Monday, 28 February 2011

February Draws To A Close

After yesterday's bright blue skies and sunshine we had hoped that winter might be on the wane. Even the snow had started to thaw in the garden. Unfortunately the overnight temperatures, or lack of them, have turned all of that thaw to ice. Even now, at 2 in the afternoon, it is still hovering round about the zero mark. Last night when I looked at the forecast today was meant to be sunny, not this overcast murk that we actually have. We have also found that the waste pipe from our wet room has partially frozen, but a kettle of boiling water and some salt seems to have cleared it. Hopefully I will be able to avoid the use of my drain rods, those that knew me in the UK will remember the problems that I have had with drains and rods, just no-one mention Saudi Arabian boxer shorts please.

Tomorrow brings us March, and a traditional Bulgarian holiday, Baba Marta. I always look forward to this time of year, as it makes me remember that Spring is just around the corner, and that hopefully snow will soon be a thing of the past. On the 1st March Bulgarians exchange Martenitsi, and wish each other Chestita Baba Marta! The custom is to essentially wish each other good health, luck and happiness. In Bulgarian folklore Baba Marta is a grumpy old woman who changes her mood rapidly, rather like the weather. When she is smiling the sun shines and the weather is warm, but when angry the cold stays longer and it may even snow. The Martenitsa is made of twined red and white threads, white as a symbol of strength, purity and happiness, and red symbolises health, blood, conception and fertility. When given a Martenitsa you should wear it pinned to your clothes, tied around your wrist (or neck) until you see the first Stork, although some regions say the first fruit tree blossoms. After that you can tie it to a blossoming fruit tree for fertility. Like an amulet, the Martenitsa is said to ward off ill fortune, diseases and the 'evil eye', and that wearing one will bring health, happiness and longevity.

One of the most typical Martenitsi is the one with the two small woollen dolls. Pizho is mainly white, and is the male doll, and Penda in red, with a skirt, is the female. There are many other variations and forms. Out of twined red and white threads are also made bracelets, necklaces, tassels, pompoms, balls, squares, human or animal figures. Over the past several decades the tradition has been innovated by attaching all kinds of representations and symbols made of wood, leather, ceramics, metal foil to the thread-made Martenitsi.

The custom of wearing Martenitsa is probably one of the most interesting Bulgarian (pagan) traditions and it is considered to be unique to Bulgaria. According to one of the many legends, this tradition is also related to the founding of the Bulgarian state in 681 AD. 

So ready for tomorrow Net and I would like to wish you all 'Chestita Baba Marta'.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Bus Trip Mk II

The day dawned and revealed that more snow had fallen over night, and it was time to make a decision. Did we take the chance and try driving into Gorna, or did I take the bus? I think that the ice lurking under the snow was the deciding factor. I scraped away some of the snow on the path and found about an inch of ice underneath, and with the sub zero temperatures along with the wind there was very little chance that it was going to thaw. It was bitter out there, and the wind had a keen edge to it, then what had first started out as small flurries turned into a mini blizzard. As I was getting ready to go and wait for the bus, Net was busy sorting out empty tablet boxes for me to show the pharmacist. We didn't even know for certain that the bus would be running, which has happened previously, and the only way that I would know for sure would be when I was actually sat on it.

I left home looking like the Michelin Man with a woolly hat and gloves on. Armed with bills to be paid, empty packets and a small shopping list I slipped and slithered my way down to the bus stop. The whole village was very quiet, not a soul to be seen, not even any stray cats or dogs, it looked as though I was the only one daft enough to poke my nose outside. The road wasn't showing any signs that vehicles had driven on it, so there was nothing for me to do but wait patiently and hope that the bus would eventually appear. Trying to find somewhere out of the biting wind was proving to be difficult, I'd find somewhere and then the wind would shift direction. If it wasn't for the hat I would have looked like I was suffering from terminal dandruff, and my feet were starting to feel like blocks of ice. After about 20 minutes I was joined at the bus stop by an old lady, which to my mind seemed to bode well that the bus should be running, and if she could wait out in the cold and snow then so could I. A car slowly crept down the main road of the village, and very gingerly turned the corner where we were waiting. A further 5 minutes and the bus came into view on it's way to Vinograd, where it would turn round and retrace it's route back to Gorna. So just another quarter of an hour to wait, I had given up playing I-spy with myself and was more interested with trying to get feeling back into my feet.

