Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Logging On For Winter

So September is drawing to a close, the nights are getting longer and the days are getting shorter. The temperatures during the night plummet from where they sit during the day, but at least it has stopped raining for the time being. So all in all it is much the same as when we first arrived here, six years ago. Now we have been here for six years and two days, and I am still more at home here than I ever was in the UK. At this time of year thoughts start to focus on the up coming winter, and what preparations need to be made. Some might think that we are a little bit premature in our thinking, but we are not the only ones. In the village the walnut trees are being raided, any fruit and vegetables that the ladies in the village can lay their hands on are being compoted and stored away in jars ready for winter. We would compot too, and one day we will learn how, but in the mean time our fruit and vegetables from the garden are going into one of the freezers. Living in a small village does get you used to adopting a siege mentality, and everyone is like a proverbial squirrel stashing food away for the winter while we still can.

Even the people responsible for the power lines have been busy in the village. Each year they go round in their truck with the cherry picker on the back and cut down tree branches from around the power lines. Each year they seem to forget us, so we sit here reading while they have turned the power off and we don't get the benefit. So the following day risking life and limb I have had to get the ladders out and sort out the offending branches of the walnut tree out the front of our house. I wouldn't mind so much but I could actually see where branches were pushing against the cables. So if we were to get more strong winds we might well have ended up with a broken power line. Also with the weight of snow on branches above the cables there is another possibility of damage being caused that way. So defying death and nose bleeds I am perched at the top of the ladder 'trimming' the offending branches out of the tree. maybe scalping one side of the tree might be more accurate, but I am hoping that it will do for next year as well.

The next thing on our list of things to do was to sort out firewood. Now seeing as how we have wooded areas all round us, and the wood lorries are constantly shuttling backwards and forwards, I didn't foresee there being any problems. After all there has been no problems in previous years. So yesterday I went round to the mayor's office to arrange a delivery. I spoke with the mayor's secretary and explained what I wanted, and one of the village women started saying about documents. So there is me a bit baffled, wondering what on earth this document is. So the woman goes off and gets her document. So I have now seen a document, now I wanted to know do I need a document and if so where do I get one from. Maybe it was a new thing that I was unaware of, so I had the mayor's secretary talking about something in one ear and this other woman talking about something else in the other ear. Their voices were going up and up as they tried to make themselves heard over the other, and I'm stuck between the two getting more and more confused. All I wanted was to arrange a delivery of some firewood, why was that so difficult?

Knowing that the secretary's son lives opposite to us, and his wife speaks some English I thought that it might be easier if Emi got involved. At least that way I might actually get wood organised this side of Christmas. So after locking the mayor's office up we wandered down to Emi and Said's house. After shouting and hollering over fences and walls, and rattling the gate they decided that Emi wasn't there. Looking at the time she might be at the pensioner's club waiting for the school bus. So the secretary returned to the mayor's office and that left just two of us to head for the club. Thankfully not only was  Emi there, but also Petya. Eventually it turned out that the document the woman was ranting on about is for those who claim some form of social benefit, so why on earth she thought I ought to have one is beyond me. Maybe she wanted to sell me her document. For the life of me I couldn't understand why if a document was actually needed, how come none of the foreigners in the village were made aware of the fact. Anyway Petya and Emi explained that in the morning I was to go and see the mayor and order the wood. Much the same as I had done in previous years, and pretty much what I thought that I had done until the 'woman' began mentioning documents.

So this morning I return to the mayor's office and actually speak with the mayor. I explained what I wanted, and checked on the price. The price was the only thing that tallied between yesterday and today. The mayor, bless her was straight on to one of her many mobile phones sorting it all out for me, explaining where I lived, how much I wanted and what price she had quoted. My next question was when would it be delivered, today or tomorrow? The answer was about 10 minutes. So thanking the Mayor I returned home, and opened up the drive way gates to await the delivery. I had managed to do some of my daily 'poo-patrol', when a tractor and trailer full of logs turned up driven by Ivan. The first thing he did was shake my hand before speaking on his mobile, the gist of it being that he knew who I was, he has known me for more than five years and if he had been told who the wood was for he would have known where to bring it anyway. Once I had handed over the cash the wood was emptied into the driveway, and Ivan was off making more deliveries round the village.

