A Happy New year to everyone, may it bring you everything you need for a happy life. As I wake up in 2019 I feel that this year is going to be a good one on all fronts. Looking out the window of the snug I can see the billy goats head butting each other playfully whilst the chickens skitter around their feet skillfully nipping bugs out of the depressions made by their hooves. Big Black Jack Goyle stands somewhat aloof but on the edges of the animal group. We slaughtered Maud his companion on Christmas Eve and he has been lost and unpredictable since. The guilt!
So I’m going to start with Maud. I can’t say I was as preturbed as Terry at the thought of dispatching the 300 kg and very mardy sow. The main thorn in our side was how to dispatch such an enormous beast with compassion and success. So on the 23rd December, Ian, Keith, Dave myself and Terry congregated up in the yard. Dave had his high powered rifle ready to stun Maud so Terry could jump in and slit her throat. We went through the plan, we all took our places. The cast iron bath sat atop the industrial gas burners and a hoist and pulley hanging off the gatehouse rafters. The digger ready with gambrel and cutting intruments by the ready. We’d poured over our best info videos and were nervous but ready to go. We got Maud in position by putting a pile of apples and walnuts on the floor. We’d fanned out around Maud and I was behind her. Dave came slowly in, aimed his rifle and shot Maud exactly in the right place. Did she drop? Did she buggery. She leapt about 24 cm in the air, turned on a pin and charged me. I was up the trunk of the walnut tree before you could say Jack Robinson. Cue 5 people, mouths hanging open gormlessly watching Maud settle down and begin rooting with Jack! Further inspection showed a neat hole in her cranium but no wound and it seemed no ill effects!
It was the situation we’d feared most, an unsuccessful slaughter. We decided we couldn’t possibly try again with a weapon that couldn’t stun her. So with heavy hearts we agreed to try again the next day, Christmas Eve. This time we called Ian, Tolyo and Bobi with his extremely high powered shotgun. Everyone was nervous, it had rained overnight making the yard a quagmire, all the animals were antsy so we locked them all up except Maud. We were all ready inside and outside the house. I watched poor Terry flinch and look away as Maud was swiftly dispatched with a single shot. He leaped over the barrier and slit her throat, something I knew he’d worried about. She didn’t kick about as badly as some we’d seen so I pumped all her legs to ensure as much blood bled out as possible. It wasn’t Maud anymore, it was a massive 300kg carcass that we had to process. Getting the carcass into the scalding bath was almost an impossibility. The digger just lifted her snout off the ground let alone swung her into an elevated bath of scalding water. We managed to get 1/3 of her in and de haired but later decided to lay her out and have a team pouring scalding water and a team scraping the pig. It is an incredibly messy business. We’d wanted to hang the carcass for eviceration but Bobi wanted to do it with the carcass laid flat. So on the understanding that every way holds something to learn we watched as he began the job. The head easily weighed in at 25-30 kgs alone and I washed it off for Bobi to take home. That was the single most freaky thing to see. We harvested all but the intestines, genitals and waste organs. Gurt steaming offal was unceremoniously dumped in metal containers, still warm and glistening brightly. Even with the pig emptied it was necessary to both halve the pig and then half one side again and the other cut into 3 parts. The lads carried these enourmous body parts down to the storage room and Terry hung them. The dogs, locked behind the kitchen door were besides themselves with the smell of fresh meat.
Long story short we spent Christmas and Boxing day butchering the carcass, making mince, rendering fat, dry curing bacon and trying to fit said and aforementioned into the various freezers. Bags of dog mince, rolls of crackling, pots and pots of meat stock jostle for space. We also ate cheesey beans on toast for both days. We just couldn’t escape the meatiness of both days. So how was a 2 year old pig? Despite all the negative Nellie’s (and there were many) who assured us the meat would smell, be tough and only suitable for mince. Not at all. The pig had a goodly layer of the most delicate leaf fat and a solid 4cm across her back. The meat is slightly darker but absolutely beautiful in flavour and texture and as sweet smelling as can be. We have big Black Jack Goyle to process in the coming days followed by 2 goats. So now we know we can do this we are going it alone for the next slaughter. A large and very satisfying learning curve for both of us.
