Saturday, 28 December 2013

All's Well That Ends Well

The other day I was going through the various bits of paperwork when I noticed that the car's insurance was coming due this weekend. I knew that it was about now but I thought that it was right at the end of the year. The last time that I was in Gorna I had noticed that the insurance broker that I normally use was now a computer shop. The good news is that it is a very good computer shop and I have previously used them when they were at their old location, but they are not very good at doing car insurance. There is a new broker's office near to the old location, but I wanted to make sure that it was the right one as the name had changed. Fortunately the insurance broker is on my friend's list, so it was an easy thing to check up on. So once the location had been confirmed we were expected sometime yesterday.

I don't know why but it seemed as though all of Gorna were out and about yesterday. We couldn't park up where I had planned, as it seemed as though everyone else had had the same idea. There were cars driving aimlessly round as people tried to find somewhere to park. In the end I thought that as we were going to be doing a bit of shopping we could park up at Kaufland and walk from there. It was difficult trying to get anywhere near due to the traffic. The traffic was nose to tail, and people were trying to jump in. It was at such a moment that the car decided it was a great time to play up. I managed to get her restarted and moved round the corner to an accompaniment of toots, and then she conked out again. It looked as though there was a problem with the immobiliser, which had it been a normal day in Gorna would not have been too bad. At least we were in such a position that vehicles could pass but it would be safer on the other side of the road. Fortunately a man with a mouth like an old council house, 2 up 2 down, offered to help push. Eventually we started moving across the traffic, it didn't stop cars trying to drive round us or people walk in front. It wouldn't have been so bad but the road surface was a bit greasy from spilt diesel, so it wasn't easy getting a firm foothold. Once we were in a safer position I was able to phone Peter our friendly mechanic and explain the situation. He got in touch with an immobiliser specialist and arranged for him to be with us in 15 minutes. This turned out to be closer to 45 minutes, but he was able to tell us that it wasn't an immobiliser problem. Neither of us knows what the specialist had to leave to come to our assistance so we didn't know how much the bill would be but he said that he didn't do anything so there was nothing to pay. You wouldn't get that kind of service back in the UK. Having said that, knowing our luck it is the return of our previous problem, but we were able to get the car restarted and we are eliminating potential causes.

Thankfully the car troubles didn't happen last week, when we had a late night phone call. Someone had a bit of an emergency and asked if we could run them into hospital. The closest one that I know of which has an A&E department is down in Gorna. So despite the thick fog we set off. I was hoping that the fog would lift a bit as we got lower down but no such luck. We made it all of the way to the hospital and we were kicking our heels while the patient was being checked out. The doctors decided that they wanted to do more tests, so there would be a couple of days stay in hospital for our friend. The doctor wanted us to go back to the village pick up a few bits and bring them back in. It was pointed out by our friend that that would take 2 hours, and it was dangerous in the fog. She said that she would manage until the next day, as it was just gone midnight anyway. The next day saw the start of our pilgrimages backwards and forwatds to the hospital, as the food there wasn't very appetising. So we were getting into Gorna, getting something to take into the hospital so malnutrition wouldn't be something else that needed treating. The good news is that the patient is now back home with enough pills and tablets that would make her rattle if she were inclined to jump up and down.

We still had to get the insurance sorted out, so with the car now behaving itself (hopefully) we decided to leave it there and walk down to the broker's office. We received such a warm welcome, it was difficult to believe that we had only gone there to renew insurance. We handed over the necessary paperwork, and were asked if we had anything else that we could do while the paperwork was processed. Hanging about waiting for the specialist meant that we had suffered a lack of coffee, so that was our initial priority. Once we had sorted that out it was over to the Post Office to get next year's vignette. Unfortunately there was Mr and Mrs Whiffy stood in front of me in the queue, and one of their relatives must have been behind me. To prevent myself turning green it was a case of breathing through my mouth. It was ok for Net, as she was stood out in the entrance foyer which meant that she did get some fresh air. The good news was that the cost of the vignette is still only 67 Leva, and by the time we had sorted that out it was time to go back to the broker's office. Once back at the car it was a case of will it start or not and if it does will it behave? It got us from where we were and up to Kaufland car park and surprisingly I was even able to find somewhere to park on the first circuit.

