christian religion, and make the new converts more amenable with somethings which were familiar. Some say that the cross signifies the cross of the crucifixion, others that it is to do with the star constellation the Soutern Cross or  even the four quarters of the moon, it all seems to be a matter of what the individual is comfortable with. 

Lamb is the main meat eaten by Bulgarians at this time of year. Again could that have something to do with fertility as young lambs are now being born. Perhaps it is to do with Passover when every first born was meant to die. The Jews were spared because they sacrificed a lamb, and the blood of the lamb was marked on their doors to signal to the angel of death. Was Jesus Christ not also known as the lamb of God, and wasn't he also sacrificed?

It just all seems so jumbled, with bits taken from here, borrowed from there and wedged in from somewhere else. Even the idea of resurrection occurs in many other religions and mythologies. The sunrise services, welcoming the dawn do seem very pagan, and much being based around the Jewish observances, which were mainly either lunar or solar based, also seems at odds with things. Who am I to say? Whatever your beliefs or thoughts may you enjoy yourselves with loved ones, as to my mind that is what is important. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Donating Blood

Just A Drop
Those of you who know me through various groups on Facebook will hopefully be aware about this English gentleman up in Ruse who is undergoing a series of operations. It seems as though a comprehensive blood bank is not operated over here in Bulgaria, in the same way that many of us are used to in the UK. Here it seems as though if you have anything other than an emergency operation with will require blood it is up to the patient to supply it.

Now a couple of months ago many of us first got wind of this young man's predicament, well ok he's 69 but that's still young. The call for help first went out on the various forums asking if anyone was blood group type O+ve, and below the age of 60 who would be prepared to donate to this worthy cause. It might surprise people that I am actually under 60, and I also met the other two criteria as well. Even in our own Facebook group we do hold a list of who is what blood group and would be willing to donate, we even have it split into the various areas. So our group list was consulted and in this area I was the only one who met all three requirements. Initially we were thinking that it would entail a trip up to Ruse, but we were still prepared to do that.

Very Nearly An Armful
Fortunately this young man's first operation was more successful than people had hoped. So this reduced the urgency for the other operations, and gave his body more time to recover on it's own. The other day I had another phone call, letting me know that the young man was booked in for his next hospital trip on Monday, and was I still OK for donating blood. Only this time it seems as though I wouldn't have to go to Ruse as I could donate in Veliko Tarnovo and it would be credited up where it was needed. The same thing is also happening down on the Greek and Turkish borders. Initially I was told that this man's friends in his village were prepared to help out at 250 Leva a pint. To me this seems quite mercenary, but I guess for some people that would put food on the table for their family. I don't think that my red stuff is of the same vintage, but it has had one careful (ish) owner, so I was more than happy to let mine go for free. My thinking being that if push comes to shove and I was in the same situation that people would rally round and do the same for me.

Veliko Tarnovo Hospital
Anyway I was told  that I could donate blood at the hospital in VT. Which was a bonus, as it meant that I didn't have to travel for an hour and a half either way, but what my contact couldn't tell me was which hospital I would have to attend. Now I have to say a very big thank you to certain of my Bulgarian friends, and also a complete stranger, who all managed to steer me in the right direction, so I could at least turn up at the correct hospital. It turned out that it was the same hospital which received the BinkyAid funds so at least I knew where to park.

Blood Group Chart
So this morning I set out ready to donate blood. I know that parking can be difficult outside of the hospital, so I opted to use Praktiker's car park. Besides, I also needed a nervous wee, so I thought killing two birds with one stone made plenty of sense. Also the hospital is only a couple of minute's walk away from the car park. So once I had sorted myself out I went over to the hospital. Inside the main doors and near to the stairs is a big notice board which indicates which department is on which floor. I thought take it in small steps and you will get there. Thanks to my Bulgarian friends I knew what to look for, as I had been told that Blood Centre in cyrillic is Кръв Център. Did that show up on the big board? Did it heck. So onto the fallback plan of join the queue at the enquiries desk and ask in my best Bulglish. It worked. I was told along that corridor, go down some steps on the left and then straight in front on me. Which seemed straightforward enough, until I found two sets of steps going down, one inside and one outside.

