Thursday, 10 November 2016

Size Can Be Deceptive

Those who have read the previous blog article will be aware that we have now got a new car. As with anything new there always seem to be a new set of problems which will accompany it, and the car was no exception. Although the problems didn't arise from the car itself. It is a bit wider and longer than we are used to. We knew that the wooden gates on the driveway would have to be dug down, as they have sagged a bit in the middle. I know that feeling, so I can sympathise with them. So we did that, and the gates can now open fully, to allow the new jalopy entrance to the driveway.

Being a bit wider and longer, also seems to mean that it has the turning circle of a small bus, or could that be because of the Carlos Fandango wide wheels? So the driveway itself has had to be dug out and widened, including the corner up beside the house. The dogs were eyeing this newly exposed area of fresh earth with anticipation. They do seem to like getting muddy feet before they come indoors, and no matter how often I tell them to wipe their feet, it always falls on deaf ears. As a short term measure plastic sheeting was laid down, fortunately it wasn't a windy day otherwise my neighbour and I would have had a bird's eye view of the village. A longer term solution was to get more gravel delivered, so we ended up with 12 tonnes of the stuff at the bottom of the drive. This then had to be moved by wheelbarrow to the designated areas, where it could all be raked out level, burying the plastic sheeting beneath it. Although the dogs seemed rather put out by all of this, the cats were giving the operations their close supervision. Their supervisory skills must have worked, as the car goes up and down the drive, turns at the end of the house and parks up under the barn. It will even go through the open gates without us having to breathe in. Shifting 12 tonnes of gravel is hard work, so very many thanks to friends and neighbours for their help, and I am glad that it wasn't done in the heat of Summer.

We also decided to give the kitchen a bit of a new makeover, by the way this is not our kitchen either before or after the transformation. As we were getting a new cooker our neighbours asked if they could have the old one, being dual fuel it is ideal for the periodic winter power cuts. So that was carefully lifted out of position and taken across the road, complete with gas bottle and the relevant connections. The fridge is rather noisy, but that was my beer fridge from up under he barn, so that migrated back there. We were getting a new fridge freezer, so we asked our neighbours if they also wanted the old freezer, so that also made its way across the road. Thank heavens that these village roads are not busy. We had arranged for the new white goods to be delivered, and they were after a fashion. The van turned up, and everything was unloaded into the middle of the road.

Just at the time of delivery the Kmet was walking past, so she decided to get involved. Rather than unpacking everything inside, she decided that everything should be unpacked then and there, and then it could go indoors. The new cooker went through the garden gate, in through the back door and into the kitchen without any problem, the same with the cooker hood. The fridge freezer was another matter, as it is the size of a small Tardis. Various ways of measuring were attempted, including guesstimating and the Kmet using some of the nylon strapping as a more accurate means. The Kmet announced that because of the post box the fridge freezer wouldn't go through the garden gate, but would have to take the scenic route through the driveway gates. My attempt to point out that it would only take me a couple of minutes to remove the post box were ignored, and a procession of people lifted the fridge freezer up and carried off as directed. The next problem was attempting to get it through the back door and into the kitchen. In the end the back door was dismantled, and access gained. It was then like Billy Smart's Circus trying to get it into the kitchen, with suggestions and counter suggestions winging back and forth. It only needed to be stood upright and swung through the door, which we did while heated discussions were ongoing. It was in the kitchen and slid into position, surge protector connected and plugged into the mains. There were so many sticky labels plastered all over it, which I started stripping off, my neighbour stopped me removing half a dozen bar codes, as they were to do with the warranty.

So the new fridge freezer was in, the cooker was in and carefully hidden away in its box was the cooker hood. The back door was almost back on, thank heavens we're getting a new one fitted in a couple of weeks, as with the new gaps the hallway could also serve as a wind tunnel for testing aircraft. I went back out the front to remove all of the debris caused by the enthusiastic unpacking, but like the Kmet it had disappeared. So the fridge freezer was working, and time to turn my attention to the new cooker, the gas jets were easy enough to change from mains gas to bottled gas, but there was no adaptor supplied to convert the feed, and it was too late to visit my favourite plumbers merchants, so that was put on old. The current rating meant that cooker should be wired on a separate breaker on our fuse panel. Luckily we know a friend who was able to do this for us. To cut a long story short it is now fully, and safely, fitted, and has been fully tested (I now have the stomach to prove this).

