Friday, 30 May 2014

Rain Stopped Play

I have a sneaking feeling that many of you will have noticed but we have had a little bit of rain this past 24hours. I don't wish to worry people but I have heard the sound of sawing and hammering from the village this morning, and we live up in the hills. One thought to hold on to is that I am not aware of any of the neighbours being called Noah. The rest of Europe has been deluged with unseasonal amounts of rain, which has caused plenty of flooding, now it seems as though it might be the turn of Bulgaria.Only the other day they were saying that the levels in the Danube were falling, so I would hate to think where they are after yesterday.

Yesterday had started out quite pleasantly too. It was still quite warm, without being quite so hot and sticky. Which made it a nice day for wandering round Veliko Tarnovo doing several bits and pieces. One thing which really needed doing was getting the stuff for the pool. We have found this little shop which does all of the chemicals for your pool requirements. The stuff from there seems much better quality, and it also costs less than the similar stuff from either Metro or Praktiker. It also gave Net the chance to have a mooch round in one of her favourite art shops. It never ceases to amaze me some of these smaller specialist shops being tucked away quietly on the back roads, and a lot of the time you only find them by accident.

Everything was going fine until about 1 o'clock, when the breeze began to pick up strength. The breeze soon became a wind and the skies were getting ever darker. We didn't have long to wait until the rain put in an appearance, and it was proper rain. None of the misty drizzly rubbish, this was rain coming down like stair rods, the rains of biblical proportions. Not wanting to be left out the thunder and lightning soon joined in. The ground had started to bake hard over the last week so the rain seemed to be finding it difficult to soak away, so there was an awful lot of surface water about. Driving conditions soon became bad, the windscreen wipers were only just coping with the amount of rain coming down. The surface water was hiding various potholes. It did get slightly easier once I got off of the main road as it is a constant climb up to the village, so at least the potholes were more visible.

It was still hissing down when we got home so I decided not to unload the car. Which reminds me that it still needs doing. Now readers of the blog will be aware that we always seem to have problems when we get heavy rains. We have previously had part of the garden wall fall down, we have had an internal waterfall on the back wall of the cellar, we have had a river flowing down the outside cellar steps, plus the normal leaks through the roof. So we were quite cautious going indoors not knowing what we were going to be facing. The animals were not keen on going out and getting wet and muddy paws, which saved a job of chasing them round with a towel before they leave a trail of muddy footprints throughout the house. This time we were lucky as only one minor leak from the roof.

This time it looks like it was the garden which bore the brunt, especially the veg patch. That now looks as though a river has suddenly sprung up over night. Most of my trenches seem to have washed away, which is a nuisance as a lot of the seedlings were coming along quite nicely. It seems as though the bottom of the vegetable patch will possibly be producing mixed vegetables this year. All we can do is wait a few days for it all to start drying out before I can get out there and start to break the muddy crust up to give the seedlings a fighting chance. There are plenty of small peaches, apricots, pears and apples scattered beneath the various trees. One piece of good news for lovers of French cuisine, there seems to be an abundance of snails about.

By all accounts the thunder and lightning did continue throughout the night, but I managed to sleep right the way through it all. The rain has been off and on all day, pretty much like the power. I have seen a video clip of the road outside the village pensioner's club, and that is now a muddy river flowing along.

People might say that it is ideal weather for ducks, but even they seem to be noticeable by their absence. Everything just seems to be getting a coating of mud. The fireflies which I would normally see at this time of year have only been spotted for a couple of days. I guess that their light just isn't strong enough to shine through their beetle sized wet suits and raincoats.

Looking at various weather forecast sites, we can expect more rain into tomorrow. So not only will everything be muddy but it is also going to be soggy. This means that I probably won't be able to do anything with the garden until at least the middle of the week. This is mainly down to the stickiness of Bulgarian mud. As soon as you stick a fork or spade in the ground the mud takes on a psychiatric dependency to your tools and just won't let go. It is the same just moving about in the garden the mud sticks to your boots and before you know it you are three inches taller but wearing diving boots. They do say that every cloud has a silver lining, but unfortunately it is horizon to horizon cloud so I can't even see the edges never mind the lining. Someone will probably have nicked the silver and dropped it in the mud, so it will never see the light of day again for a good few years. At least I have managed to get this blog article written before the power disappears or gets stuck in the mud. So wherever you are I hope that you are warm and dry.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Story Of An Alphabet

May 24th sees a popular celebration here in Bulgaria, it celebrates Bulgarian Education and Culture, and also Slavonic Literature Day. It was first celebrated at a school in Plovdiv, on May 11th in 1851. A lot of emphasis is placed on the Cyrillic alphabet, something which all Bulgarians seem very proud of. If you really want to upset a Bulgarian make the mistake and say that the alphabet has been borrowed from the Russians. The roots of the Cyrillic alphabet can be traced back to the 9th Century.