I chose the inside option first as it was starting to spit with rain again, and fortunately it took me down into a foyer area where various bits of refurbishment were being carried out. The only signs on the doors were A4 bits of paper with stuff printed on them. None of them had Кръв Център on them, but one did have something which looked like hematalogia, and using my school boy knowledge I hoped that it was something to do with haematology, or that they could at least point me in the right direction. More by luck than judgement I had actually stumbled on the correct place, so I was feeling quite pleased with myself.

There is a saying that "Pride goes before a fall", and I shouldn't really feel so pleased with myself for navigating round a building. This came in the shape of none of the staff there speaking English, so I had to resort to my Bulglish again and I explained the situation as best I could. An Englishman was having an operation in Ruse on Monday, he needs O+ve blood, and I have been told that I can donate it there. That bit was sorted out and then I was given 2 declaration forms to fill out, which was me buggered. A menu is one thing, a medical declaration form is something else, especially when there are two different ones. I did point out that I had a contact number at the Embassy in case of problems, bbut they gave up trying to get through in the end. Then it dawned on the head of the department that her Mother used to teach English, so that might be a way to resolve things. So my declaration forms were dealt with over the phone and me answering "Da" or "Ne", trying to explain gall bladder, gall stones and jaundice was a bit tricky but we got there in the end.

With completed forms in hand I was once again tested for blood type, fortunately it hadn't changed since I was in the Royal Navy, and I was still O+ve. Now that my forms were all filled out everyone was clucking round me like mother hens, and comparing veins on either arm, checking blood pressure and filling out more forms. I don't know if it's good but my blood pressure was 120/80, they say it's perfect and it seems to work OK for me. I had to sign various forms before they started draining me of blood, or at least a pint. I am quite happy to report that my blood is a nice red colour and not blue. So with my pint of blood in Dracula's snack bag I was allowed to sit up, 'Did I feel OK'? Then I was allowed to stand, and asked the same question, on saying yes I was allowed to sit in an uncomfortable settee thing in the corridor. I am glad that I took my kindle with me as the walls didn't have much of interest on.

I was asked if I wanted them to sort out the paperwork between themselves and Ruse, oh yes please. The declarations were bad enough so who knows how I would have fared with more forms. Because I had donated blood I was given a box, inside which were two bars of chocolate, and one was huge, a bottle of water, a carton of fruit juice and a pack of filter coffee. A bit different to weak tea and a soggy digestive.

The Village Pensioner's Club
Even though I might have mentioned that I am below the age of 60 which means that I can donate blood here, I have become a fully paid up member of the village pensioner's club, and so has Net even though she is far too young. Everything that seems to happen in the village, seems to happen there somewhere along the lines. We have been to a couple of things there, but by and large things tend to happen without us even being aware. I have seen various photographs of village events, and there has not been a single foreigner there. So now that we are members at least we will get to hear about things. Also during the summer when it gets too hot to work in the garden of an afternoon there is somewhere to go for a cold drink. Hopefully in the future it will lead to blog articles, even if it doesn't it will help with integrating further into village life.

Don't Ask
A Bit Of A Do
 Emi, Our Kmet, Emi's Daughter on Trifon's Den

Hopefully things will go well for the young man's operation on Monday, and if I hear anything I will let people know

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Meeting Friends In Popovo

In The Square Of Popovo
Today we had planned on meeting up with friends in Popovo, having a wander round the shops and maybe a coffee or two. We had been looking forward to this ever since we recovered from whatever lurgie it was that we had. The weather had been nice and sunny for the previous few days and the temperatures have been above average. So what did we see when we woke up this morning? Grey skies, and neither one of us can remember ordering inclement weather for today. A quick check on the internet at a couple of weather forecasting sites, and although the grey skies were not due to change, at least there was no rain being forecast.