 The cooker hood should have been easy, as the new one was bought from the same store as the old one so it should have been a simple matter of one out and one in. How wrong could I be? The standard size seems to have changed, and the new one was now 6mm too wide to fit between two kitchen units. Apparently 6mm can make all of the difference. Armed with a tape measure I did some market research, and the new ones were all that size. Bugger!!!! I was told that I could not chop chunks out of the kitchen units, so I did the next best thing. After carefully measuring I took 3mm off of each side of the new cooker hood using an angle grinder, a steady hand and fingers crossed. It now fits perfectly, and due to the careful measurements you would hardly notice unless you look inside.

I am now hoping that the new windows and doors fit, and we don't have the same fuss and palaver getting the new 3 piece in. As the old saying goes though, "Where there's a will, there's a way", hopefully it won't involve the Kmet and a piece of plastic strapping this time.


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Back Again :)

Well after a longer than expected break from writing the blog, it is now back. Thank you for all of your words of encouragement, especially to those who said that they were missing the blog. I did take a break as I was worried that I would end up repeating things that I had previously written about. It also gave me a chance to tackle some of the jobs which needed my attention over the Summer months. Anyway, enough of the excuses, and on with the blog, some of you might be pleased to know.

Regular readers might remember that we have been having a fault with our car. Various bits have been replaced, and it is still there, the fuel tank has been removed and steam cleaned to ensure that it was not dirty fuel causing the problem. We have had her on diagnostic testing at least half a dozen times, and not once has a fault shown up. It was getting so bad that even a shopping trip had to be planned around where we could safely pull off the road and let the car cool before it would start again. We have got used to travelling everywhere with our Kindles though. So if you have ever passed a car with people busily reading, that might well have been us. Through unfortunate circumstances we gained a sum of money, enough to enable us to get another car, and finish doing what we want to on the house. Now despite being male, what I know about vehicles can be written on the back of a postage stamp, in large letters. My better half is also in the same boat, so we asked a friend for advice. He and his good lady wife spent an entire day ferrying us round to various used car lots, so once again a very big thank you to the pair of you.

We drove past one and looked through the fence, but nothing really ticked any of the boxes. Living out in the middle of the back of beyond we feel the a 4x4 is a practical choice, and they didn't have any. So it was on to the next place, which seemed to have a larger selection. We stopped and had a nose round, there were plenty of vehicles, including some of the previously mentioned Chelsea tractors. Unfortunately they came complete with rust, dodgy bodywork and some even had cracked windscreens. It was like looking in the bathroom mirror. When we mentioned about the cracked windscreens, we were told 'Nyama problem, 100 Leva VT, fix,fix'. Needless to say we beat a hasty retreat from there, and went up to the next pair of car lots.

The next had nothing that really grabbed our attention, however the one next door definitely had a few potentials. I was quite taken with a Toyota in there but we were shepherded away from that and shown a VW instead. It seemed tidy enough, but they did seem overly keen to sell it. Under the bonnet looked tidy, with no signs of any perished rubber hoses, the bodywork looked ok, they did have to get a power pack out to start it so it had been sat there for a while. The interior was showing plenty of signs of wear, So I let the boss lady do the haggling to get the price down, which she did. Not wanting to appear too eager we said we would go away and think about it, as we had other cars to see. We also arranged for a test drive later that afternoon. Nothing else stood out at the other car lots we visited so it was time for lunch and a serious discussion.

I was rather concerned by the eagerness to sell, and the way they ignored the Toyota. We decided to go for the test drive with an open mind. Our friend in the passenger's seat to listen to the engine, and us in the back to ensure it was comfortable and to listen out for any irregular rattles and noises. For some reason the car lot staff do the test drive for you so you have no real idea how the car handles. All he was interested in doing was showing us the speed of the thing, questions about previous history and servicing were ignored, but it did go into Sport mode. Back to the car lot and I tried to get the price down a bit more, but I was quoted the full price, so we walked away. We missed out on a car, but they missed out on a sale.

