My good readers, if I still have any, all I can say is that living your dream is a busy business. There is quite literally not enough hours in a 24 hour period to fit everything thing in and the blog, I’m afraid, has suffered. So good folks here a precised version of what’s been going on in the last months or so.
The garden is now giving on a daily basis, beetroots, garlic, onions, kale, peas, chard, lettuce, spinach, dill, parsley, thyme, coriander, basil with tomatoes about to ripen, peppers, aubergine, cabbage and courgette coming along. Melon plants are growing and blue berries, strawberries and hopefully goji berries all pootling along nicely. I think I’ve got cauli’s, broccoli and brussels coming through but truth be told I’v forgotten what is what! We have uncovered 3, yes 3 cherry trees on the property, the ancient apricot has some fruit but I’m not holding out for much of a result. Plums? Every variety you could imagine from yellow, purple to blue. The fruit saplings I planted last Autumn and Spring are coming along but not fruiting so almonds, peaches, apple and pear will be added to the larder over the coming years. The raspberry canes which were tiny cuttings in October are now growing up the fence.
Terry has started on his workshop on the top property, steels and ackro props, windows, an huge steel roller we picked up from BG bay is shaping the property into what will become (finally) a home to the absolute plethora of tools and associated building materials that currently occupy 3 rooms in the old house and the chicken house! Work has been truncated for the moment because of outside work commitments. I can’t say I’ll be sad when these things finally find their own home. Terry and team are very much in demand for their building skills, so much so that work on the renovation of the old part of the house has stalled. I have become a reluctant project manager and find myself working formulas on Excel spreadsheets to cost estimates and arrange work days. As we expand from bartering work to paid work we are investigating whether to start a company or use Ian’s existing company. It is finding the time for all these things.
What has become apparent during building estimate visits to ex pats is that they are being royally taken to the cleaners by a small number of unscrupulous ex pat and Bulgarian builders. It is honestly shameful and embarrassing when we are told horror stories and seen the results of shoddy and sometimes dangerous work that has been done. Why? I really cannot fathom the mentality nor the benefits. It is all rather short sighted.
Rabbie the Karachastaff is still with us. He looks like a Karachakan but has a Staffy temperament, fortunately he is Staffy size and not the size of his lothario father. He is still chewing anything animate or inanimate with gay abandon and it is bloody annoying. But he has a winning way of cocking his head to one side and looking with complete and unadulterated love at me. We tinker with the idea of finding a home for him but truth be told the little man has grown on us and seems to fit in. Bodie, Vinnie and Teddy Edwards the long suffering ginger Tom raise eyebrows at us but have also accepted, albeit with poor grace, that the annoying puppy is part of the family. Vinnie won’t take any nonsense but Bodie has secured a second puphood as she hares around the garden rollicking and rolling with her now lanky and gangly pup.
The weather has been off the hook hot and when 2 of our daughters arrived, Danielle and Paige with a BF, Jay and friend Tiernach in tow the weather was so excruciatingly hot that for the first two days it was not possible to do anything but stay in the pool. Then we had a storm of such epic proportions that at one point six of us were out in torrential rain and tornado like wind, trying to hold down the Bedouin tent aka the gazebo. Two seconds later we were all drenched and even with the six of us holding a leg each the structure was slowly being ripped out of our hands. When the electric storm hit, rendering the sky asunder and lighting the whole village in pale blue light I recognised that our group mortality was under threat. So we called it a day and slopped back into the house and towelled off. Such was the excitement that we all went off to our respective beds. Some time in the middle of the night we heard a platoon of Russian soldiers goose-stepping on top of our roof tiles. The sound was deafening, Bodie was so frantic she ate her way through a wooden door. The whole house was awake and in an uproar in about 30 seconds. As we came downstairs Terry noticed it first; Lurpak butter sized hailstones raining down from the heavens, smashing roof tiles to smithereens, puncturing the kitchen patio roofing and as we found out the next morning pitting the roof of the previously spotless Rangey with cereal bowl sized dents! There was little we could do but wonder at the vagaries of the Bulgarian meteorological skyscape.
The following morning the village was buzzing with talk of the storm and replacing of tiles. In that wonderful village way neighbours all helped each other, donating spare tiles, ladders or even replacing tiles for the elderly. We had 15 smashed tiles on the house roof and about 10 on the gatehouse. Surprisingly the workshop roof remained in tact! The garden and my fruit and veg didn’t do at all well. No walnuts, plums, raspberries left, tomato plants smashed to the ground, melons, pumpkins and cucumbers almost wiped out completely. I have been able to salvage a fair amount and certainly more than we are going to need but it was soul destroying to see so much damage. It also left the garden an acre large mud bath. Picture the scene, Terry and I, four young adults, 2 dogs, 1 puppy, a tom cat and three pigs all trying to navigate an honest to goodness mudpit. The track outside the house was under 5 inches of water. We had to have a third day at home. All credit to our guests that no-one complained. The very next day we all headed out to Krushuna Waterfalls and The Eyes of God caves at Devetaki. It is edifying that these young people chose to visit some of the less touristic venues and thoroughly enjoy them. They also went of “en masse” to Veliko Tarnovo, stayed overnight and then took the bus to Sunny Beach. They weren’t impressed and although Danielle was the only one of the group to have been to Bulgaria before she struggled when they returned to their hostel room to find it someone had rifled their belongings and used their shower. We got frantic messages from Paige and Danielle and when they finally got through to Terry we had to smile. Danielle rang and said “We need parental intervention”! Terry is a no nonsense person so within 10 minutes they had been booked into another hotel. They didn’t enjoy Sunny Beach and arrived home the next day somewhat deflated. They did however fit in a water park visit and that pleased everyone.