Now to get to Popovo from our village we have to go a different direction from the one that we would normally take to go into Gorna. The route that we were on involved a stretch of road that I have come to refer to as bomb alley. It looks like Beirut on a quiet day, and they are not really pot holes any more, they have now become shell craters. They were like it over 6 years ago when we first came out to Bulgaria and they have got progressively worse. Soon these craters will merge together and it might even feel a bit smoother. We know what we are going to be facing on that stretch of road, and there is now no way that you can miss any of the craters, so now it is a case of picking a line which you think is going to be the best of a bad lot. Once we had exited bomb alley our troubles were not over, as the road leading down into Lozen is getting almost as bad. We didn't actually hit decent road until we got onto the Byala-Popovo main road.

Spring Is Here Too
One thing that we did notice en route to Popovo was that the castle ruins just outside of Kovachets is now open for visitors. So that is going to be on our things to do list for the summer. As we drove past we did slow down a little and it seems like they have made a good job of it all. Today, however, our destination was Popovo. Now on the main road into the town there is now an overhead gantry, and situated on this gantry are two cameras facing either direction. It is the second such gantry that I have spotted in as many days, now I don't know the purpose of these cameras, they could be purely for monitoring traffic, or the weather conditions. Or they could have another purpose entirely, but at the moment there is no paint on the ne road surface. Anyway we made it into Popovo, possibly slightly shaken due to the varying road conditions, and headed for our friend's apartment. Being a smart arse I took an alternate route, which fortunately worked out otherwise I might never have lived it down, but sure enough our friend was waiting outside to make sure we got the correct apartment block. All through the drive there it was nice to see that all of the trees are suddenly bursting into leaf and blossom, and the Storks are huddled on their nests of sticks.

Popovo's Very Own Ninja
After greeting everyone we went up to the apartment, where not only did we have coffee, but we also had lunch. I had never tried dock leaf soup before, but it is surprisingly tasty, especially when you add a little splash of lemon juice. They had also gone to the trouble of making a typical Bulgarian Mousaka, and I can safely say that it is the best one that I have eaten since we have been here. There was also fried yellow and white cheeses, stuffed peppers, salads and small mushrooms. If I had known that we would be eating like that I would have worn my expando trousers. It all looked so good but try as we might we couldn't do it justice. Despite the apartment being comfortable it was actually quite a relief when it was suggested going for a walk round town. The grey skies hadn't really improved, but at least it looked as though the forecasters had got the no rain bit correct, although every so often a breeze was blowing. It is often nice to have guides in the know who can show you some of the best places to go. They even know where to run the shop assistants down to ground should you find a particular shop closed up while coffee is being drunk.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Give You The Bride And Groom
There were others out and about, although I don't really think that they were that interested in shopping. Quite possibly they had something else on their mind. Still if ever they get to see this blog here is another snap which won't appear in the official wedding album. I am pleased to report that as far as I am aware neither the bride, nor groom, shinned up the lamp post for that special photo. At least it didn't rain for them.

When we first ever went to Popovo there were no pedestrian only areas like there are now. Even though it seemed to take forever to complete, they have made a good job of it all. Once the weather really starts to warm up the cafes will have more tables and chairs outside, than they do inside. Today there were a few hardy souls sat outside, but it was mainly various Finches who were enjoying the outdoors life.

New Pedestrian Areas
Old Buildings
There are some impressive facades on some of the older buildings, sadly they don't seemed to have fared very well ove time. Some of them really do look quite forlorn and uncared for. Sadly unless anything is done a lot of these buildings will be lost forever, and who knows what tales they could tell, or secrets that they have witnessed? Sometimes I do wonder if people really do care about their heritage, and all too often it seems to be a case of too little too late. Hopefully that is only my impression and much gets done behind the scenes.

The Vegetable Market
The Moo Soup Machine
Another change that we noticed is the local produce market, at one time they used to be ricketty stalls in a vague attempt at a straight line, piled with fruit and vegetables. Now there is a covered market area for some of these same ricketty stalls to huddle beneath. It might be different when the sun is shining but to me it did seem a bit dull and dingy underneath there. On a bright piece of news for the first time I have actually spotted one of these automatic milk machines. I have heard of them previously, but up until now I had yet to see one. Even though it can now be crossed off of my I-Spy odd things list, it wasn't working so maybe I can only claim half a point.