The next day I remembered seeing another couple of car lots, so we decided to go and have a look at them. Initially the first place we looked didn't look promising, but there tucked away in the corner was something that definitely ticked the boxes, and it was even cheaper than the VW of the previous day. I made what I thought was a cheeky offer, and that was ok'd. It was very tidy inside and out, with less wear and tear than I expected for the mileage and age, and it started first time without the aid of a starter pack. We asked if we could have a test drive on the Wednesday, which would give us enough time to sort out the finances at the bank, as we had to transfer money from the UK. Sod's Law meant that we got a pretty poor exchange rate, but still enough to get the car if all went well on the test drive. Once again the test driver tried to impress us with speed, but our questions about previous ownership and servicing were all answered. One thing I have learnt about Bulgarians is that their personality changes behind the wheel of a car. They dislike being behind another vehicle, and will overtake in the craziest of places. Psychic driving must be part of the driving test here, as I have no idea if overtaking on a bend is a safe thing to do. We pulled back into the car lot safely and as we were discussing whether to actually sign on the dotted line, someone else pulled up to show an interest in the car. Whether this was a ploy or not, we will never know, we were the first clients so it was our decision. Even though it is a slightly bigger engine than we are used to, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so we said that we would take it.

The negotiations were conducted in Bulgarian, English and German. Had it not been a Wednesday we could even have had it registered that afternoon, as it was all part of the service. Knowing how frustrated I get at the KAT Office in VT, that was definitely a plus point. We left a deposit and arranged to be back there at 9 the next morning. Sure enough they were good to their word and at 9 the paperwork was started, and by 10 we had arrived at the dreaded KAT. I was told to sit there and if I was needed I would be fetched, remember have Kindle will travel. The morning's fog had burnt off and I was sat in a nice sunny spot. Why can't all visits there be so uneventful? Everything was done and the various forms submitted just before all of the windows closed for lunch, and I had hardly had to move apart from joining one queue. After lunch we were able to pick up the new registration documents.

If only every visit there was as pain free. Back to the car lot to drop off the man who did all of the running round for me, and that was it the car was all mine, well ours. As it is an automatic, my better half can also drive it, and as it was previously registered in Austria it is also left hand drive. The first time I tried to start it on my own was a bit overwhelming as everything seems back to front, and in German. Eventually I got myself sorted out, and deciding that it was my lucky day decided to try and get the municipal tax sorted out that afternoon. I went to the right door or the right office only to be told come back next week. So I headed off home, and it was so nice not to have to plan my route by potential stopping places, even if I did have my Kindle with me. Our neighbours knew that we were getting the car that day and gave us one of those lucky charm things which hangs from the rear view mirror. I did get told off a bit as I had managed to get mud up inside of the wheel arches.

So there you have it we are now the proud owners of a new car, well new to us anyway. Now all I want to do is find a keyring which says 'My other car is a Lada.' The previous couple of years have been a bit limiting on where we can go and what we can do, but now we have a reliable car the old one can go into the garage and get sorted out once and for all. What's the betting that the problem has been caused by something so simple and obvious, that everyone has overlooked it. At least when it does get fixed we will have a car for 'Sunday best' and one to do the fetching and carrying.


Thursday, 12 May 2016

Two Steps Forward .........

It has been an odd few weeks. I know that plenty has been done, but it doesn't seem as though we have managed to achieve much. As the old saying goes "two steps forward, and then one step back". Even my computer seems to be suffering from a similar malaise. Either that or it just has a mind of it's own. I know that the recent weather, which has had a few big thunderstorms, can affect the Internet. Sometimes it will post things two or three times, and at other times it will refuse to post anything at all. Sometimes trying to e-mail people in the UK I get the feeling it would be quicker to walk there and hand deliver the message. It does get a bit frustrating though when you are trying to keep abreast of important things, such as the latest football scores. Very important at this stage of the season.

I have finally got round to joining the 21st Century, and my old mobile phone has been relegated to the substitutes bench. I now have one of these 'new' smart phone thingies. I am almost through War and Peace (AKA the Instruction manual) and nearly know how to drive the thing. I'm sure that it also makes tea and coffee (as it seems to do everything else), but I haven't found that chapter yet. I have managed to make and receive phone calls and texts, take photos and load them onto the computer when it was behaving. I have even managed to set the different ring tones for various events. I did have to take it back into the shop to find out how to find out my own phone number though. Nothing is easy when you have fingers like bananas, and two 'buttons' get pressed at once, but you do get some surprising results.

With the weather once again we have had a field deciding to migrate into another field. Unfortunately it had to cross a road to do so, whilst on the road it decided that it liked it there and so stayed there until the village tractors decided to help it on it's way. So for a while one of the routes out of the village was impassable. It seems to be a yearly problem now, ever since they started to strip back the shrubbery between the fields and the road. At the moment it is clear again, but who knows what might happen come the next big downpour. Hopefully we can manage to avoid them, and with any luck the sun might be making a more regular appearance, at the moment it is definitely feeling more like the English weather we had hoped to escape from.