The price of wood seems to have gone down this year, or maybe we are slightly earlier ordering it. Last year it was 55 Leva a cubic metre and this year it was 50. This wood is still quite fresh, and as you can see the leaves are still green. This will all be cut into cheeses and go up under the barn to dry out ready for next year. Previously I have left it in metre lengths to dry out, but the chainsaw seems to prefer cutting the logs at this stage rather than when they are drier. Also some of the bigger logs are a lot easier to move in cheeses in a wheel barrow, rather than trying to wrestle with the full metre length. Our neighbour Said once again came and gave me a hand moving the logs up the drive and stacking them out of the way. It certainly makes things a lot easier for me, and he didn't want paying for his help either, I did insist that he had money for a packet of cigarettes though. Many people will leave their logs stacked outside their houses, and I am often surprised that no one ever goes and helps themself. Fortunately we don't have anywhere flat enough, where we can leave a pile of logs maturing, so we stack and dry our logs up under the barn where the dogs and the cats can keep their eyes on them.

I am guessing that like most people, when I was living in the UK, I never had any reason to use a chainsaw. So once we moved out here it was a new skill which I had to learn. Most of what I learnt is through watching the locals, and learning what not to do. One thing you do learn by living in a village is how to look after your chainsaw. This is now my 4th one, surprisingly the electric version outlasted the other two petrol ones. I have been told that the fuel is quite bad here, and when you mix the 2 stroke oil in you do it into 4 litres of fuel and not the recommended 5 litres. This helps to prevent the piston overheating.

Every so often you will need to sharpen the teeth on the saw, and most people do this with a round file. There are various files that you can buy, but the cheapest ones might just as well be made of cheese for all of the time that they will last. It is a lot more sensible to buy your files from either your local Stihl or Husqvarna shops, they might cost a bit more but at least they will do the job. An even better option is to have a couple of spare chains, which can be swapped over is you are doing a lot of cutting. They do say that googles, gloves and hearing protection should be worn, and that safety flip-flops are not ideal footwear. Most things are common sense, but if in doubt get someone who is used to working with a chainsaw in to do whatever needs doing. If it is some of the village lads it is probably best not to watch.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Is It Another Brick In The Wall?

Monday dawned in the village, much the same as any other Monday, but something felt different. I could hear birds singing in the trees, and I could hear tractors and machinery working in fields. There were the usual sounds of chickens and roosters doing their normal things, the occasional dog barked and our cats were singing for their breakfast. So far everything appeared normal, it was slightly cooler and I was burrowed under more than just a sheet, so maybe that was it. It wasn't until I was actually feeding the dogs and cats that I worked out what was so different. There were no children to be heard, could it be the work of some alien body snatchers to blame, or some governmental ploy behind it all? Or could it simply be that Monday September 15th was the first day of the new school year?

With the bad weather that we have been having this year, it doesn't really feel as though we have had a summer. Now with the start of a new academic year it feels as though the summer that wasn't is slowly sinking out of sight. Even though we do still have the village school here it hasn't been used for years. Unless you count the sheep that use the school grounds for grazing, although I doubt that any of them could recite the 6 times table or become another Shakespeare. The children from this village have to travel to attend school. They either go to the next village, Vinograd, or into Draganovo or Gorna depending on their age.

According to various reports it seems as though approximately 64000 young Bulgarians will be starting school for the first time. Despite it being a daunting prospect for them, it is also tinged with excitement. In Bulgaria education is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 16, and is provided freely by the State. The only things that the student's family has to provide are textbooks, any needed stationery, and if the student undertakes any school trips. Before a child enrols in their first year at school they must have undergone a year of pre school.