There Are Some Odd People About
Unfortunately time was getting on and we still had to visit our friend's Grandmother's house, and then drive home. As luck would have it there was still time for that all important coffee. We can safely say that over the last couple of days we have had some wonderful times, in the company of some very nice people. I'll not embarass people by mentioning names, but you know who you are, so once again we thank you all.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

We're Back To Normal, Whatever That Is

To Var or Not To Var that is the question
Hopefully people will be pleased to know that whatever the bug was we have now managed to completely shake it off. It has meant that we are still trying to catch up with where we would normally be, but we are not far off the pace now. In the previous blog I said that I had been painting walls with this Var stuff, and it is very versatile stuff. Not only has it painted walls well, but I have even used it on the fruit trees. Depending on who you ask about the reasons for putting Var on trees, will determine the answer that you get. Even trawling through the Internet throws up different answers, and it gets quite confusing. Others are doing it in the village, and that seems a good enough reason for me, as they have been doing so for much longer than we have lived here.

One of the local Jays
Most theories seem to indicate that it is used to combat insects, which is always a good thing. As here in Bulgaria there are loads of the things, in all shapes and sizes. Some say that the white background makes it easier for birds to spot insects as they cross it. Others say that it is an insecticide in its own right and crawling insects tend to avoid it. One theory which makes sense is it helps against something called sun scald. Those of you familiar with Bulgaria will be aware that the sun can get rather warm, this can have a detrimental effect on trees. The bark can split and this can allow certain boring insects to further damage the trees. By boring insects I don't mean ones which will try swapping train numbers, but the ones which will try burrowing into the softer inner wood, especially on the younger trees. Not only that when they are all freshly painted they do look nice and tidy, even the local bird life seem to give the nod of approval in between turfing over the old leaves on Baba's shed roof.

Polski Trambesh
Now that Baba Marta has departed for another year, and we are feeling back to normal, whatever that might be thoughts have turned to the garden. Now we did have loads of seeds left over from last year, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I have put them somewhere safe. The only problem being that I can no longer remember where that safe place is. We did find some seeds, but I am sure that there used to be a lot more. The good news is that today is Wednesday, and that means Polski Trambesh market is a good place to go for seeds along with a lot of other bits and pieces.

Polski Trambesh fruit and vegetable market
There is always something nice about going to visit this market. It is never hurried, and there are plenty of colours to attract your eyes, and smells to taunt your sense of smell. OK, so some of the smells are not that nice, particularly near the stalls selling live fish. I am guessing that because they are alive that they must be fresh, but they do pong a bit. Unfortunately so do some of the people visiting the market. Normally it isn't too bad, but it can be a bit off putting if you are suddenly confronted by an armpit, as the armpit's owner starts waving to attract someone's attention. As the stalls are quite close together it is all to easy to become seperated from each other as people often seem to get swept along in the flow of a human tide.

Red Japonica ( Chaenomeles)
Persian Silk Tree (Albizia)
Today seemed to be our lucky day as not only did we meet up with both friends and neighbours, but Net managed to get hold of a couple of shrubs and trees that she has been after for a while. We have tried growing them from cuttings without any success, but today on the market there they were growing in pots. Now now we have a Persian Silk Tree and our own red Japonica growing in the garden. I just hope that they take, and that the cats don't decide that they are for sharpening claws on. I also forgot to mention that I also had an impromtu Bulgarian lesson from a very nice lady who is a teacher, so if you ever read this thank you very much.

On checking things out earlier there is a distinct possibility that the lawn mower will be drafted into service again tomorrow. I for one am certainly grateful that the bug, whatever it was has decided to leave us alone now. It was a pain in the backside as no sooner did one of us start feeling better than the other would get worse. At least now we have had a day out, meeting people and doing things without coming over either tired or cold, or even both, and not having to do the 50 metres clench. At times it was so bad that I couldn't even get interested in the football results, and the font on my kindle has been changed so many times that it didn't know what to do. So welcome to April, and we could do with a rebate for March, as it was a bit of a non event for us.