Our water meter, which worked and didn't leak, has recently been replaced. Admittedly the old one had more arrows and dial than a 1950's power station, and the new one is just figures so that even I can read it. I even gave Nikolai, our village water man, a hand to fit the new one. Washers were selected and rejected until he was happy with the fit. Unfortunately when he came back to read the new meter a couple of weeks later it had developed a drip. Fortunately for me it was on the union before the meter. So a couple of hours later he turns back up with his bag of two spanners and a couple of wrenches, and a handful of what might well have been horsehair. He was happy enough doing whatever it was that he was doing, so I left him to it as my assistance was not required at that point. I have to admit that from the first time I met him he has always reminded me of Mario, he even wears a little cap at times. He is a quiet unassuming man, and always willing to offer help and advice. He does speak quickly though, and mumbles a bit, which can make understanding him a wee bit difficult at times.

The garden is enjoying this erratic weather, and even though the hosepipe is out I've not had to water anything yet. We are being plagued by the EU dandelion crop though. The rain finishes and I give it a couple of hours for the lawns to dry and the mower is out, ready to do battle with the next wave of them. I get the main lawns looking neat and tidy, and then overnight there has been another sneak attack by them. I eventually had the chance to break away from the main lawns, and attempt to tackle the wilderness out the front of the house. Which is what I was doing when Nikolai arrived to fix the drip. The grass was still too wet to cut with the mower so I decided to strim it. All was going well until the strimmer started smoking, which is never a good sign. Our neighbour decided that he would have a go with his electric mower, which started well until it tripped our power.

That was just after Nikolai had finished fixing the drip. So he is then out the front supervising the two of us. After mumbling something he goes off carrying his bag of tools. To prove it wasn't the leads they were plugged into the neighbour's house and everything works. I was just checking our trip box when Nikolai returns with an electric screwdriver and a multimeter. He then proceeds to check the leads (which we knew were working) and gives them his official seal of approval. He then wants to see where the leads had been plugged into indoors. So he is then prodding test leads and his screwdriver into various sockets, before pronouncing that my very short extension lead is kaput. Once he has done this he was back outside supervising the grass cutting, and I took the chance to replace the blown fuse in the adaptor. With power restored I was ready to start strimming again, while our neighbour got on with cutting his own grass. The strimmer had to be inspected too, and I was told it needs two strands of strimming cord and not just the one I was using. I know that he was being helpful but he did remind me of a certain TV character.

Meanwhile the car has been to the garage again. I tried to book it in the other Friday, but was told that couldn't happen as it was the Easter holiday. So I said the following Monday, which was OK. So on the Monday I drove to the garage only to find it shut. Tuesday I repeated the journey and explained what I wanted doing, which would hopefully cure the on going problem. Ignition coils are expensive here 550 Leva each (about £230), but none are available anywhere in Eastern Europe. They are about £65 in the UK so we now have to wait for them to come through the post. The bits that were changed have made a bit of difference, as the fuel economy is much better. So hopefully next time round matters might even be solved. While they are doing that they can also sort out the clonking noise from a worn bush on the front driver's side wheel, which has since developed.

As the vegetable has finally been rotorvated we thought we would go to the market at Kamen, and stock up on tomato and cucumber plants. We've already get the Butternut Squash in ready. Once we'd got there I needed the loo so we headed for a cafe. As we were there it seemed rude not to have a coffee. We met some friends there and by the time we had finished catching up and general nattering the market had closed. The next option was to try the fruit and vegetable market at Popovo. It was a sunny day so we thought why not. The plants they had on offer there looked limper than the lettuce in a British Rail sandwich. So we had a mooch round the town and a bite to eat before heading home, still without any tomato or cucumber plants. There are always the markets at Polski or Gorna to try.

Going home we noticed the sky getting darker and darker, so perhaps it was wise not to get any plants. The rain which followed shortly after we got indoors would have battered them to pieces. It is just a shame that the same thing doesn't happen with the Dandelions. It looks like myself and the lawn mower will have to continue our battle with them. We will prevail.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

An Early Start

Thursday morning was an early start in our house. By early I mean OMG it's early, a bit like daft o'clock in the morning early. It was 3AM, and another trip to Sofia airport loomed. It seemed like everything was being done on automatic pilot. Fortunately, we had planned ahead. Bags and cases had been packed, bus and plane tickets were to hand, passport too. Even the car was parked in the lane outside so that our neighbours wouldn't be woken up by creaking gates, or security lights coming on like a breakout from Colditz castle. Even the kettle had been filled, and mugs for tea and coffee were ready and waiting. We had even prepared something to eat for the journey, so that only had to go from the fridge and into a cool bag. The biggest problem was trying to persuade the dogs and cats that they had had enough beauty sleep. They just raised their heads as if to say, "If we wanted to get up at this ridiculous time of day we would have woken you." Eventually we managed to persuade them that it really was a good idea, although they were probably not totally convinced, as it was still dark outside and a there was a persistent drizzle. Fenny, our Boxer, was not impressed, and as is his way started puffing and blowing, just to make his disgust known.