The bus eventually came back for us, and it seemed to be full of the Vinograd Women's Institute on a day's outing. They were a happy bunch, laughing and joking amongst themselves. Once again it was like a sauna on the bus, and I had to undo my jacket, body warmer, Norwegian Army shirt just to feel comfortable. I felt a bit like a human onion as I undid layer after layer. The driver was taking his time, I think that his top speed must have been about 30 kmph. I couldn't really say that I blamed him, the road conditions were awful, and driving snow didn't help things. I did feel the back of the bus twitch a couple of times, and felt glad that we decided not to try driving ourselves into town. Eventually we came down off of the ridge road and joined the main road, where conditions were only marginally better. They were slightly better by the time we got to Draganovo, but as soon as we left there it was back to normal until Dolna. From then on it looked as though roads had been ploughed and gritted.

First stop in Gorna was everyone's favourite M-Tel. Initially there were 2 queues then all of a sudden there was just the 1, and people started jostling for position. I just stood my ground and let them carry on, but after a while I got to the head of the queue and presented our Internet bill. The girl behind the counter asked if I spoke Bulgarian, to which I replied "Malko", and so she then started speaking to me in German. Now I did 'learn' German at school, but that was more years ago than I care to remember, and she was speaking far to quickly for me to get a firm grasp on what was being said, but the gist seemed to be "Did I only want to pay this month's bill or next month's too". M-Tel have had me on that one before, and seeing as how we had only just received that bill in the week I wasn't going to pay for any 'services' that we hadn't received. M-Tel finished with it was up to Vivacom to pay for the new contract mobile phone bill, for some strange reason we can pay the home phone bill in our local Post Office but the mobile has to be paid in Gorna. This bill was for the princely sum of 32 Stotinki, it hardly seemed worth wasting my time or theirs but hey ho. Over the road to the pharmacy and I managed to get some of Net's tablets, but would have to go to another pharmacy to get the others. Luckily there were more on the way up to Kaufland, where I had bits of shopping to get. I noticed the clock on top of the municipal building was saying -5C, but that didn't take the wind chill into account, so it probably felt more like -15C, a wee bit on the chilly side. Kaufland was easy, apart from Net want some de-caffeinated coffee. The last time that I tried de-caff coffee it was something akin to Badger's wee strained through a tramp's old sock, not a pleasant experience. Everything on the list was bought, plus a couple of extras, and I had over an hour to kill until the bus home.

I decided that proper coffee and some people watching would fit the bill nicely, so I headed to a cafe off of the main square, where I could sit in the warm and watch out of the window. All round the square there were stalls selling the Martenitsas, most of them had given up with the plastic sheeting covering their various bracelets and things. The wind was blowing snow everywhere, and a lot of the stall holders looked as though they wished that they could be somewhere else. It must have been quite unpleasant for them, but most seemed to be nursing cups of coffee, which had probably been laced with something a bit stronger. Judging that I had about half an hour left until the bus went I started on the snowy trek down to the bus station.

The usual characters were there, plus another Martenitsa stall in the waiting room. It was just as cold in there as it was outside, but it was largely wind free. The same gypsy lad who tried scrounging money from me the last time was still there, he still had the same curly toed shoes on and still no sign of a jacket or anything warm.   As before whenever anyone associated with the bus station came into view this gypsy lad beat a hasty retreat. I decided to wait outside, as according to my watch there was only another 10 minutes to go. Others had had the same idea, and people were milling about waiting for the bus to arrive from the other side of the car park. I knew that something wasn't quite right as the driver was also stood with us, and didn't appear to be in any great hurry to go over and start the bus. I knew which bus that it was, as lurking on the other side of the car park was the same ropey bus as last time.