Terry and I are blessed between us, with 3 girls and 3 boys, and when they visit it makes this house a true family home. There are still issues to sort out in this blended family but we have all the time in the world and all the love too. Paige and her then BF Jay returned to the UK 2 weeks later with the promise of a further visit in September to shore up our hearts. As they left Danielles BF Luca and her uni friend Cerys arrived. We decided to all go and work on Danielles’ house and we stripped, filled and painted first coats in what will become her study and living room. Thereafter the heat became oppressive. The four of them shot off for 3 days in Plovdiv and absolutely loved it.
It was an absolute pleasure to have the company of Danielle, Paige and their friends. Such bright young people, so passionate and fresh. I hadn’t realised how starved I’d become for in depth conversation. Ideas were bandied, brandished and dissected over long afternoons sipping cold drinks under the shade of the kitchen patio. Were they messy as only young people can be? Yes, yes they were! But the company made up for it. The normal conversation around the table is building talk, which I love and with Terry, Yorkie, Ian and the new Bulgarian apprentice Tolyo it is always fun. But …..
After the kids had left we settled back into slogging away; Terry with his team and me holding the fort. Then one day as I was dismantling the tent in the garden, out of nowhere a wind whipped up. The four man tent began flapping dangerously and pulling me off my feet. The pigs who had been scrumping the wild plums nosed their way through the jungle and in a moment of madness and a freak of nature an enormous crack of thunder and lightning bolt happened simultaneously and the dogs who had been sniffing around the tent base startled at the same time as the pigs. Thereafter a string of events happened that ended in a bloodbath. The pigs got tangled in the tent and panicked, the dogs thought I was under attack and before I knew it Bodie and Vinnie started attacking the pigs. Horrendous, horrific, torturous – really there are no words. Gruff the white and black boar ran with Bodie attached to one armpit and Vinnie the other. Gruff ran through the garden crashing fences, screaming with Black Jack and Maud screaming in their wake. I ran behind, grabbing a sturdy beach and crashed through the jungle, the heavens pouring rain, the sky lit up and thunder partially drowning out mine and the pigs screaming. The chase eventually ended under the apricot tree. Our much beloved dogs had become crazed animals. I tried to beat the dogs off but they had both locked on to Gruff. I was hysterical and as I tried again to get the dogs off, Maud charged me snorting and screaming. I had to run into the house. The screaming of all 3 pigs, my own screaming and Rabbie whining desperately at my heels became too much. I ran for the phone. Terrys was out of credit and mine wouldn’t charge. I went online and topped up Terrys phone and began ringing Yorkie and Ian. Nothing, they were in the middle of a demo and wouldn’t hear anything. I Facebook messaged Sisi, Ians girlfriend and begged her to contact Ian. Meanwhile I sent desperate and now comedically pathetic messages. “For the love of God come home the dogs are eating the pigs alive”. Eventually as the thunder crashed and boomed in a Machiavellian accompaniment to the screaming pigs I saw Bodie shoot across the garden with Vinnie behind her. They were unrecognisable. Slick and shiny with mud from nose to tail tip. I opened the tools room door and shut them in. No word, no towel, no nothing. At that moment I hated those dogs.
Maud and Jack were snorting and honking around the apricot tree and for the first time in all my animal dealings I felt fear and wished we had a gun. I sat shaking uncontrollably till I heard the van pull up and Terry, Ian and Yorkie jump out. They went to hunt for the pigs and couldn’t find them. We beat the garden down trying to find them. Eventually we found them in the upper paddock hiding in the old pig sty. Poor Gruff was done. He tried to get up but couldn’t. Ian shot off to his village to get Bobbi the water man and owner of a gun and Sisi. Meanwhile Terry, Yorkie and myself started the preparation for slaughtering a 150kg pig. Nothing was ready, it was raining heavily and it was getting dark. We shot around getting the cast iron bath ready to scald the pig, the digger in place to hang in, knives, bags, buckets, scrapers. I turned on the fantastic upright larder my Mom managed to get up in the UK in preparation for freezing and emptied the store room and cleaned so we could hang the pig overnight. Terry, Yorkie and I sat down for a quick hot drink and a sandwich and waited for Bobbi and the gun. We set the gas burner under the cast iron bath to heat the water just as Ian, Bobbi and Sisi arrived. You got to love Sisi; she turned up, as always, immaculately dressed and coiffed and wearing peeptoe heeled boots. I pulled up a chair for her.