What probably finally persuaded him was the promise of an early breakfast. He does enjoy his food. Now with it being dark, it meant going from the house to up under the barn, and possibly stepping in something that I would rather not. The easiest way around this is to use a head torch. So there I was like a demented Dalek, shepherding dogs and cats through different gates so that they could get to their breakfasts. By the light of the head torch I could see that not only was there the drizzle, but also a mist. So maybe getting up quite so early was not such a bad idea after all, and it certainly helped to bring me round to full consciousness. That all important first coffee of the day also helped. Bags and cases were quietly taken out and put in the back of the car. A final loo break, and a check that everything was locked back up and we were ready to start the first leg of our journey.

Given that I had noticed the mist we decided to start out slightly earlier than planned. It wasn't until we got to the next village that the mist soon became a fog, and living in a rural area the roads twist and turn so we slowed to a crawl. They have also been stripping out the undergrowth and vegetation at the sides of the roads, which is great when you can see where you are going. There are normally silver leafed plants, which the headlights pick out, so you can tell where the road ends and the verge begins. Because they had been stripping things out they were no longer there, how inconvenient. Not only that but the machinery that they had been using had spread mud all over the road making things twice as difficult. Fortunately we didn't have any other traffic, or suicide Badgers, to worry about this early in the morning as we crawled along. Eventually the fog once again gave way to mist, and we could once again see where we were going without looking like a pair of Japanese snipers peering through the windscreen. Our route takes us across four level crossings, and we had to stop at two of them to let trains pass. It was a good job we left that bit earlier, and we eventually arrived in Gorna to a steady, but light rain.

Another part of my preparations came into play when our taxi arrived to take us over the hill into VT. The bus now goes from the South bus station, and not from outside Hotel Etar. The bus station has recently been refurbished, and it was light, dry and warm. Apparently the loos are good too, and I can personally vouch for the Cappuccino, even if it comes from a machine. Our bus turned up out to the front of the bus station, and once the cases were placed in the baggage compartment, and we had located our seats, the next leg of our journey could begin. It was still dark.

As the morning slowly got lighter, the rain seemed to get heavier. There was a film playing, but it was at least the 4th time that I had seen it, so I was spending most of my time nosing out of the window at the damp and soggy countryside. As we approached the series of tunnels and bridges on the motorway, it started snowing. Big fat flakes being driven by the wind. So far we had dealt with drizzle, mist, fog, light rain, heavy rain, and now snow was thrown in for good measure. We finally arrived at the bus station in Sofia, where I joined in the scrum to reclaim the cases and bags. Next it was a taxi out to the airport, to join a queue which didn't seem to move for the check in desks. Finally we got to the head of the queue, and Net was checked in, all that remained for her to do was go through the security bit, which is where we parted, and I could do the morning's trip in reverse.

As usual I decided to get the Metro back to the bus station, so that meant waiting for the shuttle bus to go from Terminal 1 round to Terminal 2. When we got out of the taxi I hadn't really noticed how windy it had got, as we had gone straight into the Terminal. I soon realised as I waited for the shuttle bus, the wind was driving the rain under the canopy too, and it felt more like winter. The trip round the airport, and on the Metro was uneventful, and after the usual change I arrived back at Central station. I was even able to get a bus ticket on the next bus which was due to leave in 20 minutes. There were queues everywhere apart from the loo, so I had to forego my usual coffee and go back outside to wait for the bus to take me back to VT. Once again the same film was playing, even though it was a different bus. Back into VT and it was still raining, and from the size of the puddles it had been doing so all day. I got a taxi back over the hill into Gorna, and for once the hill hadn't made any difference to the weather, as it was still raining there too.