We had only just got out of the car when the car park beggar tries to start, they managed 2 words before I managed to teach them some English not taught in schools. We only wanted a few things, but they are bits that we can't get in the village. One such item was red onions. We found them on the far side of the fresh vegetable aisle. Net started putting some in the supplied plastic bag and then passed the bag to me for weighing. At that time the bottom of the bag gave way, there were red onions bouncing all over the floor and me holding a faulty plastic bag while giggling. I got a new bag and scrabbled round on the floor picking up onions, when I stood up the bottom of that bag burst and that was it, I was laughing like a drain. People must have thought that the lunatics had been kicked out of the asylum. When we made it round to the checkouts it seemed as though half of Gorna was there. We still had to get a few other bits an pieces up at Lidl and CBA, so with fingers crossed we drove up the hill to Lidl. We made it there without mishap, we even made it to the petrol station.

We had intended on surprising friends but in the end decided it might be more prudent to head home while there was still daylight. We made it all of the way home without any more occurances, but whereas we hoped that the problem had been sorted out previously it appears that it might be intermitent but it is still there.

This will probably be the final blog of 2013, so thank you for all of support and encouragement this year. We would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year and hope that 2014 brings you all that you  wish.            

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Christmas Interview

Last week we had a request from the local press asking if we could sort out an interview with some of the local ExPat community. They were interested to find out how we prepare for and celebrate Christmas, and what differences there are to doing this over here in Bulgaria. We put the request up in the big facebook group. Time marched on and there were no volunteers, so not to disappoint the reporter I put something down, and below is a copy of what I wrote. I shall also include links so you can see how it turned out. 

For more than five years I have been fortunate to live in Bulgaria with my wife Jannette. We live in a very small village by the name of Paisii, and we couldn’t wish to live anywhere better. I am 52 years old and for many years served in the British military, Jannette was a nurse. We lived near to the sea on the South coast of England, which is very different to where we find ourselves now.

We have been asked about how the British community celebrate Christmas in Bulgaria, and I shall try to explain this from my own point of view. Some people might find it strange that we don’t decorate our house, but all of our decorations were handed on to our children before we left England. Some of them included decorations from our Grandparents, so these items will continue to get passed down through the family. We do not have a tree indoors either, as Jannette is allergic to Pine, but I have planted one outside.

Being in our very small village up in the hills, and with winter weather being as unpredictable as it is, it is difficult to make plans to visit people, or to have them visit you. The cost of air fares at this time of year are very expensive, so we find it is better for the family to visit for longer at other times during the year. It is true we do miss friends and family back in England, but thanks to the internet and Skype, we do get to see most of the family on Christmas day. We also miss going to the church for midnight mass, even though neither of us are big church goers, but that was something that we tried to do as a family group.

Even with just the two of us we do have the traditional English food at Christmas. Once again due to our location and the weather, it has to be pre planned and not left to the last minute. In England there would be a selection of five different meats, Turkey, Gammon, Beef, Lamb and Pork. In Bulgaria that would be far too much as we do not have fifteen family members to feed. So here we do have a Turkey crown, which is just the breast meat, and some Pork. At least with less meat to cook, it now all fits into the oven at the same time.

We do try to eat the typical vegetables that we were brought up to see for a Christmas meal. Some we find difficult to obtain here, so we have to adapt or grow our own from seed. So we will have Potatoes, and these will be both roasted potatoes and mashed potatoes. We will also have roast onions which have been cooked in the meat juices, along with roast Parsnips. There will be Cabbage and Cauliflower, and Broccoli too. Not forgetting, Carrots, Swede, Butternut Squash and Brussel sprouts.

With the vegetables Bulgaria has a distinct advantage over Britain. They simply taste so much better. You know that there are not the additives as they have either been bought at the local vegetable market, or we have grown them ourselves. We leave getting the vegetables for as long as possible so they will be that much fresher, and will keep their taste.

There will be some traditional English items, which many will not have heard of, items such as stuffing, pigs in blankets and gravy. The stuffing is typically made with breadcrumbs and herbs, the most common type of stuffing is Sage and Onion, although many have different tastes and will opt for a different combination. I have never seen the packet mixes sold in Bulgarian stores, so we get them either sent out by family or we go to one of the English food fayres, often the one at the campsite in Dragizhevo. Pigs in blankets are simple to make as they are small sausages with strips of bacon wrapped round them. Gravy is made from the meat juices combined with a stock.