With revving engines and wheels spinning two cars came into the car park and quite literally slid to a halt alongside the bus. Six men piled out of the two cars, and stood in the mini blizzard whilst our driver finished his coffee and cigarette before deigning to saunter over. So now there were seven of them prodding and poking the bus, alternately shouting at each other or mumbling between themselves. People were getting bored, some of the youngsters decided to have a competition to see how far they could slide, which went well until one fell over into a pile of snow. He then decided that snow is cold, so that put paid to that. Other passengers seemed to be visibly shrinking inside their coats and jackets, until all that was left was a small gap between hat and upturned collar. They had a go at starting the bus, but all that it did was shudder, which lead to more prodding and poking. Attempt two resulted in a thick black cloud from somewhere near the back of the bus, and more shouting. All of the snow whirling around probably made it look worse, but I did think 'that can't be good'. After another four attempts they managed to get the bus running after a fashion, by now we were 15 minutes late getting on the bus, it was cold and people were getting impatient. With a lurch the bus moved and there was a surge of bodies, but instead of coming over to where we were waiting the bus left the bus yard. I thought that maybe it was being driven round the block to make sure that it wouldn't cut out, another 5 minutes of waiting put paid to that idea. Even if the bus did break down on the way home I had a carrier bag full of emergency provisions at my feet. The bus never did make it back to the bus station, so maybe it has finally been pensioned off, but an equally decrepit looking bus took its place. At least with the 'new' bus the seats didn't move when you sat down, and they weren't split with the stuffing coming out. It did have a heater of sorts, but whenever the driver stopped to let passengers on or off all of the heat left through the open door. At least the diesel fumes were replaced with fresh air. I could tell that the driver wasn't familiar  with the bus, as our journey was accompanied by the grinding of gears, and various lights and windscreen wipers being switched on and off.

Gratefully I got off the bus in the village, and shopping in hand trudged home. Net, bless her, had fed the animals, cooked tea, and made me a coffee as soon as I got in the door. So the only thing that I had to do was try and get feeling back into the blocks of ice that I used to call feet.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Targovishte and helping the Police with their traffic census

My apologies for keeping you all hanging around for your next instalment of our blog. Last Thursday we had made arrangements to go over to Peter and Claire's (Uncle Inya and Sonya), and we were due there at 10 in the morning. The day started off by not being too bad, just a bit overcast but at least it was above freezing. On the way out of our village it seemed as though there were Eagles perched at the top of every other tree. There were also plenty of Magpies and Jays hopping around at the roadside, now this might have had something to do with the fact that there have been fields of stubble being burnt off near the village. It was starting to look like the cast of the old Hitchcock film were having a reunion. By the time that we had got to Lozen all of the birds had disappeared, and the sky was starting to change colour.

We made it through Kamen before the first flakes of snow started to drift down, but they were only small flakes and there was no cause for concern. The closer that we got to Popovo the heavier the snow was getting, and the flakes were getting bigger and bigger and pitching on the road, about halfway we got a text from Claire telling us that it was snowing in their village. We had a choice, did we press on and hope that the weather improved or did we turn round and go home. As we were over halfway there we decided to carry on. It turned out to be the right decision, as just as we turned into their lane the snow slowed and then stopped, almost as though someone had turned it off. After a coffee, Net and Claire set to hanging the curtains that Net had altered. It is all looking more homely each time we go over there, and the new curtains provide a warm splash of colour against the white walls. Coffee and curtains finished it was all into our car for the mystery tour to Targovishte, as none of us had ever been there before. We needn't have been concerned as it is very nearly a straight road, the only problem being that the snow from earlier was turning to slush and passing cars and lorries were throwing up plumes of rubbish which coated the windscreen. I must have gone through nearly a whole reservoir of screen-wash on the trip there. Just after we got off of a roundabout, and headed towards the centre, we saw a roadside Police checkpoint.

Sure enough we got waved over by a little man and his lollipop, as he waved us over I could see his face going "Oh bugger, it's right hand drive. That means English". On all previous stops, we have just been waved away once they twig that we are foreign, but this one had committed himself. Normally there are just two traffic policemen, but this time there were three, maybe he was being checked so that he could qualify for his harassing motorists badge. He was about five feet tall, and it looked like his Mum had made his uniform, either that or he had borrowed it. I duly pulled to a halt in front of their Lada police car, and lowered my window. He inspected the windscreen for the current vignette, tax and MOT stickers, luckily only two days previously I had removed all of the old stickers. I had read somewhere that there is now a 20 Leva fine for displaying out of date stickers, I did wonder what they would have made of a 60s camper-van with it's collection of holiday venue stickers. Unable to catch us out with anything on the windscreen, he puffed himself up and stood at my window and said "Dokumenti, dokumenti", to which I replied "Angliski molya". Not to be put off, he totally ignored me and demanded "Passport, dokumenti", he seemed a bit disappointed when I handed over my lichna carta and the vehicle documents, but he took them all to the fellow with the clipboard. On returning to the car he gestured for me to get out, I suppose his reasoning being that if he was stood outside in the cold then I could stand outside too. The other member of the trio seemed human, and even seemed to be enjoying his colleague's discomfort, he wasn't bothered by the weather either in his ski suit and woolly hat. I even managed to have a sort of conversation with him in my limited Bulgarian, and he told me that there was no problem so Net, Pete and Claire relaxed in the car. Clipboard man eventually finished with all of my documents and short stuff thrust them back at me, and reluctantly waved us on.

