James and I, like 2 spies, managed to organise, arrange and carry out a quick surprise visit to Blighty. British Airways had 2 tickets for 6 nights in the UK for a little over £260 with baggage allowance. I bought them then arranged with James the pick up and accommodation arrangements. He was splendid, booking time off work, picking me, transporting me around and hosting me. He also managed to keep the visit schtum from William, the parentals and siblings.
Leaving Terry and the animals was difficult. It wasn’t that I had any worries about Terry coping but I knew that the job he was on was overtime, the clients difficult and a 3 hour round trip in colder and colder conditions. Coming home to a cold house, hungry animals and no dinner! I have to admit to crying just a wee bit as Bodie literally leapt into my arms as Terry pulled the case down the stairs.
We travelled to Sofia in a quietly chatty mood. Terrys work has been so time consuming that it,s actually a pleasure to have 3 hours in the day time to catch up on everything. Travelling by BA was wonderful, smooth and roomy. The M & S bacon butty demolished I arrived at Heathrow early afternoon. James was there to meet me. He is now as a true Greek Adonis albeit not very bronzed in December. His physique is HUGE! He quickly took all the cases and we made out way back to the south coast. We chatted easily for the entire journey. Such is the blessing of adult children. As we neared the coast we made a decision to drop in on the parentals first. It was too late to see William on a school night and I wanted to have the entire after school time with him. James hung back and I crept forward to the front door and as James sauntered, very visibly, up the path I began what is my trade mark ring. An extremely annoying and insistent ring accompanied by chaotic knocking. I saw the kitchen door open and the light flood into their beautiful hallway and there was the Papster looking exactly the same as I last saw him! I stifled something somewhere between a guffaw and a gasp and leaped through the door to plant an ‘uge kiss on his slightly bemused face. Seconds later I was in my Mom’s arms where lots of hearty hugging was undertaken. There was lots of laughter and of course Mom and Dad furnished James and I with a bowl of chicken stew for which we were very grateful. Considering the parentals were recovering from the winter NORO virus that was the culmination of a wonderful cruise they looked good enough for me! James and I took off some time later and headed to his pad for the unadulterated love of his amazing dogs, Lexie and Brutus. After being licked to death and having 2 dogs with a combined weight of about 13 stone draped about me James and I sat and shot the wind in his very tidy and well presented home. For the first time in more years than I can remember I crept into a single bed and slept fitfully without Terry by my side and Bodie at my feet. The excitement of meeting William from school the next day was almost too much to bear.
The next day dawned dark, miserable and wet. But it mattered not there were things to be bought, people to be seen and so both James and my Mom drove me around in a mad whirlwind of activity. But at 15:00 hours I stood shivering with excitement and cold next to James waiting for William to come out of school. I saw the red hood of his coat before he saw me and as I inadvertently shouted his name his angelic face looked up and took a double take. He almost admonished as his piping voice said those words that melt my heart; “Grandma?” I hugged him closely and stopped myself from picking him up and swinging him around. He’s 6 now and a very grown up 6 year old too. We talked and talked and talked then we played as James whipped up beautiful, balanced, healthy food in minutes compared to my well known extended cooking periods. I spent every minute I could with William, around seeing my parents. James and I sat every evening and talked about just about everything; it was so pleasurable.
Surprising William at school. And like Mother like Son James and I are both bare legged!
Re-enacting Stega Nona and the magic pasta pot
At Dads and so heart meltingly handsome
As I was being so well looked after and I completed most of the itty bitty business my thoughts went to Dani. Terry and I hadn’t had the chance to visit her at Trinity St David so I contacted Dani and asked how she’d feel about a visit for a day out in Cardiff. Yes, she replied with alacrity. So I booked the ticket for us and we began that exchange of timetables and meet up points and a possible visit to a Cat Café. A rescue centre that self funds by hosting a cat café that allows visitors to view the cats as they drink and eat. We were both pretty excited despite an early start for both of us. We both received a flurry of texts and messages the following morning as snow fell in Wales to such an extent that travel was only recommended for emergency or essential travel. Trains weren’t running past Southampton and roads were closed. We both had to admit that this just wasn’t going to be possible. So with heavy hearts we agreed it was best to cancel and wait till summer.