It might sound a lot, and in all honesty it is. Most of the preparation is carried out the night before. Thankfully my Mother taught me how to be useful in the kitchen, so I can help Jannette with the preparation. So with the two of us peeling and chopping vegetables, and getting the meat ready for cooking along with all of the other little things which need attention, it is done in less time. This also means that Christmas Day is more leisurely now. This year we are having our Polish friend to join us for lunch and the afternoon, as we don’t like to see  anyone on their own. We would normally eat in the early afternoon, most probably we will have been too busy for breakfast and will have had tea and coffee whenever we could.

The fires will have been lit, so that anyone who comes visiting will have a warm welcome. Even though Net and I don’t drink a great deal, at this time of year we have drinks to offer guests and visitors. There are often chocolates and nuts in dishes on the side (unless I have got there first). If there is a flat surface, it seems as though there are treats placed there. The cats and dogs will also have been told to be on their best behaviour.

Even into the evening there is still plenty to eat should anyone still be hungry. With cold meats, different cheeses and pickles. Also there is my favourite, a dish called bubble and squeak. This made from the left over vegetables from lunchtime. These are all mashed together and then fried in a hot frying pan.  Most people will have this with the cold meats, but sometimes some bacon is cut up, and mixed in. I will eat it on its own or with cold meat, but always with brown sauce.

I hope that has given people an insight into how we celebrate Christmas, and the foods that we eat. I wish that my Bulgarian was better, as I would like to wish you all “Весела Коледа и Честита нова година. Честит празник на всички”

It is probably fair to warn people that I have also been asked for another interview in the New Year, so you might want to hide away when that happens. So all that is left to do now is to wish each and every one of you, and your families, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Net and myself. Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and for your words of encouragement.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The End Is Nigh (The End Of 2013 That Is)

Well we have made it a third of the way through December now. There have been no further outbreaks of snow since we had that last lot dumped on us, however that is still lingering on here. Bulgarian snow seems funny stuff, it doesn't seem to melt but it does seem to shrink. There is plenty of water running out of the drainpipes, but the snow is still quite thick up on rooftops. One good thing about the snow up there is that it act as an insulator. The other day I was able to get up in the attic and remove the summer's wasps nests. I thought that we would have had a couple, and waited a few days until I was sure that all of the little buggers would be asleep and hibernating. I ended up removing about a dozen and a half nests. It must have been quite noisy up there during those hot days and nights. Still, I daresay that come next summer they will be back again, as they are a bit sneaky like that.

Anyway, even though we are this far into winter, to my mind it isn't the proper winter yet. That normally saves itself for January and February. So there is still plenty to do to get ready for the proper winter. One such task was accomplished today, and that involved the making of Pasties. So today we have made about a dozen individual ones and a big serving tray sized one. Once cool this will be cut up into individual portions. We have also got the Steak and Kidney in the slow cooker ready for tomorrow's pie making session, which only leaves Chicken and Mushroom to go. Maybe some people will question why so many pies, but there is nothing wrong with eating something with a bit of bodybehind it when it is daftly cold outside. Well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I would have photographed today's offerings but apparently I was eating them almost as fast as they were coming out of the oven. They are now securely stored away from my grubby liitle mits. I am pleased to report that even though I managed to get flour and pastry all over the kitchen, I ended up quite unscathed.

With the end of 2013 comes the start of 2014, and in one way I am hoping that the UK does get deluged by hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians. I am actually quite disgusted at the way that these people have been portrayed by not only the British press, but also by British politicians too. The self same people who also want to vote for a much higher than inflation pay rise of 11%. Surely they cannot be so far removed from reality to think that people will be happy to accept that. Sometimes I wonder whether all of tis jumping up and down about Bulgarians and Romanians is just a smoke screen to get things like this passed without too much notice. I do remembe the times when various newspapers had a political slant, either one way or the other. Now it seems almost as though it is the press who are trying to sway the policy makers. They seem to be doing a fine job of leading the public by the nose about January 1st.