After having helped them with their traffic census, we carried on into the centre of Targovishte and ended up parking near what I can only assume is the fruit and veg market. Still none the wiser as to where we were going, we decided to follow in the general direction that the majority of pedestrian traffic was headed. This turned out to be the correct thing to do as we ended up in a pedestrianised shopping precinct. We were hunting for somewhere to have coffee, but ended up in Vivacom instead. We had told Peter and Claire about the Vivacom duo package that we have got, but Vivacom in their wisdom have now discontinued this. The closest that Pete and Claire could get to it was the new duo package which is now home phone and internet. Whilst there Pete also got the Vivacom TV package deal sorted out. We were told when it would all be up and running, and we know that they are able to go online now, so the internet dongle works, The TV gets fitted and sorted out on Wednesday (weather permitting) but none of us can remember when the home phone becomes active. Pete and I vaguely recollect something being said about Monday, but we can't be sure with what Monday was reference to, hopefully it is the phone as it isn't working at the moment. By then we had gone from in need of coffee to being in need of food so maybe we weren't concentrating on what was being said as much as we should have been. The English speaking chap in Vivacom pointed out a couple of places where we could eat, which was kind of him. I have to admit that I hadn't realised that we had been in there for quite so long, but my stomach had.

We decided to go for the posher of the two options, and went into this very nice restaurant. They even had proper loos and dual language menus. It was very comfortable in there, and the food was good too, Pete and Claire had something that looked a lot like Spanish chicken, Net had lamb with rice and spinach and I had the chicken livers with onions. Oh and all apart from Net had chips too. Well fed and watered, it had to be a case of strolling round the town just to walk some of it off. All in all a worthwhile trip, and for Peter and Claire quite a successful one. Claire did say that when they are with us things get done, but left to their agents it all seems a bit wishy washy, and undecided.

On the way out of Targovishte we noticed that the three musketeers had moved to the other side of the road. As we drove past, the human one even waved to us, cheeky sod, but it goes to prove that some of the traffic police do have a sense of humour.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The Kidds, Net and I (part 2)

OK, so where were we, we must be up to Monday by now. Claire and Peter had things to do with their agent first thing in the morning, so they didn't actually make it over to ours until about 11am. Just enough time for a quick cup of tea, and to decide what they needed to do that day. Their agent had given them some wrong information, and Peter was getting worried about their vignette running out. So once again we all piled into our car and headed off into Gorna. Claire wanted to get some net to put up at the windows, so once in Gorna we split up with Net and Claire hunting for net, and Peter and I getting the vignette sorted out. Both were fairly easy, Claire managed to get enough net to do all of the windows, courtesy of a couple of the many 'second hand shops', and Peter managed to get a year's vignette. Then on to the plumber's merchant just round the corner, for the gas bottle, regulator, rubber hose and jubilee clips. We also needed a couple more flue pipes, and for some reason Net walked out with a free fire scraper.