Our neighbours had asked if I could pick them up a pizza on my way back. Pizza sounded good to me too, so I had a quick wander round Kaufland and grabbed a couple, one for them and one for me. Finally back to the car, and the drive home. I must have been tired, as I couldn't remember where all of the potholes were in the various roads, as they were hiding under puddles. I found a few though, which reminded me where they were. Back into the village and I did my Domino's bit, by delivering the pizza to our neighbours. Then I could finally get indoors and sort out the four legged welcoming committee, and eventually myself. There is definitely something to be said for finally being able to relax, indoors with what was only my third cup of coffee that day.

Yesterday morning, and Polly decides to get her own back by wanting to be let out at 6 o'clock. It was still cold, and though not raining everything felt damp and soggy. So yesterday the fire was lit early, I think that I earned some bonus brownie points from the various cats and dogs. I've yet to tell them that the clocks change tonight, so they will get an hour's less sleep.
A few weeks time and I have to do it all again.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Liquid Goldish

There are some readers of the blog who actually know me, and some of those hardier souls will even admit to it. One thing that they all have in common, is that they will confirm that I have what is commonly known as a 'sweet tooth'. I do eat savoury stuff, and spicy things, but I have a weakness for sweet things. I know that these 'treats' are bad for me, but after so long it is probably too late to change the habit of a lifetime. Over here, in Bulgaria, you can get all sorts drenched in honey, much of it locally produced. The only problem I have with that is, despite my sweet tooth, I dislike honey. To me there seems to be no reason why I should eat something a Bee has sicked up, or that has come from it's backside.

The other day I was idly surfing the Internet, as you do on a wet and windy day, when I found an article a friend had posted up (thank you Hazel). It was how to make your own Golden Syrup. Now this is something that I have not had since moving here all of those years ago, and the recipe seemed easy enough to follow. So I thought that I would have a go. Today was the day. Thankfully my Mum brought us up well, and none of us boys are helpless in the kitchen. I have two brothers and a sister, and I am in the middle at №2. No laughing at the back. I can still remember the green tins in my Mum's cupboard. They seem easy enough to get in the UK, probably about £2 for a big tin. Here in Bulgaria they seem to be a bit of a rarity, or hellishly priced. I also thought that if my culinary skills failed me I could always use the resulting mixture as bait in my fly and wasp traps.

So once the housework was done, I began to get myself organised in the kitchen. Although I can cook, maybe I'm not the tidiest, but I am organised. With a shake of her head Net left me to it. Fortunately it has been a nice sunny day, so she was sat outside with her Kindle. She was close enough that if there were any major problems she could come to the rescue. I found the scales, and the sugar, we didn't have any Lemons, but I used pure Lemon juice instead. Part of the recipe called for  boiling water, so I boiled the kettle and the hot water went into a thermos flask. The recipe is basically done in two stages. So I had one stage on the left of the oven, and the other on the right, and even by that stage I had managed to get sugar over the kitchen floor. Whoever thought of making bags of sugar so difficult to get into without the bag tearing? So I swept up before I even really got started, fortunately I am a graduate of the Naval school of cleaning.

So the first stage called for 100g of sugar, and 3 Tablespoons of water. These had to be added into a saucepan on a medium heat. This mixture had to be stirred for the sugar to fully dissolve. Initially not a lot seemed to be happening, but then it began to slowly thicken and finally darken. reading the recipe it called for a dark caramel colour. It didn't tell me that it would carry on darkening, and smell like a candyfloss stall at a fairground. That great smell of burnt sugar, even though I had taken it off of the heat. That was the first stage complete, so it was quickly on to the second stage.

This called for 300ml of boiling water to be slowly added to the stage one concoction, and stirred in. Adding it too quickly causes stuff like napalm to jump out of the saucepan and stick to the tile backsplash behind the oven. Then 500g of sugar had to be added, and again stirred in until it had completely dissolved. Then the missing quarter of a Lemon should have been added, but I used 50ml of pure lemon juice. Apparently this will help prevent sugar crystals reforming, so it is chemistry that I have been doing and not cooking stuff. All of this is left to simmer for 45 minutes on a low heat. I don't know if I was meant to carry on stirring it or not but I did anyway. All was going well until about the 30 minute mark, when the previous coffee made its presence felt. I was in need of the loo, but should I stay tending my witch's cauldron of gloop, or head for the loo. Eyes watering, and legs crossing I soldiered on, until finally I could take the pan off the heat, at which pointed the lemon could have been removed. Maybe that's why it calls for the mixture to be left to cool for 5 minutes, it's a convenient loo break too.