Well here is a newsflash for you, Bulgarians and Romanians have been living and working amongst you for years. Where was the public outcry then? They have been paying their taxes and national insurance, just like everybody else. Does anyone shout about this? People claim that those from these countries are not educated. I am sorry to report that many of them are better educated than I am, and hopefully I'm not thick. Just consider that many Bulgarians and Romanians already in the UK, not only speak their own languages but alongside English they can also speak a third or a fourth language. How many Brits can say the same, as I know that I can't.

Some of you might have seen this kind of rubbish. It just panders to those who still cling to the idea that the UK still has an Empire, or that they are a major player on the political world's stage. Take a look around you and what do you see? Streets full of rubbish, buildings in decay and disrepair, people begging on the streets, a health service in decline, the elderly frightened to go out at night, but they struggle to keep themselves warm. To my mind this hardly seems like a good indication of a 'great' country. maybe people should be thankful that others still want to go there. January 1st 2014 is nothing new, it has been approaching for a long while now. What was done about it five years ago, or even last year? Now all of a sudden these two headed Bulgmanian and Rogarian pet eaters are the greatest threat to English society. If it wasn't so frightening it would be pathetic. The UK press and certain politicians have done a fine job about stirring up the masses. I am not just talking about the ill educated people, there are also intelligent people who are buying into this rubbish. I am quite happy to state that in the five years that I have lived here not once have I seen anyone with two heads. I have never seen anyone eying up any of our dogs and cats whilst licking their lips.

There is so much more to Bulgaria than Sunny Beach and the Ski resorts. Certainly Sunny Beach seems to appeal to the neanderthal element of British tourism. Anywhere for cheap drink and fags, and when drunk make a complete fool of themselves. Yet these same people feel that it is acceptable to malign the Bulgarians and Romanians. How many of these drunken louts can even say please or thank you in Bulgarian, never mind actually hold a conversation. Do they not know just how much beauty is such a short distance away? Maybe they don't care about the wealth of history that has helped to make these two countries what they are today. To all of the ignorant drunken louts who visit Sunny Beach and mouth off at the Bulgarians thinking that they don't understand you, the truth is they do but they have a lot more manners than you have. The Bulgarians who I have been fortunate enough to meet are the same as you or I. They don't want something for nothing, they are a proud people who only want what is best for their families. If that means working 2500 miles away at some menial job then they are prepared to do so, which is more than can be said for a lot of the British benefit scroungers. The Bulgarians and Romanians have rights too, and one of these rights, come January 1st, is to work where they choose throughout Europe. Some might go to the UK, oters might not. For those who elect to try the UK please treat them in the same way that their countrymen have treated us, with warmth, friendliness and respect. Is that too much to ask?

There are certain amongst the wealthy in the UK who feel that their wealth can influence politics. One such person is a one time Tory backer, Paul Sykes. He has now decided to put his wealth behind UKIP, no wonder Mr Farage is smiling. All of the while that people are jumping up and down about January 1st there is still a growing number of immigrants from outside of the EU who are still entering into the UK. Do these people have a legal entitlement, and what is being done to curb their numbers? All the while this is happening Bulgaria is taking in Syrian refugees. So which is the 'great' nation, or which nation is showing a level of common decency to put it another way. To my mind the UK is a broken country, and this has been brought about by Politicians, and the media with a common thread between the two, the wealthy.

So although I am English I have been made to feel more welcome in Bulgaria than I ever was in the UK. To any Bulgarians and Romanians who might read this I can only offer my humble apologies for the disgusting way in which the country of my birth has seen fit to treat you. So this is probably a good time for me to put my soap box away, and to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas wherever you may be .

Monday, 2 December 2013

What A Difference A Week Makes

As the title at the top of the blog says what a difference a week makes. The first snows of the winter have arrived. Initially it was just a bit of a dusting, and made everything look clean and white. Everyone was wishing each other "Честит първи сняг" or Happy First Snow. Everything was all quite nice, and the snow was quite light and powdery. I should have realised that something was up when the tractors hadn't been out and about ploughing the village roads.