It was a lot cooler than it had been recently, and there were definitely more clouds being driven across the sky. Time to find something to eat. One of the many 'useful' things that I learnt in the Navy was to go and eat where the locals eat, the food will be good and it will also be a lot cheaper. Just by luck Mum and Dad had shown us just such a place the previous week. Sure enough when we got there we were able to claim the last available table, the place was nigh on full with the lunchtime rush. These places always seem to do a lunch time special, the only problem is deciphering it. Printed cyrillic isn't too bad, but when it is hand written I do tend to struggle a wee bit. I found something on there that looked like it could be chicken, which the waitress confirmed but we couldn't work out what it came with, Net and Peter volunteered to be the Guinea pigs while Claire and I opted for the safety pizza. Net and Peter were both pleasantly surprised by their chickeny thing, and had both finished by the time Claire and I got our pizzas. Over lunch they let us know that they had a problem with the plumbing in their bathroom, they had a leak. Now what I know about Bulgarian plumbing can be written on the back of a cigarette packet, alongside what I know about Bulgarian electrickery. Luckily we know a man who does, and he was in town, the only problem being that the phone numbers were stored on the home phone and not the mobile.

Fortunately, Jo and Nigel came round to ours once they had finished in town, so we were able to introduce Claire and Peter to them. Peter was then able to discuss various bits and pieces with Nigel, and from the sounds of things it wasn't as bad as Peter first thought. Nigel wanted to have a look for himself just so he had a firm indication of what exactly needed doing, and also what tools he would need. So after tea Jo and Nigel followed Peter and Claire out to theirs. On Tuesday we were left pretty much to our own devices, as once again Peter and Claire had dealings with their agent and Nigel was over there sorting out their leaking/burst pipe.

On the Wednesday afternoon we took a drive out there to see how things were progressing. Nigel had found the plumbing problem, a pipe was too short and therefore didn't screw up tight enough, so once the pipes had thawed there was a constant drip of water. He needed a few bits and pieces, so while he carried on the rest of us went into Popovo. Where we parked we discovered there was a UPVC place, so hopefully Peter and Claire could make arrangements to have someone come out to measure up for replacement doors. The woman in there was in the middle of having her hair done, and didn't speak any English, but Claire phoned up their agent explained what they wanted and thrust her mobile at the woman. It was arranged that someone would be out to measure up on Friday, that was today but when I spoke to Claire earlier no one had shown up. Nothing unusual there, but I did have a thought that the agents must be wondering that in the space of a week they are getting X, Y and Z done but they don't know anyone out here.

It is a good feeling being able to pass on all of the help that we were given when we first moved out here. It made the transition easier for us, and hopefully we have been able to make it easier for some others. Sharon, if you are reading this then it's your turn next week, weather permitting, so start making your list of things to do.

The Kidds, Net and I (part 1)

As some of you may know, through Facebook, Claire and Peter Kidd have just moved out here from the UK. They are now in a small village, not that far away from us, but as far as they are aware they are the only 'foreigners' there. We can remember how strange and alien everything felt when we first moved across, but we were lucky due to the fact that there were other foreigners living in the same village. We had been in fairly constant contact as they made their across Europe. Even before they left the UK they were having van problems, but they thought that everything had been sorted out prior to their trip, unfortunately the van gave up the will to live in Germany. I had best let them tell their own story about their eventful trip. We had made the offer that they would be welcome to stay with us, even if it was only for a hot meal or a shower. They eventually crossed the Ruse bridge at 1am, so rather than disturb us they went straight to their new home. It must have been freezing for them, as the house hasn't been lived in for a fair while.

They have been totally reliant on their agent, so on the first Saturday we made arrangements to meet them in the Penny Market car-park in Popovo, one of the few places that they actually knew. We don't know Popovo that well ourselves, but at least we were able to point out the fruit and veg market, the area for the Friday market, a few DIY stores and various banks and cafes. We even introduced them to the joys of Bulgarian fast food, the famous Boyko kebab. They might not be to everyone's taste, but they are hot, quick and cheap, I think that I could become addicted if Net will let me. Once we had finished with Popovo, it was back to our's so that a list of things to do could be written down over a hot coffee, it also gave them the opportunity to bookmark our village in their Sat Nav, so that they would be able to find us again. Bless them both, due to the problem with their van their furniture and bits and pieces are still in Germany, so we again made the offer that they were welcome to stay with us, but they were worried about their dogs and cats. The first thing that they wanted to get was a cooker, in which case we would need to take both vehicles into Gorna. So with Pete and Claire tailing us we set off, and our first stop an appliance shop where Net and Claire started discussing the various merits of the cookers. Due to the various power cuts we get in the winter it was decided that a dual fuel cooker would tick all of the boxes. So the soft top comes down and between the four of us we manage to get the cooker in, then Claire decides that they need some shopping, so round to Kaufland, and Net explaining what the Bulgarian equivalents are to things that Claire has used to. We also pointed out that there was a Kaufland in Razgrad, which might prove closer for them, but we would show them that at a later date. Maybe in hindsight we should have gone to get the gas bottle first, as the plumbers merchants was closed by the time that we got there. By now it was getting late in the day, so as we had the cooker and Pete and Claire had the Sat Nav we would follow them back to theirs.