However the largest learning curve for both of us this year has been on the person front. We suffered a campaign of whispers by some rather sad and unsavoury ex pats. It stole my mojo for a few weeks and baffled Terry. Then the good people started rolling in. Denise and Rob, Alice and Keith, Tracy and Cole, Marie and Neil, Elizabeth and Glyn; couples equally as self dependant, self contained and happy human beings as we are. Tracey and Cole had experienced similar problems from some of the ex pat community, almost entirely due to Traceys absolutely incredible baked goods that are knocking all other bakers off their pedestals. It helped us all realise that there are ex pats living in Bulgaria, often for years, who still have not made the leap of faith towards integration. And when others do manage that move, then jealousy arises. It seems that honesty is not appreciated, that it seems easier for some people to accept the unacceptable rather than stand and speak up. That was the hardest learning curve this year for both of us. Luckily our family and friends pulled round and we defeated all the gossiping, scare mongering and insecurity of those mixed up individuals and ignored them. We moved swiftly on, integrity in tact and happy to have lost those who would rather push people down than offer a helping hand up.
I have beaten myself up this year at what I have presumed to be a stulified non movement of my language learning. There simply came a point when I was being spoken to every day in Bulgarian and I seemed to just filter out salient points and lose the rest. It brought me low for a while. I’ve experienced these language “blackspots” before but never so overwhelmingly. My learning ears shut down on me and for a short while I was bereft. Then 1 day an English couple in the next village asked if I would attend the village doctor with them to translate. My rectum hit the floor and bounced back with such alacrity that the lump in my throat stopped me in my tracks. I’m not sure who was speaking but someone near me seemed to say “yes, of course” in what sounded like a very competant manner. The horror when I realised it was my voice! So the next day we trundled up the snow covered steps to the surgery. Galia the village doctor and Xristina her PA snapped up their heads, smiled in welcome and addressed me with the following words “Oh great you’re here too. You understand everything don’t you?” This time I found my voice and emphatically denied it. However I did manage to convey the patients needs, explain the doctors instructions and get a prescription. I’m not sure how and it made me feel even worse about my own capabilities and my apparent dearth of learning. It wasn’t till yesterday when I had to pop out to the heaving centre of the village to get last minute shopping that I greeted and was greeted by our neighbours and fellow villagers, that I navigated the shops, the salutations and the general chit chat without even realising it was entirely effortless. I came home and told Terry. Such was the feeling of elation at realising that I was being so hard on myself, that I am learning and that there is still a wide mile to travel. It was the best present to take forward into the New Year.
Terry has been building and rejigging outside buildings. He’s added additional areas to his workshop, the end of the gate house for storage and removed the chicken house run. The large wired enclosure is defunct. Once we realised all the farm animals are happy to free range together there is no need for the run. This year we will move the animals up to the top paddocks. It keeps the smells of the farmyard a good half an acre away from our garden areas. We are still evolving and definitely still learning. We are completely replanning and planting the garden areas. We’ve allowed all the farm animals free range of the gardens at the moment. It looks a horrendous mess out there but whilst Jack roots up the compacted earth the goats come in and break it up further. The chickens are the natural rakers of the animal world. By the time Spring comes the earth will be nicely turned. It makes every day an adventure. We have boxes of plans, computers full of research but at the end of the day we have learned to hit the ground running. Terry is a natural problem solver and I’m a natural analyst. It is a great combination and only our very healthy ego’s stand in the way of this being a marriage of great minds. We battle out solutions, often saying exactly the same thing but in our own very different ways. As an aside I think it is a real issue, giving up jobs where you have a very clear cut role and then dropping off this lifestyle and adopting one where you have to make your own parameters fit. There have been a few “discussions” that have made the animals silently skulk out of the room. But we always come together.
So as we move forward into 2019 I am wishing everyone a happy life above anything else. I feel blessed that we have such good family and friends who make life that bit better. Our children have made us so very proud this year. James’s career took off after all his hard work and he now manages a pub and a club in different towns and is the very best father to William. Ashley got married to the love of his life, Amalia pulled a first class honours out of the bag and was accepted at Royal College of London for a Masters programme. Danielle is well on her way to delivering a first class honours degree and this year overcame health issues that would have bought many to their knees, Paige started her first year at uni and we are thrilled to announce she is juggling all this and is pregnant with her first child, Ryan has moved out of home and is waiting to persue a career in the Army. Both sets of parents and our siblings are healthy, happy and remain our strongest supporters. So are there any regrets for the year? Yes, I AM going to celebrate Christmas next year. I missed the pomp and ceremony of preparing and delivering a feast to celebrate the birth of Christ. I’m already preparing my menu for next year. What would make this perfect would be to have everyone here to enjoy it. Maybe this year we’ll get the guest wing finished and that will become a possibility! And on that note I’m leaving you with random pictures of our pets, some bread and wishing you a really wonderful year ahead