Once the cooling time had finished I had to strain the mixture into a sterile jar. Luckily I found an old tea strainer in the odds and sods drawer, which served the purpose nicely. I did manage to stop some burnt crunchy bits of sugar going into the jar. My effort is more tawny than golden in colour, but trying some of the cooled napalm stuff from the side of the saucepan its not a bad first effort. As it is still hot it has a runny consistency, but it thickens as it cools. The lid has to be left off of the jar for an hour to let the heat escape.

I have just checked my jar and it has thickened up nicely. They do say that if it is still too runny the next day simmer it again for 5-10 minutes. Or if it is too thick make up another half recipe and add the jar contents to it. Mine might be a bit on the thick side, but I will find out more tomorrow. Hopefully my first attempt will stick to the spoon, and not run off like honey, or will not let me have the spoon back. So if I can make this then I reckon that anyone can. Just think syrup sponge, syrup cake and even proper syrup flapjacks. I am now off to chisel some of the napalm off of the tiled backsplash in the kitchen.

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Weather Changes, Then Changes Again

We now find ourselves midway through February, and the last clumps of snow have finally left the garden. Snowdrops are flowering, and birds are singing in the trees. Sometimes it is easy to think that Spring is just around the corner, and then the weather switches and reminds you that it is still winter. The snowdrops instead of nodding their heads in the breeze are being battered by strong winds, or being deluged under rains of Biblical proportions. This morning I had to quickly nip into town to pick up a few odds and ends, and the bushes and shrubs have yet to wake from their winter slumber. The good news is that Spring must be on its way, as last week they were setting up the Martenitsa stalls in the square at Gorna Oriahovitsa, which always seems to be a good indication. With this year being a leap year we get an extra day this month, which means that Baba Marta will be delayed by a day. Hopefully she will look kindly on us for letting her have a lie-in, and not be grumpy because we kept her waiting.

Although the night time temperatures are still a bit on the nippy side, we haven't woken up to frost covered gardens for nearly a week now. Unless the rain overnight had washed the frost away before I emerged from my cocoon beneath the duvet. The dogs are a bit miffed now that the snow has gone, no more barking at snowflakes invading the garden, no more playing in the white cold stuff that can be eaten, and no more trying to discover what treasures might be hidden beneath it. The cats prefer no snow, as now they can wander where they like without having to follow paths that a mere human has dug. Personally I am glad to see the back of it, with the last lot being the wet snow which causes so much damage to trees and shrubs. At times it was almost like being in a snowball fight, there I was clearing the steps out the front when clods of snow were shed from the branches of the walnut tree overhead. No matter how well you wrap up, the snow will always find a way to go down the back of your neck. As to whether we have seen the last of the snow, who can say one way or another. In previous years we have had snow at the end of March, so I mustn't raise my hopes just yet.

Today is an odd day. Through one window I can see blue sky and white clouds, yet through another it looks grey and overcast. We have had some strong winds recently, and today it is a stiff breeze blowing. Yet the temperature is an unseasonable 20C, looking at the forecast it is set to get back to normal about midweek, whatever normal might be. About the only thing that can be said about the weather in February and March, is that it is predictably unpredictable. I did get some odd looks in town today, well odder than usual, as I wandered round town with no jacket or jumper. Even the spits and spots of rain didn't cause me to go scurrying back to the car to grab a jacket.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, also my wife's birthday, and here in Bulgaria it was also Trifon Zarezan Day. This is when the grape vines are blessed, hoping for a bountiful harvest in the coming months. The weather was gorgeous, and how did I spend it? Repairing part of the garden wall which had fallen down due to, in part, all of vagueries that the weather had thrown at it. I wouldn't mind so much but it was a patch that we had previously had repaired by some of the local maestro's in the village. It doesn't help that the field on one side of the wall is two feet higher than on our side. It also wasn't the section that fell down the other year.

Many will know that when you are told that something is 'nyama problem' (no problem), you know that it will turn round and bite you, and so it proved with this 'repaired' patch of wall. I guess that I was lucky to have noticed it when I let the dogs out for their evening constitutional. At least I was able to prevent them from making a bid for freedom across the field and terrorising the village. We found out why we had a problem, the locals had filled it with earth, which acted as a wick from the field, then the freezing and thawing meant that it just popped like a cork. So yesterday my neighbour and I were out there trying to rebuild it. Just imagine trying to complete a jigsaw, without the picture on the box lid. Some of these 'stones' were a fair old weight, and where my knees and back were creaking and groaning, my neighbour was moving them round as if they were no more than a bag of sugar. Between us, we managed to get everything rebuilt solidly, and we had various rocks, stones and boulders left over, which can now be used elsewhere.