The morning after the first snow my trusty snow shovel and I were out digging trenches in the garden. The cats and dogs, apart from Sirrius, would much rather follow these pathways than try wading through the snow. Sirrius is like a four legged snow plough, and will often end up with a mound of snow balanced on the end of his nose. I was glad that I had remembered to place the snow shovel under the porch, rather than having left it under the barn. So I had to dig a trench from the back door to the studio, one from the back door to the barn and another from the backdoor to the shed. This meant the animals and I could sort out their breakfast, get wood from the main logpile and get to the big freezer if required. Then it was clear the path down to the gate and down to the cellar. Over the years I have got it down to a fine art.

With enough paths and trenches done inside, it was time to tackle outside. First it was the steps down to the lane. These steps never really get much sun on them at this time of year so I sprinkle them with ash from the petchkas to provide additional grip. The only downside with that is that you do often end up leaving a trail of footprints, or pawprints, indoors. I was in fine company as Nikolai the water man was clearing snow from the front of his, and Saeed was also clearing snow from his house too. As our driveway slopes down to the lane, clearing there before the lane gets ploughed is always a good idea. Otherwise instead of a level amount of snow I am confronted by a snow wall which I would have to deal with first. Once the front had been cleared that only left the driveway round the back of the house to do. So to my mind it seemed an ideal time to go indoors for a warm up, a coffee and some toast. It was round about that time that the first of the big fat snowflakes started falling.

The cats had decided that unless food was involved their place was in front of the fire. Looking at the photo Mr Cat is missing so he had probably positioned himself halfway up the stairs, right where it would cause most inconvenience. I know that the old saying is about it being a dog's life, but the cats don't seem to do too badly out of things. The dogs would have been guarding other rugs. At times we have had cats and dogs sharing the sheepskin rug in front of the fire. One coffee led to another and still the snow came down. Over the course of the day I redug the trenches three times, it was still coming down when we went to bed. By that time we had had about 10 inches of snow which had fallen that afternoon and evening.

The following morning we woke up to nearly a foot and a half of snow. Those big fat flakes were not the dry powdery stuff, these were the wet heavy ones. In one way it is easier to shovel as the snow sticks together, but it is harder going on the old back. Our big peach tree has suffered a broken branch due to this snow, also at least one of our fruit tree saplings has not fared well. This soggy snow has also damaged trees elsewhere round the village, but at the moment there isn't a lot that anyone can do about it. Since the snow stopped falling in such vast quantities the roads have been ploughed, and I did end up with a 3 foot snow bank at the bottom of the drive. So once again it was a day spent snow clearing. After previous years I have learnt to carefully clear round the gates, and then open them to ensure that there will be no ice to get in the way should you need to get out in an emergency.

After a couple of days without snow things soon start returning to normal, and the novelty has worn off. If we get blue sky days throughout the winter then things will not be too bad. Unlike today where we have leaden grey skies and a persistant drizzle and rain in the air. I don't mind the cold but I can definitely do without the dampness. OK -20C sounds cold, but here it is normally a dry cold and not that awful damp bone numbing cold which is the norm for the UK. Given the choice of the two locations I do know which one I would choose. Mind you even the night time temperatures haven't got much lower than -8C so far. Although I do have to point out that this isn't the winter proper yet. We have even managed to get out into Gorna and continue with our winter siege shopping. The good news is that we are 98% ready now, Sod's Law dictates that there will always be something that we forget, but hopefully it will be small enough that I can get it home on the bus.

I don't know what is happening but the roads are a lot clearer this year. There is not the traditional layer of ice That we normally find ourselves confronted with. As I have said previously this will be our sixth winter here, and so far none of them have been the same. It certainly keeps you on your toes, and who knows what the rest of the winter might throw at us. We have already had a couple of days worth of the power going off at the most inopportune moments. We have definitely learnt this lesson as there are torches and candles dotted round the house, and we both have head torches normally within arm's reach. One thing that we have started doing is, we now fill a couple of thermos jugs full of hot water. Even when you come in from outside, or shopping, you can get a hot drink straight away. It might be a simple thing but it all helps.

It looks like the 27000 mark is within touching distance, so now I am wondering how close to 28000 we can get to by the end of the year. So a very large thank you to all of you who take the time to read these blogs, to those who forward them on to family and friends and to those who actively follow these blogs. I am amazed by how many countries this blog has made it to, the latest one being El Salvador. It is all because of you, so once again a very big thank you to you all, and there is plenty of room if anyone decides they would like to follow the blog. :o)