These new pupils in Bulgaria are treated with just as much family pride as a new pupil in any other country. Even though many schools here do not have a school uniform, these young boys and girls are dressed to look their best. There are so many cameras in evidence from not only mums and dads, but also from extended family members too. In years to come no one wants to look back at their first day at school photos and think "I look like a sack of potatoes tied up in the middle". You will also notice that the family members have also made the effort to dress up too, or maybe that is to set an example. The teachers, while not in cap and gown, are also looking well turned out with suits and ties, dresses and skirts seeming to be the order of the day. Although not all together as we are not talking about an English Public school here. The whole day seems to be treated as a special occasion with family members inspecting the classrooms and finding out where their budding genius will be sat. There seem to be more smiles rather than tears from proud parents, as their children take their own first steps on the educational ladder.

There also seems to be an abundance of flowers in evidence. I think that these are given to the pupil's teacher, and not an indication that the child has been brain washed into becoming a clone of Morrissey. One thing has come to light from various reports is that the school year has started on time all across the country, even in the areas which were hit by the summer floods. Some schools have had to be totally refurbished, but they all had their doors open ready to start the new academic year on Monday. Maybe the paint might be a bit wet in places but no child's education will have suffered any delays.

However, children will be children, and not all of them will have viewed Monday in such an enthusiastic light. Parents throughout the known world are often heard to breathe a big sigh of relief once the school year starts, mine were probably no different. There has been mention that there is a slight short fall of teachers in a couple of subjects, most notably in Maths and English. Hopefully if people in the village read this, and their child is struggling with English, then I will help if I can. I might not be qualified, or have letters after my name, but I have been speaking English for as long as I can remember and that has to help. For Maths, if it involves more than me counting on fingers and toes, there has to be a better solution. I remember that once upon a time local education authorities did try to get the local foreigners to help with spoken English in schools, but it seems as though that initiative has fallen by the wayside.

64000 new pupils might sound like a lot for a country of almost 7 million people, but year on year numbers are falling. Maybe this is due to people seeking other lifestyles throughout Europe, and elsewhere, and perhaps this also accounts for the decline in the number of teachers. I was quite surprised to learn that there are Bulgarian schools outtside of the country, but most Bulgarian children living abroad enrol into the host country's education system.

So if you were wondering why the towns and villages seemed a bit quieter since the start of the week, the school bell has been responsible. The school day here starts earlier too, round about 8am. Some of us aren't even fully functioning at that time of morning, and need either more coffee or plugging into the mains (don't try that at home kids ). So well done to both teachers and pupils who are up and about and able to communicate effectively at such an ungodly hour. No wonder Bulgaria has such a high literacy rate. It seems as though schools here are more akin to Please Sir, possibly showing my age there, rather than Pink Floyd's Another Brick In The Wall. Even though there aren't so many children who live in the village throughout the year it is surprising just how much quieter it seems when they are away at school. Hopefully they all enjoyed their first day back at school.  

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Bulgarian Unification 6th September 1885

September 6th is an important date for Bulgarians, and not just because it is a National holiday. On this date 129 years ago the Unification of Bulgaria began. Many will point out that on March 3rd the Liberation Day was celebrated, and query why there is a different day for the Unification. It is true that the Liberation happened in 1878, but it only happened for part of the country. There was something called the San Stefano Treaty which effectively cut off chunks of the Ottoman Empire, reducing it in both size and influence. Various nations got together and decided what to do with these various areas in something known as the Berlin Congress. At the end of the Berlin Congress the Berlin Treaty was created. This gave rise to the Principality of Bulgaria in the lands between the Balkans and the Danube. The area to the South of the Balkans, but also bordered by the Rila and Rhodope mountains became known as Eastern Rumelia, which was an autonomous region within the Ottoman Empire. Macedonia and Thrace both still remained under Ottoman rule. This organised separation of the Bulgarian peoples hindered their development both economically and politically.