Long story short Gruff was stunned, hung, bled, scalded, scraped, gutted, beheaded and cut in two. We were totally unprepared for a slaughter and even though the rain was still pouring the temperature was still in the 30’s. Terry set up the portable industrial style air con unit into the storage room then the carcass was carried in and hung. The doorway was covered with a mattress and the window blocked. We literally fell into bed, sad, tired and morose. Terry had taken pity on the dogs and showered them but I refused to speak to or look at either of them. The next morning I noticed that Bodie, who had been spayed 3 days earlier was panting and obviously in pain. Against all my better judgements I examined her and saw that the internal stitches to the spaying looked herniated. I put her in the Rangey, still not looking at her, and drove her to Boris the vet.
When I explained to the urbane Boris that my dogs had attacked and caused a pig to be killed he began to howl, yes howl, with laughter. He laughed so hard that he was in danger of falling of his stool. “Do you think I should have them put down” I queried and he started to roar again. When he composed himself and in his somewhat stilted and quaintly old fashioned English he resposited “mayhap it is the owners who should be put down” and cocked his head at me with a whimsical smile. He followed with “farming is not easy – you will make mistakes but your dogs were protecting you, imagine if the pigs had attacked you?”. He prescribed antibiotics for Bodie and said as long as the dogs showed no aggression to humans there was not a problem.
So a sad and salient lesson. Pigs and dogs don’t mix. When we went to butcher the pig the next evening we learned another lesson. Gruff should have been slaughtered at least 2 months earlier. There was too much fat. We removed any meat with injuries and that included both front legs and a fair bit of the skin. We did get lots of beautiful meat but because we weren’t ready we had to lose the sausage type meat and use it as dog food. The whole experience has rendered Maud very unpredictable. She’s the next to go. She’s two months younger than Gruff was so should be optimum. Jack will be thereafter despite being bigger than Gruff was. He will be the sausage/salami/mince etc pig. Do we feel bad? No! Silly? Yes. So next year any farm animals will live in the upper paddocks and we’ll slaughter pigs, like the Bulgarians in May or December. Lesson learned.
The barn extension is now retiled with brand spanking new roof tiles and PVC guttering. It was a feat of endurance and tenacity by Terry and the lads. The temperature was in the 40’s in the shade. Scaffolding went up and down like a rat in a drain pipe. Piles of old tiles replaced the new ones as they were carried onto the roof. Now the original house roof is underway. Of course we found some woodworm so now the old roof timbers are down and on the wood pile and a whole new roof structure is underway. Big old discussions about whether we could treat it but we don’t want 10 or 15 years down the line to have to replace the timbers. It is a bit of a setback but it’s just another of those “evolutions” you have to go with.
I expect I’ve missed so many things but hey I’ll never get this posted if I recount anything else! Here’s some tidbits on general Bulgarian life. I was driving to Levski today and along the way I saw my favourite village residents. They are an old couple of about 80 I suppose and they own a much beloved donkey who pulls a cart and themselves. The woman wears a headscarf and bless her, she wraps the donkeys ears in a matching headscarf. They stop periodically and gather wood and forage along the road. I waved and they waved back as I crawled past them. A little further along I spot an elderly woman I have named Mrs Enigmatic. She is anywhere between 70-80 and every single day walks from Gradishte to Levski pushing an old fashioned pram frame with some fruit boxes attached. Now it takes me about 7 minutes in a 4ltr car to get to Levski so it’s a shunt to walk. She also forages along the way but she then goes into Levski, sits on one of the fruit boxes and sets out for sale a selection of sewing needles, safety pins and crochet hooks atop the other. She has a beautiful, impassive face and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her speak. She is weathered and her clothes much mended and many faceted. I asked about her and was told she would not appreciate the offer of a lift, was fiercely independent and somewhat reclusive. I hold the utmost respect for her. But the point I was trying to make is that none of these things seem strange anymore, neither does weaving in and out of the opposing lane to miss the pot holes that reappear almost as soon as they are filled. It feels like home and we couldn’t be happier.
The hedges rows and lanes are a carpet of blue flowers at the moment and it is difficult to concentrate on driving when the already stunning landscape is bordered in a periwinkle blue frame; it still takes my breath away. My Bulgarian is improving I’m told and the villagers compliment and encourage me, gently correcting my pronunciation and praising me. Even Terry is finally picking up words but is understanding much more. I think he is more surprised than anyone. I’m a bit of a linguist so I understand how long it takes for your ears to actually open up and listen to a foreign language without panicking. It’s given him that seed of hope that he can learn this difficult language.
And finally some pictures of my flowers. They are still very young plants and the beds are still monopolised by earth – I’m getting their slowly.