The Grass Needs Doing Again

The good news is that all of the trees are now budding, the birds are singing in the trees, and the tractors are out working in the surrounding fields. The downside is that someone seems to have broken the volume control on the frogs, as they seem to be getting louder each evening.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Spring Bounces Back

Spring Has Returned
Many of you might have noticed that the other day it was the Vernal Equinox. This is one of two occasions when the length of day is equal to the length of night. Many also view this as the official first day of Spring, and there are many celebrations and festivals which have been passed down throughout time. Many have their roots in pagan celebrations, even some of the more religious ones. I am pleased to report that at the moment Baba Marta seems quite happy and content. I have often felt that at this time of year it is almost as if someone throws a switch and says 'OK, that's the end of winter'. Let me put it this way, about a week ago I did my normal cleaning the ash out of the fire duty, and then laid the fire up ready to be lit. Well, it is still there all nicely laid up just in case now. If it doesn't get used between now and Autumn at least the wood will be extra dry. Thankfully we also seem to have finally shaken off whatever bug or virus that we have had for the last few weeks. So we have been catching up on jobs which have needed doing, but up until now we haven't had either the energy or the inclination to actually do them.

Forsythia and Plum blossom
It has often taken all of our energy just to do our usual daily routines, which isn't really like either of us. When Baba Marta has been having words with herself it isn't too bad, as we have had strong winds and the occasional shower thrown in for good measure. So it has been slightly impractical to do outside jobs. We should have realised that Spring was just round the corner when Ladybirds began appearing on the hallway floor. Some were alive but a bit lethargic, others hadn't even fared that well as they seemed a bit dry and shrivelled. Now the ones that are still living I can understand, but how do the dead ex-ladybirds get there? Are we about to be invaded by zombie ladybirds out for blood, remember last year when I reported that they bite. Perhaps there is a ladybird version of Star Trek, and they get transported from one location to another. I can just imagine it, there they are assembled in the transporter room, ready for their new mission and a voice from the back utters those immortal words "Beam me down Spotty". Like I have previously mentioned we are both nearly back to normal, or about as 'normal' as we get, so we have been able to tackle outside jobs.

Garden wall outside
One job that has needed attention is to freshen up the paintwork on the garden walls. The water dripping from the tiles and then splashing back up had made all along the base very grubby looking. I was also surprised at the number of cat paw prints that they have managed to get everywhere. From this photo you can see how far I managed to get, the inside of the wall was also done. Instead of paint I used something that had been recommended to us. I am guessing that most of us have seen the white painted trunks of trees, this is done by using something called Var. You can also use it as a paint. It comes in a 5kg bag, and you mix it with water and some C200 glue (looks like the PVA glue).

Garden Wall Inside
Putting it on I was a bit sceptical as it didn't seem to do much, and all of the marks were showing through, but it has dried to a brilliant white finish. Even going over that horrible grubby bit at the bottom of the wall has come up looking good after a couple of coats. Be warned it is rather a messy job, and I ended up with white freckles and dollops here, there and everywhere. It is also quite beneficial to wear sun glasses if the sun is behind you as it can be quite dazzling. I do have to get some more bags of the stuff, but at 1.60 for a 5kg it is a very cheap option. I shall see how it lasts throughout the year, but so far I am quite impressed, and fortunately I am not the only one which means I get to paint the rest of the walls too.

The Dog's Hideaway Spot
With the fine weather the cats have been outside doing what cats do best (besides eating and sleeping), and that is chasing things. Any butterfly or moth which lazily ventures into the garden is fair game for being stalked and pounced upon. Low flying birds also get sized up as a potential target, and there are also the ever present crickets and grasshoppers. Unfortunately all of the village Tom cats have decided that our little Liszt is the best thing since sliced bread. I have made enquiries at a couple of vets and I get told not until she is a year old, which is quite stupid and no wonder there are so many puppies and kittens about if that is their attitude. The next vet I enquire at Liszt will suddenly have aged a few months. It's bad enough that a very pregnant Splodge, who used to live next door, keeps appearing at meal times, I hope that she has her litter elsewhere.