Dani Christmas morning at her Nan and Grandads. Known as “little one” she often causes turned heads at what appears to be a 13 year old with a fag in hand
Soon enough the last day of my visit arrived and I faced a prolonged hairdressing appointment. Tony and Denise, Terrys parents had arranged to meet me after the appointment to pick up Dani’s Christmas stocking and tobacco. James and I dropped William off at school then he kindly dropped me off in the next town whilst he headed off for a gym session with his Wrestler and fellow security bod Chris. I meanwhile walked into my nemesis location, ergo the hairdressing salon. The horror of small talk and mirrors everywhere, I can’t report any joy at the prospect. The young woman was personable enough but I realised 1 hour and 45 minutes into the appointment that I was nowhere near ready. I’d opted for a 3rd year student which in terms of her abilities was a good choice but the pay off was time.
I reached down to ring Den and Tony and saw to my horror I’d left the goody bag behind and that’d they’d almost certainly left home. A frantic call to ensued to James. Could he please go to his place, pick up the bag and deliver it to the salon. He didn’t even hesitate and some 20 minutes later the tall and somewhat large physique of his friend Chris entered and filled the salon. He looked the part with a bandana and a 2 tone beard. He cheerfully handed the bag over and strode off.
Not 2 minutes later Den and Tony arrived and asked if they’d just seen James walking off. I laughed as I realised their mistake but also with the realisation that James is huge too. He works hard, naturally and eats well and the evidence is there for all to see. As the salon was quiet I sat with a hair full of foils and resembling nothing more than an alien as I had a lengthy catch up with Terrys parentals. They are visiting next year with Dani and Luca and it was edifying that they were so excited. We hugged and they left me to a further 2, yes 2 hours of purgatory. However the girl did good and I finally felt that I had my hair mojo back. James and Chris returned and we stopped at Sports Direct to pick up James’s Christmas present. I felt like the parent of 2 rather enormous and rambunctious boys as their constant banter and cackling followed our progress around the shop!
Finally we set off to see my Mom and Dad for the last time. Despite having been so ill they made my break wonderful. They arranged an evening meal that by eldest brother Mark and his wife Caroline came to alongside James, William and myself. Mark and I are closest in age as siblings and we have that kind of unspoken crossovers of thought processes when we hold mutual interests. So of course I had bought some of my chilli seeds for him and he’d prepared a small selection of his too. We will try, this year to grow each others seeds. I stayed in my parents wonderful house in their fragrant and beautifully arranged home and had my breakfast and meals made for me. I was plied with all kinds of presents for both Terry and myself. So twas with a heavy heart that I hugged them with all good wishes for our next meeting. They will be coming to Bulgaria next year for sure.
As James and I waited for William to come out of school I had more time or maybe a greater intensity of observance at his day to day surroundings. I noticed the friendly atmosphere of the receiving parents and guardians, that older siblings also waited their precious cargos. There was work being carried out at the school but still proper play areas and there was a good mix of cultures and races. I saw that as he came out of school he was both well behaved but animated and busy participating in the to and fro of kids conversations. He rushed out to us and introduced me to his best friend Lennox for whom I have heard much about but never met. He was a lively, outgoing boy and their friendship was clearly evident. This is the part of being so distant that is the hardest; missing the minutiae of daily life. We went home and played chess and ate our last meal together. At 6 William can understand jokes and he’s even making them too, proper jokes. All too soon the time came for William to return to Paris, his Mum as James and I had an icy 4am start to contend with. I hugged this very special little boy extra long and extra hard and we made our promises for the next visit. James and I had a very pleasant journey the following morning up a very icy A3, stopping for bacon butties and drinks halfway before arriving in good time. A swift and heartfelt goodbye and thanks and I left for Sofia and James the south coast. And some 5 hours later as I rolled through customs I saw my Terry and the world just simply synched itself, just like that. He looked thin, stressed and tired but very happy to see me. It had been a very hard 6 days for him so it was with great joy that when I began unpacking our goodies his face spit asunder as I unpacked 2 kilos of bacon. All activities stopped and an enormous English breakfast prepared. We then poured over our buys and presents and later that evening had a bath together in some of the very thoughtful de-stressing bath products that James had bought us. I knabbed a winter working jacket for Terry whilst a good jacket for Terry, a much needed mobile phone were very kind Christmas pressies from my parents.