The Sat Nav took us all into parts of the countryside that none of us had been to before. There was even a big white Stork like bird flying round, and when Net looked closely there were about 8 in a tree near to a river. We thought it a bit early for the Storks to be here, and looking in our reference book later that night they could have been white Egrets. By the time we got to Strazhitsa it was getting dark, and then the Sat Nav decided to take us on a mystery tour. We headed off down a muddy track, seemingly leaving civilisation behind, and the cooker was starting to bounce around in the back of our car as we hit pothole after pothole. Sometimes there was more hole than track, but eventually we emerged into a village. After giving both vehicle's suspensions a thorough work out we finally arrived at Claire and Peter's house. Soft top down and with slipping and sliding in the mud we got the shopping and the cooker out of the cars and indoors. At least it was all done in the dark so maybe the neighbours didn't see what was being taken inside.

Sunday and they were over at ours bright and early. Peter needed to get various bits of DIY stuff, and as they had never been to VT before it was mutually decided that a trip to Praktiker wouldn't go amiss, which was quite fortunate as we also needed various items too. Peter was going to get a gas bottle in there, until I pointed out that both the bottle and the regulator were much more expensive there than in GornaI'm not sure whether there is a Praktiker or some such like in Razgrad, but we will check that out at a later point. Everywhere that we went Net was telling Claire where had 'good' loos and where to avoid. After a pitstop for coffee a Lidl's bag was spotted, so you have already guessed where we headed next. The new Lidl in VT has only just opened so it would be an experience for us all, and it was just round the corner from Praktiker. If I had known that it was so close I would have left the car where it was and just walked over, as the car park was manic. If I thought that the car park was bad, it was even worse inside, I think that half of VT had also decided to check it out. We couldn't get out of there fast enough, apart from which we were all starting to get peckish, although none of us fancied a sit down meal, so it was hunt the kebab time. We were going to show them the old town and we could all have done with a coffee, but it was getting cooler and none of us had jackets with us, but we did pull over and show them Tsaravets. Peter and Claire thought that Tsaravets would be one definite thing to show Claire's mother when she comes over later in the year.

We drove up to Arbanassi, to show them the views over VT, and to find coffee in somewhere warm. Those that have seen the views from there will hopefully agree that they are stunning. Well this will probably do for part 1, so we had best sign off for now. Incidentally Claire has been re-christened Sonya Van, as everything that they own, apart from a few bits, are still on the van. Latest update is that their stuff has been picked up from Germany and is en route as I write this. We just need to know when it will arrive in BG as we have promised to help unload.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Thank You For The Birthday Wishes

Well here we are, almost midway through February, and I find it hard to believe that the winter has been so kind to us all out here. The other day we even had temperatures that reached the mid 20s out in the sunshine. We have been blessed with blue skies, sunshine, fruit trees starting to bud, bird song and woodpeckers trying to batter themselves senseless up in the walnut trees. Even the garlic that we planted back in September is poking up green shoots through the semi frozen earth. We are still expecting Mother Nature to have the last word, with final snow flurries and more night time frosts. The days are slowly getting longer, and the nights shorter, and before we know it Spring will be with us and everywhere can erupt in a riot of varying shades of green. Looking at the forecast the temperatures are due to dip down towards normal levels, but no snow on the horizon just yet, although things have a habit of changing on a daily basis.

Since Net has been suffering with her asthma she has given up smoking, it has now been nearly two weeks since she last had a cigarette. So far there have been none of the normal withdrawal symptoms, but keeping busy has probably helped in this. We still try to not let her overdo things, but sometimes that is easier said than done. We have been helping out Claire and Peter Kidd quite a bit, as their village isn't too faraway from ours, but more about that in another blog.