Already we have heard people pondering how hot it will get this year. Even today it has been 24C in the shade, which isn't too bad for this time of year. I don't know what the forecasters are predicting but the dogs have already starting digging out under the Berberis round the back. When it is in full leaf this provides them with a nice shady spot from where they can observe everything that happens in the garden. Already the  Kamikaze flies are out and about. These are the ones who strap on a crash helmet and deliberately head for your eyes. Some people have seen the Storks, and some are even reporting that the Swallows are already back. So far we haven't seen either but because we have fruit trees in blossom we have taken our Martenitsas off. I have seen my first tree frog of the year, but I'm not sure what that actually signifies.

Round the Back
The lawn mower has also had its first outing since its winter hibernation. Today was only giving the main 'lawns' and round the back an initial trim, mainly so I can check the condition after the winter. We have a few areas that were definitely scorched by the frosts, and a few places where I will need to reseed. At the moment, I don't need to worry too much about the grass banks outside, as yesterday I noticed Emi and Saeed's two goats having a bit of a munch. In front of the house wasn't too bad but round the back is a bit tussocky. I'm sure that I gave all grass areas a final cut at the same time last year, but it seems a lot thicker and taller round the back. One thing I did find lurking in the grass was pebbles from the gravel driveway. These will be from my snow clearing duties during the winter. I had hoped that I'd set the blade high enough to avoid them, but no such luck. If there was a pebble the blade found it, so I have now got a bit of gravel rash round my ankles. I won't mention the few surprises that the dogs had left lurking in the long grass just in case people are eating. So it appears that winter is now a memory, spring is now here and we have summer to look forward to.

Looking Over Part Of The Village
Our Twisted Hazel 


Sunday, 16 March 2014

Baba Marta Is Having One Of Those Days

Do Not Disturb
Today is one of those days when Baba Marta is busy talking to herself. One moment she agrees with what she is saying, and the next she is arguing herself. So in other words one moment there is sunshine, closely followed by ominous looking black clouds. It was so different yesterday, when it was just sunshine and blue skies. The good news is that even though neither of us are totally back to normal, whatever that might be, we still had enough energy to start pottering round in the garden. Even the cats and dogs were all out enjoying the weather with us. There are several areas in the garden which are being changed this year.

The Old Rockery
This used to be a rockery, near to where the pool sits. We have decided that we will level it and put it down to grass. It seems like a nice area to maybe enjoy the sunshine of a Summer's evening. As it will not be in shade at all during the day, the chances are that it will be too hot, so we still have either the patio area next to the house or up under the barn. So last autumn we dismantled the rockery and levelled it out. We were hoping that the frosts would kill the weeds, and they have done to a certain extent, but there are still more which needed pulling out by hand. Unfortunately the cats had decided, that as it was a nice flat area full of crumbly earth they had a better use for it. So at least there was another reason to rake the surface first. I wouldn't mind so much but no sooner had we de-catted the area, one of our little treasures was back on there checking that it still worked. Hopefully now that it has been levelled, raked and seeded they will actually stay off of it, although somehow I very much doubt it.

Will It Rain Or Will It Shine?
Today we had hoped to carry on where we left off yesterday and weed some more of the flower beds and start sorting out the vegetable patch. As I mentioned earlier Baba Marta is in one of her contrary moods today, She probably would not take very kindly to me pointing out that she also seems to be suffering with wind today, so perhaps I had best not mention that. We are still getting a few ground frosts first thing in the morning but they are getting less as the temperatures are creeping up. We aren't even really using the wood burning fires now, instead we are making use of the gas fires just to take the chill off of things. The animals are somewhat disapponted as they were taking it in turns guarding the fire, and the gas fire just isn't the same.

Working in the garden is also having an effect on our Martenitsi. They are definitely starting to look a bit grubby and worn. Maybe wearing them in the shower is also having an adverse effect on them. The good news is that there have been sightings of Storks from people living down in the South of the country, and also over Burgas on the coast. If they had planned heading up this way today they would have to contend with quite a stiff head wind coming out of the North. Maybe they are better off having a couple of days at the seaside and then come up. As Storks are not renowned for having thumbs I can't imagine them being able to hitch a lift this way. At the moment we are still one of the only villages, that I know of, round this way without a Stork's nest, maybe this year one will get built.