These individual Bulgarian states quite rightly wanted to be reunited under a single national Bulgarian state. The first attempt to try and make some headway came about in 1880. Britain, who were one of the nations behind the Berlin Treaty, had a new government. It was now headed by William Gladstone, and prior to becoming Britain's Prime Minister had seemed quite supportive of the idea behind unification. Unfortunately the change of British government didn't mean a change in the British policy. They were growing increasingly concerned about the spread of Russian influence, which could quite possibly reach down to the Aegean Sea. There was also the possibility of an outbreak of hostilities between Greece, along with Montenegro, and the Ottoman Empire. Although simmering and brooding, this potential powder keg never actually amounted to anything.

Various other attempts were made to call for unification, but they always seemed to fall on deaf ears. In time it was decided to concentrate on the unification between the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia. This plan was co-ordinated by the Bulgarian Secret Central Revolutionary Committee (BSCRC). Their efforts were aided by Prince Alexander Battenberg getting behind the cause. Many claim that his support was his only way that he could see to stay in power. His standing with the Russians and pro-Russian supporters within Bulgaria had reached such a low point that many were calling for his abdication.

Throughout August there were minor rumblings of discontent throughout various towns and villages in Eastern Rumelia. Various BSCRC cells had been established for just this purpose. The main thrust of the revolution was meant to coincide with the Eastern Rumelian militia being mobilised and on manoeuvres outside of Plovdiv. It came slightly earlier than planned when a riot broke out in Panagyurishte, It took a day for the police to restore order. The blue touch paper of revolution had been lit, the next area of unrest was Golyam Konare, where an armed squad of rebels, under the command of Prodan Tishkov (sometimes known as Chardafon), seized control of the village and declared unification.

Rebel fighters left their villages and joined up with the Eastern Rumelian militia outside of Plovdiv. The militia was commanded by Major Danail Nikolaev, he was fully aware of what the rebels were doing and fully supported them. Once there were sufficient numbers both the rebels and the militia swept into Plovdiv and seized the Governor's residence. The Governor was Gavril Krastevich, and being a patriot himself offered no resistance. Luckily the Berlin Treaty assisted in this as the Ottomans could not send troops into Eastern Rumelia unless asked for by the Governor.

A temporary government had already been set up with Georgi Stranski at its head. A telegram was sent to Prince Alexander asking him to accept the unification once the Governor's residence had been seized. On September 9th Alexander I entered Plovdiv, accompanied by the Prime Minister, Petko Karavelov, and the head of Parliament, Stefan Stambolov. This action signified that unification had taken place, but what about on the international stage?

You would have thought that Russia would be over the moon about this, however they were opposed to it. Possibly because of their lack of support towards Alexander I, they were now concerned that his influence in the region would grow, whereas their own would decrease.

The British initially held true to their foreign policy, until they realised that the Russians had spoken out against the rebels actions and unification. So sensing that there wouldn't be an expansion of Russian influence in the region eventually gave its support to the new Bulgarian nation. France and Germany both sided with Russia and wanted an international conference to be held in Constantinople, where the violation of the Berlin Treaty should be discussed. Serbia and Greece realised that Bulgaria was now the largest nation in the Balkan area, and both wanted territories ceded to themselves. At one point Greece even declared war on the new state of Bulgaria, fortunately Britain was able to diplomatically quieten things down. The main problem arose with Serbia. They had a secret treaty with the Austro-Hungarian Empire dating back to 1881, giving them the 'right' to expand their borders in to Macedonia. Feeling that they had support, Milan I declared war on Bulgaria on November 2nd, Serbia was defeated. So slowly but surely the new Bulgarian nation was gaining recognition, both politically and internationally. Just as an aside Plovdiv, the former principal city of Eastern Rumelia, has now been judged to be the European city of Culture for 2019, so even being a one time hot bed of rebellion might have stood it in good stead.