Terry and I had a wonderful Christmas day. We managed to speak or communicate with all the family. Having not attended the traditional Christmas meal at my parents it was lovely to see the photos of the rest of the family having what loked to be a wonderful time. We woke up, tidied the house, had a hot drink then Terry made for the underneath of the Range Rovers’ tricky depths whilst I repaired, with alacrity, to my workshop; the kitchen. As Terry basked in the knowledge that there were no time constraints to his labour nor to mine we agreed to eat as and when the food was ready with intermittent drink breaks in between. And that is what we did. I dressed a rack of Gruff the pigs ribs and left it at a slow temperature into the range oven. I grappled with a largish piece of Gruffs skin, cut it in two and scored both pieces. I seasoned one and laid it across the top of the rack of pork and simply salted the other. As we had no time constaints I cooked up a full English for us both before we set off in different directions. As Terry grappled with the complexities of hoses, pipes, compressors and such I made some cranberry and sausage stuffing, red cabbage, apple and nutmeg, and made a crowd pleasing (Terry pleasing) trifle. I had already baked an apple pie and 2 super rich and adult steamed chocolate puddings with bitter chocolate sauce so it was simply a decision as to what order they would be eaten in and whether it was destined for bowl, fridge or freezer.
I dressed the table with a runner and washed the porcelain and crystal. I took down the 3 pointed toilet brushes shaped into Christmas trees that constituted our Christmas decorations and placed them on the runner. Job done.
I put a bottle of bubbly in the fridge and simply pottered around the kitchen. I did make time to watch the beebs Christmas Service on TV and thoroughly enjoyed the choral celebrations but as is oft the way the good messages in the sermon were dulled by those delivering them. So serious and so little joy it seemed somewhat incongruous to the season of goodwill and giving. Sometime in the later afternoon we washed up and sat down to what turned out to be a really super meal. The pork had delightfully moistly crispy ends and tender meat. The crackling was superb and the accompaniments just perfectly balanced. Terry skilfully popped the cork and proceeded to fill both of the champagne glasses to the brim. I had to laugh, we are neither of us drinkers so with complete disregard to any etiquette we drank heavily of the bubbly stuff and had a somewhat more animated meal than usual. And that is all she wrote. We opted for trifle later on as we slouched on the sofa, our now very contented dogs and cat around us.
This final shot shows the after meal devastation of the pork but most importantly let your eyes be drawn top centre/right where the remains of said and aforementioned crackling resides, twas but a joy
My parents sent us their Christmas pictures and below are amongst others the lesser spotted heating engineer, aka my younger brother Drew. Sadly the extremely rare and rarely spotted vitus parentae again dodged the camera lense!
I hasten to add that the now grown up grand children appear to be playing a game that included some weird mouth piece. I initially thought they had all, as a body, had wiped Dad’s none too shoddy alcohol cabinet clean!