So next month I will be scanning the skies, looking for that first Stork. Although we do still have to get through the rest of this month first. Hopefully the weather will be more settled, and not all seasons in one day. Wherever you may be I hope that the sun shines down on you. Just think that it will soon be time to blow the dust and cobwebs off of the lawn mower, and give the grass its first haircut of the year. Even if it does look like soggy straw at the moment. The confused bees will enjoy the better weather, and hopefully find some flowers instead of pestering me.  

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Winter Shows Its Teeth

Just when we might have been getting a bit complacent, and hoping for a short lived, mild winter, it arrived in full force. Those early bits of snow, which we had at the start of the year, were nothing by comparison. Being a 'Brit Abroad' I seem to have developed a slight fascination with the weather. One of my first tasks each day, once we have finished the housework and sorted the animals out, is to log on and check out the weather forecast. So with my normal coffee, I had noticed that we had three days of snow to look forward to, as time moved on it became two days, and then back up to three again. So we could safely say that snow was expected, just not how much would fall. Then it arrived one evening, the first flakes dancing in the street light in the lane outside. The wind began to blow them into neat little piles, but nothing to get too concerned about. Those bits of snow from the start of the year had all but disappeared, and the frosts had frozen the ground, so this fresh stuff did start to pitch.

Throughout the night, and all through the next day the snow came down continuously. When we woke up, everything had a thick blanket of white laid across it. The dogs were quite eager to go out and play in it, the cats were a different matter. The snow was deeper than they are tall, but they seemed quite happy sitting on window sills, watching me dig yet another trench for them to get up under the barn. Sirius, our bad tempered sawn-off dog, was quite happy doing an impersonation of a snow plough. Nose down and trudge forward, clearing a path for Fenny and Polly. Their water trough was frozen, but fresh warm water soon took care of that. So with the animals sorted out, trenches dug, logs brought down, and the fires lit we could actually sort ourselves out. Well, we could have done but at that moment the power went out, and for the rest of the day it was on and then off again. Thermos flasks were filled with boiling water during some of the on times, and using the gas rings on the oven we managed to feed and water ourselves. Somewhere in the village a power line came down, and due to our location and the amount of snow no one could come out and fix it. Fortunately we were not one of the houses affected by this, unfortunately our village Kmet's house was.

So we have spent days with cats and dogs snoring and steaming in front of the fires. Which is fine, until I have to feed more logs onto the fire, and then they seem very reluctant to move. Once the fire is banked in again, the dogs want to go out and play in the snow again. Why can't they make this decision before I have to step all around them. So over a period of about 36 hours we had almost 2 feet of snow fall. If wasn't the dry powdery stuff, but the wet clumpy version. The type of snow which brings down branches, and possibly the power line too. Every couple of hours I was back outside clearing my trenches again. For those first 36 hours nothing moved in the village unless it was on foot.

Everything looked like a winter wonderland, with the surface of the snow largely unbroken. Since the snow finished falling we have had a couple of days of sunshine. So the snow has glistened and sparkled. It's own weight starting to compact it all down. We have even had a slight thaw, which has caused some of the snow on the roof to melt and drip from the eaves. This in turn leads to icicles forming, not so much the icicles of doom from previous years, more like the fangs of fate. They do look quite spectacular when the sun shines on them. I was going to get a photo of them today, but the sky has turned a pale grey, with no hint of sunshine.

The sunshine on the snow might make everything sparkle, and it might cause a slight thawing possible, but we also have the night time temperatures to take into account. Where things have melted on the paths and other trenches, and then refrozen overnight we now have our own skating rinks, -19C seems to have that effect. So these paths and trenches have now been dusted with ash from the fires. That might give some extra grip, but it does mean that there is an increase in grubby footprints being trailed indoors. Taps are left dripping overnight, to help prevent frozen pipes. Anything with a rechargeable battery has been boosted, mainly because we never know when the next power cut might happen. Torches and candles have been dotted round the house.

It looks like we have to wait until the middle, or end, of next week for those night time temperatures to start to creep back up again. Although things have been a wee bit parky, we haven't managed to break any records yet. Mind you, we do still have February to look forward too. Even though a tractor has been round the village with a plough blade on I have no idea what the main roads are like. Maybe I will have to make one of my winter forays into town on the village bus next week, but much can change in the space of a week.