An FM Transmitter
Now working in the garden seems to go so much better with music, unfortunately the CD part of the player up in the kitchen has given up the ghost. The rest of it seems to work fine, which is handy as I have hooked up an extra pair of speakers for outside. So although the radio works, some of the radio stations do seem to leave a lot to be desired, previously I have got round this by loading up a blank CD with MP3 tracks from my CD collection. Now the CD part is not working we had to devise a way of getting music outside which didn't entail radio twiddly. The radio stations here seem to be fixated with either Chalga or folk music, neither of which I find particularly appealing. Then Net asked would the FM transmitter work if CDs were played on my computer? There was only one way to find out, and it does. These transmitters have something like a 50 metre range so if our neighbours over the road are fiddling about with the tuning on their radio they might just pick us up.

Maybe my CD collection isn't exactly up to date, but it certainly gives me a decent mix of musical genres to keep me happy while I'm working in the garden. Although, it is quite possible that the average Bulgarian might also ask what the bloody hell am I listening to. It has been known for me to start pogoing when I have been watering the garden, neither of which were very successful. Anyone looking over the wall when I am in mid Nutty Boy Train will probably feel that I have well and truely lost the plot. Fortunately I tend to resist the urge to break out the air guitar, but I have been known to use plant pots as drums. Talking of air guitars, is there something like a gaida equivalent? I can just imagine it now, villages going mental playing their air gaidas. For those who don't know what I am referring to, the gaida is basically the Balkans answer to the bagpipes. Maybe one day I will learn to appreciate the music from here, but at the moment I'm not holding my breath. It took me long long enough to enjoy the sound of a massed pipe band, and a solo agony bag still sounds like someone doing something unpleasant to a cat. So now that we know that the FM transmitter works from my playlist on the computer, I have plenty of options available.

Work Harder Minion

Friday, 7 March 2014

A Full Afternoon, Despite Feeling Rough

Today has been one of those days when you have to try and motivate yourself to do stuff that needs doing. There seems to be a bug or a virus going round at the moment, and both of us have been feeling out of sorts for over a week now. We have had various bits and pieces that needed doing but our plans also had to coincide with the availability of others. Everything had been planned and arranged for today, so it was definitely Sod's Law that we can't shake off this yucky feeling. On the other hand we probably caught whatever it is from in town, so it seemed polite to try and return it to town. Although I should point out that I didn't go round deliberately breathing on people. So once we had almost motivated ourselves it was off into town with all of our bits and pieces that needed doing. We didn't even leave home until the afternoon as we hoped to be in, do what needed doing, and then back home again huddled in front of the fire, letting another forgotten coffee go cold.

Now we are 7 days into March, and I don't think that Baba Marta has smiled once. The weather has been dreary to say the least, and the grey skies are starting to be matched on my Martenitsas. What were once red and white are starting to look a shade of grey and red. It still didn't stop me doing Stork watch on the way into town. Although had there been any Storks we might not have recognised them dressed up in foul weather clothing.

Once I had parked up my first task was to go and pay the bills. They are certainly not as extortionate as the bills that we used to face in the UK. I can pay all of our monthly utility bills by just visiting three locations. Net felt more inclined to stay in the car, and she had even prepared herself by bringing her kindle along. So my first stop was Vivacom, where it is simply a matter of in, wait a couple of minutes, pay the bill and back out and on to the next stop. That was to pay the water bill. So once again it was in, wait a couple of minutes for a cashier to come free and move forward with the bill. Only this time a large gypsy woman pushed in front of me. The cashier pointedly ignored her, pointed at me and waved me forward. The card that I have with the client number on was missing a digit, but rather than brush me off she kept trying different combinations until she got it. Two down and one to go, the electric bill. I knew how much it was as I had checked on line, but there was a queue to the door and only the one cashier. Should I wait in the queue, shuffling forward with everyone else, or do something else and try later? I stuck it out. All bills paid and heading back to the car I decided to get my mobile sorted out. I just use top up vouchers, but for some reason the latest one wouldn't work. Now with M-Tel's Prima if you don't use your balance or top it up within a year they will give your number to someone else, and any credit you have they keep. It seems a bit shonky but that is the way that they do things, and to prevent it happening I wanted to put credit on the phone, but the phone wouldn't let me. It seems that I was using the old method of applying credit from a voucher, but thankfully they soon sorted things out.