As is our wont Terry and I were up at about 4am. We have given up going against our sleep habits and allow ourselves the absolute pleasure of getting up or sleeping when our bodies tell us they need too. Terry has a week off so even he has been able to enjoy this pleasure to its fullest in the knowledge that he doesn’t have to be at work at 8am. Did I mention that Vinnie and Rabbie made an escape and disappeared overnight just before Christmas? Vinnie was so exhausted when he returned that he was unable to walk, drink or eat. At 2am I heard them return and by the time I had given them a once over and chastised them I realised that Vinnie was unable to take any weight on his hind leg. I syringed water into him which he threw back up. So I spent a distraught early morning washing his dear battered face with my tears – again, and hoping that I wasn’t going to have to deliver a sad Christmas message. Rabbie is a jumper and an extremely agile one. He is also jumping on the mud perimeter walls, dislodging the tiles and digging the walls out to a height that the much less agile Staffies can climb. We are fighting a losing battle right now as there is too much wall to replace in 1 hit. So Terry has instigated the one dog at a time rule. It is a royal pain in the arse but preferable to A) a neighbour coming round with a bloodied carcass in his hands and B) finding a corpse. The village bitches are in heat so there is a general melee of escaping dogs congregated around a panting bitch. We have been here 18 months now so it is no longer shocking. I’m afraid nature takes it’s course.
Butter wouldn’t melt, right?
So what are my thoughts 18 months on? There are so many. Firstly we still absolutely love life here. Our original plans have been modified and I think for anyone reading and about to take that leap into renovating in another country take note. You cannot build entirely to, in our case, UK ideals. It is not a matter of better or worse it is a matter of different. It is a matter of whether you are going to live or holiday in your property. If you are coming here to live, before you make any design decisions or actually build make sure you are aware of the climate and how that affects day to day living in the 2 most major seasons, ergo summer and winter. We had done so much research but even now we are learning as we go. Insulation is an absolute must but it is not that easy. Insulating the roof but allowing it to breathe and ensuring it can take the ton or so of snow it will have on it for at least 2 months of the winter. This is especially important if you buy a cob or mud brick house. Insulating the external walls is essential if you are looking at efficiency in heat distribution but insulating the internal walls can make the space an absolute oven during the summer months by retaining the heat inside. Secondary glazed windows are characterful and add charm to a house but if you are here fulltime double or even triple glazed is the way to go for heat efficiency.
Internally there are reasons for the almost uniform construction of village houses across the country. Basement or semi basement storage room that remains relatively oblivious to the external temperatures. If you are going to be buying all your produce from markets and supermarkets this might be considered a waste of space but if you are producing and storing your own food this room should be rough rendered with limewash, have a window that can be opened but covered and preferably either compressed mud or grit floor. As we are building a root cellar our semi basement storage room is currently a walk in pantry, home to the fridge/freezers and storage area. The now defunct summer kitchen is holding some of our produce.
Large open plan areas need large heating devices which is great if you are a large extended family but doing it day after day for 2 people when you may be chopping, humping and stacking wood and then feeding a fire can be something to think about. Pellet burners are a cleaner, less labour intensive operation but of course are more expensive to buy, maintain and feed. And either way using solid fuel can cover your house in a lacy cloth of ash in literally minutes. It is not an option for those with OCD, or even houseproud. It’d drive you bonkers. But if you learn to live with it and go with the flow it is simply part of life here. I absolutely love the range as a source of heat and as a cooker. It is robust in every single way and it doesn’t baulk at hot fat stains, spills or anything else. Yes its cast iron surface isn’t all black and dully shiny it is besplattered but self sanitising, it is perfect. And on petchkas (solid fuel burners) DO NOT get a steel one no matter how cheap. Seek out a cast iron petchka and save yourself on fuel, on possible carbon monoxide fumes and lastly to please your aesthetic side. Steel petchkas burn fast and strong but the heat goes straight up the chimney. Steel burners rarely have rope seals whereas cast iron ones do. Cast iron takes longer to heat up but holds the heat and more often than not they have a system of 3 air vents that allows you more control of the heat. An air con unit in at least 1 room is probably a good idea no matter how much you like the heat. Sleeping through 40 degrees at night can be devastating when it is week after week, month after month. We have a wall mounted system in the living room which is mostly for guests benefit and a stand alone for our loft bedroom. We use it to get to sleep then it times out. As an aside one of our elderly Bulgarian neighbours is horrified by this foreign trend of defecating inside your actual home! She rants about fecal matter (and I’m being polite here) spraying around the house and being trodden into kitchen and beds. At 87 she still goes, as do the majority of the villagers, in their compost toilets in the garden. Where they firmly believe sh*t belongs! And the rate of produce seems to thrive on this scatological addition to the soil.