Up until that time the languages being widely being used were Greek, Hebrew and Latin as these were the only languages Christianity could be preached in. At that time in history Great Moravia was ruled by Prince Rostislav, this would include parts of what is now Slovakia and the Czech Republic. At the time the word of Christianity was being spread by priests of Germanic origins, and the Prince decided that if the word was to be spread it should be in a language his people were more likely to understand. So he petitioned the Emperor Michael III to send educated missionaries to the region to spread the word in a language that his subjects could understand. The Emperor sent two brothers, Cyril and Methodius to the region. They were both great scholars, theologians and linguists. They had already created something called the Glagolitic alphabet. This alphabet made use of three symbols associated with the church, these were the cross, the triangle and the circle.

These brothers were originally from Thessalonika in what was Greek Macedonia. The brothers, and their followers began translating the Bible into the new Glagolitic alphabet. They also began spreading the word of Christianity in the Slavic language, so that the majority of the population could understand. The missionary priests that they had replaced were somewhat annoyed at having been ousted from the region. So in a fit of pique these priests accused the brothers and their followers of the serious charge of heresy. The charge was upheld as it contravened the three official languages permitted for teaching Christianity. So in 886AD Bishop Wiching of Nitra banned the new alphabet and imprisoned some 200 followers were imprisoned. The remaining members were expelled from Great Moravia, with many of them fleeing to the South. Some made it as far as Bulgaria where Tsar Boris I granted them asylum. Christianity had arrived in Bulgaria in 865AD but all of the teaching was conducted in Greek. In exchange for asylum Tsar Boris wanted the new Bulgarian priests to be taught in the new Slavic language and alphabet. A shrewd move on the Tsar's part as it helped to maintain Bulgaria's independence.

One of the joys of this new Glagolitic alphabet was that it was much better suited to the sounds of the Slavic languages. Academies were founded in Ohrid and Preslav. It didn't take too long before the new alphabet and language was being spread by students throughout the Slavic nations. It slowly evolved into the first version of the Cyrillic alphabet, thanks largely to the work of one of the brothers main followers who later became known as St Clement of Ohrid. This was towards the end of the 9th Century. The alphabet was then largely unchanged until several centuries later. Then the Patriarch Evtimii launched a wide reaching reform of all things literary, which included updating the alphabet. So when you look at the history of the language and how it has evolved, it is easy to understand why Bulgarians are proud of their language.

I have to admit that although the language is difficult, with the alphabet being phonetic it does tend to make things easier. If you can learn, or in my case teach yourself, the alphabet it does tend to simplify matters. At least I can now pronounce items on a menu, I might not know what they all are but I can now sound good. Fortunately I don't need to be a fully qualified linguist to order coffee and cake. Today is also about education as a whole with many areas and schools organising different festive activities. These can also include awards to both teachers and students. In previous years we have seen many parades with the pupils and staff of various local schools taking part. More often accompanied by balloons and flags, so this truly is a celebration for all ages.

This alphabet has been about for over 11 centuries, and when Bulgaria gained admission into the European Union in 2007 it became the 23rd national language. Which also meant that Cyrillic became an official European alphabet. So whatever your nationality, and wherever you might be let me wish you 'Честит празник'. I don't know of anywhere else which has a celebration as unique as this, so it is quite possibly a solely Bulgarian event.

24 Май - Празник на славянската писменост, на българската просвета и култура

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Ringing The Changes

The other day I was busy looking for some music CDs to take over to the barn. I knew which CDs they were, and Net knew which CDs they were, as we had made them last year. As often happens they were possibly put somewhere either safe or logical. If they were somewhere safe, then we probably wouldn't have actually found them until CD players were a thing of the past. So it seemed like the logical place to start looking was with a lot of the other CDs and computer discs. Now it was while I was searching through all of these discs, that I discovered that half of them didn't even have writing on. This wasn't too much of a problem as the weather was a bit on the manky side of things. So sitting at the computer I was feeding these discs in just to find out what was on them, and then writing a brief description of the contents. I got to one disc in particular, and I guess that you could say that I got kind of side-tracked. The disc in question contained a lot of our old photos. These photos also included shots of the house from when we bought it.

I thought that it would be interesting to see just how far we have come in the last five and a half years, and the changes that we have made. The main difference is that originally the house was in three parts. There was the living area, the sleeping area and the cellar. None of these parts were actually connected, and to gain access between them meant venturing outside. Also having three separate areas didn't make sense security wise, but now the dogs can roam the whole house without getting wet or muddy paws. I do have to say that the house was liveable when we moved out here, so the changes that we made could be done room by room.