With the bills paid it was back to the car to get Net, and go round to the insurance broker to renew the house insurance. Now some people feel that this is an unnecessary expense, but all too often you hear of people losing their homes and possessions due to a fire. So for peace of mind at least, we feel that this is something important. Our broker had phoned us to remind us that the policy was due to expire, and there the similarity with a UK broker ended. It really was like chalk and cheese. As soon as we walked into the brokerage our broker left her existing clients for 2 minutes, made sure that we had somewhere to sit and would we like a coffee while we waited. We were even introduced to her mother, we met her father a couple of years ago. She patiently dealt with her existing clients before giving us her full attention once she had finished.

Unlike the UK policies where they might not mention certain things, or at least bury them in the small print, I am quite convinced that when we are told that we have full coverage, that we actually have full coverage. We are even covered in case a plane crashes into the house, or if it bit falls off of a plane and damages the house. It might sound odd, but living out in the back of beyond it could well happen. All too often there are rickety old Antonov An-2s which are being used for crop spraying. Many of these aircraft are about 60 years old, which is even older than me. In bad weather I have enough aches and pains, although thankfully I haven't started leaking yet, so who knows with these aircraft and the treatment they might have had throughout the years.

Another concern living up on a hill is the weather. As I have mentioned in a previous blog the thunder storms, and accompanying lightning sometimes have to be seen to be believed. At least behind us we have the village church, and looking up I can see lightning conductors, Although whether these are grounded or not could be a different matter, quite possibly the metal strapping might have been acquired by a village entrepreneur for scrap value. Also there are supposedly minor tremors and the possibility of earthquakes to take into consideration. Also because we use the same company, and the same broker, we end up with a discount too. Perhaps it is like a no claims bonus , but on your house and not your car. Once the new policy had been produced and signed it was onto our next stop, but not before being told that next time we are in town we are to call in for coffee, not as clients but as friends. Like I mentioned earlier it is chalk and cheese compared to the UK.

Neither of us have used E-Kont before so we weren't really sure what to expect, and fortunately our insurance broker had given us good directions enabling us to find it. We had a parcel which needs to go to another part of the country, and this service had been recommended. So with said parcel we made our way into the office. Not sure of the procedure we did ask if either of them spoke English but neither did, but they spoke slowly so everything was conducted in Bulgarian. Well on their part it was, we probably used a dialect akin to pidgin Bulgarian. As best we could we explained where we wanted the parcel to go and what was in it. Then they proceeded to open up the parcel which I had spent 30 minutes carefully wrapping this morning. Bugger! Once they were satisfied that it was in fact what we told them it was they re-wrapped it for us, thank heavens for that. Now this parcel was basically being sent COD, so all of the fees are paid at the other end when it arrives tomorrow. We get our fee next time that we are in town. So although we enquired about English, not a word of English was spoken.

Our final task was to sort out the accountancy fees for the previous tax year. As foreigners we had to form a company when we initially bought the house and the land that it sits on, thankfully this is no longer the case. However, because we have a company we have to file tax returns, which have to be declared and then entered onto the trade register. Even though it is a non trading company and everything which is reported is zero we still get the privilege of paying for them to know this. There are certain people who tell you that these companies can be dissolved, for a fee. I am erring on the side of caution, what would happen if the UK came out of the EU, would these foreign nationals then have to reform another company. Like so many things over here, depending on how many people you ask for information will have an effect on the number of different answers that you might expect to hear. By the time all of this had been completed we were definitely flagging and so headed home.

I was so tired and washed out that I didn't even do Stork watch on the way home. For all I know there could have been a parade of Storks complete with a brass band and signs claiming "Look, loads of Storks", and I wouldn't have noticed. Hopefully we have managed to leave the lurgy in town for someone else to 'enjoy' and we can start to feel vaguely 'normal' again, whatever that might be.