External stairs to upstairs bedrooms because during winter months village families remove to the lower floors for warmth. It is not uncommon to find bed/day sofas in the kitchen and the living room becomes, well, a bedroom at night and living room during the day. Only 2 rooms to heat and cooking/heating is combined. Not many expats follow this reasoning and use the large hallways on both floors to install internal stairs. We did but of course we insulated in a way that is not financially viable for others. We have the fabulous combo of 40cm thick adobe brick walls on 3 sides of the house and brick on the other. So we really only need to insulate 1 side and render all 4. The roof is supremely insulated for winter but as per my earlier comment the internally insulated loft space does hold heat in the summer.
We wildly underestimated the length of time it is taking us to “finish” the house. Does it matter? Not so much because we are getting there. Given Terrys work schedule it is surprising we’ve done what we have. And as I keep saying the build has evolved to meet life in Bulgaria, which we have a much better understanding of now. We’re going to baulk the village trend of razing non fruit/nut bearing trees and bushes from their plots. And these plots are beautiful, symmetrical and fruitful but they are uniform. I love the jungle area on our land and as I become more familiar with it I realise how blessed we are to have such a bounty and wonder on our plot. I have started trying to thin out the relentless self seeding walnut saplings. They shoot out of the ground like greyish fawn asparagi both singularly and in Stone Henge like circles. I have given up trying to dig them out but have chosen to hope that by continuing to cut down as they break the root systems may weaken enough for easier root removal; eventually. If you are holding your arms up in dismay and screaming “No” right now I apologise for my ignorance. Any comments truly appreciated.
We also don’t want to plant, harvest and store more than we need. Our neighbours continually and most graciously ply us with their extraneous produce which on top of our own gets unmanageable. Despite an up and down experience with the pigs we will get another in the early spring. We wouldn’t have another sow. Maud remains unpredictable, defiant and more than ready for the chop. Chickens and possibly a couple of goats will be next. The chickens will remain on the house plot but the pigs and goats, separately on the workshop plot. This already has a row of 4 crumbling stalls. We’ll need to repair the walls with mud brick and retile the roof. A pig and chickens are a definite, the goats a possibility. They require far more contact and care than the pigs by all accounts. Milking everyday, twice a day is not for the undecided.
We have finally emptied the tools out of number 3 temporary tool room, aka the chicken house. Terry is also finally in his workshop proper and the pictures below show early stages of his move up there. Progress has been intermittent because he has spent 90% of his break under the Range Rover. The list of jobs is too long and the technical detail beyond me but it has been a pig of a job or 8. I felt a wee bit bad because before Christmas I mentioned that I’d been without a vehicle on and off for the past 6 months and it was getting me down. His head shot up and he said “it’s only been a few weeks”. When I gently told him when the trouble started, back in June he did what he does best. He stopped all work and acknowledged my statement by starting work on it immediately. It is currently New Years Eve and he is still out on the Rangey changing and making adjustment to the new winter wheels that are neither low profile or enormous. Terry has spent a week with his chest pressed on the engine or his back on the cold cement making sure that everything that needs to be fixed/changed/replaced has been. And it continued to be pig of a job but he persevered and as he said “It’s not going to beat me” and it hasn’t.
These were taken in the early stages of moving things in and there is still a way to go but all tools are now in the workshop. And that is fitted with security cameras and alarms, not to mention 3 dogs and 2 enormous pigs, one of which is more dangerous than all the others put together
Well good readers here is wishing you all a wonderful New Year and above all that it a year of positive change and lots of laughter Chestita Nova Goudina