The outer wall is possibly the first thing that people notice, well that and the grass banks outside. We are slowly reducing the number of weeds out there and replacing them with grass. It still needs cutting, but I guess that is one way of me getting some exercise.

Trying to tame the garden, and get it into some sort of shape has taken a lot of willpower and determination. As much as I would like to take some credit for this, it all really is down to Net. I am just there to do as I am told, and some of the more manual type things. I do have to admit that Net has managed to create a very nice garden with flowers and shrubs, and still enough room for the vegetable patch and the pool and washing line.

We did have some problems at the back of the house, where some of the boundary wall had gone missing over the years. Not ideal when you have large dogs, as you wouldn't want them marauding round the village. So sections of wall have been rebuilt, we had to get people in to do this for us as we had no idea where to start. Fortunately the old metal gates were replaced by the wooden ones, and the mud drive has twice been coated with gravel.

The main change to the house itself has been to replace the old draughty windows with double glazing. That first winter we had sheets of polythene across each window just to try and eliminate the breeze blowing through. We even fitted each window ourselves rather than have a firm do it as we were told how much mess they leave behind. It also meant that we were doing it a window at a time so we were able to level them up properly and then fit them with something more robust than just expanding foam.

As you can see from the above picture the two closed doors opened into the living area, and the open door was the sleeping area. During the summer that would be no problem at all, but in the depths of winter it meant venturing outside just to go to bed or to the loo. This was overcome by simply enclosing part of it. As it also cuts down the draughts it has made the house warmer too, and gives us somewhere else to overwinter some of the less than frost hardy plants. The cats like to think that it is now part of their own personal racetrack.

Originally we had a small kitchenette, and a utility room. With only one window the kitchen area was really gloomy in the winter. We would have had to run water up into the utility room anyway so we decided to take out the Jamal and the wall. The timbers in the wall were all burnt, so if you have these jamals please be careful with them. With the increased space we were able to make a kitchen/dining room, and with more windows it is so much lighter. I don't think that I did too bad of a job fitting the kitchen, as it was my first attempt.

The small upstairs lounge has possibly seen the least of the changes. The fireplace is still there, although it now has a wood burner placed there. The existing chimney has been used to feed the flue pipes up. In the summer this is a nice cool room, and with the tiled floor refreshing on your feet too. In fact it is perfect for relaxing with a good book.

The hallway done in the sleeping end has had some major changes. Mainly due to the fact that we needed somewhere for the stairs to come up to from the cellar. We were fortunate that all of the existing floorboards were perfectly sound. So with a lot of sanding, staining and varnishing we have managed to achieve what you now see. You can just about make out the border which we created ourselves, using a darker wood stain. We protected the whole lot with marine varnish, which we hoped would be quite durable. It was a bit trial and error. In the winter the floor was still tacky after two weeks, in the summer it became one big fly trap. So if anyone is tempted to use marine varnish try to do so in either spring or autumn. If you have dogs and cats good luck with trying to keep them off of it all.

Finally there is the cellar, we have taken it from the pictures you see above, to the later pictures. I think that we have made a good job of it all. The stairs we had made, and fitted, but I wasn't totally happy with them so I ended up adapting them slightly. So more than five years on and are we finished? Not by any stretch of the imagination, but one of the most satisfying things is that much of the work has been carried out by ourselves. It just goes to prove that you never really know what you are capable of. It might not be a Palace but it is comfortable and getting the way that we want it to be.

Digressing slightly onto the blog figures, this time last year I put a little widget at the top of the blogs which would record everytime a new person viewed the blog and where they were from. In the year just gone more than 9000 different people, or different IP addresses have viewed the blog, and you have come from all over the world. In fact counting the figures up from 85 different countries. The total viewing figures are now standing at over 50,000, and none of this would have been possible without you. So once again I am going to make the most of this opportunity and say a very big THANK YOU to you all. I hope that you still enjoy these articles now and in the future, and that you will continue to share them with family and friends.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Preparing For Summer

Here Comes The Summer
I don't want to get people too excited unnecessarily, but in the words of Feargal Sharkey and The Undertones, "Here Comes The Summer". The temperatures have been slowly creeping up, even now at 5.30pm we are 22C. The ground is warming up, and everything seems to have burst into life with a vengeance. I have lost count of how many times I have already cut the grass this year, but as soon as you have turned your back to put the lawn mower away the grass is already six inches high again. Unfortunately cutting the grass is just one of my tasks at this time of year, later when it is all brown and crispy it isn't too bad. The good news is that we don't intend playing croquet so the grass doesn't have to be to any other standard than short. Like many others find, it is OK if you don't look at it too closely, from a distance it looks green so therefore it has to be grass.