Well yesterday I notched up my half century on this Earth, some say that it is a milestone but I can honestly say that I woke up feeling absolutely no different to when I went to sleep. We don't really celebrate birthdays, which can come in handy as half of the time we struggle to actually remember what day of the week it is, never mind the date. Just part of the joys of no longer having to live our lives by the clock or the calendar, although we do seem to lose the odd day here and there. I first went round to the magazin and bought a box of chocolates, to enable the villagers to help celebrate my birthday. Anyone going into the magazin can help themselves to a chocolate, and Reni lets them know whose birthday it is. There is no need for any newspapers in the village, as everyone seems to soon know anything that is happening.

Due to the unseasonably warm weather the snow and ice have withdrawn enough for me to do one of my favourite jobs, Poo Patrol. The joys of having 3 dogs had largely been hidden by the snow, but it could be put off no longer. So there I was armed with my 'doggie bag' and trusty trowel, do I start at the top of the drive or the bottom? The top of the drive being in sun decided it for me. Some of the 'dog eggs' had to be chiselled away from the gravel, but I managed to avoid collecting any more freckles. A job well done, and Net decided that as the house had largely been Spring cleaned we would pop over to see Claire and Peter, just to find out how they were getting on. By the time we got back home it was dark, and even though there was a chill in the air it wasn't cold enough to light the fires. We did put the gas fire on down in the cellar, it didn't suit either of us, but it did take the chill off. Well it did until it ran out of gas, and with helping Claire and Peter we hadn't filled up our spare one either. Topping them both up would be my first job in the morning, along with paying the phone bill.

So bright and earlyish, I sorted out the phone bill and put the empty gas bottles in the back of the car. Net didn't want to go with me so I decided to take Fenny with me instead. Normally he likes going out for a ride with Daddy, but today he was very reluctant to actually get in  the car, but once in he sat there pleased as Punch with himself. I drove round to the village Post Office, but couldn't pay the phone bill as the electric had gone off throughout the village, just in the time between me leaving home and getting there. Oh well, not to worry I can always try again on the way home from the garage. Fenny soon got bored looking out of the windscreen from the passenger seat, so hopped over into the back and curled up for a nap. Part of the way down the 'Ridge Road' a young lad was hitching a lift so I stopped to pick him up as it's in the middle of nowhere. He did a bit of a double take when he noticed Fenny on the back seat, especially when Fen yawned. The young lad sat there rigidly, all the way to Draganovo, even when Fen put his chin on my shoulder as he checked to see if we were at the garage yet. They do have a very wary outlook towards dogs, and I guess that a fully grown Boxer, not on a lead, yawning and showing shoelaces from his chops could be a bit disconcerting.

Once we got to the garage the young lad couldn't get out fast enough, and Fen just casually hopped back over into the passenger seat, as if to say that it was his seat. The fellow at the garage is used to us and just carried on fuelling us up and then directed us to the gas point to fill up the bottles. I did have to wipe shoelaces from the steering wheel, but nothing on any of the seats. The drive back was uneventful, I had to stop at the magazin for a fresh loaf, and Fenny sat there as good as gold, just watching out of the window and waiting for Daddy. Nothing escapes notice, and they all seemed fascinated that Fenny had been for a ride in the car. I noticed that power was on in the magazin, so there shouldn't be any problem in the Post Office. Sure enough, it was into the Post Office, pay the phone bill and then home.

As soon as we got into the drive and the gates were closed, Fenny hops out and tells Sirius and Bonnie all about it all.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

This Is More Like It

Good morning to you all, and welcome to February. It may only be the 2nd, but January is now behind us, thankfully, and hopefully the weather is going to slowly start to warm up. By all accounts today is also Cock's day, yet another holiday, although I don't think that this is anything other than a regional holiday rather than a national one. I would also like to welcome Claire and Peter Kidd to Bulgaria, they have just completed the drive over from the UK, and now live in a village not that far from us.

As I look out of the window, I am pleased to report bright blue skies and ice crystals sparkling in the air as the gentle breeze blows them from roofs and tree tops. There are even birds singing, no more coughing and wheezing for them.The temperature outside, in the sunshine, is a very pleasant 10C, but understandably a bit cooler in the shade. The night time temperatures  are still below zero, but what more could you expect at this time of year, and once you are indoors with the fires burning you don't really notice. The sunshine streaming through the windows is most welcome, apart from the fact that it does show the dust, but that is part of the joys of the wood burners. they do seem to create dust and soot smuts when you open them up to stoke them.