Fruit Trees and Raspberry Canes
I can remember back in the UK and the lawn being full of daisies, and no-one ever planted any. Well over here it seems to be a similar story with Dandelions, stones and sticks. The dandelions aren't too bad, and the lawn mower will soon make short work of them. Most of the sticks and twigs just get crunched up and turned into splinters. All too often with the stones I have had them ricocheting round my ankles. The stones don't do the mower blade a lot of good either. I have possibly run over so many stones that the mower now seems to chew the grass rather than cut it. So being part of the way through the job I thought that I would finish it off with the strimmer.

The Garden Prep Underway
Now Mr Flymo in his wisdom has decided to make his strimmer out of a lot of plastic parts, and over time the extremes of temperatures take their toll. All was going well until the spool cover decided to break, which meant I ended up with strimmer line tangled up into something that a Psychotic sparrow would be quite happy to call home. Mr Flymo must have thought that this could be a potential problem as he made this cover orange. So once I had found all of the bits, it was a matter of treating it like an Airfix kit. Also using the traditional serviceman's logic, I decided to beef it up a bit to prevent it happening again.So now I am ending up with a strimmer that looks like It had come out of Dr Frankenstein's garden shed. The only snag being that I had done such a good job that the other side disintegrated, Net then had the brilliant idea of seeing if the spares can be sent out here. Well it has to be better than Dr Frankenmo's strimmer, and probably pounds lighter too. To finish off the grass I got my angle grinder out, and dressed out a lot of the damage on the mower blade, and also sharpened it a bit.

The Vegetable Patch
The veg plot has been sorted out and things have been planted in their trenches. That was something I never even thought of in the UK, if you plant in a trench, that is the only area that you need to water. The only things that we tend not to do that with are the tomatoes as they can end up with too much water which can also cause problems. The strawberry patch has already resulted in me being able to eat a couple of bowls full. The raspberry canes have all been staked and wired, so I am hoping for a good crop of them this year. Most of our fruit trees are showing signs that they will produce well this year. Sadly nothing to report on the Sweet Chestnut or Almond, but they are only a couple of years old.

Under The Barn
Those who live here, or who have read this blog previously, will be aware that it does get rather warm in the summer months. You could even say that it gets hot, so when that happens we just retreat up under the barn where it is nicely shaded. We have tables and chairs up there, as well as on the patio near the house. I have even sorted out a radio for up there as well as a kettle, and a beer fridge. We even have lights up there. One thing that I have learnt since living here, is that in the village there is very little light pollution, so of a summer's evening there's nothing better than doing a bit of star gazing from a sun lounger.

Filling The Pool
Getting There
The pool is up and slowly filling. We originally tried one of the pools with an air filled doughnut round the top, which was great to rest the back of your head on. I did that once when it wasn't fully inflated and the water just cascaded out. There was nothing to grab hold of to prevent it either, until it had got to a lower level. So we have one of these rigid frame efforts, and after four summers it is still doing the job. As we don't have a well we have to use mains water, so we don't fill it up all in one go, as that might cause problems with the village's water supply. At the moment the water is crystal clear, but cold. It must look inviting though as I have already had to fish out countless wasps, bees, beetles, butterflies and moths. I am looking forward to the return of the Fireflies, which should be anytime soon. I have heard that some people have already seen the odd one or two, but the night time temperatures up here on the hill are still a little on the cool side, so I normally expect them towards the end of the month.

Crane Fly
One thing that I have noticed an abundance of are the Crane Flies. I am still trying to work out their actual purpose as they never seem to really do anything. That is apart from saying "Oh look he's reading a book near that light. Let's go and annoy him". Hopefully the birds will eat their fill of the useless things. Even the cats have got bored with chasing them now, although perhaps they are saving their energy for the big moths which are about in the summer. The frogs are still about and making a racket in the evenings, lizards can be seen scurrying across the road. I have even seen a couple of snakes which had failed in their attempts to emulate the lizards. Fingers crossed that we don't end up with any snakes visiting us this year. It is bad enough finding them in the garden but we could do without them coming indoors to watch a bit of TV.

Prize Winning Knees
So that is part of our preparation work ready for the summer. The heavier winter clothes have mainly been packed away, and the lighter ones sorted out. It will soon be shorts and tee shirt weather again, which we all look forward too. The good thing with the summer here is that if you fancy having a barbecue next week the chances are that the weather will be sunny for you. Unlike the UK where you are constantly monitoring the weather forecast. So the knees will once again be getting exposed to the sunshine, and the feet will end up with either a white flip flop pattern or a crock pattern.