On a personal note, I'm not too disappointed to see the back of January. It seems to have dragged on for quite a long time, and we could have done without the trips to the Doctor and the Hospital, amongst other things. The various goings on throughout the world, though newsworthy, seem to have little impact on village life where everything continues much as normal. It does seem much longer than a year ago that our neighbour, Baba Donka, passed away. We might have been able to understand much of what she said, but she was always ready with a cheery smile and a wave, and we still miss her. Thinking about it the church bells have been remarkably quiet this winter.

Yesterday, we managed to get Net in to see the Doctor, where she was given another jab for her Asthma. This jab should last for three weeks, we mistakenly thought that the jab she received at the Hospital was for the same periodicity, but were told that it was only for 8 hours. It was a bit like a village outing, as Mum and Dad were also in town. Whilst Mum and Net waited to see the Doctor, Dad and I were allowed to go and get some plumbing bits. Just so Dad could once again fix one of his loos, don't you just love the plumbing over here. Once again the Doctor was in no rush with her examinations, and while Dad and I were waiting for the ladies we went from coffee shop, to cafe, and then to restaurant. Thank heavens for mobile phones, otherwise they would never have found us. One good thing has come from Net's asthma attack, she has now given up smoking without even realising that she was doing so. So far the last cigarette that she had was on Friday night, so that is five days without one, so well done to you Darling. I know that I ought to follow her example, but at the moment I don't have the inclination to, and as they say you have to want to give up to enable yourself to attain that goal. I am trying to cut down though.

This morning, we woke up feeling much better, and hopefully Net will now not try and rush things. It doesn't matter that the housework isn't done by a certain time, I am perfectly capable of helping when I have done all of my little chores. The first of which is to empty the ash pans from the fires, and turn on the gas fires so that the house starts warming through. Perhaps the most important of the early jobs is to put the kettle on, as neither of us really functions very well until at least the second cup of tea. Then it is letting the dogs out, and then the cats, it is so much easier tidying up without them underfoot. I'm not sure exactly what the night time temperatures are getting down to, but come the morning the dog's water bowls are frozen solid. There is a good chance that these blocks of ice could sink the local equivalent of the Titanic, apart from the fact that yesterday I noticed our local lake is also frozen. By then the gas fires have done their job, and it would be time to light the fire in the upstairs lounge, it certainly pays to have a handy stock of firewood. With the fire lit I can then top up the log basket while Net puts her feet up with a cup of tea and catches up with world events on CNN. I do miss the BBC news, but hopefully once we get broadband, it can't be much longer surely, I will be able to stream UK radio to the computers.

I then have to replenish the logs down in the cellar, so it is a case of taking the wheelbarrow to the log pile, and re-splitting any oversize logs. The cats have worked out that if they get under my feet, I will give in and they get their breakfast early. That way they are happy and I can get on in peace. All jobs done and Net packed off down to the cellar with her laptop, tea and TV, I could then get on with other bits and pieces. Having lit the fire down there, made sure that she is comfortable and that she has got all that she needs I can go off round the village. First stop was Jolanta's house, just to make sure that all was well there, it does seem surprising that in just a month's time she will be over here. Then round to the magazin, for a fresh loaf of bread, a coffee and a natter. Reni was very apologetic, she had forgotten the honey that she had promised Net yesterday, and also that the cost of bread had gone up.

Some of you may be aware that the official Bulgarian census will be taking place this month, for many between the 10th and 28th. I have downloaded an English copy of the census form from the UK embassy in Sofia, which might help. The embassy has been assured that there will be English speaking census takers available, but I am hoping that should that not be the case then the English version of the census might come in handy. Mum and Dad weren't aware about the upcoming census, but I have taken them up a copy of the English version of the census form. No one seems to know exactly when the census takers will be round, but hopefully it will be promulgated somewhere centrally in the village. If you would like to request an English speaking interviewer then this bit that I have 'borrowed' from the Embassy might help.

Message to request an English speaking interviewer:
Oпасявам се, че в това домакинство никой не говори български. Може ли да дойде преброител, който знае английски?
I’m afraid I don’t speak Bulgarian. Please could an interviewer come who speaks English.